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October 4, 2015

This blog has gone spamtacular

In August, the comment section of this blog was hit with 13,000 spam messages, which was at the low end of its normal 25k-35k range. At least this is what Akismet tells me. The number of actual comments is usually in 30-50/month range, I think.

In September, my comment sectionss got 186,998 spams. This has driven up my hosting costs rather spectacularly.

My host, — very reasonably priced, a little geeky to use, which is not a bad thing — pointed this out to me. I started checking my WordPress plugins and only then found out that my Akismet API key was no longer valid. I have no idea why it stopped being valid, or when that happened, but I’m hoping it was at the beginning of September. I have reenlisted in Akismet.

Being a dolt, I don’t know if using a comment spam filter like Akismet will reduce the hits on my site, or whether it will simply lower the number of bogus comments I have to manually wade through. I will check tomorrow.

I am also willing to accept ideas today.

(I have temporarily closed comments on posts older than 14 days. Sorry. But it’s not like I get a lot of those.)

UPDATE, that afternoon: The support person at MediaTemple suggested replacing Akismet with WP-Spamshield, and adding WordPress Spam Cleaner to get rid of existing spam. He also suggested this helpful article: Hardening WordPress. Thanks, Media Temple support person!

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October 2, 2015

Reason #2,645 to love the Web

Back in the early 1980s—yes, children, it’s time for an anecdote from the Dark Ages—WordPerfect was my writing tool. I was a power user and was quite attached to it. But there were some things I thought they could do better. So, I wrote a four page letter that was (as I recall) very appreciative of the program overall — not a set of gripes, but a fan’s notes. I sent it to the WordPerfect corporation.

I never heard anything back. Not even the form letter I expected.

That was back then.

On my Mac I frequently use Sync2Folders “its techie rawness is one of the reasons I like it”to, well, sync two folders. It does exactly what I want, and it’s free, although donations are suggested. (I’ve donated the suggested €6 more than once.)

In terms of the look and feel, Sync2Folders isn’t slick, and in its functionality it tends towards the techie. But it’s simple enough that I can do the basic things that I want to do. In fact, its techie rawness is one of the reasons I like it: It does a job that’s not trendy, and it does it without gussying itself up.

Also, and perhaps more important, it looks like something that a developer created and put out in the world for free. Which is exactly what it is.

A couple of days ago I got an automated email from the developer, Thomas Robisson when I donated for the third time. I’d like to pretend that I’m just that generous, but the truth is that I’m just that forgetful. So, I appreciated that the developer noted the duplication, told me how to avoid the app’s request for fiscal aid, and reminded me that a single license can be used on multiple computers.

I responded by email to thank Thomas, and also to point out a feature that I’d like and that I’d thought was in an earlier version. I was confident that this was going to turn out to be a DUM— a dumb user mistake — and at least I was right about that.“ The Net occasions the generosity of people like Thomas” Over the course of a couple of emails in which Thomas asked for some basic debugging info, it turned out that, yes, I had simply missed the button that did what I was asking for. D’oh.

I know that the Internet is the defiler of youth and the death of civilization. But it also occasions the generosity and creativity of people like Thomas.

Further, before the Net, there was only the slightest chance that a user and a product creator could engage. And if they did it was likely to be in the stilted, inhuman voice of the Marketing department.

So, thank you, Thomas. And thank you, Internet.

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September 30, 2015

The miracle of the one network

The Open University of Catalania just posted a very brief article of mine about the importance of the fact that Big Data is also Networked Big Data. Upon reading it in “print” I see that I buried the lede.

The amazing thing is that the same network that connects our machines also connects us. This enables a seamless conversation: “if you can get at the data, you can get at people talking about the data”if you can get at the data, you can get at people talking about the data.

Not only does the same network connect the data and the people making sense of the data, but layers of interoperability have grown on top of it. Increasingly the data is accessible in ways that make it easier and easier for humans to mash it up. And, of course, the sense that humans make of those mashups gets expressed in ways that are interoperable for humans: in language, with links.

That we take this awesomeness for granted makes that awesomeness awesome.

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September 29, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: The New Republic runs an article that does not bash the Internet!

Stop the presses!

The good news is that the New Republic seems to be making an effort to include articles about race that are not by white liberals — not that I have anything general against white liberals since I am one . The even better news is that that article credits the Internet with enabling a flowering of African American intellectual thought, rather than the magazine once again (and again and again and again) thinking it’s being oh-so-daring by criticizing the Net as the source of all that is dumb and crass.

