thingelstad

Jamie Thingelstad's personal website

Category: Techie (page 1 of 37)

Supporting the Open Internet

“It’s only an illusion that the Internet appears to be open…” — Dave Winer

As we approach the end-of-the-year many of us start thinking about charitable donations. There are many, many great causes out there that deserve our support. I think it is critical that we consider supporting the digital future that we want as part of our giving. There is nothing fundamental about the Internet that insures free and open speech will occur. In fact, the Internet if left to the wrong interests can be the most monitored, tracked and near totalitarian environment we have ever seen. If you are curious to read more on this, I highly recommend The Master Switch by Tim Wu. Great book.

We know that the Internet will continue to be a growing part of our lives. There are organizations that are working hard to make sure the Internet is the kind of place I want in my life. If the Internet is just Facebook tracking cookies and advertisements like a mall, we have failed. Supporting these organizations is one way to help this cause!

Electronic Frontier Foundation


The EFF was founded in 1990 and has been the champion of digital rights since. In many ways I think of the EFF as the “ACLU of the Internet”. They have both a legal and advocacy organization. They are pushing for the expansion of encryption technology online. They support causes like open and free access to WiFi networks. They continue to help Tor.

Donate here! Wikipedia’s EFF page is a great background.

Creative Commons


Creative Commons is all about creating a copyright framework that allows for the sharing of content in a way that content creators want. My blog is creative commons licensed making it easy for people to remix and share the content here. Larry Lessig is the founder of creative commons and he does a better job than I ever could explaining why Creative Commons, and the commons as a whole, is critical to our culture. You should watch his TED talk on Laws that Choke Creativity.

Donate here! Wikipedia’s page on Creative Commons is a great background.

Wikipedia


I often suggest that Wikipedia is the most amazing thing to be born of the Internet. It could never exist in any other way. The depth and quality of content is amazing, but the ethos of it is even more amazing. Wikipedia is run by the Wikimedia Foundation which runs hundreds of other wikis as well. They also open source all of the software behind Wikipedia called MediaWiki. MediaWiki is used by tens of thousands of sites on the Internet to host new and interesting content, including the software that organizations as provocative as WikiLeaks use. (My project WikiApiary tracks a large percentage of all MediaWiki sites in the world!)

Donate here! Not surprisingly, Wikipedia’s own page on Wikipedia is a great background.

Internet Archive

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The Internet Archive has been working to archive a growing part of the Internet over time. It is the place where the history of the Internet is being recorded. It is also the place where you can find a huge amount of media that is no longer in copyright. The goal of the Internet Archive I think is often something that we forget about in the digital world. We think that the Internet is permanent, but it’s only as permanent as we make it. The Internet Archive gives me hope that hundreds of years from now people will still be able to read the blog post you are reading right now.

Donate here! The Wikipedia page on Internet Archive is a great background.

As an aside, we spend so much time focusing on the billionaires of the Internet behind services like Facebook and Twitter. Think of these names: Larry LessigJohn GilmoreJohn Perry BarlowMitch Kapor, Richard StallmanBrewster KahleJimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. These people deserve as much space in our minds.

Question2Answer Number Captcha

I’ve been using Question2Answer for a number of years now to power Ask Planet Kubb. I like Question2Answer because it is simple to run, uses a standard PHP + MySQL setup and can even be used in a multi-site farm configuration easy enough. However, I’ve been frustrated by it’s ability to manage spam registrations.

Question2Answer has built in support for ReCaptcha and it has a plugin method to use other anti-spam measures. I’ve used ReCaptcha for a while, but it results in 4 to 10 spam registrations a day. I tried switching to the Q2A Logical Captcha by amiyasahu which uses Text Captcha. I even submitted a pull request to properly salt the captchas. But this resulted in 3-4 times the spam registrations as ReCaptcha! Ouch!

I decided to apply the same type of spam defense I’ve successfully used for MediaWiki and early results are great. It uses the Numbers_Words PHP package to spell out a number of nine digits and then ask the user to identify the number in a specific position. The question looks like this:

screenshot

This works really well. You can grab q2a-number-captcha and git clone it for your own use.

