Packaged goodies

Per long overdue requests from several people, I’ve finished up a WordPress 1.22 template featuring the ‘floating clouds’ design. Additionally, I created a separate package that just provides the files necessary to do the random background image. You can see the basic floating clouds design at the development site, at I’m not linking this directly, as I will be blowing this site away when finished all my development. You can copy the complete template, or just the background image portion.

To install the complete template, make a backup of your index.php and wp-comments.php file. Then download and unzip the gzip-tar file; no worries if you’re not into the Unix thing– Mac’s Stuffit and Winzip can handle the file format. Just make sure you save the file with Firefox, and not have the browser open it directly — this can be troublesome at times.

From the material I’ve provided, copy the files index.php and wp-comments.php, in addition to the ‘look’ subdirectory, to your main WordPress 1.22 directory. You’ll also want to copy the plugin file, recent-comments.php, to your WordPress plugin directory (it should be wp-content/plugins off the main WordPress installation).

Once the files are in place, go into your admin, and activate the plugin, “Get Recent Comments”. This provides the functionality for getting recent comments in the sidebar, which is not provided in WordPress 1.22.

(If you haven’t upgraded to 1.22, you should do this first — there are security fixes in 1.22 you’ll need.)

After that, open the main index.php file in your browser, and you should have a site that looks like the one mentioned earlier. You can then add items to the sidebar, remove items, and modify the colors and look as you want.

If you’re just interested in the background image functionality, access this file instead and again unzip it, either to your server or your local PC. The file contains several images, which I’ve provided just as test images until you get the background switcher going. After that, you can replace the images with your own. Just make sure to update the photos.txt file to reference your images, not the ones provided.

For each page you want to use the dynamic background, add a link to the clouds.php file, using the following, but changing it for your domain and URL:

<link rel=”stylesheet” media=”screen” href=”” type=”text/css” />

This link should follow any other stylesheet you’re using for your site. When you next access your site, you should start to see the dynamic imaging take effect. If not, check to make sure that the photos.txt and images are in place, and the image files are named correctly in the file.

If you want the image to appear somewhere other than the upper left corner, adjust the CSS in the clouds.php file to whatever you prefer — lower right, upper middle, whatever. Totally up to you.

I achieve the effect I do with my site by adding a vignette to a photograph, in addition to adding some transparency. When using Photoshop, this is achieved by using the Elliptical Marquee tool to create an oval selection on the photo, and then choosing Select and Feather to ’smudge’ the edges. I cut the image and create a new one, with the appropriate background color. I copy the cut image from the original photo, and then adjust the transparency of the pasted image.

However, you don’t have to have Photoshop for this. There are several free and shareware applications that will allow you to add vignetting and transparency to a photo.

Stay tuned for a 1.3 theme based on Floating Clouds. Note that this design will validate as transitional XHTML, as long as the text in the posts is valid.


Cat’s worst enemy

Cats are by nature, brave and fearless creatures. Dignified, too, with a formidable composure. A dog, on the other hand, may be loyal and loving and can learn nifty tricks, but they whine. Hard to have composure when you’re whining.

A dog will whine when you leave and whine when you get home; they whine for a goodie, and whine to go out. If you’re eating something that smells good, or if you’re eating something that doesn’t smell good, or if you’re eating something that has no smell at all — you could be gnawing the draperies–they sit at your feed and whine for a taste.

Not a cat, though. If a cat wants food, they’ll sit at their dish and Look at you. Even if you’re in another room, they’ll sit at their dish and Look at you. You could be out of the bloody country, and right in the middle of a meeting in Japan, when you’ll get this crawly sensation in the back of your neck — that’s your cat, Looking at you.

They’re asleep when you leave the house, and asleep when you get home — except if coming home means food, and then they’ll twirl about your legs, making a nuisance of themselves until you give in and take care of what should be your number one priority: feed the cat.

