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New CAPTCHA for comments

Story location: Home / welcome /

I've modified the comments system to use the reCAPTCHA system, rather than my home-made one which relied on the user to count the number of animals in a photo.

reCAPTCHA helps digitise old books by letting people type in words which are a challenge to OCR systems. More information can be found by clicking on the link above.


Not impressed so far. Only an hour after installing the reCAPTCHA, I received 2 spam comments. Under my old system I rarely got any spam comments. I'll give it a day and if it stays like this I'll put the old CAPTCHA back.


Two hours later and another spam comment. I'm putting the old CAPTCHA back. I had hoped that reCAPTCHA would work. I didn't expect to get more spam with it installed.

Trying to prevent image theft 2: Watermarking images

Story location: Home / computing /

Yesterday I mentioned using the .htaccess file with Apache to prevent people hot-linking images. That would only be a temporary solution, which would stop current hot-links from working. Any future image theft would involve people downloading images and re-uploading them somewhere else.

See more ...

Trying to prevent image theft 1: Using .htaccess

Story location: Home / computing /

I've had a problem recently with people stealing images from my website - either hot-linking them or re-uploading them to other sites. My first attempt to stop this was by modifying the .htaccess file on the web server, telling it to only allow image requests from recognised places.

See more ...

Previewing Posts

Story location: Home / computing / blosxom /

The Blosxom blogging system doesn't have a built in way of previewing posts before making them publicly visible. There are various plugins available but for me they seemed to overcomplicate things.

I have been using the Blosedit post editor which includes a preview option but if any Blosxom plugins are used to alter the page appearance (such as Markdown or photo galleries) then the page won't display correctly.

My solution requires the entriescache plugin to keep track of posted stories. Normally, any stories will only show if entriescache knows about them. I set the delay variable to a high number eg.

$delay = 9999;

to stop the index from being rebuilt unless I say so. This means that I can add new posts without them showing, until I tell it to rebuild the index.

To display all posts, not just those in the index, I made the following change to entriescache:

sub start {
    # Force a reindex
    $reindex = 1 if (CGI::param('reindex'));
    return 0 if (CGI::param('preview'));
    return 1;

Entries are written as normal, then they are viewed by adding ?preview=yes to the end of the URL. If am I happy with the entry, I put ?reindex=yes instead.

This method can also work with the wikieditish plugin too, by adding:

<input type="hidden" name="preview" value="yes" />

to the form in the foot.wikieditish file.

The Crap Supercomputer

Story location: Home / computing /

I was searching for some information about the Cray Y-MP computer. The article I found was a PDF scan of an old paper. The OCR seems to have got slightly confused. I didn't realise there was a Crap 2 computer or a Gay Y-MP.

The Crap-2 computer

Why I hate DRM

Story location: Home / computing /

I have never had a positive experience with DRM (Digital Rights Management). I can appreciate why content producers use it, to restrict unlimited copying of their copyrighted materials, but in my experience it just doesn't work.

Part of the problem is that it relies on proprietary (and possibly untrustworthy) software which often demands a specific computer setup. The original version of the BBC iPlayer insisted on Windows XP and the latest version of Media Player. Pretty much the same configuration was specified for Channel 4's 4OD system. Despite my computer complying with all of the requirements, neither system would work on it. I never managed to work out why. I eventually managed to get iPlayer to work on my new laptop.

See more ...

Setting up the Backup Software

Story location: Home / computing /

Read Part 1.

Part 2

On the Desktop Computer

Setting up the FTP server was straightforward. After installing the programme, select the User Manager and click 'New' to add a new user.

See more ...

Synchronise Files between two computers

Story location: Home / computing /

Part 1

I have been given a laptop computer for work but when I work at home I sometimes use my home desktop computer. I decided I needed some way of synchronising files between the two machines, so that I could easily keep both up to date.

Both machines have Bluetooth, which I could use to transfer the odd file manually, but I decided I needed something I could automate. All of the bluetooth syncing software I could find was designed for transferring between a computer and a phone, not between 2 computers.

I found other solutions which expected the files to be on a networked drive, but would keep local copies available for editing. I can't change the network settings on my work computer so it would be tricky for me to set up something like that. See more ...

Spam Ahoy

Story location: Home / computing /

When I check my email this morning, I was surprised to find 64 emails sitting there wanting attention. I was more surprised to find that most of these were 'delivery failure' notices, all from emails which I hadn't sent. Even more surprising was that these were all send during a brief time window between 21:51 and 21:59.

I hope nobody out there is receiving junk email from this domain, but I can assure everyone that I'm not sending any out myself. This is most likely due to spammers inserting my domain as the 'from' address. Some information about the problem can be found here.

Why is Windows Search so crap?

Story location: Home / computing /

I've opened an Explorer window to a directory with several thousand files in it. I need to find a particular group of files so I click on 'Search' and tell it to search for files with a particular set of numbers in the filename.

