Meta Archives

February 29, 2004

I'ma starteeng a blawg!

Yeppers, I've got a blog now. I've always regretted the disappearance of the Spotlight from the ROCR site, and this will be one attempt at bringing it back while making it easier to do.
So I'll discuss web and print comics, music, books and anything else that tickles my fancy.
To reduce the likelihood of this blog being abandoned, I'm inviting guest writers. If you're a creative person with an interest in webcomics, email me to apply for a guest spot!

March 7, 2004

Taking stock

This blog is one week old and I still haven't abandoned it! I must be on to something here.
It says in my tagline that I will blog about politics among other things. I haven' t done so yet, but I will do so as soon as I get good and angry about something. In the mean time, i recommend Harry's Place as my favorite political blog.
Moveable Type has been a breeze to work with. It's easy to set up and the ability to make special templates has made it easy to put a simplified version of the blog on my main site, I'm still working on a php template to integrate directly with the Xepher mirror. And maybe a Javascript template for integration with other sites. Problem is that I don't like working with Javascript much and have already forgotten most of what little I know about PHP.

I've invited three co-bloggers; they will keep me on the ball when work is swamping me or when I just can't be bothered. So far I haven't really needed them though.

I don't know how many people read the blog, but it could be a fair number by now. Do give me a shout-out in the comments!

March 12, 2004

New name for the blog? informs me that the name "Waffle" is already taken. So I need a new one for this blog. Any suggestions?

March 13, 2004

Changes to RSS feeds

On the advise of Bugpowder's Pete Ashton, really a key figure in the UK comics scene, I've made some changes to the RSS feeds for this blog. If you use RSS, and want to suggest more changes or just tell me it is broken now or just plain sucks, do drop me a line in the comments.

March 30, 2004

Comment spam

"Waffle" has had its first comment spam! Fortunately I do not allow links in comments, and I was online to delete it on sight, so no harm done.

If it goes on though, I will take more drastic measures. Like maybe propose a law that legalises the use of spammers in medical tests instead of animals.

"Let's see if this shampoo hurts when I squirt it into your eyes, little spammer! Oooh, it does, doesn't it? Just like the last time."

May 7, 2004

Random quotes

Blogging is going to be light here in the next few days, because I haven't even got near my goal of finishing 5 pages of ROCR this week, like I really ought to do every week that I'm not working on a well-paid project so I can build up a buffer for when I am. So far, I haven't completed 3 since Friday, despite the help I got from Yonaka.

I have a lot I want to blog about, but it'll have to wait. I will, however, stop to recommend Spike's blog which is full of hyperbolic praise of myself and fascinating stories of mummified rats, and to ask about any good Moveable Type plugins that may be used to pull random quotes from a file and display them as the tagline to this blog. Spike's blog has a few neat ones that I'd love to use, and I keep finding them in other places as well. I'm sure they exist, but which are any good?

May 19, 2004


Recent search terms for the Waffle front page:

With which key words
1. eurovision 3
2. blog 2
3. waffle 2
4. tally 1
5. cronies 1
6. final 1
7. official 1
8. estonian 1
9. semi 1
10. 2004 1

I'll bet the actual search phrase was
"Estonian cronies waffle official Eurovision semi-final tally 2004".

May 29, 2004

So that's where the summary goes!

Ever since editing, at Pete Ashton's suggestion, the template for this blog's RSS feed so that it includes the entire entry instead or just a short excerpt, I've been wondering if the Excerpt feature was still used anywhere in the blog. Now I've found out.

I noticed that a recent search term leading here had been "Gestapo" and did an internal search to remind myself which entry the searcher might have found. The internal search led me to this result, which includes a summary I'd entered on a whim.

So I will contine to occasionally put stuff in the Excerpt field that I've got in my MT entry screen, as an easter egg for my legion of obsessive blog-devourers.

June 14, 2004

Changes to the blog

I've added the sidebar from the front page (this one, if you read the weblog through the inlined pages on the ROCR site) to the archive and category pages. Reasons:
1. I want to ease navigation from archived pages to the rest of the blog;
2. I like reading the blog better if the text is in a narrower column, and I expect that most of you feel the same.

The downside is that the archives are heavier now and will take a bit longer to load. When ROCR was still fully hosted at a free keespace site, I liked to keep the archive pages leaner than the front page, but in a weblog, people are much more likely to come in through other pages, and I'd like to give newcomers a full-featured webpage to explore. I'll probably slim the sidebar on the archive pages down a bit in a few days though.

