a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Spam 3.0: issue-based comment spam

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th April 2010

Because I get fairly few comments — not whining about it, I promise! — I’m at leisure to screen every one of the new commenters who show up. Sadly, most of them are plain old spam — call them spam 1.0.  Once you could at least see that they were links to online Viagra sales sites or whatever; these days they’re often not even intelligible writing (these are generally from Eastern Europe and Russia), showing up as strings like “????? ????? ??????’? ????”, which is kind of mysterious, but whatever, maybe it’s homework for some Ukrainian “Internet Marketing 101” class.

Next came “suck up” spam: short notes pretending to congratulate me on a post — i.e., impersonating someone who has actually read the post, instead of just dropping in to deposit a dropping with a link back to their huckster site.  While it’s still pretty lame, it’s sufficiently innovative that I’ll call it spam 2.0.  I’ve collected the text from some of the more amusing examples, but like all the other spam comments, the “Akismet” spam filter catches them, I look at them, I yawn, I delete them.

Lately, though, I’ve seen something new.  While the web site link of the commenter remains a giveaway to a commercial interest of some kind, the comment itself is almost relevant to the post, and the commenter’s web site is also almost a  genuine looking web site or blog.

Here’s a comment of this sort, attempted for “In What’s Become a Bit of a Regular Occurrence” (a post about Obama’s reversal on offshore oil exploration):

Our major issue in this country is our two political parties. Our forefathers knew that a two party system would be our downfall and took steps to try to stop this type of politics, and thus anyone who seriously thinks that politics isn’t corrupt or slaves to Corporate America hasn’t not been paying attention. George Jr. will go down in History as one of the worst administrations in history and I could go on for hours showing why, but my point is that the Obama administration has offered nothing different (besides health reform, granted) and has in fact continued nearly every single Bush program. Obama has almost the same political donors and thus has the same pressures as Bush did. Health reform will turn out to be the most expensive and destructive waste of tax payer money ever. I just wish I could offer a better alternative for other frustrated people, but I can’t and those that think that the tea partiers are the future, remember that Sarah Palin is an important figure to them.

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On Facebook

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th March 2010

Part of the decline in output for this blog is because I tend to use “Facebook” these days as my main platform for pointing out articles and events I think are worthwhile or important (maybe 75% of the time there), and for saying what’s up with me, music I like, and personal stuff (maybe 25% of the time).

The reason is simple: comments and  full-fledged discussions are much more likely there than here, partly because your latest item is transmitted to all your friends, so there’s a chance they’ll see it — even if it’s rapidly buried in the snowfall of posts by all their other friends.  One comment then begets another and another, as the facebook software propels commented-on stuff to higher prominence in the so-called ‘news feed’ (as opposed to the instantaneous, unfiltered ‘live feed’).

Facebook also lets you easily add photos, form groups, and announce events, and even advertise them; there’s also a “chat” feature, though I never use it.  The look of one’s “wall” — the place where one’s messages, photos, and found objects from the Internet pile up — is fairly “clean,” and of a piece with the so-called “home page” news feeds where your friends’ posts etc. pile up.  For quick interactions in a smoothly functioning environment, it’s a very nice system, and it lets you fine tune the degree to which you’re visible to facebook users beyond your circle of approved online friends — anywhere from hardly at all to come one come all.

But the drawback is also clear: Facebook isn’t about long form writing.  (Yes there are “notes”, no, they’re not used much.)  There’s an upper limit on how long the initial post can be, so that you’re more or less compelled to do ‘heh. indeed’ or ‘oh my god’ quick hit comments on your item and then express your views more completely in comments.  It can be kind of fun to combine your teaser, the headline, and a followup comment into one coherent message, but it’s not the kind of writing and researching I do for posts here — posts, to be sure, that go all but unread.

So that’s the trade-off, roughly: write or be read, research or discuss, write as if the world were reading or just as if you’re at a kind of neighborhood get-together.  I find Facebook to be quite absorbing — some people are excellent sources of news and opinion pieces, and others are reliably interesting commenters.  But I miss the kind of writing I did here and the interactions I’ve had with friends and readers here, and I think it’s time to rebalance my efforts between these two outlets and — oh, right! — the actual, real world.

