Better Spam Killer

A while back I wrote about a free utility called Mailfilter for getting rid of spam. I’ve since switched to something much better, an inexpensive commercial utility called Spamfire. No doubt about it, Spamfire is worth the money.

Update: I no longer recommend SpamFire, having found much better tools. See my Personal Survey of Anti-Spam Tools for more current recommendations.

I wrote about a utility called Mailfilter here a while back. While I liked it, after a while I found it to not be flexible enough, and there was no safety net. If it thought a message was spam, it would delete it, and the message was gone forever.

I’ve switched to something called Spamfire. Today it’s Mac OS only (both Classic and Mac OS X), but they are working on a Windows version as well. Except for a few stability issues, Spamfire is just about the perfect personal spam filter.

Spamfire is a commercial product, unlike Mailfilter, but at less than $20 for the “Lite” version it’s well worth it if you’re getting a fair amount of spam in your e-mail inboxes. The things you get with Spamfire, that are not in Mailfilter include:

  • A very well-designed graphical user interface, which makes installation and configuration a breeze
  • A pre-defined suite of effective filters, professionally created by the vendor (with Mailfilter you roll your own)
  • A flexible scoring system (each matching filter adds to a message’s cumulative score), and an adjustable threshold for triggering mail deletion
  • Recoverable mail deletion — just Rescue a message from the Spamfilter application, which holds all deleted messages until you permanently delete them yourself
  • With the Pro version ($29) you get automated (or manual, if you prefer) updates to the application and the spam filters for 12 months (renewable thereafter)

I’m extremely satisfied with Spamfire. Because I can recover from false positives, I can set the filtering to be much more aggressive, which leads to substantially less spam. With Mailfilter I had to be careful, and only delete things that were certainly spam, which meant Mailfilter only cut down the amount, instead of virtually eliminating it.

Highly recommended if you’re tired of spam in your inbox.

A Good Keyboard Is Worth 1000 Words

I have written several times about my search for an acceptable keyboard to replace my beloved Apple Extended Keyboard, which I can no longer use with my Mac, due to the retirement of the ADB interface. At long last, my search is over, with the purchase of a Ballistic USB Extended Keyboard.

I have written several times about my search for an acceptable keyboard to replace my beloved Apple Extended Keyboard, which I can no longer use with my Mac, due to the retirement of the ADB interface.

Well, my search is over. About three weeks ago I received a brand new Ballistic USB Extended Keyboard (Graphite) from Mac Station, and have been beating on it regularly since then. It’s everything I have been looking for in a keyboard, with the exception of not having the groovy Volume Up/Down/Mute and CD Eject buttons that the Apple Pro Keyboard has. And those I can live without, in return for the right feel on the keys.

If you’ve used and been a fan of the old Apple Extended Keyboard, the Ballistic will delight you, and at $75 Canadian (under US$50), it’s actually cheaper than any of the bad keyboards I’ve tried.

Highly, highly recommended.

Purging Spam

If spam in your Inbox is a problem, Mailfilter is a pretty good solution, especially if you’re using Mac OS X.

Update: I no longer recommend Mailfilter under any circumstances. See my Personal Survey of Anti-Spam Tools for more current recommendations.

I get a lot of spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail), primarily because I have a lot of public web sites with my e-mail address on them. The spammers have robots that spider the web, scanning for e-mail addresses and adding them to their databases of victims to send offers for free porn, herbal viagra, multi-level marketing opportunities, transfers of money from Nigeria, and the like.

I get dozens of spam messages a day. For a long time I sent them to the Spam Recycling Center, but recently that started bouncing the messages back to me, so I had to find something else to do with them. And frankly, I’m tired to trying to fight spam. Now I just want to get less of it.

I recently found a utility called Mailfilter that is my new answer. Basically it pre-scans my incoming e-mail, and if anything matches a spam rule, it deletes it before I ever see it. I’ve been using it for less than a week, and it’s already deleted more than 200 spam messages. I am a very happy user.

The best thing, for me, is that it runs natively on Mac OS X, and integrates quite well with my e-mail client, Eudora, via AppleScript and cron.

It’s not for the faint-of-heart, technically. If you don’t know what a compiler is, or cron, or a shell script, then it’s probably not for you. But if any of those things sounds familiar then Mailfilter may be a pretty good solution for you, too.

Building a Better Keyboard

Today I attached to my Mac G4 the most advanced, comfortable keyboard I’ve ever used: a 10-year old Apple Extended Keyboard.

Today I gave up on the KeyTronic, the keyboard I selected when I couldn’t stand anymore the Apple Pro Keyboard that came with my new computer. I used it for several months to be able to say that I truly gave it a shot. But, in the end, it sucked. Like most keyboards today suck.

