Archive for September, 2003

Version 1 – Retired

Posted on September 22, 2003 by:
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I finally retired my old Flash site tonight. It used to be found at the top level of my main URL, but for the time being everything will redirect here to my html based blog. If you really want to get to the old version for some reason (in order to use the pager, the flash forum or the contact form), it can now be found archived here.

The trouble is, my Flash site was really out of date, I had built most of it in Flash 5 and then added things in with Flash MX as I had a spare moment here and there. Some of it was still using Generator 2.0! The whole thing was hobbled together over time and it was really starting to show its age. So, it is definitely about time for an update! A whole new look and feel, architecture, new functionality, etc. I’m going to dedicate some time over the next few weeks to some ideas I have been kicking around, and of course I plan on doing everything with Flash MX 2004.

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There is a ton of good information coming out in articles, blogs, mailing lists, and books on the topic of Flash MX 2004 and the rest of the MX 2004 line. Sometimes its tough to keep up with everything. Using the various RSS aggregators and feedreaders is making things easier for me to find and stay on top of the good stuff, but I wanted to consolidate a listing of books on my blog. Particularly new book titles since I have contributed to a few new ones that will be coming out shortly. So, I put together a nice little bookstore on my site using Amazons Affiliate Web Services, NuSoap, and PHP.
It has preset searches for browsing the latest book releases related to Flash MX 2004, and the whole Macromedia MX 2004 line, along with other developer tools I find useful. It also supports keyword searches and browsing for any book available on Amazon.com. Drill down on an item to view more details, reviews, ratings, and two convenient buttons to either purchase an item directly from Amazon.com by placing it directly in your shopping basket, or save it for later by placing it in your Amazon.com Wish List basket. Any purchases that are completed through the bookstore on my site will earn me a commission which will go towards supporting improvements to my site.
I’m thinking about implementing comparison shopping feature with Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and a few other sources. I welcome feedback, bug reports, and ideas for improvements I could make to this first iteration.

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Johnny Cash You Will Be Missed

Posted on September 12, 2003 by:
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You will be missed. Thanks for all the wonderful music. Here is my favorite photo of Johnny.
Johnny Cash, February 26th, 1932 – September 12th, 2003.

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I keep finding spam in my blog comments, and a few even appeared to be from automated bots. According to many articles I have seen recently, this is becoming more and more common. Previously I had my blog set up to notify me immediately via email when any new comments are added, but that alone doesn’t cut it anymore. I am tired of cleaning the bogus comments out, but I still want to allow comments for folks who are serious. So tonight I added some blog spam countermeasures to prevent bots and slow down the manual spammers as much as possible.

One thing I did was to enable visible IP addresses of posters. Previously I had left the IP’s off because I felt anonymity would encourage folks to post more often, and I was getting the IP’s in my private logs anyway. Well now they are visble, save for the first octet which is obfuscated, so you can at least feel somewhate anonymous. This will hopefully eliminate some shill comment posts. Not as directly related to outright blog comment spam, but in the same family.

The second counter-measure I have taken is to make sure anyone who decides to post their real email address in the email comments field, the resulting html that displays the address is encoded in such a way that spam bot harvesters will not be able to pick it up or parse and identify any email addresses in the resultant html as easily, if at all. Again, not quite diretly related to blog spam, but I want folks to feel better about using valid email addresses, and I wanted to cut down on my own incoming email spam. All the changes I made are retroactive throughout my site all the way back through my entire archive.

The third countermeasure, has actually been in place for sometime in order to combat bandwidth consuming spiders, bots, etc. I simply refined it a bit tonight by adding some addtional criteria. That is, I have implemented directly via Apache and mod_rewrite and a few other tricks with PHP, etc., measures to prevent specific user-agents, IP’s and bots from harvesting information from my site or operating the comments system in my blog.

