minutia press.
Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam....aaaaarghh!

Our computer systems have recently been augmented with a nifty piece of software called Spam Assassin. Spam Assassin claims to be a wide-spectrum spam-o-cide, and there's an image of some frightening, Ninja-like characters at the top of the page to back this up.

First, it seems to me that equipping our computers with a Spam Assassin is a bit premature. I would think a prudent first step would be Spam Deterrent. If that doesn't do the trick, how about a little Spam Embargo? And of course, the U.N. could always send over a troup of Spam Inspectors to make sure that certain parties are not developing the capability of launching inter-continental, biologically viable spam.

Spam Assassin uses some preconceived filters that look for certain phrases in your email (sex, Nigeria, upcoming departmental standing-committee meeting), and then scores a particular piece of email with a "hit" count. One can customize the filter so that Spam Assassin marks e-mail as "Spam" based on the quality or quantity of hits.

An email identified as Spam is augmented with about a page of header information explaining just how Spam Assassin evaluated the spamosity of the email on its spam-o-meter.

An analogy might go like this. Suppose somebody went around to everybody's postal mailbox and looked for junk mail. If a piece of mail were evaluated to have sufficient junkosity on the junk-o-meter, then this person would place the alleged junk mail in a thick, well-sealed envelope, and write all the reasons on the outside that the mail should go unexamined (sex, Nigeria, notices about departmental standing-committee meetings).

All of this is well and good if you are disciplined and unfailingly honor Spam Assassin's evaluation of what you should and should not read. The problem is: Spam Assassin sometimes misses its mark. I have had email completely devoid of sex, Nigerian bank scams, and information about departmental standing-commitee meetings) falsely accused of spamness. And with explanations of its thinking that rival Faulkner in their magnitude, wading through Spam now takes me 3 times longer than before.

And then I find that innocent mail I have sent has been libelled as spam. The mail was sent to a friend of mine who runs a biotech firm, suggesting that the two of us get together for a stick and puck session at Creve Coeur. He didn't get my mail because his corporate Spam Assassin thought my mail was spam.

If only my imagination were as fertile, so to speak, as Spam Assassin's!


I guess I would rather receive all of my mail, even those regarding websites devoted to brutal rape videos which I have been receiving with alarming alacrity lately, then miss out on important correspondance like "Chris, your fantasy football team sucks" or "CEC Mailserver will be down between the hours of 7 AM and 9 PM for the next week because of construction workers chewing on cables".

Posted by: Chris Hill Festival at September 11, 2002 12:27 AM

I installed spam assassin a few days ago, and I've been pretty happy with it. But my setup is a bit odd since I use procmail and do some rather extensive whitelisting before I let spam assassin loose on the remainder of my email. Anyway, my advice would be to create some whitelisted email addresses if you want a better response out of spam assassin.

Posted by: david at September 11, 2002 12:55 AM

Spam Assassim usually marks the mail with an X-SPAM_FLAG or something like that so perhaps moving all such marked mail to a different folder for later perusal makes sure you don't lose important mail :-) At least that is what I do and it works !

Posted by: ravi at September 19, 2002 2:40 PM