Category Archives: Media

The sister, the movies and the country

My sister just left after spending a few days with us as part of her round the world trip. You can read about her stay, and the rest of her travels on her travel blog. While she was here we saw movies, had a birthday dinner, and other dinners, and spent a few days in the Laurentians.

On the night Philippa arrived we ordered sushi because inexplicably she had never tried it. We also went to Baton Rouge for her birthday dinner (I’m not supposed to mention that she’s turning 30 today) and had take-out from Hot and Spicy and breakfast at Eggspectations. The rest of the time I managed to cook, except one night when Philippa decided to cook us curry.

We went to the cinema in torrential rain to see Hancock, a good superhero romp which would not have worked without Will Smith as the reluctant hero. The story was lacking but the action was good and the comedy made me chuckle. At home we saw Juno, which was amazing, Ellen Page can do no wrong. We also saw Superbad which was very silly (I had been warned) but still enjoyable, and I re-watched Fargo and The Usual Suspects to give Philippa a chance to see some true classics.

The big event of the week was our trip to the country. Jen’s grandmother used to own a cottage on Lake Louisa which she sold a few years ago. The current owners were nice enough to offer us the place for a week for free so that granny could enjoy it one more time. We went there to stay with Jen’s granny, mother, step-dad, uncle, aunt, cousin, cousin’s boyfriend, brother, sister-in-law and two nephews. With us there it was a crowd of 14 at peak time which made for a very loud cottage. The weather wasn’t great but we managed to enjoy ourselves with some kayaking, swimming, relaxing, playing silly games, drinking beer and wine and eating good food. I’ll blog about my food contribution tomorrow.

Sadly the cottage adventure was cut short slightly by the death of my brother-in-law’s wife’s dad. He had been ill for some time but it was still very sad. Oliver Carmichael was a kind man who did a huge amount for his family and community. He is remembered here.

A Book Meme

Update: Apparently the list doing the rounds is quite a bit different from the actual list on the BBC site, so at the bottom of this post I’ve done it again with the “real” list. Thank’s to Melissa for spotting that. I do slightly better with that list, 34 books read.

Shatnerian tagged me (he tagged me on Facebook, what’s that all about?). The following is a list compiled by the BBC of books we’re supposed to have read. Bold means I’ve read it, underlined means I love it and italics (red) means I started it but didn’t finish.

36 is part of 33 so I’m not sure why it’s separate. Same with 98 and 14.

I left John’s comment on #42, because he’s right, and it’s #42 too!

I’ve only read 26, I’m a very bad Brit apparently.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible (I only read the sexy parts)
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown (ok, why is this even on the list?)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kirouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Now for the “real” list:

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling

6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis

10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell

59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett

70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Aleaping we will go

It’s February 29th today, so I thought, like 90% of bloggers on the planet, I would do a post about leap years.

Those silly people who think our planet is less than 6000 years old also sometimes think that the leap year thing is because science somehow screwed up and we have to fudge the numbers occasionally or that it’s because the Earth’s orbit is speeding up.

In fact, the leap year was refined over many years, starting with the romans who added an extra month every couple of years, basically whenever they felt like it, to keep the seasons in sync. Then Julius came along and realised the seasons were still all messed up, so abolished the extra month concept, replacing it with a slightly longer year of 365 days (it was 355 before) with extra days added to various months. There was also an extra day added every three years to try to keep the seasons lined up, but it wasn’t enough and they drifted again. A few years later the period was changed to four years, and things were better, but not perfect.

It wasn’t until the 1500s that someone realised that things weren’t quite right. It happened to be a Pope, Pope Gregory XIII to be precise. He noticed that if things carried on, Easter would eventually bump into Christmas, and we obviously couldn’t have Jesus being nailed to the cross on the day he was born, so he changed the rules, with the help of Kepler’s astronomical observations.

The Gregorian Calendar has been used ever since, and the leap year calculation remains unchanged. The calculation Gregory implemented is one I’ve used many times in computer programs. A year is a leap year if it’s divisible by 4 but not divisible by 100 except when it’s divisible by 400 (that’s why 2000 was a leap year).

Our year now averages out to be 365.2425 days long which is accurate enough that we’ll only be out by one day after 4000 years.

We need more Popes like Gregory XIII, even though he was a bit of a bastard to the English and Irish.

The Habits Meme

I got tagged by that guy, which means I don’t have to agonize about what to blog about today.

