Basic tools for stopping comment spam on your blog

With all of the recent discussion about ending comments on your blog due to the spam problem, I thought it would make sense to do a very quick round up of the tools that are available to us as bloggers to keep our blogs relatively free of garbage.

How to SPAM

There are four levels of defense you can use to protect your blog from garbage, assuming that you are using a self-hosted blog: DNS level, host level, reputation level, and content level. For the purposes of this post, I will refer to WordPress, but many of these tools are platform agnostic.

DNS Level

DNS-level filtering prohibits bot networks from attacking your blog en masse. Perhaps the best-known of these services is Cloudflare, though Google and Amazon also offer free services. All 3 are free at the basic level. You simply install the service, install the plug-in, and redirect your DNS to the new DNS provider. They intercept malware and other known traffic at the network level, preventing spam bots from even reaching your server.

Host Level

Working with a reputable blog hosting company that offers robust security services provides an additional level of protection for your blog. These services typically are not free and not inexpensive; expect to pay about $100 a month for your hosting services on these platforms. In exchange, you get protection from known malware, 1-Click backups and restores, and trained system administrators who can repair damage quickly. I use WPEngine.com at work, and it’s my preferred provider (disclosure: I’m an affiliate, too). Other providers at this tier would include Synthesis Hosting and Page.ly.

Reputation Level

Like e-mail servers, blogs can have reputation-based monitoring from plug-ins like Akismet. Akismet is probably one of the best-known reputation systems that can identify known sources of crap traffic and filter it out or flag submitted comments for review before posting them. Akismet is free for personal use.

Content Level

Finally, there are services that provide both reputation and content-based filtering to identify crap comments and spammers. Two of the most well-known on this front are Disqus and Livefyre. I’ve used both of these services; I use Disqus on my personal blog and Livefyre on my work blog. Both are good, both are reliable, and both are worth trying to see which one you prefer more.

If your blog uses all four levels of tools to protect itself against malicious traffic, spammers, and bots, you should experience significantly less spam and free up your time to actually respond to the comments you want.


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What’s a strawberry tower and how do you make one?

It’s funny. I write about marketing, social media, business strategy, and productivity a ton. But make one mention of a strawberry tower and the Interwebs light up like a Christmas tree with people wanting to know more. Message received, my friends. Let’s dig into this fun construction project.

First, what is a strawberry tower? Simply put, it’s a vertical strawberry garden. Unlike other strawberry planters, this one’s a DIY project that you make at home with a power drill and some piping. Strawberry towers are useful for keeping strawberry plants off the ground. This helps keep the fruit from rotting and it deeply annoys squirrels who have a hard time climbing pipes.

Here’s what you’ll need to make it.

  • 5-foot length of 4″ diameter or greater PVC* pipe
  • 5 foot length of 1/2″ diameter or greater PVC pipe
  • 1/4″ drill bit
  • 2 1/4″ hole saw bit
  • Power drill
  • Long screwdriver
  • Soil
  • Shovel
  • Strawberry plants or roots that can fit through a 2″ hole

You start by taking the pipe and drilling holes in it using your power drill and hole saw, as many as you want as long as you can maintain 3-4″ of vertical spacing between holes. In mine, I alternated. Leave enough space at the bottom for the pipe to be partially buried in the ground, about 6-12″.

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Be careful. If you’re not good with drills, use a sawhorse or brace or something so the pipe doesn’t roll around. I drilled on the grass for this reason.

You’ll need the screwdriver to pry out the plastic discs after each hole. Do NOT think you can just drill 4 at a time and get the discs out of the hole saw. You won’t.

Once you’ve got the large pipe fully drilled, drill holes through the small pipe at 6″ intervals with the 1/4″ bit. Again, if you’re not good with power drills, put the pipe on something that you can secure it with, lest you drill through something important, like your foot. This small pipe is essential for irrigation.

Once both pipes are prepared, dig a 6-12″ hole in the ground and place the large pipe in it. Pack the soil around the base and dump the remainder in the pipe to stabilize it.

Place the small pipe down the middle of the big pipe and wedge the end slightly into the soil at the bottom to keep it from moving around. About 6″ of the small pipe should be above the top of the big pipe.

Next, alternate placing your strawberry plants and soil in the big pipe (avoiding pouring dirt down the little pipe), while keeping the little pipe centered. Fill the entire pipe with soil and plants.

When you’re done, it should look something like this:

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To water, get a funnel and gently pour water down the small pipe. The entire reason for this is that vertical gardens tend to get water unevenly – the top gets lots of water, but the bottom tends to dry out quickly. Having the central irrigation pipe allows you to water evenly without having to flood the upper half and have soil washing out of the holes.

Remember that vertical gardens often become nutrient-poor very quickly. You’ll want to water with a diluted fertilizer frequently in order to keep the soil capable of growth for your plants. Personally, I like Miracle-Gro, which is a very strong 24-8-16 fertilizer. Mix a teaspoon (you don’t need more) with a gallon of water every time you water. If you want to use an organic fertilizer, make sure it’s got a reasonable NPK balance (no 10-0-0 nitrogen only fertilizers), since strawberries need that level of balance.

That’s a strawberry tower! They’re great for maximizing small land spaces, and if you mount it in a deep pot or container, you could even set it up on a deck or patio.

* Some people are concerned about xenoestrogen leakage from PVC piping (mostly due to DEHP in its manufacture). From the reading I’ve done, the strawberry garden should pose a minimal risk, but if you’re absolutely against using PVC pipe, you can use steel, copper, or iron. You will need a serious metal hole saw for that to make the same construction, however.


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Concurrently process for maximum productivity

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I woke up with a to-do list over the weekend that looked something like this.

  • Make yogurt
  • Do laundry
  • Build strawberry tower
  • Make coffee
  • Do dishes

If I put the time each task required on it, it’d basically be a full day’s work.

  • Make yogurt: 12 hours
  • Do laundry: 2 hours
  • Build strawberry tower: 2 hours
  • Make coffee: 10 minutes
  • Do dishes: 1 hour

Yet all of it was effectively done in 2 1/2 hours. Why? Concurrent processing, parallel processing. Making yogurt realistically takes about 10 minutes to boil milk, cool it, add a starter, and dump in a low-heat warmer for 12 hours. Laundry takes 5 minutes to dump into the washer and then come back in 2 hours. Coffee takes 10 minutes and can happen at the same time as yogurt making. Doing the dishes takes 5 minutes to put the dishes in a dishwasher, add soap, and come back in an hour. The only task that required sustained effort was making a strawberry tower, which took the full two hours allotted to it, but could be started after all of the other chores were underway.

Oftentimes, people say they can multi-task. We know cognitively, this is exceptionally difficult to do unless you’re doing lots of right-brain work and almost no left-brain work, because the left brain is a serial processor that can effectively do one thing at a time. What people who are good at “multi-tasking” are good at is actually concurrent processing, where tasks can be started and moved into the background while other tasks are accomplished.

To be good at concurrent processing, you need to be good at understanding what tasks require sustained attention, and what tasks can operate on their own for a while. Line up all of your background tasks and front-load your day with them so that they kick off and run on their own, then serially process the remaining tasks based on your priorities. You’ll accomplish much more than you ordinarily would, and you’ll feel less stressed about the theoretical time that everything on your to-do list would take.


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