I now have my trusty 10-year old Apple Extended Keyboard attached to my 6-month old Apple G4, using a Griffin Technology iMate ADB-to-USB adapter.

It’s kind of an ugly hack. I’d much rather be using a modern USB keyboard, especially one with the special keys for volume up/down/mute and CD eject, like the new Apple Pro Keyboard.

But all of those just have the wrong feel. Too spongy, wrong resistance, not enough tactile feedback. The AEK is perhaps the finest keyboard ever made. Certainly, it is to me. I may never give it up.

Looking Back at 2001

God knows we’re glad 2001 is over but, in retrospect, it wasn’t all bad.

Rochelle and I are both glad that 2001 is over with. It’s not as though a calendar can mark the boundaries of luck or experience, but as much as the date shouldn’t matter, you can’t help summing a year up into a theme. And 2001 sucked for lots of people.

But it wasn’t all bad. Rochelle and I were fortunate to be able to spend almost two months together, 24/7, and come out on the other side having more fun with each other than ever. It’s good to be married to a good partner.

Both Rochelle and I experienced job changes we hadn’t intended, mine because my company died, and Rochelle because her boss wasn’t right for her. Now we’re both in jobs we like better than what we started with last year, and which are overall more financially rewarding to boot.

We replaced the nasty carpets in much of our house with wonderful hardwood floors. The floors bring joy to us every day, and may go down as the best investment we made in 2001 (not that the others were hard to beat).

Inspired by the success of the floors, we got serious about lighting, and replaced five existing lights with 4 “new” (to us) period fixtures (this was the source of my Fun With Electricity postings). The one that gives me the greatest pleasure is in the office, which replaced a ceiling light and a 500-watt halogen lamp, lighting the office about 20% better using half as much electricity.

We also started in on our water closet renovation, but have stalled on that, because we decided that getting all of the excess crap out of our parlor and office was more important. Both of these jobs will be with us through most of 2002, I predict.

We threw or attended some really good parties, the best of which was Rochelle’s birthday, and the most impressive was David’s birthday. (One of these days we’ll get the food photos from that up on our site.)

We took some nice trips, including Mexico, Texas, and LA. We ate a whole lot of good food on those trips, most of which we photographed, and most of which we’re behind on publishing. A resolution for 2002, surely.

I bought a new Mac and transitioned entirely to Mac OS X. This is something which gives me pleasure daily, for a whole lot of reasons, one of which is that it enabled me to start this weblog.

I said goodbye to Tex, whom I miss dearly, but who is certainly living a better, happier life in her new household, where she’s the top kitten, with cat companions she likes, neither of which was true in our house.

Rochelle and I both made tremendous progress on our crap reduction and abatement programs, though we clearly have more to accomplish in 2002 (another resolution).

I’m sure we accomplished many other things we’re happy with in 2001, and my feeble mind can’t remember them. That’s why one of my resolutions for this year is to regularly update this weblog. I’m a little behind at this point…

Liquidation of History

Today’s auction of Be Incorporated’s assets is the opportunity to purchase computing history. Unfortunately, the market said they were mostly evolutionary dead-ends.

This morning I’m headed down to Menlo Park, where I worked for three years at Be Incorporated.

It’s been over two years since I left Be, and in the time that’s passed, so has Be. Today they’re just another victim of the economic downturn, and their assets are being auctioned off.

I was at Be during some of the most exciting times, including the first public release of the BeOS, being invested in by Intel, and the public offering.

Be was a special place to work, and BeOS is still unmatched by any other operating system in some areas of functionality and technology. Be, the BeBox, and BeOS have a place in computing history, and it’s a tragedy that it will be as curiosities, evolutionary dead ends, rather than as an important turning point in the computer industry.

I’m headed down to Menlo Park to collect my piece of that history. Some momento of what it was like to work there, what it meant to me, what the company accomplished.

I’m taking the credit card. Don’t tell my wife.

Been There, Done That — It’s Better the Second Time

Once upon a time, I worked for Be, of BeOS (semi-) fame. I miss BeOS, but have found an acceptable substitute: Mac OS X.

Once upon a time, I worked for Be Incorporated, of BeOS (semi-) fame. For those who used it, BeOS (an operating system for desktop computers) was unique, and special. But Be is officially no more, and BeOS has been dead for a while.

What made BeOS so useful was a wonderful, responsive graphical interface on top of a powerful, Unix-like environment. The marriage of the two was unique at the time, and the work of some engineers who truly had magic powers.