The rules:

  • Link to the person that tagged you.
  • Post the rules on your blog.
  • Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
  • Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
  • Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.

So here goes:

  1. Ever since Blork blogged about “try to” (correct) and “try and” (horribly wrong) I’ve become slightly obsessive about it to the point of making strangling noises every time Pullman makes the error in his Dark Materials.
  2. I like port. And single malts. But I don’t smoke cigars or read the Financial Times.
  3. I have a scar on my right knee from falling out of my bed onto my etch-a-sketch as a boy. I left the removed stitches in a small plastic vial on a table in a pub garden.
  4. I have an Avenging Unicorn on my desk at work.
  5. When I sleep, my right foot has a mind of its own. My son has inherited this trait. It drives my wife crazy.
  6. I have been strip searched by UK Customs and Excise.

I tag her and him and her and him and double tag her.

No Regeneration for Verity Lambert

Doctor Who has always been one of my favourite shows. I started watching toward the end of the Pertwee era and my obsession was at its peak during the Tom Baker years (he’s still my favourite Doctor).

I’ve only seen clips of the very early shows, but I was still a little sad to hear that Verity Lambert, the original producer of Doctor Who, had died at the age of 71.

Not only was she the first producer of Dr Who, she was also the first female TV producer for the BBC, and their youngest producer. Since her start in 1963 she’s also produced Minder, which I loved, Rumpole, which I enjoyed, and Jonathon Creek which I also loved. I forgive her for Eldorado.

On the eve of Dr Who’s 44th anniversary we have Verity (and a host of others) to thank for its enduring success.

The Race Ritual

Ridiculing the contestants of the Amazing Race is a lot more fun if you can do it with a group of people, so we’ve started inviting friends over on Sunday nights to enjoy the spectacle of dysfunctional couples taking on bizarre challenges around the world.

For the first episode we ordered pizza and drunk beer and ate maple chocolate buns that she brought.

For episode two I decided I felt like cooking, so I cracked open one of my Jamie Olivers and went to work.

For the main course I seasoned some pork tenderloins, sprinkled them with fennel seeds, browned them, put them in a roasting pan with a sliced up fennel bulb, a handful of rosemary, 8 garlic cloves and half a bottle of white wine. Loosely covered with foil and bunged in a hot oven for an hour.

To go along with that, I boiled some potatoes and peas and mushed them together with a handful of mint leaves to make minty mushy peas.

For dessert we had cream puffs kindly provided by her followed by sliced up pineapple sprinked with sugar bashed up with the leftover mint leaves.

We ate, we drank, we enjoyed a fire, and we laughed at those crazy Racers.

Crowded House for Crowded House

Last night I accompanied my betrothed to the Crowded House concert at Theatre St Denis. I’m not a huge Crowded House fan, but she is, so I just went along to keep her company. It was a crowded house, apart from a few empty seats in the front row which almost caused a stampede when Neil Finn suggested people should fill them.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. There were two other acts before Neil and his band took the stage. First up was Liam Finn, Neil’s son, who did a quick set of three songs on his own, singing, playing guitar, going crazy on the drums, and waving his wa-wa joystick about. It was innovative, creative, and slightly manic.

Second on stage was Pete Yorn, who started on his own with an acoustic number before bringing the rest of his band on for a fun set, in which he played the drums as his drummer had been “detained at the border”. The songs were upbeat and foot-tappingly good, and rounded off nicely by a rendition of Elvis’ Suspicious Minds.

Finally Crowded House came on stage to a standing ovation and launched straight into a couple of their hit songs, before settling back for a few less well known (to me anyway) numbers. In the breaks between songs the band joked with each other and with the audience, about lederhosen and Avant Garde underwear, breakfast in the John and Yoko suite, empty front row seats and whether or not they’d been to Montreal before.
Towards the end of the set they got the crowd on their feet before two encores, finishing the evening with an audience sing-a-long of Take the Weather With You.

I’m always very cynical about concert encores, especially when the band are so obviously guaranteed to be coming back, whatever the audience does. It’s even more obvious when the roadies bring on new pieces of set after the band have “said goodnight”. But the encores got the crowd going, and the concert finished very nicely with a group bow from the band before they all ran to the front of the stage to shake hands with the front row of the audience and Nick Seymour made comments to audience members further back.

