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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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.