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Christmas Anticipation

December 22nd, 2005  · stk

Alex is almost twenty seven months old and unlike last year, is now fully engrossed and involved with Christmas. We haven't been to see "Santa" (yet), but we will, no doubt. Her Gran and Grandpa arrived from Vancouver today and so there is a gathering of family. She is excited with all the hubbub, the decorating and has been chowing down on candies from no less than TWO Advent Calendars.

Tom and Sheila, PCT friends from California, sent up a special Christmas package for the Oop. Inside, was a present to be opened "immediately". The gift? A unique, fold out book for Alex called, "The Twelve Bugs of Christmas". She has been wanting to "read" the book, non-stop, since its arrival. Of course, supervision is required or the unique fold out pages will rapidly cease to function as intended, but this doesn't dampen her spirits any!

Rachel noted that before we met Tom and Sheila, they were sending US presents in the mail (awesome chocolate chip cookies), while we were on our six-month hike. Unfortunately, we no longer get (or need, for that matter) chocolate chip cookies. Again, it seems to be that Alex gets all the fun things in the mail, but no matter ... the joy she has opening up the parcel overcomes our own disappointment. (Sort of). A BIG thank you to Tom and Sheila for their thoughtful gift and bringing joy to Oop's second Christmas ... and being a part of it, even though they're way too far away.

Our Christmas tree looks much more like a Christmas tree this year. Alex helped decorate it, adding many ornaments. She found it easier hanging ornaments having a looped string and she gave them a pass, if they had a metal hook. We held her up, to decorate at higher levels and we did notice she had a slight tendency to apply all the ornaments to a single branch!! But it's much improved over last year, when we had to move all the ornaments out of her reach, otherwise she would pluck them off the tree and into her mouth. This year - (perhaps because she helped decorate?) - she's left the tree alone and it actually STILL looks good.

The Christmas lights are on a timer and when they come on, around dusk, Alex demands that the other lights (which are not on a timer) be turned on. "Lights on," she says to Daddy, "now." We ask her, with a trailing question, "Lights oooonnn ... ?" and she pipes up with a required "pleeze".

Keeping up with the Advent Calendar hasn't been as easy as one might imagine. We typically go for a treat (chocolate kisses), after dinner, though sometimes she's so fussy about eating ... that we decide to give the treat a pass. Yes, our little angel is in the middle of her "terrible twos" and believe me, they're TERRIBLE! She can't hang the foil ornament on the wall-hung Advent Calendar, so she asks, "Daddy help?" To her credit though, she hasn't tried to pinch any chocolates, which we think is pretty amazing (especially as we've been pinching, Rachel more so than Scott, the candies that remain in cupboard). Seems our 2-year old daughter has greater self control!

She's left the presents alone too, though she's certain that each is for her and her alone. (Mostly, she's correct). After all, Christmas really IS all about the children, isn't it?

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Updated: 26-Feb-2006
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Web Dev·b2evo

Automated SPAM - Meet thy Enemy

December 17th, 2005  · stk

Your blog is your blog and you want people to comment on your posts, because you want to know what people think of your thoughts, meet new people, see familiar names and have guests add value.

Then along comes some schmuck who leaves a trackback or comment SPAM full of meaningless gobbleygook and you feel violated. What's worse ... it just keeps coming and coming.

Yes, there are methods to deter automated trackback SPAM and comment SPAM and I've even outlined some easy and effective methods on this blog. I've been fortunate, as we've never been hit with automated SPAM - knock on wood.

However, I set up a default b2evo site (Amsterdam version) in June, then went on vacation and didn't open it again for 2 months. By the time I did, it had over 10,000 referral SPAM records and nearly 5,000 automated comments/trackbacks. 88|

Who uses automated SPAMming programs ... and Why?

Sometimes it's good to know the enemy ... so I went on a little google foray today. First ... keywords to find such folks seem to be revolved around "ranking" and "marketing" ... and searches led me to a few interesting sites (I masked the URL's to prevent giving them more of what they want - ranking and marketing).

If you're interested in scratching the ugly underbelly of internet marketing ... read on (it's a short story ;) ) ...

Read full story...

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Updated: 17-Dec-2005
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Astonish Me

December 11th, 2005  · stk
b2evo

After a year working with b2evolution, I've decided to join forces with a British programmer, combining our efforts and creating a value-added website presence at a soon-to-be-announced web location. Initially, our goal will be to provide b2evo-specific add-on features, tutorials and plug-ins. Many of these features will be free, in the spirit of Open Source software, but because we both hope to continue full-time development, we'll be accepting donations, offering site subscriptions, and taking on website consulting work. And we're planning on extending support, articles and features beyond b2evolution, covering such diverse topics as CSS, XHTML, site maintenance, design and a number of other open source applications.

Pooling our efforts should result in more popular and well-documented plug-ins and features for the b2evolution blogging community at large. We want to promote a savvy, active and strong b2evo community, raising the bar, across the board. Both as a tribute and acknowledgement, we'll be donating 10% of our gross to b2evolution.net (or to whichever open source application we've earned money from).

To start, it will be the two of us, but we're interested in adding to the team and we're looking for dynamic, prolific, well-organized, enthusiastic contributors that can add value to our services. If you're interested, please drop us a line.

