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Thursday September 06 2012

I doubt if anyone has been wondering where I have been for the last six days.  Me not blogging is not exactly a big surprise these days.  But I have actually been doing good things for this blog, by cleaning up the comment system.

Basically, spam commenters have been making my life a misery and this blog an object of ridicule to any who still bother with it, and I decided to drop all other blogging activity until I had turned back the tide.  That is now done.  For the time being at least, the spamsters have given up.

Basically I fixed it so that neither you nor the spammers can comment on any posting here, except the very recent ones.  But you can now read all the proper comments that have accumulated here over the years, along with the postings.  Previously, I had shut down quite a lot of the comments in such a way that not only could you not add a comment yourself; you couldn’t even read the comments that had once been there.  Many (not most but many) comments from way back, not a few of them very interesting, had been scrubbed out as if they had never been. 

Now, all those genuine, non-spam comments, every last one of them, are back.  If you remember saying something brilliant about something I wrote about something or other, just type “something or other” into the search box on the left, and you can dig it up and admire it without fear of interruption.

I use Expression Engine, for the benefit of geeks.  And the trick in Expression Engine was to fix it so that comments “expire”.  Comments which have “expired” may not be responded to with further comments, but the entire comment thread can still be read.

Comments that have not been “allowed”, on the other hand, just disappear.  But, those that I had disallowed didn’t disappear entirely.  They could be re-allowed again.  This is what I did, for all disallowed comment threads.  But, I also made sure (by choosing a recent date now in the past) that all these comments have now “expired”.  Are we clear?

All of which means that the spammers will no longer regard this blog as a target rich environment.  They don’t mind me deleting their crap, so long of some of it sticks, for a little while, like when I am sleeping or having a life.  The trick is to make it impossible for them to chuck it here in the first place, or not on any scale.  There will still be a handful of recent postings for them to crap all over the comment threads of, but here’s hoping they will now look for bigger pastures (such as this blog used to be from their point of view) to ply their dishonourable trade. It’s now been more than a day since spam commenting opportunities here ceased to exist in anything resembling abundance, and the spammers seem, for the time being anyway, to have moved on.

I would love to meet someone who was foolish enough to boast to me, or come to that to anyone, that he does or ever did spam commenting for a living.  I would probably end up in prison by the time I had done my thing to them, but it would be well worth it.  Their lives would be a living hell from then on also, because I would have gone to as much trouble as was needed to accomplish that.  Besides which, an enlightened judge or jury might decide that what I did, though harsh, was an entirely reasonable example of a crime of passion, or perhaps self-defence, even a public duty well performed, and that the little runt got just a little bit of what he entirely deserved, and that I owed the runt one pee in damages, which I would be delighted then to administer to the runt on the court-room steps, hopefully thereby ruining all the expensive clothes he had purchased for the trial in a vain attempt to persuade everyone that he was not a runt.

Meanwhile, the price this blog pays for all this anti-spamming activity is that no non-runts can now comment on ancient postings here, or not with a “comment”.

But very few ever did, and if you really do want to add something to some old thing here, do please feel entirely free to email in with such commentary, making it clear that you would welcome me including it in a new posting, which will then (because very recent) be available to be commented upon by others besides me.

The other somewhat bad news is that this all took me a very, very long time.  Basically, I re-edited every single individual posting here, of which there are now getting on for three thousand.  I am sure there was a much quicker way for me to have done this, but in truth I quite enjoyed the task.  It went well with listening to music.  Plus, I enjoyed acquainting myself with clever things I have written in the past, and with clever comments that others had written (some of them showing me to be not so clever, but there you go, that’s the price of mouthing off on the www).

Nevertheless (Patrick C)?  Could I have done all this in a few moments?  I bet I could.

This has been creeping up on my blogs over the last year or so.  And last week I decided I’d had enough of it all and turned off commenting altogether.  There may be a switch that allows commenting on recent articles only but I didn’t go looking for it.

Posted by Patrick Crozier on 06 September 2012



I am delighted to report that the last four comments at this blog have all been genuine ones, which makes quite a change I can tell you.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 07 September 2012

And they’re back.

I just got overconfident and opened up more of the postings that are visible here.  For some reason this posting seems especially to fascinate them.

So anyone who wants to tell me about empty seats at county cricket games will just have to email me.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 07 September 2012

Oh dear.

It appears that ancient comments are NOT now readable.


Patrick?  Any way to contrive what I said I had contrived?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 07 September 2012

Be glad you’re not a moderator at The Atlantic magazine.  They are beset by spammers who use seemingly real people posting apposite comments, with a link to their online store embedded.

Posted by The Sanity Inspector on 08 September 2012

Comments can be read:

It’s more that the links to them have disappeared.  I think I know why but I’d need to have a look at the code first.

Posted by Patrick Crozier on 08 September 2012

Patrick, many thanks.

I was especially pleased that yours was a real comment.  There is something particularly enraging about a spam comment attached to a posting about what scumbags spam commenters are.

I notice that that link you supply has “… weblog/comments/laurence_ ...” in it.  The key bit being “/comments/”.

But when you go to, say, the March 2009 archive and click on the title of this Larry White posting, you get a link without “/comments/” in it, and no comments, and no means of accessing comments in the form of “Comments (5)” or whatever, at the bottom of the posting.

Is there any way that could be changed, so that every time you click on a title, you get all the comments too, like you did?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 08 September 2012

I have just discovered that if I find my way to a posting here by way of the search box, then comments do appear, and at the bottom the mere news that they may not be added to, just as Patrick Crozier found with the posting he found his way to.

So, determined narcisists, desperate to discover some ancient gem of commentary here that they concocted years ago will find their way to the comment they seek, if this is the route they take, as it probably will be.

If they get to the posting minus the comments, by who knows what other route, then they can type some of the title into the search box, and get to the comments included version.

Glad we have cleared that up

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 08 September 2012

Sadly the link in Patrick’s comment above, which needs to remain to make sense of my follow-up comment, disappears of the right hand side of my screen and maybe yours too.

But that is the least of my worries just now.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 08 September 2012

I was surfing on my tablet and I just attached the keyboard to comment here. Yay Padfone.

Anyway, all this spam business is pretty much solved if you use Wordpress. There is a plugin for it called Akismet and it just works and that is that. Which is not to say you should switch to Wordpress because that would be an awful lot of work in itself. But there are probably general lessons here. It’s not so much “use open source software” I suspect, as “use whatever everyone else is using”. Because when everyone else is doing it, there are more people to solve the problems involved with doing it.

It is rational to be a sheep. Hm. Not sure I like that.

Posted by Rob Fisher on 10 September 2012

On the other hand, Patrick, exporting to Wordpress doesn’t look so bad, should you ever consider such a thing:

Posted by Rob Fisher on 10 September 2012

I use Wordpress with Akismet and a plugin called Comment Timeout that allows a sliding window for comments to be received before they are closed to spammers. It seems to work: nobody ever complained about being unable to comment, and spam is an occasional issue, not a daily struggle.

Interestingly, Akismet has an API I say “interestlingly” because incentives at work in this particular scenario are interesting. It seems that although Automattic effectively sell blogging software they are so interested in receiving information about spam (to use in spam detecting) that they want Akismet to work with rival software products. In fact they **even allowed an Expresion Engine plugin***…

Posted by Simon Gibbs on 14 September 2012
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