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april 2004

giddy like a school boy, angry like a hornet

giddy like a school boy has moved to our editor's personal site.

-- angry --

Last week, my old ISP started rejecting mail from my own domain as "SPAM," for the third time in a year.

This isn't because I'm a spammer, this is because for various geeky reasons, I preferred to read all mail sent to my domain via my ISP account. Incoming mail to, say, would get forwarded to my other account, and I'd read it there. That meant that a certain amount of spam was forwarded, and last week when I finally talked to someone knowledgable (thanks, Keith) on my ISP's technical team, I learned that certain amount was so much that mail from my domain was the second largest single source of spam hitting their servers. In light of that information, the fact that they blocked mail from me suddenly seemed quite reasonable, even though all that spam was going to a single user and not impacting their other customers.

The first practical upshot is that I'm ditching the old ISP account -- it was handy to keep the same e-mail address for several years, but it's not worth the $600 a year it's costing me, especially if it's going to be so unreliable.

The second practical upshot is that I'm now directly faced with the ineffectiveness of my spam control measures, and the sheer overwhelming mass of incoming spam. I've been running SpamAssassin and thought it was doing a pretty good job, since it was catching about 160 messages per day. (Calculator check: about one every 9 minutes). But it turns out that SpamAssassin was catching less than half of the messages (one every 3 minutes), and sending the rest on to my poor former ISP.

I lost a whole friggin' billable day upgrading to the latest version of SpamAssassin, which supports Bayesian filtering (google "bayesian filtering"), which I still hope will help. (Turns out I had to update a lot of other software besides SpamAssassin itself, and the experience reinforced my contention that UNIX documentation is deliberately designed to be as unusable as possible.)

Never mind the fact that it's only this morning that it hits me I shoulda written a Perl script to extract spam and non-spam mails into the individual files required to train SpamAssassin, and that I've been aggravating my tendonitis/carpal whatever typing repetitive command strings thousands of times. For that I can only be angry at my own stupidity.

The crux here is that to train SpamAssassin's Bayesian mode, I'm sposed to collect a minimum of 1000 each spam and non-spam messages. And despite the fact that I'm on several high-volume mailing lists, get legitimate press releases from many bands, promoters, and labels, and have chatty bandmates, after a week I've had over 3000 spams and roughly 600 non-spams. Check it: 80% of my mail is spam. I'm paying for that bandwidth. I'm losing billable hours every day dealing with the torrent. Bzzzz! I am hornet-mad!

It makes me even angrier to learn that one of the major spammers is a white power activist.

I am also none too keen on the CAN-SPAM act of 2003, which gives "legit" spammers too much leeway, but the bulk of the spam is not compliant with the act.

This reinforces my opinion that most of the time, legislative solutions to problems posed by technology are a bad idea. I think social and economic solutions make more sense.

The real problem with spam is that it's profitable.

The costs of sending spam are increasing, because fewer ISPs will tolerate spammers, and because filtering is getting better.

If people would just stop buying things or visiting web sites advertised by spam, then the spammers would be out of business quick.

(Warning: segue back to copyright and IP issues.)

Back when I was in college, people used to have movie copying parties. People would bring two or more VCRs and stacks of tapes, and hook them all together and spend several hours dubbing illegal copies of movies.

Back when I was about to go to college, MPAA head Jack Valenti made an infamous remark about the VCR (google valenti boston strangler), but when Star Wars was originally released on VHS, the suggested retail price was $99 (in 80s money).

Now, new-release DVDs are often less than $20, and people are buying so many DVDs that Blockbuster has a whole ad campaign aimed at getting people to rent instead.

I think there are two primary reasons for this.

  1. There are technical barriers to copying DVDs: Moving them over the Internet takes a lot of bandwidth, DVD-writers are not ubiquitous, you need a giz-widget to defeat the Macrovision copy protection.
  2. But more importantly, the value proposition is low. Why spend hours copying a DVD when you can just buy it for $12 or so? The movie industry eventually learned this about VHS tapes: if the cost of the movie isn't all the much more than the price of the blank tape, and takes less effort, it makes more sense to buy the movie. The movie studios applied this lesson to DVDs almost immediately. In fact, when I recently saw a list that purported to represent the popularity of DIVX files being exchanged on the Net, it was topped by content not yet released by the studios, like later seasons of Buffy and Six Feet Under.

The music industry, despite the fact that it's mostly the same damn 3 - 5 companies as the movie industry, has learned nothing from this. What have we got since Napster? Lessee.

Bzzzz! (That's a not a hornet noise this time. It's the buzzer sound that means "Wrong!")

(I continue to laud eMusic for bucking several of these trends, with reasonable (imho) download prices, high quality files and no DRM restrictions. Unfortunately, I'm not sure they're doing so well in the market place. Also, I continue to see reports that indie labels are selling more CDs while the majors complain of sliding revenues. Wait, maybe music industry stupidity is actually a good thing. That is, as long as their powerful lobby doesn't manage to get more stupid laws passed. (google PIRATE act))

At the risk of making this more like a "blog" and less like an "editorial," coz I think it's kind of funny:

This weekend we were hanging a curtain rod because the black plastic trashbugs I dangled to cut the glare on my screen were deemed unacceptable. I was trying to drive woodscrews and struggling and feeling wimpy and carpal-tunnel-syndrome-afflictedy, so I got out a drill to make pilot holes. Even with a 1/4 horsepower drill, it was heavy going (which made me feel better), and my 3/32" drill bit made a lot of smoke (I kept pausing to let it cool down) before it snapped clean off. I persevered with a 7/64" bit and managed to get pilot holes drilled. It was still pretty tough and I was starting to feel bad again when I twisted the head right off one of the screws.

I don't know when our house was built originally, but it's clearly had a lot of major and minor modifications through the years. I'm currently wondering if the window frames were redone at the height of the Cold War. I can sure sleep better knowing we have lintels designed to withstand a nuclear attack.

22 april 2004

stuff and nonsense

stuff and nonsense has moved to our editor's personal site. here's the (copyright) stuff, and here's the nonsense.

21 april 2004

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