My task: RemoveTempHxDs

Le’ts say, you want to inform your user about what’s going on (which is a nice thing to do).

This is an example of how not to do it:

What exactly is that “RemoveTempHxDs”, the installer is doing right there? And why is the progress bar at 100% for more than three minutes when I made the screenshot?

If you are unable to provide meaningful progress information, don’t provide it at all. Make your program display a “neutral” progress bar (some spinning wheel or something like that) and make it tell the user it’s “Doing stuff…”. Why expose useless internals?

While I see some value in displaying information like that if it’s to have more information when you are trying to support the application. But in that case, a log file of some kind is much more valuable as it both gives YOU as developer the information you need and does not confuse your user.

Programatically generating XML

If you have to generate XML, it’s usually considered good style to use one of these defined APIs like DOM or XMLWriter.

Just writing out a string to the line is considered bad practice because… why, actually?

Jeff Atwood once more wrote down what I have been thinking for quite some time now.

In many cases, just dumping out XML with sprintf or whatever your language provides you with is faster, independent of bugs in the libraries you use and easier to read.

There are five characters that need to be treated with caution in XML: the &, the <, the >, the " and the '.

Quoting even is straight forward and you usually don’t run into niceties like quoting backslashes in regular expressions you are passing to perl -e inside a double quoted string on your shell (I don’t even want to count the ‘s needed to actually get the regex parser in perl to see just one of them).

And even if you screw up, you can still rely on the XML parser to bail out if something is wrong.

The time you waste learning your library, coping with its bugs and finally working with the usual bloat of todays OOP interfaces (interface as in “user interface”) far outweighs the occasional quoting problem which should not happen anyways.

And don’t make me get started on trying to understand the structure of the XML code like Jeff posted is going to create:

System.Text.StringBuilder sb = new System.Text.StringBuilder();

XmlWriterSettings xs = new XmlWriterSettings();
xs.ConformanceLevel = ConformanceLevel.Fragment;
xs.Indent = true;

XmlWriter xw = XmlWriter.Create(sb, xs);
xw.WriteAttributeString("code", "1");
xw.WriteAttributeString("id", "usr");
return sb.ToString();

If you are seeing this in code you have to maintain (but you have not written), how would you tell what XML it generates? How does the readability of that compare to this?

string s =
@"<status code=""{0}"" />
<usergroup id=""{1}"" />
return String.Format(s, "1", "usr");

Note that I’m not that much of a .NET guy, but I’m quoting Jeff’s code here

Summary in one word: Jeff’s Article: ACK!

One day with Serendipity

Here we go: Everything migrated. Every link (hopefully) fixed. Worked around (I think) some problems with images uploaded from MT clashing with Serendipity’s (s9y from now on) mod_rewrite handling and re-categorized every entry: the new is up and running.

So, how is life with s9y?

Fist of all: I got no single comment SPAM. This is due to the better SPAM countermeasures and due to all URLs changing. I’ll have to see how good the SPAM prevention will work, though I have an idea it can’t be that bad (see below).

While s9y is slower than MT in delivering pages (understandable considering MT is generating static pages), it’s more feature-rich compared to MT – at least if you consider s9y to be a blogging engine, not a framework to create blogging-engine-like tools.

I love the plugin system: There’s nothing you can’t write a plugin for and people seem to have noticed that – at least considering the wealth of plugins available for you to download and install (directly from the administration interface).

Also, because I’m using a premade template and because s9y is a bit more intelligent in reusing templates, the whole site finally has a consistent look. No more usage of outdated templates when commenting or displaying error messages.

The most interesting thing though is the SPAM prevention: When you post a comment, it will go through the following procedure:

  • Is it exactly the same comment as another posted before? If so, reject it. This prevents a spammer that got through once from getting through again. And it prevents you from double-posting by accident.
  • Is your IP-Address posting a comment within 2 minutes after posting another one, the comment will be rejected. I know proxy servers and NAT routers exist and I will tweak the time if I should ever get more popular. A cookie-based approach obviously doesn’t work to flood-protect the blog from malicious spammers.
  • Does the comment point to an URL listed on SURBL, it’ll be rejected. I’m sorry, but this is a sacrifice I must ask for.
  • If you post a comment to an entry older than 30-days, it’ll be insta-moderated. I promise to activate it as soon as possible.
  • If you post to a comment older than 7 days, you’ll have to solve a captcha, just to be sure. If you cannot solve it, feel free to contact me via Email
  • After you post a comment with more than 3 links, I’ll have to approve it first. If you post more than 20 links, it’ll be rejected.
  • A word-filter is active aswell, though I think all these measures stop the spam before even getting here.
  • If all this fails, I’m sure the SPAM will be detected by Akismet

While I know that some restrictions may hurt you, please believe me that the restrictions are in place to both increase the overall quality of content here and to make my life a bit easier.

