Incoming

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White crab spider on Dutchman’s breeches, clearly trying to disguise itself as just another blossom in order to net an unsuspecting pollinator. See here for an even better photo of a white crab spider, on a different kind of white flower, with a bee actually in its grip.

At last, comment spammers who don’t insult my intelligence!

Those of you who don’t blog may be surprised to learn that such a thing as comment spam exists. Can it really be worthwhile to leave comments at obscure, low-traffic blogs like this one, just on the off-chance that a few readers might click on the link to the website? It wouldn’t be worth it if real, live people were leaving the comments, but it’s all done automatically, by spam bots.

There are various ways to screen out spam bots. Haloscan – the independent outfit that provided the commenting service I used when Via Negativa was at Blogspot – seemed practically immune. So when I moved to the present location, I was taken aback by the volume of spam that began to pour in, following the incoming links. So far, it’s not been much trouble to screen it out by requiring all comments by first-time commenters to go wait for approval.

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I saw this species of spider in a number of different places this spring – enough to persuade me that the web here, on the inflorescence of a smooth rock cress, is merely fortuitious.

But the thing that really annoyed me about the spam that began flooding in was the language it employed – a mixture of crude flattery and awkward English. How could anyone clever enough to unleash an army of spam bots not have the sense to at least comb through the English-language blogosphere and plagiarize some real comments? Instead, they employed lines such as “Your site is very cognitive. Thanks for author!” and “Best site I see! I make link, come back often, continue like that.” I’ve seen hundreds of variations on these, and worse.

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The pink lady’s slipper orchid depends on bumblebees for pollination, but gives them nothing but frustration in return. The bees are lured in by the delicious aroma, but find no nectar. The shape of the flower forces them to exit through the top, preventing self-pollination.

So imagine my surprise this morning when I find 17 posts waiting for moderation that actually force me to pause and study whether they were made by human or robot-with-typewriter. The giveaway was that they all originated from the same website, despite having all different (presumably fictional) email addresses. But the messages were, well, cute. “William Safire has just been picked on by a blog with a name that keeps changing. Not too harshly, though. The comment is William Safire, you annoy me.” First out of the block, a meta-comment! “Frivolous bastardisation of our punctuation is one of the key witnesses to the current decline of our wonderful nation,” writes another. And that nation would be Great Britain, I’m guessing.

“God save the Sex Pistols
One means it, subjects
We love our boys
God bless”
A punk poem, employing irony! Nice to see some recently graduated English major gainfully employed, isn’t it? In my favorite non sequitor from the overnight crop, “EBONY” asks, “I wonder what the society for the advancement of formal structures would make of this site about natural language parsing?” This was a comment to my May Day post.

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Oak apple gall on a red oak. Worldwide, over 700 different species of insects – most of them small wasps, as with the apple gall – have learned how to manipulate oaks into growing them a brood chamber from their own tissues.

*

In this morning’s email, someone who has just linked to Via Negativa had what I thought was a slightly unusual request: not for a direct reciprocal link on my Reciprocal Links page, but for a link to another, related site. “In this way we both get a one-way link which is better than a reciprocal link as far as search engine ratings go,” he wrote. Since both sites were non-commercial (and seemed to reflect quite lofty idealism), I was happy enough to comply. But in my response, I did include a brief and (I hope) friendly rant about the quest for search engine rankings.

Personally (I wrote), I’m not too concerned about search engine rankings, since I feel that traffic volume is not a real guarantee of attentive readers. The site statistics for my old blog seemed to bear this out. A couple hundred unique page views a day courtesy of the search engines had no perceptible impact on the 40 or so people (not counting subscribers to the feed) who stopped in every day or two for five minutes or more. In my view, the best way to find and retain the sort of readers I’m looking for is by leaving comments on other blogs, or by reading their comments and following the links back to their own blogs. Not that that’s my primary motivation in leaving a comment, though. When I read something that moves me, it’s wonderful to be able to respond and know that the author and other readers will see it, and can respond in turn if they so choose. It’s this kind of inter-linking – the building of real human relationships – that interests me.

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Woolsower gall on scrub oak. Who is fleecing whom?

