Groan

Aren’t spambots fun?

Okay, yes, I know. Dead Donkey in the Middle of the Web.

A couple of years ago I started this minimal project with a fun piece of blogware called B-2. All was well, except maybe for visitors who were looking for anything new on more than a bimonthly basis. Unfortunately, there soon developed a security hole that was fixed. All I needed to do was upgrade. And hey, it was easy.

After losing and replacing the database, (yeah, I guess you could call it EZ). But not to worry. I’ll never upgrade the bastard again. Oops, another security hole, another upgrade, another database. Finally, B-2 goes south and gets replaced by “WordPress”:http://wordpress.org. Aha! This should be stable. Again, another upgrade, another database, more hand-reentry of posts and comments.

I liked that version of WordPress a whole lot. But enter my casino spambot a couple of weeks ago. It decided that it liked my blog so much that it would put 50 to 100 posts on it per day, automatically and without human effort. Like a good blogger, I deleted them every day. At some point though, I started thinking, hey, this is why I run procmail and Spamassassin on my company mailserver, to avoid this shit. I go to the WordPress support forum and find that YES! someone has come up with a great spambot plugin. The only problem? You guessed it, my version of WordPress has to be “upgraded” again. Ahh, my favorite. Another upgrade, another database, another Dead Donkey in the Middle of the Web.

Okay, so as usual, I’ll just reinstall WordPress and re-enter all my data by hand. Right? Wrong. For all that crap, why not try a new blog?

Okay, so I go to Pair’s site and look at all the blogs they support. In fact you can install them with a simple command line from the shell. I check out “Bloxsom”:http://www.blosxom.com/, “Geeklog”:http://www.geeklog.net/index.php and “PHPbb”:http://www.phpbb.com/. I like PHPbb a whole lot, but it’s really overkill for a little donkey with 6 posts per year. I set it up for clients, though, all the time when they need a big discussion forum. Geeklog? Well, it looks great, but it may be hard for me to get back to a “simple” donkey look. A few too many bells and whistles. Bloxsom? Umm, not quite right either. So I end up trying “Textpattern”:http://www.textpattern.com/ after rave reviews from the community and friends.

So here I am. I just have to reenter all my former data. The next time I am forced to upgrade, I’ll see I made any headway or not. What the hell? Just another dead donkey.

10 thoughts on “Groan

  1. Hey, I thought something smelled different around here (other than dead donkey). Lookin’ good!

    Ah, the comfort and familiarity of the Textpattern comment form. In the seven months I’ve been using Textpattern, I’ve had exactly one manually entered spam comment. In fact, when I was building the TXP styles site, I wanted each sample page to have a couple of comments, and I found that if I tried to simply copy and paste the same sample comment in other entries, Textpattern failed to post it. I had to alter the text (more than just a word or two) to be able to add it at all.

    You’ll still see referrer spam in your stats, but as long as they aren’t “live” on the web, there’s no gain from that.

    I hope you have better luck with Textpattern than you did with B2 or WordPress. It’s been stable as hell for me, and when I checked my database the other day, it was 24MB with 2300 articles and 4800 comments.

    It ought to be able to handle a little ol’ donkey.

  2. I’m only on Day 2, but I have to say, I’m impressed so far. I keep finding the “little things” that you’d normally try to finesse with a hack or a plugin, all part of the package. Some stuff that I have no idea what it’s for, but I’m sure when I need it some day it’ll be there. The upgrade process looks incredibly simple, too. Of course, “fool me once, won’t get fooled again, fool me twice, uh…” So I’ll see that when I believe it.

    Since I’m in the leather biz….when you see a handbag in Macy’s, it looks okay, maybe even pretty damn good. It’s when you look inside that you’re disappointed, unless of course, you don’t know any better. A fine Italian handbag has all the details inside and out; it’s a work of art. The fine stitching, the butter smooth leather on the inside could be on the outside. So far Textpattern reminds me of that Italian bag. It has Artist written all over it.

  3. Well, as far as upgrades, I’d stick with whatever version you’re using for now. Dean is working on the Version 1 Release Candidate, and as you might expect, it’s caused a few problems on upgrade. I’m still using gamma 1.19, and likely will until 1.0 is near final.

    One thing I found rather cool last night when I shifted to an entirely new design … it took about 10 minutes of copying and pasting forms and page templates, and BOOM, 2300 entries in a fresh new wrapper.

  4. You live to tinker, El Burro. I believe this, because you’re the most dedicated e-mail administration enthusiast I know, and that is saying something. I’m surprised you don’t upgrade, cross-grade, and competitively demonstrate every blog package out there, as a service to those of us trying to convince ourselves that dumping Blogger is worth the trouble, just for the administrative thrill of it.

    I’m thinking you’re the perfect guy to get 7 different blog packages all pointed at the same post database, rendering 7 different views of this site, each selectable from hyperlinks in any view. Then, them as wants to compare the candidate packages from the retail perspective could do so conveniently, fairly, and in a balanced perspective, all on your dime. It would be an administrative feat of reputation making proportions.

    But I admit it might not be as much fun as evil tricks with procmail. Anyway, good to see you posting again.

  5. Actually, I once had several different installs of phpBB all pointing to the same database, but I was getting paid for that one. (the bad news, it wasn’t by the hour).

    My father once said I wasn’t worth a “tinker’s damn”, so that may be where some of it comes from. But at least I haven’t gotten to trying to see the backsides of web pages yet. I’ll save that for when I eventually figure out what an Internet Cloud is.

