Category Archives: Mail

Absorbing 1,000 emails per day

Some people say email is dead. Some people say there are “email killers” and bring up a bunch of chat and instant messaging services. I think those people communicate far too little to understand how email can scale.

I receive up to around 1,000 emails per day. I average on a little less but I do have spikes way above.

Why do I get a thousand emails?

Primarily because I participate on a lot of mailing lists. I run a handful of open source projects myself, each with at least one list. I follow a bunch more projects; more mailing lists. We have a whole set of mailing lists at work (Mozilla) and I participate and follow several groups in the IETF. Lists and lists. I discuss things with friends on a few private mailing lists. I get notifications from services about things that happen (commits, bugs submitted, builds that break, things that need to get looked at). Mails, mails and mails.

Don’t get me wrong. I prefer email to web forums and stuff because email allows me to participate in literally hundreds of communities from a single spot in an asynchronous manner. That’s a good thing. I would not be able to do the same thing if I had to use one of those “email killers” or web forums.

Unwanted email

I unsubscribe from lists that I grow tired from. I stamp down on spam really hard and I run aggressive filters and blacklists that actually make me receive rather few spam emails these days, percentage wise. There are nowadays about 3,000 emails per month addressed to me that my mail server accepts that are then classified as spam by spamassassin. I used to receive a lot more before we started using better blacklists. (During some periods in the past I received well over a thousand spam emails per day.) Only 2-3 emails per day out of those spam emails fail to get marked as spam correctly and subsequently show up in my inbox.

Flood management

My solution to handling this steady high paced stream of incoming data is prioritization and putting things in different bins. Different inboxes.

  1. Filter incoming email. Save the email into its corresponding mailbox. At this very moment, I have about 30 named inboxes that I read. I read them in order, top to bottom as they’re sorted in roughly importance order (to me).
  2. Mails that don’t match an existing mailing list or topic that get stored into the 28 “topic boxes” run into another check: is the sender a known “friend” ? That’s a loose term I use, but basically means that the mail is from an email address that I have had conversations with before or that I know or trust etc. Mails from “friends” get the honor of getting put in mailbox 0. The primary one. If the mail comes from someone not listed as friend, it’ll end up in my “suspect” mailbox. That’s mailbox 1.
  3. Some of the emails get the honor of getting forwarded to a cloud email service for which I have an app in my phone so that I can get a sense of important mail that arrive. But I basically never respond to email using my phone or using a web interface.
  4. I also use the “spam level” in spams to save them in different spam boxes. The mailbox receiving the highest spam level emails is just erased at random intervals without ever being read (unless I’m tracking down a problem or something) and the “normal” spam mailbox I only check every once in a while just to make sure my filters are not hiding real mails in there.

Reading

I monitor my incoming mails pretty frequently all through the day – every day. My wife calls me obsessed and maybe I am. But I find it much easier to handle the emails a little at a time rather than to wait and have it pile up to huge lumps to deal with.

I receive mail at my own server and I read/write my email using Alpine, a text based mail client that really excels at allowing me to plow through vast amounts of email in a short time – something I can’t say that any UI or web based mail client I’ve tried has managed to do at a similar degree.

A snapshot from my mailbox from a while ago looked like this, with names and some topics blurred out. This is ‘INBOX’, which is the main and highest prioritized one for me.

alpine screenshot

I have my mail client to automatically go to the next inbox when I’m done reading this one. That makes me read them in prio order. I start with the INBOX one where supposedly the most important email arrives, then I check the “suspect” one and then I go down the topic inboxes one by one (my mail client moves on to the next one automatically). Until either I get overwhelmed and just return to the main box for now or I finish them all up.

I tend to try to deal with mails immediately, or I mark them as ‘important’ and store them in the main mailbox so that I can find them again easily and quickly.

I try to only keep mails around in my mailbox that concern ongoing topics, discussions or current matters of concern. Everything else should get stored away. It is hard work to maintain the number of emails there at a low number. As you all know.

Writing email

I averaged at less than 200 emails written per month during 2015. That’s 6-7 per day.

That makes over 150 received emails for every email sent.

Tales from my inbox, part++

“Josh” sent me an email. Pardon the language here but I decided to show the mail body unaltered:

From: Josh Yanez <a gmail address>
Date: Wed, 6 Jan 2016 22:27:13 -0800
To: daniel
Subject: Hey fucker

I got all your fucking info either you turn yourself in or ill show it to the police. You think I'm playing try me I got all your stupid little coding too.

Sent from my iPhone

This generates so many questions

  1. I’ve had threats mailed to be before (even done over phone) so this is far from the first time. The few times I’ve bothered to actually try to understand what these people are hallucinating about, it usually turns out that they’ve discovered that someone has hacked them or targeted them in some sort of attack and curl was used and I am the main author so I’m the bad guy.
  2. He has all my “info” and my “stupid little coding too” ? What “coding” could that be? What is all my info?
  3. Is this just a spam somehow that wants me to reply? It is directed to me only and I’ve not heard of anyone else who got a mail similar to this.
  4. The lovely “Sent from my iPhone” signature is sort of hilarious too after such an offensive message.

