Getting a message to the Archer

I am quite happy to be contacted via e-mail. However, the cost of having one e-mail address which is widely known on the net, having been published since 1994, and another which is short and simple, and thus falls prey to a dictionary attack, means that I am inundated with unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE)—better known (thanks to Monty Python's Flying Circus) as spam.

I can no longer continue to waste my time making a manual attempt to extract legitimate comments and queries from the sea of junk, so it is with great sadness that I must say that I now apply a filter to all incoming mail. I endeavour to to balance fairness to my would-be correspondents with my own need for personal space, but if you think the balance has not been met with one of my rules, feel free to dispute it—just don't mention the rule by name in your Subject heading!

SMTP must be replaced if UCE is to be truly stopped. A variant which offers secure non-repudiation of sender identity would be ideal. Whether such a variant can replace SMTP anytime soon is an open question. To tell the truth, I think it would be a blessing in disguise if the spammers took down the SMTP infrastructure, as it would force the Internet community to look at alternatives. As far as I am concerned, the IETF's attempts at securing SMTP so far are insufficient.

For now, I encourage the use of GnuPG (a freely available communication security tool based on PGP) to secure your e-mails with digital signatures. However, for now I will not force my correspondents to use the technology, particularly as I have not fully adopted it myself. While the latter is likely to happen soon, the former is likely never to happen.

What follows are the rules for ensuring that an e-mail reaches me.

P.S. This page has some coarse language towards the end. I don't mind coarse language (and neither does my filter,) but your filter might.

"These links won't take me anywhere"

This page is for making feedback. All the links after this section will send me a message if your browser is correctly configured and supports the mailto: method. If you want to know more about Kasoft, Audiotek, Mariah Carey, Monopoly, Keckers, etc. then look at my index page.

Normal link service will resume with the appendix for fighting spam.

The Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) Principle

The best way to get me to look at a message is to have a short and to the point Subject line which describes what you want to talk to me about. There are a number of secret handshakes to attract my attention:

You can also, of course, talk to me about anything you like.

Your message must be readable and intelligible

I can only read English, and with the assistance of babelfish, a small number of European languages. Therefore, I must ask that you send mail in a Eurpoean character set, and preferably one defined by an international standards body like ISO or The Unicode Consortium.

If you wish to send me a link to a greeting card, please ensure that you send the link in an e-mail which contains only European characters, or otherwise I may not get it. Some companies in SE Asia and China which provide greeting card services send the notification with Asian language translations—I will not get these messages even if they contain some European text.

Make sure I am not boycotting your relay or domain

I will change my domain blacklist under changing network administration conditions. Please notify me (from a non-boycotted relay) if you think you are being unfairly disadvantaged by one or more of my boycotts.

Mail arriving through Taiwanese and Korean relays will be summarily discarded. Until these SE Asian countries begin to get a handle on the UCE problem, I cannot permit mails which may have forged headers to reach me.

Mail arriving from Microsoft's corporate mail server will be embargoed. This does not include the Microsoft Network (MSN.) It does include Bill Gates, though I doubt he'd ever want to get in touch. (Hi Bill.)

Do not claim to be a prophet, god, goddess or messiah (or a messenger or agent for any of the above) in your header. Messages of this kind will be deleted from my spool.

The name or initials "ADS" are an unlucky combination. Change your username via the electronic equivalent of deed poll before contacting me.

Make sure I am not boycotting your E-mail client

Currently only clients used almost exclusively for bulk e-mail will be excluded from my inbox. This does not include Outlook Express, because that product has a number of legitimate users.

Let's talk about sex

I am happy to discuss sex and relationships in a non-personal manner. However I don't appreciate references to 24/7 hidden cameras, peep shows, paedophilia, misogyny or live sex. You are in danger of offending me and also my filter if you go overboard, particularly in your first message to me.

I am not interested in people seeking non-plutonic relationships before we have even become acquainted. Dating requests will be binned.

I believe the Net should be free

I do not appreciate people who like to conduct blatant capitalist economics on the Internet. The Internet should be lassez-faire. I am happy for the labour market and consumer goods (especially software and books) to infringe on the Net. But in my view advertising, banking, real-estate and financial advice should keep to themselves and not pollute our pure information fluids... er, I mean "streams."

The Internet is the information economy, which is a new world order. Advertising, banking, real-estate—these are remnants of the capitalist economy of the last century.

Messages which refer to monetary concepts or banking products will be summarily deleted because of these, my prejudices.

