WordPress “Pages” No Longer Work

All the “pages” linked from my weblog — for example, my “about” page and my PGP key — are broken. I’ve posted in the WordPress Support Forums with no luck. I’m not sure when or why they stopped working, but if any readers have any suggestions of how to troubleshoot, I’d love to hear about it. Nothing relevant appears in server logs.

In the meantime, apologies if you came here trying to find out about me. I’m temporarily out of service.

WordPress Upgrade –> 2.2

Just upgraded to WordPress 2.2. That took all of 18 seconds.

Edit Comments On

I added the edit comments plugin to this blog. After you leave a comment, you’ll have about 12 hours to come back and make changes. Authentication is based on IP address. It’s surprising that so few blogs implement such functionality, given how common it is to leave embarrassing typos or misspelled URLs in comments.

One patch is needed for the plugin to work with the latest WordPress release. Specifically:

$location = add_query_arg('jal_edit_comments', '', $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER']);

needs to be changed to:

$location = add_query_arg('jal_edit_comments', FALSE, $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER']);

I’m sure this will be added to the mainline source soon. I had to fish the fix out of the 300+ comments on the page for the plugin.

In other “this blog” news, I simplified the sidebar appearance and made all the long lists collapsed by default with CSS. Hopefully it renders well on all browsers. Lately, I’ve come to doubt the utility of “lists in sidebars” at all. Perhaps a person’s latest content preferences (books, film, music) aren’t that interesting after all.

Incidentally, since I made the transition to WordPress, I’ve found it much easier to keep this blog active. Less time spent on administrative issues, and the web-based (rather than ssh–>vim) posting just makes a lot more sense these days. Comment spam is virtually nonexistent. I can get an entry up in five minutes on the train in to work without hassle. WordPress has also greatly reduced server load (perhaps because I had an inefficient blosxom setup). I recommend it.

If you are already a WordPress user, as a public service announcement I’ll repeat the announcement from about two weeks ago: WordPress 2.1.1 may be dangerous:

Long story short: If you downloaded WordPress 2.1.1 within the past 3-4 days, your files may include a security exploit that was added by a cracker, and you should upgrade all of your files to 2.1.2 immediately.

Google Observations

Changes are afoot at Google. A couple of weeks ago Google announced that it is refining its algorithms to minimize the impact of “Google Bombs.” (It’s curious that they made a big announcement rather than just doing it covertly, but perhaps this way they get to control how the news is framed.) Apparently, link text will be weighted less heavily in determining relevance to search terms. Presumably this means the page content will get more weight — ultimately there are only a few parameters that can serve as inputs in PageRank.

A couple of weeks ago, I adopted the name Substantially Similar for this blog. I was looking for something clever and suggestive of the focus of this blog, but not overly clever or too narrowly focused. (I leave it to my readers to tell me if it works.) As a test case for Google’s new algorithm, this seems to be proof positive:

Substantially Similar Web Search

I am fairly certain no one has created a link to me yet with the link text “substantially similar,” yet I’m already the top result.

Another change I noticed is the substitution of third-party descriptions of URLs instead of excerpt text. I don’t know if this is a new development or not, but it’s an interesting departure from what I’ve seen before:

Google Excerpt Text

That last link above is my old law school outline site — and the text “not fancy, but tons of outlines” doesn’t appear anywhere on the page itself. Instead, it is a description of the site from a couple of outline “portal” pages.

Blosxom to WordPress

I finally completed a longstanding project converting this blog from Blosxom to WordPress. Five years ago when I transitioned from a self-coded blog to blosxom, I loved the low tech “hackable” nature of Blosxom. Unfortunately, it hasn’t scaled well. I can imagine using WordPress five years from now, but the Blosxom filesystem-only style organization just won’t hold up.

At some point soon while it’s still fresh in my memory I will document the transition. Since nearly every Blosxom user has a unique set of quirks, each transition will have its own special problems.

I’ve made every effort to preserve permalinks from the old blog, but I’m not sure they all made it over. If you are looking for something and can’t find it, please drop me a line.

I also suspect that my most recent entries will repeat themselves for everyone who subscribes to this RSS feed. I apologize for any inconvenience.

My Wife Has a Weblog

I’ve had a weblog for four or five years. My daughter has had one for about a year (also equal to the entirety of her life). It’s finally come time—my wife has a a weblog. It is appropriately titled Women and Children First. She’s just finding her blogger voice, so it may take some time to gain momentum.

Anyone who knew Rachele six years ago (around the time we met) would have been shocked at the time to hear that she would one day be a blogger. Back then, her entire relationship to the Internet was mediated through a “My Mail Station” device (that apparently has since been purchased by Earthlink and now has disappeared entirely). These days, she runs Debian Sarge, Evolution, Firefox, etc.. And now WordPress.

My friend Jesse and his cohorts have also started a new blog entitled Tikirobot. From what I can tell so far, it’s similar in style to boingboing but written by people I know. It is also nonduplicative of boingboing content.

Low Blogging Frequency

I haven’t been blogging lately. I do have a running list of ideas and topics, but my blog is going through a bit of an identity crisis. When I was a law student, it was easy for this to be a ‘law student blog,’ but now that I’m practicing I haven’t figured out how to find a balance between the personal and professional (and, perhaps on a third axis, the technical). Also, since I had a daughter, my time has been pretty scarce and I’m not sure that blogging is the best use of it.

