22 March 2013

CAPTCHAs and Spam

I tried an experiment a couple of days ago — I turned off word verification to see what would happen. For a couple of days, there were a very few Anonymous spam posts. Then, this morning, I woke to about 120 e-mails notifying me of comments on this blog from Anonymous — all spam, all posted between 2130 and 2200 GMT. Now, many of them complimented me on the extraordinary nature of my blog posts and my incredible talent as a webmaster. LOL! Really?

Well, fortunately, my self-esteem doesn't depend on anonymous postings from people who want me to click on a link to their (likely) virus-infested web sites. And, I certainly don't want an ever-increasing number of spam notifications filling up my inbox. So, I've reenabled word verification for comments.

Maybe hate is too strong, but I get seriously annoyed by CAPTCHAs. About half the time, I can't figure out what I'm supposed to type and either get it wrong or have to click on the button that gives a different CAPTCHA. (The example to the left is easy to decipher.) However, I find the other option — having commenters register or sign-in — equally annoying. My apologies. I do really like legitimate comments. I like reading other opinions. I like knowing that someone has found a post interesting or helpful. It's nice to know that someone has taken a moment from their day to let me know they read what I wrote.

As an aside, did you know that CAPTCHA actually means something? Google's Help page says this:
The term CAPTCHA (for Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart) was coined in 2000 by Luis von Ahn, Manuel Blum, Nicholas Hopper and John Langford of Carnegie Mellon University. At the time, they developed the first CAPTCHA to be used by Yahoo.

  • What security measure do you find least annoying for blog comments — CAPTCHAs or something else?
Run well, y'all,
Bob Allen
Nairobi, Kenya

21 March 2013

Calling All Skeptics — Could Jesus' Resurrection be True?

Christianity makes some pretty audacious claims. We celebrate one of those on 31 March — Jesus' resurrection. If you're a skeptic looking for truth or even a believer who wants to strengthen your belief, this may be a good book to read, "Raised? Doubting the Resurrection" by Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson. It's free and available for Kindle (.mobi), Nook/iBooks/Sony (.epub), or as the generic PDF. The authors and publishers are encouraging people and churches to give it away. (I haven't, yet, read the book but read and liked another book by Dodson, "Unbelievable Gospel", so feel good about recommending this.)

16 March 2013

Goodbye Google Reader, Hello Feedly

I have no idea how many of my friends use an RSS reader. RSS is a geekonym (my made-up word for a geek's acronym) for Really Simple Syndication. An RSS reader gathers, in one place, posts from blogs to which one has subscribed — in other words, instead of bookmarking every blog you want to read, you subscribe to those blogs in your RSS reader and you can find all the blogs in one place. It's simple and convenient. I have used Google Reader for several years. It lists the blogs to which I subscribe, shows me how many posts on each I haven't read, shows me a preview, and allows me to go to the full blog post if I want. Simple, easy, and it was free.

On Wednesday, Google dropped a bombshell for users of Google Reader by announcing the they will shut it down effective 1 July 2013 — A second spring of cleaning

Devastated? No. Unhappy? Yes. I immediately went on the search for a new RSS reader. I checked out the following — all are browser-based and not stand-alone applications:

  • Newsblur — the problem with Newsblur is that in the free version, I can only subscribe to 12 blogs. To have unlimited subscriptions, I have to pony up $24 per year — not bad and the demise of Google Reader may be an indicator that a paid service is the way to go. But, I also found that Newsblur hung up more than once while I was trying to import my 12 blog subscriptions from Google Reader.
  • The Old Reader — Well, frankly, I can't test The Old Reader. I set up the account yesterday and tried to import the OPML file that I exported from Google Reader. Still today, The Old Reader says that they've had a massive influx of new users, their servers are overwhelmed, and my import is in the queue. (OPML is another geekonym for Outline Processor Markup Language — yeah, like you wanted to know that!)
  • Feedly — Simple, free, unlimited subscriptions, and there are versions for Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Android, and iOS. An article on their blog, Transitioning from Google Reader to feedly, was very helpful. I was able to import my blog subscriptions directly from Google Reader without using an OPML file and Feeldy promises a seamless transition to their own proprietary service once Google Reader shuts down. Feedly also offers several different ways to view your subscribed blogs — as a list of clickable headlines, in a magazine-like layout with graphics and post previews, the full post. I'm still learning my way around, but for now, Feedly is my choice — and frankly, I'm unlikely to change. In fact, as of today, I don't plan to go back to Google Reader, even during the next 3 1/2 months before Google shuts it down.
There are other options available, some free and some paid.
  • If you currently use Google Reader, what do you plan to use after 1 July?
Since this is a blog that was started about running — I ran today. It was only 3.4 miles and included several walking breaks, so it was slow. But, I was out there. What about you?

Run well, y'all,
Bob Allen
Nairobi, Kenya

06 March 2013

Book Review: "Heaven's Lessons: Ten Things I Learned About God When I Died" by Steve Sjogren

I'm not really sure what to say about this book. Sjogren talks about 10 things he learned as a result of his "near death" experience. While there were some good, Biblical principles (and some good secular principles) in the book, for me it was "wrapped" in such a way as to make it difficult to take. With a near death experience, professional dream interpreters, unresolved (in the book) leadership struggles in a church or ministry (the struggles were not clearly identified in the book), it just left much to be desired. It's not that there's anything wrong with the book, it just didn't resonate with me, except for the chapter on Quit Quitting.

Undoubtedly, Sjogren grew from his experience of near death and through the struggles he went through afterwards to regain his health, strength, and just his ability to function. His willingness to trust God through those years and not to give up are inspiring. The ten things Sjogren identifies that he learned were:

  • We live in a spiritual world
  • God is big
  • Success works backwards
  • God especially enjoys irregular people
  • Don't fear death
  • Quit quitting (best of the chapters — helped me)
  • God heals gradually
  • Get over it!
  • Face your fear
  • Be thankful.
Some chapters were unremarkable. I think there are likely better books that accomplish the same thing.

I read a pre-publication copy of the Kindle edition of the book. While not as distracting as some Kindle editions, there were formatting errors in TOC and a few other places like in the section on "How can I grow in thankfulness" beginning around location 1870. Hopefully, those have been cleared up in the edition that was actually published.

(Disclaimer: I received a free preview copy of this book in exchange for a review. The opinions are my own; I was not paid to give either a positive or negative review; I was encouraged to say what I actually think.)