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Friday, December 19, 2003

December 19, 2003

Been a long week?

Although it can't seem like it's already Friday, it is. Much has transpired over the course of the week, as I'll outline below. With now only five and a half days before Christmas, 'crunch time' is on...although I'm done with mine. smile

Will there ever be One-Act Rehearsal?

Well, after my postponing of our first One-Act meeting post-auditions, I thought Wednesday after school would be fine. That actually wasn't such a terrible thing, but after remaining in St. Cloud a little longer than expected (to nobody's fault, really -- see the St. Cloud story), I had to again push back the time of the meeting until 5pm.

Although it got a little crazy that day, I did make it there around 4:30 and was able to get everyone together at 5pm to go over their break homework and all the gory details of what I'd be expecting of them upon their return on January 5. The meeting lasted a little longer than expected, but much was accomplished and hopefully will turn out in the end.

I just hope that our first-day effort (and reschedule) isn't an omen of things to come for the remainder of the production...

Much St. Cloud Happiness!

We finally made our holiday shopping trip to St. Cloud on Tuesday of this week. Fortunately, while we did have snow and wind on Monday and early Tuesday morning, the drive was actually quite pleasant and really not too bad. Also fortunately, we were able to skip the freezing drizzle and sleet which was encountered further south of our driving range which made the roads icy. That's also a Very Good Thing.

Anyway, we made our way to see Brian and Michelle for the first time since their departure to California (over six months ago now). I hadn't seen Brian since they'd left, but had seen Michelle (as she and Minda came down a few days this fall). The plan was to spend the night at their abode in St. Joseph and have Good Times just chillin' and drinking. smile Always a fun time.

We actually had to run first to Minda's house so Beth could get some assistance on a final paper she was writing...and since I had to work until 2pm on Tuesday, that put us in St. Cloud ultimately around 6:15 or so. We met up with Michelle at Applebees and proceeded to have a nice meal and discussion.

Anyway, after this time of food, we made a quick trip to a liquor store for 'refreshments' later and then split up (so Beth and I could do each others' respective last-minute shopping). Of course, by the time we actually started this endeavor, it was nearly 8:30...and getting later. Since Brian had to work until 10, we decided to meet at the mall at his place of employment (a salon) around 9:30 and then hang around there until 10-ish... So, I made my way to Best Buy to pick up my pre-paid and waiting main present for Beth (a ViewSonic 17" flat-panel montior (the exact same model I've got for my computer)) and to also look around at other monitors and goodies. Most interestingly I found were digital camcorders (something I really don't have much use for, but probably could find for). I also saw a nice 19" ViewSonic CRT monitor for a very reasonable price (given the brand, size, and quality) which caught my eye. But that's for another project which I won't mention at this time.

So, after leaving Best Buy, I made my way across the street to the mall where I basically just window shopped and killed time. I talked briefly with Brian around 9:15 and told him I'd be back...and kept perusing. During the next 15 minutes or so I received a call from Beth saying that they were at the salon and waiting, so I made my way back there, only to see them heading in a different direction. I then found out that they were picking up something for me and I couldn't follow them, so I went to the salon to chill out.

Beth and Michelle returned shortly thereafter and we stood around until about 10, then left. We all tag-teamed back to Brian and Michelle's place, where Paul (B. -- who had been at the salon this entire time) was to meet us as well. Some pizza was ordered and a drinking game soon commenced. Needless to say, by the time it was all over, everyone was feeling quite good, and it goes to be said that Good Times were had.

The next morning I'd intended upon leaving a little earlier than we ultimately did, but it worked out just fine this way too. Beth got a haircut from Brian back at the salon, and we left to do the last of our shopping after that. Since by this time I'd bought about an hour and a half more time (rescheduling the One-Act meeting), we got to hit a store or two that we wouldn't have been able to otherwise, and left the St. Cloud area just after 1pm.

