Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “e-mail”

The proliferation of unreadable e-mail

I’m getting more and more unreadable e-mails.

About a month ago I noted that WordPress’s response forms, which used to be a useful feature, are now unreadable and unusable.

More and more people seem to be sending e-mails with little more than long URLs that take up several lines of text, and make the actual message, if any, very hard to read, and have to be copied and pasted into a web browser because they haven’t bothered to enclose them in angle brackets. Don’t they know that Tiny URL is free? — please use it.

And then more and more people, especially church organisations and banks and the like, are sending HTML-only messages that are not only very hard to read, but also contain Lazy HTML, which prompts my mail reader to display the following warning:

What’s more, these messages are usually sent from a no-reply e-mail address, so you can’t even ask for clarification.

Whenever that warning pops up, I usually delete the message unread.

If they really wanted me to read the message, they would not have:

  1. Disguised it to make it look like spam or malware
  2. Deliberately made it hard to read
  3. Made it “no-reply” so you can’t ask for clarification

So if you are sending e-mails, please remember some courtesy rules:

  • No Lazy HTML
  • No HTML-only messages
  • No long URLS

To which I might add “No Comic Sans”, except that if you feel an irresistible compulsion to use HTML in e-mails, Comic Sans is a lot more readable than some of the squitty and faint fonts that some commercial firms feel compelled to use.


Dead phones and the power of Twitter

Our phone is working again after being dead for 12 days.

We reported the fault to Telkom as soon as we noticed that the phone wasn’t working, and when it hadn’t been repaired within a day, I posted a message on Twitter & Facebook (via cellphone) to let people that we had problems, so they would understand that we would not be able to respond immediately to e-mail messages and such things. Something similar had happened about 6 months ago, when the phone line was down for a similar period, and when the service was restored I found lots of messages saying “Did you get my previous message?”

Occasionally the ASDL Internet connection worked, even when the voice line was dead, It worked for an hour or so, perhaps once every 3-4 days, and then would die again.

On the Twitter messge I used the #hashtag #Telkom, and was interested to see that it was picked up by @TelkomBusiness, who asked for the phone number, and then followed up with the technical department, and after we had been without the phone for 10 days asked them to “escalate” our fault. Whther as a result of that or something else, the phone started working again today, and with it the Internet connection. So thanks to @TelkomBusiness for the role they played in that. It just goes to show that someone out there keeps an eye on the hashtags, and picked up the #Telkom one, and followed it up. It also shows the power of Twitter. Thanks to the people at @TelkomBusiness for their readiness to help.

It will take some time to deal with all the accumulated mail: when I downloaded it in the brief windows when the ADSL was working I would sort it into various “To Reply” folders, sometimes with a quick note that I would deal with it when the line was working again, and delete the spam. Apologies for the notes that were perhaps curt and abrupt, or full of typos. I was typing fast to try to get it off before the connection died again.

Gideon Iileka, Steve Hayes, Thomas Ruhozo, at Kamanjab, Namibia, 5 October 1971And here’s a picture that shows the bloke who was sending the notes; that’s me, in the middle.

The picture is over 40 years old, but then some of the people I send e-mail to I haven’t seen for 40 years, and so they will be more likely to remember me looking like that. And the two other blokes in the picture I haven’t seen for 40 years either. But I like the picture, and I’d like to see them again, and perhaps take a follow-up picture.

There’s one other thing to add.

I posted this to let people know that our phone line is working again, and over the next few days I’ll be working to deal with the accumulated mail. But when I tried to write this, I couldn’t. WordPress would not let me.  The WordPress editor simply would not let me type the text. So I thought I’d try to write the message on my Tumblr bloglet, Marginalia, but that wouldn’t let me edit it either. So eventually I tried loading Internet Explorer instead of Firefox, and that seemed to do the trick. So it looks like the current edition of Firefox is broken, and needs an update.


