Baby with the Bath Water

“I have a great spam filter.”
At a recent holiday party I asked a friend about an e-mail I had sent him. He pondered for a moment and shook his head. The above was his response, which perplexed me for a moment.

Did he consider my correspondence spam? Was he being facetious?

I grinned and suggested, “Maybe it’s a little too good?”

This scenario is played out every day across America. Consumer confidence in e-mail is in crisis. Our increasing intolerance for unsolicited commercial e-mail has prompted many to launch a diligent attack on spam. Unfortunately are assault is so vicious it risks taking out e-mail as a viable communication tool in the process. If you rely on electronic mail to distribute information this has most likely made your life unpleasant.

User Unfriendly
The biggest problem is the huge number of Internet users who have no idea what may be blocking legitimate messages. Their Internet Service Provider (ISP) has installed some new software they either know nothing about or can’t figure out. While this is troublesome it can be overcome– simple announcements are a great start. The worst part is the bad reflection it casts on parties who have no control over the situation.

When someone visits your web site or contacts your organization they may request information. Many of these requests are transacted via e-mail. Even if they begin as a contact form or blog message, the end result is often in the form of an e-mail message. But let’s suppose a spam filter prevents your acknowledgement or reply from reaching that visitor. Is his first thought to check his “whitelist” or Bulk folder? Does he rush out and call his ISP? Hell no, he’s pissed at you!

Black List, Gray Area

Another trend that really troubles me is the growing number of ISPs and mail administrators that are using Realtime Black Lists to block mail. The idea is to maintain a list of servers and IP addresses that are known to be exploited by spammers. While this is good in theory, it sucks in practice. The problem is, like the Jackson Five song goes, one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.

Imagine a ne’er-do-well signs up for a Yahoo account and starts blasting out Nigerian spam. He is sending this from Yahoo so his address is most likely going to end with yahoo.com (or something similar). Next a blocking list server sees all this spam being sent and decides to blacklist the yahoo.com domain. See any problem there? Like maybe the millions of legitimate Yahoo Mail users?

Now don’t get me wrong- not all of these blacklist guys are so stupid. But, believe it or not, some of them are! And then an even bigger idiot decides to subscribe to one of these half-baked schemes and implement it on his mail server. So now we have legitimate folks trying to send invoices to customers or proofs to publishers or listings to members or news to subscribers or… whatever, it doesn’t matter because it’s bounced or discarded as spam before it reaches anyone.

The Final Solution
A proper solution to the problem of spam is in the works. It basically involves basic authentication to restore accountability. A treatise from the Email Sender and Provider Coalition offers a detailed explanation of the problem and the solution. This is something anyone who administers an e-mail server should read.

But that doesn’t mean Mr. Average User shouldn’t do your part! The ESPC also offers a great little tool on their web site which allows you to test your own e-mail address to see if it complies with the proposed standards. It’s a simple tool, just send an e-mail to the sample address provided. Give it a minute then click the View Sample button to review the results. If your mail doesn’t pass tell your ISP or network administrator about it. Let them know you’re concerned and you think it’s important to consider improving your e-mail authentication. Suggest they visit this link for more information: www.espcoalition.org

Always Searching

Most of us take simple computer tasks for granted. For instance, like visiting a web site we might read or hear about. You open your favorite web browser and type the ubiquitous dubya-dubya-dubyas in the address bar and hit the enter key. Right? Assuming we typed in the web site’s address correctly it will eventually appear on our screen. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

I found just how wrong I was last week while working on a project that would be promoted through a new sub-directory. The project name would thus be added to our normal domain name. So our usual www.companyname.com would become www.companyname.com/project. There was nothing secret about it, so we decided to publish the test site to the live server (also gives the search engines a chance to find it). Pretty common practice, I thought, so there didn’t seem to be any reason to get alarmed. We send it out to our group of testers and they’ll type it into their address bar and have a look at the project test site. What could be easier?

The next day I found just how wrong I was.

Find and Ye Shall Seek
My boss beeps me and says nobody can “find” the test site. Before I had time to realize who I was talking to I asked, “Whaddya’ mean find it?” Turned out he was just as perplexed as our test group.

After a little digging I found out my boss was typing www.companyname.com/project in to Google. Since the sub-directory was less than a day old it didn’t return any search results. It did provide a simple link to the URL, but he didn’t bother to read that part or click the link. I calmly suggested he enter the web address into the box on the toolbar and see what happened. He was amazed.

