Tidying Up

Starting off a new year always seems a good time to get a few things in order for the months ahead. Today I have tacked my email inbox. I have been building upon my list of filters for years such that most of the mailing list items, special offers, online order confirmations etc. all get sorted automatically. The filters never remain perfect as a company might change the email address they are sending from or retitle a newsletter. The result has been a spam folder filled with things I want and an inbox full of clutter.

I have spent 30 minutes today updating my filters and sorting out the mess. Since putting the majority of the filters in place a few years ago the annual maintenance is now minimal. I will of course go along and bulk delete old news letters in future but having the vast majority auto sorted mean even this task takes a few moments per folder.

Email wasn't the only clutter I found myself with. My browser downloads folder and my home directory have accumulated a great number of files. Going through and having a good tidy up means not only can I find things again but I don't end up downloading files multiple times. Tidying files is never as easy as email as the filters aren't available. Downloaded files especially PDFs seems to have obscure file names which have no resemblance to the content, meaning each one has to be opened, assessed and renamed. Perhaps a little more regular maintenance on this front is needed.

System Email

On my Fedora system I collect the system emails to my user account. This results in a selection of daily emails outlining statuses which I am prompted to deal with whenever I launch a terminal. In the past I have used the "mail" command to read and delete the messages. It is not the easiest mail reader to deal with however. The fallback has been to use Evolution which is part of Gnome. I have never been a fan of Evolution, instead preferring Thunderbird. Thunderbird does not support the maildir format used by the system email and as such has been ruled out. I am going to be trying out Mutt, it is a command line reader that I found already installed on my system. The interface is structured unlike "mail" and even lists the shortcuts for commonly used commands. For my needs I don't need to configure Mutt to do anything. I did find a couple of links that may prove useful in making Mutt your primary email client.

http://www.gentoo.org/doc/en/guide-to-mutt.xml

http://mutt.blackfish.org.uk/

The Legacy Email Problem

Over the years, like many other people, I have obtained numerous email accounts/addresses. Trying to manage all these used to be a problem so a few years back I began to condense them down into the few I actually use.

I maintain access to the older accounts to receive any incoming mail from websites that I need to amend my contact details for. One of these accounts is subscribed to a mailing list and continues to get substantial incoming mail. So it's time to unsubscribe.

Unsubscribing can take a number of forms. On some sites you login uncheck a box and away you go, no more mail. Alternatively changing your email address to something random so you never get the email. In the past I have clicked a link and been taken to a page to enter the subscribed email address and later clicked another link in an unsubscribe confirmation email. These methods have always worked because the mailing list/site doesn't care who or where you are. I needed to send an email from the subscribed account to the unsubscribing email address of the mailing list.

The problem I have today is related to an issue with email accounts and spam prevention in general. Email is usually accessed in 2 ways via webmail/app or desktop client. I am using a Mozilla Thunderbird on the desktop to read my emails. To send email I need to use an SMTP server, every email account specifies which one to use and you need to pass along your login details to use it. Even though I have access to a lot of SMTP servers via a lot of accounts they are slowly locking themselves down. Most will now only send an email with an address they provide.

Smtp.example.com only sends emails from bob@example.com and not bob@somewhere.com.

This can stop spam and reduce traffic on an SMTP server as it isn't processing emails for people who aren't paying for their services.

Back to my unsubscribing problem. I had the correct SMTP server settings for the account and I was sending the email from the subscribed account in question. It failed. The reason was due to the fact that the email address is tied to an Internet Service Provider (I have switched since). It was detected that I was attempting to send an email through their SMTP server from outside their network. This for reasons of reducing spam and server load had been blocked.

So how do I send the email? The easiest option is to find an open SMTP server which would be happy to send the email for me. Google is able to do this, however the caveat is that rewrites the email address to that of the Gmail account used to send it. You can specify an alternative reply address in the account settings which will result in any replies to the email going back to the original account address and not the Gmail address. This is ok for most cases but I need the email to come direct from the subscribed account.

The solution, the webmail interface. Logging into the email account through the providers website allows me to send email from within their network. It means my unsubscribe email is sent from the subscribed account, through an SMTP server that is happy to send it without changes. I still had to confirm an unsubscribe email but luckily this was sent within a few seconds of the initial email. It has meant jumping through a few hoops but the mailing list is no longer sending me any more mail.

Facebook Is Shit

Some people may not understand my dislike of Facebook as a company, today however it is Facebook as a service that is the problem. I don't normally use the popular social networking website due to the privacy policy, the force feeding of advertising and the user profiling. I maintain an account as a just in case option, I am not an active user.

This week I have needed to view a group message on the service regarding an upcoming event. I was hoping for a quick hop on to view the details and then log off again. What I was confronted with was a broken and unusable mess. Attempting to click to view a message greyed out my screen and did nothing. Ok, I am a Linux user using Firefox and the OpenJDK Java runtime, maybe it's my system which is the problem. Windows 7 with Internet Explorer 32&64bit with the official Java runtime and Firefox still presented me with the same problems.

I gave up in the end and had somebody else send me what I needed.

In future if anybody needs to communicate event details to me please just email it.

Refactoring Email

I have been using email for many years now. Over that time I have changed between mail clients, addresses, operating systems and spam filters. Whilst I have been able to keep on top of filtering mail into folders it finally reached the point today where the the mess of filtering and folders needed a clean up.

First of all were the mailing lists and subscriptions which seemed a good idea at the time but never get read these days. Due to the traffic on these mailing lists I had them all automatically filtered into individual folders. I had folders in folders sometimes 3-4 levels deep. Unsubscribing means I can delete the levels of folders and the extensive filtering rules for them.

The next stage was to have a think about the marketing emails I get from the likes of Amazon, Screwfix etc. I still like to receive them as they sometimes contain offers I am interested in. For each of the stores that I had ordered from there was a sub-folder with the past ordering history. Order emails I sort by hand as they don't justify the need for their own filter. So the orders I want to keep but the general marketing is a read and discard affair. So why keep an individual folder for each marketing email? It makes it obvious where any new mail has come from but adds extra folders. So the decision was to group marketing mail into categories like 'Electronics Components'. All the marketing mail from related suppliers goes into a single folder. Any order emails can be moved by hand into an order folder for storage whenever they arrive. Suddenly a huge number of extra folders disappear.

The next stage was to rename and move the remaining folders into a more structured arrangement. The result is a more easily navigable tree of folders.

The final stage was to redefine and cleanup the mail filters. Having scrapped a lot of folders many rules were not needed. Others could now be grouped together to put mail in a single folder rather than many.

The result is that I now have a much cleaner and easier to use email experience. It took a few hours to get it how I wanted but it has been worth the effort. If nothing else, when I need to add another folder or filtering rule its going to be easier to do so. I have also removed the stuff I never read any more, its less stuff to deal with when checking email. It might be another year or two before I do something like this again, but a periodic review of the setup can only help to keep it clean an manageable.

I’ve won £650,000

I was pleased to receive and email from an Italian website telling me I have won £650,000. That is very good news as I don't even remember entering anything. To collect my prize all I need to do is send my Name, Address, Age, Sex, Occupation and Telephone number. It sounds too good to be true.

Sadly it is. Although I have to reply to an Italian email address there is nothing to stop the person being in the UK. If I supply them with the details they have requested they can find out when I am out of the house and come round and empty it or gather information for the cloning of my identity. Responding would also single me out as an idiot who could be targeted again in the future.

Beware of things like this; If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.