Sunday, 05 October 2003
I’ve found over the past couple of years that more and more people from random places and through random contacts call on me to help them determine what they can do to solve some kind of IT problem. Case in point: Junk email. Spam. UCE. Whatever you want to call it, I don’t care – It sucks.

I always knew spam was a problem for me personally, and that it affected others around me. What I never fully realized is just how big an impact it had. I used to have to wade through hundreds of real, legitimate emails sent to me each day, combined with another 150-plus spam emails. That’s per day. It made for a stressful process of information management and communicating at work. As the days and months went by, the mess got bigger. And as many IT and HR managers know, some of the more colorful email that comes in through company email servers is more than just annoying. About a year ago, I was presenting a new web-based interface to our email system to all of our company’s employees. So, I fire it up, open my email there on the big screen in front of the whole company, and sure enough, there on the screen: “Mega Porn Superstore!” Thank goodness it didn’t have pictures. That would have been bad. I mean worse.

Like it or not, it can be a real liability in this day and age for companies that know there’s a problem with certain kinds of junk email if they don’t do anything to make it stop for their employees. Professional spammers have so many means by which they acquire and create email addresses for their mailing lists, it’s almost impossible these days to actually use your email address and not receive junk mail.

So, being the “IT-visionary” that I am (read: the guy who people expect to magically solve all their problems), and since I obviously stood to benefit personally, I of course assigned one of my already-overworked IT crew to do yet more work, searching with me for the killer anti-spam solution for our business. There are a whole slew of options out there, and a number of them are worth looking at. It’s worth noting that I was very picky about what I wanted, and the resulting set of requirements for a solution was equally demanding: Stop all spam. Don’t block any email that’s not spam. Give me company-wide administrative control over what the anti-spam system does, but at the same time give end users the same level of control over their individual mail accounts. Oh, and it had to be a server solution – no client side software allowed. The last thing we needed/wanted was yet another software program we couldn’t manage easily. The solution needed to actually solve the problem, in other words. Clean up the junk mail, and don’t make more work for the IT support people.

Now, if you take a good look at what’s available out there and then apply our business requirements, you end up with a list that’s substantially shorter than when you started. After all, there are tons of client-side products of varying quality and reliability that claim to stop spam email, and there are also a number of server-based options that provide centralized spam control. But we found that many of them just don’t do a very good job. In the process of researching options, we found several products that claim “better than 75% spam reduction,” and not surprisingly they manage to deliver on that figure. But that was not close to good enough for us. We needed closer to 99% reduction, and we needed the same level or better of accuracy, it had to be easy to use, manageable and personalized for individual employees. What we needed to find was a company that placed the same performance and feature demands on it’s solution as we did

Believe it or not, we actually found what we were looking for. From the back alleys of the anti-spam software world comes MailFrontier’s Anti-Spam Gateway. The company also produces software that runs on the desktop and integrates with your mail program. But their server-based solution, which acts as a high-capacity SMTP email gateway and spam catcher, simply rules. Since putting this product in place, we have achieved nearly 100% accuracy on junk email blocking, and for the email that counts the most – mail from our customers and partners, for example – we can guarantee truly 100% delivery. And I mean blocking – unless an end user wants to see the junk mail, the ASG server prevents it from ever showing up, and can send a report as often as the user likes listing the email that has been blocked. All this from one product, centrally managed, and at a very reasonable cost. Our employees are ecstatic about the results, and they are some pretty demanding people, let me tell you. Hey, not bad.

For my part, I can say that my stress level has definitely dropped with regard to email issues. Stress level? What? Let me explain. I get a lot of email, and so do others. And a lot of it is unsolicited junk mail. Over the past couple of months, 298,915 Internet emails have arrived at our company’s mail server. All of these emails are now checked first by our anti-spam gateway server. Of those emails, 237,176 were junk. That’s nearly 80% of the total inbound email! And sure enough, studies show that more than 75% of the email on the internet is spam.

So, that’s all well and good for big companies like ours, but for those who don’t run their own mail server, it doesn’t help much. Many companies have their own domain names, but someone else actually runs their email system for them. It’s just more cost effective, or it’s simply easier that way. For those of you who fit into that category, you might take a look at SpamSoap. I recommended them to a friend recently, and he’s been very happy, achieving some pretty terrific results: “It actually worked so well in the first few hours that I thought my mail was broken,” he said. “Then, a legitimate email showed up. Boom. Very nice.”

For those of you who have no option but to use a client-based spam killer, there are so many options it’s scary. Working similarly to the server-based solution we found, MailFrontier Matador is an option worth trying. It’s not free, but it’s relatively inexpensive and they have a trial version so you can check it out before you buy. You might also look at Outlook 2003 when it hits the street, as it does a somewhat decent job of junk mail filtering (better than Outlook XP did, anyhow). And there’s tons of other options available that are way too numerous to list here, so here’s a link to get you started.

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Sunday, 05 October 2003 10:15:36 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 04 October 2003
Well its been while since I last updated. It figures that the times when you're busiest are the times you have the most to write, but because you're so damn busy, you don't have time to write... Lots of Microsoft related stuff to share, plus some other things.