Talk about my work, not my family

My family are off limits for discussion. While I am happy for my life to be fairly public, I cannot be sure my family share the same level of openness.

In particular, I don't believe in Mother's Day or Father's Day for reasons that are probably clear from the last section.

Messages which refer to any of these things will be deleted.

It's all about the information, Marty

Computers are merely tools, and peripherals merely nuts and bolts. I know more about how to create a friendly, reliable and cost-effective information infrastructure, where the money goes to the creators and innovators, not the monopolists and oligopolists, than any of you. That is arrogance, certainly, but there you have it.

Chances are I will reject any advice which asks me to buy a particular brand or other of printer cartridge or microprocessor. I am not interested in box shifters or non-technical advice aimed at the brain-dead masses. I believe anti-virus software is a cop out, and security patches are admissions of faulty workmanship. I believe in open software, peer-reviewed software and high-class quality-controlled commercial software engineering. I have no interest in anything which has gone anywhere near Microsoft.

Talk to me about GNU/Linux, RISC OS, Java, Oberon, Juice, the BBC Micro, the Amstrad CPC, the Atari ST, the Commordore 64, the Amiga, the Mac, BeOS, Mac OS X, BSD, Solaris, Xerox PARC... Use your imagination!

It's not all serious, Mum

I like to be entertained, but on my terms. I think I should be allowed to buy just the songs I want, and the movies I want, and the shows I want, and the clips I want... and enjoy them in perpetuity, with my friends and my family, with no restrictions. That's what I'm bloody well paying for, and nothing less. (It's a shame the artists don't get the lion's share of that money too, but that's another story.)

Cable, or Pay TV as it is called down under, is not my cup of tea. I don't see any value in screen savers—the best way to save a screen is to put it in standby mode or turn it off when you ain't using it, in my view. Any solicitations for my purchase of Cable or Pay TV (free or otherwise), my patronage of screen savers or tasteless video footage... well they're out of here (and therefore not in my mailbox for very long.)

You're so vain, you probably think this spam will interest me

I am interested in my health and well-being—aren't we all? I get bored by these subjects fairly quickly, however, and my attention span elapses instantaneously when someone mentions that I might like to do something to my appearance to impress my peers or potential mates. There's health and then there's vanity. I pretty much count myself as the antithesis of vain. And no, that ain't a combover to hide the fact I'm bald on top, it's just somewhere to put the limited amount of hair I do have. But then, what do I really care if you call it a "combover"- although to be pedantic I use a hair brush.

Don't do drugs. Drugs are bad, m'kay. You shouldn't do drugs, 'cause drugs are bad. And I won't either—unless advised by a physician anyway.

Don't send me drugs. Or advice about questionable medical procedures. Or messages about drugs. They're all destined for land fill (or the null: device.)

I'm surrounded by frickin' idiots

People who use digit zero in place of letter O, or digit one in place of letters L or I, anywhere other than in passwords (in order to up the number of character classes the attacker has to work into their dictionary, not to make up for a lack of imagination) is a complete loser. A fool, I say. I do have a sense of humour, but my filter doesn't, so don't do it... ever—even to be facetious. Besides, spammers seem to be using the technique to avoid being trapped by dictionary-based filters. (Hm, well that's gonna work for all of 5 minutes...)

People who put whitespace or punctuation between the letters of words, or even acronyms where it is not the norm to do so, are either stupid or too out of date to be let anywhere near an e-mail client. Iraq is a word. USA is an acronym. I don't like to see "U.S.A.", but "i.r.a.q" is so fucked up its unbelievable. (And I'm talking words here—if Iraq is fucked up it is only because the Americans fucked it up.)

Also, learn how to spell. And remember that I'm from Australia, which uses the Queen's English as a basis, with a few extras added for good measure—so words like colour, honour and flavour end in "-our". Horribly mispelt words could earn your e-mail a trip to limbo, so take a little care. But neither me nor my filter is a spelling nazi.

Finally, "WOOF WOOF" is not appropriate in a Subject line.

This is the Internet, people

Big Brother is watching you. The words "strictly confidential" are not going to be of any use in protecting your e-mail from prying eyes, so don't use them. Also, remember you are using e-mail, not the telephone, IRC or ICQ, so don't expect a response in half-an-hour, a day, or even a week. In light of this it is equally pointless to use the word "urgent." My filters, however, will force you to go further. If you try and attract my attention in this way you will have the opposite effect to that you desire. And "strictly confidential" will come for a very literal interpretation—even I won't read your message, which is probably not what you meant.

