Middle managers, telephone sanitisers, hairdressers and SEO Specialists

Here's an oddity that washed up in this morning's tide:

From: Montgomery, Luke <Luke.Montgomery@tektronix.com>
To: dan@dansdata.com
Date: Tue, 26 Jul 2011 16:18:47 -0700
Subject: Tektronix Site Resource

Dear Daniel Rutter,

I found your website, Dan's Data and wanted to thank you for providing such great information about PC Hardware and Gadgets. I was wondering if it would be possible to provide a link to our website (http://www.tek.com/products/digital-multimeter/) as a potential resource on Multimeters. We noticed you already reference the phrase on the following page: http://www.dansdata.com/io072.htm, so hopefully, it’d be an easy change on your end.

Link should look like this if possible:

I did some resistance measuring with my multimeter between the legs and got:

Once you've completed this task, if it's not too much trouble, would you mind just sending a quick confirmation email? That way, I can mark your website off my action and follow-up list.

Thank you in advance for your support. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Luke Montgomery
SEO Specialist, Worldwide Marketing
Phone: 503.627.4672

On the face of it, this is a normal link-spam e-mail. Your standard form letter - "I found your site, $SITENAME and wanted to thank you for providing such great information about $SCRAPED_SUBJECT...", and then a request for a link from some random machine-detected page on the site - in this case, the question portion of this letter.

But this link-spam's an odd one, because tek.com really is the Web site for Tektronix, who really are a big name in test and measurement gear - they're possibly the biggest name in oscilloscopes, just as Fluke are the biggest name in multimeters.

(And now, thanks to Wikipedia, I know that Fluke and Tektronix are today both subsidiaries of the same corporation!)

Tektronix.com redirects to tek.com, and they're not even trying to get some Google juice for a new domain name; tek.com and tektronix.com are similarly antiquitous.

If a human had bothered to look at the page they were asking me to link from, they probably would have noticed that such a link would only be appropriate if the multimeter being mentioned was a Tektronix product. Which, since the meter in question belongs to one of my readers, not me, I do not know. But I doubt it, because Tektronix multimeters are really nice and really expensive. The entry-level model on the page they want me to link to lists for $US750, and the top-of-the-line model is $US1350.

That's too rich for my blood, so I couldn't even validly link to the tek.com page from some use of the words "my multimeter" that was actually me talking about my multimeter. My good multimeter for formal dinners and meeting heads of state is...

Stock voltage

...a Protek 506, here seen in the company of one of my random sub-$10 meters and my Micronta 22-195A, which was the very first multimeter I ever bought, when I was so young I still thought it was pretty cool to buy things at Tandy. (It still works. Might even still be accurate.)

So, to Luke Montgomery, SEO Specialist: Send me a Tektronix DMM4050 and I assure you that even though I'll never use at least half of its features, I will link to any page you like the next time I refer to using it, without the tiresome nofollows I've put on all the links to your site above.

And, to Tektronix: Don't do this. (Or pay an Experienced Organic Web Strategist like the windswept and interesting and possibly insomniac Luke Montgomery to do it for you.) It's stupid.

If Tektronix made a general site about what multimeters are and what they do, then links of this sort, to that site, would be valid. Links to particular products from general terms are the opposite of informative, though. This one would be worthless to readers who already know about multimeters, and would either annoy or actively misinform readers who don't already know about multimeters. It's like asking someone to link some random mention of "my car" to BMW's page for the current 5 Series.

Search engine optimisation can be perfectly valid - when, for instance, it makes it easier for people who want to buy the sort of thing you sell to find you.

Tell someone you're in the "SEO" business, though, and they'll probably assume you spend your days pursuing a higher Google PageRank by polluting the Web with misleading and useless information. And they will probably be right.

In conclusion, as regular readers will by now be expecting: Take it awaaaaay, Bill!

UPDATE: Luke Montgomery got back to me, with about the best response I think the laws of physics permit in this situation:

Okay I admit the email did seem a bit spammy. I realize you must receive a lot of spam/email/link-requests all the time so I just wanted to apologize. I send out emails all the time requesting links and I guess after I while I just get in a rut and start to sound like a robot. I am sorry for the spam, my intention was never to bother you. Your post made me realize how I was sounding and I'm sorry.


There may be hope for the boy yet!

Show me your spaceships, dragons and shiny women!