On re-reading my reply, though, I’m afraid it makes it sound as if my motives are more altruistic than they are. For me, it’s still all about the writing – though amateur photography has turned out to be a fun and complementary avocation. Read SB’s post about how and why she writes poetry (linked also from the Smorgasblog) if you want to know my own feelings about writing, too. “A poem is my way of discovering (dis-covering) what I feel; sometimes, what I think.” Precisely. And sometimes it’s galling what the world makes of us, what strange winged creatures ultimately emerge.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

16 Comments


  1. Your pictures is very author. Photo for thanks.

    Okay, sorry, I haven’t had enough coffee yet.

    Nice photos, especially the spider.

    I am huge fan of the photos you post. Thanks for taking the time to find worthy subjects and share them with us.

    Peace,
    Bill

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  2. I feel that traffic volume is not a real guarantee of attentive readers.

    It’s not. And one of the best things about blogging in this neighborhood is that one does find good readers. I don’t know if you’ve taken some long walks on the internet recently, but there’s a lot of crap out there, and a lot of crap interaction.

    But there are pockets where certain assortments of compatible blogs (and commenters) display some nice emergent properties. Properties like attentive response and/or compassion. I notice this is the case much more with personal/poetic blogs than with those devoted to, say, the book biz, or partisan politics, or tech geekery. In the future, there might be a wider recognition that some of the most innovative blogwork is being done in the (for lack of a better word) non-capitalistic neighborhoods.

    And yes, I’ve covered this ground before. Repeating oneself is a sign of encroaching age.

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  3. I get nearly 1,000 spam comments A DAY! Fortunately, my Akismet spam blocker is catching most of them, but a few manage to sneak through regardless.

    I agree with you about the writing (and photography) being the real point of the blog. I think I would continue to write about my forest even if I didn’t know that anyone was reading it.

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  4. About 75% of the hits on my site are mislead googlers. The real readers are a treasured handful, kind and intelligent, generous and supportive. And they seem mostly to have found me through my comments on sites I enjoy reading.

    The spambots fall on the Just and the Unjust.

    The screwy syntax I have to connect to the wellspring that produces material for http://engrish.com/

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  5. Bill – I appreciate that. I haven’t felt too inspired photographically in the past few days, but I expect that will change soon.

    St. Antonymn -Wait till you get to be my age. Then you won’t even realize that you’re repeating yourself. You have to train yourself to look for subtle clues from your audience, such as deep sighs and eye rolling.

    Anyway, the points you made just now all bore repeating, I thought. Thanks, man.

    Pablo – 1000 a day, wow. Yeah, I’m dreading that day. But there are plenty of spam blocker plug-ins for WordPress; i guess it won’t be a big deal.

    That reminds me that I do want to start reading your blog. It’s on my short list of new Bloglines subs. I’m up around 75, though – pretty near the upper limit.

    Zhoen – Yeah, that’s a funny site.

    I’d like to think i sent a few of those readers your way myself, but who knows.

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  6. “When I read something something that moves me, it’s wonderful to be able to respond and know that the author and other readers will see it, and can respond in turn if they so choose. It’s this kind of inter-linking – the building of real human relationships – that interests me.”

    Amen. One of my goals during my no-blog month is to become a blog *reader* again (dang it, one hour on the computer to post, email, and try and keep up isn’t enough to actually do other blogs the justice they deserve!).

    Good post, great pictures; I tried to snap a shot of a small black spider today–I’m terrified of them, even the tiniest–and when it swung its dot-sized mandibles toward my offense lens and leapt (away), I shrieked and lost the shot. Ah, well…glad you’re more bold!

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  7. Soen Joon – Thanks. Yeah, it is hard to keep up if time is at a premium. Bt even with more time, one still has to reserve one’s most creative times for writing rather than reading. That’s partly why I like to take a day off from blogging each week – not only to catch up on other blogs, but also to read them more attentively.

    I don’t know why, but i’m so surprised to learn that you’re afraid of spiders! It’s far from an irrational fear, though – some spider bites can be pretty nasty.

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  8. Dave, there’s so much you’ve written here that makes me respond – yeah, me too! And the comments all speak for me as well!

    I’m about to respond to one blogger’s email about how to receive more comments. I’m flattered because I think my numbers are modest but they are a wonderful group of people. And I was going to say what you’ve just said: “the best way to find and retain the sort of readers I’m looking for is by leaving comments on other blogs, or by reading their comments and following the links back to their own blogs.” Thanks Dave for being one of them.