When composing your subject, do not SHOUT (using caps in an e-mail is called "shouting," just in case you didn't know), use over the top adjectives like "dramatically" or make claims about eternal happiness. Make you Subject describe what you have written about, not how you feel about it. Otherwise you will run afoul of my filtering rules. Sorry, but spammers are always SHOUTING or tugging for an emotional response.

And now the final point: the To line is perfect for putting my name in. So do not put it in the Subject line. This is a technique spammers use to personalize their mail, so I have rules to delete mails which are so familiar as this to breed contempt.

Some rules may be bent, others may be broken

Just because you are in Korea or Taiwan doesn't mean you can't get a message to me. Just make sure you (a) use an e-mail address that doesn't end in .tw or .kr, that you (b) don't use a mail relay in the commerce domain of those countries (i.e. or, and that you make sure that you (c) don't send a message using a legacy character set that supports an Asian language (why don't you (d) use the Unicode or ISO-10646 set.) For the technically minded, my filter looks at the last four characters of the From and Message-ID headers. Relays are determined by inspecting all Received headers. If you have it within your power to alter these headers, this may be a valid way to get past my filter.

I am giving you this information in good faith. Anti-UCE measures are often said to only be effective if they remain secret. But security through obscurity is never a reasonable basis for an infrastructure. I value your messages more highly than the integrity of my system. That is a conscious choice I have made. I don't like Anti-UCE measures in general, because they potentially censor people's thoughts and ideas, and I am definitely against that. But I have now convinced myself that UCE is a side-effect of technical and political defficiencies of the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP.) In order for me to be able to use SMTP effectively, and in the face of lax network administrators in some countries, I have had to employ time-saving devices at my choice. To counter the side-effect of censorship this may have, I offer this information.

Appendix: Fight Spam

The first rule of spam is never to reply. Do not be fooled into doing this. If you don't have any idea why someone is sending you mail, the worst thing you can do is reply to them. This let's them know you are listening, when what you should be doing is plugging your ears and saying "nah nah nah... nah nah nah."

The filter tool I use is AntiSpam by Dave Higton. (It is available under the GNU Public License.) I prefer it primarily because it allows me to control the filters. This costs me time and effort, but allows me to more closely approach my ideal of allowing complete freedom of speech. I realise others like to devote their time to other pursuits, and if this is the case for you then filters based on Bayesian or neural net techniques are something I can recommend. I may try my hand at the latter with Kasoft's SecondBrain project, which is intended to move the burden of filtering e-mail from my brain (and your brain) to a second (or third) brain implemented in software.

Note that Dave Higton's AntiSpam is for RISC OS only. Jan Jeep van der Geer's SpamStamp is another worthwhile RISC OS product based on a Bayesian filtering technique. (This and all the filters I am about to mention are free of charge. Jan Jeep would like an e-mail if you use SpamStamp, however.) Filters for other operating systems revealed by a quick Google are:

An alternative to deploying UCE countermeasures is to force your correspondents to use digital signatures. In this case, you will need to reject or embargo all mail which does not carry PGP armour. Products which can be used over the SMTP transport include:

Public key infrastructure is needed for storing the public keys which are used by these products. You can, of course, publish your key anywhere you like, but I recommend the OpenPGP/HKP keyserver network, some nodes of which are:

What I believe is needed are alternative mail transports to SMTP which mandate digital signatures. This would ensure that the legal entities representing spammers could be traced much more readily. Currently the options fall very short of this ideal:

I currently am unable to use most of these transports. Sorry. I'm happy to use GnuPG (which is part of an OpenPGP implementation) if you insist, however. Just make a note (perhaps in your sig) to indicate you prefer my reply be GnuPG signed or encrypted.

If you have some comments on the problem of spam and possible solutions, I'd be more than happy to hear from you.

Exit: Archer

The material on this web site is subject to copyright.

Kasoft is a registered Australian trademark (in the category of software) of Kasoft Software, owned by Kade Hansson. Audiotek, Play-K and Keckers are also unregistered trademarks of Kade Hansson in various categories. Monopoly, Uno, Java, ARM, RISC OS, Sony, MiniDisc, SVHS, DVHS and DVD are also acknowledged as trademarks of parties other than the author.

Author and editor: Kade "Archer" Hansson; e-mail:

Last updated: Monday 4th April 2005