For a lot of reasons Be didn’t make it, and BeOS died when the company did. It would remain a curiosity of computing history, and a tragedy for those of us who cared, except that some of the ideas live on.

I write this posting on a new Macintosh G4, in a Web browser that is the most beautiful, graceful browser I’ve ever used, OmniWeb. When I click the Save button, the information I’ve typed into a lovely GUI application gets transfered to the web server running a PHP application, which saves the text to a database (MySQL), so that you can read it later.

This relates to BeOS in that all of the software used to run my Weblog application is running on the same machine, running Mac OS X. It’s a lovely graphical interface on top of a true Unix-like environment, which allows the use of both a beautiful Web browser and the Unix-based Web server, PHP, database, and the other Open Source software upon which this site depends.

So, BeOS has died, but some of the most important ideas live on. Mac OS X isn’t for everyone, but for those who give it a whirl and can harness its powers, it’s truly magic.

Keyboard Rant

Why doesn’t anyone make a good USB keyboard for modern Macintoshes?

I recently bought a new Macintosh, my first in three years. The new systems don’t have the old keyboard connector (ADB), just USB connections. They come with a keyboard, and mouse too, but both of them suck.

Oh, they’re pretty enough, but when you use them intensively, day in and day out, the form-over-function flaws start to drive you nuts.

I found a wonderful replacement for the mouse, a Logitech wireless optical mouse, which is easily the nicest mouse I’ve ever used. It’s also beautiful to look at, proving that highly functional does not require ugly. Wish Steve Jobs would learn that lesson.

Which brings me to the keyboard. The Apple Pro Keyboard is, as I said, beautiful to look at, but the actuators are kind of stiff, and the key action is spongy. This means that I’m constantly missing letters and capitalization, because the key doesn’t press correctly to my touch typing. And the combination is causing my hands to hurt, from hitting the keys too hard.

What’s truly awful, though, is that there is no decent third-party replacement for Apple’s keyboard. Oh, there’s dozens, or even hundreds, of USB keyboards, any of which I can use on a Mac. But they all have Alt and Windows keys, and no Option or Command keys, and Alt and Control are in the wrong places. The few that are Mac-specific, with the right keys in the right places, are not very good.

The thing that I don’t understand is that Apple once upon a time made a truly awesome keyboard. The Apple Extended Keyboard (the original, not the “II” version that came out later) is almost universally revered among Mac journalists as the best keyboard they’ve ever used, on any platform.

I’m certainly in agreement with them. I’ve had an Extended for as long as I’ve owned Macs, more than 10 years, taking that one keyboard from an SE with two floppies all the way to my last system, a Beige G3. It took a huge amount of abuse, never gave me any trouble, and the key action is, even after 10 years of heavy use, truly a writer’s delight.

But it’s an ADB keyboard, which means I can’t use it on my new G4, unless I buy an adapter. I don’t really want to do that, because I don’t trust it to be compatible long-term.

Also, Apple did do one thing really right on their Pro keyboard. The addition of Volume Up/Down/Mute and CD Eject keys are a real convenience, and those don’t exist on my 10 year old keyboard. I really want to find a very good modern keyboard that’ll work with modern Macs. So far as I can tell, such a beast does not exist.

If you have recommendations, let me know!

Site Details

Technical details of how I run and manage this site, using mostly Open Source technology.

This weblog is managed by the monaural jerk system. It’s a web application built in PHP, and uses the MySQL database as the back end.

The system seems pretty nice, though it doesn’t work quite the way I’d like it to. I’ve actually started writing my own application to manage a weblog, but don’t seem to have enough time to complete it. This’ll do in the meantime.

The server setup is actually pretty interesting. The MySQL database is running on my main system, a Mac running Mac OS X 10.1. Currently the PHP scripts are running under Apache on that same system, but I’ll actually be moving those over to our main web server at some point.

What’s cool is our in-house network makes that separation easy. All I have to do is change a hostname in a config file, and putting the Web front end on one server and the DB back end on the other is child’s play.

I love Open Source software!

Yet Another Waste of Time

Announcing the launch of my personal weblog, for better or worse.

Yes, another weblog. I guess I’ve been wanting to keep some kind of a journal, and provide some kind of ongoing news for friends and family.

From another perspective, I’m doing this because I’m a geek, and I had to install MySQL on my new Mac OS X system, and then once it was installed, I had to do something with it.

Still another way to look at this is I am procrastinating on a project for work, and decided that spending a few dozen hours getting a bunch of software set up, writing, and fiddling, would be a “productive” way to do it.

Anyway, for better or worse, I’ve started a ’blog. We’ll see how well I stick with it.