Silently Discarding Email Messages

Sunday May 14, 2023 — oldfolio

In a thread, Hugo Landau wrote:

A particular requirement I have for any email provider I use is the following rule: An incoming email which it is technically feasible to deliver must be delivered. In other words, mail must not be rejected for “policy” reasons...

I insist on this because I don’t want to not receive a potentially important message, but also because it’s in my view against my interests for my email provider to preempt my own decisionmaking on what mail I do and don’t want to receive. I wouldn’t find it remotely acceptable if my physical mailman started throwing away letters in purple envelopes without even telling me because he thinks they’re “probably” spam.

There’s also an issue that large mail providers rejecting incoming mail due to arbitrary criteria is one of the ways in which they effectively bully other, smaller mail providers into doing their bidding, and in which large mail providers make it harder for other mail providers to compete. So I see this as both a user-disempowering practice and one which is detrimental to the email ecosystem.

This is exactly my own thinking on the issue. Silently rejecting messages that were sent to me is a deal-breaker for me. I do not care how good your email service otherwise is, or what features you offer, if you silently discard any messages, then I will not use your service as my primary email hosting.

Tags: email

Likelihood of Google Account Lockout

Monday January 30, 2023 — oldfolio

My primary Google account dates back to 2007. I have never been locked out of it. Nonetheless, I have always hesitated to make it my primary online identity for fear of being locked out. I know three people personally who have been locked out. All three cases involved forgotten passwords on accounts where 2FA had not been set up. Two of them eventually got back into their accounts. Unlike my acquaintances, I do have 2FA set up: multiple hardware keys, TOTP authenticator app, backup codes. My account password is stored offline in a KeePassXC database. I don’t think I am as vulnerable to an account lockout as my acquaintances. Yet the fear of lockout still haunts me sufficiently that I cannot bring myself to use that account as my primary online identifier.

So, I was grateful to Jeff Kaufman for digging through lockout reports and trying to determine, “How Likely is Losing a Google Account?” He concludes that if you take a few simple precautions (such as activating 2FA), you are very unlikely to be locked out -- sufficiently unlikely that it is probably safe to use a Gmail address as a primary online identifier. The psychological impact of Hacker News stories about account lockouts continues to weigh heavily on me -- perhaps irrationally so -- and I am still not using a Google account as a primary identifier.

Tags: tech-trends

Cheating and AI

Saturday January 21, 2023 — oldfolio

So, I recently stumbled on this little post by Terence Eden:

I'm now in the middle of writing up my MSc dissertation. I'm doing it in Google Docs - because I'm a masochist. Google Docs has a useful feature called Smart Suggestions which → offers to autocomplete your sentences. Is that cheating? I've signed a declaration to my University saying that my dissertation is all my own work. But it isn't. Google's AI suggested a couple of dozen sentences...

Google Docs knows what I want to write before I write it. Am I merely the editor of machine generated text?

Tags: tech-trends

Email Hosting

Thursday December 8, 2022 — oldfolio

A few months ago, Carlos Fenollosa (the creator of bashblog, the script I use to generate this site) wrote about his decision to quit self-hosting his email after more than twenty years of doing so. He lays out the problems faced by individuals who self-host email and concludes:

One cannot reliably deploy independent email servers...

You cannot set up a home email server.

You cannot set it up on a VPS.

You cannot set it up on your own datacenter.

Fenollosa’s post generated significant discussion at in which Fastmail’s Rob Mueller offers some very thoughtful reflections on the state of email today. Because many of the problems faced by Fenollosa are driven by the pervasiveness of spam (as Fenollosa himself recognizes) Mueller elaborates on the problem of spam. Spam is big business and driven by big money.

There’s different ways to count it, but there’s capital-B Billions lost to this shit every year. And with that comes small-country-sized amounts of resources to throw at making sure the spam gets through...

People sending spam can and do spend good money...; they’ll pay for the top-tier accounts...

That is the email environment in which we operate today.

Tags: email

On Slide Rules

Sunday December 4, 2022 — oldfolio

Wow. It has been two years since I have posted to this blog, and I suspect it may be two years more before I post again. When I studied physics hand-held calculators were still something of an anomaly. We used slide rules. So, I was interested in the slide rule reflections over at the Miscellaneous Stuff blog.

...slide rules are an elegant computing solution. They require no power. They last forever. And, they work well enough to solve most problems where an individual understands the basic principles associated with the problem he is trying to solve.

The Miscellaneous Stuff author is worried that fewer and fewer people understand the “basic principles” of the problems they are addressing. I think he may be right about that.

Tags: tech-trends