In “Think Out Loud,” Michael Eric Dyson argues:

Along with [Ta-Nehisi] Coates, a cohort of what I would like to call the “black digital intelligentsia” has emerged. They wrestle with ideas, stake out political territory, and lead, very much in the same way that my generation did, only without needing, or necessarily wanting, a home in the Ivy League—and by making their name online.

He describes how “the Net enables these voices to be heard”the Net enables these voices to be heard, and how it helps them to form and pursue their ideas through community and social engagement. (It’s a great example of what some of us would describe as the networking of knowledge.)

And, in a generous way that embodies the best of the Net, Dyson in this article is using his position as a well-established voice to give a boost to the upcoming cohort—one that notably includes many women.

Nicely done all around.

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September 25, 2015

Facebook now 0.1% less Orwellian

We should be grateful that Facebook has renamed its Internet access service from to Free Basics by Facebook. The idea is that if you’re in the developing world, you’ll get access to the “Internet” which is really access to Facebook and all that it permits.

Calling that arrangement “” was as Orwellian as marketing gets, like advertising Snickers as a “lunch bar.” No no no. A Snickers bar may be delicious, and may even give you enough of a burst of energy that for the final fifteen seconds of your Powerpoint presentation at the weekly status meeting you have an overbearing confidence that alienates your boss’s boss who happens to have dropped by, dooming your long-term prospects at that company, but it is not lunch. It lacks all the essential properties of lunch, even if you may at some point eat one because you forgot your lunch and your wallet and have no friends who will share with you.

The Facebook service is to the Internet as Snickers is to lunch: a poor replacement that lacks all of the essential elements that make a lunch a lunch and the Internet the Internet.

The new name has the advantage of sounding like an hypoallergenic mascara that’s hired Christie Brinkley as its spokesmodel.

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September 24, 2015

Feedburning like it's 2004

Oddly, I’m trying out the Feedburner service that lets you subscribe to this blog and have new posts emailed to you once a day.

The real point of this post is to see whether I’ve set it up correctly.

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September 22, 2015

Why I hate the Windows 10 ad

A close relative recently gushed about the Windows 10 ad with the montage of adorable toddlers, especially the boy (?) pressing his face up against a window. My reaction was visceral, guttural, and not for polite company. Until then I hadn’t realized how much I hate that ad.

It wasn’t obvious to me why.

A big part of it is, of course, its exploitation of the parenting part of our lizard brains. What makes it worse is that the ad is soooo good at it. Those are some lovable damn children! I get the heart feels when they call out Fatima by name. I get the same involuntary happiness reflex in the second version of the ad when it ends on the feminine pronoun: “We just have to make sure that she has what she needs.” (That’s approximate; I can’t find the second ad online.)

I don’t like being manipulated, even when it’s towards things I believe in. When it’s in a movie or a book, I just feel cheated. When it’s in persuasive discourse, I feel abused. That’s true when a President argues for a policy by recounting a moving anecdote about someone he met (“I met a woman in Iowa recently who told me…”), and it’s true when a company plays on my instincts to get me to buy a product that I wouldn’t have bought if I’d been addressed rationally.

Almost all ads do this sort of manipulation. The Windows 10 ad does it particularly well. That’s why I particularly hate it.

But that’s not the only reason.

It is an ad totally without substance. Well, that’s not quite true. It’s full of misleading substance. It consists of a list of functionality that Windows 10 does not have. No passwords? Every screen is to be touched? Someday Windows 10 may have this sort of functionality, but by then it will be Windows 30 or so. “Why are you running a Windows 30 ad to sell Windows 10? ” But The glory of Windows 30 is not much of an inducement to buy Windows 10. So, why are you running a Windows 30 ad to sell Windows 10? Is there nothing in it worth the free upgrade?

But of course this isn’t really an ad about Windows 10. It’s an advertisement for the Windows brand. And the argument it presents is Microsoft’s dream that Windows will be as dominant an operating system twenty years from now as it was twenty years ago.“It’s going to come from all of us, not from Microsoft, Google, the Pope or even Elon Musk” The tagline might as well be “Windows: It’s going to become inevitable again. Deal with it.”

And here’s the last bit of bile I need to drain from my gall bladder. The future is not going to bright because Windows is going to be its operating system. If the future of tech is going to remain bright it will because we — all of us — have secured control of our operating systems and are building great things for one another. It’s going to come from all of us, not from Microsoft, Google, the Pope or even Elon Musk (hallowed be his name).

So take your hands off our babies’ future, Microsoft!