Updated Dynamic Questy Captchas

A little over a year ago I shared a method of generating dynamic Questy Captchas for the MediaWiki ConfirmEdit extension. This method has been awesome for stopping registration spam on the thingelstad.com wiki farm and many other wiki admins have used it with success. Unfortunately it was more useful in it’s novelty than in it’s difficult to solve, and eventually some spammers wrote the logic to solve it and the registration spam started flooding in.

I decided to put a new method in place that is based on the same question. The previous question generated 8 characters and asked the user to provide one of them based on a random index. I’ve now changed this to generating a number between 100,000,000 and 999,999,999, turning that into spelled out words and then asking to identify one digit. It looks like this:

What is the sixth digit of the number nine hundred fifty-one million eight hundred ninety-eight thousand four hundred twenty-seven?

That turns out to be a somewhat hard question for a human too. I find I typically have to type out the number as I read it. The benefit of this is the solution isn’t in the text of the page. And while I’m sure there are great libraries for turning written numbers back to digits, it’s not immediately obvious.

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Tim Cook on Charlie Rose

Great two part interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook with Charlie Rose. Wonderful insight into how Apple works and how they explore new products.

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Restarting AWS MN

A couple of months ago Bridget Kromhout and I started talking about coordinating with the Twin Cities Amazon Web Services User Group organizers to get the meetup group going again. The first thing we did was change the name to something a bit shorter, AWS MN.

We had our first meetup a month ago to get things going again with a pretty loose agenda. This Wednesday we have a presentation I’m super excited about on Automating AWS with Ansible by David Federlein. We already have presentations for October and December as well. Want to present for November? :-)

This is my first time organizing a meetup and I’m super excited to be doing this with Bridget who is frankly awesome at all of this (you should follow her on Twitter, @bridgetkromhout). We are also using GitHub issues to coordinate our work which is working really well and hosting at SPS Commerce using our training facility which also works fabulous for this and is nicely located in core downtown.

If you have an interest in AWS and topics related to it, you should definitely join the meetup and come to our sessions. They are the third Wednesday of every month at 6pm! Also follow @aws_mn on Twitter!

Getting started with Ansible

I’ve been planning to start working on using a configuration management solution for my hobby servers. Chef was too heavy for my purposes, and confused me a lot. I got really enamored with SaltStack, but never really caught onto it. I decided to give Ansible a go and actually have a couple of hosts in Vagrant and am managing some limited packages with Ansible. My work is in GitHub.

In theory, it should be straightforward to take my build notes and turn them into Ansible playbooks. We’ll see.

MediaWiki LocalSettings for Farmers

I’ve been running a MediaWiki farm at thingelstad.com for a couple of years now hosting about a dozen wikis ranging from small to very large. Running a MediaWiki farm is a bit complicated and you can approach it a number of different ways. I recently pushed the settings that I use to run my farm into GitHub so others can see how I do it. The next step will be to also move the scripts that I use up, but those will be kept in another repository.

Hopefully this proves useful to others. It’s useful for me to finally have these very complicated settings (really code!) under version control.

It’s great to see the human side of the technology community shine.

How Facebook “Improves”

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Improving ads, wow, how excited should I be? Just to be clear what this message really means is that Facebook is now actively collating all of the data that it collects about you from every website that you visit that has those cute little Facebook Like buttons and is using that to target ads at you in a better way.

“improving” and “giving you control”. Bullshit.

Why WikiApiary uses pages and not articles

A while back @Waldyrious posed this question about WikiApiary.

The full answer is actually found in my talk page on WikiApiary. Articles are a construct that each wiki can manage. MediaWiki tries to create these two classes of content: Pages and Articles. The intent being that pages are in some way less like “content” than articles. The metrics for determining this are configurable, but I’m guessing nearly everyone leaves it at the defaults. I felt that the page concept, just looking at content and not judging if it was better or worse was a simpler way to look at thousands of different wikis.

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