We got back home to Morris around 2:45 or so, unloaded, and I then got in the pickup to drive to the One-Act meeting. By the time I got out of town, it was about 3:10, which comfortably puts me in Renville around 4:35 or so. At that time I held the meeting and drove back to Morris, arriving home around 8:30 that evening.

While they got to be a little long (those two days), it was ultimately a fun time and was very good to hang around with the Vato's.

Christmas Time!

Beth and I decided (for simplicity's sake) that it was best to do our 'family' Christmas opening on Wednesday (the night I got home from One-Act stuff)...since it was the only night until we depart for our Christmas travels when neither of us had to work. At that time, we exchanged gifts and had George check out the stuff he got too.

Beth was thrilled with the monitor. Admittedly, it frees up about 25% of her desk space, so it's an all-around good purchase. I was the lucky recipient of a DVD 4-pack of [Jim Henson's] Muppet Movies -- which I've wanted for a long time. I also managed to get the "Drill Doctor" (a drill bit sharpener). Anything that plugs into the wall is good for me. smile And it's actually a very useful tool for taking care of the commonly used bits...without always having to buy new.

George was given his little pack of mice (which he loves), a new 'fishing pole' toy (interaction with Mom and Dad), and a new food/water bowl set. Hopefully the latter will help to some degree with the 'Food Hockey' issue we sometimes have with him. Of course, that cat food just doesn't taste as good unless it's rolled around on the floor a little bit first. wink

Work & Stuff

The remainder of the week has been filled with employment issues and getting the apartment straightened out before we're gone. We're not gone for any length of time (because we've got to take care of George during the week), but it's always nicer to come home to a clean place (at least I think so).

I've managed to add some cool new stuff to my invoicing system on my database, and hope to have the remainder of those changes implemented by early next week. It allows me to do some things and present some more material in a structured and coherent way.

The SPAM problem...

...continues. While it's been drastically reduced (for instance, during our about 24-hour period of being gone earlier this week, I only received about 165 emails, about 130 of which were unwanted), it's still not gone, and so when at Best Buy I decided to pick up Norton AntiSpam 2004 (of which I'd heard favorable reviews). I finally installed it yesterday and have had poor (at best) results with it.

The reason (I believe): I'm using Netscape 7.1 mail as my client. While the program claims to work with any standard POP-enabled mail client, it's 'fully-integrated' into Outlook (and Express) as well as Eudora. Both programs I've despised for a long time. I never have liked Outlook for several reasons, and Eudora's UI (amongst other technical reasons) has always lacked something to me... With that said, 'fully integrated' only means that there are buttons to help train the engine to determine what you think is SPAM, etc.

I don't need that. I need something to flag potential messages so I can set my filters to deal with it as appropriate. This is what NAS is supposed to do. It hasn't. Yet.

I left it go overnight and didn't see any flagged messages (it changes the subject line slightly). I fidgeted with some personal SPAM rules this morning, still no luck. I check the Knowledge Base and support, no mention of any problem like this. I finally check the NAS statistics page.

I FOUND THE PROBLEM!

As it turns out, the program isn't scanning all of my incoming mail. In fact, it's only scanning perhaps (e.g. up to) 1 in 5 incoming messages. Of those it scans, it marks every one clean, regardless of my personal rules or the built-in rules. This is truly bizarre behavior, so I uninstalled/reinstalled the program this afternoon and have still encountered the same behavior.

In the meantime, I've sent a message to the technical support people. I don't have the slightest clue what the problem may be, but I know that if it's not figured out, it's going back. I didn't pay $40 for something that I can just as easily accomplish with some trivial filters (to get the effect I've gotten so far -- which is nothing). So we'll see what happens from here.

Until next time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/25/07

Monday, December 15, 2003

December 15, 2003

Snow and Ice?

Well, as it turns out, I cancelled my day activities to head for Renville for our first One-Act meeting post-auditionus (note the latin influence - [word]- us )

Snow and (earlier) a little icy-ness implied a less-than-stellar commute...and with that in mind (since I was only going to be there for a short time), I moved it back to Wednesday.