July 6, 2004

At last, I can run this blog on the Modern Tales site

Thanks to Einar, co-blogger at Waffle central and writer of the ROCR-cameo-tastic Dangerous and Fluffy, I have finally found a hack allowing me to feature the weblog in an Iframe on the ROCR pages on Modern Tales without having to tie it closely to a single episode. So welcome, ROCR readers on Modern Tales, to this blog that I've been maintaining for 5 months now. I use it to discuss art, politics and the work I'm doing behind the scenes on the comic. Also to announce hiatuses and extra stuff.

Continue reading "At last, I can run this blog on the Modern Tales site" »

July 7, 2004


Quick addendum to At last, I can run this blog on the Modern Tales site:

When I said "I use [this weblog] to discuss art, politics and the work I'm doing behind the scenes on the comic. Also to announce hiatuses and extra stuff", I meant "we". Co-bloggers are Jeroen aka CMkaapjes and Adam aka Einar, friends, co-conspirators and creators of Dangerous and Fluffy. They don't post a lot but they do occasionally chime in.

So On the Shelf was a message from Jeroen, and the drawings shown in it, pretty though they are, aren't mine. I should really redesign the blog template so that it's clearer who posted what. I'll do that in my copious spare time.

July 27, 2004

On Henges and Funnel Beakers

Mental note: if I'm going to write about archeological sites, in English, in this blog, then this glossary of archeological terms is going to come in handy. But I should keep looking for a more extensive one.

August 11, 2004

Hyperlinking in comments

I'm still waiting to see how MT-Blacklist turns out. I've already got some comment spams that passed through it, but adding them to the blacklist, both by URL and by IP was easy enough.

If I can keep the comments clean of spam, I will liberate them. I will enable hyperlinking, HTML bold and italic tags and images. But only if I'm absolutely sure they won't be abused. It will be a golden age!

Meanwhile, a quick note on my editing policy. Because English is my second language, I occasionally make minor changes to my own blog entries to improve the wording. I reserve the right to do this for my comments as well (and would encourage those who have blog contributor accounts to do the same). However, I will only do this in the first week or so after I've made a post. Any grammar, spelling or semantic goof that still exists after that stays where it is for all to see.

September 28, 2004

The New York Times should do this

Via Roel's weblog: Webwereld reports that the Belgian newspaper De Standaard will open up its paid archives to webloggers. Considering the annoyance I and undoubtedly many others experience when an interesting link in a blog sends you to a login page - which as often as not stops me dead in my tracks, even now that the world has Bugmenot - this is a good compromise.
De Standaard will use referral headers to determine if the incoming link is from a blog. I have no doubt that the server software will get it wrong often, at least at first. But it will get better. Now if only the New York Times would do the same...

Update: Bloggers can go to the Blogsafe link generator to create working links to NYT articles. Until it gets shut down, probly.

October 8, 2004

More signs of the impending apocalypse

The post below is from Geir, who has had posting privileges here since the blog started in February! Welcome, Geir!
I do worry, though, that Geir's sudden decision to start posting is itself a sign of the impending apocolypse.

October 18, 2004

Welcome, Timm!

Yup, as you've read below, Timm is now a member of the little group that outputs Waffle. And he's a lot quicker to make his debut than Geir has been!
Timm lives in Australia, so he's the first non-European here. We've been in touch for quite a few years, even making a comic together. And as comics are the binding factor between the other four bloggers, and Timm now replaces Jeroen as the artist of the comic that Adam writes, he should take his rightful place among us wafflers.

What with there being 5 of us, upgrading Moveable Type could end up being an expensive proposition (though I haven't looked at their terms recently).

Should I add separate sidebar listings for each author the way the eggheads do? It's not something you get out of the box, but I'm sure a little futzing around with templates will enable me to build this feature.

October 22, 2004

Upgrading and backdating

I have two questions to other people who use Movable Type:

1. Is upgrading worth it? I may have use for two features that MT 3.* offers: the scheduled postings and the subcategories. But if there's a lot of hassle involved I can live without either of them.

2. I want to turn some of the reviews in my old spotlights page into backdated blog entries. Is this a good idea? I've noticed that sometimes changing the dates on an existing entry messes up the sequence of blog entries so that readers can't navigate through the archive. Will that sort of thing occur a lot, and how will it affect upgrading and archive migration?