The fourth counter-measure, which is hopefully the most effective against unidentifiable bots, and also the most noticeable change, is that I have implemented some code that provides a visual challenge and response system to prevent automated postings by bots. It is similar to solutions you may have seen on many major sites like Yahoo, Hotmail, Amazon, Network Solutions, Ebay, etc., where systems that may be subject to abuse by automated scripts, bots, etc. have some protection. That is, a unique image file is dynamically generated on the fly and contains a series of alphanumeric characters embedded in it. This image is presented as part of the comments form for each and every view and is never the same for any session. A human must view this image, read it, and type in the value they see in a special field in the form in order for the comment post to be accepted. If the value entered doesn’t match, the comment is rejected and a new image is presented. The image is rendered in such a way that even making an automated script or bot that is smart enough to download the image and attempt to perform OCR (optical character recognition) on the image to determine the values, and then complete the process without a human, would be difficult, or at least time consuming enough to prevent bots. I am sure its not foolproof and there may be bugs in my implementation, but I thought it was worth a try. I am hoping it is not too cumbersome so as to prevent or discourage folks from posting legitimate comments to my blog. I welcome any input or thoughts, so go ahead and try posting a comment on this entry and let me know what you think, or any bugs you might find.

PS. If you were looking for my “Big News – Part 2: The New Job” entry, the follow up to “Big News – Part 1: I Quit My Job”, it should be up by the end of the week if not sooner. Stay tuned…

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I recently hinted at some big changes for me in one of my recent posts. Well, here is the first one: On July 23rd, 2003, I resigned from my job at mCom Financial Solutions, and August 8th, 2003, was my last official day as an employee. It was quite an experience to help create and grow a small startup over the last few years. Getting a chance to do everything from the ground up was a fabulous educational experience. I learned a great deal in a variety of areas and had the chance to develop and work on some very exciting and innovative projects. I wish everyone remaining at mCom (Daniel, Tom, Dan, Jess, Maura and my successor, Ronaldo) the best of luck and continued success! Keep that forward momentum rolling! I also want to thank the many clients, customers and business partners that I had the opportunity to work with while at mCom, it was a pleasure. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.

Why did I leave then? For a whole variety of reasons really, but one of the most important reasons I’ll share here publicly, was that I needed to refocus the pursuit of my personal and professional career goals. I also wanted the freedom to grow and exercise more of my skills and knowledge in the pursuit of my goals. The focus and direction of mCom, which like most businesses, was evolving and being refined over time. This evolution and refinement, led to a disparity between my goals and the goals of the company. This disparity had gradually grown larger and larger, to the point where I was no longer happy or satisfied going in to work. At this point I realized it was time for me to say goodbye. It was a very difficult decision to leave. It wasn’t just saying goodbye to the job, but also to the people I had worked with and gotten to know as friends. Also, many of the projects were like children to me, having nurtured them from simple ideas and concepts all the way to shipping products that were generating solid income for the company. For these and other reasons, I struggled with the decision to depart for some time, but I have my friends and family to thank for their support and guidance, which ultimately helped me make the right decision.

I also very badly needed some time off to finalize my wedding plans and take care of a great deal of personal items that have constantly fallen by the wayside for the last few years. In two days it will be a month since my last day, and the time has absolutely flown by! I have tried to lay low and get as many loose ends of my life resolved as possible, hence the lack of posts. I have also been trying to unwind and relax in order to find my focus on life again. I can happily say that so far, I have accomplished several of my downtime goals, most importantly, my wedding plans are now finalized. Melissa and I will tie the knot in Pennsylvania on May 15th, 2004, exactly a year and one day after our engagement this past May 14th. Still a lot of planning to do, but the big decisions are now behind us. Hooray for that!

So what’s next? I haven’t quite gotten to relax as much as I had hoped, but I have been able to refocus my energies and direction. I am happy to announce that I got a chance to do some tech editing on a couple of new books covering Flash MX 2004, which I am very excited about. Soon, I hope to have more details to post regarding the books. More importantly, I have been extremely fortunate to recently find and become a part of an organization that will afford me the challenges, and room I need to grow personally and professionally. I’ll also be able to utilize and further my skills and knowledge in the pursuit of my interests both personally and professionally, while working in a more collaborative environment with individuals who share similar interests and goals. I couldn’t be more excited and energized about this new opportunity. So what is this next endeavor that I am undertaking and who is it with? Well, you’ll have to wait a few more days, till next week for my next post: Big News – Part 2: The New Job. There will of course be info here on my blog, and some formal announcements released, which I’ll link to from here. Stay tuned!

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