Access!

In the meantime today, I've been messing with databases! Sounds exciting...or not, depending upon how you look at it. I've been tweaking my personal database for MZ Online-ish stuff...and have made a few nice improvements in the billing/payment system. It's taken some time, but it's more tinkering with how it looks in form-style more than actual tinkering to get it functioning. Hopefully by the end of tonight, I'll have it mostly complete -- which would make me a happy person.

The SPAM goes on...

Sadly, I have to report that I'm still the recipient of SPAM; however, on the much brighter side, I've only received 147 emails today, about 75% of which were unwanted (SPAM). That means that in the course of the last 24 hours, I've only received a little over 100 SPAM messages (as opposed to the 200+ of average days prior to this). The true test will now be over the course of a week...to see what the actual numbers look like.

But, I have to report that it's been much nicer to only get one or two messages every hour...instead of 30-40 during peak times.

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/25/07

Sunday, December 14, 2003

December 14, 2003

Auditions Are Good!

I'm very pleased to report that One-Act Auditions went over quite well. Not the best turnout I've seen, but there were new faces in the crowd, and that's always a Good Thing as far as I'm concerned. It at least shows some interest amongst those not previously involved.

I was also pleased to learn that at least a few of the auditioners for One-Act were inspired by either first-hand involvement or attendance at the Three-Act this fall, which really supports my philosophy that the more people see, the more they'll enjoy participating, perhaps.

This weekend was a time to do some research and thought as to how I should cast the production, and it's always a tough decision when you'll have to turn people away. One of my primary goals as the director is to involve as many people as possible while maintaining control and making it all good. In some instances, it means that some students may only get one chance in their high school careers to be involved with a production like this (touring/competition), but at least there was that chance... It also allows the cast/crew to not always be populated by the same faces and therefore become somewhat stagnant.

I'm all about the experience, even if it's only a one-time thing. That, to me, is more important than repeated experience when it comes to involving the most people over a period of time.

And What About SPAM?

Well, this isn't the Monty Python Repository, but SPAM is definitely in the air. For the last six-nine months, I've been plagued with ungodly amounts of the stuff in my inbox. Quite frankly, it's become such a problem that I literally have to check my email once a day for fear of being completely enveloped in the stuff. On a "Bad Day," my inbox could receive as many as 500 of these messages. On an average, usually 200-300. On a good day, 100. Over the course of 24 hours. You do the math...

Part of the problem which compounds it are the aliases I use @ mzonline.com. This I've done for years as a preliminary filter. Certain things go to certain addresses. They all come to the same inbox, but it's an easy way I can filter my email with my client (by simple pattern-matching of 'to' addresses). But, as the case was for me, I put way too many of these out in the public for too long (over the last seven years), and email-harvesting robots have overtaken them.

I decided to combat the problem. For several months, I've been working on it. Early in the year, I decided to try something I'd read about. Take as many references to email addresses off of webpages as possible. Since I've pretty much moved most of my website material to the TWiki, this task was trivial. For the email addresses remaining, I've added the SPAM padding (which adds STOPSPAM in the address...and requires it to be removed for legitimate mail sending)...which tells those harvestors bad information and therefore saves me time.

The downside: this could take a long time to go into effect. But I let it go anyway...just for grins.

In the meantime I've also moved to (and relied heavily upon) more form-based email sending. It offers me much more control over the delivery address (an 'unknown' alias), layout of email, and other 'standardized' stuff which allows me to filter it more productively and therefore get to it quicker than by scrolling through the other SPAM (e.g. my mail program automatically highlights these messages as HIGH priority and such). It's also relatively easy to implement and still allows me to be contacted initially by anyone without truly revealing an address. These are all things I like.