Please let me know your experiences, either through the comments or in email.

October 30, 2004

Okay, I can take a hint

None other than Abu Aardvark is telling me to cut it out with the partisan political screeds already. He's not naming me by name but I can tell that he means me. I'll spend the night of November 2 at some bar or other in Groningen wearing a black hoodie and getting shit-faced (regardless of the outcome). Or maybe I'll do something else. I haven't decided yet.
But no more riffing on the mendacity, malevolence, incompetence and simple disconnection from reality of the Bush administration. No, really. And starting Nov. 3, I'll only post political stuff here that actually has nuance and some insight that doesn't come from other people's commentary. Promise.

Update: Snoutboy has taken it all back. Flipflopper. But he's got good reason:

UPDATE: aaaargh!! A top Bush strategist has been quoted as saying that bin Laden's tape is a "gift." Bin Laden's being free to threaten Americans is a "gift" to Bush's campaign. So that's how it is. It's actually kind of... refreshing. Sorry everyone.. I take it all back. Ignore all the above advice, and get back to work. Full speed ahead, all hands to deck - no rest for the weary, and all that.

I suppose when you're up against an administration and a campaign so irredeemably dreadful, everything else takes second place.

November 6, 2004

Uhm, never mind.

It strikes me now that my "Conservative civility watch" posts were motivated at least partly by personal resentment issues on my part, and that while it would be a good idea for someone in Blogtopistan to keep tabs on truly outrageous statements made by the right's lunatic fringe, it would be better for my own soul if that someone wasn't me. For starters, I'd like to be able to keep my sense of humour about things

Move along, nothing to see here, I don't call this place Waffle for nothing...

November 13, 2004

Whatever happened to "So you want to emigrate? Part 2"?

Every once in a while I promise or strongly imply that I will post something on this blog in the future. It's almost always something that takes a bit more legwork than a regular shooting-off of the mouth, and it's almost always a promise I end up regretting.
The second part of "So you want to emigrate?" is one of those. It's closer to real journalism than most bloggers get. I've interviewed some American expats for it. I intended, and still do, to look up some of the legislation and other problems that expats might encounter. And I just can't find the time to do it, what with ongoing work, unexpected bureaucratic requirements that I have to fulfill and other things preoccupying me right now. By the time I get around to posting it, it may no longer be relevant. But I'll do my best.
The more journalistic direction is where I want to take the blog in the long run. Once I'm able to come up for air.

December 27, 2004

Comment Spam of the Conservatives.

Today's massive comment spam (I've been deleting posts for an hour) seems to have a strong conservative bias. Basically, it's a collection of random letters - a typical one might read something like

<A HREF="">iuewjhds ksdhjdsjj</A>:

But it's the fact that they seem to be targetting posts with a liberal slant. With few exceptions, they seem to concentrate on liberal topics such as Joey Manley on the election results and Conservative Civility Watch

Has anyone else noticed anything like this of late?

December 28, 2004

What to do about the comments?

I've had enough of having to clean up after new waves of comment spam on the blog, especially now that some bright spark has decided to spam random URL strings. I disagree with Einar's conclusion that this is a politically-motivated attack; I think the purpose is to defeat MT-blacklist by making the blacklist so long that it slows down the blog software.
For the time being, I've set Moveable Type to default to disallowing comments. What I might do is enable comments Joey Manley-style: referring people to the Reinder Dijkhuis Forum if they want to comment. But having to type that in all the time is a bit of a bother too. I am toying with the idea of changing the templates so that the link is automatically inserted where the link to the comments used to be, but to be totally fair towards my co-bloggers, I'd have to find a way of making it link to a different forum depending on who authored the blog entry. Are there any Movable Type wizards among you who know how to do that? Tell me in the forum!
Update: On second thought, this post should still be open to comments. Also, I forgot to apologise in advance for any serious comments that may have been deleted along with the hundreds of spams. I don't know if anything got lost in the sweep but it's possible.

January 5, 2005

Comments, re-re-redux

Note to everyone: on substantial posts, I set the comments to open. Keeping most postings comment-free is the only way to prevent this weblog from becoming a Phentermine clearinghouse, but it makes me feel a twinge of guilt whenever I post. Blogs should allow people to comment. So whenever I do anything more than post an ultra-brief summary and link, I manually open the comments. I will be more vigilant about closing them after a short time, say, after the post falls off the front page.
Also, I've discovered the "Allow Comments: None" setting, which differs from the "Allow Comments: Closed" setting in that it doesn't show a link to nonexistent comments at the bottom of my posts. So that will become the default from now on. But I will manually open many of my posts.