So, despite not being a big fan, I enjoyed the concert. We had good seats, about 13 rows back with a clear view, despite the 6′ tall guy who sat in front of me at one point before switching places with his shorter friend. It’s always a pleasure to see a band obviously having fun and making an effort to interact with the audience, and the music was pretty good too.

An Inconvenient Truth

I’ve haven’t been a fan of Al Gore ever since he claimed to have invented the internet, but I have new-found respect for the man after watching An Inconvenient Truth at the weekend. He’s obviously passionate about the cause and he’s been trying to tackle it for a long time. He’s done his research and has all the numbers to back up what he says – something the “skeptics” absolutely don’t have. He has a message which is incontrovertible:

The human race have had a measurable, dramatic and detrimental effect on global climate change.

At least, it’s indisputable according to the science. Almost one thousand scientific studies back up this message. Zero do not. However, public opinion is still divided; why is this? A quote from Upton Sinclair which Al Gore presented in the movie goes some way to explaining it:

You can’t make somebody understand something if their salary depends upon them not understanding it.

Al Gore may not have invented the internet, but he could be an important part of saving the planet, which I guess is probably a better claim to fame anyway. The importance of his contribution could have been so much greater though if it hadn’t been for a few votes in Florida.

Reading again

Over the Easter weekend we removed the piles of junk that have been sitting on our bed since we moved in, and got our bedroom in a functional state. It hadn’t been in a functional state before that because we had been sleeping in Aidan’s room so he could come join us when he tired of his crib (which was usually at about 2am). We decided it was time to abandon Aidan to his room and reclaim our own. We nervously went to bed on the first night fully expecting it to be a very sleepless night but surprisingly Aidan slept through to 6:30 the next morning. He has done the same every night since then.

All that preamble is to say we can read again! I’m reading a book. For the first time in, ooh, about 16 months. After rifling through our bookshelves for a while I finally decided on The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin. Jen got it for Christmas (thanks Kim!) but I’m temporarily stealing it. I’m not a big fan of crime and mystery books but I have enjoyed the Rebus novels and this one adds an extra dimension by being set against the recent G8/Live 8 happenings. No mention of the Canadian concert so far though…

I never thought of reading in bed as a luxury but for now it is, and one I’m very much enjoying.

I got weirded

Tara tagged me which is fortuitous as I had nothing to blog about today apart from my failure to walk to work because of the snow storm (but I made it as far as Greene Avenue!).

Anyway, the rules are: People who get tagged must write in a blog of their own ten weird things or habits or little known facts about themselves as well as state this rule clearly. At the end you must choose six people to be tagged and list their names. No tag backs!

I’m so transparent that it’s hard to find 10 but let’s give it a go:

  1. I once almost died walking from one Portugese village to another.
  2. I have a big mole on one of my toes which I once tried to cut off in a fit of teen angst.
  3. I love the winter and the cold and snow it brings. Winter Wonderlands cheer me up.
  4. I was once taken to the ER twice in one day for two completely unrelated accidents.
  5. I have an Avenging Unicorn on my desk.
  6. One new years eve I passed out in the graveyard across the street from the pub and when I woke up the pub was closed and everyone had gone home.
  7. I like peanut butter and chili sauce on toast.
  8. I have visited four Canadian provinces, eight US states, three commonwealth countries, fifteen European nations and every English county.
  9. At school I was a member of the pet club and the computer club and I helped run the school bookshop, mostly to get early lunch passes.
  10. I brought a pair of slippers back with me from New Zealand which I love but which are falling apart. I am planning to have another pair shipped from NZ to replace them.

I tag him, her, her, and him. Oh and her if she ever blogs again.

Still here

Yes, I’m still here. I took a blog break last week as my family were visiting from the UK and France. They did all the things tourists are expected to do in Montreal, including:

  • The Underground City
  • Old Montreal
  • Notre Dame
  • Walking up the mountain
  • Skating on the mountain
  • Driving over the mountain
  • Drinking in the Irish pubs
  • Going to Eggspectations for breakfast and The Keg for dinner
  • Shopping on St Denis
  • Experiencing temperatures below -20
  • Snowboarding in St Saveur

The snowboarding was 5 days ago, but I’m still in pain. Who knew balancing on a plank of wood uses so many muscles??

We also had “Second Christmas” complete with a pancake breakfast, full turkey dinner, festive music and stockings and presents. I got a bunch of British stuff including a Union Jack mug, a London tube map jigsaw and lots of Brit edibles (mmmmm Jelly Babies).

8 year old blog!

