New commenting system

Well, I have now plumbed in a primitive commenting system.

There are some restrictions on account of PHP/MySQL badgery being my fulltime job, so working on my site is more like work than play now, so I can't be bothered to make it more sophisticated.

  • There is no registration system. Currently you just put whatever name you like in.
    • Except "sam", which is reserved for me.
  • No HTML. Line breaks will be interpreted as line breaks. If you want to emphasise something, put it in *asterisks* or _underscores_ or CAPITALS. HTML input sanitisation is unbelievably complex.
  • A certain prerequisite amount of mathematical knowledge is required to post.
  • Posts cannot be edited or deleted by anybody but me, so make sure you get it right first time.
  • I reserve the right to delete any and all comments at any time without warning or explanation, because this is not a democracy or a free speech zone, it's my website. Comments must meet a certain threshold of coherence and insight to be approved, dig?
  • As for now comments are only permitted on this page and the Fine Structure story pages, which is where I think people are most desperate to start a discussion.

Play nice and I may see fit to implement further toys.

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Discussion (109)

2008-04-23 21:19:32 by qntm:

This administration will not tolerate prattlin'.

2008-04-23 21:49:40 by Stark:

Nice - and about time too. I feel your pain on the idea of HTML sanitisation. And I love the anti-spam question.

2008-04-23 21:59:10 by Crane:

I just had to try it to see what the antispam question was...

2008-04-23 22:09:26 by Rob:

"A certain prerequisite amount of mathematical knowledge is required to post."

I never made it past Calc II but I find your site very intriguing, does that count?

2008-04-23 22:17:35 by Treblemaker:

So, why don't you want any electrical engineers to post here?

2008-04-23 22:34:17 by qntm:

Mathematics and Electrical Engineering are simply different languages. Things Of Interest is written in Mathematics. EEngs may have to learn a little Mathematics to get along here, but not too much.

Seriously though, screw those guys

2008-04-23 23:44:12 by Alice:

That's innovative, certainly.

HTDTE is loved by my gaming group ^^


2008-04-23 23:48:51 by GSC:

Heh, love the anti-spam question. Also, love the fact that a comment system now exists.

But why are you making a comment system when you should be writing more Fine Structure stories? Go write more Fine Structure stories.

2008-04-23 23:51:15 by Alexei:

Much approval, though the amount of complicated and totally off-the-mark theories I expect to see on the "Fine Structure" page terrifies me. I've just come from looking at same in Portal (the "protagonist is a clone/android designed as part of an elaborate suicide scheme" is a favourite) and am amazed at human inventiveness and ability to form hypotheses without evidence.

2008-04-24 00:35:12 by Thrack:

Ha! I need to know imaginary numbers to post. How fun.
I like this new addition to the website, now I can comment on Fine Structure without leaving the website. :)

2008-04-24 00:48:44 by Dannii:

Oohhh comments :o

2008-04-24 01:04:36 by psychofoggy:

Great website, great fiction.

2008-04-24 01:41:26 by BenTheFirst:

That's easily the coolest spam question ever. Also, GSC is right. i've been reading the blog over at pozorvlak about Fine Structure, and it's a lot more complex than I thought. Please write more... Not sure what I could do for you in return, but I'm a qualified mechanic as well as a trainee financial adviser... maybe I could take a look at your car/taxes?

2008-04-24 04:33:54 by Randall:

Bah, you call this a cool math CAPTCHA? I saw one somewhere that made you do integrals! Seriously, go and look for it; it was awesome. (I can't find a link at the moment, unfortunately.)

2008-04-24 04:36:53 by Randall:

OK, here we go; I want to see you one-up these guys, Sam:

2008-04-24 04:38:58 by Randall:

Oh, and I probably should have said something about how awesome your writing is, blah blah blah. But since all that goes without saying, I chose not to say it.

2008-04-24 04:40:58 by Grammar Guy:

"Posts cannot be edited or deleted by anybody but me, so make sure you get it right first time."

Ahem, don't you mean "right the first time"?

Sorry, the irony was overwhelming.

PS: I enjoy your writing.

2008-04-24 06:05:30 by BenTheFirst:

Also, the missing Fine Structure story that is in Fiction is the Four-And-A-Halfth Planet.

I think... at least, the reference to Adrian makes me think so.

2008-04-24 06:42:15 by James:

Just esting something with the spam question.

2008-04-24 06:43:12 by Crane:

Mild Lack of Relevance Alert:
Randall? WOOO XKCD!?

...this site actually lead me to XKCD, so that's a plus.

2008-04-24 07:13:19 by Mike:

So I hope this means there's a new chapter in Fine Structure coming soon, one you expect will generate a lot of discussion...

2008-04-24 07:51:30 by bob:

I don't think the sanitizing system could be that hard (but I don't know much about PHP, and haven't really wrote in it much) but PHP's strip_tags function seems like the easiest option to do, I just hope you haven't gone and done some crazy regex shit!

