Archive for the 'Meta' Category

Hi, remember me?

The gaps between posts just keep getting longer and longer, don’t they?

Well, this seems like as good a time as any to try to get back in the swing of it. (Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of a hat!)

So, some random thoughts in approximately random order:

  • I’m doing my second Magic: the Gathering Shards of Alara draft tonight. Really fun set. I came equal 3rd out of 7 last time, with a Grixis/Jund build that focused on using Infest for fun and profit.
  • Tina’s foodie blog is gaining momentum.
  • Speaking of Tina… we’re engaged! I asked her on her birthday in September. (Lazy, lazy blogger!)

Eh, that’ll do for now. I’ll never be able to keep this up if I use all my material in one go. :)

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It does go away when you close your eyes

Forgive me blogosphere, for I have sinned. It has been over two months since my last post.

And to be honest, that last post was an attempt to win an argument that had absolutely nothing to do with religion. I can’t explain why. It has to do with crashing internet polls. It’s complicated and it didn’t work anyway. I stand by what I wrote, but the fact that I put it up at all was a matter of having the draft hanging around and needing a relatively controversial post in a hurry. No, I’m not going to elaborate on the details.

Part of the reason for the drought – as I’ve mentioned once or twice before – is that my pet topic, religion and the lack thereof, is just not prominent enough in my life at the moment to warrant a lot of thought. The fact that religion actually isn’t important unless you want it to be (at least with my circle of acquaintances) is something I’ve had to learn. As a Christian, I felt guilty if the topic of God didn’t permeate everything I did. As it turns out, this is at least one lingering bit of fundamentalism that I hadn’t quite managed to get rid of – I sort of kept feeling like I had to find someone to discuss it with. Recently I haven’t bothered, and it hasn’t bothered me, and I’ve gotten on with finding something more productive to do.

This might all change in mid-July when World Youth Day crashes on my doorstep, and Sydney (where the default strategy for dealing with a sudden rush of international visitors, cf. the Olympics and APEC, is to tell everyone to take the week off and go somewhere quieter) will play host to a bunch of people gathering to see a German guy in a funny hat. The jury is out on whether this will help or hurt the local economy (see, for example, this article by Chook the Elder, who I feel compelled to point out has something of a vested interest), but there’s little doubt that transport of all kinds will congeal in a particularly ugly way.

(As a sidepoint, why is it that the word “youth”, when used as a collective term for young people (as opposed to the early years of a particular person’s life, as in “in my youth”), is rarely used outside a religious context? “Youth group”, for example, is an unmistakably Christian term. It’s something like the word “family” in the name of an organisation, particularly a political party. And for that matter, why does “World Youth Day” run for nearly a week?)

Where was I? Oh yes. Anticipation of World Family Week aside, I don’t have much to blog about on the contra-religion front. So, the options are to (a) write about other things, like what actually is happening in my life; (b) write nothing, and actually have a life instead; or (c) pick random theological fights for the sheer intellectual sake of it.

I think I’ll go for “all of the above” in measured portions. Let’s just see what happens.


More ugly CAPTCHA hacks

I’ve just implemented the vision-impaired CAPTCHA workaround that I discussed before, wherein (what a great word) the image’s alternate text contains a second word, which, if you enter it, puts your comment in the moderation queue. It’d be nice if you got a message to that effect, but I couldn’t immediately see how to do that, so for now your comment will seem to disappear into the æther.

So I’m expecting one of three things to happen.

  1. The thousands of vision-impaired readers I’ve picked up over the last two weeks since I introduced CAPTCHAs will break their silence and start leaving insightful (no pun intended) comments in droves.
  2. Every spambot in existence will try submitting the alt text, and my inbox will be pummeled into oblivion with moderation emails offering various anatomical enlargements.
  3. Deathly silence.

My money’s on 3. Stay tuned.

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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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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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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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Scarlet ‘A’

Still think unlinked rings would look cooler, but I concede. The scarlet ‘A’ is hereby adopted.

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Wavatar artwork

Wavatar montage

For now, I’ll just put the alternate Wavatar artwork here. To use it, replace the wavatars/parts directory from the original plugin with the directory in that zip file. (Or if you feel so inclined, rename the old one and make parts a symbolic link to parts-funky.)

You’ll also need to edit the plugin; in wavatars.php, change the avatar size to 100:

define("AVATAR_SIZE", '100');

And if you’ve had Wavatars running already, you’ll need to clear your cache.

If the moons are aligned correctly, an easier way to do this will be in all our futures.

UPDATE: I’ve made one or two minor changes to the art since yesterday. The latest version is here. In general, this link will always be to the latest version. Might still be some little tweaks as I notice what eyes don’t line up with what; if I ever get around to releasing it in an easy-to-plug-in way I’ll try to make sure it’s final first.

And one other thing; I’ve changed the Wavatar plugin slightly to draw eyebrows on top of eyes. It makes things more expressive with the new art because the eyes are bigger and overlap the eyebrows reasonably often. The relevant change is to find and swap these two lines:

wavatar_apply_image ($avatar, "brow$brow");
wavatar_apply_image ($avatar, "eyes$eyes");

The one that comes last will appear on top.


Wavatars – Now with New and Funky Art

Okay, here’s an insight into how my mind works.

I set up WordPress this afternoon. All good. One of the first things I did was install Wavatars. Cool. They look aweso-tasta-riffic.

Then I read Shamus’ post on how Wavatars are generated. And my first thought was… it’d be really easy to make custom artwork for that. Then my site’s Wavvies would have their own unique feel.

My, wouldn’t that be a productive way to spend an entire evening.

So now, thanks to my obsessive nature, this site has funky custom Wavatar art. The new Wavvies have the same general characteristics as the original art, so you’ll still recognise your face, but it has more of a freehand feel to it. For example, compare my Wavatar on Shamus’ site with the new one on my site:

Original Wavatar art New funky Wavatar art

I haven’t done extensive testing on how well the eyes and stuff line up, but I figure that’ll all come out in the wash.

If there’s any demand for it I can make the new art public. However, I kind of have a dream where every site with Wavatars does their own custom look and feel that matches the rest of the site. I realise that not everyone is insane enough to put in that amount of work… but hey, I can still dream.



It’s been in the back of my mind for a while to throw out the disgustingly hacky pile of homebrew PHP crud that was my old blog, and switch to WordPress. I’m sort of attached to the idea of having complete control over how it works, but I also didn’t want to spend any time cleaning it up or adding features.

And then Shamus Young implemented Wavatars. And I had to have it.

So now this site is beautiful and WordPressy, while keeping a hint of the old colour scheme and such. There were some issues in the switchover (I’ve still gotta fix up the categories), but it feels so much nicer now.


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