I took my old web diary and converted it into blog posts today, so this blog now has posts dating back to 1998. Does that make this blog the oldest in Montreal??

It was strange reading that old stuff, my blogging style has obviously changed and evolved over the years but I should try to get back into the habit of actually writing about my life instead of essays on blogging and religion.

CAPTCHAs, who needs them?

Update: This essay is now up at WLTC, if you like it, go vote for it!

They’re everywhere, and they’re annoying. They’re called CAPTCHAs and they’ve become a ubiquitious part of blog commenting. Bloggers use them as a quick and dirty solution to an annoying problem without consideration for the annoyance they will cause the reader.

I want to persuade all bloggers who are using them to please stop.

What are they?

CAPTCHA stands for “completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart”. I know it should really be CAPTTTTCHA but hey, I didn’t come up with the acronym.

Before bigots destroyed his life, Alan Turing posited the idea of a test to determine machine sentience. His test was designed to decide if a computer had achieved artificial intelligence. So far no computer has passed a Turing test, but the CAPTCHA uses the idea of a Turing test in reverse, testing if a supposed person is really a person and not a computer program pretending to be a person.

So a CAPTCHA is a test to make sure the person posting a comment (or anything else, but I’m concentrating on the blogging usage here) is really a person, and not a spam generator trying to post comments about card games, prescription drugs or sex. It usually involves an image showing some distorted text, requiring the user to type in what they see in the distorted text.

Why are they bad?

Anything that stop spammers is good, right? Well generally yes, but some things that stop spammers are better than others; so much better that the inferior solutions become un-necessary. There are many problems with CAPTCHAs:

  • Any extra work required to comment is likely to deter some people from commenting at all.
  • Sometimes the images are so distorted they’re almost impossible to read, even with perfect eyesight.
  • CAPTCHAs are hackable. Spammers are smart, they can get past many of our barriers.
  • Visually impaired users are completely excluded (although there are audio CAPTCHAs available now).
  • Dyslexics have a hard time too.
  • There are better and less intrusive solutions.

What are these better solutions?

Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you that CAPTCHAs are not the best solution to the spam flood. Now it’s time to bring in the alternatives, but before I offer my alternatives, we should decide what our requirements are. An effective and non-intrusive spam blocker should:

  • Require nothing or as little as possible from the valid commenter.
  • Require as little effort as possible from the webmaster/blog owner.
  • Work on as many blog platforms as possible, or have similar alternatives for other blogging platforms.
  • Stop as much spam as possible.
  • Not interfere with valid comments

Here are the solutions which I feel best meet these requirements:

Centralized spam database

This is what I use, in the form of Akismet. The idea is that all spam comments get submitted to a central server. Each time someone comments on your blog the comment gets checked against the central database. If the comment looks like spam it is automatically flagged as such. The person leaving the comment didn’t have to do anything. The blogger just has to check for false positives occasionally. Everybody is happy.

So far Akismet has stopped over 15,000 comments from being published on my blog with about three false positives (comments marked as spam which were not spam) that I know of and about 5 false negatives (spam comments that did not get marked as spam).

Akismet is designed for WordPress but will work with other blogging platforms, and the API is open source.

The downside of this solution is the reliance you have on a central database. If the database goes down or disappears altogether then the spam flood will begin again. But while it’s around, why not take advantage of it?

Comment analysis programs

Programs like the Bad Behaviour plugin for WordPress take all comments received and analyze them for telltale signs of spaminess. Using data hidden in the HTTP headers like user agent information it is possible to tell if a comment came from a legitimate user or a spambot.

The downside of this kind of solution is that it has to be smarter than the spammers, and spammers are smart. Bad Behaviour works very well though, or so I’ve heard; Akismet takes care of things so well that I haven’t needed extra solutions.

Filtering, whitelisting and blacklisting

If your spam problem isn’t big enough to warrant external tools, you can probably get a fairly good spam filter going just with what your blogging software offers natively. You should be able to filter out comments which contain common spammy words (like phentermine, poker, viagra, holdem, etc.).

If spam is still getting through you can look at whitelisting; maybe your blog has an option like “only allow comments from people who have commented before” which is like an automatic whitelist after the first moderated comment is approved.

Blacklisting is trickier, but if you see spam constantly coming from the same source then you can blacklist that source. Most spammers will get around this easily though.

For a list of other spam busters, you can try this page, which is for WordPress, but the concepts still apply to other blog platforms.

