Creative Web Programming

September 1st, 2011 • Comments Off • (sticky)

Berto’s Web can implement custom web design and make it look and feel the way you want.  We understand the finer points of design and the complexities of web development.  Berto’s Web is part of BertoGraphics, our design and illustration enterprise.

We develop web sites with dynamic content, e-commerce solutions and sophisticated back-end programming for custom applications.

We take pride in pixel-perfect, cross-browser-compatible layouts and user-friendly programming for content management, online sales and client relations.

Our custom services are scalable to your specific needs. Contact us for a free quote to help you get started.

Those Ubiquitous Bots

February 24th, 2012 • 0 comments

In all my years of designing and developing sites for the web, one phenomenon has me more amazed than the rest: the prevalence of “bots,” those annoying automated programs that cause havoc for web users and programmers all over the internet.

Bots are designed for all sorts of purposes, and some of them can be useful — like the crawlers that index websites for search engines to publish.  But the irritating ones I am referring to are those whose designed intent is either malicious or, at the very least, a nuisance to website owners and developers.

These parasitic programs are all over the web, filling out forms and collecting email addresses. Bots can seek out all sorts of online forms — like comments on WordPress pages — and populate them with gibberish, or perhaps vaguely pertinent content, solely for the purpose of creating a link back to their own desired website. They can also use contact forms to send their own spam emails.

Why all this nonsense? Once installed and running, bots work continuously, quickly, and for free. The link generators are intended to achieve a better page ranking on Google for the site they link to. (See my page on search engines.) And the email-related bots are intended to help create more spam for your inbox.

Fortunately, we developers have techniques to thwart the form-fillers. I hesitate to publish my techniques for stopping the form-filling bots, because their creators eventually get hip to these techniques and design ways around them. And you can thank your ISP or email program for its spam filter. Spam filters routinely cull out an average of 1,000 emails per person per week from email inboxes. (Can you believe it?)

The challenge keeps increasing as new bots are developed and deployed, and web developers must constantly keep one step ahead of this growing annoyance.


December 15th, 2011 • 0 comments

Just for fun, some travel movies.

Don’t Freak Out

November 15th, 2011 • 5 comments

After all this talk about who could be snooping in on you while you innocently surf the web, there’s really no reason to go running scared. Just use common sense. Not much of real relevance about your personal identity can actually be gleaned as you browse, but it’s important to remember that whatever you fill out on a form, or publish on your social-networking site, effectively could become public information.

So keep that social security number, driver’s licence number or bank account number safe.  (The same goes for those pictures of you partying madly.) But don’t be afraid to make purchases online, do your banking on the web, or make bids on auction sites. (I do it all the time.) Just be certain you know who you’re working with.

If you still need more detailed information about web security, try this link from Google: That ought to cover it for you.

Ethical Considerations for Programmers

October 18th, 2011 • 0 comments

In this video, Damon Horowitz calls for a “moral operating system” for programmers. Interestingly, a show of hands indicates that many web developers prefer more privacy controls than they usually include in their own applications. Take a look…


Filter Bubbles?

October 5th, 2011 • 3 comments

Search engine optimization has just gotten more complex.  “Filter bubbles” now make it so that Google results and other site search results have become more personalized, and less consistent across the web. (And that’s not all.) See this astonishing video:


How Do They Know Where I Am?

September 27th, 2011 • 1 comment

You’re surfing the web, and without warning, some ad appears, remarkably targeted to your geographic location. How do they know? Don’t worry; it’s not that big a deal.

It’s Just Your IP Address.

Yes, that ubiquitous number – mentioned in the previous post, the IP address – is where “they” get that information. Every machine on a network (like the web) gets one: every website, every destination, every one sending or receiving I’s and O’s.  This configuration…

…amounts to some 4.6 billion possible combinations of numbers.  When you look up a website, you’re actually accessing space on one of these connected computers by means of a number like this, cross-referenced by the address you’re looking up.

