Saturday, 25 October 2003
"Finally," I think to myself, "a possible move in the right direction in the War Against Spam." A California court has fined a couple US$2,000,000 for civil violations of the state's anti-spamming law. In addition, ten years of injunctions against the people and their company should keep at least one spam house out of our hair. California is posed to unleash a new anti-spam law on the first of the year, which "prohibits unsolicited e-mail advertisements sent to or from any California e-mail address, unless the recipient gives prior permission (under current law the recipient has to opt out), or has an existing business relationship with the sender. It also permits private individuals to sue spammers and collect actual damages, plus $1,000 per e-mail and up to $1 million per incident."

I'm tempted to say, "It's about time." On second thought, it makes me wonder if we might be trying to solve a technology problem by enacting new laws.

Spam sucks, and it costs money - real money. Anyone who pays for internet services is subsidizing the volumes of spam emails that are transported over the backbone every second. While California claims 40%, most agree that fully 75% of all email that traverses the Internet is spam - Pure, unadulterated junk marketing mail. Do you know anyone who likes spam email? I know I don't, and while I am not a big fan of legislating change, this is one area I have to think about. It might be one area where I can support some kind of restriction.

But what's the best route to take in solving the spam problem? Is this really a problem that's best resolved by passing laws prohibiting mass emailing? Or is this situation an indicator of a technology that needs to improve? It mean, email is inherently open and pretty insecure. I, for one, am a big advocate of keeping the Internet free from legislation and legal action whenever possible. That said, is it time to take a look at email technology and maybe find a better way to communicate, or is it time to place legal restrictions on how and when it's done? My fear is that these new laws will kill email as we know it, and that the protections we put in place today will eventually make this useful (albeit fairly insecure) tool a thing of the past.

There are already arguments about California's new law, and it's questionable as to whether or not it goes too far. In fact, chances are it will be fought out in the courts there before too long. I don't buy the first-amendment-violation argument myself, but I would not be surprised to see some pretty heated legal battles.

And now the U.S. Senate comes along with an anti-spam bill, with probably more problems than the California version. And it would render any state anti-spam law defunct. Great, you gotta love that. It includes penalties of up to (get this) five years in jail, and a possible do-not-spam list controlled by the FTC, and "companies sending e-mail would have to provide their lists to the FTC so they could be checked and the coverage would be far broader than the FTC's telemarketer 'do not call' list, which only covers sales calls to consumers. The spam-blocking list would also cover business-to-business e-mails and companies could put their entire domain on the registry."

We're all looking at this problem from the same perspective: We hate spam, and want to do something about it. The question now is, what and how?

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Saturday, 25 October 2003 14:29:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 19 October 2003
I have always enjoyed reading Chris Sells' site, mostly because he has lots of cool info on it and he's a friggin genius, but also because he's got a great sense of humor.

And every time I go to his site and start poking around in there, I find something really cool. He made mention of someone who took his bare-bones IM code and ran with it, which sounded cool to me, so I went to check it out. Hey, I thought, pretty nifty stuff. Download code, try it tout. But wait - I looked over in the navigation list of projects, and was (pleasantly) surprised to see something that jumped right off the page at me: SharePoint Syndication. Dude, perfect! Creates RSS feeds from SharePoint lists - syndication for the corporate masses. :)

- g

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Sunday, 19 October 2003 21:40:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 18 October 2003
The South Park movie has to be one of the funniest damn things I've ever seen. I saw it when it first came out, and I still laugh when I watch it now. What the hell is it about South Park that makes it so damn funny?

A little late on the review here, and not much detail, but: I saw Kill Bill Volume One last weekend. OMG - Talk about bizarre. Violent, for sure - I don't think I have ever seen a movie more violent. But it's a sort of slapstick-sarcastic-unreal-yet-real violence. It's hard to explain. Heads and arms are graphically chopped off throughout the movie, in front of little girls and whatnot, but the *way* it happens is so unrealistic. It's sick, yet it was pretty darn good. QUENTIN TARANTINO is a freak, that's for sure, but he's a talented freak. Heck, Roger Ebert called it "brilliant." Wow. What the hell is happening to this world? :)

I want one of these. And this looks really cool, too.

I'll be traveling over the next few weeks a few times to speak at these big events. Kind of looking forward to it, kind of not too excited, kind of nervous. But I think once it gets started I will enjoy it.

- g

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Saturday, 18 October 2003 19:34:20 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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News.com has a little article on their site commenting about Microsoft's new once-a-month patch plan. Basically, the third Wednesday of the month is patch day (critical patches don't get held onto, but others do). Amusing, but really - if a company actually relies on just one guy to do all the patching, he's never going on vacation anyhow.

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Saturday, 18 October 2003 14:23:23 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 11 October 2003
Well, I think I like it. I started doing something new this week, and it's been a fun and interesting process for me. Exercises the mind and I'm refreshing old skills. I have started writing for the Lockergnome Tech Specialist newsletter, which goes out to like 140,000 people or something like that several times a week. I started on Monday and have had something to say each day - I hope I can keep up the thought process and not get a brain block too early in the process. :)

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Saturday, 11 October 2003 00:06:35 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 05 October 2003
Without going into any real detail quite yet, I decided to agree to try helping with a very cool project that I first started watching back around 1996 when it was brand new. People who know me will tell you I'm one for the gab (that's my wordy way of saying I talk a lot), so this should be an interesting adventure, since it will take advantage of that talent/curse. It's kinda exciting, and I'll be interested to see how it goes. It's something I'd be proud to be a part of if it works out, and it promises to be fun, too.

Funny how old stuff - things from years ago - can swing back around and catch up with you when you least expect it. For example, recently I've been chatting quite a bit with an old friend from where I used to live in New Mexico, which has been a lot of fun. Life has changed quite a bit since then, but it's good to know that for the most part, people have not. Well, some have - drastically. But it is good to see a few truly quality people who have remained positive and good to others.

It's nice to have things from the past be positive when they come back around. I know people who feel like they have to hide from their pasts. That's no fun. I'm grateful I don't have to do that.

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Sunday, 05 October 2003 20:36:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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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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