If a cat wants attention, they’ll either jump up on your lap, or, preferably, your computer keyboard. If you’re cooking, they’ll jump up on the counter; if you’re sewing, they’ll walk in front of the machine. And if you happen to be in bed reading a hard cover book, well, whatever you do, don’t lay on your side, book open on the bed.

If you’re asleep and they want you up, they’ll jump on your stomach. No, i take that back. They take a running start and then leap on your stomach, all four paws landing in the exact same spot. I don’t know about other cat owners, but if I’m asleep and my Zoe wants something, she presses her cold nose against my mouth and then gives me a good lick, right on the lips. If you’ve ever seen what cats do with that tongue of theirs, this isn’t the most pleasant way to wake.

Dogs aim to please, and if you’re unhappy with them, a mild reprimand is enough to send them into dejection until they’re forgiven. When they are forgiven, or when doing their favorite thing (tug-away with your favorite shoe, ride in car with window down, go for walk in woods and roll in dead things), they shake their butt more than a hot disco dancer, and jump about more than a four year old having to pee.

Not a cat, though. No, a cat manages to convey most of their emotional responses through one simple form of communication: the purr. And let me tell you, a purr is a devastating weapon, capable of reducing even the coldest of us to smooshy faced indulgence. When a cat turns on all its formidable charm–wide eyed kitten playfulness, followed by cuddle-some eyes half-closed purring–you melt into a puddle of acquiescent goo.

No, there’s only one thing that will crack the composure of a cat: static electricity. Yup, nothing worse for a cat than a cold, dry climate and a house full of synthetics.

Events of note

Perspective, Lack of

I was stunned this morning, as we all were, to hear about the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean and all those people that have been killed. Already estimates of the death toll are at 14,000 and counting. My heart goes out to the people there. I wish there was something more I could do, other than send positive thoughts, sympathies, and what monetary or other help I can provide to organizations giving aid.

I suppose it will be too much to ask those of us from wealthier countries not to blame the victim in this tragedy. This type of event is extremely unusual in the Indian Ocean — and the countries hit are some of the poorest in that region; too poor to build elaborate alarm systems to warn of such a rare event.

The US government was a little late in responding but has said it would send help. I’m not quite sure what ‘appropriate’ help is, but I imagine this is nothing more than official talk, and we’ll send the help we have, and the help that’s needed. And looking at the pictures, and hearing the amount of devastation, there is a lot of help needed. I can’t even imagine what the people in the area are facing right now — it most be a nightmare without waking.

Let’s not lose sight of this, my friends. Or forget that another casualty of major tragedies such as these is that communication can falter and fail at times–in more ways than one.


Real link stuff

I’m not normally a link and comment person, but I’m feeling in a ‘chatty’ mood, so here we go:

American Street has created adjunct Perranoski award categories to the Wampum awards. There’s also a contest for best poem featuring the Rumsfeld infamous quote You go to war with what you have. Personally, though, I prefer my poetry sans Rummy, but the contest is still fun.

Just in time for the holidays, Ken Camp has posted a recipe for Tequila Cookies. I think I’m going to take liberties with the recipe, though, and create “Jug o Margarita” cookies instead.

I like Molly’s new Medusa look. But then, she used green — I’m partial to green. And her logo is fun. Looks like she’s been into Ken’s Tequila cookies.

Congratulations to Liz Lawley for the new Lab for Social Computing she’s been made director of at RIT. The creation of this lab is an impressive accomplishment.

I miss Phil.

Norm, I really like the book, Birth of the Chess Queen, and thanks for pointing it out to me. I need to get around to posting some great quotes from the book.

Uncle Joe, who has a very cute dog is having chicken enchiladas with his holiday meal this year, I’m having ham sandwiches, and PapaScott is NOT having lutefish — good choice, Scott. Dave is probably having the s**t kicked out of him by his daughter Catie for Festivus, while it sounds like this might have happened, metaphorically to Karl in comments. And I agree with the ‘better uses of time’, Karl.