So, here I am on Saturday morning, still at work, got about an hour or maybe a little more of sleep on a couch in someone's office. It's been along time since I've pulled one of these all-nighters, and I won't be doing so on purpose again any time soon. We did a (resoundingly) successful upgrade of our Windows 2000 domain controllers here to Windows Server 2003 last night. It was great and went much faster and smoother than we thought. Unfortunalely, though, there's always one thing that doesn't quite work as you'd hope, and this time was no exception. Perhaps a bit surprisingly to some, the problem had absolutely nothing to do with Windows 2003, but instead with a third-party vendor's hardware and software, and a truly crappy support technician who works for that th-rd-party vendor on the other end of the line. End result? Three people with little to no sleep and that always-wonderful post-adreneline crash. :) But hey - it's all good now (very good), and that's what counts.

I will be participating in the keynote address as a speaker at four of the Microsoft Office 2003 System launch events later this month and in early November. I will be on the stage in Portland, Boise, Spokane and Albuquerque along with the keynote speakers, talking about our company's early adoption and deployment of Office 2003, SharePoint Portal Server, SharePoint Team Services, Live Communication Server, Exchange 2003, and other various and sundry things. It should be a lot of fun and it looks to be a worthwhile event for anyone who has an interest. Sign up soon though, it's getting tight in some venues. I know Seattle has gone to waiting-list only and Portland is getting close to capacity.

I have a new program on my "Way Cool" list: Microsoft OneNote. Wow, who'da thunk such a simple concept could work this well and be this useful? If you are someone who carries a notebook around and takes notes a lot, or if you're like me and you hate actually getting organized, but still wish you had a place to store stuff and organize it so you can refer to it later, you have to check this out. Plus it integrates with the Office System stuff I mentioned above. I love this thing. Oh yeah - if you happen to have a tablet PC, all the more reason to check this out. Ink baby! But it's great on any computer, for sure.

I'm thinking I will need to seriously check out Windows Media Center 2004, which was recently launched. I am planning to get a projector for my home to replace my big screen TV, which is nearly 7 years old now (still a great TV but hey, it's time). I have this huge room where I can project a 10-foot picture and set up the surround system. Looking at this nifty version of Windows, I am thinking seriously that it might be worth trying. Support for hi-def and combining DVR and many other capabilities is definitiely way cool.

You may or may not know about one of my favorite daily arrivals in my email inbox: the Lockergnome newsletters. Chris Pirillo started these things up several years ago. Back when he was first starting out he and I used to email ideas back and forth now and then. He's a driven guy, and has done some amazing things with his franchise. Over time, Lockergnome added more newletters, and now has several to choose from. My personal favorites are the tech Specialist and Windows Daily, but there are others for Linux fans and other areas of interest. The other day Chris announced that the primary author of the Tech Specialist newsletter is moving on to other things. I hope it will continue to thrive - it's a great source of information and ideas.

That's it for now, plenty more to write about, but I will save it for later.

- g

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Saturday, 04 October 2003 09:14:58 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 15 September 2003
In perfect style, Microsoft released their Office Online web site, intended in part to let you learn more about Office 2003, which is about to be released.

So, I saw a section on the front page called "In the Spotlight: Infopath" and a link called "Designing Forms." "Cool," I thought - "I can learn something useful." So I click the link... and I get:
Buy Office 2003

You have arrived at this page because you selected an item that is available only if you have a Microsoft Office 2003 Edition product installed. Any Office user can still access most of the content on Microsoft Office Online, including content that you are used to working with on our former site, Microsoft Office Tools on the Web. But to view some of the new content on Office Online, you must have an Office 2003 Edition product installed on your computer.

To read and work with this premium new content - including all training courses and some templates, clip art, and more - you just need to upgrade to an Office 2003 edition product. All of the premium content is indicated by the symbol.
Of course, that symbol wasn't there, and while I do have Office 2003 installed at work all over the place, I don't yet have it at home. To learn about Office 2003 and decide if I want to use it, one has to first install Office 2003.... Hmmm...

I don't know what I was expecting.

- g

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Monday, 15 September 2003 19:32:13 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Speaking of Google, which is of course the best thing on the Internet since sliced bread, check out this Google search page. Cool huh?

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Monday, 15 September 2003 19:17:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 13 September 2003
I figured I would start some useful Googling today and see if I could find any sign of any of the foster kids that lived with me over the years, just to see what they may be up to these days. I've been curious and had some extra time this afternoon, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Oh and by the way if you have not yet seen googlism, check it out.

Sure enough, the one kid I thought I might find (well, not a kid anymore...) was notably mentioned many times in newspapers and athletic department results for his rodeo championships. Wow. This was a kid who, with his brother, was literally left at someone's house by a parent with a promise to pick them up that evening, and then no-show. Two weeks later they came to live with me for quite a while, til suddenly the other parent was found in a different state and was able to take them in. Now there he is, successful, in college, and apparently still a never-give-up kind of guy: He broke his neck/back on a bareback ride and kept competing in the state finals, then on to college. Newspapers wrote about it. Yep, that's him, and I am sure he did it all with a smile on his face. Literally. Just the kind of person he is.

It's good to see one of those kids following his dreams, being successful. I hope he kept playing baseball, too. But horses - that was the thing. Good for him. :)

- g

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Saturday, 13 September 2003 18:16:10 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  Trackback has made some changes to the way they are doing things to go along with their "birthday."

Of interest: "... The one big feature we are debuting is "Get Up to Speed," which helps you, well, get up to speed on--and make sense of--the six technologies and trends we believe are getting the most notice in the tech world: Enterprise Security, Open Source, Utility Computing, Voice over IP, Web Services and Wi-Fi ..."

Well, at least on the web services and security subjects, they'll have my attention for at least a while longer. Cool.

- g

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Saturday, 13 September 2003 16:06:53 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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