I’ve now upgraded the CAPTCHA solution on this site. This version should be quite hard to break with current OCR software. Let me know what you think of it.

The barrage of spam

I’m getting to my breaking point with spam. My blog gets a couple dozen spam comments a week, and in the last week, my email box was averaging more than a hundred spam messages every couple days. I’ve decided that it is time to take action.

Starting today, commenters on this blog need to pass a reverse turing test (sometimes referred to as a CAPTCHA, or a Computer Administered Program to Tell Computers and Humans Apart). I suspect that the current method I’m using can be broken quite easily with modern OCR software, but I’ll be moving to a solution soon which the best OCR software cannot pass.

I’m also thinking about starting an open-source project to provide a similar solution for email. The idea is to move to a whitelist system, and senders who are not on the whitelist need to respond to a reverse turing test challenge. Such software is already available commercially for Outlook and Outlook Express, but I want to build a solution which can be invoked in procmail (similar to SpamAssassin) and which has a PHP or Perl web interface. I hope to get this off the ground within the next month.

What About the Other Issues?

Paul Krugman’s column in the New York Times this weekend raises a point on an issue that has been driving me bonkers for the last few months— what are the democratic candidates’ positions on things other than the war in Iraq. Yes, the war is important, but sooner or later the war will be over (for real this time) and we will still have a president. So, why doesn’t the media devote any time/space to the candidates other views? What are their stances on trade, stem-cell research, digital copyrights, human rights in China, etc., etc.? The list could go on and on. Krugman’s column delivers a much needed plea to journalists to report on specific policy proposals, not on the candidates’ fashion taste.

I actually tried to ask a non-war question when I appeared for the taping of Chris Matthews’ Hardball with John Kerry, but the producers didn’t seem at all interested. In fact, there wasn’t a singled question asked which was not about the war.

The Last Samurai

Despite being put-off by early previews for this movie, I really enjoyed this movie— it succeeds as a brilliantly entertaining and moving film. Set in Meiji-era Japan, the plot is actually derived from a rebellion of a famous Japanese warrior, Saigo Takamori, known as the Satsuma Rebellion. The movie explores various cultural differences between the US and Japan, such as conceptions of honor, justice, and tradition, in a way which does not feel forced or trite.

My original fear for this movie was that it would take the Tom Cruise-as-samurai image too seriously, but it actually serves as a source of humour. For instance, one scene which shows Tom Cruise emerge in full traditional samurai armor caused the whole theater to laugh. Yet the movie takes this concept seriously enough to make it meaningful.

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Wow, what a movie! Better than the fantastic Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers. Some people might be put-off by the rather leisurely pace in which this movie unwinds; however, it is completely fitting with the book’s similarly long ending. I only wish that Peter Jackson had ended the film with the image of the elvish boats and the fade to white, as it is an absolutely beautiful scene.

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