Referral spam

I’ve had relatively little trouble with comment spam — except for the one incident I mentioned a few posts back — but a different kind of spam has made it nearly impossible for me to use my web host’s visitor analysis.

My web host has a feature that lets you look up information about how many people have visited your web site. That’s interesting and useful — or would be, if it worked correctly.

You see, there’s something called “referral spam” or “referer log spam” which you probably haven’t heard about unless you have your own web site — and maybe not even then. What happens is that sleazy sites of one form or another — porn sites, for example — include hidden links to randomly-selected web sites in their HTML code, and then execute those links automatically. If you went to one of those sites, you wouldn’t see any obvious link to my site, but it would be there somewhere in the code, hidden from the naked eye. The spammer is hoping to somehow influence search engines like Google by making it seem like his site is somehow related to a lot of other sites. It’s a relatively ineffective approach — in order for it to work, you would have to make your web site logs public, and almost nobody does that — but the referral spammers (like all spammers) don’t care. They have enough computing power to inconvenience many millions of people worldwide in the hope that one or two will somehow be fooled. It’s selfish, unethical and disgusting. Unlike legitimate forms of advertising — banner ads, direct mail, print or broadcast — SPAM does nothing to support the medium which carries it. And, unlike those legitimate forms of advertising, the cost is so low that there’s no practical limit on how often it may be employed. SPAM is not just an inconvenience, it is an outrage, the ultimate in self-centered behavior, and I fear it will get much worse before it gets better — if it ever does.

In worst-case scenarios, these phony “links” call up a web page so often that they interfere with the legitimate traffic to that web site by visitors or search engines.

Anyway, it means that if I try to look at the statistics for my web site, they’re useless. When I check to see which web sites referred people to my site, I get a long list of URLs that I would not be able to repeat here in mixed company. Those web sites didn’t actually refer any real visitors to my site, of course. They were referral spam.

I knew I had a modest problem with referral spam, but on Monday when I checked my page statistics for Sunday I saw a huge figure for web site “visitors” — more than 15 times the number I see on a normal day. At first, my hopes were raised — I thought perhaps some prominent blogger had noticed and linked to one of my posts. But, no, when I looked for the list of domain names I discovered that all of the excess was referral spam. There were so many different entries that it would have taken a lot of time and trouble for me to sort through them to find the real sites that had referred real visitors to Lake Neuron.

The long and short of it is that I’m going to stop checking my web statistics on any regular basis, and that’s sad.

Generosity

I was shown generosity twice today.

Well, probably much more than that, but there are two particulars that are worth mentioning.

An old college friend became the first person to donate to my mission trip through the web site donation links. I haven’t seen him in ages and had lost touch completely until a few months ago, when he e-mailed me out of the blue. I really appreciated his generous gift towards the trip.

I am not a file-sharer, and — as a creator — I well recognize the importance of protecting copyrights. But I’d looked in vain for some out-of-print recordings by the late humorist (and Baptist preacher) Grady Nutt. A reader of this blog offered a while back to dub one of my favorite Grady Nutt routines, “The Tea Totallers,” to CD for me. He wanted nothing in return, and even added a few musical numbers from Grady’s gospel album for good measure. It came in the mail today, an act of kindness. (I promise I’ll buy the album when and if it’s re-released on CD.)

Two thank-you notes will go out in tomorrow’s mail.

In popular culture, but not of it

This is an excellent (but misleadingly-named) essay by Terry Mattingly. The basic subject is whether and to what extent pastors should refer to popular culture in their sermons, referencing and interpreting movies or television shows which shape popular attitudes and mores. But there are a lot of good points even for the layman about the importance of:

a) being aware of popular culture, even movies or other works that we might consider objectionable, and

b) recognizing the true messages of such works and making cautious, prayerful, well-informed decisions about how we as Christians should respond to them.

It all comes down to being “in the world, but not of it.” Some Christians ignore the first half of that equation and choose to shut themselves off so completely from popular culture that they have no common frame of reference from which to understand or approach nonbelievers. Others are such non-discriminating consumers of popular culture that they let it shape their values without realizing it.

Many Christians, and some Christian “watchdog” groups, base their viewing standards purely on superficial factors — rejecting a movie based solely on the number of curse words or what have you — without learning to interpret what a movie is really saying from a deeper, artistic standpoint.

Learning to analyze and respond to popular culture is much more complex a matter than one would think. A Christian needs more than the secular MPAA rating system to be able to judge what is beneficial and what is harmful.

Most things, of course, don’t fall into “beneficial” or “harmful” that easily, and that’s where some discretion and self-awareness comes in. There are “good clean family movies” that carry humanist messages, while there are gritty, earthy movies that, despite their rough edges, compellingly tell the story of a hurting world and its need for redemption.

Donation button

A donation button has been added here (and elsewhere on my site) for those who would like to make small donations towards my Kenya trip. For larger donations, you may want to contact me instead; that’s because, in order for a donation of any size to be tax-deductible, you must make a check out to LEAMIS International Ministries rather than to me.



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I have created a monster

When I do buy peanut butter — and I don’t buy it that often, just occasionally — I tend to buy the “natural” kind, the kind that separates and has to be stirred together because it is not made with hydrogenated oil. This kind is supposed to be much more heart-healthy. (It also tends to be unsweetened.)

You can keep the natural peanut butter from separating — or so they tell you — by storing it in the fridge once you have stirred it well. But this isn’t a perfect solution — some of the oil does rise to the top half of the jar, and so when you get down to the bottom third or so of the jar you may be left with a dry, grainy peanut butter. Remember this; I will return to it in a second.

