I defeated spam

August 2002

Can you imagine working in a meatpacking plant for 50 years, as my uncle did? Indeed, it's even hard to imagine a meatpacking plant. You know, doe-eyed bovids trot in on hoof at one end and come out sliced and diced on the other. (Glad I'm vegetarian.)

My uncle used to be a bit annoyed when dainty ladies would come through on tours of the plant and hold a perfumed hankie over their noses. Of course, one wonders why a dainty lady would be touring a meatpacking plant in the first place. But no one in Sioux Falls questioned it back then.

Relax, we'll get to the Internet. But there's more. My uncle would get great deals on meat and pass those deals along to my family. Once he told my Dad about a great deal on canned ham. My Dad was thrilled and ordered a ton of it.

My Dad had a hearing problem--a detail of crucial importance to this little anecdote. The canned ham arrived, but to our dismay it wasn't canned ham, it was canned Spam. When my uncle said "Spam," my Dad heard "ham."

I still remember the yucky taste. (Someone told me recently he likes the taste, so maybe we just got a bad batch.) The appeal isn't enhanced by knowing what's in it. Let's just say it's made up of leftovers. For what seemed like years, I carried Spam sandwiches to school in my lunch bag. My Mom tried frying it and in other ways disguising it, but it was always blech.

So as you can see I never questioned the term spam as applied to unwanted e-mail. In the etymology of my experience there is no better term. And while I endured Spam in my lunch bag, I am thrilled to report to you that I have defeated it in my e-mail box.

You must by now be intimately familiar with spam (junk e-mail). I get around forty a day. Who falls for this stuff? Does anyone really believe that an herb can improve your sex life by 247 percent? Does anyone really believe that within the next six weeks you'll make a gazillion dollars? To say nothing of the hardcore porn that comes through and the endless of stream of messages promising to make certain body parts larger and others smaller.

Please pass me a perfumed hankie.

Actually, I didn't defeat it. I simply took advantage of a free spam filtering service offered by my Internet provider (Lisco). It's virtually flawless and has changed my life.

All my e-mail goes through a filter. On Tuesday, July 2, for example, I received around 100 e-mails. Of these, 34 were filtered. Five of those had viruses, and 27 were junk. The remaining two were messages that I, in fact, wanted to receive, so I selected them and clicked the Deliver button. Of the 70 messages that weren't filtered, only one two were junk mail that I didn't want.

I no longer have to sort through and delete a bunch spam each time I check my e-mail. Plus, because the preview pane in my e-mail software shows the content of each message as I delete it, I used to have to view the junk as I deleted it. No longer.

About twice I day I go to my filtered e-mail web page to see what's there. Often the whole list will be spam, from 15 to 25 messages. And in one click it's all gone.

You can have the service to block specific senders, or, if it has inadvertently filtered something you want, you can tell it to always accept mail from that address. There are three different settings, from lenient to aggressive. I use the latter.

The service, provided by a company called Postini, filters five different categories of messages. It automatically snags commercially unsolicited e-mail. In the other four categories it gives you a choice of whether to block that category. These include sexually explicit, get-rich-quick, and racially insensitive messages, as well as too-good-to-be true offers.

It also catches messages that have viruses. Even though my Mac isn't affected by many of them, I still like the idea that they never arrive on my computer.

If your Internet provider offers a filtering service like Postini, go for it. If your provider doesn't offer such a service, tell them they should. Also, there are commercial services available that are similar to Postini. Check out Spamcop.net, Mail Abuse Prevention, and JunkSpy. I sincerely hope that you too will soon be enjoying a spam-free life--and won't need a perfumed hankie as you read your e-mail.

© 2001 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen