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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA



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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Just Call Me Sir Spammed-a-Lot

(Three quick bits of info on the way to tonight’s main event:

#1. There’s a Zolton Does Amazon number up over at ZuG.com. It’s about hippies. You like hippies, right?

#2. Speaking of Amazon, the new Mug of Woe book Woe of the Road is now on it. I’ve got a piece in there. It’s about Spring Break. Oh, yeah. I went there.

#3. This coming Tuesday — maybe Monday, if you’re good! — I’ll be unveiling a new feature around here. Hopefully, it’ll liven things up a bit. Or at least make you stop thinking about me spending Spring Break with a bunch of hippies gone wild. Stay tuned.)

I thought I had it this time. I really did.

For as long as I’ve been writing here, I’ve been fighting a battle against spam. It’s a cross — a vile, greasy, stinking cross — that the owner of any website open to public feedback must bear. I’ve been lugging it around since 2003. And I thought I might be free of it.

What goes on in my head has no firm basis in reality, clearly. I might as well accept that and entertain myself with daydreams about bacon with wings and unicorn farts.

(Of course, I’ve thought this before. What goes on in my head has no firm basis in reality, clearly. I might as well accept that and entertain myself with daydreams about bacon with wings and unicorn farts. I’ll get approximately as far in life.)

Here’s the sitrep in a nutshell. Lots of people have blogs. Lots of other people have scam pages and porn sites and sleazy barely-legal businesses they run out of the trunk of the Miatas they lease. These latter douchebags want their crappy hokum URLs to rise high in the search result rankings, so that sweet trusting old grandmas like yours and mine might go on the newfangled interwebs one day to look up blackberry cobbler recipes and be tricked into clicking one of these foul damnable links, thereby earning said douchebags a tiny fraction of a penny from some equally smarmy advertiser who deserves to be beaten savagely with a sock filled with his own severed testicles.

And how do I really feel? Don’t ask.

For a fair portion of this millennium, one way to rise up the search result lists on a site like Google was to have your page linked to by as many others as possible. So for years, these incorrigible a-holes would send millions upon millions of automated spam comments — with links to their detritus, naturally — to weblogs the world over. If the muck made it through users’ spam filters (and a lot of it did), and nobody bothered to clean it up (which often, nobody didn’t), then suddenly HotForexYakSputum.ru seemed, to the naive eye, to be really popular, what with all the links back to its hot… er, forex yak sputum resources.

Which were hopefully sparse. And in no way illustrated.

That was annoying enough. But at least there was a point. Cheesy and deplorable and sub-human tiny-wanged slug-people of them though it was, there was at least a plausible path from these godforsaken waves of nonsense to potentially more clicks on their stuff. It’s out of proportion, sure. And unthinkably wrong-headed of these yahoos. To even give them that sliver of understanding is like saying:

Well, yeah, I don’t agree with the killing spree. But I suppose I don’t much like it when all the spaces are taken in the parking lot, either. So I can see where he was coming from, I guess.

But! Small slivery bone as that was throw them, it’s now completely irrelevant. From what I understand, Google and the other big-dog search hounds are wise to these shenanigans, and updated their algorithms a couple of years ago to stop rewarding it with search ranking. Spamming comments all over websites now gets you nothing but comment-spammed-over websites. There’s no payoff. No goal. There’s only “Point A”, and these link-peddling cowpatties can shove it up their collective ass.

So. Spam rushes in. So, it seems, it shall always be. Luckily, we have plugins — little bits of code that install into the blogging software to take care of the problem. Which they do — except the times when they don’t, which is actually a fair percentage of the time.

For instance, I’ve been using TypePad AntiSpam. I can’t complain about it — but that’s mostly because I didn’t pay anyone for it. It’s free. So if you have a beef, you can tell the mailman or your mom or Mary Poppins, if you like, but it’s probably not going to get anything fixed. Mostly, it works. And then it doesn’t. And then maybe it does again. You never can tell.