I just published a column all about those... distinctive... computer-magazine ads.

You know the ones I mean.

Magnificent Amaze ad

Antec horny-monster case and PSU ad

NZXT menacing PC-case ad

Seasonic racing-car PSU ad

Utgard case ad

If you've seen a magnificent example of the breed, I invite you to scan it (if it's not already online), upload it somewhere, and bring it to the world's attention in the comments!

(For spam-prevention reasons, you can't embed an image in your comment. Just list the URL in plaintext and I'll image-ify it for you, as per the "Geek Ink" post. An image URL by itself will turn into a clickable link: http://www.dansdata.com/images/ltgf2/fancygraph.png)

Say hello to Michael

Regular readers of Dan's Data may have noticed I've been just a teensy bit burned out as regards reviews of computer hardware for, oh, the last few years.

This irks m'verygoodfriends, and sponsors, at the Australian online computer shop Aus PC Market. They seem to enjoy selling things, for some reason. My lack of review activity, along with the global economic slump, means AusPC haven't been selling as many things as they'd like.

So what I've decided to do is let Michael Vorstermans, who works at Aus PC Market, write some reviews for dansdata.com.

It's generally a really bad idea to let people review stuff that they sell. Like the paid-review business, it presents an obvious moral hazard.

In this particular case, though, I think it'll probably work out well, for the following reasons:

1: I've known, and trusted, Michael for many years. He's been at AusPC for more than ten years, and we met a few years earlier still, because he worked at the hobby shop into which I poured barrow-loads of money on that monstrous old R/C car of mine.

(If I wanted to be weaselly about this, I'd just blink innocently and say that Michael is not an employee of Aus PC Market. The whole truth, though, is that he has been an employee of AusPC for the abovementioned more-than-ten-years, before moving to an Australian IT-product distributor for a while. Right now, for someone who I think still doesn't technically work for Aus PC Market, Michael spends a surprisingly large amount of time in the AusPC office... working.)

2: Michael is not a tiny cog in a vast corporation who doesn't suffer if his actions, like writing misleading advertorial "reviews" of products, lead to unhappy customers. Aus PC Market is a small company, and Michael's on the phone with customers for a large slice of every day. He's in this for the long haul, and does not subscribe to the zero-sum game theory of sales. Aus PC are not going to upsell you a pile of gear you don't need, or even want, just to crank up this week's profits.

A fool and his money are as welcome at Aus PC Market as they are anywhere else, of course. If some guy insists on buying a system with triple video cards and a six-drive RAID array to do word processing and Web browsing, AusPC will be pleased to sell it to him. (And, more realistically, they are also very happy to sell top-of-the-line graphics cards and CPUs, even if they're only 20% faster than the 60%-cheaper low-end products.)

AusPC also, by the way, won't give you the stink-eye if you admit you intend to overclock the balls off of the CPU you just bought. Their mood may, however, deteriorate if, two days later, you want a warranty replacement for your still-smoking processor.

3: Michael is not paid on commission. Obviously he'd like people to buy lots and lots of stuff from AusPC, but there's no direct pay-out for him even if he actually does talk someone who wants to play World of Warcraft on a 17-inch screen into buying a GeForce GTX 999 Ultra Hyper.

(Michael also, by the way, won't be getting paid when readers click through from his reviews to Aus PC Market. I will!)

4: We're going to be completely open about who Michael is and where he works. This blog post is not going to be the only hint you ever see that Michael sells the stuff he's writing about. I will link his name on every review to this post (or some equivalent page that I make on dansdata.com), but there'll be a clear declaration in every review, too. And the reviews will be written, where appropriate, from the point of view of someone whose business is selling computer gear.

I think that this may actually make some reviews better. Michael's at the sales-and-support coalface every day, and has way more experience of what normal people actually do with normal computers, and what products solve their problems (or create new problems...), than I do. He also knows more than me about things like weird software-license pricing, which product's currently hard to buy because a faster, cheaper version is coming out in two weeks and nobody wants to be stuck with the old model mouldering in their warehouse, and so on.

Oh, and one other one, I think possibly the most important:

0: If Michael BSes you about some product that actually isn't very good, then as soon as he's back in the AusPC building, the person who'll have to deal with grumpy customers, rude things written on forums, and justified-or-otherwise RMAs is... Michael.

So we're not exactly getting an oil billionaire to file reports on climate change, here.