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Good for a grin

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 29th August 2008


# Jonathan Schwarz (“A Tiny Revolution”) — “Almost all political conflict, especially in the US, boils down to a fight between the Sane Billionaires and the Insane Billionaires. It generally follows this template:

INSANE BILLIONAIRES: Let’s kill everyone and take their money!
SANE BILLIONAIRES: I like the way you think. I really do. But if we keep everyone alive, and working for us, we’ll make even more money, in the long term.

Works in China, too.

# — because we don’t just need a president who puts Barney Smith before Smith Barney, we need a president who IS Barney Smith.

# YouTube Comment Snob “is a Firefox extension that filters out undesirable comments from YouTube comment threads. You can choose to have any of the following rules mark a comment for removal: * More than # spelling mistakes: The number of mistakes is customizable, and the extension uses Firefox’s built-in spell checker. * etc. etc. # All capital letters# No capital letters # Excessive punctuation (!!!! ????)…” etcetera etcetera. Patrick Nielsen Hayden asks the right question: “Can we have this for the entire Internet?”

# Take A Load Off Fannie at “CalculatedRisk”: “The story of Fannie Mae, as narrated by The Band.”

# The Guardian: the whole world’s only source for backup Fafblog. It’s true.

HAT TIPS: Aviva Othirtytwo (Barney), Andrew H. (Fannie)

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Cool stuff on the Internet

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th September 2007

  • The German satirical literary magazine “Simplicissimus” was a must-read for liberal Germans of the early 20th century; in its heyday, it dismissed all political cant whether it came from the Nazi right or the communist left. Now all the issues from 1896 to 1945 have been archived in Acrobat PDF format and made available to the public by the Literature Department of the RWTH Aachen and other institutions. The magazine is fascinating reading in its own right (though the early issues are in the hard-to-read “Fraktur” type), and is certainly interesting side reading if you’re reading about those times.
  • That got me to looking for historical American magazines that are archived online. Here’s one: the Civil War editions of Harper’s Weekly, archived by Paul McWhorter at his “” web site. Among other things, Harper’s Weekly is where the great American artist Winslow Homer got his start as an illustrator; perhaps his best known work from that period was the “Sharpshooter” drawing done in 1862. The site also has images of several of Homer’s paintings from later in his career, though not of my favorite, “The Veteran In a New Field“. That painting was done a few months after the surrender at Appomattox in 1865, and captures a lot of emotion in a simple way; it now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • I’ve run across the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Timeline of Art History before, when I was re-experiencing some of our trip to Italy last year. It’s hard not to get absorbed by this site, even the overview pages are fascinating, say “World Regions, 1000–1400 A.D.” After reading “1491,” I intend to read more about the pre-Columbian Americas, and there are dozens of essays to choose from on this theme alone.
  • Plant of the Week

    © Smithsonian
    Natural History

    This site also has a slideshow, sortable by species or date of publication to the web, and a query page where you can find photo galleries of plants by genus, family, or region.

  • Women in Western Art — This is kind of spooky, but fascinating.

    There’s also a guide to the paintings in the video.

NOTES: Simplicissimus via Jens Scholz, women in art via WorldWideWeber (“Notes from the Basement”)

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Cool stuff: Department of Music

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th March 2007

  • — This widget lets you sample music “similar” to artists or bands you name; click on “change station” to see that, or just click the “play” arrow to listen to random stuff.
  • “Similarity” is apparently guesstimated by tags users assign to music via the iPod or computer music listening behavior they share (or “scrobble,” if I understand correctly). Like anything else, sometimes you’ll agree, sometimes you won’t, but it’s a nice way to listen to new stuff.

