Pop goes the e-mail

UPDATE: This post is now thankfully out of date; my mail's working again now.

Owing to circumstances beyond the management's control, the e-mail address dan@dansdata.com currently bounces.

While I wait for the server admin at m'verygoodfriends SecureWebs to undo whatever he did that deleted the account, you can contact me on my ISP address, rutterd@iinet.net.au, or of course just chatter cheerfully in the comments to this post.

I think PayPal donations to dan@dansdata.com will still work, but you may be thanked for your donation with an error-550 bounce message, which is kind of rude. Sorry about that.

UPDATE: My mail's working again now

I've moved!

How To Spot A Psychopath has a new, eponymous, home.

I'm sure there are more unwieldy domain names than howtospotapsychopath.com, but there can't be all that many of them.

Anyway, update your links, and all that.

I'm afraid you're also going to have to re-create your commenter accounts - all of your comments are here, but you, as such, are not.

It might have been possible to port the user data over too, but there are, I don't know, maybe one or two hundred real commenter accounts, and the old blog ended up with nine thousand, nine hundred and six users in the list. And that's after hundreds, if not thousands, of "ItnBkSIjZaQtDw <asdfwerj6@gmail.com>" sorts of users (none of whom ever managed to post a comment) had been pruned out by the Blogsome admins.

Now I've got proper admin access of my own and such obscenities should not be allowed to re-occur, but re-creating the accounts is the price that must be paid. By you, not me. Which makes it a particularly pleasing sort of price, from my point of view.

Now I just need to get my arse in gear and actually write a few more posts.

(Do please complain, below, about anything that doesn't work on this new site. Like the absence of comment preview, for instance. I might give it a few more years before turning that on again.)

Bye-bye, Blogsome

Blogsome, host of this blog since before it had a name, are closing down. The large and alarming message that now appears above all management-interface pages says they'll be around until the seventh of December, so I've got a while to find a new host.

I've got an in-house expert on this stuff who'll probably tell me where to go (a function she is sometimes called upon to perform on other occasions). But I figured it couldn't hurt to ask my readers, too.

I've got a WordPress WXR-format backup of everything here (because all of my images are on dansdata.com, the whole backup is only that one 12.1Mb WXR file), so I'll very probably be moving to another WordPress host. I'd also like to be able to run my own Google ads, as I do on this site. The new host also has to have a demonstrated commitment to freedom of speech, to make sure they won't drop me like a hot rock if another Firepower debacle happens.

Apart from that, I'm open to offers.

What do you all reckon?

Thesaurus Spam 2: The Comment Years

"Thesaurus spam" tries to avoid automated unsolicited-commercial-message detection by automatically replacing words in the spam text with "synonyms". I put scare-quotes are around "synonyms" because thesaurus spam often fails to pick anything even close to a true synonym. So "we will fight them on the beaches" could, for instance, become "ourselves will affray them on the littoral".

I hardly receive any thesaurus-spam via e-mail any more (largely because of upstream filtering; it's probably still quite popular), but I do still see it. Most recently, in comments on this blog.

What happens is, a spammer comes along and creates a commenting account with a "Website" link to whatever site they want to spamvertise. Today, this was a commenter called "batterysea", linking to www.uk-power-battery.co.uk. (All evidence of this commenter has now been erased, of course.)

Then the commenter goes into robospam mode. Instead of posting the usual robospam comments that say something like "Louis Vuitton Prada best replica fakes Rolex Viagra" et cetera et cetera, with links to a Web site from pretty much every word, they create an innocuous, linkless, plain-text comment. At a glance, the new spam-comment kind of looks as if it belongs on the page. That's because it does kind of belong there, on account of being a copy of an earlier comment on the same page, but with the Thesaurus-O-Matic run over it to make the copying less obvious (and difficult, if not impossible, to auto-detect).

I've plucked a few of these ticks off the blog before, but this one this one managed to splatter a few more comments around before I stopped him, so I paid more attention. I presume these spammers try to strike a balance between getting a commercially useful amount of spam transmitted, without obviously producing tons of new comments that even a dozy admin is likely to notice. In the "batterysea" case, there were nine comments, posted at one-minute intervals on my nine most recent posts.

On this post, for instance, there's a legitimate comment from Anne that says

Clearly I am culturally deprived - I don't read magazines, I don't watch TV, and I surf the web with adblock. So where would I see these ads?

Maybe a better question is, do these ads actually sell products? I mean, if I'm trying to decide on which fan to buy for my PC, is seeing an ad in a magazine actually going to affect my decision, whether the ad has giant robots or sober statistics?

And then, at the end of the page, along came the spammer to say

Clearly I am culturally beggared - I don't apprehend magazines, I don't watch TV, and I cream the web with adblock. So area would I see these ads?

Maybe a more good catechism is, do these ads absolutely advertise products? I mean, if I'm aggravating to adjudge on which fan to shop for for my PC, is seeing an ad in a annual absolutely activity to affect my decision, whether the ad has behemothic robots or abstaining statistics?

