Lewis' Blog Tales from the trenches of information technology


Noisy utility company email

Why do utility companies feel the need to email and phone to advise of their readiness for an impending storm? Would I otherwise suppose they were not ready? And, if they were indeed not ready, then what?

On top of this, my phone rings incessantly with this nonsense, advising me that they are prepared for the coming nor'easter (for those of you unfamiliar with this type of storm, these are particularly nasty - high winds, lots of rain - in the northeast US). Anyone living on Long Island (New York State) more than a year should be quite familiar with these regular occurrences. So, why is my Inbox filled with this junk? (Okay, my Sophos UTM catches most of these, but sadly can't do anything about the telephone ringing.)

This is a tremendous waste of resources. Don't tell me that you're ready, just focus on being ready.

Regular readers here will know of my profound distaste for poor email etiquette, and sending superfluous email falls into that category. Messages should be sent when relevant (they don't need to advertise to me; I have no real choice in the matter, other than slapping immense, ugly solar panels all over my roof).


Scammers target travelers using hotel Wi-Fi | Fox News Video

I'm not embedding the video stream here, only because I have not requested permission from Fox. Clicking through the link below will take you to the 2-minute piece, however:

Scammers target travelers using hotel Wi-Fi | Fox News Video

I have a couple issues with the segment, which caught my eye a few minutes ago:


Knowing when to say farewell to a client

I recently had the distasteful experience of having to tell a long-time client to find someone else to handle his IT consulting. We had (I thought) become friends over the years, though recently, tensions surrounding some server trouble over here (I hosted his email) led to difficulties in our relationship.


Group chat showdown: Which instant messaging service is best for your business? | PCWorld

Group chat showdown: Which instant messaging service is best for your business? | PCWorld.

Didn't any of these people ever hear of IRC? What about XMPP (Jabber)?


Mantis email fun – part 2

Well, this is embarrassing... I can't believe I started this draft back in January (of 2012), and let it sit so long. Sorry about that...

You may read up on my involvement with a particular Mantis Bug Tracker installation in part 1 of this series. This time around, I'm going to discuss adding the ability to discourage email recipients from replying to bug update announcements.


What’s up with BlackBerry? (Not much, and not for long, it appears)

My wife mentioned to me that she wasn't getting email on her BlackBerry Curve the other day. After some time of struggling (I don't use one of those annoying devices, myself; I currently use a Palm Pre Plus), I finally managed to get the service books re-sent to the device, and while monitoring our email server, saw an IMAP connection come up (albeit quite slowly, spending what seemed like an eternity selecting a folder). I doubt that sending service books really made much of a difference, unless something broke when RIM got things propped up again (temporarily).

The next day, I read several reports online about some massive problem at RIM, in Canada. The Register is now replete with stories of what appear to be ongoing problems up there:

BlackBerry BBM, email downed in epic FAIL - October 10
BlackBerry users back online after outage - October 11
BlackBerry BBM, email offline AGAIN
- October 11
BlackBerry services splutter back into action, again - October 11
RIM stands, staggers, falls again - October 12
BlackBerry stumbles to feet, full of apologies - October 13


On the over-use of HIGH PRIORITY in email today

For those of you who may not recall, the Priority: header was originally designed for mail servers to properly prioritize the routing of messages in the days when broadband meant 256K (wow!), and it was customary to move batches of mail from one place to another at different times, such that a notice about a meeting taking place next month would be assigned a lower priority than, say, a message concerning the temperature in the boiler room (reference to nuclear reactors specifically avoided, as the situation in Japan is non-trivial and surely not humorous - as several comedians have recently discovered). The Priority: header is/was analogous to the X.400 priority field. (For references, see RFC 2076, 2156, et. seq.)

Along came our good friends in Redmond, who decided that an X-MSMail-Priority: header was important, too, so that (idiot) users could jump up and down and yell "FIRE!" in the movie theaters...er...so that Outlook (Outbreak) users could prioritize their own messages (and of course, an emergency on the part of a client does not necessarily constitute an emergency for me).


Email replies: How prompt is prompt?

I am prompted (pardon the pun) to post this afternoon following an annoying exchange I had with a third party concerning a client and some information I was to have provided.

Yesterday, at approximately 4:30pm, I received a request for some information which I was to have provided this third party regarding my client's business entity. I was in meetings all afternoon (from at least 2 until 6pm), and had approximately 30 or so emails in queue waiting for my review by the time I left the office.

As is my wont when I'm in my Leesburg, VA office, I took my ThinkPad home to try to catch up on some of the work which I couldn't complete before leaving the office. After dinner with my daughter (just the two of us this week!), I went upstairs to my small home office to dig into some of these emails.

I did see this particular one last evening, probably around 9 or 10pm. At that point, I was indeed winding down (my daily schedule shifts considerably when I'm down here, as I rise early to breakfast with my brother before heading to the office), so I left off before sending even a quick acknowledgment back to the sender.

At noon today, which would be 19½ hours or so from the original timestamp, the sender bumped me (for those unfamiliar with the term "bump" in this context, it means to nudge a conversation thread, typically when the original poster preceives that he or she has been ignored).

I was pretty ticked off at being bumped, as the individual apparently phoned my client first (a definite breach of protocol when there is a professional involved in the discussion, acting on behalf of a client).

Perhaps it is over-sensitivity on my part. My own internal sense of decorum tells me that a 24-hour window should be allotted for a response from anyone involved in an email exchange, particularly when one party is unknown to the other (obviously, if a client emails me, I prioritize such communications).

So, I'll put it to my readers: Is 24 hours too long to wait for a reply from someone after an initial email contact?


Why must people carbon copy (cc) all the time?


If someone gives me his private office phone number, he doesn't expect me to write it in the office Christmas card.

If someone gives me his cell number, he doesn't expect that I'll scribble it on a bathroom wall at a highway rest stop.

So, if I give someone my email address, why is it that so many recipients treat it like it's public information?

When I get someone's email address, I treat it the same way I would that person's home phone number, private office line, or cell phone. I don't give it out unless I get permission from the owner of the information. Again, this evening, I received a "joke" from a client, with my email address blazoned across the To: header, along with...let me count them...a dozen others (people I don't know).

Beyond the rudeness of sharing my address with strangers, I'm willing to bet that at least half of them are running Windows systems, with easily harvested address books and out-of-date antivirus/antispyware, so that my address is now even more likely to be snatched by some 'bot and used for nefarious purposes.

A couple weeks ago, I got a message from a large company who shall remain nameless, with my address as a cc along with 374 - I'm not kidding - that's three hundred seventy-four other addresses cc'd in the headers. On my Palm Pre, I had to scroll and scroll and scroll just to get through them all. Huh????

Next time, maybe I'll just give out my Social Security number, debit card PIN, and plaster a picture of my kids, their names, and ages on some social networking site...


Misconfigured Mail Servers

Why is it that when someone else has a broken mail server, it's always - always - the receiving server admin's fault that messages coming from that domain don't get through?

This morning, I reviewed a note sent by a client, forwarding a thread to me of someone who apparently didn't get an invoice for something. My client asked me to review the firewall logs to see if the message ever made it to his domain in the first place.

Sure enough, there was no RDNS pointer entered for the sending server, so the Astaro Security Gateway - rightfully - rejected the incoming message.

Luckily (for me), this client is erudite enough to know that this wasn't my fault. However, I've had some client who would point the finger squarely at me, including one who actually said (sarcastically), "I know; it's never your fault. It's always the other guy." Well, when the DNS is incorrect for someone else's domain, that's surely not my fault!

FYI, a good source to check for broken or missing RDNS records is http://remote.12dt.com/ .

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