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Astonish Me!

Fighting Spam

June 20th, 2006  · stk

Your b2evolution blog is a target for SPAM. What SPAM-fighting tools are out there? What works? Here's an up-to-date list of the SPAM-fighting techniques for your blog, with links to instructions and a synopsis of their effectiveness.

SPAM is a Four Letter Word

stop spam

If you have a blog, it doesn't matter what software or service you use, once you begin blogging, you'll discover two things:

• Thing 1: You are now a webmaster.

• Thing 2: Your blog is a target for SPAM.

You didn't sign up for these things! You don't care about htaccess, PHP, JavaScript, XHTML, validation, web standards, CSS and the like! You just want to blog, have it all "work" and for spammers to leave you alone, gosh darn it.

If life were like that, you wouldn't need articles like this one. The fact is, if you want to keep SPAM off your blog website, you'll need to play an active roll in defending it, or hire someone to do it for you.

Like those who dump garbage in the forest, SPAMmers are scum. Like the garbage dumpers, a SPAMmer has no regard for others. Their only thought is that SPAM allows them to send their bogus offers and get rich schemes to suckers at a very low cost.

-Ian Kaplan

SPAM works like this: Blog developers build tools into their (often free) applications to keep SPAM away, then SPAM developers (the enemy) find a way to defeat it, selling their software to people who use it to leave SPAM on your blog. The SPAM helps these people sell something (typically medications or website memberships, but it could be anything). By leaving a link with keywords, they get "inbound links", better page rankings, and possible click-through customers, which, in turn, means that anyone looking to buy their product, finds their site, on page one, of a web search.

Fighting SPAM is like a game of leap frog. A new version of blog software comes out with anti-spam methods that work. Everyone is happy ... until the methods are defeated. Bloggers are left to fend for themselves, until the next major release of blog software comes out, which starts the cycle over again.

This is where we are with b2evolution. The new version (Phoenix) will have some nifty tools to aid in the battle against spammers, but it's not quite ready for prime time. So what's a b2evolution blogger to do?

What are the SPAM defense options? What works? What doesn't?

This article presents a list of known SPAM defenses, with links to information about each, a description of the pros and cons associated with the technique and a brief synopsis of their effectiveness. I first posted the list on the b2evolution forums, but because posts get buried so quickly there, decided to keep an up-to-date list, with more detail, here.

Why me? I'm no SPAM guru. What I've learned, I've learned from necessity. I don't like spammers, I do like to "noodle around" and learn and I like helping others. So, there you are. If you find a mistake or know of a technique I don't mention, please leave a comment or contact me.

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Updated: 13-Feb-2011
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Google Spell-Check Plugin

May 30th, 2006  · stk

AstonishMe! brings you "Google Spell-Check Plugin", adding spell-checking capabilities to your b2evolution (v1.0+) posts and comment forms. It uses Google's API and has many similar features to the Gmail spell-checker. It supports 8 different languages. Learn more.

 AstonishMe! Google Spell Plugin

An AstonishMe! Public Release

If you want to get a really nifty spell checker for your b2evolution blog, then look no further than AstonishMe!

Now publicly available, our "Google Spell-Check Plug-in" is a back-office and comment form spell-checker, which uses the Google Spell-Check API. If you use Gmail, then you're already familiar with the interface, as ours has the same look-and-feel and uses the same dictionary. It's a piece of cake to install, easy as pie to use and makes for a delicious add-on to your b2evolution blog.

To learn more about "Google Spell-Check" and obtain your copy, continue on ...

Read full story...

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Updated: 23-Feb-2008
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Where I've Been

April 4th, 2006  · stk

Putting the "Good" into Good Boating

If there has been a lack of journaling on our randsco site, it's because I've been working with my UK mate on a number of projects, through our joint website AstonishMe!. You can read more about the various projects we've completed, on our portfolio page.

While we've been waiting for the beta version of b2evolution to be released (since November), we've been active on a number of fronts. We're investigating blogging SPAM (comment and trackback SPAM, primarily), are collecting data and making some serious inroads into methods to not only thwart it, but flip the tables, taking an offensive position, rather than a defensive one. (Of course, this is all super-secret work and I can't reveal anything, otherwise I'd have to shoot you and that's too offensive, even for us. :| )

An associate of ours, Danny, has completed a page design for Software & Tools (an Austrailian, high-tech blogging site). He put a lot of effort into it and we think it turned out great.

