Fighting Spam with Contact Forms

I hate spam. Not the greasy pork-shoulder product offered by Hormell, but the virtual version that clogs the arteries and mailboxes of our church staff with ads like “See Jennifer Lopez Naked!” and “Make Millions From Home” Not that my pastors can’t handle temptation, but why even let the bird fly over your head, let alone nest in it?

In the past I’ve offered the Mean Dean Anti-Spam Email Obfuscator, but even that has its limitations, as Mark Pilgrim taunted to my attention back in late October. So what alternative does one have? Well, something I’m going to work into the redesign of Redland Baptist, and this site, and blogs4God, is to provide email contact using an online form.

Now there are several “FormMail” mutations out there. But many of them use the destination email address as a hidden variable. Which means a spambot can see it, snarf it and spam it. So the trick is to use a form that won’t give away your email address. Even better, a form who’s underlying code restricts the email recipient to a known list AND restricts the submission of the form to YOUR server. This later feature is important so a spammer doesn’t try to submit the form program from his/her server. It’d also probabaly nice to have a form that also enforces required fields and records the IP of the sender. Banning an IP might also be a good feature.

Well, I found two that I think I might employ. One in Perl for this site, the other in PHP for blogs4God. I’m still deciding about Redland. Both forms allow me to enter one or more recipients. In the case of multiple recipients, the user gets a drop down list to pick from. They allow/enforce required fields and they record the IP. Best of all, they’re free and don’t require a ton of modules behind the scenes.

  • Stephen Ostermiller Contact Form – Contact Form is a Perl script that you can run on your website that will allow others to send you email through a web interface.
  • Jim Seymour’s Simple Contact Form – Designed to be simple (in PHP), yet flexible and secure, SCForm features easy installation and configuration; single and multiple recipients that are completely hidden from web scrapers; remote host and IP tracking, even through proxies, and optional, powerful ban list support.
“Though the bird may fly over your head, let it not make its nest in your hair.” – Danish Proverb
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the Gallery Project

The Gallery Project Page – Now here’s a resource (via Jim O’Halloran) that I think every church web site might like. A photo gallery.I mean nothing says compelling content then showing potential visitors just how much cool fun you’re having picnics, retreats and worship services.

Enter Gallery. A slick, intuitive web based photo gallery (written in PHP) with authenticated users and privileged albums. Easy to install, configure and use. Photo management includes automatic thumbnails, resizing, rotation, etc. User privileges make this great for communities. This release includes a security fix and a number of small bugfixes.

There are other galleries I’ve used and like, but I think this one is worth looking into for those of you who are just beginning to think about bringing your church’s story to life in pictures. Mostly because Gallery seems to have a good-sized team of Open Source support and fairly decent documentation.

You can snarf the latetest release over at SourceForge.

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Oops! Britney Spears Skates on Lawsuit

E! Online reports that “The pop princess has filed a $1.5 million federal breach-of-contract lawsuit against Skechers USA, saying the deal she signed with the footwear manufacturer got off on the wrong foot when the Los Angeles-based company improperly used her image to promote its regular line of roller skates instead of her signature collection of skating merchandise.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Dean has lost his mind, what has the poster-child for post-modernism have to do with healing my church web site?!” Yet, her lawsuit has everything to do with your church web site if the topic of discussion is BRANDING. Here are two other examples of branding you may be on the tip of your tongue “Heal Your Church Web Site” and “blogs4God.” That is, they convey an idea, a concept, a product if you will. So too should the domain name of your church’s website.

Without saying anything else, “” conveys a message, an idea a concept. So what do you do if you’re church’s name is 110 years old, like say “First Presbyterian Church of South Saint Paul, Minnesota?” I mean, there’s only one available and that was scarfed-up by the good folks at “First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan.”

“ ?” Well, that’s what the good folks in in St. Paul, Minnesota came up with. It sorta rhymes, but it doesn’t really convey anything church-like to me. Then again, “First Presbyterian” by itself is a sure way of getting lost in amongst the hundreds of other “First Pres’.” out there. So how about these:


All of them memorable, all of them easy to remember and relatively easy to spell. All of them break down nicely for search engines and each of them convey a message of exactly what you’re getting without getting lost in the crowd. There other things you can do as well. In the past, I’ve talked about coming up with a one sentence slogan to describe your church. The nice thing about that is that you can use portions of that for your domain name as well. For example, the slogan for Redland Baptist is “A Grace Driven Church for a Grace Needing World.” … guess what our alternate domain name is?

So getting back to Britney Spears. I’m sure by now you’re asking yourself, what in the world are you mentioning that strumpet for? It is an example of a name that projects an immediate image. That’s why she’s fighting for how it was misapplied to the marketing of a set of skates … and why I used it as an example of how something as simple as a name can convey an entire industry, an idea, or in your case, a church or charity.

Oh, and if any of you dare pick “” be ready for me to be all over you like “WhiteOnRice.Com.”

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Which is more divisive?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve enjoyed love notes that read to the effect:

Why are you dividing the Body of Christ with your site?

I know the {place name of church here} and it is good people who believe in God. So what if they’re not up to the times? You have no right to make fun of them.

Not that I’m judging you, but if I were the judging type, I’d say you’re going to straight to hell for your hate site.