On this post, the spammer lifted just the second paragraph of my own comment, which started out

It's possible that such a scheme would actually be legit, but it's probable that it would not, because people sending money would have the implicit assumption that they were going to get something in return, even if it was as unlikely to be valuable as a lottery ticket.

That part became

It's accessible that such a arrangement would absolutely be legit, but it's apparent that it would not, because bodies sending money would accept the absolute acceptance that they were activity to get article in return, alike if it was as absurd to be admired as a action ticket.

...in the spam-comment.

When the robospammer can't find any words to thesaurusise, it ends up just duplicating an existing comment. For instance, Fallingwater's comment on this post:

The Asus EeePC 1005HA is, I think, the device that loses its rubber feet fastest than anything else that has been produced.

My solution: melt glue. Four puddles where the feet used to be have made my EeePC stick to surfaces again. Less than when it had the rubber feet, but a hell of a lot better than naked plastic.

...was duplicated word-for-word by the spammer.

This is a really feeble kind of spamming. All commenter Web-site links on this blog, and pretty much every other blog, are nofollowed, as are links in the comments themselves. So you don't get search-engine prominence from this technique, and you don't even get any traffic to speak of, unless human readers click on your commenter-name. I presume this happens even less often than people clicking on the links in the "Dolce Gabbana Dior bags Gucci handbags Chanel Hermes..." sorts of comments.

I think the only way to make comments that really look as if a human posted them would be by creating a spambot with something resembling real, "strong", AI, like the burgeoning network-creatures in Maelstrom, the second of Peter Watts' excellent "Rifters" series (all three books of which are downloadable for free!).

In the meantime, we get aphasic thesaurus-robots, all that can be said for which is that they're more successful than the robots that make hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds, of accounts called things like "aFZflRhBzRsYq <asdfwerj5@gmail.com>", but never manage to post a single actual comment.

Reports of my site's death are greatly exaggerated

UPDATE: The problem now, finally, seems to be fixed. Please comment on that post if you're still unable to see dansdata.com. And now, back to the original text of this post.

Some users of the Optus ISP here in Australia are having problems accessing dansdata.com. It's been happening for a while - here are people complaining about it in September, with the later reports only a few days ago.

I think all of the people with this problem have Optus cable Internet (as opposed to DSL or dial-up or satellite or carrier pigeon), though, fortunately, very far from all Optus cable users seem to have the problem. The nature of the problem is pleasingly clear: Dansdata.com has, from their point of view, been completely gone for weeks now, if not months.

Except it's not, of course. I may only put up one new article per decade on dansdata.com, but I have not died or been abducted by Zeta Reticulans or decided to reject technology and return to the land.

In the olden days of the late 1990s, the first diagnostic step when you wanted to see if a site was really down or if the problem was to do with your own Internet connection was to feed the site URL to Babelfish or one of the numerous dodgy proxy sites, and see if they could see it.

Now we've got more elegant solutions, in isitup.org and, if you prefer more verbose URLs, the very-similar-looking downforeveryoneorjustme.com. (I hope those two sites are actually run by different people - they seem, at least, to be on different servers - so they won't often ironically both go down at once.)

Anyway, I'm not certain about the exact nature of these problems, because a few people have e-mailed me about them, but when I ask them for details, they don't reply. I don't get a bounce message, either. This is exactly what you'd expect if some Optus router has decided that www.dansdata.com and mail.dansdata.com and everythingelse.dansdata.com are filthy spam servers all traffic from which is to be subjected to damnatio memoriae.

I've asked my Web hosts, SecureWebs, whether this is anything to do with them. It isn't. Well, it might be, very indirectly, since the server dansdata.com is on has occasionally been blocked on one or another of the many spam-server lists because of real or imagined misdeeds by other sites that share the server or nearby SecureWebs IP addresses. The Optus block could have been caused by that sort of thing, and then accidentally never cancelled. But Blogsome, who host this blog, stack rather more blogs per IP address than SecureWebs do sites, and the worst that's resulted from that to date has been a few days when bit.ly was warning people who clicked links from my Tweets that dansdata.blogsome.com might be bad.

I've also asked Optus, and they replied almost instantly to tell me that they could not replicate the problem, please send soil samples, et cetera.

So we need two things.

One: Some more detailed info about who using Optus can't see my site. This can easily be acquired by means I am about to explain in tedious detail.

Two: Complaints to Optus from the people who can't see my site, including the above info. Send the results to me as well - just posting them as a comment here will do very nicely - but you're much more likely to get action from a giant ISP on a weird problem like this if lots of people report it than if one person aggregates info and forwards it like a petition.

I could keep fiddling around trying to contact the Optus-using complainants from my addresses at other ISPs - I reckon my Optus account ought to be able to reach 'em. And I will. But I'll just point them to this blog post, so now that I've finally gotten around to writing it, so we can all try to figure it out together.