    My advice is, switch from Blogger to Textpattern immediately. You’ll experience a creative Renaissance, and get to play with those CSS files you so enjoy. As far as administative thrills, I can’t lie to you, there aren’t too many. This blogware is so well written that you barely don’t even get an MySQL charge out of it. Hacks to get it up and running? Sadly, it performs quite well without them. However there should be enough stupic CSS tricks to provide hours of entertainment. Seriously, though. Much more fun than Blogger. (and good to hear from you)

  6. I’ve been looking at something a little more ambitious, actually. I’m kinda thinking about drupal or something similar as a CMS, primarily because I’m coming to think pure blogging tools tend to impose some artificial limits on Web conversations, and I’d like to explore how adding functionality to blogging helps alleviate that.

    For example, one thing that sort of marks blogs as blogs is that they tend to limit discussions into the post/comment model, where comments are both unthreaded, and tied to the original post classification, if there is any classification at all.

    IMHO, real conversations that have importance tend to go off in new directions, or spawn entirely new conversations, sometimes with different participants. Ever been at a great party, where groups sort of form and dissolve based on a fluid flow of topics, jokes, gossip, and arguments? You know, people sort of floating around, stopping to put in their two cents when appropriate, moving on to other groups to meet new people, sample other opinions, ask questions, or go outside for a smoke, all without leaving the party? That’s what I’d like to get going.

    So much of what I see in blogging is more like meetings at coffeeshops, where a bunch of like minded people meet at a certian place, say their piece, get some reaction, finish their coffee, and either go home, or go to yet another table or another coffeeshop and do the same. Comparitively little crossflow compared to the cocktail party interaction model, if you get my drift. In other words, a lot of blogging is like sitting on your butt, as opposed to standing, and the popular tools tend to enforce this. So I’m looking to get people up on their feet, circulating, thinking, interacting not only with me, but with each other.

    Some old Usenet mentality, driving a tools search. Problem is, drupal and its brethern demand a lot more design, setup and admin time than the simple blog packages (cost of richer functionality), and I have some big limitations on time I can devote to this right now. I’m trying to extend some effort I’m putting into projects for my master’s program into this, but there are limits to how much hacking on this I can do, and still get it into courses described in somebody else’s syllabus.

    But we’ll see. I’d be interested to hear if you have any thoughts on drupal or similar CMS packages, before I get into putting time into setting one up. PostNUKE, Mambo, etc.

  7. I haven’t spent much time at all looking into the functionality you discuss. Here’s another one to check out that I’ve seen work pretty well on high-trafficked sites. I’ve set up phpBB several times. It’s a great community forum, but I don’t think you can start off a thread on a tangent in the basic setup. Maybe there’s a plugin? Setting it up “stock” is very easy and quick, though.

    Limited as Blogger is, it has the advantage that you don’t need to pay a webhost for php and mysql functionality. And with these highly functional communtity forums, you probably want a host with a good peering arrangement with various backbones as well as starting off on a shared server that isn’t shared out the wazoo.

    I pay a little more at Pair but I need a commercial grade host, and I’m not quite up to moving to a dedicated server. They charge ~$18/mo to provide a few MySQL databases, PHP4, etc. Reid’s host seems very good, as it’s set up by and for the blog community and they will add just about any package you need, from what I’ve seen. You can start there at $12/mo.

  8. I’ve got a little Celeron based Debian box, configured as a LAMP base machine on which I play with stuff like this. Commercial hosting is something I may look into, if I ever get together what I have in mind, and just wget back to my Debian box as a mirror.

    I’ve been banging around over on opensourceCMS.com, which has a little sandbox functionality for a lot of the MySQL/PHP tools. Basically gives you two hour windows to test drive a lot of the more popular CMS packages, then stops for 5 minutes, and auto-reinstalls plain vanilla versions of all of them. So, if you are at the stage I’m at, you can kick a lot of tires there for $0, and see what the various packages do, in a limited kind of way. Of course, if it takes you longer than 2 hours to look at something, you get kicked by the refresh cycle. And the majority of folks posting to forums there are admittedly newbies with pretty simple wants and needs. But it’s a good place to start, I guess.

    Thanks for your suggestions. I’ll keep ‘em in mind.

  9. Ah, Paul’s trying to bring that Usenet mentality to blog comments. I’ll be devil’s advocate.

    First of all, MT has a plug-in that threads comments ala Usenet, and frankly, it turns into a confusing mess to me. It encourages tangents and off topic wandering … golly, remember when that used to be considered a bad thing? Remember when people would tell you “maybe you should start a new thread to talk about kumquats, we’re discussing the tax code.”

    Secondly, these needs and problems vary by site. If Instapundit had comments, it would have to be some industrial strength threaded setup, with as much labeling and organization as could be mustered, as each little entry would generate 100+ comments. But at my site, admittedly no Instapundit but still in the top 10% in blog traffic, comment threads rarely run more than a dozen or so comments. And I do my best to keep people on topic … not for organization’s sake, but because people try to hijack threads to their own whims (for which they should get their own site). Here’s a prime example … comments were closed on the 9 month old entry he wanted to talk about, so he just found a recent open thread on another topic and dove in.

    I’m supposed to accommodate him?

  10. Heh heh. Applying Usenet Law (flamoria?) to the above example, that person (after being mercilessly flamed for several days) would find himself inadvertently signed up to several spam lists. He’d also find that he inadvertently spammed several gay sex and prostitution newsgroups and was getting angry email and calls to his employer as a result of it. (well, maybe this is a little extreme, but at least I tried to stay away from heads on a pike example)

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