Like everyone else, I have

by francine Hardaway on June 29, 2006

Like everyone else, I have a terrible problem with email spam. I sit down at the computer to read email about every four hours, and I have at least 200 emails every time. I dread going on vacation, and have been known to check into Internet cafes from Uganda to Shanghai just to compulsively clear out the old Inbox. It behooves me to find a solution.

I refuse to change my email address regularly, which is the solution many people recommend, because that leaves me without a surefire way for old friends and associates to find me during my peripatetic life. I’ve had the same email address for eight years, moved homes four times and changed phone numbers three. And every spammer in the universe knows it.

For a year, I used Spamarrest, which really does work. The problem is, it stops every email coming from the mail server to your Inbox, examines it, and sorts it. Unknown senders receive an auto-reply that says something like “I am protecting myself from spam. Answer this question once and you will never have to do it again.” Less sophisticated people didn’t know what this means, and the tech savvy disdain it. They think I ought to be able to take care of the problem by creating Rules and Folders and letting the email client do the sorting. Me, I’ve never had great success setting up those filters; it’s a great guessing game whether I’ve got the Rules right. I’ve never been good at either making or following Rules in any part of my life.

But the worst part about Spamarrest was the way it slowed down the receipt of email.
I’d be sitting at the computer, talking to someone on the phone, and I’d say “please forward that to me,” about a document on the other end. The person would send it, and there would be what seemed to be a half hour of small talk — phrases like–“didn’t get it yet, did you check your Outbox?” “No, not yet.” The message would be sitting in Spamarrest limbo.

It was probably no more than a matter of seconds before Spamarrest made its decision and sent the worthy messages on to me, but it seemed eternal. So when my annual contract was up, I cancelled the account. By far the best feature of Spamarrest is that, although they auto-renew you as every other “Software as Service” does, they really do allow you to cancel if you wish.

So now I was thrown back on the abilities of individual email clients. On the PC, I won’t use Outlook because of its security vulnerabilities, although it does a really good job of spotting spam. So does its Macintosh cousin Entourage. But both of those email clients crash frequently, too. So I thought I’d try Thunderbird, the open source cousin of Firefox.

Like most open source products, Thunderbird is stable and quick. It’s not bloatware, like Outlook. It’s also not fully integrated with calendars and stuff, like Outlook. That is its downside.

As spam filters go, Thunderbird’s is schizophrenic. I have both a Mac(Book) and a PC. Because I’m intellectually curious, I have been watching how the spam function works on both. With Thunderbird, as with Outlook, you mark a message as junk, and the program learns it. It should never darken your Inbox again thereafter.

Now I’m not telling you I read every spam message, but I do go through the junk folders every couple of days to see if there are any false positives–if anyone I really wanted to hear from got caught in the filter.

And I’ll be damned if there isn’t a huge difference. Pottery Barn, for instance, is junk on the PC, but not on the Mac. Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs, an organization to which I belong, is spam on the Mac, but is an Inbox resident on my PC. Hoodia seems to get through on either machine, although I’ve finally gotten rid of the penis enlargement and mortgage rate ads on both.

All this is but a simple way of saying I can�t figure it out and I don�t have an answer. Email is broken, and try as I might, I can�t fix it.

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