Archive for January, 2008

To the test – part 2

The ring pulls that I’ve been keeping around to let God reveal himself are on a pendant now. So no one (divine or otherwise) can mess with them without me knowing about it.


Actually, I’ve had them like this for a while, but I’ve been waiting for the macro lens so I can do this.

Ring pulls uber-macro


New toy

Just picked up my new macro lens – that I ordered in November. (Grumble.) Anyway, I’m excited now. Expect to see lots of photos of really small things.

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Captcha update

My custom CAPTCHA implementation is up and running. It’s currently a horrible collection of hacks into CapCC to call a Python script, so it’s in no state to distribute to anyone but myself at the moment. I might improve that situation at some point.

I have no idea how strong it is, other than a vague impression that I wouldn’t like to have to try to crack it. No vision-impaired option yet, but I’m probably going to do the moderation thing that I mentioned in my earlier post.

Coincidentally, Slashdot just reported (the news is actually a couple of weeks old) that Yahoo’s CAPTCHA has been broken with 35% accuracy.

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From SMH:

Heath Ledger’s family and loved ones have held a private memorial service at a chapel in Los Angeles.

The service took place under heavy security last night at the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary in a bid to thwart paparazzi and US religious extremists.

Religious groups vowed to picket the memorial because of Ledger’s performance as a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain.

There are times I wish there was a hell, so people like Fred Phelps could get what they deserve.

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If you have a very keen eye, you may have noticed that I added CAPTCHAs to the comment form. The problem isn’t exactly the volume of spam that I was getting (maybe two or three comments a day), or that the spam was getting through (WordPress has correctly marked almost all of the spam comments for moderation), but that there were very few nuggets of real comments in there to make the whole process worthwhile, and it was getting a bit depressing. I’m too paranoid about false positives to trust the filter to delete them altogether, so captchas seemed like the best option.

For now, I’m using a WordPress plugin called CapCC. However, on and off I’ve been working on my own text distortion doohickey which I’m planning to drop in at some point. It’s a really interesting problem – coming up with a system where you can generate a test in software, then determine in software that whatever completed the test was not software.

One annoying thing is that it there’s currently no vision-impaired option. “Well,” you say, “how many blind people actually read and decide to comment on your blog?”, and the answer is probably zero (only slightly lower than the number of able-sighted people who comment on my blog), but it annoys me on principle. It’s also an interesting addition to the general problem – now it has to be possible for software to read but not answer the test – so it’s sitting there mocking me as a technical challenge. The standard solution is to offer an audio version, but that has its own issues.

I did think of one solution, but it relies on spammers being rational actors, which is not an assumption I’m completely at ease with. Suppose there are two answers to the captcha – one encoded in the image, and one in the image’s alternate text. If you enter the one in the image, your comment is published, no questions asked. If you enter the alt text one, your comment is put in the moderation queue.

The alt text, of course, can be easily read by accessibility software and spambots alike. However, because the comment is going into the moderation queue, it’ll never see the light of day unless I recognise it as legitimate; so there’s no incentive in terms of published spam for a spammer to specifically try to defeat it. So as long as there aren’t any spambots that look at alt text as a matter of course, and as long as no one decides to spam my moderation queue out of spite, it should all work. (And if spambots do look at alt text, then I can put it in body text alongside or whatever.)

I’d really like to ask anyone using accessibility software what they think of this approach, but at the moment you won’t be able to leave a comment unless you find another way to parse the captcha. So if you have any thoughts, send me an email. (I do trust my email spam filter.)

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When choosing between two equivalent wines, pick the one with the cool name.

This caught my eye in Dan Murphy’s and I felt oddly compelled to buy one.

Occam's Razor Shiraz 2006

Sometimes you just gotta reward a well-named wine. Especially a Shiraz.

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These war euphemisms are getting out of hand

Crown Princess Mary learns resuscitation techniques.


Corner of Gardeners Rd and Tunstall Ave

Speaking of praying for parking spaces…

Earlier today I remembered a piece of trivia from my Former Life as a Christian. I should mention, what follows is distinctly in the “random blog post about some crap nobody else will be interested in” category. You have been warned.

