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February 26, 2011

Fighting the Russians

For the last couple of months, I have been getting a couple of people a day signing up on my community bulletin board using Russian-sounding names and usually gmail addresses that don't match their usernames. Since the community served is a town nowhere close to Russia, these have to be some kind of spammers. Even though new users have to type in text from an image (Captcha), they can't actually post any messages until they are confirmed by me. And I won't confirm them until they tell me their real name and where they live. For a while, I would send an e-mail when someone signed up asking for this information, but after getting some obviously bogus signups, I just put in the instructions that people needed to e-mail me if they wanted to be authorized to post messages. None of the Russians has done that.

There are computer software "bots" that can read captchas, but lately they have farmed this work to actual people who set up the accounts (or just get fed the captchas and let a bot do everything else), so there is almost no way to stop this, though one way is to make people answer a simple question in English. I could even get specific by asking for their zip code since everyone here has the same one. Doing the question involves installing some additional software, so I'm not sure I'm ready to tackle that.

Another way is try to stop visitors by using their IP addresses, a 4-part number that identifies the network they are using to access the internet. The MyBB software lets me see the IP address of people who have signed up, then I can look these up online, and find out they are in Russia (sometimes the Ukraine). But a person's IP address can change. For instance, if I restart my modem, I generally wind up with a different IP address, though at least the first two or three parts of the four-part number are the same. I wanted to see if there was an easy way to ban all visitors from Russia. For web pages, a Russian site usually ends in .ru, but with IP addresses there isn't one particular number per country. I found a site that listed thousands and thousands of IP addresses for Russia, but that seemed overly complicated. In that list I noticed a lot of the addresses start with 91, so I did a ban on anyone with an IP address starting with 91.

This seemed to work, sort of. The next day instead of getting some Russian signups using gmail addresses, I had some using numerical e-mail addresses @fsq1.com. These came from all over including Brazil and China. So I set up a ban on anyone signing up from fsq1.com and also banned their IP addresses, using the first two numbers of the IP address.

The myBB control panel lets me see all of my IP address and e-mail bans and also tells me the last time they were used. 91 gets used every day, but so do a few of the others. I have 9 banned IP addresses.

February 19, 2011

Nouns to Verbs

On one of the flashlight discussion boards I visit, a guy said he was going to buy some particular flashlight and gift it to a friend of his. Somebody corrected him and said that he should just say he was going to "give" it to his friend. Well, this is a global discussion and not everyone even writes English that well in the first place, so I didn't see much reason to post a correction, but whatever. It started a discussion about proper English and how people are abusing the language, often by turning nouns into verbs like in this example (though "give" doesn't always imply a "gift"). Then somebody else, referencing the forum's ability to post a multiple choice poll, said:

Maybe we should open a new poll: Is it okay to verb nouns?

Wonder Mop

Due to some recent incidents at my house involving a puppy, I needed to mop up the tile floor in the back room. I have had a few different mops over the years. For a while I had a sponge-on-a-stick that came with a plastic thing you would press down over the sponge to wring it dry. This always looks like it works great in commercials, but it seems like they are always cleaning floors that are already clean in the commercials. I have another one that has an arm that runs some rollers over the sponge, but that thing never worked well either and I think the sponge has since deteriorated. I also have a traditional mop with threads and that's what I use when I need to mop (usually I just sweep). But it's kind of hard to wring out a mop like that, partly because the head of the mop is pretty big and I can't get my hands around it to twist it. Then there is the whole philosophy of mopping. It seems like first you want to slap on a bunch of soapy water, then kind of scrub with the mop and wring out the dirty you pick up. But once the water is dirty (won't take long), you are just smearing around dirty soapy water. So it seems like there should be a bucket with fresh soapy water and you kind of lather up the whole floor, then you start scrubbing and wringing. Finally you might need to do it all over again with some plain water to pick up all the soapy water.

