How Do You Spell “Mortified”?

Anyone who still reads this blog will attest that my day job has changed it for the worse. I used to write on many more and much broader topics, not to mention with far greater regularity. However, after longer-than-ought-to-be days at the day job and attempts at catching up in my now part-time business, I haven’t much energy or desire to do much of anything else, be it blogging or apartment cleaning.

The latter, however, became an absolute necessity last weekend. I always do well at throwing out the trash and rinsing the dishes so that they don’t stick up the place. But, to my great shame, I admit that I can go weeks and months without sweeping the floor. And to my greater shame, I forbid all my friends to drop in on me because I don’t want them to witness my shame. I do still have my pride.

During the unusual mild spell two weeks back, all nature got out of whack. The grass was rebecoming green; a fresh crop of dandilions popped up; animals that had begun bedding down for the winter were fooled into believing that winter had come and gone already. Hence at the tail end of a call that CP [in training] was monitoring, I had to remain calm even though I was witnessing something that made my stomach turn: I could see that Herman’s fifth cousin had taken residence in the kitchen, most notably on and in the stove.

So I spent last Saturday making sure my apartment was a less hospitable host for Herman V. After much sweeping, desinfecting, mopping and generally banging around, I spotted him in the living room, looking a bit dazed and clearly trying to find his way out. And that’s the last I saw of him.

There’s evidence suggesting that, unlike Herman and Hermina five years ago, Herman V was only here for a good time, not a long time. For instance, it doesn’t look like he made it as far as the cupboards. However, after my cleaning stint, I went on Google to try to determine what exactly Herman V is/was and what would have drawn him to my place since I had thought until now that really nasty compostable trash would constitute the motherlode for a little critter like him. What I determined is that based on his size, and as a result of having had a really good look at him, he is/was a common mouse — not the kind of roommate I would want in any circumstances, mind you, but not as bad as could be. And what I learned is that those stray coffee beans between the stove and the counter would be a bit draw for a guy like him. That, as well as corn and apples, among other things. Also, someone of Herman’s ilk can squeeze through a hole as small as a quarter inch, which is extremely easy to find in an older building like this. Therefore, putting all those ingredients together — odd weather, easy access, less-than-stellar housekeeping habits, and no deterring feline residents in the apartment — is akin to a Herman open-door policy.

However, given how this building is located next to a park on one side and restaurants on another, and recalling how other residents with exemplary domestic habits received visits from other members of Herman’s family while I wasn’t being bothered despite not having great habits of my own, I’m not deluding myself into believing that all unwanted critters have left the building. And while I admit my place was alluring for a while, I sincerely doubt that I single-handedly attracted them to the building. These little guys are everywhere; we just don’t always see them in action.

Spam Out of Control

I think I might need to send all my clients a service note to warn them that the increase in spam in recent months is beyond my control. Indeed, it is now being reported — in this PC World article as well as the mainstream media — that spam levels have gone up 80 percent since early October. My clients are understandably getting annoyed, and some erroneously believe it’s because those who maintain the server where their site is hosted are not doing their job.

Lately, I’ve gradually been updating the server-side mail scanning rules in selected domains to see if doing so would help. The updated, stricter rules don’t seem to be having much effect, though, and there’s now an increased risk that legitimate messages are being filtered out as spam. According to this other, earlier PC World article, the problem is that spammers are increasingly placing images in their bile, thus thwarting filtering tools which are designed to scan for text.

Another tactic on which spammers rely, according to Craig Sprosts who is quoted in that second article, is to register new domain names just long enough to send their trash and then abandon the domain name.

Of the 35 million domains registered in April [2006], 32 million were never paid for and expired after five days…… [M]any of those domains were used by spammers to send out their unsolicited e-mail during that five-day grace period…… Traditional blacklists and whitelist approaches just can’t keep up with how fast they’re registering new domains and changing the URLs in the e-mail.

Generating and countering spam has always been a game of cat and mouse, but it’s more brutal today than it ever was. It’s becoming an industry of its own on the Internet.

E-mail is not the only channel for spam. For instance, this WordPress-driven blog receives easily 10 times more spam comments than legitimate comments, thus why I’ve taken to closing comments on posts after so many days online. Fortunately, because I have WP set to queue comments from unknown addresses, messages take a while to appear on this blog so that I can manually reject all the trash comments. But it’s annoying nonetheless. Similarly, I have the phpBB bulletin board installed on one of my domains, and there too, I have set the software to require my approval before the supposedly new user becomes active on the board, thus allowing me to delete the 50 or so new users that register each week. It’s not an onerous task — I only need to select those users and delete them all at once — but it’s a source of unnecessary work. I could leave them all there since they’re effectively harmless, but it’s messy to leave them there.

I’ve been around the Internet and the Web long enough to know that spam spikes come and go. Eventually, I’m sure, the cat will find a way of countering the mouse’s latest antics and everything will be better again. Until the next round.