Friday, July 16, 2010

In Which I Yield to Powerful Forces

As long ago as it was possible, I began running my own mail servers. Over the years, I employed a variety of software and hardware and for the past decade or more I've had to run antispam software as well. I did it partly to avoid the alternatives (which were pretty unsatisfactory in the early days) and partly to understand the process in case clients needed help with their mail servers.

Happily, I am now without clients. And the alternatives might not be so bad. But I am stubborn, so I decided to solve my most recent problem by setting up some new software on a VM in the USA. The problem I was solving was the increasing unreliability of my ADSL connection—not through any fault of my excellent ISP, but because Telstra appears to have a policy of letting the copper infrastructure decay sufficiently that any successor won't be at all glad to be saddled with it. At any rate, there have been no spare pairs in my street since we got the last pair five years ago. Since then, we've had line faults after every heavy rain and it takes between three and seven days to fix things, where "fix" means find the wet joint, dry it out, patch it up and say "she'll be right now mate."

So I looked at all-in-one solutions for email, in the mistaken belief that there would be something out there that I could more or less just drop into place on a VM, do a bit of DNS magic and sit back happily. I looked at Horde, Zimbra, Zarafa, Courier and a couple of others whose names escape me now. They probably are all capable of doing the job, but all require a great deal of dedicated setup and they look as though they need a fair bit of care and feeding once they are operational. None of them looked like what I wanted and I started thinking that if these were the answer to my question, I must have asked the wrong question.

So I considered Google. I've had a bunch of gmail accounts ever since it was launched. I don't particularly like it, although that's mainly just me. And, for various reasons which I can't talk about here, plain gmail accounts don't work for much of the email I have to provide. But Google Apps offer a bit more than just gmail, so I thought I'd spend a little bit of time investigating. I gave myself a maximum of one day to complete this and in fact needed much less. I now have all email addressed to my 11 operational domains going to Google Apps accounts for me and my wife. Nobody has to change the email addresses they use, and the outgoing email looks as though it still comes from where it always did.

And Google's antispam stuff is awesome. So far, we've had a few thousand emails arrive and every spam has been caught without a single false positive. It's so good that I'm going to stop checking the spam folders now. This is so simple that it's a total no-brainer for me. The only possible downside is storing our email with Google, but that is easy to fix via their nice API that allows you to download it all for storage wherever you like.

Well, the other possible downside is that my wife might spit the dummy when she returns from seven weeks in Europe on Monday and discovers that she is not using exmh any more. But it will be too late and I hope it won't end in tears. At least she has been using one of the ordinary gmail accounts every day while she's been away, so she is familiar with how it works.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Filter Stubs Toe Again

This is all over the news and the blogz, so I won't clutter the place up with URLs. The Conroy train to idiocy has been declared late due to some purported efforts to get it right, which appears to mean delaying it until after the election at least.

That counts as good news, although it's only a tiny step. Perhaps they will quietly abandon it after the election. Somehow, I don't think that will happen. So I suppose I'll have to start thinking about the cleanest way to opt out, as there seems little likelihood that Conroy will do a u-turn and switch it to opt-in.

When you consider that none of the bad guys will have to think about this—since all but the utterly insane ones would have opted out of showing their illegal habits to the government years ago—it's a bit annoying that the good guys now have to bestir themselves in order to opt out of the filter. At least there's no real rush and this can just go on my long todo list.

Part of the problem for me is that my spouse is a psychotherapist who has to deal with victims of child abuse and, less often, with the abusers. She has good reason to look for materials that, while in no way exploitative or deserving of special classification, could easily trigger imperfect software that was supposed to be "protecting" us all from the evil ones.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Politicians and Pimps

Most politicians give me the same icky feeling that I get from the pimps in red light areas and they seem to come from the same part of the intellectual spectrum as well. A local candidate has letterboxed me asking me to tick the four issues that most concern me from a list which has no mention of the environment or detention centres or refugees.

The old graffiti on a wall near my childhood home that exhorted people with the slogan Don't vote—it only encourages them seems more and more apposite as the years go by.

To link my little political rant to the ostensible topic of this blog, it would also be nice to see politicians get a clue about the evils of things like software patents, internet censorship via technical means, copyright and so on.

Rant over. Here's hoping they get the election done promptly.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Foursquare Privacy Fail

I've been seeing a number of friends take up with foursquare and I've seen quite a few mentions of their service in the blogs, so yesterday I thought I'd have a look at it and signed up. Bad timing. They chose to get embroiled in a story of a privacy policy that describes something quite different from what they deliver.

That's not the bad part. All of us make mistakes. Rapidly-growing startups probably make more than most. I like it better when people don't make mistakes, but I can live with it—unless it's a matter of life and death. And I can live with the mistakes if the same people don't make a point of repeating the same mistakes all the time.

The thing I can't abide is people and businesses who make mistakes and refuse to admit them or try to conceal the mistakes from the affected people. A recent story in Wired claims that Foursquare Puts Money Before Privacy and backs that up with plenty of data. Read it.

I'm getting sick of companies that don't even pretend to care about their customers and my policy has hardened in past few months. I had already cancelled my Facebook account because of their behaviour—not that you can cancel with them. They just treat you as if you're having a little time out and maintain your account regardless. Major fail. I'm not planning to do anything with foursquare now.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Comments Policy

After six years of blogging on a platform that did not provide comments, I now find myself with a blog that does do comments, so I thought I should alert existing readers who might not have noticed this change and take the opportunity to mention what passes for a comments policy.

All comments will be submitted for moderation and will appear next time I'm awake and can review them. The obvious evil things will be discarded. Abuse will be discarded. Anything really off-topic, as perceived by my fairly loose definition, will be discarded. Anything else will appear.

I'm hoping to see some interaction now that I've taken this plunge.