We're excited by our joint venture and hope that you will be too. By combining talents, one with 20+ years in programming and developemnt and the other with a similar experience in user support and technical computing, we hope to offer superior enhancements which are easily deployed and well documented.

With a major version release on the horizon (i.e., "Phoenix"), our efforts are timely. We can increase the adoption rate, provide sought-after features and in the process, strenghten the b2evo blogging community. We're both active on the b2evo forums and will remain so. Our individual blogs will continue to be a source of information, but will likely direct you to the new website for detail and downloads. Our goal isn't to make a financial "killing", but we do hope that there's enough monetary support to justify a full-time effort.

Make a list of your desired enhancement requests and features, because we'll be looking to you to help set our direction. What would YOU like to do with b2evolution that you can't do now?

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Updated: 6-Feb-2006
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Friends

Oop gets a Piggy Bank

December 3rd, 2005  · stk

We've been trying to find an honest-to-good piggy bank for Alex. It's more difficult than on might imagine. Finally, an old college friend came to the resue. Easthouse Design Studio, a ceramic business run by Kim Easthouse, makes hand-painted ceramic piggy banks.

Once upon a time... we were in the market for a piggy bank for the Oop. Around Easter time, her paternal grandparents mailed some money for the acquisition of such a child-appropriate gift. We delayed in the purchase because we were looking for a special bank, a classic "piggy bank". Though we kept our eyes open for such a swine, none of our shopping forays unearthed any such beast. (Of course, neither of us are avid "shoppers", so it wasn't like we were on a city-wide boar hunt or anything. But we DID keep our eyes peeled!)

A solution came as an epiphany, one day, when Scott remembered that his UCD friend, Kim Easthouse, runs a successful ceramics business from her Seattle home. A quick telephone call confirmed that she did, indeed, make ceramic piggy banks and that she would be happy to craft one for the Oop.

The summer months slid by and although we did get a chance to stop and visit the Easthouse clan - it was fun seeing you guys ... as always - the bank (like so many of our own projects) had yet to migrate from "the drawing board", into an amorphous clay creation. We had all but forgotten about the slotted swine, when ... out of the blue, we get a large postal delivery! (The Oop immediately thinks that it's for her and of course, she's correct again ... nobody sends Scott or Rachel presents any more! Grrr.   :-/   They're all for the cute little Oop! How fair is that? )

When Rachel returns from her day at the University, we help Alex tear into her package, eager to reveal the contents and meet Mr. Piggy. Lo and behold ... we unwrap the well-padded, delightful, ceramic pig, which is personalized with Alex's name written across its haunches. The Oop was thrilled with her bank, but Mom and Dad were a tad leery of letting her spend much time with it alone ... for fear that it would be immediately broken. So ... we supervised, as she moved her coins from her temporary piggy bank, into their new home.

She's on her way to becoming a gazillionaire and we owe Kim Easthouse a big "THANK YOU" for such a special piggy bank! (And to Grandma & Grandpa for sparking the idea in the first place).

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Updated: 5-Dec-2005
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Comment & Trackback anti-SPAM Script

November 18th, 2005  · stk

Here is an anti-SPAM Perl script that provides an excellent defense against comment and trackback SPAM. It automatically renames the htsrv directory, using a random, 6-character/number sequence. It turns the "htsrv" directory - necessary for trackbacks and comments - into a moving target, making it difficult to SPAM. Hurrah!

3-Jun-2006: NOTE: The three techniques outlined in this article once worked as a defense against blog comment/trackback SPAM. They have all been defeated by spammers and are no longer effective.. :(

It's recommended that you look here for a table of SPAM-fighting options.

11-Dec-2005: Added - Support for both pre/post Phoenix b2evolution releases. Setting a switch will allow the script to run on either.

Here is an anti-SPAM Perl script that provides an excellent defense against comment and trackback SPAM. It automatically renames the htsrv directory, using a random, 6-character/number sequence. It turns the "htsrv" directory - necessary for trackbacks and comments - into a moving target, making it difficult to SPAM. Hurrah!

Renaming the "htsrv" directory has been our first line of defense and this script makes it even better. I used to manually rename it (then edit the _advanced.php file - only one line - to note the change). Because it was manual, I didn't do it very often - maybe once every couple of months. (One time, I waited too long. The spammers found the new name and BOOM - SPAM). Grrr. :> Changing it often is ideal, but I want to blog, not spend my time renaming files and such. I'm no geek! :roll:

Thanks to Dan MacTough (and some handy-dandy modifications by yours truly) ... there's now a PERL script that does it for you, randomly and automatically! The script runs as a cron job, periodically renaming the "htsrv" directory. Even IF the spammers FIND the moving target, there's only a small window it'll accept SPAM, because the script will run again, change the name & yield 404 "File not Found" errors. HA! Take THAT spammers! :D

If your b2evolution blog has ever been under attack by spammers, either leaving automated comment or trackback spam, then you'll appreciate this tool. I'll also provide two other techniques we use ... both of which are a good defense, as well. I can't guarantee these techniques will keep your b2evolution blog SPAM-free, because that's the nature of SPAM. (You're only SPAM-free ... till BOOM ... you're not). :-/ Still, they've worked for us for nearly a year & this script only tightens the defenses.

For the details on these 3 easy anti-SPAM techniques & the code for the "hidehtsrv" script ... read on ...

Read full story...

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Updated: 17-Jul-2006
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