When I was at university, one of the well-honed routes I used to drive to get there (before the M5 was finished) included a particular set of traffic lights, going east on Gardeners Rd and turning left into Tunstall Ave:

View Larger Map

What made these particular lights interesting was that they had an uncanny habit of being green when I got to them. Sometimes they’d turn green just as I pulled up. Now, you might put this down to being synchronised with an earlier set of lights, or being turnoff from a fairly major road to a dinky side street that probably wouldn’t stay red for long, and the logical part of my mind knew this. But somehow the superstitious part of my mind convinced me that it was Meaningful, and that it would be a Bad Sign if I ever had to stop there.

Don’t try to find the logic in that, there isn’t any.

The strangest thing about it is that it wasn’t even in line with my Christan beliefs. We put superstition under the “witchcraft” clause of Galatians 5:20. (Where’s the line between superstition and acting in accordance with the will of an invisible entity? I dunno. That’s a different discussion.) But there’s a drive in the human mind to find meaning in pattern, and it is strong with this one.

I do remember that the lights were red one day. I vaguely recall something bad happening later that day, but I can’t remember what it was, and I only realised later, and I’m pretty sure I could have found something negative on any given day if I’d tried hard enough. And it’s possible that I’ve misremembered it entirely. Hmm.

If I’d met myself at uni, I probably wouldn’t have liked myself very much.

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Billboard Heckler – Aren’t they, like, folded together or something?

Haven’t heckled for a while. This is one I took a while ago (September ‘06 if the EXIF data is right):


What jogged my memory about this was a list of the “top fifty” atheist aphorisms, according to some random email (via Friendly Atheist). There are some funny ones there, but check out number 8:

8. If There is No God, Then What Makes the Next Kleenex Pop Up?

According to ThinkExist, it’s a quote from Art Hoppe, a “popular columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle for more than 40 years [who] was known for satirical and allegorical columns that skewered the self-important.” That kinda fits.

Obviously whoever put the billboard up wasn’t being completely serious – or at least, I really hope they weren’t. But I’d love to know by what path the same phrase managed to end up on an Anglican billboard and a list of atheist sayings.

In particular – and again, assuming whoever was in charge of the billboard wasn’t totally serious – I’d like to know how they managed to appreciate the irony of the comment enough to present it to the public, but not enough to wonder what they’re doing in church in the first place. Maybe they have moderate beliefs about the level of God’s intervention in the world, and are taking a swipe at people who pray for parking spaces.

Or, they missed the irony altogether, in which case this is a real howler.

Or maybe they were trying to provoke thought and discussion. In which case they succeeded, ’cause I’ve spent the last half hour trying to unravel this.


Wikipedia sentience

Here’s an experiment: search Wikipedia for the title of a blog post, and, if the first search result gives a page with an unambiguous opening sentence, remove citations and anything in parentheses, prepend “But” and add as a comment.


His Dark Materials
But His Dark Materials, a trilogy of fantasy novels by Philip Pullman, comprises Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

Falling off a building is a miracle
But Genki Bakuhatsu Ganbaruger is a 47 episode animated television series, and the second series produced for the Eldran franchise funded by Tomy and produced by Sunrise.

Scarlet ‘A’
But A Study in Scarlet is a detective mystery novel written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and published in 1887.

Jacoby-Shermer debate
But atheism, as a philosophical view, is the position that either affirms the nonexistence of gods or rejects theism.

God good, demons bad
But in religion, folklore, and mythology a demon is a supernatural being that has generally been described as a malevolent spirit, and in Christian terms it is generally understood as a Fallen angel, formerly of God.

The Mario Clone they Play in Hell
But the video game Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, created by the Nintendo and Square Enix companies, has a unique set of characters that derive both from previous installments of the Mario video game series and new characters made specifically for the game.

Head tracking with a Wii remote
But Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is a video game developed by Retro Studios and published by Nintendo for the Wii.

Northern Lights
But Northern Lights is a common name for the aurora borealis in the Northern Hemisphere.

Merry Christmas
But holiday greetings are a selection of greetings that are often spoken with good intentions to strangers, family, friends, or other people during the months of December and January.
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