January 21, 2005


I tried to upgrade to MT 3.14 today. The upgrade got b0rked, badly, and I had to roll it back after 5 hours of alternately waiting for answers from Movable Type's support department and implementing their suggestions. They've been very helpful, but I have nothing to show for those 5 hours of my time, which considering how the rest of the week has gone is very discouraging.

I will try again when I have another few hours of uninterrupted idle time. This may not be soon. Until the upgrade is done, comments for new posts will continue to be set to "None" unless I have a good reason to allow them for any post. Not that I expect to put up many new posts either, because I'm a bit fed up with blogging for the time being.

Now let's post this and see if the system is still working as it should.

January 23, 2005

Testing, testing,

Testing, again.

Almost done

Okay, the upgrade seems to be working. I hate the new look with (in Opera) impossibly narrow entry fields and no columns or buttons, but I expect that fixing the style sheet will not be too difficult.
Comments will remain switched off until I manage to import a master MT-Blacklist, which the system won't let me do for some reason. I expect that that will be difficult. If you have a tip or otherwise want to comment, send it to

Update: the entry page style sheet has been fixed, making that part of the site usable.
Also, I'm trying to get the RandomLine plugin to work again, so that quotes appear on top of the main index again.

January 25, 2005

Back, at last

Okay! Now the blog is finally back. I still need to improve the entry screens (after the events of the past couple of days, something has been chmodded so that I can't see images and logos inside the entry panels, and that annoys me a little bit), but the core functionality seems to be working. The bad news is that there will be no comments in the near future.
The one thing I didn't get to function was MT-Blacklist, and that's bad enough, but even if it did work, I'd be reluctant to switch comments back on. Just minutes after the last time I got the blog working, my Movable Type directory got flooded with comment spams, taking down not just the blog but the entire host. Xepher responded by shutting down all MT intallations across the network. He has now kindly allowed me to switch everything on, except the comments, and I'm not going to press the issue right now because even if I get MT-blacklist working again, the load caused by the failed attempts at posting comment spams is enough to hose again.

In preparation for a day when I will want to try and switch comments on again, I have uploaded and installed MT-DBSL and Real Comment Throttle, as well as alerting Xepher to possible apache-side solutions and making a mental note of this Movable Type hack that automagically adds IP addresses to the IP ban list if they post crap that matches the blacklist — it may not be useful to me while the blacklist is kaput, but it will be useful some time.

I recommend that everyone with a Movable Type blog reads A Six Apart Guide to Fighting Comment Spam, Killing Comment Spam the Pete Way and Concerning Spam. But for now, no comments until we are sure we can deal with the consequences of crapfloods for the server. I will look at alternative community-building solutions.
And tart the blog up with avatars so it's easier to see who's posting.

April 1, 2005

Buh-bye, trackbacks

Waffle has been hit hard by trackback spam in the past couple of days. Now, I could respond to this by trying again to set up MT-Blacklist and fix whatever prevents it from working as it should, but frankly, the blog gets very few legitimate trackback pings, and in any case, I'm no longer as interested in blogospheric juju as I was a year ago or so. So the easy way out for me is to disable trackbacks altogether, strip the trackback ping code out of the templates, and give the spammers the finger for good. I won't get a cool Technorati profile or a high place in the Blog Ecosystem with that attitude, but the sad spectacle of seeing bloggers whine about how "nofollow" would destroy blogging as we know it has lead me to believe that that aspect of the blogging experience is profoundly stupid and childish anyway. So gone are trackbacks, and good riddance. The archive pages will be leaner for the lack of all that stuff hidden in them.

The one reason to have trackbacks at all is to allow your readers to find interesting blogs that way. Since no interesting blogs ever ping this one, I don't see why I should expose the site to massive abuse in the vain hope of that ever happening.

April 10, 2005


Add this one to the to-do list:
The blog's webhost, Xepher, says he's ready to start experimenting with allowing comments on Movable Type installations. I have not responded to that, because I haven't got MT-Blacklist working yet, and haven't spent a whole lot of time on it lately. But now MT-Blacklist's creator, Jay Allen, writes about a new despamming tool called SpamLookup, which he says is so good that

I've disabled MT-Blacklist and DSBL (but not MT-Moderate, which SpamLookup works with quite nicely and relies on for ping moderation) in favor of Spamlookup.