Now is the time for music, friends, family, and fun. But then, every day is the time for music, friends, family, and fun. AKMA is listening to music such as U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”, while Halley is doing the angel thing. Stavros writes of the cassettes he has known and loved. (I’m dated — I think of the old single LPs when I get nostalgic–but at least it’s not gramaphones.).

Lottsa snow and cold about if the number of visits I’m getting to my old How to Drive in Ice and Snow post is any indication. Poor people — I hope sincerely they recognize tongue in cheek when they see it. Don is learning the joys of white snow with small black dogs, while Bill learns that furnace thermostats have batteries (I didn’t know this, either).

And I just had an email from Daliel Leite that the Rock on Rock On site, which I’ve contributed photos to, and mentioned in the past, was just pointed out as a Yahoo Pick, generating visits from over 90,000 people from 120 countries in the last few days.

I remember the site when it was a bare pebble on the beach. Good to see it getting the attention it deserves. Congrats, Daliel!

Technology Weblogging

Comment spam prevention in Wordform

I believe that, eventually, most comment spam strategies will have to have a system-wide component in place to truly combat this problem — something to watch for comment spam patterns happening on a server, and throttle accordingly. However, that’s something that can’t really be handled with the application. So, I’ll focus on what I can do in Wordform.

My comment spam protections are not going to include a blacklist, in any shape or form. These require too much processing, and are too vulnerable to corruption. Instead, I’ll use a variety of techniques that combined should protect a site — even a heavily hit site.

First, I’ve added individual comment moderation so that you can turn moderation on for a specific post, or a group of posts. When this is turned on, a message will show near the comment form stating that the comment is currently moderated.

Next, I’m adding new capability to search in comments for those that fall into a range of dates, and then be able to delete all comments that match a search criteria. With this, if you do get hit, it should be easier to delete the spam.

(I’m also adding a one-touch button to globally approve, or delete, all moderated comments.)

The comment posting page will have a throttle that can be configured in options. This throttle will check the number of comments received within a certain period of time, and if the count exceeds a value that the user can specificy, will either moderate the comment, or deny it (again, something that can be configured). At Burningbird, the throttles are no more than ten comments in a minute (a WordPress option); and no more than 50 comments in a day (my option). These two values can be changed, and I’m also adding a maximum count for number of comments allowed in an hour. All of this will prevent ‘crapfloods’, which can overwhelm a site, and even a server.

Currently I’m using database queries for the comment throttle I have at Burningbird, but for Wordform, I’ll be using other caching methods to hold timestamps and comment counts. This should make the throttle lightweight and robust.

I’m also adding a configurable option to either close or moderate all comments over a certain number of days old. I use this with Burningbird, whereby the first comment to a post over so many days old gets moderated, and then the post gets closed. This has eliminated probably about 98% of my comment spams, while still giving me the option of determining (from this last comment), whether I want to keep the post open, but moderated.

A new functionality for Wordform not currently implemented at Burningbird is the ability to close a discussion. By closing a discussion, the post (or the web site) is temporarily put into a lock-down form, where only those people who have previously written published comments can add new comments. When they do, the comment is posted immediately. If a person hasn’t added a comment previously (based on the person’s email, which is a requirement for lock-down, though it’s not printed), their comment will be put into moderation.

Finally, I’m experimenting around with a new comment spam prevention method that I’m calling “Stealth Mode”. However, this is one item I am leaving for a “Ta Da!” moment when I release Wordform’s first alpha release.

(Most of these comment spam moderation techniques will also apply to trackbacks. I’m currently wavering on my support of pingback, which is really nothing more than recording a link, and this is accessible via the vanity sites.)

Between all of these–Throttle, Lock-down, individual and weblog moderation, better comment management, closing older posts, and Stealth Mode–the comment spam problem should end up being no more than a minor irritation in Wordform. Then if I can just get people to accept that comment spam is not an invasion of a person’s personal space, and that it’s a way of life and to not spend so much time fretting about it, we’ll have the comment spam problem managed.