Comment Posting FAQ

Content and Policies

Q: What can I post?
A: Posts should be on-topic, meaning somewhat related to the content of the page on which they’re posted. They should also be “family friendly”, meaning no language or topic you wouldn’t want a ten-year-old (or someone else might not want their ten-year-old) to see. It’s a site about model trains after all. And no politics or religion please.

Q: Who owns a post, and are there other policies I should be aware of?
A: You own your own words, but by posting them here you’re allowing this site, it’s owner (me), and any successor sites certain rights. See the Contributed Content section of the Policies page for more detail.

Q: I don’t like or agree with your policies.
A: That’s not a question. But if you don’t like them, don’t post. If you think I’m wrong you can always send me email at the address on the About the Site page. I’m not completely immune to persuasion. But ultimately it’s my site, and my opinion of how it should work.

Q: What does the Mark as Inappropriate button on a post do?
A: If you see something that looks like spam or is age-inappropriate (or otherwise violates the policies), click that button and it will be flagged for review. If enough people flag it, the message will be hidden from view and the author will be prevented from editing or deleting it until it is reviewed. Note that this option only exists for authenticated (logged in) users, and the identity of the reporting user will be noted (privately, for my use only). Please don’t use it if you merely disagree with the poster. Abuse of this button won’t be taken lightly.

Q: I don’t see any Mark as Inappropriate button?
A: It is only visible after you login with a valid name/email pair, and only on recent posts by other people (posts that have been there for a while are assumed to have passed review).

Making Comment Posts

Q: How long can a post be?
A: Right now, the limit is set to 5,000 characters. That’s UTF8 characters, so even if you post Japanese, which takes three bytes per character, the limit is still 5,000 visible characters. Of course if you post 5,000 Japanese characters, I’m going to have to use a translator to read it, and those often produce gibberish so I may not understand you. In any case, brevity is a virtue, so don’t post more than you need to.

Q: What does “Post awaiting moderator approval” mean?
A: Posts by Anonymous visitors will only be visible after approval. A poster who has a history of spurious posts may also be set to post this way, but that’s likely not very effective since they could just create another account.

Q: What about “Post reported as inappropriate, awaiting moderator review”?
A: That means more than one person hit your post with the Mark as Inappropriate button (see Policy section above). Feel free to send email to me at the address on the About the Site page explaining your position if you think that’s incorrect (I should be able to figure it out on my own if it was obviously not inappropriate).

Q: I see odd characters in other people’s posts, or other people report seeing odd characters in mine.
A: This website operates using the UTF8 character encoding (which is sometimes described as Unicode since it supports Unicode characters). This covers both the Roman alphabet (in all its variations) and most non-Roman character sets including Japanese. The website also provides the correct identifying information so your browser should recognize that and adapt accordingly. It’s possible your browser only works with a local character encoding (for example, there are several different character encodings used for Japanese that predate UTF8, which are very common on Japanese-language browsers). An encoding mis-match can cause characters to display as question marks. Check your browser’s preferences or the View menu to see if you are set to something else.

Q: Can I edit my postings?
A: Yes, right now editing of your posts is allowed for 24 hours after posting, after that it’s cast in stone. And while you can’t delete a post, you can delete all the text in one during the editing period if you have second thoughts. Note that if it is flagged as inappropriate, editing is no longer possible. After the time limit, if you really don’t want it there drop me an email and I’ll consider removing the content. No promises though, as I don’t like altering what I see as history and I have better uses for my time than doing administrative work on this site. I’d rather play with trains, or write about them, in my limited hobby time.

Q: Can I include links?
A: At present active links can’t be put in the body of a post. That’s mainly to discourage link spam, and I may eventually change my mind on that. You can include a “website address” when you register, and that will be used to turn your name into a link to wherever that URL points. The same address will appear for all your postings though, and is used to locate your Personal Avatar (Pavatar) if you use one. If you change the URL later, it will change for all the old posts too. Please avoid linking to things that don’t qualify as “family friendly” though.