Sounds good, neh? I'll be in touch with Xepher some time next week.

April 16, 2005

Bloglines no workie

My account seems to have disappeared from Bloglines, and with it the published blogroll on the Waffle front page. Until Bloglines has answered my query about the problem to my satisfaction, I won't comment much on stuff found on other blogs, unless someone sends me links. If they don't answer my query to my satisfaction and I am forced to rebuild the blogroll and the loooong list of blogs I read, I might as well take the opportunity to rebuild it at a competing provider, if one can be found. Send hints and tips to

This could be a blessing in disguise, really, as it's one less distraction for me to be distracted by.

August 29, 2005

Eldritch Wraiths of Technical Difficulties

I don't know why a page from the comic is suddenly showing up at the top of the Waffle home page... it certainly doesn't appear in the posting interface's entry listings, the miniature indexes or in the RSS feed. It links to a broken archive within Waffle's archive space, but the permalink for it is the correct one for the Movable Type-based version of the webcomic.
I think Movable Type got a few screws loose. It's even quite possible that posting this will un-scramble things to the point where the faulty posting disappears. Let's see...
Update: Nope. Mysterious...

October 4, 2005

Housekeeping, or is that blogkeeping

This weekend, I'll try to upgrade the blog software to Movable Type 3.2, un-b0rk the comments section and maybe even switch to a higher account level so I can invite more co-bloggers. I may fail (and break stuff in the process), but I will take some time to try. Comments are very much in demand, to the point where people have removed links to Waffle on their own sites out of frustration with the lack of comment functionality.

I may also switch to dynamic templates for the blog, which would be a big, big change indeed.
I hear that the new default templates for Movable Type 3.2 are very different (again) from the existing ones, and more complicated (again!). Because so much about the existing installation is broken, I am leaning towards backing up everything I got and doing a full install. Will it be worth the bother to work with the new templates or will I be better off using the old ones?

There are a few people with Movable Type blogs reading Waffle, if you could advise me, please email me. I promise that if my plans succeed, it will be the last time you'll have to email me for comments and advice; there will be shiny new comments!

By the way, there are even more overhauls planned in all the locations where I publish Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan. I can guarantee that these overhauls will be disruptive over a period of several days. Please bear with me - I promise I will report as best I can, with B-movie title clichés.

October 8, 2005

Blogkeeping delayed

Sorry to those of you who were eager to finally see comments here again; I'm behind in my work, so the blogkeeping I promised the other day will have to be postponed. The one response I got to my earlier message, from Pete Ashton (thanks, mate), urged me to put aside a decent chunk of time, which I won't be able to do until that damned page is finished.

Next weekend, I hope.

November 17, 2005

Blogrolled: That Girl Needs Therapy

For a guy who writes about music a lot, I don't have many music links on my blogroll. This is more of a historical accident than anything else; when I started blogging, I looked around for other blogs about music, and it turned out that many of the interesting ones were done by people who were desperately unhappy, clinging to music for the emotional support needed to make their lives worth living, but unable to lift themselves out of misery. I am convinced that music has that power to sustain people and even to turn lives around, but you couldnt' tell from the ones that I had taken an interest in that it was more than a refuge to them. They made for such painful reading that I had to stop following them to avoid getting sucked in. I assumed that that was what music blogging was like - just like political blogging encourages people to become shriller and more partisan over time, music blogging, I thought, kept its bloggers treading water emotionally.

That Girl Needs Therapy doesn't give off that vibe at all. I stumbled upon it repeatedly through Technorati and the last time I did it had a nice comment about my blog in a post, plus author Tatgoddess posts many interesting mp3s for her readers to sample. I will be checking out Nouvelle Vague on the basis of their cover of PIL's "This is Not a Love Song" (the original of which I initially hated until I acquired a taste for John Lydon's singing) , for example. TGNTL is now on my blogroll.

Speaking of John Lydon, he's got a nice interview in the Dutch magazine Oor, December issue, in which he mentions that he doesn't hate Pink Floyd actually, talks about how childhood meningitis affected him and comes across as a moderate, easy-going sort of guy. Who'd have thunk it?

December 6, 2005


It looks like trackbacks on Waffle have suddenly, spontaneously become un-borked. Straaaaange. Seems to have happened in mid-November for no good reason at all.