2008-04-24 08:10:16 by BleuFeenix:

Finally a commenting system, cant wait for the next Fine Structure. Kinda discriminatory to the mathematically illiterate, but I guess it would be kinda necessary when every other comment could be a person asking for the story in layman's terms....

2008-04-24 08:22:23 by zite:

please write more. please.

2008-04-24 09:16:13 by Seb:

I'm another of those people who wanted to see the spam filter, but if this gets through I knew the answer more through trivia than understanding.
I kind of get that a single unit (positive or negative) is itself, but why /that/ symbol for negative one's? Perhaps it doesn't matter and I'm just getting bogged in details.

2008-04-24 09:16:17 by Jymbob:


In a sort of response to bob's post above, I really hope you _are_ planning on using some crazy regexing to allow some form of markup. IIRC, phpBB systems tend to use pseudo-html in square brackets. That way you can match anything you've set and disregard everything else. Nice and clean.

Also matching [a-zA-Z]+:// etc is always fun...

2008-04-24 11:09:07 by Mouse:

I love this system and Fine Structure, and that only people that know math can post. Yay elitism! Keep up the good work.

2008-04-24 12:01:54 by CoreyB:

Interesting anit-spam. Always loved your ingenuity.

2008-04-24 12:06:49 by t_P:

The only thing that would make it better is to make it embedded but that's just me nitpicking... Good job.

2008-04-24 12:56:21 by Knut:

Great job with the commenting system. Now you just have to add it to "Unbelievable scenes" so i can post all the reasons why it is the story missing from Fine Structure.

2008-04-24 13:41:15 by Versus:

Crane: It's the other way round for me - I discovered this site through a link in the Xkcd-Forums.
Oops, mild lack of relevance here too...

2008-04-24 14:12:52 by PegLegPete:

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

2008-04-24 15:39:12 by html lol:

how fucking hard is it?

preg_replace(array("##"), array("<", ">"), $comment);

2008-04-24 15:39:57 by html lol:

okay, well, your system totally fucked up my comment.

preg_replace(array("#[#", "#]#"), array("<", ">"), $comment);

Pretend [ and ] are actually the correct braces.

2008-04-24 16:21:13 by qntm:

Actually I'm using strip_tags() to remove the actual properly formatted HTML so that people don't end up with extraneous <p> tags all over the place. *Stripping out* HTML is a piece of cake. *Sanitising* it, i.e. making sure people are only allowed to use correct HTML which doesn't damage the site, is complex.

2008-04-24 17:02:07 by Chris:

Long overdue.

Although, now with all these other people "here", coming here is no longer like going to that awesome "hole in the wall" restaurant that only you know about...

Mainly just curious to see your captcha...

2008-04-24 17:04:29 by Chris:

Clever, but unfortunately, all it would take is one hacker who wanted to spam your forums creating a bot that just entered the answer into the textbox since the question never changes.

Also, you can find the answer to the question by typing the question into Google...

2008-04-24 19:43:06 by Lizardman:

 More stories please! :D

2008-04-24 20:29:27 by Erik the Red:

Keep up the good work!

And yes, this site has more traffic than I thought it did. No offense. I, too, thought it was more of a niche... I guess the niche is just larger than I believed.

2008-04-24 21:21:31 by Evan:

Apparently, ' Sam' is allowed by anyone yet looks like 'Sam' :-)

2008-04-24 21:34:23 by qntm:


2008-04-24 22:35:50 by Ghassan:

Well. This is nice. :)

2008-04-24 22:45:58 by Caleb the Awesome:

@Erik: Same here. I thought I was a lonely qntm fan all alone, but I see there are loads! Hi everyone!

Glad to hear from you Sam, was starting to get worried those crazy people who sent you the paranoia-inducing email had gotten you!

2008-04-24 23:03:14 by Marie:

Pretty cool! I have to add my name to the ranks of people surprised by the amount of traffic. The more the merrier, I suppose!

2008-04-25 02:31:02 by Chronon:

This is fairly cool.

2008-04-25 02:53:47 by HAL 9000:

I'm ashamed to say that I actually had to google it. still in high school, haven't done imaginary numbers yet.

2008-04-25 02:56:57 by Mustermann:

Awesome, the anti-spam question, the site, the writing, all of it.

Just one thing has been bugging me, this comment may be completely out of place, about your excellent Half Life time line.
Correct me if I am wrong, but does not the diary entry for March 15th in the Opposing Force manual say that "We were told today to be ready *in case* it happens tomorrow" meaning that the Resonance Cascade does not necessarily have to happen the very next day?
Unless I have missed something, I do not think there is additional information that can confirm or deny that the Resonance Cascade happens on the 16th.
Obviously it would facilitate your chronicling if it did happen the next day, but it is just a thought.