Q: What’s with the small pictures of trains and the checkboxes below them?
A: That’s called a “captcha”, and as that page describes it’s a method for preventing automated “bots” from posting spam. There’s more than one kind of captcha out there, but they all work basically the same way: by presenting something a computer can’t figure out, but a human can, they require human involvement in any posting. That’s not a 100% protection, and it’s an arms-race of sorts as scanners get better and captchas have to get harder, but it drastically reduces the amount of abuse. This particular kind is fairly weak against a directed attack (there are a limited number of images and with time someone could build a dictionary). I can address that by changing the images if it becomes a problem, but for the kind of drive-by spam this site is likely to attract, it’s probably quite robust. I’m just not big enough (in terms of readers who might see spam links) for anyone to take the time.

Q: How does it work?
A: Do you really need to ask? Each image is either a train or something else. Click the checkboxes under the trains, and not under the other things, then hit the “Post” button when you’re ready and it will post your comment. It’s not needed for previewing your post, but if you click the image and preview, it will remember which you clicked. If you wait long enough, the set of images will change, and you’ll need to click the new ones after a preview.

Q: Where did you get the photos?
A: They’re all public domain images off the web, from which I cut out square sections and resized to fit. Most of the train ones were photos I’d previously collected from Wikipedia. I used photos specifically described as public domain ones to avoid any need to credit the creators (which would be hard in this application).

Q: Visual captcha’s aren’t good for people with eyesight problems.
A: Yes, that’s true. I have some ideas for supplementing with audio cues, but that’s going to be an “add later” enhancement.

Q: It says I can’t post, or it just won’t take my post, why?
A: Either the page is older and has a time-based limit, something’s broken, or you abused the site policies severely enough to annoy me. If you can’t post on any page and aren’t getting any useful error message, it’s likely that something’s broken. I suggest waiting a while then trying again. You ought to be getting a message when you try to post if the page is time-locked or if you’ve been locked out. If the latter and you think it’s unfair, drop me a polite email at the address on the About the Site page and we can talk. Impolite email goes in the spam folder. Note: anything that looks like link spam is a good way to wind up on my bad side. I get a fair bit of “your site is wonderful have you tried this (carwax / pharmecutical / as-seen-on-tv-product)?” junkmail. If it ain’t about trains or something related, don’t post here. And if you sell stuff, I’m not in the advertising business so take it elsewhere even if it is about trains.

Q: Are you only allowing comments on the recent Musings (blog) pages?
A: For now, only musings within the time window have comments enabled. I may extend this to some of the other topic pages (without a time limit) after I’ve had a bit more experience with the amount of management it requires (I don’t want to police 100 pages for spam on a regular basis, so I need to see how effective my preventative measures are before I open the floodgates).

Q: How long is that “time window” you mention?
A: Right now you will be able to post on a Musing for two weeks after initial posting of the Musing, but this could change.

Q: I included my URL but I see the link under my name has “rel=nofollow” set on it. That’s kind of rude.
A: Well, yes, it is. I debated that with myself for a while. But there seem to be a fair number of other systems that do the same, and it discourages link spam since people don’t gain any search-engine benefit from posting comments that link back to their sites. Of course legitimate posts also don’t gain that benefit. Ultimately the reason to post here is because you have something to say about this site, not to gain attention for yours, so I came down on the “nofollow” side. I do allow you to provide a URL that humans can follow to your site if they think what you said here was interesting enough to see what else you’ve said.

Identifying Yourself

Q: When I post it shows a country name, what’s up with that?
A: By default that’s the name of the country your IP address is associated with (registered to). That comes from a database (, and ultimately from the IP address registries. Sometimes this isn’t very accurate, and IP addresses can be falsified to an extent, so at best it is an informational comment. If you are registered, you can override this by setting your location (which can be anything within the posting guidelines), however any set locations will always be displayed in quotes whereas IP-based locations are not quoted. Note that an admin can still see the real location.

Q: Do I need to register with this site?
A: No. While this may change, initially there are two ways to post: anonymously and via a name/email pair, which may have a password added. Anonymous posts show the name “Anonymous” and the country associated with the poster’s address, and they log the IP of the poster, but nothing more. Anonymous posts are also hidden until approved by an Administrator. A Name/Email poster “registers” that pair the first time the “Post Comment” button is pressed. After that, the name or email cannot be used for posting unless the other is also given. You can set a password on a name/email pair to create a locally-authenticated name (someone else would need to know your password, rather than just guessing your email, to post as you). I had considered adding OpenID external authentication as well, but that appears fairly complex to implement so it will be a “some future day” feature.