Facebook email switch continues causing problems –

About 10 days ago Facebook showed its utter contempt for its users by changing their e-mail addresses without warning, and without even telling them afterwards. Perhaps it’s time to jump ship. Facebook email switch continues causing problems –

After causing a raucous week by changing users’ listed email addresses to ones ending in, Facebook’s switch is causing yet another embarrassment for the company and problem for many users.

The email switch has gone beyond the walls of Facebook, according to various users, who are saying that the change is affecting the emails listed in their contact books.

Across the Web, people are saying the emails listed for many of their contacts in their address books have been replaced by emails.

One of the things that got me using Facebook was that it enabled me to keep in touch or get in touch with old friends by finding their conact information, and they could get in touch with me by finding my e-mail address. But Facebook went and destroyed that functionality by replacing my real e-mail address with a bogus one, because the address that they replaced it with doesn’t even work. I’ve sent a few test e-mails to it, and none of them have shown up on Facebook.

OK, I’ve changed my bogus e-mail address back to my real one, but most of my friends haven’t, because most of them probably don’t even know that Facebook has changed their addresses.

So Facebook have destroyed their own most usefulm function.

But it’s worse than that, they’ve changed the address books on lots of people’s mobile phones, if they were linked to Facebook, and as a result people are losing important e-mail’s because Facebook have hijacked their address books. Perhaps that should be the subject of a class action lawsuit, sueing Facebook for interfering with people’s mail.

The Facebook Email Fiasco Might Be Worse Than We Thought (Updated)

CNET reports a multitude of user complaints after the big obnoxious switch-over, citing claims that Facebook is “changing their address books while intercepting and losing unknown amounts of e-mail.” Some Facebookers are seeing messages (inadvertently) sent to their @facebook accounts vanishing into nothing, while others have noticed every email address in their phone overwritten by Facebook:

So maybe it’s time to bail out of Facebook.

What is the alternative?

Well there are things like Linked-in, and Google+, and for the academically incline, but perhaps it’s time for Google to dust off their little-known and well-hidden alternative to Facebook: Orkut.

They don’t show it any more in the Google menus.They don’t publicise it at all, but it has thousands of users in Latin America and Asia, where it has been very popular.

So how about joining Orkut now, and then leaving messages on Facebook asking all your Facebook friends to meet you there?

I’ll be visiting Facebook a lot less frequently now, but I’ll still let my Twitter tweets be posted on Facebook — I just won’t see many comments that people make on Facebook.

More dysfunctional e-mail – Gmail

Is anyone else having problems with this annoying pop-up in Gmail?

It covers several menu items, and half of it seems to be hidden behind the browser tool bar, so there is no way of knowing what it is about and apparently no way of getting rid of it except by saying “OK” to something that one does not understand.

And Google have really shot themselves in the foot with this one, because of the things that is behind that stupid pop-up is the menu item for their much-hyped Google+. I normally go to it through Gmail, after reading my mail. But now that they’ve blocked it off, I don’t go there any more. 

E-mail is becoming erratic and dysfunctional

It looks as though spammers are beginning to succeed in making e-mail useless.

Several people have told me recently that e-mail that I send to their Gmail addresses ends up in their spam box. That is something new. One of the things that I thought was good about Gmail in the past was that one never had to check the spam box, because there were so few false positives. But now it seems that one will have to look in the spam box for mail. And also, when sending mail to anyone with a Gmail address, also send a text message to say “Did you get my e-mail? If you didn’t, please check your spam box.”

But when I tested it by sending a message to my own Gmail address, it came through OK without going to spam.

I am quite unable to send e-mail to people who have iburst addresses though. It doesn’t even reach their spam box, it just bounces right back to me. The only way to communicate with them is through a direct message on Facebook, or SMS.

Oh well, I think I’m going to have to start buying stamps again.

Unisa refuses to communicate by e-mail

The University of South Africa (Unisa) used to be the biggest distance-education university in the southern hemisphere, but don’t expect to be able to communicate with them by e-mail.

Unisa refuses to accept e-mail from Telkom SA, South Africa’s biggest telecommunications serivce, and the one that most other ISPs ride piggy-back on.