Very aware this could just as well suck me into a deep and dark hole of sadness, I was just too curious to resist so I responded. Unfortunately I didn’t get anything further back so the story thus ends here, a bit abrupt. :-(

groups.google.com hates greylisting

Dear Google,

Here’s a Wikipedia article for you: Greylisting.

After you’ve read that, then consider the error message I always get for my groups.google.com account when you disable mail sending to me due to “bouncing”:

Bounce status Your email address is currently flagged as bouncing. For additional information or to correct this, view your email status here [link].

Following that link I get to read the reason:

“Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the server for the recipient domain haxx.se by [mailserver]. The error that the other server returned was: 451 4.7.1 Greylisting in action, please come back later”

See, even the error message spells out what it is all about!

Thanks to this feature of Google groups, I cannot participate in any such lists/groups for as long as I keep my greylisting activated since it’ll keep disabling mail delivery to me.

Enabling greylisting decreased my spam flood to roughly a third of the previous volume (and now I’m at 500-1000 spam emails/day) so I’m not ready to disable it yet. I just have to not use google groups.

Update: I threw in the towel and I now whitelist google.com servers to get around this problem…

Subject: pharma hack

Time to submit some more strange emails I’ve received recently. Here’s one I suspect may be someone who spots that curl is being abused against some host. I really wouldn’t even know how to begin to answer this…

Someone is using your code to continually hack small businesses I work
with. How on earth do I stop them?!
[name]

Don’t email me

Why I insist on people to keep issues on the mailing list(s)

A recent twitter discussion I had with Andrei Neculau contributed to his blog post on this subject, basically arguing that I’m wrong but with many words and explanations.

It triggered me to write up my primary reasons for why I strongly object to handle open source issues, questions and patches privately (for free) in open source projects that I have a leading role in.

1. I spend a considerable amount of my spare time on open source projects. I devote some 15-20 unpaid hours a week for those communities. By emailing me and insisting on a PRIVATE conversation you’re suddenly yanking the mutex flag and you’re now requesting that I spend parts of this time on YOU ALONE and not the rest of the community. That’s selfish.

2. By insisting on a private conversation you FORCE me to repeat myself since ideas and questions are rarely unique or done for the first time. So you have a problem or a question that’s very similar to one I just responded to. And the next person will ask the same one tomorrow. By insisting on doing them in public already in the first email, already the second person can read it without me having to write it twice. And the third person who didn’t even realize he was interested in that topic will find out and read it as well (either now when the mail gets sent out or even years later when that user find the archived mailing list on the web). Private emails deny that ability. That’s selfish.

3. By emailing me privately and asking questions and help, you assume that I am the single best person to ask this question at this given time. What if I happen to be on vacation, be under a rough period at work or just not know the particular area of the project very good. I may be the leader or a public person of a project, but I may still not know much about feature X for operating system Z about which you ask. Ask on the list at once and you’ll reach the correct person. That’s more efficient.

4. By emailing me privately, you indirectly put a load on me to reply – or to get off as a rude person. Yes you’re friendly and you ask me nicely and yet even after you remind me after a few days I STILL DON’T RESPOND. Even if I just worked five 16-hour work days and you asked questions I don’t know the answer to… That’s inefficient and rude.

5. Yes, you can say that subscribing to an email list can be daunting and flood you with hundreds or thousands of emails per month – that’s completely true. But if you only wanted to send that single question or submit the single issue, then you can unsubscribe again quite soon and escape most of that load. Then YOU do the work instead of demanding someone else to do it for you. When you want to handle a SINGLE issue, it is much better load balancing if you do the extra work and the people who do tens or HUNDREDS of issues per month in the project do less work per issue.

6. You’re suggesting that I could forward the private question to the mailing list? Yes I can, but then I need to first ask for permission to do so (or be a jerk) and if the person who sent me the mail is going to send me another mail anyway, (s)he can just as well spend that time to send the first mail to the list instead of say YES to me and then make me do his or hers work. It’s just more efficient. Also, forwarded questions tend to end up so that replies and follow-up questions don’t find their way back to the original poster and that’s bad.

7. I propose and use different lists for different purposes to ease the problem with too many (uninteresting) emails.

Subject: Complaint

A person unknown to me sent me this email. I don’t know why he/she sent this to me or how he/she thought I would be a person that can help out. The language used says machine-translation to me given some of the very weird language constructs used.

It doesn’t look like a scam nor spam to me. A mystery.

Dear,

Kindly I need your support and help is very urgent isse, I have account in Skype has been Hacr today by

[the name used here is withdrawn, possibly a nick name or skype account name?]