So I was thinking I should get one of those janitor setups where the mop goes into the wringer and you pull a big lever and smash it to get the water out. I remember using one someplace that had these kind of doors that would go over the mop and squeeze just about every drop out. I looked these up on Home Depot's website and some were over $100 for the wringer and bucket. Some more reasonably priced ones were around $35. So that didn't seem to be so good for something I would use so infrequently.

Next I did a search for best mops and found an article on Slate where the reporter tested several different mops including a few sponge-on-a-stick types and the Swiffer Wet Jet, which is an advanced version of that concept. One thing about a lot of these mops is they have disposable pads that means you will pay every time you want to use them, and if you have a lot of dirt, which I invariably do, then you could use several of the pads. Things like that aren't going to work well for me and I don't like having to buy refills, which is kind of like having to buy toner for your mop. They make more money on the toner than the printer.

The highest finishing mop (they were all pretty cheap mops, stuff you'd buy in grocery store) in the Slate article was the Libman Wonder Mop. It is a lot like a regular mop, but instead of yarns it has flat microfiber strips. But the key element of the design, I guess, is a plastic thing on the handle that slides down over the mop part and lets you twist and wring the water out. That way you are only ever using a damp mop and never spreading that much soapy water around. In fact, they're saying hot water works pretty well by itself and since the plastic wringer thing allows you to avoid touching the nasty water, the water can be really, really hot if you want. The construction is pretty cheap and this mop is about $8.00 which I find appealing. Not only that but the head with all the strips detaches and can be washed in your washing machine if you want. No toner!

So I started reading reviews on Amazon of the Wonder Mop and people really like it. But then I learned about the Libman Freedom Mop. The Freedom is like a sponge on a stick, but the sponge is more like a towel (also washable). This lets you really bear down and scrub to get up tough dirt. But this mop is $29.00, which seems kind of steep. Like the Swiffer, it has a little squirt bottle so that you can spray the floor with cleaner and then pick it up with the mop head.

I was going to Home Depot anyway, but they had the mop area cordoned off so they could use a forklift, plus it didn't look like they had Libman products. Then I went to Walmart and found the Wonder Mop there, so I got it. It is really cheap construction, but it is made in USA at least.

I got it back home and tried it out. It really does work great. My idea of slopping water all over the place was bad. It works better wringing out the mop and then using it. Then rinsing it out in the bucket, wringing it out again, and using it some more. Just using hot water, I was able to pick up a lot of dirt. An amazing amount of dirt. And it wasn't hard except you still have to lean down over the bucket when you are twisting the plastic housing to wring the mop out. But your hands don't get wet and it's way easier to use the plastic housing than trying to grab the dirty mop head and twist it.

Probably a lot of people already have mops like this, but this was all new to me.

February 4, 2011

New Satellite Receiver

I switched from DirecTV to Dish Network so long ago that I couldn't even blog about it (April 2002, though I found an excuse to blog about it in December 2003, after the blog had started). I bought the receiver which included a massive 40GB hard drive to record 40 hours of programming so that I could watch shows whenever I wanted. And best of all it included a 30-second skip button that I could use to zap commercials. I skipped so many commercials that I wore that button out on my remote.

When HD came along, I adopted fairly early and bought a big rear projection HDTV back in 2003. At first it seemed like HD wouldn't work with satellites because it required so much more information to be beamed down and the satellites were already overburdened with the hundreds of channels available. But they launched more satellites and figured it all out somehow. By 2004, I blogged about HDTV DVR's and packages available from Dish. The turnoff was that Dish invented extra fees for HDTV reception and there weren't that many HDTV channels anyway (even if they existed, they didn't have the satellite bandwidth to carry them). I looked at the options periodically and could never make it work.

Today I got an e-mail from Dish saying I would get Starz movie channel for free for a year. Then later I got an e-mail that said I would get the FX channel for free. Hmmm . . . this sounded like a rate increase. Sure enough, although they did not send me an e-mail about it, they were raising my monthly fee from $40 to $45. When I first started with Dish it was $22 plus $6 a month for local channels. Dish does a pretty good job of trying to hold down costs, but the different channels continue to increase their rates they charge Dish and Dish has no choice but to pass on those increases (Dish is usually at the center of conflicts over prices with providers like Viacom).