Plus, if it doesn't work out, we can just give up on the idea. But I really do think it'll be fine, given the numerous extenuating circumstances.

Your comments, gentle readers, are of course welcome.

[UPDATE: Michael's first review, of a USB 3 upgrade kit, is here!]

Oh, awesome! Another problem with dansdata.com!

Suddenly, I've got a few readers - who are presumably, as is usually the case, representative of a lot more people - complaining about "fake antivirus" malware pop-ups when they visit dansdata.com.

Some people will see crapware pop-ups when they visit any random site, because they installed some crapware in the past, and now it's wedging itself into their browser all the time, showing them porno ads or asking them to install more crapware. (Or it may just be quietly waiting for them to type some interesting-looking usernames and passwords.)

This is not like that. This really does seem to be some actual malware associated directly with dansdata.com.

The only reader who managed to see what the bad ad did in any detail reported that it:
1: Apparently opened a PDF file in the Internet Explorer Adobe Reader plug-in
2: Used some exploit in that to install crapware called "Antivirus Live"
3: Popped up tons of fake system errors and immediately made his life very miserable

Another reader didn't see what the heck actually happened, but swears he never clicked an "OK, install whatever the hell it is you want to install!" button, also received a delicious heaping mouthful of brown and steaming fake antivirus software.

Yet another reader also had the experience that's more normal among drive-by banner-ad crapware-installer victims, which is to say:
1: Reader is peacefully reading one of my pages.
2: Reader clicks on a link to another of my pages.
3: Reader suddenly gets a bunch of terrifying popups about viruses.
4: Reader employs the sure-fire highly technical hacker-neutralisation technique.
5: Reader comes back to computer later, and spends hours on end trying to remove all of the malware that installed itself entirely without reader's knowledge. This can be a huge pain.

(Note that that post is three years out of date, and about me dealing with a really mild crapware problem. I presume that current crapware swims up your urethra and then flicks out a crown of asbestos thorns.)

Another reader reported that the bad ad, or whatever the heck it is, tried to redirect to armyprotection009.com, which is on Firefox's "Attack Site" list (and also Chrome's, and I presume recent versions of various other browsers too).

That site's purpose in life...

Fake antivirus site

...seems to be to pretend to be a Windows folder with a scary security warning in it, and get you to click OK to install "Antivir", which may or may not be the same BS malware antivirus as the apparently-installed-via-PDF "Antivirus Live" above.

I don't know for sure what it is, though, because armyprotection009.com is as I write this not resolving to anything any more. (I presume this is another of those weird hosting deals where sites, and the very nameservers that resolve them, come and go like the unlocatable voices of invisible summer insects. It's all very poetic.)

Even if I can find one of the redirected-to sites, that doesn't help much, because I need to know where the nasty redirecting ads are coming from. I presume it's either some exploit on the actual Web server, or an ad being served by one of the two outfits that serve ads to dansdata.com, Burst and Google.

(There are other ads on the site, most notably all the click-here-to-buy ones from Aus PC Market, but they're just a static image and link, not something all rich-media-y being served from somewhere far away.)

I know Burst have "subcontractors" who run ads not entirely under Burst's control; that's caused some scammy ads to show up from time to time, but never any actual malware. I don't know whether Google does a similar subcontracting thing. And it's made even harder to figure out by the way these crap-ads works. You see, like legitimate advertisers who try to avoid advertising the new season's Buicks to people who live in Sweden, crapware-servers serve different things to different IP addresses.

So even if it's a Burst subcontractor - not that I'm saying that it is - that's serving the ad entirely deliberately and not because some server of theirs has been compromised, it's perfectly possible that even if Burst carefully screen every single thing served in their name, they'll never see the malware, because the malware authors have Burst's whole IP range on a "do not serve malware to" list.

(This may fall down when a Burst employee goes home and uses his home ADSL connection to look at some site that runs his company's ads, of course.)

So now I'm e-mailing Burst and Google and my Web hosts. And with any luck, this post will crowdsource some more info.

I know there are people reading this who have a computer full of sacrificial virtual machines, and/or serious TCP/IP-and-Web chops. If any of you would like to dangle an unsuspecting virtual PC's Internet Explorer 6 in front of dansdata.com for a few force-refreshes, or (more importantly) trace where the hell this shit is actually coming from, then please, please do.