Summary

CAPTCHAs are bad. They don’t test for humans, they test for smart non-lazy humans with good eyesight and smart spambots that have CAPTCHAs all figured out. They are at best an annoyance and at worst discriminatory.

Using some or all of the suggestions I offered above, you can eliminate your spam problem without making your readers jump through hoops and without losing your own time dealing with the problem. If your chosen blogging platform doesn’t support these solutions, then think seriously about changing your platform. I heartily recommend WordPress for all your blogging needs, either hosted or your own installation.

My final piece of advice is for quitters. If you give up trying to deal with comment spam, or you give up blogging completely, please please please remember to disable commenting before abandoning your blog. Every spam comment that gets published is a victory for the spammers.

NB: This post is longer than my usual offerings because it’s my entry into the WLTC blogging essay competition.

Read it. Read it now.

Everyone should read Richard Dawkins’ new book The God Delusion. It doesn’t matter if you’re deeply religious or strongly atheist or somewhere in between, you will get something from this book.

If you’re an atheist the book will re-affirm your non-belief and threaten to turn you evangelical about it.

If you’re agnostic, there’s a very good chance this book will pull you off that fence you’re sitting on and let you admit that in fact you are an atheist.

If you’re religious, at the very least this book will be a huge test of faith for you. At best it will free you of your God Delusion. It will certainly make you re-examine your beliefs.

If you’re a religious extremist, it will deeply offend you and you’ll be able to have a good ole fashioned book burning to keep you warm one of these winter nights.

Google a banned book

Every year, works of literature are challenged in libraries and schools around the world. Sometimes they get banned, sometimes they get burned, sometimes the challenge fails.

Despite the fact that my wife sometimes hides James Dobson books when she finds them at the library, I am generally opposed to censorship. So it seems is Google, who are promoting Banned Book Week, which ends tomorrow. If you follow that link you can read some of the most challenged books (the copyright free ones anyway) online.

The number one banned books of the 21st century are the Harry Potter series. Obviously they’re not available on Google. I will be corrupting my son with them in years to come though, along with:

The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien – Burned in Alamagordo, N. Mex. (2001) outside Christ Community Church along with other Tolkien novels as satanic.

I needs…

Procrasto tagged me, so here goes. I have to type “(your name) needs” into Google to see what I need. Here’s what I need:

  • M needs a chick. Think I already have one.
  • M needs help
  • M needs part-time and backup nurses
  • M needs Amanda Buttram, Gotta love that surname.
  • M needs to change course or he will plunge into hell at Mach 666. Yep, I’m an evil sinner.
  • M needs simple tools. Complicated tools confuse me.
  • M needs help to avoid another 2nd-place points finish. Story of my life.
  • M needs a bra. Oh now come on…
  • M needs to articulate what he wants. I WANT CANDY!
  • M needs more room. More. Always More

Who do I tag? I tag Zach Braff. I’ll keep tagging Zach Braff until he acknowledges me.

Meme-arific

OK so I’m in a memey mood this week. Another meme, this time from my wife.

  1. LAST MOVIE YOU SAW IN A THEATER: Serenity, gorram it!
  2. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING? It’s in my sidebar.
  3. FAVORITE BOARD GAME? Risk.
  4. FAVORITE MAGAZINE? Magazines are so last century.
  5. FAVORITE SMELL? Whiteboard markers, baking bread.
  6. FAVORITE FOOD? Chocolate or Sushi.
  7. FAVORITE SOUND? Silence.
  8. WORST FEELING IN THE WORLD? Being kicked in the testicles.
  9. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU THINK OF WHEN YOU WAKE UP? Morning? Already?
  10. FAVORITE FAST FOOD PLACE? Junk: KFC (aka PFK), not so junk: Baton Rouge
  11. FUTURE CHILD’S NAME: Children? Me?
  12. FINISH THIS STATEMENT. IF I HAD A LOT OF MONEY: I’d be rich
  13. DO YOU DRIVE FAST? Ask my wife
  14. DO YOU SLEEP WITH A STUFFED ANIMAL? Only when Jen has a cold.
  15. STORMS-COOL OR SCARY? Uber-cool.
  16. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR? Red Ford Escort Mark II
  17. FAVORITE DRINK? British Beer
  18. FINISH THIS STATEMENT, “IF I HAD THE TIME I”: I’d be rich
  19. DO YOU EAT THE STEMS ON BROCCOLI? Do I eat Broccoli?
  20. IF YOU COULD DYE YOUR HAIR ANY COLOR, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR CHOICE? Black or Blue.
  21. NAME ALL THE DIFFERENT CITIES/TOWNS YOU HAVE LIVED IN: Coryton, Newmarket, Corringham, Stanford-Le-Hope, Surbiton, New Malden, Swindon, Shrewsbury, Montreal, Beaconsfield.
  22. HALF EMPTY OR FULL? Overflowing
  23. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH: Formula 1 racing, Wimbledon
  24. ONE NICE THING ABOUT THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS! There are way too many to narrow it down to just one.
  25. MORNING PERSON, OR NIGHT OWL? Nocturnal
  26. OVER EASY, OR SUNNY SIDE UP? Over. Just Over.
  27. FAVORITE PLACE TO RELAX? Anywhere remote.
  28. FAVORITE PIE? All pie is good
  29. OF ALL THE PEOPLE YOU E-MAILED THIS TO, WHO’S MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Hopefully Zach Braff.
  30. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Zach Braff never does my memes, the git.

