Sunday, December 22, 2013

endgame

I have created a new Wordpress-powered blog called arcanesciencelab. That's where I will be publishing all my words of wisdom in the future. If all goes according to plan, this will be the last post on this blog. Note that all commenting has been turned off and all comments have been hidden. You spammers finally won. As did Google's lack of caring for Blogger.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

merry christmas from chitose

The Colonel dressed as Santa
I don't know why but Chitose near where I'm staying has Christmas fever. There's Christmas decorations everywhere, and Christmas music (carols and other seasonal American songs) are playing in the background. This Colonel, at a Japanese KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken to all you old timers) was dressed out in a Santa suit right near one of the entrances into the store. I would have eaten there except they were cash (Yen) only and wouldn't take plastic. I've since fixed the yen problem, finding out that the hotel will exchange dollars for yen at the rate of 97 yen to the dollar. Tomorrow I'm going to have my Japanese KFC meal.

Looking down from the ninth floor
I walked around the hotel a bit, exploring the nearer blocks, keeping the hotel in view to avoid getting lost. So far I'm remembering landmarks, so that I can begin to walk farther and farther on my explorations. This view from the ninth floor gives you an idea of the weather here; it's cold and snowy. I haven't seen snow on the ground in years. It's been cloudy since I've been here, and early this evening when I went out for supper I walked through snow snowers.


I've had a deep appreciation for Japanese car design, especially the more interesting designs. This Mitsubishi compact is a model not seen in the US (at least, I certainly haven't seen it). And there are models and entire car brands driving around Chitose I've never seen before. A lot of the vehicles have the same basic design as this Mitsubishi, a squared off vehicle devoted mostly to interior space, with just enough for the four wheels and a very small but efficient power plant. Front wheel drive can give you a lot of those design capabilities. It would appear from reading that all Japanese urban centers are dense, requiring an automotive solution similar to this. Not quite the same in the sprawling US urban centers, although those days are coming. Note that the Mitsubishi has four doors on the side as well as a hatch in back. I really like this car.


My wife will kill me, but I ate at a local Japanese McDonalds tonight. And spent real yen (finally). What's surprising about buying food here is the price: it's no more expensive buying in Chitose than in Orlando, Florida. The food, interestingly, tastes exactly the same. I would have thought there might be some small Japanese touches, but outside of the printing and the menu (it's definitely showing different items), it's no different than any McDonalds I've eaten at in the US and Canada. Except this one minor detail. When at this McDonalds, don't ask for diet Coke, ask for Coke Zero. A 'diet' drink causes some confusion.


The McDonalds is in a mall just down the street from the hotel. It's big and bright and colorful on the inside, a Japanese version of Toronto's former super store, Honest Eds. Honest Eds has gone the way of a lot of stores, but this mall will live on. One of the store-within-a-store sellers was this florist. Note the huge Christmas tree at the corner and all the ornaments, decorations, and themed floral arrangements. Christmas is Big in Japan.

blogging (nearly) naked in japan


So here I am in Chitose, Japan. This is the first time in my life I've ever traveled this far, although I've certainly had my fair share of air travel within CONUS. Even my few trips across the border to Canada and south into Mexico (back when Mexico wasn't nearly as dangerous as it is today, and well before 9/11) don't count.

Oddly enough this is the first time I've used my passport, the second update to a passport I originally obtained back in the mid-1990s for travel to Japan. I worked for Mitsubishi Wireless up in Lake Mary, Florida, and I was meant to travel to Japan on a business trip. But the trip never came about, and I left the company. Now, almost 20 years later, I'm using the passport for (almost) its intended reason, but for a far different company and set of circumstances.

Waiting in Houston to board a flight to Tokyo

My trip from Orlando to Chitose started around 6:30am Thursday morning, and didn't end until 10pm Friday Chitose time. The flight itself took a solid 24 hours across three individual flights, the longest being about 15 hours from Houston to Tokyo-Narita. That flight, fortunately, was on a Boeing 777-200. Even though I was in the back (no business class for this guy!), the seat was still roomy, and miracle of miracles, it wasn't a full flight; the seat next to me was empty. So I could stretch out a bit more than I would have if the seat was filled. The other two connecting flights were completely full 737 commuter flights.

I'd like to stop for a moment and observe how polite the Japanese are, almost to a fault. Not a single Japanese individual I've had direct interactions with so far have been impolite. One of the most intense interactions came at Narita where I transferred to Chitose.

Based on instructions with the tickets, I was under the impression my one checked piece of luggage would automatically be transferred from the Houston-to-Tokyo flight to the Tokyo-to-Chitose flight. Unfortunately for me it did not; I was required by the Japanese to pick up my one piece of checked baggage from the carousel and walk it through customs just like I had done with my carry on luggage. With a 3 1/2 hour layover in Narita I had more than enough time to do that. Instead, I went through customs with just my computer and overhead bag, and headed over to the gate to board the flight to Chitose.

About two hours later, a very polite Japanese voice called my name over the intercom to come up to the gate. It is interesting to hear the Japanese call your name. To give them credit, they did a better job at it than I usually have gotten right here in the US with native English speakers. At least they got the syllable break. That's when they informed me about my luggage, still sitting on the other side of the security barrier back at United Air.