    UPDATE, 3/9: Paul comments that he likes an alternative called Pandora. Try it, try ’em both, but whichever you try, try it soon, because WebProNews reports: “In a decision that could drive the nail in the coffin to Internet radio providers, the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board has endorsed a proposal by SoundExchange to enact royalty rates for webcasts and streaming music sites that will stay in effect from 2006 until 2010.” Thank RIAA — and ask them whether all those artist royalty checks are still “in the mail.” (I’m not sure, but may benefit, at least for a while, from being based in the UK. ) Save Net Radio gives their side of the story.
    UPDATE, 3/12: Also check out Grateful Dread Radio, Natalie Davis’ Live365 internet radio station.

  • Folk Songs for the Five Points* — mix five tracks worth of found sound, music, and interviews with people from the Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Spooky, melancholy, beautiful guitar work by Victor Gama provides some musical scaffolding; you move any of five points to new locations on a map of the neighborhood to change a given track from, say, steam from a manhole cover to a “Nuyorican” poetry recital or from pigeons cooing to sounds from underneath a highway bridge. Reading this may or may not make it sound like much, but as I wrote a while back, I think it’s kind of beautiful.
  • Actionist Respoke* — by Michael Janoschek and Rüdiger Schlömer, “Mouse on Mars.” From the introduction:

    …this work reflects the question if music has to please the listener and if an interface has to obey the user. A kind of »Sound-Biotop« [ecosystem, habitat — ed.], this interface is a stubborn, difficult to use system, which develops a chaotic/poetic dynamic of its own until it totally gets out of control.

    Ja! Ausgezeichnet! If that doesn’t tempt you, I don’t know what will. (Shockwave upgrade may be required.) Via Interactive Audio for the Web, via the Wikipedia “Interactive Music” entry, which observes “We are now at the stage where a musical score is able to adapt in real-time to what is happening in a game.” Somewhat along those lines, see…

  • Field Excursion* — Brazilian soundsmith Amon Tobin creates music to go with animations of extraterrestrial or alternate-world undersea creatures:

    There are five creatures to be found and sampled. Each one makes its own unique sounds. If you interact with them by sampling each individual noice, they will demonstrate how they use their sounds to get down.

    At least a couple of the names are adapted from those of protozoa. I liked the sticholonched, whose sounds “include a passing train, gated and processed with harmonics added to equalizer.” (Broadband connection advisable even for initial link. Via Julian Sanchez, “Notes from The Lounge,” where Tobin’s latest work is showcased.)

  • The Concert: A Classical Musical Podcast — Free classical music to listen to at your computer or download to your iPod, provided by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The music is performed by its chamber orchestra or guest artists, and is at least sometimes themed to illustrate a musical point. Thus Concert No. 14 is called “One degree of separation: Vivaldi and Brahms“:

    As Vivaldi became increasingly popular, though, people started to realize what an influence he’d had on Bach. It’s no secret that Bach, in turn, had a great influence on Brahms. In the second piece on this program, Brahms’ cello sonata in E minor, you’ll particularly hear the influence of Bach’s fugues in the final movement. And maybe you’ll even hear a trace of Vivaldi’s counterpoint.

  • Django* — The Modern Jazz Quartet, 1987, Freiburg, Germany

* EDIT, 3/12: Where indicated, a broadband connection may be advisable even for the first link, which may attempt to stream music or Shockwave images.

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Help jailed Egyptian human rights blogger

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th June 2006

Human Rights First:

Alaa Ahmed Seif al-IslamAlaa Ahmed Seif al-Islam, a twenty-four-year old Egyptian blogger [Manal and Alaa’s Bit Bucket — ed.], was detained in central Cairo on May 7, 2006 while taking part in a peaceful protest in support of two judges threatened with removal from the bench for exposing electoral fraud and also to call for the release of protesters detained in earlier demonstrations.

The case of the judges became a focus for public protests during April and May. The authorities confronted peaceful protesters with a massive, intimidating deployment of thousands of riot police.

Hundreds of protesters were taken into detention, many were beaten by police and plain clothes security officers on the street and some suffered torture and ill-treatment while in detention. More than 300 protesters are believed to remain in detention.