I’m passing this meme on to Zach Braff, and anyone else who wants it.

The Movie Meme

I stole this meme from Orac, but the list of movies is Scalzi’s list of the most influential SF movies of all time. The ones I’ve seen are in bold.

  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (I will see this someday)
  • Akira (I saw this late one night on Channel 4, don’t remember much of it)
  • Alien
  • Aliens
  • Alphaville
  • Back to the Future (where is II and III?)
  • Blade Runner
  • Brazil
  • Bride of Frankenstein
  • Brother From Another Planet
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Contact (disappointing, despite Sagan’s involvement)
  • The Damned
  • Destination Moon
  • The Day The Earth Stood Still (Klaatu barada nikto!)
  • Delicatessen (Another one I want to see)
  • Escape From New York
  • ET: The Extraterrestrial
  • Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers (serial)
  • The Fly (1985 version)
  • Forbidden Planet
  • Ghost in the Shell
  • Gojira/Godzilla (Another late night Channel 4 viewing)
  • The Incredibles(Is this really sci-fi?)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 version) (and the remake)
  • Jurassic Park
  • The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2)
  • The Matrix
  • Metropolis
  • On the Beach
  • Planet of the Apes (1968 version)
  • Robocop (this should not be on this list!)
  • Sleeper
  • Solaris (1972 version)
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!!)
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
  • Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (The best SW movie)
  • The Stepford Wives (both versions)
  • Superman
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Come on, the first one was the best)
  • The Thing From Another World
  • Things to Come
  • Tron
  • 12 Monkeys
  • 28 Days Later (this shouldn’t be here either)
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • La Voyage Dans la Lune
  • War of the Worlds (1953 version)

Thirty two out of fifty, my geekhood is confirmed.

I don’t agree with this list entirely, some stuff is too crap to be on here or is not really sci-fi, and there are definitely some omissions. Here are a few I would add:

  • Donnie Darko
  • Serenity
  • The other Star Wars movies
  • The Matrix II and III
  • Silent Running
  • Men In Black
  • The Time Machine (the original movie)
  • Gattaca
  • Fantastic Voyage
  • Logan’s Run
  • Being John Malkovich
  • Time Bandits
  • Predator
  • Running Man
  • The Cube
  • Wargames

The Blogger’s Handbook

Here in Canada we are lucky enough to enjoy the freedom to express ourselves. I can write just about anything I want on my blog without fear of persecution or prosecution (yes, there are exceptions but we still rank in the top 10 most free countries in the world).

People in other countries are often not so fortunate. Reporters Without Borders have released the Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, mainly aimed at those people living under repressive regimes, but it also looks useful for other bloggers. From their introduction:

Blogs get people excited. Or else they disturb and worry them. Some people distrust them. Others see them as the vanguard of a new information revolution. Because they allow and encourage ordinary people to speak up, theyre tremendous tools of freedom of expression.

Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.

Reporters Without Borders has produced this handbook to help them, with handy tips and technical advice on how to to remain anonymous and to get round censorship, by choosing the most suitable method for each situation. It also explains how to set up and make the most of a blog, to publicise it (getting it picked up efficiently by search-engines) and to establish its credibility through observing basic ethical and journalistic principles.

He Memed Me

I guess it’s time to respond to his meme tag.