So, bringing us up to speed, over the last year or so, I've removed most references to stock email addresses on my websites, and instead provided forms to allow people to contact me. All this in the hopes it'll slow down my SPAM received. I'd also looked into (and am still planning on purchasing, probably after the Christmas season) Norton AntiSpam 2004 or some other sort of product.

WRONG!

While I will agree that this tactic works in preventing future harvests, it does very little for those existing. Sadly, since August I've not had a lot of time to really study the mail I got and how it's related to my personal SPAM problem. Until now.

Now, up until about a year ago or so (I want to say it was perhaps even around our wedding time a year and a half ago), I had server-side measures in place for some SPAM. To not go into gory detail but be precise, I was blocking certain domains, aliases, and so forth. That helped to some degree...but then again at the time I wasn't receiving nearly as much junk. My guess is that in the last two years, my incoming junk mail has increased by 1000%. No kidding. Anyway, something with the mailserver was broken (or one of my files was corrupted), and I was losing legitimate email from domains I'd not blocked, etc. It was ugly. So, I'd removed those measures...

Now it was time to re-think the process. Some server-side software had changed in the meantime since this happened, so while doing some research, I decided to re-try the alias blocking. Only thing was...I needed to know which aliases to block, which was going to take some research (but not much since I did get 400 junk messages in a two-day period). It didn't take me long to realize that over 75% of my junk mail was coming to address aliases that I'd not used for over two years!

There were actually a series of five aliases that I'd used when I'd had a more 'traditional' Python website (what's now the Repository), when I had PythonMUX, and when I'd registered at eBay (a legitimate, currently-used (although I use eBay very little any more)) years ago. I was somewhat surprised, but really more shocked that not even my primary alias (which I've used for now seven and a half years) gets as much SPAM as these random aliases.

So, after changing my eBay address to a new alias, it was time to do some /dev/bounce-ing. After taking about 10 minutes to really set up the alias file with the new information with which I was armed, I decided to test it out. My test emails arrived (or didn't) as I'd expected. Good. Now for the real test...overnight.

This morning I awoke and checked my email prior to leaving for work. ONLY 36 messages overnight!!!

It would seem as though the experiment worked! Typically in an overnight period, I'd receive about 150 junk messages, and this morning only received 36, 30 of which were actually unwanted. This is absolutely phenomenal to me. So I went to work, expecting the same result later.

Upon my arrival home from work, I only had 30 messages awaiting, about 27 of which were unwanted. Here again, my daily total thus far is 66. Over the past month, my average Sunday SPAM by this time would be on the order of 260. This is a reduction of approximately 75%! And I never have to see it (or download it)! I am quite tickled by this result and finally can see light at the end of my SPAM-related tunnel.

The real test will be a weekday run. But, if my weekend trial is any sort of indicator, I'm expecting positive results.

In the meantime (since Saturday evening when I worked on all of this stuff), I've removed my personal mail client SPAM filters (ones I'd manually set up to catch some of it) in hopes that I will re-write newer, possibly more efficient filters later. Part of my real complaint about all the SPAM was that my mail client had about 25 individual filters, each with about 10 different rules, to check each message while downloading. That's about 250 pattern-matching checks per message, and the time that takes adds up...

So, sometime tomorrow I'm going to sit down with paper and pen...and make notes of the SPAM that I'm still receiving...and write up some generic filters for what SPAM remains. That should take care of about 90% of what SPAM I used to directly receive...and we'll see about AntiSpam after the first of the year. smile

Score one for Matt, No More for the SPAM.

And if you read all of this, I'll give you my moral of the story:

  1. Be cautious of where you put your email address(es) (and how many times they're out) on webpages.
  2. Use SPAM padding (e.g. user @ companySTOPSPAM.com) where appropriate.
  3. Use form-based initial inquiries for legitimate initial email (assuming you've taken the proper steps to 'secure' your form processing script as best you can).
  4. Never underestimate the power of your mind!
  5. NEVER GIVE UP!
This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/25/07

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