My little-known Caribbean travel writing

I do like a nice slab of spam in the morning.

From: "Alex P. @ expo-MAX" <alex@expo-max.com>
To: dan@dansdata.com
Date: 1 Dec 2009 10:56:37 -0600
Subject: Google Images search "walling's reservoir"

Hi there,

I came across your site while researching Google Images for keyword "walling's reservoir" and one of your pages (http://www.dansdata.com/phototute3.htm) was ranked on the 14th page of the Google Images search results.

I'm sure there are plenty of your other images in Google Image Search for many different keywords as well, it's just I came across this one first.

Really? You came across the FOURTEENTH PAGE of the search results... first?

(And, of course, my site deserved to be way down in the results for that search, because I have never written anything that has the slightest relevance to "Wallings Reservoir", which appears to be a place in Antigua. The closest I come to talking about it on that photo tutorial page is using the word "walling", as in "walling off", in one place on the page, and having this picture of a PC water-cooling reservoir somewhere else.

Oh, and note also that "Wallings Reservoir", the place in Antigua, has no apostrophe. More attention to detail from the good Alex P. at Expo-Max-dot-com!

Anyway, I looked through your site and correct me if I'm wrong, but it looks like you are getting a lot of your visitors from image search, like Google Images, Yahoo Image Search, etc.

OK: You're wrong.

What if I told you that my team and I have developped a tool that reports on your site's rank (position) in all search engines for all keywords? Meaning, you know exactly where your site is ranked in Google, Yahoo, Google Images, Google News and so forth for each and every keyword.

Well, if you were to tell me such a thing, I'd say "I don't care. Get lost." It's lucky this is just a theoretical question, isn't it?

Alex's e-mail continued, with screenshots and stuff about what may actually be a perfectly good piece of free Web stats software. I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole, though, because of how idiotic this e-mail is.

And it's so close to being good. Good grammar, almost-immaculate spelling, clear presentation of the product, no hard sell... all let down by machine-generating a form-letter top section and not running it past a human to see if it's ridiculous.

D minus. Must try harder.

UPDATE: Thanks to the obscurity of Wallings Reservoir, this blog post is now on the first page of the search results!

I'm still way down the image-search results list, but I think this is still a search-engine optimisation result for Alex to be proud of.

Look what happened when he just told me about his service! Imagine what might happen if I actually used it!

Hello? [thump thump thump] Is this thing working?

The comments for my last post were split between people who were talking about the actual game that was the subject of the post, and other people talking about the ongoing dansdata.com connectivity problems.

To recap: Most visitors can see Dan's Data just fine, but a seemingly random smattering of users from all over the world can't see it at all. For them, it looks as if the Dan's Data server was just turned off some time ago. Months ago, in some cases.

(If you can't see any of the pictures in that game post, by the way, it's probably because you can't see dansdata.com. Most of the images on this blog are actually stored on the Dan's Data server. Not all of them, though; the pics in this post, for instance, are from my Flickr account. If you can see pics in that post but not in the game post, the dansdata.com connectivity problem is almost certainly the reason.)

So here's another post about this connectivity problem, which I dare to hope may now actually be fixed.

Yesterday a reader clued me in to a problem with one of the two nameservers for the domain. That bug - which would have prevented anybody whose DNS request ended up at that secondary nameserver from getting to the site - is now fixed, along with a couple of others that may or may not have been related to the problem. Now all of the online traceroute tools that used to make it all the way to fe-0-0-3-kf-br1.securewebs.com, one hop away from dansdata.com, and then die, can make it all the way:


(In some cases, the last hop of the traceroute shows "beechler.com", not dansdata.com. Beechler.com is a site that used to, and possibly still does, share the same physical server as dansdata.com. I don't think this is a problem symptom, but what do I know.)

A traceroute, or ping, can fail when there's nothing actually wrong with a site. All you need is some router along the way that firewalls traceroute or ping data, but lets normal Web traffic through. I think the traceroute problem has been a constant for everybody who hasn't been able to see Dan's Data, though, so now that it seems to be fixed, surely nothing further can go wrong, how hard can it be, could be worse, could be raining, gee it's quiet tonight, Macbeth Macbeth Macbeth, Hastur Hastur Hastur.

Please comment below, with traceroutes and/or pings as per last time. What we're especially looking for are people who could see Dan's Data until recently but now can't, or couldn't see it until recently and now can.

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.)