And so, with a little more than an hour before the Chitose flight left, I had to leave the gate, go back through the security area, back through customs, pick up my piece of luggage, back through customs for a third time, then have it checked on the Chitose flight, then back through security again, and finally back down to the gate. All that time, apologizing to everyone I met for being an idiot. At no time did anyone become an obstacle to me. The Japanese officials I came across all seemed to understand what I needed and were most helpful. It took very little time to correct my mistake, and I was able to get to Chitose with all my luggage, which is a nice thing to happen.

"Please refrain from using your mobile phone"

After getting to my hotel, I went out for a Real Meal (I'd had two airline meals on the Houston to Tokyo run, and that was it). I wound up at a little place across from the hotel called Royal Host, a Japanese family restaurant chain, where I ordered a Japanese turkey and BLT, which tasted remarkably like an American turkey and BLT. Hey, it was late, and I was really tired.

They also ask you not to use your mobile phone, at least not for voice. There were lots of Japanese using there smart phones for every thing else. I noticed the "Please refrain..." notice on all the tables, and I noticed they were all printed in English, not Japanese. Which makes you wonder...


I also noticed I was in Japan, even at a restaurant that looked very American, by how the table was set out for me. For example, I've never had a napkin and silverware placed before me in a box. The drink portions, in this case a diet Coke, came in very small glasses. We Americans are far to fat because our portions are far to large. I've had several more meals since Royal Host and I've noted the small portions, including glasses of water.


What drives home that I've come to a different land was the packet of "French" mustard written in "Engrish." I point this out not to cause any embarrassment, but to show how vital clear communications are. In a perfect world, English would translate to Japanese and back to English again with no loss in understanding. It also shows how a Japanese illiterate, such as myself, is so dependent on any scraps of English. Back in the mid-1990s, when I was originally headed over here, I took a pair of Japanese language courses to become somewhat literate. But I never used it and I've just about lost everything, especially the ability to read some Japanese. Sounds like it's time for a few refresher courses when I get back home. I supposed to return to Tokyo next February.

Today, Saturday, has been my travel recovery day. I tried not to sleep at all today, but failed, and took a two hour nap mid-afternoon local time. Now I'm awake again. If you're wondering I started writing this early this morning local time.

Sunday starts a long thirteen day, 12 hour/day, work marathon. It should be interesting.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

referrer spam: over the line

I'm a cheap lazy blogger, and like most cheap lazy bloggers I go with the free solutions that require the least amount of work on my part. That's why I use Google Blogger's built-in statistics package, with all the problems that entails.

One of the biggest problems seems to be referrer span.

Referrer spam, according to Wikipedia, "...is a kind of spamdexing (spamming aimed at search engines). The technique involves making repeated web site requests using a fake referrer URL to the site the spammer wishes to advertise. Sites that publish their access logs, including referrer statistics, will then inadvertently link back to the spammer's site. These links will be indexed by search engines as they crawl the access logs."

I don't publish my statistics logs (too much trouble) or statistics (too much trouble) so I'm not sure how they benefit. Yet, every time it seemed I published a new article, I got loads of referrals from stupid sites such as vampirestat, 7secretsearch, and adsensewatchdog. If you google for these sites across the internet you get a lot of folks complaining about these sites showing up in their logs, and lots of advice from well-meaning insta-pundit telling folks "DON'T CLICK" because they'll keep coming back if you do. Clicking on the sites might be a secondary reason, but the biggest reason is as the Wikipedia entry documents.

My problem with these referrer spam fools was interesting. I only got referrer bombed when I published a new post, but not always. Then one day the Clue Light went on over my balding pate. I published a series of recent posts but did not tweet the event. And I got no referrer bombing. Then, I picked one entry (one ping only, please), tweeted it, and sure enough, the referrer bombing came back at me with a vengeance.

I have had my concerns about social media for some time, starting with Facebook and moving on to all its other manifestations. I've left Facebook (twice) and will never go back, and I've contemplated pulling the plug on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn (a.k.a. rather charmingly as LinkedSpam). But rather than kill my Twitter account I tried a simple experiment.

I still had a recent entry or two I hadn't Tweeted, so I went to an URL shortening site (bit.ly in this case) and shortened that one entry's URL. I then tweeted the entry using the shortened URL. As I hypothesized I wasn't referrer bombed. Which leads me to this simple conclusion. The referrer spammers are watching Twitter for tweets that contain recognizable URLs, recognizable being fully declared URLs that contain 'blogspot.com' as part of the URL, for example. Shorten the URL and it seems to befuddle their system.

You could say that all they have to do is expand the shortened URL and then check and I'd be right back where I am. But that assumes there is an API that the spammers could call to do this for them. And I'm not so sure it's all that easy. Because if it was I'd still have them all over my like fleas on a dog. But Twitter does have an easy-to-access API that allows anyone to stream the public feed. You can see it as a widget on a lot of websites. All any spammer has to do is set something like that up with their code watching for suitable targets, and let the suckers (like me) advertise their targets.

Simple lesson: obfuscate the URL with an URL shortener before tweeting or just don't publish to social media like Twitter.

Update

Well, that theory of obfuscation just got shot to hell. Posted a second to Twitter and the referrer assholes showed up as they usually do. It has dawned on me that they could also be tapping the RSS feed as well as Twitter.  But I still think Twitter is a part of it. One more reason to turn off Twitter, and possible moving to some other blogging platform besides Blogger.