Q: Do I have to provide an email address?
A: Unless you want to post as “Anonymous”, yes. However it won’t be displayed to others and I won’t abuse it.

Q: If I provide an email, can anyone see or learn it?
A: Not by intent, but I’m not running a bank here. I take security seriously, but that doesn’t mean the site can’t be cracked. And in any case my provider has potential access to the data and I have no control over them other than the service contract their lawyers wrote. One thing to be aware of though is that Gravatars, while fairly secure, are based on a hash of the email address that’s visible on the page (to someone who looks at the HTML) and it’s possible to guess the email if you use an obvious name and domain and use the hash to confirm that you guessed right. Some tests on this performed by others managed to discover about 10% of email addresses for people who used Gravatars, so if you’re really concerned don’t use them, particularly not if your email is based on the same name you post under and/or you use a popular email provider.

Q: If I register, are you going to send me spam?
A: No. Any provided email address will be used purely for identification, site management (i.e., if I need to contact you for reasons related to your use of the site or report illegal or harassing behavior) or to support opt-in features you select (like being notified of posts) if and when I have any of those. Otherwise, email addresses will never be used or provided to third parties. There aren’t any opt-in features today, and if I add any they’ll really be opt-in (you would have to turn them on) and you’ll be able to turn them off again.

Q: If I post anonymously then create a name/email pair, will my old posts show up with the new name?
A: No. Anonymous really is anonymous. I can probably match up the old posts with the new name if you post from the same IP address, but unless you do something really annoying, I can’t see myself making the effort.

Q: That seems open to abuse.
A: Perhaps, but the fact that anonymous posts are hidden limits the abuse to annoying me, and I can cope with that. If it becomes a real problem, I’ll disable anonymous posting.

Q: Just using a name/email pair seems insecure.
A: It is, although someone would need to guess your email. However, you can easily set a password if you want: after posting your message, some editing fields become visible and you can use those to change the name, email address, avatar type, website, location or password.

Q: Can I change my name?
A: Yes, although the new name has to be unique. Your messages are actually tracked with an internal ID, so you can change your name and it will change for every posting you’ve made across my site. Just enter the current name and email, press the “Validate” or “Login” button (or be logged in automatically when you post), and then edit the “Update User Name” field and press the “Update User Name” button.

Q: What “Update User Name” button? I don’t see one.
A: You have to login (or be validated as a side effect of posting) with a valid name/email pair first. If you did that, but the controls don’t appear, it’s likely because you did something to annoy me and I turned off your ability to modify your entry.

Q: What characters are allowed in a name?
A: Letters (including Unicode, not just the Roman alphabet), numbers, and spaces. It may not begin or end with a space.

Q: How long can a name be?
A: A name may be up to 32 characters in length (that’s visible characters, not bytes; some unicode characters take multiple bytes per character).

Q: What characters are allowed in a password?
A: Just about anything (including unicode allowed by the UTF8 specification, which covers most non-Roman characters) except control characters, angle brackets, slashes and quotes. Passwords must be at least 8 characters and at most 20 characters.

Q: What do I enter for Old Password the first time I create one?
A: Leave that field blank if you have a name/address pair and are adding a password. Just remember to type the new password in both “new” fields” (“New” and “Re-enter”).

Q: Can I change my Email, URL, etc?
A: Yes, the same way the name can be changed. Note that you can only update one thing at a time. In other words, if you change the User Name and Email fields, and press the “New User Name” button, it will ignore the new email and update your entry to use the new user name with the old email address. Then you can change the email field and press the “New Email Address” button to update that as a second change.

Q: It won’t accept my URL.
A: Don’t forget to put “http://“ or “https://“ on the front. It needs to be a complete URL, not just a domain name. Also, parameters aren’t allowed after the domain name (subdirectories are, so for example “” would be valid, but “” would not.


Q: What is an Avatar? And what the heck is a Gravatar or a Pavatar?
A: It’s not an SF movie. An “avatar” is a small icon (image) you use to identify yourself. This site supports two kinds at present: A Gravatar, which stands for “globally recognized avatar”, is an image stored on, typically as an 80 pixel by 80 pixel image that’s accessed by a (somewhat secure) hash of your email address. A Personal Avatar, or “Pavatar” is an image you store on your own website (obviously this only works if you have a website) in a certain place (see for further info). In both cases, the image will be resized to 40 by 40 pixels for display here. Avatars can be graphics (like icons) or photographs. Keep it PG (the “10-year-old” rule again) please.

