Loyal Reader Joe

On November 3, 2011 · 10 Comments

Those of you expecting a geography topic may be a bit disappointed with this article. Feel free to jump down directly to the “totally unrelated” section or return in a couple of days when I get back to the usual content. Today I diverge completely to another one of my favorite topics, my ongoing battle with spammers who try to stuff my comments box with their worthless drivel.

I started experiencing a new kind of comments spam within the last few weeks: it’s generated by real humans instead of bots. I’m mildly giddy in a sense. It feels like a sign that I’ve "arrived." It’s also a bit disconcerting because it skillfully sidesteps all of my automated deflections. I become the sole line of defense. I have to read each comment and decide consciously whether I should accept it or not.


Meet Joe. Everyone, say hi to Joe. [Hi Joe!] You’ll get to know him better later.

Twelve Mile Circle isn’t exactly a high-value, large volume target like Google Sightseeing. I do generate a modest yet reliable traffic stream as one can ascertain from little ClustrMap along the right column. Is that why they are attempting to evade my quality assurance mechanisms? Ah, who am I kidding? Maybe everyone with a blog gets this stuff now.

My arms race with the spammers has resulted in a ratcheting of progressive efforts:

  • I’ve never allowed unmoderated comments. That’s simply an invitation to trouble.
  • Bots discovered 12MC within days of its creation and started stuffing the moderation queue almost immediately. I added a one-minute delay. That’s generally not a problem for humans because we usually take more than a minute to draft a well-crafted comment, although I realize it’s sometimes an inconvenience if you wish to post a quick note.
  • They also bypassed the articles entirely by going directly to the "wp-comments-post.php" file. I replaced that with a randomly-named file. This one simple step eliminated the majority of bots which are rather unsophisticated. I would have received an extra 5,208 fake comments to sort through without this simple solution in October 2011 alone, some 168 per day!
  • Then the spammers discovered that ping-backs were a back door into WordPress blogs. I disabled ping-backs.
  • They also began to use more intelligent bots. I had to close comments on all articles more than a year old to cut that down to a manageable level.
  • A few still managed to slip through the cracks so I became very aggressive about filtering and deleting messages with certain keywords. I guess it’s possible that one of you might legitimately mention a medication or body part in one of your comments, but if you do it will go directly into the trash and I’ll never see it.

Here’s what Joe had to say after visiting my recent discussion of European Capitals of New York.

Hey buddy! This is a great research you worked with. I’m pretty much surprised European capitals diffused within the state. It’s tremendous news and I’m glad you did it successfully. Cheers

I know! It’s just like real spam except it’s personalized with a phrase pulled from the first paragraph of the article. I tried to do something similar with a few of my other articles to see if could have been bot-generated, but the phrases didn’t make sense. I think it’s better-than-even odds that this one is human-generated.

What leads me to believe it’s spam and not a sincere attaboy? Go ahead and look at that photo of Joe again and consider the facts.

  • He claims his name is Joe
  • His email address (that I can see but you cannot) says his name is Frank Adalbert
  • His web address (which I deleted ’cause I’m the editor and I have that power) promoted an online telephone directory
  • His syntax implies that English isn’t his native language
  • I’m receiving suspiciously similar comments with different names and faces.
  • His IP Address corresponds to Augere Wireless Broadband Bangladesh Limited. At the risk of playing to a stereotype, does Joe look Bangladeshi? Just saying.

Someone in a Bangladeshi sweatshop is getting paid to post spam with links to specific websites, to increase their page rank and come up higher in search engine queries. I don’t have a particular problem with the person at the far-end of this transaction trying to put food on the table in a place with considerably fewer opportunities than I am fortunate enough to experience. The slimy company that uses these nefarious techniques to sell SEO services by artificially increasing page ranks and the company that purchase these services, however, deserve to be cursed. The joke is on them: all comment links on 12MC are tagged so that all major search engines will ignore them in page rank scores.

Joe, if you are real, I owe you a big apology.

Totally Unrelated

I’ve noticed two geo-oddities in the news recently:

First, Carhenge is for sale. My favorite quote from the article is, "motorcyclists riding to the annual summer rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, jokingly consider Carhenge a curse because it lures them into Nebraska, which requires bikers to wear helmets."

