David Ancell's Virtual Home

Why Do Spammers Bother?

  /   Monday, April 26, 2010   /   Comments(0)

E-mail and comment spam is something that I’ve never really understood.  How do people really earn money from posting and e-mailing offers to people who usually don’t want them?  Ok, I guess someone is doing business with them, or it would be a waste of effort.

Apparently, some companies are paying people to go through and enter CAPTCHA codes.  I just don’t get how this is worth someone’s time and resources.  A CAPTCHA code is something to keep automated processes from entering spam messages and comments.  The very presence of the code should tell people that these unsolicited offers are not wanted there.  Who makes money by targeting offers to people who do not want them?  Companies like Facebook and Google make at least part of their money by trying to produce targeted ads.  In other words, they use information to find out what people might be interested in.

My site uses CAPTCHA on my e-mail link, and all comments on my blog have to be approved before they will appear.  I also utilize spam filters in both my e-mail and the blog.  If you are a spammer, don’t even bother to post here.  Even if you get past my filters, I will delete your e-mail and never post your comment.  Even if I wanted your product, I would never buy from someone who uses these tactics.  I wish I could just allow comments to instantly post.  However, even if I let the spam post and deleted it later, there’s a possibility that it will get to a search engine and help their ranking.  I want to take no chance of letting a spammer do that.

Category: Technology


  /   Tuesday, April 13, 2010   /   Comments(2)

Most people who know me are aware that I am a big computer and gadget geek.  A priest friend of mine once remarked that I use technology to simplify my life.  It’s true, for example, that I like having my iPod so that I don’t have to carry around, sort through, and change CDs in the player.  It’s all on one device that I can carry around.

Being as I am, I’m not content to carry around a phone that only makes calls. I like to have a device that will allow me to keep in touch with e-mails and sites like Facebook.  However, I don’t want something that will annoy me with pop-ups or pause to check e-mail when I’m actively trying to use it.  I don’t want something beeping all night while I’m at work.  Just a few weeks ago, I found something that is easily the best phone I’ve had – the Motorola Droid.  It’s a perfect replacement for my Palm Treos that I’ve used since 2005.

I am a big Apple fan, but I’ve never really wanted an iPhone.  It didn’t have enough disk space to serve as my media player, and I was concerned that using a phone as my media player would run the battery down too quickly.  I wasn’t attracted to the touch-screen only interface because I have fat fingers.  The first generation didn’t have 3G support, and I wasn’t about to spend the money that it would cost without it.  The non-removable battery is a deal killer in a cell phone.  Besides all this, I switched to Verizon early in my courtship with the woman who is now my wife, and the iPhone is only available for AT&T.

The Droid does so many things that it is a huge step up for me from my old Treo.  The multitasking works well, and I am able to continue to work in another application while it checks my e-mail.  Because of this, I can now have it check my e-mail more often.  The e-mails now look much more like what they would look like if I were using my desktop or laptop.  Web browsing on this thing is very nice.  Verizon’s 3G is plenty fast.  The pages look similar to what they do on a full-size computer.  I can double-tap when a web page comes up and zoom it so that the article just fits across the screen.  I get a lot of reading done on the phone now and don’t have to wait until I get to a computer.  The only problem is that, when you are in a spot where 3G isn’t available, any web function is very slow.

I’d probably still like my Droid if this were all it did.  However, there is so much more.  My calendar and contacts sync with my Google account which can then sync with iCal and Address Book.  The Treo would sync these also, but there’s a major difference.  I don’t have to plug the Droid in to do this.  It does it over the air.  I add someone’s info while I’m out at the mall or a restaurant, and it’s on my computer when I get home.  I only wish that there were an app like Pocket Quicken that could do this with financial data.  Pocket Quicken is the one thing I really, really miss on the Droid.

The GPS is amazing.  Since it’s powered by Google Maps, you don’t have to buy those ridiculously expensive updates to the maps.  You can even use voice search to find an address.  The directions are more clear than they are on my Garmin.  However, it’s not perfect.  The smaller size and glossy screen (which is normally beautiful) can be kind of hard to see, especially if I’m wearing sunglasses.  My wife doesn’t like the voice of the navigation.  The biggest downside of it, though, is when you get a call.  The call screen gets in the way of the GPS, and you can’t use the navigation while you are on a call.  Maybe this is a safety feature, but a call when I’m trying to go through a multi-directional exit would not be good.

On a less-important but still useful note, it’s great for checking the weather.  The new Android 2.1 download that I got comes with a news and weather program.  It shows the current temperature, weather forecast for my location (which it detects), and important news headlines.   It has a good photo application that I can use to show off pictures of me with my beautiful wife and even some video.  Having a 5 megapixel camera with flash isn’t too bad, either.  The included video camera worked well in my test, but I have yet to use it for real.  Yes, you can use the device as your MP3 player, and it comes with a 16 GB memory card.  I have MP3s on the device, but I don’t play them that much.