2008-04-25 03:42:46 by Randall:

Re: Crane

Sorry, no. Though one time I had someone I just met tell me that my site was down; that he thought I could be that Randall was sort of flattering.

2008-04-25 10:24:29 by RB:


Firstly, I just have to say that I am really enjoying the Fine Structures series. I'm on a Universiy placement in The Netherlands at the moment and have whiled a large portion of time on this site.

I like the idea of the anti spam question and am all in favour of such elitism, however, in support of those like HAL 9000, what about those who have not studied imaginary numbers yet, but who have an interest in Mathematics, Science and Science-Fiction, and may one day become phenomenal Mathemeticians, Engineers or Scientists? Or is it just a ploy to accellerate their learning with some help from Google if they want to comment?

Awesome, keep it up.

2008-04-25 14:10:17 by Ben:

Sweet, finally get to add comments.

2008-04-25 16:33:48 by Cory:

Great! Hurrah! now you get to see how many of us losers check this site constantly ;)

My anti-spam question is ambiguous: do you want i or -i?

2008-04-25 18:31:23 by ehird:

> My anti-spam question is ambiguous: do you want i or -i?

It's more ambigious, actually - since it's undefined.

2008-04-25 18:49:32 by Val:

Nice commenting system.
Congrats, Sam.

2008-04-25 18:50:21 by Val:

Just posted again to see some other questions..

2008-04-25 18:50:46 by Val:

But I hope it will change sooner or later :)

2008-04-25 21:13:41 by Vitronus:

Well, this is cool. Have you considered a forum?

2008-04-25 22:16:50 by David:

So, this is cool.

You and Mr. Munroe should get together and do a stick-figure SF epic.

2008-04-25 22:51:24 by JsD:

Ooh, nifty!
Wait . . . ICARUS?!

2008-04-25 22:56:28 by Thomas:

Need more jawsome scifi :O

2008-04-25 23:49:25 by A.:

At long last! A commenting system!

2008-04-25 23:51:17 by artanis:

Sweet. I was hoping for this for quite a while, glad you got around to it.

I'll have to check the story pages later and see what discussion has appeared.

2008-04-26 03:51:58 by Andrew:

Long live the comment system! Also, congratulations on having the first math-based captcha (that I've seen so far)

Mine: the square root of minus one

2008-04-26 04:58:18 by Ardis:

As a board certified lurker commenting is an extremely rare experience but I just had to add my support to the chorus.

2008-04-26 05:14:38 by Piers Rippey:

What was the part about the certain degree of coherence and insight? I must have missed it.

2008-04-26 05:32:58 by BleuFeenix:

Sorry, I don't mean to ruin the fun, but should I mention that I haven't even finished high school yet, and that I just barely passed my last maths test?

(I only got 55 or 58%)

2008-04-26 05:33:58 by BleuFeenix:

I mean if even I pass the little test then....

2008-04-26 07:13:42 by Rob:

"Mild Lack of Relevance Alert:
Randall? WOOO XKCD!?

...this site actually lead me to XKCD, so that's a plus."

XKCD actually led me to this site, xD

2008-04-26 07:45:58 by zite:

I think reddit lead me to both.

2008-04-26 14:36:04 by Cory:

> It's more ambigious, actually - since it's undefined.

Nonsense! It's most certainly defined in C. You're using the wrong set!!

2008-04-26 16:43:27 by Paul:

I am currently failing High School Pre-calculus... I feel like I no longer have a right to visit here. D:

2008-04-26 21:37:39 by flo:

awesome question, awesome story

2008-04-26 23:40:26 by Jay:

I'm so glad this was implemented. Oh, and I wonder if the "Randall" posting on this page is actually xkcd masquerading around with his real name.

2008-04-27 01:53:09 by Alvin:

I love your site, and your writing, and the comment system is a plus as well. Great job!(By the way, wouldn't it make more sense to have the "save" button read "submit" or "post"?)

2008-04-27 04:16:06 by Ian:

I'm just wondering what you define as "spam." My definition would vary from yours, obviously, if you decided this comment was spam. But then if you did decide that this comment was spam, then the anti-spam question loses its purpose. Then again, you never did call it an anti-spam question.

2008-04-27 10:33:28 by dude:

jsut wanted to see the tough math question =)

keep it up!

2008-04-27 16:50:28 by Andrew:

Wait, there's only one captcha for every post? How remarkably lame (and also defeating the purpose of a captcha in the first place)

2008-04-27 21:47:19 by rjolly:

Why losing time with php and html when you have ? Just to have a blog that looks different ?

2008-04-28 00:18:02 by qntm:

The main purpose in demanding "i" is to foil the stupid auto-commenting bots which roam the internet in search of unguarded free text boxes to jam porn links into. Any sufficiently determined person could probably write a bot to defeat any dynamic (even mathematical) CAPTCHA which I was capable of creating myself, and I find the best way to avoid *that* scenario is to simply avoid making enemies.