May 29, 2006

A quick reminder of why there are no comments on the blog

What Tom Coates describes here also happened to me when I upgraded to Movable Type 3.14 late in 2004.

When they try and login, the server basically falls over completely. A forced restart, and I hold my breath a little. When it comes back, they dig into the logs and it becomes immediately obvious to them what's going on. Hundreds – thousands – of requests every minute for a file called mt-comments.cgi – the part of Movable Type that deals with incoming comments to my weblog. My entire site has been quite directly, and clearly spammed to death.

Every once in a while I consider bringing back comments on Waffle, possibly after upgrading to a newer version of Movable Type. Then I think "Naaah." I didn't get too many anyway, and restoring the feature would require quite a lot of work up-front and also bring along with it an ongoing responsibility to maintain it - keeping it functional and spam-free. Life's too short.

WillowCMS, on which the comic's archive runs, has comments, and seems to be holding up well under the onslaught of spamming attempts. But should it buckle under, I don't think I would wait very long to cut my losses and switch off comments.

February 14, 2007

Bleg (or should that be 'bleagh')

I don't know where I'd heard that Movable Type was free again, but it evidently wasn't on Movable Type's own site. If anything, their rates seem to have gone up from what I remember. This is a bit of a bummer, because I'd been looking to upgrade. I want to add two new bloggers (my studio-mates Jelena Saiso and Calvin Bexfield), which requires a non-restricted version of the software. I also want to re-enable comments, which requires the latest and greatest in anti-spam provisions, otherwise all of goes down again. I could of course move to Wordpress or even WillowCMS, but I have two good reasons to stick with Movable Type:
1. I hate it when URLs change, and don't have time to hunt through old blog entries to change links to the new URLs;
2. Fielding support questions from my co-bloggers is difficult enough without having to learn a new interface myself. I'm not a Movable Type expert and have to look for answers in the Help pages and my own old template code, but at least I am usually able to find the answer. In Wordpress, I'd know no more than the user asking the question. In WillowCMS, I'd know a little more than my users, but frankly, I'm unwilling to let other people onto my Willow installation until there's a simplified interface they can use. Otherwise I'd be answering questions all day, or rather, Mithandir would be answering them for me, which would be a terrible way to thank him for the work he's done. And there's so many things I haven't got around to implementing that a Willow-ed version of the blog would need. It would have advantages in terms of comic/blog integration though.

Bummer. What to do? Looks like I've got a bullet to bite here - actually, upgrading Movable Type after more than two years would be hair-raising enough considering what happened the last time.

That's one new blogger

I did some research and found that there were no technical restrictions on this Movable Type installation. The license restricted me to five authors, but I've just gone to Movable Type's site and accepted the new license which allows me to have more.

So welcome, Jelena Stellaard, to this blog. Jelena has been my studio-mate for the past year. She's a cartoonist, a musician and a geek, so we get along like a house on fire. Jelena has been asked to teach a series of cartooning workshops similar to the workshops I teach, and I asked her a while ago to write about her experiences in this blog like I've been doing with mine. Not that she'll be restricted to posting about teaching, of course.

The second new blogger I'll invite is my other studio-mate, Calvin Bexfield. Calvin is the new background artist for Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan whose meticulous drafting and design you'll enjoy (that's an order!) starting in March. DFG got there first!

February 15, 2007

...and that's two.

If you read Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan, you'll undoubtedly have seen the occasional "Coloured by DFG" discreetly announced below an archived ROCR comic. Drooling Fan Girl, as she's known to the webcomics-reading public, is the comic's most frequent guest colourist. She's a very vocal, argumentative and at times eccentric presence in webcomics-related forums and IRC channels as well. Starting the 19th, DFG will alternate colouring duties on the next ROCR story, provisionally entitled "Attack of the Nightmares" until I can find a title that doesn't suck, with second colourist Mravac Kid.

February 17, 2007

We have comments.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have comments. Try them!

February 18, 2007

Quick test of the new image uploader

The new File Uploader in Movable Type can make thumbnails! So I can now do this:
and show you previews that still fit within the blog column on the front page. This means that:
1) my search for a better file uploader (in which the only one that looked promising enough to try was for-pay) yesterday was a waste of time; and
2) I don't need to give people complicated instructions for how to post an image without breaking the front page layout. Yay!