Now Windows already has all the file names because it has displayed them in the directory window. You would expect any decent program do be able to do this search in a millionth of a second and filter the directory listing to show the files. After all, it already knows the file names and I told it only to look in the one directory.

After a minute or so, the useless pile of crap is still searching. I ended up stopping it and looking for the files myself, which was much quicker. I would like to know what Windows XP was actually doing during that minute - it could have indexed the whole drive in that time.

This was a networked drive with a very deep directory structure so I couldn't have easily navigated to it in the command prompt. And I was using a company computer so I couldn't install anything like the useful 'Open Command Prompt Here' powertool from Microsoft themselves. How hard would it have been for them to put some kind of 'filter filenames' option in Explorer? Something like the 'select files' command in WinZip, which allows wildcards to let you specify which files you want.

What we really need is something that combines the bits of windows which work with the bits of linux which are better... and probably end up with something like Mac OSX.

Apple Store

Story location: Home / computing /

Earlier this week, Apple Computers advertised a hard drive at about one tenth it's intended price. As you would expect, a lot of people placed orders. Apple realised their mistake and decided to change the orders without telling anyone.

The original order said:

Iomega 1TB Value Series Hard Drive with USB 2.0 Interface
TM258ZM/A £16.98 1 £16.98

but a few days later they strangely changed to:

TM258ZM/A £1.00 1 £1.00

The product code was the same but the price and description had changed. There was nothing on the page to explain what was happening. A phone call to the Apple Store revealed that they admitted their mistake and were cancelling the orders. It was a whole day before an email was received explaining the situation, in fairly patronising terms:

Dear Apple Store Customer,

We regret to inform you that your recent order for the Iomega 1TB Value Series Hard Drive. Which you placed on the online Apple Store has not been accepted.

Due to a temporary inaccurate pricing issue on the store, the price of the product was listed incorrectly as £19.95. Whereas the correct online Apple Store price is £199.95 i.e. the listed price was approximately 10% of the correct price.

We would like to draw your attention to clauses 2.4 and 2.5 of the Apple Online Store Terms and Conditions under which if Apple cannot accept your Order, we will contact you.

Furthermore, we would like to draw your attention to clause 2.6 of the Apple Online Store Terms and Conditions under which Apple reserves the right to cancel your order in case of a price error on the Apple Online Store.

We understand the inconvenience that this pricing inaccuracy may have caused you, and we sincerely apologize.

Kind Regards,

The Apple Store

The wording of the T&Cs was obviously chosen to allow them to weasel out of any such mistakes - they must have learnt from the mistakes of others, such as when Argos advertised a £300 television for £3. Apple aren't breaking any laws but they probably won't win any new friends this way. I'm not suggesting they should honour all the orders and sell the hard drives at such a giveaway price, but some other goodwill gesture would have been better than just an apology which was worded to make the customer sound like they were being told off.

RSS feed

Story location: Home / welcome /

I've added an rss feed to the website. I originally set it up a few weeks ago so my facebook profile could pick up blog entries but I've now added the appropriate code so that firefox can automatically pick up the feed. It's still a bit experimental at the moment. I'll add a button to the sidebar as soon as I'm sure it works properly. In the meantime, the link is here:

RSS Feed Entire Site.
RSS Feed Diary only.

Poor Mans Video iPod

Story location: Home / computing /

About a month ago I changed my phone to the Nokia 6280. It's got a bigger screen than my old phone. Last night I was on the train home and the bloke sitting next to me was watching a tv programme on a video ipod. The screen was a similar size to my phone's so I wondered if I could use it to watch things on.

The software CD which came with the phone had the latest version of the Nokia PC Suite. The media viewer part of the suite allows you to view mpg or avi files and save them in a format suitable for the phone. I tried it and it seems to work ok. The playback on the phone didn't let me fast forward or rewind within a video file but the video quality on screen was good. If I restrict myself to 20-25 minute shows or split larger programmes into shorter segments then I should be able to watch videos on my way to and from work.

Storylog and Storyfilter plugins updated

Story location: Home / computing / blosxom /

I have updated the Storylog (v0.29) and Storyfilter (v0.39) plugins for Blosxom. Both now include file locking so there should be no problems with simultaneous access to a site causing file corruption any more.

Storylog now includes an ignore list for URLs and user agents so search engine hits can be ignored so they won't affect the 'most popular clicks' list.

Storyfilter now has the option to generate a list of all keywords, which is useful for site maps. This requires the line
meta-showkeywords: yes
to be included at the start of the story and fills the $storyfilter::allkeywords variable with the list.

Both plugins can be downloaded here.

Microsoft Outlook

Story location: Home / computing /

Why does Microsoft Outlook uses Control-F as a keyboard shortcut to 'Forward message' rather than 'Find'? I was trying to search for some text in an email and it kept opening up a message window instead of giving me the find box. There was nothing on the 'Edit' menu either. I eventually found it but I had to open up the message in a separate window and press F4. I almost always read emails in the 'preview' pane because it is so much quicker and easier. The extra step of opening a new window was just unnecessary and annoying.