5 CDs in your Player:

The only CD player I use is the one in our car, and that tends to have Jen’s mix CDs in it. I’ll give you five CDs that have recently come into our posession instead…

  1. Arcade Fire – Funeral
  2. The Killers – Hot Fuss
  3. The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow
  4. Blue Rodeo – Are You Ready
  5. Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams

5 Movies You’ve watched Recently:

  1. Wilby Wonderful – quirky Paul Gross movie set in Nova Scotia
  2. House of 1000 corpses – Rob Zombie is a twisted, twisted man
  3. Stepford Wives – Well the vibrator gag was funny
  4. Bladerunner – It’s a classic
  5. Lord of the Rings – all three, extended editions, over one weekend

5 Nice Things That Happened To You Lately

  1. Dan, Susan and our nephew Simon visited us
  2. Simon gave me a hug
  3. I made bread that turned out ok
  4. One of my blog posts was really popular
  5. I was tagged with this meme, giving me one less post to think up

5 MP3s on your playlist:

Not listening to anything right now, but these are off my laptop…

  1. The Streets – Close Your Eyes
  2. Kings of Leon – Molly’s Chambers
  3. Mr Brightside – The Killers
  4. Cake – Short Skirt, Long Jacket
  5. Modest Mouse – Ocean Breathes Salty

5 Friends You’re Passing This To:

Pssh, like I have 5 friends. Let’s try…

  1. Jen – because she hasn’t taken John up on his offer yet
  2. Blork
  3. Orac
  4. Lisa
  5. And uh, Zach Braff – well, you never know.

The book meme

I got tagged

Number of books I own…

A lot less than I used to, but I still have an almost complete Pratchett collection, all the Harry Potter books and the complete works of Stephen Donaldson.

Last book bought…

Well I’ve already ordered two copies of Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince. Does that count?

Last book read (still reading)…

Queenan Country by Joe Queenan

Five books that mean a lot to me…

  1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. It’s been with me since I was a teenager.
  2. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. See above.
  3. The Secret Seven books by Enid Blyton. I grew up reading them and had the complete collection.
  4. Danny, The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, another childhood favourite.
  5. The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. One of the funniest things I’ve ever read. The first of the Discworld novels, it set me on the road to collecting them all.

Who shall I send this too?

Procrasto
Orac
Jonas Parker
and Jen (Kowy already tagged her, but she needs a push)

Did blogging kill Usenet?

Back in 1995/1996, when there was only one web browser (and it wasn’t IE), and the web hardly had anything on it, my main activity online was to read and contribute in various newsgroups. I went back and read some of my old posts in a bored moment today, and got all nostalgic. Hence this post.

These days a large percentage of internet users don’t even know what a newsgroup is. If you are one of those people, here’s a brief primer:

Back before the World Wide Web, before things got pretty with graphics and video and sound and blinky flashy moving things, before we were bombarded with advertising, spam and commercialization, things were a lot quieter online. Most people who went online just wanted to talk to other people. More specifically they wanted to talk to other people with similar interests. Out of that desire, Usenet was born. Usenet is a collection of communities, each community having a different interest. Each community was called a newsgroup, and all the newsgroups were held together in a big hierarchical tree of newsgroups. That was Usenet. It was text based. The closest it got to pretty graphics was the ubiquitous smiley.

Usenet is still around. There are literally thousands of newsgroups out there. Think of any topic, anything at all, and there is probably a newsgroup for it. If by some bizarre fluke there isn’t, you can go ahead and create one. But Usenet is slowly dying.

First came the spam. Once upon a time, Usenet was spam free. The whole internet was spam free. Then someone noticed. Soon Usenet started filling with spam. A war erupted between the spammers and the spammed. An arms race began with each side inventing new and creative techniques to outwit their enemy. That fight still goes on, but the spam never stops. Sometimes the flow is slowed, but it never stops.

The second nail in the Usenet coffin was web based bulletin board systems. These lacked the inter-connectedness of Usenet, but they had the advantage of being web based, and the web browser was fast becoming the tool of choice for all online activity. Dejanews helped a bit with their web based Usenet archival service, which now belongs to Google but still people flocked to the new web based forums, boards and chatrooms.

Finally, along came blogs. Even less connected (at first) than bulletin boards, but everyone could have one to call their own, and although some might dispute the fact, we are material beings, we want to own stuff. Where once we would go to our favourite newsgroup to vent or rant, now we could do it on our very own webpage, and receive comments back from like-minded people without worrying (so much) about spam, flames and the other dangers of Usenet living.