April 12, 2007

Well, so much for Movable Type's nifty new spam prevention

The keyword blacklisting in Movable Type has one little drawback: it doesn't work. I've added several variants of "Good Site! Thanks!" including "ood site! Thank" to the blacklist but spams containing those phrases continue to get posted. Update: I've boned up on regular expression syntax and the rules for whole-word blacklisting, and it works well now.

Worse than that, because of Movable Type's insane resource consumption, forced mass rebuilds after a spam cleanup sometimes hit Xepher's resource limits, causing them to time out and the rebuild to fail, meaning that the spams don't get deleted from the posted entries (though they do get deleted from the database). This is Not Acceptible.

Worse, the filter's performance seems to be worsening. Spams that automagically get junked still outnumber spams that don't, but not nearly by as much as they did a month ago. I've got bad experiences with learning filters (Opera's, for instance, tends to learn it wrong even though I'm pretty damned dilligent about catching any spam the filters don't, and marking it as such before deleting it); I don't know which part of the setup is failing to learn about spam, but one of them is. Maybe it's not updating its blackhole list.

This weekend, I'm going to beef up the anti-spam defenses, installing Akismet and everything else that I can find that might block it. Until then, don't be surprised if you suddenly find comments closed across the blog. I'm leaving them open on this one in case someone wants to suggest a neat anti-spam trick or plugin, though.

BTW Trackbacks have already been shut off again, probably for good this time. I've switched off sending trackbacks as well, except possibly to the aggregators that Movable Type auto-pings.

April 23, 2007

Your blog comment may not appear immediately, but commenting still works, for now

Overnight, the SpamCatcher plugin on my Movable Type installation failed rather spectacularly, allowing some thirty spams to pass and get published without even getting flagged. Half of these were gibberish comments, which are very difficult to filter, but the other half were "Good site! Thanks, have some spam" comments, which the regular expression filter should have caught, but didn't. In other words, under conditions which apply to a small blog that only a handful of people post comments to, SpamCatcher can not be relied on to work properly. Bit of a disappointment, that.
Cleaning up spam takes a lot of time, especially because another misfeature of Movable Type is its resource hogging. Every rebuild of a post here comes close to hitting the resource limits imposed after a spam attack on this very MT installation took down the entire server two years ago. Mass rebuilds such as those I carry out after a spam cleanup hit those limits, causing the process to time out, so that the spam stays on the published site.

I really don't want to close comments, so instead I'll gradually escalate my spam defenses. Step one is raising the junk filter threshold, so that more things will get junked based on the probability of them being spam. This will not reduce the time spent looking over the comments in the backend, as I'll have to fish legitimate comments out of the junk folder, but it will cut down on mass rebuilds. It also won't make the regex-based filtering functional, but it should at least get me rid of the gibberish.

If it doesn't work well enough, I may hold all comments for moderation, or go to authenticated commenters only. Or as a last resort, I may switch off commenting again until an anti-spam system that works can be installed.

I'm even open to switching blog software, though this will also lead to me having to do work that I Really Don't Want To Do. I'm unimpressed with Wordpress, because it's a single-blog system that you need to arm-twist and wrangle into doing multi-blogging, but there may be other systems that do what I want a blogging application to do.

June 12, 2007

Comments on Waffle now moderated thanks to spammers and Movable Type's general uselessness at spam prevention

After an overnight spam attack in which hundreds of spams got posted to the blog, including many that would have been blocked if the regular expression filter actually worked, I have set the comment options in Movable Type to moderated. I was going to switch off commenting entirely, until I realised that moderation would work for the small number of real comments I get here.

There may be delays in getting your comment posted. I haven't switched on email notification for new comments because I'm not that masochistic. The ratio of real comments to spam is very low, and the last thing I want is to have hundreds of spam comments in my incoming email as well as my Movable Type backend.

This message only affects comments on the weblog, not on the webcomic, which has a superior commenting and comment filtering system written by one guy in his spare time.

I could go on forever on how bad Movable Type's spam prevention is. Where to begin? How about with cleanup? I could cook dinner in the time it takes to rebuild a hundred entries - and then let it get cold checking whether the entries have actually rebuilt. At least one batch of twenty rebuilds timed out during today's cleanup, which means that the spam posts on those may or may not have gone from the archived entries.

