hate it more than just
about anything: more than caterpillars, more than cucumbers, more than
Upstairs Neighbor Guy, more than people who intercom me from ten feet
away ... more than surly young men slouching around town with the
crotch of their pants sagging down around their kneecaps ... more,
even, than an All-Celine-Dion/All-Weekend Marathon on KYUK-FM. It
raises my blood pressure ... it wastes my time ... it costs
me tens of dollars and thousands of hours ... it has trashed my hard
drive, not once but TWICE
in the past year ... and it has pretty much sucked the fun out of the
whole *Internet communication experience* for me, just lately.
'it' is is
refuse to call it
spam. Aside from wanting to avoid any future legal difficulties with
the nice folks at Hormel Foods Corporation, there is the whole issue of
descriptive validity. 'Spam' sounds entirely too cute and too cuddly,
frankly, to describe the excrement I find waiting for me every time I
open my cyber mailbox these days. 'Spam' is the occasional faux Neiman
Marcus Cookie recipe ... the random Circuit City advertisement after
you've ordered your son's Christmas XBox online ... the cyber chain
letter promising you a $50 Applebee's gift certificate if you'll
forward this e-mail to 43,897,621 of your closest online pals within
the next ten minutes.
time-consuming ... but basically harmless.
stuff, on the other
hand, is neither cute nor cuddly. This stuff is the crusty goo oozing
from that woman's belly button ring in Berkeley last month. This stuff
is the gelatinous glob of duck shidt waiting for us on our front porch
every morning. This stuff is the slimy, sulphurous scum we scraped off
the bottom of our vegetable drawer, after our refrigerator died in the
middle of a heatwave last week.
stuff is CRAP,
in other words. Plain and simple. And for the past few months I've been
drowning in it.
the beginning of the
year, by my calculations, I was averaging roughly 500 pieces of
crapmail per week. By the time I went on my journaling vacation at the
end of May the amount had nearly quadrupled. Granted, this total
was spread between a bunch of different e-mail accounts -- a handful of
AOL screen names, a Yahoo address, an old
personal-ads-and-stalking-the-ex-boyfriend Hotmail account left over
from my days in the Tree House -- plus my primary *FootNotes* address
here at secraterri .com -- but when you take them all and pile them
together into one big wet stinky maggot-covered heap, it adds up to
roughly two thousand individual pieces of virtual sewage per week.
one helluva lot
the height of the deluge
admit: a lot of it
is my own fault. For years I was very careless about how (and to whom)
I gave out my online contact information. Having a semi-public
online persona doesn't help ... especially when your semi-public online
persona is a pathetic attention junkie who practically begs people to
write to her and tell her how wonderful her semi-public online persona
wasn't so bad for the first couple of years, when *FootNotes*
was still living in rented cyberspace and my total readership --
counting my mom and my daughters and my future husband and the people
who hated me but read me anyway, hoping I would start drinking again --
totalled maybe four people altogether. The inflow of crapmail was
little more than a trickle in those days. A quick flush, a quick spritz
of Lysol ... and *poof,* it was gone.
then I started getting
serious about this online journaling stuff, and this online journaling
stuff started getting serious about ME, and I immediately ran out and
made things much, much worse by purchasing my own home in cyberspace.
All of a sudden ... I was a domain! I was so in love with the sight of
my groovy new e-mail address that I ran willynilly all around the
Internet, dropping it everywhere: on message boards, in guestbooks, on
mailing lists and webring lists and high school reunion websites. It
was like painting a great big sign on my forehead that said
HELLO, CRAPMAILERS! PLEASE SEND ME INFORMATION ON HOW TO SAVE 89% ON
INKJET & LASER TONER CARTRIDGES, OK?!
In no time at all,
my e-mailbox started filling up with offers for free pay-per-view,
lower mortgage rates, the world's smallest digital camera, the latest
anti-wrinkle breakthroughs ("better than Botox!") ... not to mention
the ubitiquitous sporncams and shmutmail and quadruple-X-rated
farmgrils doing it with sheap.
became an all-out shidtstorm.
there is the
crapmail I have stoopidly but purposely invited into my mailbox. A few
months ago, for
instance, I was surfing the Internet looking for information on life
insurance. I must have visited a dozen different websites in one
weekend alone, attempting to figure out the difference between the
various types of policies: Term, Whole Life, Universal, Variable,
Antioxidant, Noncomedogenic. Mostly I stuck to the 'name companies' ...
reputable insurance firms whose commercial jingles I've sung along with
("And like a good
neighbor/State Farm is there!")
since I was dribbling grape jelly down the front of my footy pajamas.