Desserts are generally not my weak point. There are some I enjoy, but if given a choice between seconds or dessert I am much more likely to go for the seconds. Tonight, however, I had a sweet tooth. Actually, what I wanted was chocolate, probably because of all the Valentine’s programming on Food Network and all the ads about buying chocolate for your valentine. I do like chocolate.

However, the only thing chocolate I had in the pantry was instant hot chocolate, and I wasn’t exactly in the mood for that. So I went rummaging. Not being a dessert-aholic, I am not that experienced at cooking desserts either, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I found the dry, crumbly remains of a jar of natural peanut butter, as described above; a small can of sweetened condensed milk; and I had eggs in the fridge (I don’t keep them all the time either, but I made cornbread for a potluck at work today.) I started thinking about something with the consistency of a pie filling. I had no pie crust, nor even any graham crackers, but I figured I could bake it in a pyrex dish and call it a custard of sorts.

I’m guessing there was somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 of a cup of the crumbly peanut butter. I beat two eggs and combined them with the sweetened condensed milk, then added the peanut butter and a squirt or two of honey and hit it with the electric mixer. I poured it into a square baking dish which I’d sprayed with Pam, and I topped it with — if you can believe this — a dry packet of Quaker Supreme Apple, Raisin & Cinnamon oatmeal. I baked it at 350 degrees; the exact time was unrecorded, but it was basically just until the center set.

It’s not half bad. It would have been better in a crust — and I might have left out the honey or else used an unsweetened topping. But it’s not half bad, warm from the oven, and I suspect it will still taste pretty good cold tomorrow night when I get home from work.

Quote of the day

“I’ve really been trying to figure out whether after 28 years I should just resign today or wait to be fired the morning after. Because I figured the only way I’m going to keep my job … is for Chris [Rock] to develop laryngitis.”

— ABC director of broadcast standards and practices Susan Futterman, during a planning meeting for this year’s Academy Awards, which will be hosted by Rock. (From Associated Press)

Ralph, Charlie, Sandi and me

One of my sisters-in-law, Sandi, is going to be on one of the live, in-studio advertisements on “Tennessee Mornings” tomorrow.

For many, many years, Ralph Emery hosted a morning TV show on the NBC affiliate in Nashville, WSMV. Those of you from outside Middle Tennessee may remember Ralph from “Nashville Now” and other programs on the former Nashville Network. “The Ralph Emery Show” had a live band, and was an early TV stop for a lot of eventual country stars (and even some pop stars). I appeared on the show several different times. Once or twice, I was interviewed about Bedford County’s United Way campaign. However, my favorite appearances were when Ralph used to take the show to Nashville’s Centennial Park for a series of paddleboat races pitting the mayors of various Middle Tennessee towns against each other. Henry Feldhaus, our mayor at that time, competed in these races several times. The first two such occasions, he used muscular police officers as his partners. I rode along on the city’s tour bus and wrote breezy accounts of both races. The first time, he came in second to Nashville’s mayor at the time, Bill Boner. The next year, he won.

The third year, Henry decided on a whim to let me be his partner so that I could write a first-person account of it for the newspaper. We didn’t win, but everyone had a good time anyway. I think I still have my trophy somewhere.

Ralph retired from the local morning show at the height of his popularity on “Nashville Now,” because he was tired of working the strangest split shift in television. Later, though, he left “Nashville Now” to concentrate on Barbara Walters-like interview specials for TNN. Then, TNN was sold and dropped its country format. Ralph attempted a local morning comeback in 2001, on Nashville’s Fox affiliate, WZTV, with “Mornings With Ralph Emery.” The new show, with a format almost identical to his old WSMV show, premiered in September 2001 — a week before 9/11. The catastrophe, as you recall, played havoc with TV schedules. Ralph was introducing an entertainment-oriented morning show right at the time that people were looking for news coverage in record numbers.

By the time things were starting to return a little bit to normal, Ralph was having back problems. He took an extended leave and was replaced on an interim basis by another TNN refugee, Charlie Chase (one half of “Crook and Chase”). Eventually, Ralph announced that he was going to retire instead of returning to the program, and at that point the name of the show was changed to “Mornings On Fox 17.” The live band also vanished; there were still performers, but they performed to tracks or accompanied themselves. Chase eventually made his interim gig permanent. His co-host is Kelly Sutton, an agreeably perky young woman who started when Ralph began the Fox show and has been there ever since.

Since that time, the show has been expanded to two hours and it is now simulcast on a Nashville AM radio station (hence one more title change, to “Tennessee Mornings.”) One thing that has been kept from the Ralph Emery days is the use of at least some live in-studio commercials, a long-time staple of folksy local morning TV shows. My sister-in-law works for a tax preparation service, and she’s supposed to be on one of their live ads tomorrow morning. I’m taking some comp time tomorrow morning, so I may sleep in. But I’ve got my VCR set up to tape the show.

Mission Safari: Ben in Kibera

Here’s another Mission Safari post relating to the Kibera slums; in this one, Tim takes his 9-year-old son to see the slums for the first time.

Tim’s writing evoked a memory of the slums that I had set aside, and I had to post a comment to his blog about it. Every child in the slums greeted us exactly the same way, with a cheery, singsong “How are you?” that sounded more like “HowaYOOOOO?”

Scanner update

Well, I have solved the “New Hardware Install Wizard” problem. It would have helped had I fully read the instructions; I had to get into CMOS and change a setting on the parallel port.

Now, I have only one small problem (which had already shown up before the CMOS change). If I’m online, and try to scan something, the scanner kicks me offline. Annoying, though not intolerable.