Recently in “Tips” Category

RSS feeds and Roxen CMS

Some University organizations with sites in both Roxen CMS and blogs.princeton.edu have tried to use Roxen’s RSS component to pull in the latest headlines from their blogs.

This scenario has two obstacles:

  1. The limitations of our current load balancer
  2. The default template format of Movable Type blogs (Atom versus RSS)

The Load Balancer

Both systems use our load-balancing environment, and a huge shortcoming of that environment is that when one load-balanced URL tries to communicate with another load balanced URL, that attempt fails. For example, let us assume that you are trying to add the following RSS feed to your Roxen CMS site:
http://blogs.princeton.edu/main/index.xml

This attempt works great on the www-dept-edit (deptaedit, deptbedit, etc) site, but fails when you preview the feed at your www.princeton.edu url. The “www” url is load-balanced, the others are not.

The workaround is to, instead, use the non-load-balanced URL as the source for your feed. In most cases, that would just be blogs-01, making the feed URL:
http://blogs-01.princeton.edu/main/index.xml

Atom versus RSS

The parser for the Roxen RSS component does not support Atom feeds. The default templates in Movable Type 4 omitted an output template for an RSS feed, believing Atom to be the superior feed format, and they only included an Atom feed template.

To rectify this, go to the admin interface for your MT blog, navigate to Design → Templates. Click on “Create index template.” Name your new template something like “RSS Feed,” and paste the template code from the following page into the large form field:
http://www.movabletype.org/default_templates/4.2/rss.mtml

Under Template Options, in the Output File field, type index.xml or rss.xml (anything with a .xml extension would work). Leave the other fields with their default settings. You can leave the Template Type set to “Custom Index Template.” Then click Save, wait, and then click Save & Publish.

More anti-spam ammo

| 6 Comments

A new anti-spam CAPTCHA plugin, called Comment Challenge is now installed on the blog server.

The battle between blog administrators and spammers is an ever-escalating arms race. Every time a new tool for blocking or filtering spam comments is released, the spammers develop new technologies and new tactics so that their marketing messages about “enhancements,” online gambling, and “morgage” loans continue to be posted all over the web.

This blog service already uses the SpamLookup and Akismet plug-ins, which rely on keyword filters and URL blacklists. However, an annoying new tactic is gaining popularity among spammers. They use their automated scripts or “spambots” to randomly post dozens and dozens of blog comments with random text and legitimate website links (like cnn.com, apple.com, cnet.com, etc). The spammers’ goals include poisoning the filters with false positives and sneaking their marketing links among the the dozens of comments with “legitimate” links.

So far the most reliable way to foil a spambot is with a CAPTCHA (an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart).

One type of CAPTHCA, the image CAPTCHA, generates wildly distorted letters and/or numerals and overlays them on psychedelic backgrounds. The intention is to foil optical character recognition (OCR) software; however, image CAPTCHAs can be a barrier to the visually impaired, and deciphering them can be difficult even for those with perfect vision.

The Comment Challenge plug-in instead creates a “challenge and response” CAPTCHA. With this plug-in, a blog administrator creates a simple question that only a human should be able to answer. If a comment is not submitted along with the proper response, it goes into the comment junk folder.

To use this plug-in on your blog, you will need to activate it, choose a question and response, add a template tag to two of your templates, and rebuild your site. Full instructions are below.

Tip #01: Power-editing mode

An easily overlooked part of the Entries page of the Movable Type admin interface is the Open power editing mode link right below the “Search Entries” box. This screen allows the author to edit the Status, Title, Author, Category, and Date on multiple entries at once.

screenshot of open power editing mode link

More importantly, this is currently the only place within the MT interface where you can change an entry author (or even see the list of entry authors) unless you are a System Administrator.

Changing the “Authored On Date” on multiple entries can be useful if you are using your weblog as a simple content management system and are relying on the date for the entry sort order.

screenshot of power editing window

BTW, the “List Protected Entries” link at the bottom of the screenshot only works if you embed special tags in your blog template. More on that in a future tutorial.