And as for why not using Wordpress: it can't do the things I wanted it to, importing all my content proved to be stupidly difficult on several levels, and quite frankly how much does one learn about PHP and MySQL by simply pushing buttons on a ready-made web interface? The easier something is, the less you learn. I actually owe my current job to skills I acquired while developing this site.

2008-04-28 04:16:52 by Andrew:

I suppose there's also something clever to be had in the notion that "i think, therefore i post"

2008-04-28 05:49:55 by BenTheFirst:

That's really awesome - nothing better than a job that grows from a hobby.

As K'ung-fu-tzu said, "Find a job you love, and you'll never work a day in your life"

2008-04-28 06:41:07 by BleuFeenix:

Since when does Sam have a job? I must've missed that post...

2008-04-28 13:38:04 by Chrismo:

Admittedly, curiosity got the better of me, and I wanted to see if it would accept -i. I guess we'll find out.

Nice comment system, Sam - hope the job is treating you well!


2008-04-29 00:58:24 by Mick:

Finally! Now, off to Fine Structure, where I can babble inanely!

2008-04-29 09:22:46 by Szam:

Thanks for the comment system. But thanks even more for the stories.

2008-04-30 07:21:57 by atomicthumbs:

Neat O.

2008-04-30 07:22:33 by atomicthumbs:

Here's a good idea for a tagline, up near the top:

"More complicated than Donnie Darko"

2008-04-30 07:47:49 by atomicthumbs:

HAL 9000: I'm a sophomore in a US public school and haven't done imaginary numbers, but I still new it.

I guess I'm a geek :P

2008-05-01 00:56:09 by Jim Miles:

Jesus, you've got about 87 more readers than I thought.

I shall take this opportunity to be the first person to point out that j and k are valid answers to the anti-spam question too, if we take the usual conventions for quaternion notation. We can be even more smugly flippant if we extend to the octonions as well, but now I'm just showing off that I too have a Maths degree...

2008-05-01 11:38:02 by Anonymous:

Just thought i'd drop a comment and inform you that some random dude on the internet dude enjoys reading what you write.

Well, there you go.

2008-05-02 00:23:44 by Ngamer:

Sam, I'm of the opinion that any comment replies you make should be highlighted in yellow.

2008-05-02 22:15:02 by qntm:

Done. Good thinking, Batman. (Ngamer.)

2008-05-04 01:54:07 by MGargantua:

I rather liked the _ in M_Gargantua. You just had to disable that didn't you? I feel naked without it.

2008-05-04 03:51:39 by Dannii:

Sam, I think using the same yellow as you have elsewhere in your site would be better than the css yellow.

2008-05-06 16:01:26 by anon:

This actually disappoints me somewhat. It's like when you're walking around an art gallery, enjoying the paintings, and suddenly you start to notice other people looking at them too, and not only that, but they're talking and it *grates*, and suddenly all this art becomes mere colourful smudges on a canvas as the illusion that it's a private moment between yourself and the artist has now been shattered.

Such a hypocrite I am.

2008-05-08 20:21:36 by Jsor:

Don't mind me, just posting for the sake of posting. I'd put out a "like your writing" or something but 'm already here so it's kinda a given...

2008-05-11 04:57:01 by DaStevez:

I must say, Sam, I'm quite impressed by your collection these days.

Glad to know life is good for you and keep up the good work.

2008-05-12 01:32:25 by SamRHughes:

Now I can grace this website with my presence, too?

2008-05-14 05:51:43 by Artanis:

Suggestion: Add a comments RSS, and/or a page where all the articles with comments and articles that can have comments are shown like topics in a web forum.

2008-05-15 22:46:33 by Alex:


2008-05-16 22:06:45 by Nathan:

Loving the site, just stumbled upon the earth-destroying article

2008-05-19 17:40:21 by G:


2008-05-25 06:20:41 by Zoa:

Oh, this is neat!

2008-06-04 06:19:27 by R:


2008-07-12 20:07:46 by Winkrometer:

I'd like to add comments to the "World's Largest Numbers" pages in Mathematics. The "Exploding Array Function" doesn't get large nearly fast enough for my taste, and it's complexity is quite high. I can easily write a function which is both easier to understand and explodes faster, though it obviously sacrifices even more precision for scope.

2011-05-05 19:26:57 by ebenezer:

Really? *Nice...*

2011-05-14 17:15:25 by David:

I just want to test the comment system :)

2011-10-12 17:47:33 by Sann:

i am not sam but am trying to pretend to be

2012-03-21 21:52:23 by Sarn:

I think "Sarn" looks closer to "Sam" than "Sann" does.

2017-06-24 14:00:01 by allah: