Thesaurian spam

The spam filter caught this reply to my post with the title ‘The stupidity of big books (and the joy of cheap paperbacks)‘:

wooow, take a fancy to your things concerning Heraclitean The stake » The vapidness of swollen books (and the felicity of of small account paperbacks

Yup, the spambot has just run the post title through a thesaurus.

The idea of course is to generate fake comments which are genuine-sounding enough to avoid being deleted. It’s an ingenious idea, even if the results are a bit peculiar. I guess it might have worked better if the original post title was something shorter and less elaborate.

If nothing else, ‘the vapidness of swollen books’ is quite a nice line of iambic tetrameter.

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Hot trends in spam

It is fascinating to see the evolving ways in which spambots try to fool us into thinking they are real people. It’s like a very narrow version of the Turing Test.

In response to a birdy post which mentioned, among other things, ring-necked duck, someone submitted this almost-relevant piece of commentary:

Like the scaups she has a white crescent at the base of her bill although it is less distinctive than that of either the Greater or Lesser Scaup. The Female Ring-necked Duck can be distinguished from the scaups by the thin white eye-ring that trails back to her ear and the peaked shape of her head as well as by differing habitat. A generalized diet may allow the Ring-necked Duck to colonize new areas and habitats that other species might not be able to use and this may be why it seems to be faring well.

It doesn’t actually make sense as a real human response to the post, but at a glance I thought it might do. Although the fact it was posted by a website offering offshore banking services would probably have been enough to tip me off.

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Salmagundi update

A London Salmagundi, my Tumblr, has now been running for five months and accumulated over 1200 posts; if you haven’t been visiting it, this is the kind of thing you’ve been missing.

Photos by Pierre BonnardHausa horsemen in quilted armourC19th corseta hornet mimicGiovanni di Paolooptical illusionmermaid plateSong dynasty vaseelephant skinaubergine shoespaper mosaicknitted cuttlefishbrass knucklerhino beetleSwedendubibissand arttaxidermycitternset designweimaranertype specimentarget practicebidisbleeding tooth funguscricketersdiamond minemantuagood luck charm

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No more links

The plugin which automatically fetches links from and posts them to this blog went wrong last night. So it seems like as good a moment as any to stop posting them to this blog altogether, since they are all posted to A London Salmagundi as well.

If you want to keep reading the links but have no patience for all the other bits and pieces I post to Salmagundi, you can also find them at delicious.

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Announcing Salmagundi

I’ve got a new little side project, Salmagundi, which is a Tumblr-powered short-form, scrapbooky type blog-thing where I can post assorted bits and pieces — photos, links, amusing cat videos — that I find on the internet. A web-log in the original sense.

Which probably means I’ll stop the automatic link posts here, and keep this blog for longer text-based pieces, although I won’t actually make that change until it’s been working for a bit.

I think it looks quite spiffy on a Mac; it’ll look slightly less spiffy on a PC, not least because it relies heavily on Helvetica Neue Light. And on any version of Internet Explorer older than IE8, you’ll just see a message telling you that your browser sucks. In your face, Microsoft.

There is a link to it (Tumblr) in the sidebar on the right. Or you can subscribe to the RSS feed.

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Something went wrong with my WordPress upgrade, and I was still trying to sort it out when my computer died, and that took several hours to rescue (and involved reformatting the hard drive, reinstalling the system and restoring my files from a backup)… so I still haven’t sorted this blog yet. I don’t have access to the admin pages. If you’re reading this it means I’ve managed to post via the iPhone app, but the advent calendar is on hold for the moment. What larks.

EDIT: well, the good news is that I can get back into the admin area of the blog, the bad news is that I didn’t wait and check plugin compatibility properly, and one of the key plugins I use, Simple Tags, is currently borked. Hence the error message below. But I think sorting that out can wait until tomorrow.

EDIT: the Simple Tags problem solved! Yay! After about 20 hours of doing my own tech support, I’m almost back to where I was yesterday at lunchtime.

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Happy bloggiversary to me.

stormy petrel

It’s five years since I started Heraclitean Fire — or Stormy Petrel, as it was then called — using a Python-based Slashdot clone called ‘Squishdot’. Which was probably a silly idea even then, and was only because I had set up a wiki using a free hosting service that was based on Zope… but still, it’s amazing how much blogging software has moved on since then. That was my first attempt to get my head around CSS. Oh what larks.

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Apologies for the lack of posts

If I’d been better blogger recently you might have got my thoughts about things like the weirdness of the US healthcare debate (you’d think that the aim of universal healthcare was laughably naive starry-eyed utopianism, rather than something that every other wealthy country has already achieved), Manchester United’s prospects for the season (I’m worried they’ll be short of goals if Rooney gets crocked), the Ashes (I’m thrilled we won, but it was a funny old topsy-turvy series), and the appearance of a variant, yellow-winged form of the Jersey Tiger moth in the garden.

So you haven’t missed much, really.

I don’t actually have anything in particular to say now, I just had a twinge of guilt about the lack of blogging. I’m currently drinking a cup of coffee and preparing to upgrade the OS on my computer — something I realised I was excited about not so much because of the software itself but because it’s named after the most beautiful and coolest of the big cats.

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Testing, testing.

Well, I think I’ve come up with a slightly better way of getting my blog posts on Facebook. Basically I want to feed full posts to people’s feed-readers but excerpts to Facebook (because I don’t want people commenting on Facebook instead of here).

So I’ve set up the Feed Wrangler plugin to add an excerpt-only feed which I can just feed to Facebook. It’s a bit of a stupid hack but then Facebook is stupid that way. Now I’ll just have to see if it works.

EDIT: testing again. sigh.

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Hello everyone

Apologies for the lack of blogging recently. Hopefully you all use RSS readers so you haven’t been wasting time checking to see if I’ve posted anything new.

A part of the reason is that I think Twitter has been cannibalising my blog posting a bit. For example, the peregrine I saw over the park a few days ago would certainly have merited a blog post if I hadn’t already scratched that itch by tweeting about it. The fact that I could replace a blog post with 140 characters might imply that my blog posts are about 20 times longer than they should be, but never mind.


Anyway, you’re all just going to have to live without my thoughts on Manchester United, chiffchaffs, stock doves, Irish republican terrorism, Slumdog Millionaire, hay fever, the iPhone, Welsh rarebit and whatever else I’ve been not posting about lately. It’s not much of a loss.

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Some site housekeeping stuff

The very observant among you may notice that my separate book page has disappeared. That’s because I’ve increasingly been blogging about all the books I read anyway, so it just meant I was duplicating the information. And since I started posting to Goodreads, the situation is even more ridiculous, with me effectively posting the same text in three different places, all formatted slightly differently.

So, with a slight twinge of regret, because even if it was a bit pointless, I was quite pleased with that page from a design/coding point of view… I have killed it.

Other bits of minor news: I have started posting to twitter as @HeracliteanFire. And if you really want to follow my every online move, all this stuff — Flickr, delicious, twitter,, Goodreads, this blog and my photoblog — gets aggregated on FriendFeed.

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Links of the year 2008

A not very methodical selection of about 50 links from the 300 or so I posted last year.

amazing camera — Anne of Green Gables
beachobatics — Billys and Charleys — Björk on television
cat playing the theramin — Chicago storefront churches — collapsing USA — CSS Homer — curators at work

Detroit dancing
financial meltdown — forehead wrinkles — fossil bird
Galileo’s magic trick — ghost slugs

hairy women — head-tracking 3D display — hermit in glass house — historical voting
ingenious glasses — interviewed chief — ironclad
Japanese typewriters — Jefferson’s Bible

kitten eating broccoli — knitted viscera
lakes on Titan — landscape design
male strippers — medieval watermarks

Native Americans — new Pope
photos of TV — psychology of suicide
railway signal — restless stereographs — robot dog — robotic prosthetic

search photos by colour — sheep stomach lamp — sign names — snails on face — solargraphs — spooky metronomes — springtime on Mars — a stupid name
transsexual toilets

unbuilt London
vest test — Victorian egg-diving — video editing magic
wandering oak boulder — Welsh roadsign — Wikipedia — wooden mirror

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Links of the year 2007

After a quick and dirty winnowing-out, here are what might be the best of the links which I posted last year.

Arctic artefactsAttack of the GIANT NEGROES!!

Bait-Fishing CrowsBeautiful Specimensbird-eating batsBuilding Stonehenge

C19th London snail-gathererschilled bees & yellow rainChinese building blocksCollege RepublicansCormac McCarthy & the semi-colonCroatian bees sniff out landmines

Defiant Gardensdogs in elk

English Accents and Dialects

Faster speciation in the tropics?Fela Kuti documentaryFlags By ColoursFlight ExposureFossil Rivers

Galveston on Stilts

hamster-powered paper shredderhobo nickelsHothead: 1902how to camouflage a whole factoryhuman yellowhammer

Iggy Pop’s concert riderIntensified continuity revisited

Jamaican Label ArtJapanese Love HotelsJen Stark paper sculptures

Kyushu Medical Books

La Tonnara and the Chamber of DeathLarge ejaculate from a spiny genital organlook-a-like portraits

on the Heritability and Malleability of IQ

Pac-Man the text adventureParasite manipulates host’s sense of smellPhotosynth demopigeons alignerPlains Indian Ledger Artplaster casts of termite moundsPolk MillerPolynesian Stick Charts

Rafael Benitez The MagicianRIP Joe Engressia, the original Phone PhreakRoxanne Shante: Who need a royalty check?

Simon Norfolk photographsSome So-Called Out of Place Artifactsspiny anteater reveals bizarre penisstripper polaroidsSuper Mario levels that play themselves

Taliban portrait photosThamesmead, Riverside School, 76-78The Bhagavata PuranaThe Broken Column HouseThe Decisive Moment by Henri Cartier-BressonThe Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the WebThe flipping shipThe Visual Erotics of Mini-Marriagesthread in spiderwebsToutes les autos de TintinTypography and HMS Victory

X-rays of paintings


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In non-Internet Explorer related news…

The release of WordPress 2.3 is my cue to release my photoblog onto the world.

Since this blog, which is comparatively simple in terms of layout, still isn’t working properly in Internet Explorer, I shudder to think what Clouded Drab will look like. But hey-ho, let’s press on regardless. There’s only one photo at the moment, but I’ve got more queued up, so I hope you’ll check in regularly. Or of course subscribe to the RSS feed.

Polite request

Could anyone with copies of IE7 and/or IE6 please check to see whether something is working?

The menu on the right is supposed to move up and down as you scroll the window. If I’ve done it right, it should still look the same in Firefox, Opera etc; but in Internet Explorer, it should start in the same position but not move when you scroll the window.

Thanks in advance.

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Oh crap.

I just got around to testing the new design on Internet Explorer via browsershots, and what do you know, it’s completely fucked up. And for most versions of IE I got an error message; I don’t know what that’s about.

It’s so bloody irritating; why can’t all the various browsers agree on how to render simple CSS? And of course it’s not very convenient for me to try and fix the problem without access to a Windows machine.

Anyway, if you’re looking at the site on Internet Explorer and it looks kind of broken: sorry. I’ll try and fix it.

grumble grumble.

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Under construction

I’m in the process of changing stuff around on the site: you may encounter occasional weirdness.

EDIT: OK, the tweaking process is still going to be ongoing for a little longer and some things aren’t finished, but the new design is now basically live. This is more or less how I want it to look.

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Site Redesign

I’m itching to do yet another site redesign—I have a pretty good idea of what I want and a working test version of it, allowing for a bit of tweaking—but I think it makes sense to wait until the release of WordPress 2.3 so I don’t have to worry about any compatibility issues. I’m considering losing the theme switcher, as well; since I make no effort to make changes to the site backwards-compatible, it’s probably better that way. And it’ll make it easier to rework things for my ultra-minimalist new look.

Of course the whole thing is increasingly irrelevant, since a growing proportion of my (diminishing number of) readers are now accessing HF through feed readers and may never see the design at all. But I enjoy the process.

I’m also intending to start a photoblog. I’ve always liked the idea of photography but found the results slightly disappointing. As a birder I know well the importance of good optical equipment; the difference between a cheap pair of binoculars and an expensive pair can be profound. I never bought a film SLR camera because I didn’t think I would get the use out of it to justify it; now with digital, knowing I can go out and shoot 50 or 60 and discard them all, it seems like a good moment to make a serious attempt to take some good photographs. So the photoblog will be part of that attempt; recording my learning process. But I can’t decide on a name for it. I could keep up the G.M. Hopkins theme and go for something like ‘Plough Down Sillion’ or ‘Shook Foil’ or ‘Finches’ Wings’, but I think I fancy a change. Hmmm. We’ll see.

WordPress 2.2 upgrade hitches

Apologies for the slight messiness: I’ve just upgraded to WordPress 2.2—don’t know why, really, it’s not like there are any compelling new features—and at least one of my normal plugins is broken. I should have a work-around up soon.

EDIT: OK, I think everything’s just about working now. If anything seems broken, give me a shout.

Further comment: One of the claims for WP2.2 is that “We now protect you from activating a plugin or editing a file that will break your blog.” Who knows, perhaps this is brilliant, sometimes. But it didn’t work for me today.

And another comment: One of the changes is that instead of having a built-in preview in the posting window that has to be reloaded every time you save a change, it pops up a preview in a new window when you ask it to. Which is probably a good decision, since it should make writing faster, but it’s a pity it makes a new window each time instead of reloading the previous preview window with the new version. if I don’t carefully close each popped-up preview after looking at it, I end up with a whole row of tabs, each a preview of the post.

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Books books books

I’ve posted a few thoughts on the books I read in Crete (a couple of novels by Kazantzakis, some Marquez, Seferis, books on the Battle of Crete and resistance, Aristophanes), which can be found via my ‘What I’ve been reading’ page.

New section: Music & Books

If you’re very observant, you may noticed a new link in the sidebar: Music and Books. I’ve been gradually tweaking it to my satisfaction, and you can now not only see a list of the ten most recent songs I’ve listened to and the ten most recent books I’ve read, but click through to see my profile on, reviews of the books, and a sort of bookshelf of all the books I’ve read since installing it. Since I’ve only read four books so far, the ‘bookshelf’ hasn’t really come into its own yet.

I have to admit that if I was criticising this particular design work done by someone else, I’d suggest that the navigation possibilities were a bit opaque, but it’s my party and I’ll make the links difficult to find if I want to.

None of this is currently working unless you’re using the Scallop theme. I’ll probably edit the other themes accordingly in due course. Or just turn the theme switcher off, to save myself these kind of compatibility headaches.