Lately, our focus has been on helping Hilltop Marine and Walker Marine, come up with a completely new and highly integrated website. The concept is to blend two commercial boating businesses (one in Cincinatti, on the Ohio River and the other, in Kentucky, on Lake Cumberland), integrating several informational (magazine-style) blogs, into a single web presence. The "portal site", called 'Good Boating', will also include a free blogg sign-up (boaters can create and write their own boating stories), a forum, picture gallery and more. By fostering an active, online community of avid boaters, we hope to develop strong customer ties to the commercial operations and a 'must-see' regional boating reference site.

As you might imagine, the project is involved and multi-faceted. It involves much custom programming, web-design and creativity ... just the kind of task that AstonishMe! wants. The project is moving along and we recently completed a mock up of our vision for the "Good Boating" portal site. The client was thrilled with our work and we'll be stepping forward with the 2nd of five phases.

As you can see, entries may not be coming at a rapid clip here at randsco, but it's not because we've been sitting on our duff, watching icicles grow. ;)

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Updated: 5-Apr-2006
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Highlighted Search Terms

January 25th, 2006  · stk
If you have a b2evolution blog, you'll be interested in this plugin by Astonish Me!. It highlights multiple search terms and actually improves the relevant search returns. See it demonstrated and get your hands on a copy.

03-Feb-2007 - New Version!

Search term highlighting has been absent from this blog for several months (ever since upgrading from v1.6 "alpha" to v1.8.2 "Summer Beta" in July). The good news is that search term highlighting has RETURNED for v1.9.2 "Kyoto". It skipped the v1.8 series (might be gotten to work with it, however ... anyone want to try?).

It's different from the original a tad.

  1. One-click install - (no skin hacking)! :D
  2. Doesn't necessarily improve search results.**

**(It's 'brand new' and we're still testing it).

If you want to give it a try ... head here.

Finally, a Search That Works

I'm happy to announce that Astonish Me has come up with a plug-in that actually improves search results, in addition to highlighting multiple search terms.

First, this is "bleeding edge" stuff. It is really targeted for b2evolution versions 1.7 CVS and higher. It's loaded here, in a v1.6 "Alpha" release, but because v1.6 lacks certain SESSIONS PHP functions, it doesn't work perfectly. (Still, it's superior to what's available 'out of the box', and because of that, I'm using it and it's available for you to preview).

Check it out. Type a search term like "Alex" into the search box on the sidebar and hit "Go". See how the term is highlighted? Sweet. :)

Try more than one term ... such as "alex rachel" ... see how each term is colored differently?

If you're interested in finding out why it beats the standard search and to find out more about how you can get your hands on the plugin for your blog ... read on ...

Read full story...

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Updated: 18-Feb-2007
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Astonish Me

December 11th, 2005  · stk
b2evo

After a year working with b2evolution, I've decided to join forces with a British programmer, combining our efforts and creating a value-added website presence at a soon-to-be-announced web location. Initially, our goal will be to provide b2evo-specific add-on features, tutorials and plug-ins. Many of these features will be free, in the spirit of Open Source software, but because we both hope to continue full-time development, we'll be accepting donations, offering site subscriptions, and taking on website consulting work. And we're planning on extending support, articles and features beyond b2evolution, covering such diverse topics as CSS, XHTML, site maintenance, design and a number of other open source applications.

Pooling our efforts should result in more popular and well-documented plug-ins and features for the b2evolution blogging community at large. We want to promote a savvy, active and strong b2evo community, raising the bar, across the board. Both as a tribute and acknowledgement, we'll be donating 10% of our gross to b2evolution.net (or to whichever open source application we've earned money from).

To start, it will be the two of us, but we're interested in adding to the team and we're looking for dynamic, prolific, well-organized, enthusiastic contributors that can add value to our services. If you're interested, please drop us a line.

We're excited by our joint venture and hope that you will be too. By combining talents, one with 20+ years in programming and developemnt and the other with a similar experience in user support and technical computing, we hope to offer superior enhancements which are easily deployed and well documented.

With a major version release on the horizon (i.e., "Phoenix"), our efforts are timely. We can increase the adoption rate, provide sought-after features and in the process, strenghten the b2evo blogging community. We're both active on the b2evo forums and will remain so. Our individual blogs will continue to be a source of information, but will likely direct you to the new website for detail and downloads. Our goal isn't to make a financial "killing", but we do hope that there's enough monetary support to justify a full-time effort.

Make a list of your desired enhancement requests and features, because we'll be looking to you to help set our direction. What would YOU like to do with b2evolution that you can't do now?

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Updated: 6-Feb-2006
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