PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Autopsy corner

July  2003  

I don’t get moved to discuss PC hardware much these days - after all, what is there to say any more? Most boxes just work – and when it doesn’t, you just throw it away.

The time when a hack could write a whole series (and many did!) bitching about the outrageous fortune of the RS232 interface have been replaced by the quiet efficiency of the USB solution.  Those readers who have never had to connect an RS232 serial printer to a PC without the benefit of knowing the interface data rate and ack/nak formats, simply haven’t lived, and probably never will. Those of you who have, will break out in a cold sweat at the very thought of it.

The majority of the people I talk to these days simply have no concept of computing before the hard disk drive and the art of living with a stack of floppies, and I make these points because at the time of the aforementioned, there was no light at the end of any tunnel. USB was barely a twinkle in the eye, and hard drives costs £1000 for 5Mbyte of storage. These days, when I encounter any sort of issue with hardware, I just assume that there are now so many people who are online power users, and who are engaged in the industry, that any infelicities will be spotted and fixed within days.

You really have never had it so good, but please don’t lose all sight of the need to understand the basics of how computers evolved and work, if you ever need to do any form of diagnosis. Remember that all medical training starts with the close examination of deceased bodies, rather than simply reviewing Elle McPherson and her like. So when turfing out the loft contents, don’t throw out that decrepit 386 PC, think of it as a valuable training resource in the same way as a medical student regards a skeleton.

Now, as I eventually arrive at the point of all this, with hardware pretty much all sorted out, the modern equivalent of bitching about RS232 (for me) has become bitching about clumsy aspects of internet, and top of that list for many is the question of controlling the menace of Spam.

Until there is a law passed that allows us to lynch anyone suspected of sending spam, I have tried many ways to get rid of spam, including some tedious-to-set-up scoring systems that scan each inbound message for the predictable hallmarks of spam, and then “devise an index of spamness score”.  But by far the simplest and best so far is SpamNet from Cloudmark. It is an add-in to Outlook that works by checking each inbound message against an online database. This may sound cumbersome, but it works. The installation was painless and the integration with outlook belies the work of genuine craftspeople, not just one of the many shareware chancers who can get by with a copy of Visual Basic.

This notice on the spamnet website says it all. My only surprise is that only 25% of the email checked was spam; my quota is more like 80%, but I have had a number of email addresses and several for more than 8 years, now.

SpamNet is presently a free download, but I just know that sooner or later once the community is hooked, some form of charge or subscription will be applied. When the request turns up, users will take a brief glance in the spam folder that is installed at the end of the inbox folder tree, and not many of the 350,000 will begrudge paying for this service. At $10 a year, that’s pretty much a guaranteed $3.5m income. Nice one.

I was going to say that my only gripe is that because each message is checked on the way in, that I cannot process my existing inbox contents – but then I RTFM and discovered the option to check existing folders is present on the toolbar button that the programme installed. Bliss, and the Spamnet stats clocked another 8000 messages today.

Now, not only is SpamNet a fabulous product, it is also the epitome of what an internet business should be. Not trying to sell something where buyer and seller have no certain idea what is being asked for – or what is being offered (the reason failed) – but this is something that could not exist in the first place without the internet.