I later found out there is a very large percentage of Internet users who “search” for web addresses. If you don’t believe me check your web stats. Look at the referring search terms report for your own domain name. I bet you’ll find some. This is the modern equivelent of dialing the operator to connect you- even though you know the number. Do they even do that anymore?

The lesson I learned from this was to publish new directories for a few days in advance of any public test. That allows the search engines some time to discover the new address, and return some sort of result. Also avoid promotions that use a “pre-domain” in place of the typical WWW. Like project.companyname.com. The problem you’ll run into here is people insist on adding the WWW on the front and it will 404. It’s probably best to stick with the simple www.companyname.com/project instead.

Yield… to Clinton Riggs

Clinton Riggs probably never considered himself a “graphic designer.” Heck, the term probably hadn’t even been invented back in 1939 when he was creating his magnum opus. But I’ll bet you’ve seen his work. They’re triangular and red & white. In some parts of the world they have no verbiage, but around here most of them just say YEILD.

When Riggs first ventured into the world of traffic control systems and graphical designs he envisioned a device he called a “responsibility sign.” That would have probably never made it in this day and age, and fortunately the key element “yield” came along. The first signs said: “YIELD right of way” in black letters on a yellow background. In 1939 he tried to sell the idea to Tulsa’s municipal government to no avail. Ironically, interest from afar was enthusiastic about the idea. But it was still another ten years before the Yield sign really started rolling.

Finally, in 1951 Captain Riggs took it upon himself to put his sign to work. Back then the most dangerous intersection in Tulsa was 1st Street and Columbia Avenue. For some reason no stop sign had ever been installed, even though accidents were common. Riggs had the world’s first Yield sign made to his specification out of his own pocket. He promptly mounted a pair on poles and planted them at 1st and Columbia. Accidents immediately decreased.

A modern example of the Yield sign in the US.Over time the Yield sign slowly became more common. There was some trepidation on the part of those that felt it was an unnecessary new sign. The thinking was– any intersection that merits slowing down needs to have a stop sign installed. Internationally acceptance was more rapid and letters poured in from around the world asking about design and implementation of the new sign. And then in the late Fifties came the Interstate Highway System.

Suddenly roadways all across the nation were being built with merge lanes and exit ramps. Even cities built predominantly on a gridwork pattern, like Tulsa, were dealing with curved intersections where traffic flowed together. Perpendicular intersections were one thing, but no one was going to suggest putting a stop sign on a superhighway cloverleaf. The Yield sign was immediately requisite.

I can remember seeing the distinctive original yellow signs as a child. In fact, I recall traveling to other cities and noticing unusual triangular Yield signs. It never occurred to me why there might be different styles of the same sign. Eventually triangular signs replaced all of the original keystone-shaped versions. Years later the Yield sign was “globalized” with a new coat of paint and now the yellow ones have all but vanished.

Riggs retired in 1970 and is best known in the Department as the commander of the police-training academy, a job he held for many years. The southwest precinct of the TPD is named in his honor. His widow, Vera Riggs, still has that original prototype sign, along with those letters from all over the world. An example also resides in the Smithsonian.

And to this day every officer of the Tulsa Police Department wears a small homage to this self-made graphic designer/traffic control engineer. If you look closely at their shoulder patch you can see a little bit of that very first black and yellow Yield sign.

This article was originally written for the Tulsa channel on About.com in June 2000.

Who am I?

Rex Brown
Tulsa, OK
44
Married
Libra
Child Free

I’m a tech guy for a trade association in Tulsa (www.pei.org) and dabble in video, graphics and cartooning. Web design is one of my skills I have put to use for various events and causes— Oktoberfest, TulsaNow, NEOTT and others.

My favorite hobby is motorcycling. I’ve been riding since I was 14 and have mostly owned dual sports and trials bikes (full list). I enjoy riding the twisties, but do not consider myself exceptionally skilled at it. Or willing to risk life and limb to keep up with someone who is.

In a former life I played bass for a band called Radio Milan. We played around the new wave circuit in Tulsa, Muskogee, Dallas, Oklahoma City and Stillwater back in the Eighties. It never went anywhere but we played some unique music and had quite a following.

Jackie and me with friends in San FranciscoSince 1998 my sideline has been building and managing the web site Places2ride.com. The main purpose of the site is listing places to ride motorcycles, motorcycling events, gear reviews, news and links.

Enough about me. What about you?