(I freely admit that I've known some people were having this problem for weeks now, but I was hoping the problem would just go away when someone at Optus hit a reset button or finally got rid of zzzzmust_delete_this_by_sep_9_09.cfg.)

The Whirlpool forum thread I mentioned earlier points to an excellent article on the Whirlpool wiki, "Is this site down?". The instructions there pretty much cover what you need to do, plus some other possibly-helpful stuff.

Basically, people who can't see dansdata.com need to ping and traceroute dansdata.com, and see what they get. Optus themselves turn out to have a Web-accessible Looking Glass server and a traceroute one too. Those can see my site, so if you can't, comparing and contrasting their results with your own could be helpful.

The easiest way to ping and traceroute from your computer is via the command line. In Windows, click Start, type "cmd", and in the resultant window just type

ping dansdata.com

and then

tracert dansdata.com

If your local DNS doesn't resolve dansdata.com to anything - "...could not find host dansdata.com", "unable to resolve target system name dansdata.com" - you can try bypassing the DNS and just going straight to the server's IP address, which is


(You can just type or paste into your browser address bar to go to the site, by the way, if you actually can get to from where you are. This advanced hacking technique has delivered precious, precious boobies to countless office workers and teenagers toiling under the yoke of sufficiently stupid site-blocking software.)

You can copy-and-paste the results from a Windows command-line window to somewhere else - like a comment and/or complaint message - by selecting the text, to do which you'll probably need to use the cumbersome Edit -> Mark option in the command-line window's lone menu.

If you want to be all fancy and bypass the Mark-ing, you can do this:

ping dansdata.com >>c:\dan_results.txt
tracert dansdata.com >>c:\dan_results.txt
ping >>c:\dan_results.txt
tracert >>c:\dan_results.txt

Presuming you have a C: drive, this will create a text file called dan_results.txt there and append the results of the commands to it, instead of just displaying them in the command-line window.

(If you used a single > instead of >>, each new output would overwrite the contents of the text file, instead of being tacked on at the end.)

Like all hip and happening ISPs, Optus only want you to contact them via some stupid Web form that redirects to a billion-character URL and that could be sending your message to screwyou@example.com for all you know. But with any luck a dozen or so people all suffering from the same disease will cause some action.

Now fly, my pretties! Fly!

Comment preview, only 32 months late!

Ever since I started this blog, people have been complaining, quite rightly, about the dumb comment box, which was tiny and had no preview feature.

Blog comment boxes are generally unsuitable for posting really big comments, because it's painful to edit a lot of text in even a large preview box, and because if something times out or otherwise dies when you click "submit", you can easily end up losing everything you wrote. But there's a large grey area between "quick one-liner" comments, small enough that you could dash them off via SMS if you had to, and "comments you obviously have to write in a text editor". Numerous people found themselves lost in this grey area, and many comments were hideously maimed.

I presumed it would be difficult for me to fix this, and back-burnered the problem for years on end. (I also hand-corrected comments that were screwed up because the author couldn't preview them. It was the least I could do.)

As it turns out, though, it's piss-easy to give a Blogsome blog a proper JavaScript live comment preview. All you have to do is paste some stuff into one of the template files.

So now, at long last, there's a proper comment preview on How To Spot A Psychopath. Do tell me if it doesn't work properly in whatever browser you're running; I've only checked it in Firefox, Chrome and IE6 on Windows.

(Bonus points if you have to tell me via e-mail, because the preview box screws up your browser so badly that you now can't post a comment at all! Oh, and because the preview is done in JavaScript, it of course won't work if you have JavaScript disabled or blocked, or if you're using some antediluvian/mobile-phone/C64 browser that doesn't support JavaScript at all.)

Yes, I am suitably embarrassed about not having taken the five minutes to do this at some previous point in the last two and a half years.

(I still have the silly CAPTCHA thing, where if you're not logged in you're told to fill out the CAPCTHA to post your comment, and then you discover that you actually can't comment at all unless you're logged in, and further discover that the CAPTCHA disappears entirely once you are logged in. I consider this slight imperfection in my blog to be evidence of its hand-crafted nature, and may take another two and a half years to fix it.)

The Blogcruft Elimination Project

This post on the bitter and twisted Coding Horror alerted me to two significant problems with this blog.

I had a Useless Calendar Widget, and no way for readers to figure out who the heck I was.

Both fixed now.

I'm pretty light on the rest of the Web 2.0 bingo stuff, but perhaps your own beautiful and unique snowflake of a blog is not.

(And actually, I always figured that Phil Greenspun punctuated his writing with random pictures just to make sure that his readers never forget how many photos he's taken of naked women.)

New! Big list of posts!

In homage to dansdata.com's humungous altindex.html, this blog now has a full index page.

I know the formatting's a bit wiggy at the moment, but at least it's there. It ought to help Google straighten out their results, too; currently there are various odd feed pages and such that come higher in Google results than the actual straightforward post pages that people want to find.