The State of Comment Spam

Here are some statistics that might interest you about how things have gone since I turned the comments back on here a week ago.

Over the last 7 days there have been 10 comments from real people commenting about real things – “ham” in the spam-fighting game.

During the same 7 days, Mollom, which I am using to filter spam, has stopped 1,421 spam comments.

Two or three pieces of spam are still getting through each day, which I must manually delete: these are usually of the “heap praise” variety of spam, things like “that’s a really great post that I found really great interesting,” with the author’s name linking, because I allowed a “home page” entry on the comment form, to sites selling jeans or sunglasses or domain names or whatever.

These two or three a day are annoying and dispiriting, but I’m a lot better off than I would be deleting 200 spam a day without filtering.

Epic Solo Journeys by Indefatigable Australians

The Australian film Tracks is playing at City Cinema until Sunday night. It’s an interesting film, especially if you are a fan of the “epic solo journeys by indefatigable Australians” genre as I am (see also Half-Safe: Across the Atlantic by Jeep).

Based on the true story of Robyn Davidson, who walked from Alice Springs to the Ocean in 1977, the film is beautifully shot, and an oddly compelling tale, given that the action consists mostly of a woman, a dog and four camels walking across desert landscapes.

There is, I warn you (spoiler alert) dog-related pathos that was especially shocking to me as I had Ethan at my feet throughout; fortunately his head was under the seat of the person in front of me, so he didn’t witness it.

“The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life...”

From the article Wrong Answer, published in The New Yorker edition dated July 21, 2014, concerning organized cheating, by teachers and administrators, on standardized tests in Atlanta schools:

John Ewing, who served as the executive director of the American Mathematical Society for fifteen years, told me that he is perplexed by educators’ ”infatuation with data,” their faith that it is more authoritative than using their own judgment. He explains the problem in terms of Campbell’s law, a principle that describes the risks of using a single indicator to measure complex social phenomena: the greater the value placed on a quantitative measure, like test scores, the more likely it is that the people using it and the process it measures will be corrupted. “The end goal of education isn’t to get students to answer the right number of questions,” he said. “The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life.” In a 2011 paper in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, he warned that policymakers were using mathematics “to intimidate—to preëmpt debate about the goals of education and measures of success.”

The article referenced is available online – Mathematical Intimidation: Driven by the Data – and is an interesting exploration of the concept of “value-added modeling” in educational testing.

So much of the educational agenda over the last school year was consumed with public discussion of the December 2013 release of PISA test results for the Islandaround the Home and School table as much as anywhere else – that it’s helpful to gain context about how testing is conducted, how the results are interpreted and reported, and whether or not they are of value for making practical decisions about educational policy.

Where's my summer been?

For the last 90 days I’ve been running an app called Backtitude on my Android phone that sends my geolocation to a server where it gets stored away in a database.

Backtitude updates my location every 5 minutes, but only if it detects that I’ve moved more than 20 metres, so it’s recorded a total of 4,189 geolocations over 90 days rather than 25,000+ that it would have otherwise.

I built a little web app for myself to visualize my travels: there’s a dot on every location and lines connecting each successive one.

Here’s what my summer – May 21 to August 20 – has looked like so far:

Map of my summer so far, zoomed way out.

I took a trip to Europe in June and a trip to New England in July: that’s what the long connecting lines are.

The map is more interesting when I zoom in; here’s my travel on the Island, for example: I’ve gone as far west as Ellerslie and and as far east as Cardigan.

Travel on  PEI this summer

And here’s my summer in Charlottetown, where I spent the most time:

It all becomes more manageable if I decrease the date range that I visualize; here’s the last 24 hours in Charlottetown, for example. Outside of the Richmond Street corridor that connects my house to my office, everything else is dog-walking.

24 hours in Charlottetown

There’s utility both in looking at the overall terrain I’ve covered, but also in looking at specific trips: back in July I decided to follow Waze’s guidance for getting into Logan Airport in heavy traffic. As a result, I blindly drove hither and thither and had no memory of where I’d been. Except that I did:

Trip into Boston

So I know, as a result, that on July 18 at 4:47 p.m. I was on Rte. 57 between the 128 and Alewife.

And here, earlier in July, is a day-trip into Utrecht in The Netherlands, arriving at the train station, walking through the centre to the Universiteitsmuseum, then a walk uptown for summer before returning to our campground:

Utrecht afternoon.

And here’s a walk around the centre of the town of Zaltbommel one afternoon on an open studio tour:

Zaltbommel studio tour

Looking back over the last 90 days my travels are fading from memory far enough that navigating back through my geolocation timeline has an effect similar to flipping through vacation photos. I’ll be interested to experience the same thing once I’ve been tracking my location for, say, a year or two.

If you’re interested in doing the same thing, here’s the server-side code that accepts geolocations from Backtitude.

What's that, you say? The Return of Comments!

One of the side-effects of suspending the cross-posting to Facebook that I announced yesterday was that you readers were again left without any way of leaving comments on posts here, something that, once I removed the ability to comment here directly several months ago, Facebook jumped in to fill a vacuum.

While I didn’t want to go back to old-school-spam-embattled commenting, I did want to reintroduce reader comments, and so I migrated the archive of 20,000+ comments stretching back more than 15 years into Disqus, something I dipped a toe in the water of in 2012

Like Facebook, Disqus too is “a commercial somewhere else,” but in this situation I think the utility afforded by Disqus makes this outsourcing worthwhile, at least as an experiment.

So comment-away, dear readers.

And, while you’re at it, revel in your newfound access to comments of yore: the Mac OS X Accounting Software for Canada? post, for example, has 175 of them, many containing really useful information.

Comments on the return of comments – and on the functionality offered by Disqus – are welcome.

Update later in the day: I knew that Disqus was too good to be true. I realized, almost as soon as I started to navigate the web, that the Disqus business model is based on its ability to litter cookies into users browsers tied to content, which is then sold to third parties as a vector for advertising. I noticed this because I was using this post on Transunion to test comments, and all of a sudden all the advertising I was seeing on the web was for Transunion. This kind of thing is precisely why I turned off Google Analytics, another vector for advertising data to leak out of the site, and so reintroducing this through the (otherwise quite handy and functional) Disqus seemed like a step backwards. So, new plan: I’m importing all of the old native-to-Drupal-stored-here-not-elsewhere comments – you’ll find them in place now, albeit rendered in a rather ugly fashion – and I’ll turn back on the ability to add new comments tomorrow. Sorry for the confusion. Lesson learned.

Update the next day: Comments have returned. Proceed as you were.