View Larger Map

Second, Arizona is thinking about turning a small length of Interstate 15 that clips a corner of the state into a toll road. Utah, predictably, is in a bit of a snit. I don’t think it’s any worse than the long-standing Delaware Border Tax though.


On November 3, 2011 · 10 Comments

10 Responses to “Loyal Reader Joe”

  1. Thias says:

    I googled the pic of “Joe”… and, well, see for yourself : http://bit.ly/uLQXjn

  2. AF says:

    Ok, how can you have commented on the Delaware Border Tax and the proposed Arizona Border Tax but never on the New Hampshire Border Tax?! New Hampshire has an ~16 mile stretch of I-95 and of course a toll plaza. It goes one step further. Since all liquor stores in New Hampshire are owned by the state government (liquor only no beer and wine, those are sold at regular places), they have situated two giant liquor barns on the northbound and southbound lanes of 95. They have their own exits, on and off, unconnected to anything else. They are like liquor rest stops. And, since the state owns the entire liquor business it doesn’t tax it so it undercuts all its neighbors.

    Then in the summer when I was in college in Maine I kept getting double burned. When there is a popular summer weekend (e.g. 4th of July), NH just drops the tolls on the northbound lanes on Friday to prevent massive backups of people going up to vacation in Maine. To compensate they charge double on the southbound lanes. Then on Sunday they switch and charge double on the less busy northbound lanes and no toll going south. The upshot (downshot really) is that if you are in Maine and are headed south for the weekend you get hit double going and coming back… suuuucks.

  3. Henry and Thias: Thank you for the quick research. Wow, that Joe certainly gets around!

    AF: I’m not sure why I haven’t commented on the New Hampshire Border Tax. I’ve crossed there a few times over the years but not nearly as often as Delaware, so I guess I simply have Delaware on the mind?

  4. Bill Harris says:

    If your travels take you through Delaware with any regularity, you need to acquaint yourself with the toll-booth by-pass used by the locals. It adds about 10 minutes to the trip but you avoid the tolls:

    View Larger Map

    Now, if I can just figure away around the toll on the Tydings Bridge…

    • Bill Harris says:

      Dang, the route didn’t link. Can someone let me know how to post a Google map showing a route?

    • Fritz Keppler says:

      Usually I find taking a protected left turn onto DE 896/Christiana Parkway to DE 2/MD 279 saves a trip to downtown Newark. Though I don’t usually drive this route during more heavily travelled times, so it might not be feasable at all times.

      Dr Gridlock in the Washington Post seems to recommend turning left onto the unnumbered Chestnut Hill Road, but I have not yet tried that route.

      The backup at the exorbitant Delaware Turnpike toll booth can be quite intolerable at times.

  5. Phil Sites says:

    Oh I love guys like Joe – they truly make my day.

    On my site it filters out comments and gives me ones to approve. If I’ve approved you before, your good to go from then on out. Every now and then one gets through the cracks (One comment, a simple “buena” on a post about Dominican Republic would be an example, but a post made the same day just saying “good” was blocked).

    Sometimes I search through the spam for a few laughs (and to see if any legit ones got blocked). My favorite was someone posing as a mom who “just had to tell their funny story to someone” about their daughter going to the beach and having a crab crawl all over their sandcastle. And then seeing that same comment two more times with slightly different grammar. Those damn crustaceans ruining all those sandcastles!

    With that said, I will have you know that your site really facilitates me and your writing is spot on. I want to learn more about this subject in the future as it is quite practical to my enjoyment. 😉

  6. Scott says:

    What that LA Times article doesn’t mention is that the short AZ section of I-15 was one of the most expensive portions of highway in the US to build and maintain. (Perhaps the most expensive? That’s probably for a different post — but this one stands out, along with the H-3 in Hawaii, the Big Dig, and I-70 through Glenwood Canyon.) That short bit of I-15 goes through an amazing canyon, requiring the Virgin River to be rechanneled, numerous bridges, etc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_15_in_Arizona. If you haven’t driven the road, I’d recommend a virtual drive with Google Street View.

    (For the record, I’d be against the toll, too, especially because there isn’t much of an option of where to drive in that area.)

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