Now honestly folks, what is more divisive? My criticisms and critiques, or Church and para-church web sites that might as well be parodies? Take for example The Holy Word Cafe’s Free Will Baptist Web Site. Would a non-believer turn away because I pointed out the site implemented such cliches as:

  • Star Trek Web Theme, including an .ICOn file?
  • Useless Flashing “Interface Established” Text ?
  • Anti-Right-Click Technology Employed ?
  • A cursed-curser trailer of a comet?

… or does the site itself do more damage to the Body?

Now some of the more cogent emails encourage me to say more positive things. And I do where it is clear that the web servant is trying to give God the very best. But in cases where sites have opted for contrivances over content and style over substance, there’s not much else to do but point out the errors and hope the web servant starts afresh.

BTW, it is a good idea to leave the Star-Trek Archive Themes to sites who’s content has something to do with Star Trek. Its less confusing to seekers trying to determine whether God is fact or (science) fiction.

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Hotmail, Yahoo! erect roadblocks for spam sign-ons

The Register – 27/12/2002 at 15:04 GMT

Spam fighters have come up with an idea to frustrate the automatic creation of email accounts often used to send spam.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have designed software which acts as a gatekeeper, blocking computerised creation of accounts with Web mail services.

The idea is to use a form of Turing Test to distinguish humans for Web robots, called captchas (completely automated public Turing tests to tell computers and humans apart).

Well its about stinking time. Though I do have to snicker a bit when I read that “West Bloomfield bulk e-mailer Alan Ralsky, who just may be the world’s biggest sender of Internet spam, is getting a taste of his own medicine.” – Freep Tech

As I said in a comment on the Redwood Dragon blog where I found this article “I love a story with a happy ending … sniff …

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Some Saturday Night Silliness

Just because I’m in the mood …

It would be a most grievous sin unto the Lord if thou did not to open the “jelly of thanksgiving.” Thou shalt serve it mashed or whole, observing the traditions of thy clan.A King James Thanksgiving – The Door Magazine

Lip Balm Anonymous – Their primary purpose is to stay free from lip balm and to help others achieve the same freedom.

The Faculty and Administration of the Friends of Montrose Assimilation Institute (AI) are ready and eager to prepare you for assimilation, not into a church building, but into the body. This is because we believe that individuals contribute vitally to the collective health of the body.

Multi-level Tithing

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Full Gospel Assembly – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

At the request of a reader, I was asked to look at some Malaysian church web sites. So over the next few days, you’re going to see some quick opinions rendered. Both the good along with things that could use some healing.

First up to bat is the Full Gospel Assembly – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia who immediately needs to add “Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia” to the <title> tag of their home page (default.asp). I was going to suggest they optimize their graphics but looks like someone got the word. Good job! Much faster loading. Now perhaps break out of the 600×400 restrictions as the three columns sorta crush each other with content.

I might also re-examine the banner along the top. Its font and color theme aren’t entirely consistent with the rest of the page. Its not a big deal, but I do find my eyes keep going there rather than perusing the content. Then again, why not just use text to represent text so it becomes content that is visible to a search engine? And speaking of content, good stuff, though I think it’d be even better with a search engine and a site map. That and I like what I’ve read, so you might want to figure out how to keep adding more compelling content on a frequent basis.

Oh wait, I almost missed their very teeny-tiny hyperlink at the bottom of their middle column entitled “Story Archive.” Okay, let me remind everyone that CONTENT IS KING. And content like these stories should not be hidden under a basket. I would strongly suggest adding story archives to the top level menu that currently resides just below the banner/header.

Speaking of navigation, perhaps the most intriguing issue I found was their use of the left column on their home page. On all the other pages (e.g. about us, outreaches, etc …) the left column is used to as a sub-menu navigation tool. This is good. However, on the home/default page, they do something interesting and unique, they run their weekly events down the left column. I kinda like this. I think I’d like it alot more if they added some ‘sub-menu consistency’ by adding hyperlinks to the events to other sub-pages on the site?

All in all folks, we’re talking tweaks here, not major healing! This is good.

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Gorilla Usability

Here’s a must read article I found via boyink … title says it all – Gorilla Usability : If you’re currently or about ot develop a church web site, you MUST read this article. Whether you agree with all the techical points or not is less important than asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do You Know Your Users?
  • What Is Gorilla Usability?
  • So, How Do I Start?
  • We’ve Got Volunteers. Now What?
  • Now Comes The Fun Part
  • Almost Ready?
  • Get to Work

Yes, there will be a test. Those who fail will pay the consequences in low/no visits and an immediate redesign.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ – Luke 14:28-30
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Running Eclipse with gcj/gij

You know, I knew I was onto something when I mentioned phpEclipse last week. Now it appears /. is all gaga for coding Java with Eclipse using the gcj/gij. Now I realize that much of this is pure geek to a number of you, so bear with me.

Eclipse is a nice and free Integerated Development Environment (IDE). The only problem was that it was implemented using a proprietary java platform, making it all but useless to the Free Software community. Enter the GNU project with the GNU Classpath (core libraries for java) and gcj (a GNU Compiler for Java).

This means you should be able to run Eclipse on a completely free platform on a wide variety of platforms. Not much news for those of you who are still struggling with HTML. But for those of you creating web services via servlets, this is probably very good news.

Now if only Microsoft and Sun would quit squabbling and agree on a Win32 implementation we’d be set.

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Yo Geeks! Feliz Navidad!

I don’t care how cute a picture is, never, ever put an image this size up on your front page.
Merry Christmas!
Okay, enough healing your church’s website, now put down the mouse and go enjoy your Christmas with your family … as I’ll be doing with mine.

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