Serendipity really is a nice blogging engine. Go ahead and try it!

Comments disabled

Ok. this is it. I have enough.

While I value the legit comments of my visitors, I’m deleting over 200 spam comments per day lately. This must stop. NOW.

Unfortunately, no technical measure currently available really prevents comment spam at least not without serious disadvantages.

Let me go into this:

  • Use a catpcha: Captchas can be broken and in fact ARE broken all over the place. No point in placing another hurdle that’s easily overcome by machines, but can’t be overcome at all by some humans. True: I could decrease the readability to make OCRing the thing harder, but what’s the point? Once the captcha is unreadable, it can’t be broken by machines, but it can’t be solved by humans either.
  • Use a service like TypeKey to authenticate users and let only authenticated users post: Easy to implement, but unfortunately, noone seems to trust MT (neither do I – fully), so noone is using the service. Unfortunately, it doesn’t solve the problem either as machines are well able to create TypeKey accounts (I doubt their captcha is so much better – and even if it currently is: Above problems apply to them aswell).
  • Create your own authentication service: While this may be more liked than TypeKey, it means a lot of work to integrate it into MT and has the same drawbacks (machines can create accounts unless you use a captcha, where my first point applies again).
  • Use a SpamAssassin-like system to get rid of the SPAM. MT has such a system, but it doesn’t really work. Neither seem the blacklists to do their job.

So I come to the only tool that really works to take care of all comment spam: Turn off comments. No discriminating against visually impaired people, no possibility for even the smartest algorithm to sneak a comment into the system. Problem solved.

Personally, I think MT is lacking in terms of counter-spam measures and I will once more have a look at Serendipity which provides more fine-grained control. Until then, I’m sorry, but I have to disable comments on this site.

Spammers: 1, Freedom: 0

New face, new engine, new everything

Management Summary of this longer entry: 1) Comments are back, 2) I’m using Serendipity instead of Movable Type and 3) This layout – though premade – is going to stay.

But now my reasoning:

As I’ve stated earlier today, I had enough comment spam arriving on Not only the blog was filled up with junk, but also my mailbox was hit (MT was sending mails for every comment).

To underline how BAD it was, notice this: During last weekend I was off the internet most of the time. In the two nights (friday to saturday and saturday to sunday), was hit by 683 SPAM comments, of which MT only classified 4 as spam.

For each of these 683 comments, I got an email message. Which was especially bad as I was checking mail from my mobile phone (that was the most expensive mail checking process in my life I guess – imagine the sheer size of only the headers)

Even worse was the interface for comment removal: The biggest page size I could select was 50 comments, so I had to delete the comments in groups of 50, each time waiting for the affected pages to be rebuilt over and over again.

There is a mutliselect option in MT, but it always affects all comments per page, so chosing to display all comments and then using the “Select All” feature would not have helped as it would have deleted the legit comments too.

This just so you understand why I had to do something. I did not want to have another “fun” comment removal session next sunday evening (most of the comments get posted on the weekends – probably in the hope they will remain unnoticed for a while longer – which they did).

At first, I just wanted to turn off the comments and keep it at that.

But what is a blog without comments? Yeah. right… not much.

So I went ahead and installed Serendipity because I knew that it had some really nice SPAM-countermeasures included.

As I currently don’t have the time needed to port the old MT template over, I selected a template that comes with s9y and I have to say: It looks great, IMHO. I think I’ll keep it at this.

I’m no web designer and even if I could convince Richard to create a new layout for me (thinking that the old one just is a bit too dark and grey for my current mood), it would take AGES for me to create a Smarty version out of it, so I decided to go with premade templates.

And this one (Perun Blue) is really nice – IMHO even better than the old, custom made, one. So, I hope, you can live with this.

While the import process worked flawlessly, many links inside the site are broken and I’m currently in the process of fixing them.