Back when Unisa first started offering tuition, in 1961 or thereabouts, there was no e-mail, and so it was a correspondence university and everything went by snail mail. It now seems that those days are back again. And I wouldn’t put it past them to censor the snail mail as well.

It still seems to be possible to send e-mail to Unisa from Gmail, but for how much longer? Who knows? And how many other ISPs have they decided to blacklist, or might blacklist in future?

A distance education university that stops its staff from communicating with other academics, and its students from communicating with the university by e-mail is no longer a distance education university in the 21st century, and hardly even a university at all.

After battling for weeks to communicate with Unisa academics and Unisa Press (who published a book of which I was a co-author), I asked Telkom Internet to find out what was wrong, and this was their reply:

Thank you for emailing Telkom Internet Support.
Unfortunately telkom email server has been blacklisted by unisa.

Kind Regards,

Telkom Internet Support
Tel: 10210 option 2
International: +27 123523661

So if you were planning to study by distance education, then it would be advisable to avoid Unisa, and find a university that has made it into the 21st century and lets you communicate with it by e-mail.

And it’s time that the Unisa management grew up: they are receiving government subsidies (ie from the taxpayers), and should stop playing petty childish games with communications with students and academics. Will they consider refunding the fees of students who find it difficult to communicate with the university and miss deadlines etc?

Some useful e-mail utilities

Someone sends me a “crime report” of crimes that have taken place in our neighbourhood. I’ve thought of saving these in a database that would make it easier to refer to them — to see if a car registration on a vehicle behaving suspiciously has been recorded as being involved in crimes elsewhere, for example. But what deters me is all the extraneous headers in the e-mails. All I want is the to, from and date lines, and not all the routing information and spam checks and the like.

And suddenly someone has pointed me to a utility that does just that, for Pegasus e-mail, the mail-reading program I use. And lots of other useful utilities too.

LEXACORP – Information Systems Development : Papua New Guinea:

Note that none of these utilities has a ‘Setup’ or ‘Uninstall’ procedure. They do not write to the Registry and do not put DLLs etc in other directories. To remove any of these utilities from your system just delete them.

I notice that Windows 7 doesn’t have a built-in e-mail system. This is an improvement, since it gives the user a choice of what e-mail program to use, and I use and recommend Pegasus, partly because in its default setup it is immune to a lot of the spam and malicious e-mails that seem to go around.

Pegasus Mail:

Welcome to the North American Web Site for Pegasus Mail, the Internet’s longest-serving PC e-mail system, and for the Mercury Mail Transport System, our comprehensive range of Internet Mail Server products. Pegasus Mail is a free product, dedicated to serving all who need it, while Mercury is a modestly-priced commercial system.

I suppose I am a bit old-fashioned about e-mail: I think e-mail is e-mail and web pages are web pages, and that HTML codes should be kept out of e-mail, and reserved for web pages. Using HTML in e-mails is wasteful of bandwidth and disk space. A two-line message in plain text can take 200 lines or more in HTML, yet the content is exactly the same. So I don’t like HTML in e-mails, and Pegasus lets me send and read message in plain text.

Pegasus also, by default, blocks “lazy html”. That is, HTML codes that refer to an external web site and not something in the message itself. It is something most often used by spammers, scammers and distributors of malicious software, designed for more tolerant and less protective mail readers like Outlook and Outlook Express. Pegasus by default blocks them and displays a warning, and anything in the message that refers to a remote site is displayed as a blank grey block. Sometimes such a message will display something like “Your mail reader cannot display this message” and tells me what hoops I need to jump through to read it. But such messages are almost invariably unsolicited spam anyway, which I don’t want to read.

I prefer that if people want me to look at a web page, they describe it and give the URL. Then I can decide if I want go there or not. Pegasus displays the URLs in clickable form, so you click on them and it calls your web browser. But it also displays the real address at the bottom of the screen, both for e-mail and web addresses. That is useful for exposing phishing expeditions. When you are asked to send details of your bank account to an address like:

amd Pegasus displays it as

you know something phishy is going on.

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