So I started looking at options again and noticed that Dish now has a plan called Dish America that includes only HD channels, but fewer channels than my current plan for the Top 120 (used to be 60, I think, which is the same number that Dish America offers). Dish America is only $35 per month instead of $45 for the Top 120.

The site lured me with offers of "Free HD for Life" and new HD DVR's. But it is always tricky with the different hidden charges and, deals that only apply for certain more expensive packages, and rates that potentially rise after an introductory period. So I called today and talked to a nice man in the Philippines about my options. The Free HD for Life only applies to the Top 120 plan or higher, which is $45. And if I get any kind of new DVR, I have to pay a $6 per month DVR fee. However, the good news is they will "give" me a "free" HD DVR. They are actually leasing it to me (for no cost other than the DVR fee) but HD requires a new satellite dish and professional installation for $95. I could get the maintenance plan for another $6 per month and the installation would only be $15 (the maintenance plan gives you an $80 discount on service calls and free shipping if the unit is defective). Then I could cancel the maintenance plan after six months. So that would be $51 for installation and I would have six months of a maintenance plan (having had my Dish for the last 9 years without too many problems, I'm hoping this one will also be maintenance free).

At the end of the signup, just to be sure, I asked what my total monthly fee would be ($41 for now because the additional $6 DVR fee won't be applied until it is installed) and if any of these prices were temporary. He said they were good for 36 months. To me this was a much smoother process than with DirecTV which has all kinds of great-sounding offers that expire after 6 or 12 months but leave you on the hook for higher fees after that. Once I am able to cancel the maintenance fee, I will only be paying an extra dollar a month (and $4 less than I would have been paying if I had done nothing), but will have a higher capacity DVR (at least 320GB instead of 40) and HD. Ironically, the 320GB drive only stores 30 hours of HD programs, so it is actually a downgrade in terms of recording hours if I only record HD stuff. One neat thing is you can attach an external hard drive and increase storage (there used to be a fee for this, but now it seems to be free; only problem is the hard drive has to be self-powered, not powered by the USB connection). And if you connect the satellite receiver to your network (this would turn out to be mandatory since I don't have a phone line) you can tell it to record via the internet. So it should be a pretty good upgrade. The installer is coming Sunday morning.

February 3, 2011

Puppy in the House

On the Avondale bulletin board a woman was looking for a home for a stray black lab puppy she had picked up in December. She has taken great care of the dog, taking it to the vet, getting him fixed, microchipped, and boarding him because she can't keep a dog in her apartment. I offered to foster care for him while she looks for a home because I know boarding isn't cheap, and I just don't like the idea of any dog being boarded for so long, especially that young.


She brought him over yesterday. He is incredibly skinny, but he has a ridiculous appetite so I know he will pick up weight. I can't even feed my two dogs with him around because he just dives right into their food. They don't know if they are allowed to put him in his place, so they just let him do it. He hops right up onto the sofa and stays right beside me, loves to fetch and likes to chew on a nylabone, or really chew on anything he can get to. One of the first things he did was stick his head in a waste basket with junk mail in it and had 3 or 4 pieces of unopened mail in his month, walking away like it was some kind of prize or like he should go deliver it. It was pretty funny.

Katie and Austin are tolerating him, but Austin is kind of freaked out and doesn't even like staying in the same room with him. That's terrible because Austin likes being next to me so much but this dog (his rescuer has named him Moses) just wedges in like other dogs aren't even there.


I'll post some pictures this weekend. He looks pretty much identical to Austin except smaller and skinnier.

I only worked 6 hours today, but that still meant I was away for over 8 hours and he didn't have any accidents or destroy anything (well, one dog toy was disemboweled).

He is estimated to be eight months old and is smaller than Austin or Katie and much thinner than either one. He probably only weighs 30 pounds, if that.