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  9. You bet! I’m tempted to add a second piece of advice for your blogger friend – “Write interesting blog posts” – but it occurs that if the goal is to get as many comments as possible, it probably makes more sense to spend as little time writing as possible so as to maximize one’s time commenting elsewhere and drumming up links. Because so often one sees blogs with quite insubstantial material and oodles of comments. I’m not resentful (who has the time to read and answer all those comments?!), I’m just saying that your friend needs to decide what his/her priorites are.

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  10. Dave and all, I really like the lighting on the spider shot. There is a kind of intimacy built between the photographer and the spider. “We are both hanging out in the shade together, away from that harsh light intruding. Anything on your mind dear spider?”

    I’m curious as to what that silver tube is in the background. It reminds me of the metal bar that attaches the screen to the cpu on an iMacG4.

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  11. Thanks, Shai; glad you liked the shot. I think the light bar in the background is simply sunlight catching the edge of a flat rock. This was taken down in the hollow, on the bank above the road, where the smooth rock cress grows – as its name suggests – among the rocks.

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  12. Hi Dave,

    I read your site every few days but I usually don’t leave comments. But the topic in this thread is a big one for me – the idea of whether/how to promote a blog, if at all.

    As a fairly new blog writer (5 months), I question whether the immense amount of time to manage a blog is worth it in my case (not just the writing but the time required for leaving comments elsewhere, etc.). In other words, the time required to participate is higher than I expected. This is complicated by the fact that I run a poetry/art venue and have plenty of opportunities to interact physically with poets and artists where I live.

    So the idea of the time spent online is tough to stomach sometimes, especially when the world of online poetry seems so unusually bitter/unenjoyable compared to real life poetry events. As a reader of poetry-related blogs, I have become discouraged about what I see out there for the most part.

    Your blog, and a handful of others, are the exception to this. For me, the key of your success in drawing me as a reader isn’t the daily observations or photos or even the poetry (though I enjoy all that). But one of the comments in this thread had it right: compassion is a key. At least for me as a reader. I do hope the blogs evolve more widely to embrace that idea.

    Enjoying what I’m reading here – thanks.

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  13. Hi Curt! Thanks for the comment. I lost track of the email you sent back at the end of March, and couldn’t remember the name of your site – and for some reason Technorati didn’t pick up the link. So it was great to rediscover your blog just now. I enjoyed the post on William Stafford and the lengthy response from Lorna Dee Cervantes – a very fine poet, and one of the few with a truly national reputation to take up blogging. That conversation gave me a good sense of where you’re coming from when you say that “the world of online poetry seems so unusually bitter/unenjoyable compared to real life poetry events.” I agree, though I think poets in general can be a fractious bunch. Those who blog seem preoccupied with matters of form and style over substance, probably because of the preponderance of avant guardians. Form is important, but it’s nowhere near as important as cultivating the quality of attention necessary to discover something original to say. Many online poets I’ve looked at also seem very niggardly about sharing the fruits of their labors, which makes sense: if I were that fractious and competitive, I wouldn’t want to expose my most vulnerable thoughts and feelings to the dissecting knives of my competitors, either! A sad state all around.

    In person, people are forced to maintain at least minimal standards of social etiquette. I thik what you’re doing with live readings and art shows is extremely important, because in the end, real, flesh-and-blood communities are what matter. I hope you aren’t forced to choose between the real world stuff and the blog, though.

    I really appreciate your readership and kind comments about this blog. See you around!

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  14. when RA (the blogger formerly known as RD) and i began blogging we just fell into responding to every comment, and following links to commenter’s blogs. talk about a geometric or logarythmic progression! it does take time, but we have met such wonderful and talented people. we do seem to enjoy the community of a smallish number of blogs by people interested in the natural world, who succumb now and then to the need to vent about politics and disastrous national policies, us among them. i can’t imagine how working folks keep up with blogging and commenting. we also read selected political blogs for news and info, but rarely comment. you do have a bunch of thoughtful people reading and commenting here dave. a tribute to your own self, as expressed in words and pictures.

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  15. Thanks, DPR. I must admit to being influenced by the example of hospitality that you and RA set, though I know I’m not as conistently pleasant and responsive as you guys are. And like you, most of the blogs I read I only discovered because their writers left a comment here. Good thing not everyone is as passive as I am!

    Reply

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