I thought the worst thing about TypePad was that it randomly stops working once in a while — usually early in the morning. It’s hooked to a central database of some kind, so if it goes offline — or the network hiccups just the wrong way — you could conceivably lose that connection for an hour or two. And some mornings — but not all, because that would be predictable, of course — I wake up to two or six dozen spamtastic crap comments left on my site during one of these ‘brownout’ periods.

(The hours between 3am and 5am seem to be the most popular. I guess a server’s got to get some shuteye now and then, just like the rest of us.)

This unexpected and unwanted shart-like occasional leaking is not, however, the worst thing about TypePad. The worst thing is, it filters out actual REAL comments, instead of posting them on the site. So three or four days a week — blaaaaarrgh, here’s a bunch of horseshit spam. But a nice, relevant, link-free note comes through, from a trusted user with previous approved comments onsite?

Kick that shit to the holding pen, man. That mother looks like SPAM!!

So no real comments get through. And I spend ninety percent of my “writing” time on the site deleting crap that slipped through the cracks, or — worse by a factor of a thousand infinities! — I sift through thousands of jackass spam comments that were caught by the software, looking for the one or two that might miraculously have been left by a real, honest-to-goodness, interested, engaged, non-knuckle-dragging human. It’s exhausting. And I’m tired of it.

So I tinkered with the comment script. As I mentioned before, it’s not my first tinker rodeo. I’ve adjusted — and completely broken — the commenting machinery before. But this time, I really thought I had the answer. A way of vetting comments that would nip those spamming slackjaws in the bud. It couldn’t fail.

So then it failed. Obviously.

Oh, not completely this time. I actually did make an improvement, and I’m seeing less crap in the spam hole. But it wasn’t a complete fix. What I wanted — and, in an uncharacteristically optimistic fit of unbridled hope, briefly did — was to turn off my TypePad doohickey altogether. To just stand there, naked against the raging tide of spam, seemingly defenseless, only to have the gunk bounce off me like I was a galvanized Firestone radial.

I did that. I turned it right off, and braced against the spam. And indeed, thanks to my homegrown spammolator code, most of it bounced harmlessly away. Most.

But not all. First, just one lonely message. As though the spammers had seen the solution, and wanted to assure me that it wasn’t going to quite do the trick. Like Frank Niddi scrawling TOUCHABLE in blood across the elevator wall. That’s what this one stupid spam message represented.

Twenty minutes later, it was joined by another. And another. And three more within the hour. It wasn’t the massive flood of hundreds of messages a day that normally get stashed, but it was something. And in this fight, anything is too much thing. I turned TypePad back on — on top of my changes, for what that buys me — and admitted defeat. Again.

So now I’m exploring options. Those script weenies won’t stop their pointless spamming any time soon. But I can’t keep poring over piles of their offal every day in search of something from the two-and-a-half people who might actually leave a real comment.

Seriously, I just can’t. I’m starting to see day-trading and penis enlargement URLs in my sleep. Nobody should have those sorts of dreams, people. Nobody.

Meanwhile, the spam comments roll on. Maybe I can live with my partial fix — and TypePad’s mediocre filter — for a while longer. But some day ,some day soon, I dream of a world where I don’t have to see or delete or ever deal with another piece of comment spam again.

Maybe that’s unrealistic. But everyone needs a dream. And that one sure as hell beats the ones I’ve been having lately. By a lot. Yeesh.

Permalink  |  5 Comments



5 Responses to “Just Call Me Sir Spammed-a-Lot”

  1. ema says:

    Let’s give it another try…. Also, didn’t we weight time vs money and ruled out something like, pay, it’s better, gives you more time to do other stuff (and you can rightfully complain, which would take less time than fix a broken code with no success).

    #2 Charlie Hatton is a scripting master, he breaks the codes, but only the ones that work.

  2. ema says:

    It works!!

  3. ema says:

    It actually works!

  4. ema says:

    I don’t know what you did, but it works!

  5. ema says:

    OK, I was trying to see how many comments can I leave before re-gaining the “CRAP” status and being filtered out, but it takes to much time and for the discussion we had about time….did I tell you, Always a pleasure? By the way, next time I’ll post from Seoul, who knows maybe I’ll feel like SPAM again, I miss it already.

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