I have heard that there aren’t as many apps available for Android as for the iPhone, but that hasn’t seemed to matter to me.  I haven’t spent a cent, and I’ve been able to find a number of useful apps and some games:  Solitaire, Euchre, Connect Four, Tic Tac Toe, and Othello.  There are apps for using Wikipedia, Skype, WordPress, and Facebook.  I even have an app that tells me what movies are playing near my current location (which it detects automatically) and the times and lets me view the trailer.  I also have my pharmacist databases installed on the device – Lexi Drugs and ePocrates.  Installing the software from the app store is very, very easy.  The phone, unlike the iPhone, isn’t restricted to software from the store, but there’s a setting you have to change to get it to install other software.

As for the call quality, it’s the best I’ve heard in a long time.  The speakerphone is loud and very clear.  My parents could notice a difference immediately when I called them on the phone.  I could also tell a difference when talking to my wife.  Everyone was much easier to hear than they were on my Treo.

All is not perfect, though.  My biggest gripe about it is the way to answer the phone.  I have to slide a slider across the screen to answer or ignore a call.  This is a great for preventing myself from accidentally answering the phone, but the sliders are so hard to slide across that I normally have to try several times and then almost miss the call.  I also have to use a slider to unlock the phone almost every time the screen goes off.  These sliders are fairly easy to use but annoying.  Can’t there be a certain amount of time that must pass before the phone locks?  I looked for settings but could find none.

There are a few other things that’s I’d like to see improved.  When using Gmail, you can’t change the Send From account like you can in the full web version of Gmail.  It can check mail pretty often, but I’m pretty jealous of the speed of the push mail that my wife has in her BlackBerry.  With multitasking ability, I have to worry about something in the background sucking the life out of the battery.  Applications don’t have their own “exit” function, so the Task Killer is a must.  The battery life is good enough for me, but I’ve found that I do need to watch it.  Many people have complained about the slide-out keyboard, and I will add that it does take getting used to.  The device will change from portrait to landscape when you rotate it, but it isn’t as smooth as I’d like.

Overall, this is the best gadget I’ve ever owned.  I am sure that Google will continue to update Android, and it will get even better with time.  It’s a great phone, and it does a lot of stuff.  I am having a lot of fun with it.

Category: Technology

Scandal and Truth

  /   Sunday, April 11, 2010   /   Comments(0)

Some people in their writings have tried to use the scandals in the Church to discredit the Church’s teaching.  Mark Shea explains why this doesn’t work.  If you ever get into this argument, here’s a quote that explains it nicely:

The used car salesman who says, “Trust me” can be refuted if you produce his rap sheet.  But the math teacher who says that 2+2=4 is not refuted when you show him to be a drug dealer.  The truth that bishops hand along does not depend on their personal holiness, any more than the truth of our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ was disproven by Peter’s chickenhearted failure to live by his own preaching at Antioch.

On a related note, the idea that the efficacy of the Sacraments is based on the holiness of the priest or bishop who administers them is a heresy known as Donatism.  Be thankful for this.  We can go to Mass or to Confession and not have to inquire on the state of the priest’s soul.

Category: Response

Perspective on the Problem

  /   Friday, April 09, 2010   /   Comments(0)

The New York Times has struck again with another story in which they are claiming inaction on the part of the Church against a priest who was sexually abusing minors.  I won’t go into much depth here, but there is more to the story than they tell us (surprise, NOT!).  Good summaries of the real story can be found here and here on Jimmy Akin’s blog for the National Catholic Register.  If you’d rather get some perspective from someone who writes fairly but isn’t necessarily going to outright defend the Church, try this article from John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter.

While all of this, as well as the stories from Europe, were coming out, I read this article from Phil Lawler.  In it, he explains how sexual abuse is a problem in society as a whole, not just the Church.  He is very careful to explain that he understands, as I do, that this does not mean that we should excuse those in authority in the Church for their actions.  The Church must uphold and be held to a higher standard than secular society.  In fact, I would argue that the problem is not that the Church has become worse than secular society but that the Church and her institutions have largely become secularized and then experienced the attending problems.

So, if the fact that sexual abuse and its cover-up is a societal problem doesn’t excuse the Church, what does it mean?  Well, it means a couple of things . . .

First, we have evidence that our media is targetting the Church, whether out of animosity or the desire to sell stories.  After all, if the media’s real interest were sexual abuse, they’d be taking a lot of other people to task for sexual abuse cover-up.  Even the New York Times story mentioned that local law enforcement was aware of the case but did not prosecute.  Amidst calls for Pope Benedict’s resignation, why has there not been a call for an investigation of the law enforcement offices in Wisconsin?

Second, it means that there is nothing inherit in the structure or discipline of the Church that is causing the problem.  The usual gang has used this as yet another excuse to promote their pet agendas:  married priests, women priests, changing the Church’s teaching on sexuality, etc.  However, if the same problem is happening in wider society, it’s hard to make a case that the problem is caused by anything particular to the Church. 

The problem of sexual abuse is, in my opinion, nothing but a symptom of the real problem plaguing the Church – secularization.  This is seen in many of the more horizontal liturgies that we see in parishes today.  It shows in Catholic institutions like hospitals and universities that are now difficult to distinguish from their secular counterparts.  It shows in a Church who is afraid to teach her doctrine.  It shows in orders of nuns that have become little more than social workers (hence the apostolic visitation).  Pope Benedict XVI is doing all he can to try to combat these trends.  While people in the media call for his resignation, I see him as the man whom the Church needs most.

Category: Response


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