With tools like Technorati, Pingomatic and trackbacks, blogs are becoming more connected. Blog clubs are being formed for blogs with similar interests. Slowly the blogging world is taking on everything Usenet once was.

So has blogging killed Usenet? Well no, not yet. Usenet is still alive, the newsgroups still have content even if the signal to noise ratio has increased dramatically. It will probably survive, but it is a shadow of what it once was. It has become a backwater, part of the “internet underground”. Fewer and fewer people are aware of its existence.

Adherent of the Repeated Meme

I’m not big on blog memes, but when someone like Saint Nate invites me to do one, how can I refuse? This is what the meme wants me to do:

Behold, the Caesars Bath meme! List five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you cant really understand the fuss over. To use the words of Caesar (from History of the World Part I), Nice. Nice. Not thrilling . . . but nice.

So here goes:

  1. Little Britain – A comedy sketch show currently airing on BBC Canada. It has its moments, but it suffers the same problem as so many sketch shows before it; the sketches go on too long and the jokes get repeated so many times that they get tedious.
  2. The Pope – Not really my peer group, but the populace in general seems to be obsessed with anything and everything popely. I don’t care. Unless you’re a devout Roman Catholic, you shouldn’t care either.
  3. The Da Vinci Code – I’m sure it’s a good piece of fiction, but it’s been so over hyped that I can’t bring myself to read it.
  4. Football – That’s soccer for you North Americans. I grew up in England, where football (yeah yeah, soccer) is the national obsession. My Dad tried so hard to get me interested, taking me to games, making me watch it with him on TV. I never got it. Everyone around me was obsessed with the sport and devoted to their chosen team. I supported a team because it was the done thing, but my heart was never in it.
  5. Desperate Housewives – Why?

Now I need to invite some people to continue the meme; how about him, him and him?

Doctor Who Rocks!

We watched the first episode of the new Doctor Who last night. I was very worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but I think it exceeded them. Chris Ecclestone is superb as the enigmatic Doctor and Billy Piper wasn’t any worse than some of the past assistants. The story line was classic Doctor Who, with cheesy special effects to match.

The best thing about Doctor Who was always that it didn’t take itself seriously, and this series looks like no exception. The fight with the plastic hand was wonderfully slapstick, and the wheelie bin incident was straight from the Tom Baker days. My favourite piece of dialogue:

Rose: If you’re an alien, why do you have a Northern accent?
Doctor: Lots of planets have a North.

My only disappointment: the old shows were always multiple part stories, leaving the Doctor in impossible-to-survive situations at the end of each episode. This episode didn’t have that, but maybe that was because it was the first one.

The red pill

It takes a while watching movies on the way to work, especially with all the DVD special features, but I’ve finally finished re-watching the Matrix trilogy.

The Matrix – The sequels could never live up to what this delivered, it is by far the best of the three. The story is superbly mystifying, the effects were groundbreaking and perfectly executed. Add to that the fantastic extras on the DVD and you have quite a package. The commentary track is good, although Carrie-Anne Moss doesn’t have much to say and the special effects geek gets annoying. The music only track with commentary from the composer Don Davis is a really nice feature and makes you realise how much of the story can be told just with visuals and music.

The Matrix Reloaded – The 2nd best of the three. The story evolves well with the introduction of some fun new characters. The effects are once again groundbreaking. The burly brawl looks like it was a lot of fun to make, although some of the ‘virtual human’ stuff didn’t quite look real enough. The highway chase is simply stunning. Sadly the quality of the special features went down drastically with this DVD. No feature commentaries, just a couple of mildly interesting documentaries.

The Matrix Revolutions – OK so the story sucks a bit in this one, some things just don’t work, some things are left a little too open ended, some things are just pretentious gibberish. From an action standpoint it doesn’t disappoint though. The siege sequence is probably the best and the longest non-stop all-action sequence ever with incredible special effects on a massive scale. The machine city is an amazing piece of CGI. The super burly brawl feels a little tongue-in-cheek but it’s still fun, and the effect they used for the last punch is a masterpiece. Once again the extra features are a disappointment; no feature commentary and even less documentary footage than the 2nd movie.

No doubt the new 10 DVD special edition coming out in time for Christmas will have all the features I’m looking for, but I hate the way the studios are milking us with these ever growing extended-super-bonus-special-megapack editions.