September 20, 2015

One of these things is not the same

To judge by the plaints of educators and employers the pressing danger of the republic is inaccuracy: the school-boy does not know how to add, nor the biological assistant to dissect, nor the graduate student in history to tell a story truly. We know that the daily press has little regard for truth, because every evening paper is constantly convicting every morning rival of falsehood. Public speakers make up their anecdotes and distil wrong deductions into the minds of their hearers; the records of Congress are full of speeches that were never spoken, and omit much of the raciness of actual debate.

That’s the opening paragraph of “Imagination in History” by Albert Bushnell Hart, published in 1910. Replace “every evening newspaper” with “every news medium” and to bring this paragraph up to date we’d only have to drop the assumption that there’s actual debate in Congress.

A source of consolation or a reason to despair?

Since Hart’s article’s point is that this complaint goes back centuries when it comes to the study of history. E.g.,

  • “The Middle Ages much enjoyed fabricating the ancients.”

  • “The eighteenth century is the golden age of imaginary historians…”

  • “Of the multitude of forgeries in the nineteenth century the palm goes to the French artist in vellum, Lucas, who fairly carried on a jobbing trade in spurious letters. Among the 27,000…”

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September 19, 2015

Transliterating Heidegger

As a result of lurking in a mailing list’s conversation about whether and how to translate Heidegger’s use of the ancient Greek term φυσις, I did some poking around at Google.

φυσις does not translate easily, which is why Heidegger scholars like to use the original Greek. (Meanwhile, I can’t even find an html character for the upsilon with a diacritical, and the raw Greek character failed in the preview of this post in Chrome.) It’s usually translated as “nature,” but that’s the result of a 2,500-year-old-game of “Telephone.” For Heidegger, it has something to do with what shows itself as having its own way of becoming or emerging. Richard Polt aand Gregory Fried in A Companion to Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics take a stab at it by referring to it as the “emerging-abiding sway.” Anyway, that’s not the point of this post.

Here are the results. Have fun making sense of them. They are wonky in ways that indicate that I don’t know how to do Google queries.

Search logic

Actual search terms







φυσις AND heidegger

“φυσις” “heidegger”



phusis AND heidegger

“phusis” “heidegger”



physis AND heidegger

“heidegger” “physis”



φυσις AND heidegger AND phusis

“φυσις” “heidegger” “phusis”



φυσις AND heidegger AND physis

“φυσις” “heidegger” “physis”



φυσις AND heidegger BUT NOT phusis

“φυσις” “heidegger” -“phusis”



φυσις AND heidegger BUT NOT physis

“φυσις” “heidegger” -“physis”



heidegger AND phusis BUT NOT φυσις

“heidegger” “phusis” -“φυσις”



heidegger AND physis BUT NOT φυσις

-“φυσις” “heidegger” “physis”



φυσις AND heidegger AND phusis AND physis

“φυσις” “heidegger” “physis” “phusis”


Semi-interesting factoids based upon faulty research and poor quantitative reasoning skils:

  • Hardly anyone who uses the Greek bothers to point out that there are two ways to transliterate it.

  • A fifth of all mentions of the Greek term also mention Heidegger.

  • If a work mentions Heidegger and the Greek term, it’s three times more likely to transliterate it as physis.

Fun minigame: How many of those did I mess up?

Google’s search syntax documentation is not great, and the results sometimes seem wonky. Here’s some documentation:


September 18, 2015

A blogger goes to the Democratic National Convention…9 years ago

I was cleaning up my office now that the transit of Venus has moved it into the House of Mercury, which only happens ever 17 years, and I came across this button:

Convention blogger button

(That’s me now, not nine years ago. Not that there’s any difference at all. None!, I tell you, just a tad too insistently.)

Yes, that’s an official button issued to the about thirty-five bloggers who were given press credentials for the Democratic National Convention of 2004, the one at which the Democrats insured their victory over the vastly unpopular, war-starting George W by nominating John Kerry instead of Howard Dean.

Well, anyway.

This was the first time bloggers had been given press credentials for a national political convention, and it was quite a thrill. Here’s a list of the bloggers from the Wall Street Journal.

And here’s a post of mine with some photos. They’re heavy on correspondents from The Daily Show because they were doing a piece about those durn bloggers. I declined to be interviewed because I am a coward.

Here’s my post about Kerry’s acceptance speech.

Here are some reflections about the experience.

But most of the posts are gone. I was blogging the DNC for the Boston Globe and the posts are gone from its site. Even doesn’t have nuthin’ from the Globe site during that week.

So, yes, History, cry “Alackaday!” and stain your blank pages with salt.

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