Even so, after just a few hours the whole thing began to turn into this
big nightmarish jumble of pop-up ads and industry jargon that left me
even more confused than when I'd started out. Eventually I opted for
the "Just e-mail me some information and be done with it" option, and I
logged off without having really learned anything useful about life
insurance. So what happened? Virtually overnight I began receiving
fifty times the usual
number of insurance-related excrement. It's as though one online
insurance guy saw my request for information and immediately got on the
horn, alerting every other online insurance guy within a 250,000 mile
radius. (Hey! SECRA is looking for information on INSURANCE!') From
that point on, every time I opened my mailbox there would be another
40-50 e-mails with message headers like "Deep
Discounts on Whole Life!"
Providers Compete For Your Business!"
What Will You Do If He Dies? sjjhvlxjhv dxxRFDSFv."
embarrassing of all, there is the crapmail I accidentally invited into
my mailbox. Not
long ago I visited one of those 'online pharmacy' sites: the kind of
website that purports to sell you Phentermine or Soma or Adipex (or a
bazillion other medications that I've never even heard of), over the
counter, without all the fuss and bother and inconvenience of having to
produce an actual legal prescription.
I wasn't shopping. Honest. I was doing research for a *FootNotes* entry
that never saw the light of day ... all about how it's probably a good
thing that I didn't have access to these types of websites, back in my
desperate and gullible I'm
just going to do half of it tonight and I'll save the rest of it for
tomorrow I swear to god days.
And I only stayed on the website for a millisecond -- I realized
instantly that this was a Very Bad Place: I didn't even allow the
animated .gifs to finish loading before I exited in a panic -- but by
then it was too late. By then they'd already locked onto my computer
with their little crapmailer laser beams and planted all of their evil
tracking devices on my hard drive. Within hours, I was shovelling
"online pharmacy" crapmail from my *In* Box with an industrial-strength
bulldozer. To this day, 75% of the crapmail I receive is the
pseudo-pharmaceutical variety of crap.
admit that there
are moments when I've actually found some of this stuff amusing. The
increasingly inventive ways they try to trick me into opening their
crap ("Are you mad at me?") ... the mangled grammar ("What
have you got too loose?") ...
not to mention the complete disconnect between target audience (*me*)
and product (cigarettes, golf tees, phone sex, baldness remedies).
You've got to admit: there is a certain goofball irony to being
inundated with ads for dating services and online singles clubs when
you're the most nauseatingly-happily-married woman on the planet ...
Wonder Bras and bust-enhancement cremes when you're a natural-born 38DD
... pen1s enlargers and generic "Viagera" when you're married to a guy
get the idea.
the end of May,
however, none of it was seeming all that funny any more. When it takes
thirty minutes just to download your overnight mail in the morning and
you've only got twenty minutes to spend on the computer ... when you
have to comb through 1,999 e-mails about septic tanks and mortgage
refinancing just to find the one viable "Hi
I liked your last entry" message
from a nice new reader ... when reading your e-mail causes you
actual, verifiable PAIN,
so much so that you start avoiding your mailbox altogether ... that's
when I knew I had a problem.
that's when I knew I
was going to have to change my online habits.
was actually one of
the projects I assigned myself during my journaling hiatus last month,
along with organizing my underwear drawer, spending time with my
family, updating my archives, finishing off the last of the Easter
candy. I figured that as long as I was taking a break from writing all
of these insightful, life-affirming, award-winning *FootNotes* entries
every day -- [ahem]
-- I could put some of that spare online time to good use and work on
solving the mystery of the crapmail.
felt like Nancy Drew with a
keyboard and a plunger.
first step, obviously, was to do some
research. If I could figure out how the crapmailers operated -- if I
could understand the mind of my enemy -- I might have a better chance
of thwarting them before they could defecate into *my* mailbox.
Luckily, there is no shortage of information available out there. Just
type the words "spam"
and "stop sending your smelly
revolting crap to me right now or I will kill you totally dead I mean
it" into any web browser, and
you're instantly looking at a veritable Congressional Library of
opinion and discussion and information on the topic. I found the Death
website especially helpful.
second thing I did
was sort of a no-brainer: I went around and killed off all those
extraneous screen names and e-mail accounts I had floating around the
cyber universe. I kept the SecraTerri(at)aol account. That's where I
my husband, and I find that even after all these years I'm
still emotionally attached (to the AOL account and
to the husband). But for the time being I've slapped a big clunky
chastity belt on the e-mail controls. No e-mail going out. No e-mail
coming in. I figure that anybody who needs to get in touch with
SecraTerri(at)AOL after all this time (Hellooooooooooo,
Kevin Lanning!) can probably
figure out where to find me. Then I consolidated all of my 'utility'
e-mail accounts -- the notify list memberships, the bill-pay
announcements, the department store advertisements I'm actually
interested in receiving -- into one all-purpose Yahoo e-mail account.
