A New Low

Volume 7, Issue 110; 01 Jul 2004; last modified 08 Oct 2010

Spam. Lots of spam. Too much spam.

I’m making a flying visit to JavaOne (about 40 hours total time on the ground), so I’d been offline for about 28 hours when I came down to the convention center this morning. I’d come down early to sync my email and practice my presentation for this afternoon.

I settled down in a comfortable spot and fired up my laptop. The conference provides wireless bandwidth, but electrical outlets are pretty scarce so I was running on battery.

I had 3,285 messages waiting. My mail syncing process uses fetchmail to download mail from a couple of POP3 and IMAP servers and runs the messages through procmail to perform various sorts of spam filtering before delivering them locally. Later on gnus slurps up the local mail.

As I watched fetchmail slowly grinding away, I did a little mental arithmetic. A couple of hours of useful battery life divided by three thousand or so messages being processed at a rate of several tens of messages a minute. Not good. Seriously not good.

I received so much spam in 28 hours that I wasn’t going to be able to download all of it over a broadband connection before my battery life was exhaused.


A few things occur to me. One is that I really have to get the procmail filtering moved onto the server. For a variety of reasons, this isn’t going to be easy.

Another is that the throughput I’m getting with fetchmail is really pretty bad. (In fairness, this was WiFi to VPN to a proxy to a POP server in Massachusetts and back (through the proxy, the VPN, and the WifI) to California, so I was a few levels deep. But, still!) I used to get my mail by running a expect script that gzip compressed my mail on the server and downloaded it with scp. I want that kind of performance back! I don’t understand why the performance of POP and IMAP sucks so badly and why no one has done something about it.

My last, most depressing, thought is that email is really perilously close to collapsing under the weight of spam. Most of the time, my box runs 24/7In the spirit of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, can I just interject here how glaringly illogical I find the advertising slogan “24/7/365”. Folks, it’s “24/7/52” or “24/365”. Or maybe you really do mean that your product will only run for a little more than seven years! and collects mail every five minutes so I don’t notice. Going offline for more than a few hours really drives home just how bad it is.


Your SUN fellow Peter van der Linden is also suffering and speaking it out loud (http://www.afu.com/email.html). Looks like the spammers are ahead again. Wonder how long it takes until enough people have had enough pain to give anti-spam some needed momentum.

—Posted by Claus Klingberg on 02 Jul 2004 @ 01:34 UTC #