This is Zune madness!

Zune 80Image via WikipediaToday I got a Zune as an Anniversary present from my darling wife (woo hoo!) – I walk to work, so I have music-listening space built into my day.

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Finally some movement on the SenseCam front

Porta2030

Porta2030

I’ve mentioned before that I’d like to wear a camera that records whatever’s in front of me all day (for example Microsoft’s SenseCam), but there still don’t seem to be any commercially available products to make that possible.

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Stuck in the UK

Palace of Westminster in LondonImage via WikipediaIn the past I haven’t posted anything terribly personal here – mostly for privacy reasons – but I don’t have anything impersonal to talk about at the moment.

First of all some background. I live in the US, but I am not an American. I have dual British/Canadian citizenship (long story) and I’m in the US on an L-1B visa. This visa is an intra-company transfer and it is based on me having special skills – FileVision (the company I work for) has US and UK offices, and Jade (the programming language we use) is pretty unusual. As a Canadian, I could have used a TN-1 visa, but my wife is British so she wouldn’t have been allowed to work, whereas because I have an L-1 she can get an L-2 visa which means she can apply for a work permit.

Anyway, our visas would have expired at the end of this month, so we got them extended for another two years. There is, however, a catch – one that I didn’t see anywhere in the visa extension documentation. The visa extension lets you stay in the US for the allowed time, but if you leave the country you have to get a new visa with the new expiry date on it. In hindsight it makes sense – the visa is an inviolate document: you can’t just change the date on it, but that never occurred to me.

The reason it’s a problem is that you have to make an (expensive) appointment at the embassy well in advance, then you have to go there no more than 30 minutes before your appointment and no less than 30 minutes before your appointment and wait in line for (literally) hours. You are also no longer allowed to bring your mobile phone into the embassy, and I feel oddly naked without it (even though I hardly use the thing). Then assuming you haven’t forgotten any of the required paperwork and they agree to issue you the new visa, it takes them up to 5 working days to do put it in your passport. Finally they use a secure courier to deliver your passport to you (any time between 8am and 6pm), and they’ll only give it to you if you can produce ID (other than the passport you no longer have) so you have to sit around all day waiting for them.

I’ve had to take two weeks off work to allow enough time for the whole process, and I’m only in the UK for my brother’s wedding, which should have only taken a couple days.

I did get to see my parents and siblings, who all live in different countries and who I haven’t seen for various amounts of time. Also I’m staying with a friend from the University of Hertfordshire, so that’s been fun.

I have that odd familiar/strange feeling being back here. There’s something soothing about the overcast skies and greenery, but I’d forgotten that English people annoy me as much as Americans do.

Curse of the Spam

さてどれから食べようか...Image via WikipediaOver 90% of the email I receive is spam. Some days it’s as much as 100%. A few years ago that would have been a shocking statement, but in the 21st century it’s just a fact of life.

I’ve been a long term user of Spam Bully, but I recently uninstalled it. Axaware got too eager monetizing their product – I’m not interested in renting your software from you while you sit back and watch the money roll in.

I also report all spam I receive using SpamCop. Their UI is unfriendly to non-technical users (hell, it’s just unfriendly) but I enjoy having the opportunity to have spammers’ ISPs switch their Internet access off. Of course nowadays the computers actually sending the spam are probably just zombies, but even switching them off is progress.

The company I work for uses GFI MailEssentials, with mixed success. I can’t for the life of me get it to learn when it makes mistakes.

A while ago I moved my personal email over from POP via SpamCop to Google Apps. The GMail spam filter is very good but not perfect.

My contention is that spam blockers are completely unnecessary. SMTP was created with the assumption that you knew the people you were conversing with – it doesn’t account for spam at all. This basic technology needs to be rebuilt using assumptions that are true today.

Various attempts have been made to eliminate spam by bolting on new ideas like SPF and Sender ID, but unless everyone starts using them (which they haven’t), they won’t work (which they don’t).

The problem is that everyone’s trying to avoid touching SMTP – every mail program uses it, and it has worked reliably for decades. I think they need to just bite the bullet and get rid of SMTP, replacing it with a v2 that from the ground up accounts for spam. You’d have one generation of mail programs that supported both standards and then you could switch over permanently.

The prospect of a spam-free inbox would convince all users to upgrade without complaint. Also a huge number of people are using gmail/hotmail/yahoo accounts, if those companies moved over to the new standard and it would take care of a large proportion of users.

The new standard needs to be non-partisan – any whiff of license fees or patents and you’ll get less than universal acceptance, which will be useless. This probably means that no one company can develop this, which means lots of groups and companies will need to agree, which will stretch out the process. The thing is, to my knowledge they haven’t even started…