Thundercloud and Eightball RANT - Cloudeight Internet LLC

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Our Little Rant by Eightball & Thundercloud
First published in InfoAve Premium Issue #141 June 30, 2006

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A Chat About Spam

I just got off the phone after chatting with a freelance writer from London. He called to discussed a rant we wrote a while back called "Spamhaus" Anyway, we had a nice talk about the Internet in general and spam in particular. And, after talking to him, I started to realize (again) that most people's concept of ISP's content-blocking (censorship or spam filtering - or whatever you want to call it) is a good thing. And, it's understandable, I guess, given the fact that Internet Service Providers spend millions of dollars extolling the virtues of "protecting" their subscribers. I think the gentleman from London and I were in complete agreement about the misconception most people have about spam and how to deal with it.

Certainly, most of us, when given a choice would rather not have to deal with the ugly side of things. No one wants to take out the garbage. No one wants to clean the drains. No one wants to clean up after a sick pet. But we all do these mundane and sometimes unpleasant things because it's our responsibility.

But the Internet, a vast and nebulous thing, has sort of lent itself to being more or less some kind of fantasyland: where things should be free and some sort of big-brother-figure should be hovering in the background to watch our backs for us so that we can concentrate on the more pleasant things like, for instance, playing games, surfing the Web, emailing our friends, chatting and the like.

The Internet is nothing if not a reflection, indeed a mirror of our real world. While the conception that the Internet should be some sort of virtual commune where everyone shares everything with everyone else and everything should be free for the taking: a virtual cyber-utopia. This conception grew out of the Internet's beginnings and is the Internet's own fault; it's time the people who use the Internet realize the Internet has grown up. And as it matures it becomes more and more like the real world and less and less like the communal wonderland it was when it was in its infancy. And like taking out the garbage and other things we don't like to do, each of us will either have to take on more responsibilities to ensure safe and positive usage of the Internet, or were going to end up giving up more and more of our rights. When we turn to "big brother" and ask him to protect us, we relieve ourselves of our own responsibilities and we lose some control and a lot of personal rights.

Spam, unfortunately, is part of the Internet, whether we like it or not. And it's not going to go away anytime soon. It may never go away. Because no matter who comes up with brilliant ideas to stop it; someone else is going to figure out brilliant ways to get around these brilliant ideas. And ensure that the spam arrives in your inbox. There's billions of dollars to be made and that's billions of reasons why spammers will never stop spamming. And why they'll never stop devising ways to circumvent the most marvelous spam blocking software that can the most brilliant programmers can produce. Just because they are spammers doesn't meant they are stupid. It's a fallacy to think that because someone is too lazy to do an honest day's work that they're ignorant.

If you get zero spam, I would bet you a tidy some you're not getting all your important email. And if your ISP promises to "protect you from spam", I promise you you're not getting all your good email either. The reasons are many but suffice it to say this: there are no spam filters which are even close to perfect. There won't be for a long tims: not today, not tomorrow, not in the foreseeable future. If some ISP tells you that their spam filters are 99.9% accurate, they're not telling you the truth. What they really mean is that they block 99.9% of all spam, and probably 10 to 15% of all your good mail too.

And how on earth did blocking spam get to be an Internet Service Providers job anyway? Well, that's easy. Some Madison Avenue hotshot, an "advertising guru" no doubt sold someone on the idea that meddling in people's email (err "spam filtering") was a very desirable service. One which would give one national ISP an advantage over the others. Once this snowball got rolling there was no stopping it. One national ISP started this scheme and every other one, in order to be competitive, followed. Now we've created a monster with many heads and tentacles: so-called Internet Guardians to whom we've entrusted our safety and comfort. Can we really trust these guardians we've so desired and which have been created for us? What do you think?

What if the U.S. Postal Service sent you a letter like this:

"Dear U.S. Postal Customer,

Beginning September 1, 2006 we will be offering you a new anti-junk mail service. We've installed special screening devices on our mail sorting equipment specifically designed to identify, sort and discard unwanted junk mail addressed to you. Since this is a brand new service from your U.S. Postal Service we're offering this service to you as an option.

There is no charge for this service and it will not affect your normal postal delivery. If you wish to participate in our new junk-mail protection service, please return the enclosed postage-paid postcard by July 31, 2006.

Thank you!

Your United States Postal Service"

Would you allow them to decide what was junk mail and what was not? I sure wouldn't. I'll decide what is junk and what is not. Thank you. Even if it means I might have to go through fifty or sixty pieces of junk mail a week. I'd rather see what is in my mail and decide whether or not to keep than to let some machine decide for me. At least this way, I know I'm getting ALL my mail and not just what the USPS thinks I want.

