Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 15:38

At the weekend I had my first flood of spam. One of my blogs was averaging a spam comment every hour. That's not totally desperate but it was intrusive as I was getting an email every time because I review all comments.

Since it could get worse, pre-emptive action seemed sensible. There are standard tools I could have implemented but I chose not too. Standard tools fall into two groups: those which inconvenience regular readers (eg Captchas) and those which spammers have learned, or are learning to circumvent. The concept of drug-resistant bacteria is well understood but equally security measures lose their efficacy as criminals learn about them. Criminals learned to disconnect burglar alarms and to forge passports. Airport security is a constant battle between authorities and terrorists.

Standard tools and measures have their place in raising the bar to protect against amateurs but they may be less effective against professionals.

I do, of course have one layer of standard defence against spam in place. Rather than add another standard tool, I chose to bespoke a defence. Since then, no spam has got through. My log suggests the spam flood itself is over, but my new tool is still logging attacks it has prevented. By policy I'm not going to describe how it works. I don't pretend it's foolproof. It's very effectiveness lies in its novelty. That's the key to security - some of the measures should be unknown and unusual.

Posted by Kate Phizackerley on 13:22

Many business report and proposal writers fail to uappreciate and exploit the subtleties of page layout. If documents are portrait with a single column of text, all sections of the text (other than headings) have the same visual importance. Are your remarks on issues relating to the Bosnian market as important as your penetration of California? Probably not, but visually in most documents they get the same weighting. The main tools at your disposal are emboldened text or capitalisation. Both have their place; neither markup is subtle.

I much prefer portrait layout with either two columns or one central column with broad coloured sidebars. That means content can be outset. A central box of one column width centered on the middle gutter is a great way of highlighting a short, key point. The reader will notice it when reading either column or when just skimming the document. Outset text you want noticed needs to overlap your normal column. Sidebars outside the text, with a low colour contrast (use grey text on a white background for example) can be used for remarks which aren't important. Use the device on every page and many readers will ignore those comments.

If you only have one column, inset a box of a key point. It's less powerful than an outset box across columns, but can still be effective.

If this seems complex, try reviewing a high circulation technical magazine like New Scientist. Watch how the editor uses layout to highlight and increase interest.

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