Q: How do they work?
A: For a Gravatar, the email address you provide is hashed using MD5 and sent to their server, if it recognizes the hash it returns your Gravatar, otherwise it returns a placeholder image (one of several, at present I use the “identicon” version which are the blocky graphics things). For a Pavatar, you supply a website address (URL) and on it in a specific place there is an image file which I fetch and save locally, displaying the local copy as needed (to reduce load on your website), and periodically (weekly) re-check for a new copy on yours.

Q: Why do you support both?
A: Some people don’t like Gravatars because it requires them to provide an email address and have a hash of it sent to a third party. Although Pavatars aren’t perfect (they require you to have your own website and provide a URL to it), they do provide an alternative.

Q: Can I have a Pavatar without putting the URL in as a link from my name?
A: No.

Q: I want an avatar, but I don’t have a website of my own or a Gravatar. Are you going to allow locally-stored avatar images?
A: That’s not very likely, as Gravatar seems to work just fine, and it’s free. By the way, if you don’t have a Gravatar now, you can still select that option and create one later if you want. By default, if you don’t have a registered image on but you don’t disable use of gravatars by selecting something else, your hashed email will be used to get a placeholder image (something they call an identicon) from Once you register an image under that email address, all past references will use the new image. And if you don’t select it now, you can add it later and all existing posts you have made will display the new image.

Q: I provided a link to an Avatar, but I see a slashed circle instead.
A: That’s the “missing avatar” image, which gets used if you didn’t supply all the info needed to find your avatar. It gets used if you selected Gravatar (the default) but didn’t provide an email address or if you selected Pavatar but didn’t provide a website URL (or if you did, but it wasn’t set up properly with a pavatar image).

The “missing avatar” avatar
image creator: Mohamed Ibrahim (via
Status: Public Domain

Q: I provided a link to an Avatar, but all I see is a broken chain.
A: That’s the image that gets displayed if the link to a Personal Avatar (pavatar) image didn’t work, but ought to. It can also happen if the image failed the tests for image size or file type defined by the standard and was rejected. Or perhaps you renamed the file or your website refused access. Note that because we negatively cache failures for the full time recommended by the Pavatar specification, if the icon isn’t available when we first try it will be a week before another check is made. If you think it should work, send me email at the address on the About the Site page and we’ll try to figure out what’s wrong.

The “broken link” avatar
image creator: Truth Unleashed (via
Status: Public Domain

Q: I provided a link to an Avatar, but all I see is the default image.
A: You’ll see this if you selected “no avatar”. Otherwise, most likely I disabled your avatar for policy reasons (e.g., it didn’t fit my definition of “PG”) or it was an animated GIF. I really hate animated graphics of all kinds. If you think it should work, send me email at the address on the About the Site page and we’ll try to figure out what’s wrong. Note: if using a Pavatar, the URL used to find it is the one you provide for your website, so you need to have the necessary header, link or file there.

The “no avatar” avatar
image creator: me
Status: I release this to the public domain.
Note: this took all of five minutes to create; it’s two overlapping gray circles, one of 120-pixel radius and one of 40-pixel radius (before resizing from 80 pixels).

Q: I’m not seeing any of those, but I’m not seeing my Avatar either.
A: Most likely I passed what I thought was a good URL to the browser, but it wasn’t and the browser substituted its own “missing image” placeholder. This can happen if the Gravatar server is offline for some reason.

Q: I changed my Pavatar image on my site, but you’re still displaying the old one!
A: At the moment I follow the simple rule in the specification of caching images for a week, rather than doing something more sophisticated with expiration dates. The new one will be picked up a week after the last time I checked.

Q: I don’t want a silly avatar image.
A: There’s no way to turn it off entirely, but if you don’t want to use a Gravatar you can select “None” after posting your first message. You’ll still get a default black silhouette though, but it’s local and no third-party site is used to access it.

Q: What kind of Avatar do you use?
A: On this site, I’m using my Personal Avatar (Pavatar), a photo of a Yamanote line E231. The original image is public domain.

The “Sumida Crossing” E231 avatar
Photographer: Sui-Setz (via wikipedia)
Status: Public Domain