Why twenty? Why not do a hundred at a time? Partly because of the timeout problem, but today I'd actually have been willing to do the cleanup in batches of seventy-five or a hundred, just to get it over with. All the spams that got posted were gibberish (which I can't filter because there's no regular pattern in it) with links in BBCode (which I can filter using a regex, but as I said, the regex filter doesn't work). But another problem with MT's commenting system is some very poorly-written AJAX(-ish) programming in the backend, which causes common interface elements to behave differently from how they should. You can see that in the category selecter - unlike with regular dropdowns, you can't actually scroll to the category you need unless you keep the mouse button pushed down all the time. If you don't keep the mouse button pushed down, the dropdown will reset itself to its initial position. The same happens within the AJAX(-ish) widget that governs the display options in the commenting backend, so when, brainwashed as I am by more than a decade of using standard dropdown boxes, I thought I'd selected to display 75 rows of comments in my backend, I'd actually chosen to display twenty. So I ended up cleaning them out twenty at a time. Another example of terrible backend scripting is the checkboxes with each individual entry's backend that you can use to close the entry for comments or trackbacks. You have to click them very decisively and firmly, looking straight at them and mumbling incantations along the lines of "obey, motherfucker". And. Don't. Blink. Otherwise, they will revert to the state they were in before you clicked them. I've observed this in both Opera and Safari, by the way. It's unbelievable that something like this was allowed to pass the quality control. If you don't give the act of clicking a check box your full and undivided attention, you'll move your mouse to "Save Changes" and click that thinking you've closed the entry whereas in fact you've left it wide open. It's Movable Type's Christmas gift to spammers.

What else? Oh yeah. The Spamlookup Plugin's word and regular expression filter works only about half of the time. I don't know what causes it to fail, but fail it does. Also lose and suck.

But all this bitching about the superficial design and implementation flaws only serves to conceal Movable Type's fundamental design and implementation flaws. These aren't unique to Movable Type - I could easily write a similarly long and ranty screed about how bad, say, PHPBB is in this regard.

Movable Type and many other content management/commenting/forum posting/yadda yadda yadda systems have this fundamental design problem: There is no single interface for dealing with spam, and far too many of the tools are included as plugins. Bundled plugins, as far as SpamLookup is concerned, but still plugins.

Systems that publish user-contributed material to the web should be written from the ground up to detect and prevent spam The SpamLookup code, as well as additional code like Akismet and Bad Behaviour that users now have to hunt down and install, should be there as part of the core functionality with every installed version of the system, so that the user running the install doesn't have to think about it and spam can be dealt with as quickly and quietly as possible. Spam prevention is as important as the content creation itself, for the simple reason that spam will eventually be posted in such numbers that it will bury and defeat the content creation (see A quick reminder of why there are no comments on this blog from 2005) and, in forums, bury and defeat all other aspects of the forum (see any PHPBB forum that hasn't got a team of rabid, fascist moderators purging the member lists, blocking posts by non-members, blocking fake account creation, blocking whole IP ranges from posting messages or creating accounts, blocking, blocking, blocking).

Over time, the utility of a content creation system that lets spam in drops to zero. For that reason, it's worth it to compromise other aspects of the system, such as ease of use, to prevent spam from getting a foothold. In Movable Type (and PHPBB, and, and, and), we get poor usability anyway, especially in dealing with spam. To close old posts, we need to go to one place, or rather, several places: the posts themselves (there are, of course, plugins for that, but see the previous paragraph). To clean up spam, we need to go to another - the comments backend. To filter our messages, we need to go to yet another - the SpamLookup plugin, and if we have three different kinds of changes to make, we need to open three different boxes to make them. Then there's the general settings in which we decide how to handle comments globally, and we need to go somewhere else again.

Simplifying this isn't a trivial task, in fact now that I think of it, it's rather daunting. However, adding "Delete and close" and/or "Delete and Blacklist" buttons or checkboxes in the comments backend would shave off quite a bit of time from the daily despamming chores. And those would be easier to add if blacklists weren't governed by plugins to start with.

See also: Six Apart Picked Apart.

June 27, 2007

And comments on the blog are off again

I've switched off comments again. Sorry, but with the recent reduced posting frequency and the resulting reduced number of real comments (from what was already a low number), even the time spent sifting through the 400 daily Junk comments in the hope of finding just one real comment isn't worth it.

You may still see comment forms on old entries, because trying to rebuild the blog to reflect the new comments settings is also an exercise in frustration and a waste of time.

As before, this only reflects the blog, not the webcomic, because one guy working in his spare time can write a better comment filtering service than the entire staff of A Six Apart put together.

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