I’ll probably pick up in frequency before too long, but in case anyone is wondering, I’m still here.

In the meantime, my Webloyalty is a Scam entry continues to get more traffic than anything else on this blog—close to 31,000 hits at the time of this writing, and nearly 1,000 writebacks (plus nearly as many personal emails to me on the topic). See also this follow-up post. One guy has even started a blog dedicated solely to criticizing Reservation Rewards—but now the link seems to broken.

When I write these consumer protection entries, I inevitably get comments from low-level company insiders defending their practices (see, e.g., U-Haul Responds). These writebacks are often a much better condemnation than I could ever come with. For example, the following was apparently written by a “WLI Call Center Rep.” The POST request came from the same area of Connecticut as where Webloyalty is located, and it seems pretty genuine:

I’m a rep in the call center at Webloyalty. I have no pity for any of you people. You’re all suckers, plain and simple. Didn’t anybody ever teach you that nothing is free? When all of you idiots made your purchases on whatever website you did business on at the end of your transaction there was an offer asking if you wanted to save $10, or get award miles, or whatever. When you clicked on that link you were not automatically signed up. What happens is that you’re brought to the Reservations Rewards website. On that website it tells you that you are on the website for Reservations Rewards. You see, you can tell that because the banner at the top of the site says “Reservations Rewards”. Unfortunately you were too stupid to notice or remember. It then gives you instructions on how to redeem your “reward”. At that point you are instructed to enter you email address in twice and click accept. Now you have to manually type in the email twice in those boxes. No cut and paste is allowed. Then it tells you to click accept. Now, if you had any fucking brains in your head you would have noticed that right above the box where you enter your email mail address its says, in regular sized type, in plain sight, right out in the open, that entering your email twice will act as an electronic signature and that by clicking accept you are accepting that the website you just made a purchase on can share the billing information with Reservation Rewards. Also in the big box next all of this it gives the exact details of what you are signing up for, again in regular sized print, in plain sight, right out in the open. If you are too stupid to take the time to notice all of that then you deserve what you got. which was a membership in a overpriced bullshit ptogram.

Webloyalty depends on idiots like you to not notice this stuff. To be blinded by the idea that you are getting something for “free”. To not look at you credit card statement so charges go through every month. Its unbelievable the amount of dummies out there that fall for this stuff. Even if you do catch the charges eventually, and get a refund they still made money off of you by collecting interest on your money when they had possesion of it. Stay a member or cancel its win-win for webloyalty.

So, anyway I hope all you dummies learned a valuable lesson and wont fall for this again. I’m sure many of you will, though. You’d be shocked at how many people are repeat members where they canceled the service a while back but fell for the scam again a few months later.

Turing Test Update: Success

I recently blogged about humans failing my blog’s comment “Turing Test.” My blog had a box below the real comments box, prefaced with a statement to the effect that you shouldn’t enter anything in that box if you were a human (yet some humans did enter comments in that box, thus shunting their comments to a spam file). In response, several commenters noted that my layout was confusing and offered suggestions for improvements.

I’ve taken their advice and wrapped the “spam” comment box in a style tag that will make the box invisible if your browser renders CSS. I had this perhaps irrational fear that the spammers were smart enough to read the CSS, but as it turns out, they aren’t. The box is now invisible to most users, but I continue to get as many as several dozen spammers filling in the invisible box.

The main shortcoming I can see with the current system is that people who use text-only browsers like w3m or cell phones, or people with visual disabilities who use an audio screen reader may still be confused. Still, I think this is much less intrusive, annoying, and non-accessible than, say, a hard-to-read captcha that won’t work at all for those people.

Humans Fail Turing Test

I use a relatively unsophisticated but highly effective filter for blog comment spam. The system consists of several hundred keywords (mostly spam-related domain names which would never appear in a genuine comment), and a Turing test. The Turing test is a box at the bottom of the comment form, that says: “Do not put anything in this box if you are a human.”

The Turing test catches between 10-25 spam comments per day; the keyword filter about the same.

Every week or two, however, a human comes along, and fails the Turing test and fills in the “don’t fill in this box” box. I’m not quite sure what to do about that. Maybe the human thinks they are not actually human?

More likely they just don’t read the text next to the box, although it is fairly prominent.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a general phenomenon on the web. Many people have a tendency not to read text on webpages. For example, I’ve gotten a lot of questions along the lines of “How do I access my address book in SquirrelMail?” The answer, of course, is to click on “Addresses.” Similary questions arise with respect to my photo album software salonify — “how do I view a slide show of images?” (A: Click on “Slide Show.”)

My hope is that the next generation is better able to process web content, but I’m not sure that hope is well founded.

Getting back to the blog comment spam issue, it’s interesting to observe what sorts of topics appear most frequently in comment spams. Over the past several months, pornographic links referencing transsexuals seem to outnumber other topics. I wonder: do the spammers have a scientific method to their marketing?

RAID Followup

Following up on yesterday’s post about my slow server, I just discovered why the RAID reconstruction was going so slowly. When the disc in question was knocked offline, all of the hdparm settings (most notably DMA) were reset. A simple:

 hdparm -c 1 -d 1 -u 1 /dev/hde 

Instantly quadrupled the speed of RAID reconstruction, and also sped up the whole server noticeably.

So, tip for the future (and for Google searchers): if your RAID is reconstructing very slowly, be sure to check the hdparm settings for all of the member discs.