On June 4, Alaa’s detention was extended for a further 15 days using the powers of administrative detention available under Egypt’s emergency law. He faces a variety of charges and accusations, including “insulting the President,” but no date has been set for his trial.

Please call for Alaa’s immediate release from detention and for the release of all those held in detention for exercising their right to freedom of assembly and expression.

A second Human Rights First web page adds:

…[detained bloggers’] supporters allege that they have been particularly targeted by the police because of their activities as “citizen journalists,” reporting news that is ignored by the state dominated media in Egypt. One of them, Muhammad al-Sharqawi has posted his testimony describing torture he suffered while in detention:

Take a minute and contact the Egyptian Interior Minister and the Egyptian ambassador to the United States.

UPDATE, 6/8: See also a 5/31 Washington Post article by Daniel Williams, “New Vehicle for Dissent is a Fast Track to Prison,” or parts Gary Farber has excerpted at his blog.

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Action items: Darfur, warrantless surveillance, Arctic Refuge, net neutrality

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th May 2006

Help Darfur — Tell Congress to pass the budget bill! (Oxfam America Advocacy Fund):

While the House and Senate are working through differences unrelated to Darfur funding, the process is hampering efforts to get critically-needed assistance to the people of Darfur. Please help us again — urge Congress to take quick action.

Demand The Truth (ACLU):

It’s illegal and un-American for your phone company to hand your call records to the government without a warrant. But that’s just what they’re doing, violating the privacy and rights of millions of innocent Americans in the process.

The FCC has the authority and the obligation to investigate the NSA spying scandal, despite their wrong-headed refusal to act. Add your name to the public record and support our formal demand using the form below. If you live in a state where we are filing a complaint with local regulators, we will also add your name to our local demand for action.

Drilling is NOT the answer (Wilderness Society):

As hard as it is to believe, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is in the crosshairs again. Some House members may force a vote on drilling in the Arctic Refuge as early as this Wednesday. Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) has announced the latest drilling vehicle, H.R. 5429, euphemistically labeled “The American-Made Energy and Good Jobs Act.”

A House vote on this bill could happen as soon as this Wednesday, May 24, so it is critical that your Representative hear from you as soon as possible. Even if you’ve taken action on this recently and repeatedly, we urgently need your phone calls to Congress.

Save the Internet (

On April 26, a congressional committee caved to pressure from ATT and Verizon and voted for a bill that would allow large telephone and cable companies to control what you do, where you go, and what you watch online.

This betrayal sparked a public revolt. More than 700,000 people have sent protest letters to Congress. Thousands more are calling their elected represenatatives to demand that they take a stand for Internet freedom. Because of the intense heat, some members of Congress are switching from ATT’s side to ours. The House will vote soon on whether to preserve Internet freedom; a Senate vote will follow shortly after. Every elected member of Congress needs to take a stand on Internet freedom.

You can learn more about each issue via the links provided.

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Cool stuff

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th April 2006

# Wikocracy — Sick of the same old boring Digital Millennium Copyright Act? USA Patriot Act? U.S. Constitution? Rewrite your own, wiki-style! “Over time, this platform could reflect a collaborative statement of what we think the law should be. Or it could reflect a moment-by-moment statement of the most recent editor’s views. This will be as bloody or as civil as you make it… This is only a test.” — There are four new amendments to the Constitution so far.

# Connexions — Possibly more of a future in this Wiki-like collaboration system for writing textbooks. “Our Content Commons contains small “knowledge chunks” we call modules that connect into courses. “

# Antarctic ice collisionIn 2000, several large pieces of the shelf broke off and wandered around in the Ross Sea, breaking into several smaller bergs over the next few years. Among the survivors of the initial calving event is piece C-16. In late March 2006, C-16 worked its way northward along the coastline and plowed into the tip of the Drygalski Ice Tongue. The collision knocked loose a chunk from the tip of the ice tongue.