Your own computer is assigned a number like this by your ISP (Internet Service Provider: cable, DSL, or dial-up service, for instance). Sometimes, they cycle their numbers, so you may or may not always get the exact same number assigned to your computer. But in all cases, it can easily be determined where your ISP is located. Sites such as demonstrate this facility.

So, who keeps tabs on where all these numbers are assigned? Google, of course. (And they give that information away for free; it’s pretty useful stuff for site analytics, for instance.)

What If I Don’t Want to Be Found?

It is possible to contract with some services to get your Internet connection to go through a proxy – a substitute IP address that looks like you’re surfing from somewhere across the globe – but really, why bother? There are a few ways we programmers can get “behind” the proxy to your actual IP address anyway. If you really don’t want to be found, you may as well change your name, move somewhere else and get out of the phone book. (Good luck with that…)

Is It Really Safe to Browse the Web?

September 21st, 2011 • 2 comments

What kind of information about me is being bandied about while I surf here and there? Do they know who I am?

The answer to the safety question is yes, and no. Surfing the web is a lot like driving on the Interstate. You can be recognized because your car is of a certain make, model and year, and it has certain markings. Most other drivers know you only by the car you drive.

Like identifying your car, a website can gather a fair bit of data about your computer. The box below shows real data about your machine (try it on a different computer, and see how it changes):

Scary? A site can collect this information and store it as a kind of “fingerprint” with a fair degree of specificity. But as you can see, it’s all about your computer; it’s not about you.  If we were storing information about your computer’s fingerprint (we’re not), we could also tell you how many times you have been to this page before, or track what links you click on our site.

Another way to identify your unique computer is to set a “cookie” – a little code that can be sent to, stored within, and retrieved from your browser.  Cookies carry no information within themselves other than that they are unique. They can be extremely useful, such as when you want to stay logged in to an account on a trusted site – like when you are shopping online, for instance. Compared to the computer fingerprint, the cookie is more reliable, and more of an above-board approach. You can erase your browser’s cookies whenever you want.

So, What’s Being Done With This Information?

A site can not gather any of your personal information, unless you give it to them willingly (or they obtain it from others who have it). This is why privacy statements are everywhere on the web. They outline just how much a site is willing to share your information with other parties. Read them. They are intended to protect the company who wrote them, not necessarily to protect your information.

Back to the Interstate metaphor: your car also displays a licence number, which a cop can look up in his/her on-board computer and determine who you are, because it has been cross-referenced to your personal infomation.  The average person is not privy to that information, but given the right authority those details can be obtained.

Who Is Cross-Referencing My Unique Computer Fingerprint with My Personal Information?

Hmm. Probably more people than you would care to know. Any time you fill out a form online, you are taking the risk that someone may share that information with another, and once that information is attached to the unique fingerprint of your computer, they know who you are. but they can only track that from within their own site.  It’s not as if you are being tracked everywhere (unless your computer is infected with spyware, the type of thing that tracks your clicks and sometimes even your keystrokes; always make sure your computer is free of spyware and malware).

Is It Really That Bad?

Probably not. Actually things aren’t much different than they were before the web, it’s just that information moves a lot faster now. Any time you bought something from a mail-order catalog, you were bound to receive tons of other catalogs from companies who procured your mailing address. With all this snooping, you will most likely see yourself become better targeted by ads or spam as time goes on.

A Caveat

Freely distributing certain information like credit card numbers is prohibited by law. So for the most part, your privacy is legally protected for such sensitive stuff. Still, it is possible (though difficult) to “tap-in” on an internet connection, so any time you are entering anything as sensitive as that, be sure the page is secure.  If “https:” is at the beginning of the web address, anyone surreptitiously listening in on the line would receive only encrypted gobbledygook. Never enter something like credit card or bank information without that “https” in the address.

As in the “real” world, you should be careful with whom you share your sensitive information. Check the site’s security, read those privacy statements, and know who’s sharing what.

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