And Introduced me two syllables where I speak to him and introduced me the names of people I know where the deployment section as well as my wife threatened to publish pictures where I’m not sure that happened, my family pictures

I hope you help me solve the problem so as not being destroyed my family life, and to take the necessary measures and inform the authorities as I have known it from Qatar

Please call me for confirmation for help on 123-0123456789

NFS has many meanings

Today I learned that Need for speed World (I first had to google what “NFS-world” actually means) uses curl when I received this email:

From: [removed]
Subject: NFS-world

I can not go into the game for 4 months my nickname “[removed]”. it writes the error “Login failed, please try again.” Please solve this problem. Support Group does not help.

But no, I don’t know why this guy emailed me…

I then went on to look for other Electronic Arts games using libcurl, and I fell over these forum posts that clearly indicate Game Face uses it, but I found no credits or other information page online.

Can you find any other?

generic opt-in spam lists don’t exist

The last couple of days I’ve received a number of Swedish spam emails and I started digging up the Swedish companies behind them. The vast majority of all spams I get and have gotten during the years are English, so the Swedish ones stand out and they are a relatively new thing.

There seems to be a range of companies that now offer “email marketing” as a service to other companies. And there are lots of companies apparently willing to use such services. The other day the somewhat respected ISP company Crystone for example went ahead and spammed “a few hundred K” recipients (link to a Swedish-speaking forum). I’ve long been annoyed by the repeated spam mails I get from the company Jajja, which apart from being in the snake oil business (SEO) seems to be a legitimate business that wants to be taken seriously. Of course, they have a shady history of bad business ethics (link to Swedish article about Jajja doing blog-comment spamming in 2007).

A can with spamCrystone’s excuse for their spam outburst was that they had bought this list of “verified” and “opt-in” addresses (from big-time spammer company mailcom.se) so they were quite surprised when large amounts of people started complaining and whining about their spam. mailcom.se, unsurprisingly, on their site boast to also have Jajja as customers. I have emailed mailcom.se and complained in strongly worded terms. I expect no response or effect.

Hejsan

Detta är ett av tjogtals (hundratals?) spam email jag fått från er. Ni har hittat/köpt denna email-address genom web-scraping och ni och era kunder är inget annat än spammare. Det är illegalt i Sverige och att betrakta som en vedervärt sätt att försöka marknadsföra någonting.

Fy skäms!

The above is the email text I sent. It could be translated into English like:

Hello

This is one of the many (hundreds?) spam emails I’ve received from you. You found / bought this email address by web-scraping and you and your customers are nothing but spammers. It is illegal in Sweden and to be regarded as a horrible way of trying to market anything.

Shame on you!

Newsflash: there is no such thing as a blanket list with verified and opt-in email addresses. You may get people to opt-in for a particular and well explained purpose, but nobody ever asked anyone if they wanted to get stupid market emails from Crystone without compensation. Who would have opted-in to something like that?

Legality? People here in Sweden are quick to point out that sending market emails to companies and other business is not illegal here. Although, as is easily proven, these guys don’t know who they target as their list clearly is created by old fashioned web scraping techniques and they send to anyone, individuals and companies – without discrimination. Besides, my biggest complaints against spam is that it is a nuisance and a pain, if it is illegal or not is not the biggest concern to me. Spam is spam no matter what.

I’ve also explicitly tweeted about the spam service provided by quicknet.se. They’re at least somewhat open about it and add a header in their outgoing mails claiming them to be from “QuicNet_AB” (notice how the letter k is absent). I’ve received several spams via their domain gallerian.org so there’s no doubt who’s behind them. These mails also have ended up targeted to email addresses that are without any doubt harvested from the web. An employee of quicknet responded to me (in Swedish), apparently surprised by my allegations but I’ve received no further info. But frankly, I don’t care what excuse they can come up with. It will only be something lame as this is not a mistake.

Other seemingly popular Swedish spam companies include epostservice.se/com, epostarna.se and so on. I wish more people will react on the spam and object to the companies that buy these services (in good faith or not) and to the companies that provide these services. Tell them it’s all spam, no matter what excuses they can figure out!

PS. Yes, this is the same Crystone I’ve written about before

Remove your software

Your software needs to be removed from my work computer. I did not install it,
do not want it and did not request it.

Another one of those emails arrived in my inbox today:

Subject: Remove:

Your software needs to be removed from my work computer. I did not install it, do not want it and did not request it.

[name redacted]

No mention what software or indication of what platform or what might’ve happened when my software allegedly ended up in the person’s computer. Not very friendly either.

Again I suspect that there’s some software that uses curl in some way, but I can’t tell for sure…

I replied to it, saying that I didn’t install anything on his computer.

Email asking for my products

In my mini-series of strange mails I receive, here’s another one:

Subject: Product Request

Hello,
I am interested in purchasing some of your products, I will like to know
if youcan ship directly to SPAIN , I also want you to know my mode of
payment for this order is via Credit Card. Get back to me if you can ship
to that destination and also if you accept the payment type I indicated.
Kindly return this email with your price list of your products..

I assume I’ll never figure out what products he speaks of, or how on earth he ended up sending me this… I’ll admit I was tempted to make up some “interesting” products to offer.

Update: I was informed that this is probably “just” another online fraud attempt. How boring.