# Self-propelled liquid droplets“This phenomenon is called the Leidenfrost effect (or film boiling) and occurs beyond a surface temperature called the Leidenfrost point (about 200 – 300 C for water on flat surfaces, depending on surface quality). … We discovered that film-boiling droplets move at speeds of several centimeters per second when placed on asymmetrically structured surfaces (movie), such as a piece of brass with periodic, saw-tooth shaped ridges (see highspeed movie).” — The author thinks pumps and other devices could be powered by the effect.

# Tune in and prosper — unusual Star Trek footage over at Gary Farber’s “Amygdala.”

# Estimate the effect on North America of a 7m rise in sea level. — Things get even more exciting when you zoom in. You can switch to other parts of the world. Elsewhere, a 3/24/06 Scientific American article warns:

Experts predict that at current levels of greenhouse gases–carbon dioxide alone is at 375 parts per million–the earth may warm by as much as five degrees Celsius, matching conditions roughly 130,000 years ago. Now a refined climate model is predicting, among other things, sea level rises of as much as 20 feet, according to research results published today in the journal Science.

NOTES: Liquid droplets via sofa. rites de passage; Connexions via Savage Minds, sea level simulation via Making Light “Particles”.

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Tools for bloggers

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th April 2004

  • Wizbang Trackback: It’s a way for the MoveableType-challenged among us to leave trackback data — sort of “hi! I just wrote something about this post of yours” — at MT and Typepad web sites.
  • Showreferer: A simple Java item that displays who the heck referred you to that seventh open window on your screen. (via siman.incutio). You can just drag the Showreferer link here to your Links toolbar, and see what it does.
  • New York Times Link Generator: Many people already know about this tool, which gives you links that are “preserved” even after the article itself vanishes into the pay-per-use archives. But what do you do if you find a New York Times article via Google or an extinct link on someone’s blog, and you’d like to read it? If it’s not too old, there’s a way:
    1. Copy the URL of the link you want to read, say,
    2. Visit (and optionally, save to your computer):
    3. Search for the item from (1) in the file or on the screen you get with (2)
    4. If you find a match, copy the full line, through “USERLAND”:
    5. Paste that into your browser URL address window — and voila!

    Right now, the oldest articles filed in “urlarchive.txt” are March 20, 2003, i.e., about 13 months old. I don’t know yet whether the file just grows as new articles are catalogued, or whether it drops references to articles more than 13 months old. The “urlarchive.txt” file is referenced in this link generator source code that Aaron Swartz published.

    UPDATE, 4/26: I’ve realized the complicated “solution” I had for expired New York Times links was stupid. Just take the link from step (1) and submit it the the NYT Link Generator. I’m so used to using the nyt link bookmarklet (see same link) that I forgot all about the basic input form.

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    Those were the days, my friend

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th February 2004

    Over at my favorite German blog “le sofa blog,” this reminiscence by Peter Praschl:

    completely pointless memory of 1995, netscape 1.0, logging in over the ‘federal data autobahn’, an e-mail address with a component, m’s question, what I was getting out of being able to find out how full a coffee machine in berkeley (elite university!) was, my answer (“nothing, but you don’t understand that.”) (link added)

    Praschl’s post has drawn 62 comments last time I checked — a lot of people suddenly struck (again) by how different it all is now.

    My introduction to computers began at UC Davis in the mid 1980s, struggling into the night with Fortran, then Pascal, then Modula, writing disease diagnosis programs and maze solving routines, and messaging classmates on the UNIX system (with servers named Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo. Those wacky computer geeks).

    I remember I set up a mailing list of nuclear freeze supporters on the campus computer system — now it can be revealed. Sortable by zip code, precinct, that kind of thing. I did it out of an office using a phone modem where you put the phone itself into a two-holed receptacle, I think it must have 9600 speed maximum. Used a TV for the computer screen.

    Later on, Michigan, 1994, I finally got my own PC with – gasp – a 14400 modem, set up an America Online account — — and started to surf the net. Kind of. AOL was a good way to start for me.

    Yep, we were computin’ out on the prairie, in a covered wagon, in a blizzard, with nothin’ but a 14400 modem and 486x PC … and a dream! (Geezer voice) We wuz pioneers, son! You kids have it so easy now…

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