And, we all get junk mail but you don't hear the outcry about it that you hear about "spam". The USPS even encourages junk mail by lowing the cost of sending "bulk" mail. I haven't seen anyone complaining much about this policy.

Yes, yes, I know. Spam email is different. Sort of. Yes it can be offensive. And, yes it can even be dangerous to the health of your computer. But who's responsibility is it to control spam. Yours? Your ISP's? If you allow anyone to control your personal email besides yourself you're making an unwise decision. Everyone who advocates more and more protection from spam is creating a monster that already has its million-fingered hands in enough places. Sooner or later this monster is going to get out control and we're all going to pay the price. We're already seeing the beginnings of the virtual postage-stamp for emails. You have to remember, when people smell the scent of money, hoards will soon follow. Virtual postage stamps and charging a fee for each email sent is going to be the end result of the outcry against spam. So who's going to suffer? Not the spammers. They'll still send spam from third world countries and off-shore spam factories: out of the reach of your government and mine. All of us who send legitimate email will pay the price when the big-brother guardians we've all created collapse under their own weight and we're all paying a penny or two per email - tacked on to our monthly Internet Service Provider bill.

Very few of you get as much spam as we do. Between the two of us, we probably receive one thousand to fifteen hundred spam emails per day. But rather than miss one important email, we'd rather spend the extra half-hour going through it ourselves than to allow some unknown, inhuman, program sift through it, with its meddling megabytes gorging on suspected spam. At least this way we're not going to miss that important email from a customer that needs help, or a magazine in Spain that wants to feature one of our products, or an elderly lady who wants to use one of our wallpapers on her church bulletin. No person, no machine, no software program can possibly know what I want or don't want.

I am asking you to think about what I've written and remember that censorship in any form is never a good thing. The very people censorship purports to protect are the ones who suffer the most in the end. Eventually, it will grow out of control. Censorship once begun is a very hard juggernaut to stop. And spam filtering is censorship no matter how ISP's candy coat it. No matter how Madison Avenue packages it. No matter how beneficial it may sound.

Please think about this and realize where this whole "spam thing" is going. Take the responsibility for sorting your own email, even if it's a task you don't like to do. You don't like to clean your toilet; you don't like to clean your drains; you don't like taking out the garbage, but you do it because it's your responsibility to do it. If you're going to be on the Internet, you're going to have to accept the responsibilities right along with the benefits. Like almost everything else in life.

Don't let your ISP meddle in your email. Don't ever be complacent about censorship. Don't ever let other people control your private property or your private correspondence. Don't be tricked into thinking that having an ISP as your guardian is good thing. An ISP's function is to provide you with a reliable Internet connection; just like the electric company's job is to provide you with reliable electrical service. An ISP has no business being your big brother or your protector. The more control you give them the more control they'll take.

What should you do to deal with spam besides rely on your ISP to protect you? Either sort your email by using a good spam filter installed on your computer and under you control and train it to work like you want it too (we recommend SpamBully; an excellent anti-spam program) or use a good email checker and delete the spam while it's still on the server (before you download it with your email program). Either way, you are in control. And if you do use a spam filtering program like SpamBully, remember no anti-spam program is 100% effective. Always double-check the mail in your spam folder to make sure it really is spam.


And, just to prove, spam is good for something, here are a couple of recipes for you:

Spaghetti Carbonara

1 1/2 lbs spaghetti
12-oz can SPAM, cubed 1/4"
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp butter
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cups grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
ground pepper

In a 10" skillet melt butter over medium heat. Add potatoes; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender (6 to 8 minutes). Add zucchini and onions; continue cooking until vegetables are crisply tender (3 to 4 minutes). Cut SPAM into 6 slices; halve each slice. Add remaining ingredients; stir to blend. Cover; cook over medium heat until heated through (8 to 10 minutes). Yield: 4 servings. YUMMY.

Enchilada Breakfast Casserole

12 oz can SPAM - cubed 1/2"
4 eggs
2 cups whipping cream
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
4-oz can diced green chilies
1 small onion chopped
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 small tomato, chopped
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
8 7" flour tortillas
Picante sauce

Place about 1/4 cup SPAM, 1 tablespoon onion, 1 tablespoon green pepper, 1 tablespoon tomato and 1 tablespoon cheese on one side of tortilla. Set remaining cheese aside. Roll up jelly-roll fashion; place seam side down in greased 13x9" baking dish. In small bowl combine remaining ingredients; blend together with wire whisk. Pour over enchiladas. Cover; refrigerate overnight. Heat oven to 350. Bake, uncovered, for 40 to 50 minutes or until egg mixture is set. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Return to oven; bake for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve with picante sauce. Yield: 8 high-fat, high cholesterol, yummy Enchiladas. Si! Amigos

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