Yahoo has a built-in crap-filtering system ... albeit a sort of weak,
watery, ineffective crap-filtering system that still allows big smelly
chunks of raw sewage to ooze into my *In* box. (This weekend, for
instance, Yahoo persists in blocking e-mail from my bank, but sees
nothing wrong with plunking ads for J.Lo's Pink Engagement Ring into my
priority mailbox.) But it's a filtering system, and as such it's better
than nothing, and I'll hang onto it until something more effective
third step was to
purchase and install a legitimate crap-filtering software program to
handle my important personal mail, including/especially the mail I
receive here at the *FootNotes* factory. I'd sort of resisted doing
this ... not only because I'm cheap and I'm broke and I didn't want to
spend the money, but also because I was convinced that *I* could
continue to do a perfectly adequate job of creating filters for my
e-mail program, all by myself. How hard can it be to block all incoming
mail with the word "penis" in the subject title, for example? What I
hadn't counted on were those busy little crapmailers, working
feverishly around the clock to come up with ingenious new ways to get
past the censors. So even though 'penis' was blocked, that didn't stop
'Pen1s,' 'p3nis,' 'penls' or 'peeniss' from inching their flaccid wormy
way into my *In* box when I wasn't looking. Eventually I just said 'I
give up' ... and I went ahead
and sprang for the software. It runs quietly in the background now,
constantly updating itself with the latest filters, hot off the
Internet. It spends the rest of its time scooping up all of my incoming
mail, sorting through it, date-stamping it, tossing out the crap and
saving the legitimate stuff for me to read at my leisure. (Not unlike
what *I* do for my boss every day.) It catches maybe 80% of the
crapmail, which is a significant improvement over my clumsy
do-it-yourself filtering system. It seems to be especially good at
snagging the virus carriers: every morning when I wake up, there are at
least three or four of the little fudkers caught in the lintscreen,
wriggling and shrieking in terror. The pleasure I derive
from flushing them permanently is worth the price of registration
only thing I don't like about the program is that I still have to
give at least a cursory glance to the crap mail that it does
quarantine, just to make sure that there aren't any legitimate messages
inadvertently sent to the kill pile. I would prefer not to have to look
at it at all -- I would prefer to pretend that it doesn't even exist,
like birthdays, or like post-1983 Michael Jackson -- but there doesn't
seem to be any
way around it, mainly because lots of legitimate messages do
get sent to the kill pile, especially messages from new readers who
haven't been added to my 'Friends' list yet. If I don't retrieve them
after a fixed amount of time, they're deleted for good. (Which makes me
wonder how many legitimate messages may have slipped through the cracks
and gone forever unanswered, in recent weeks ... or how many nice new
readers are sitting out there in the whereversphere right now, feeling
ignored, thinking Why did I
even bother writing to the snooty unresponsive b**ch?
I'll probably never know for sure.)
fourth step -- and
this was the most emotionally-wrenching step of the entire *Let's Clean
Up The Crap* campaign, I'm chagrined to admit -- was to deliberately
deface my groovy e-mail address. It's called 'munging' (for Mash Until
No Good), and it means altering your address in a way that human beings
can easily work around, but automated address harvesters can't. There
are a bazillion different ways to mung an e-mail address, most of
which require a level of technical expertise I do not possess. (*I*
possess the technical expertise of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup,
basically.) So I went for the low-tech solution, and simply
the words 'NOCRAP' into the middle of my address. Anybody who wants to
write to me must first manually remove the 'NOCRAP' from the address
... otherwise it will bounce back to them as undeliverable. Which is
pretty much the point. An automated address harvester will come along
and scoop up the munged address, hoping to add it to an ever-growing
list of viable e-mail targets (which the crapmailer will then turn
right around and sell to other crapmailers: that's the real
industry at work here). But because secraterri@NOCRAPsecraterri.com
isn't a legitimate e-mail address, it will end up bouncing back to the
crapmailer, and all of those pen1s enlargers and home loan offers that
were earmarked for me will instead float helplessly in cyberspace for
munging my e-mail address won't do anything
about the 43,897,621 crapmailers who already
have my valid e-mail address. That particular horse is out of the barn
and down the freeway and halfway to Longacres by now. But it might stem
the flow of future crappage, at least in theory, and I figure it's
worth a shot ... even if it does
feel a little bit like putting a clown nose and fright wig on my baby.
how is all of this
precaution and paranoia working out, you ask?
hard to tell. It's
sort of like those first couple of weeks after you've started a new
diet: you could swear that you're losing weight -- you could swear that
your face looks a little thinner, that your clothes feel a little less
snug, that your skin feels a little looser -- even if the bathroom
scale still hasn't moved appreciably in either direction. The volume of
crapmail does seem to be on the decline. This weekend, for instance,
I've received 221 separate pieces of crapmail in my main *In*
another 132 in the Yahoo mailbox, as opposed to the 800-1,000 per
weekend I was receiving at the height of the deluge. But then again
I don't seem to be getting as much *real* mail, either. As soon as I
made the changes, I posted a brief disclaimer
on the *FootNotes* front page, telling everybody exactly what I was
doing and why. I explained that this was nothing personal -- it had
nothing to do with wanting or not wanting to hear from readers (or from
Cranky Denver Lady, or from former college Geography professors who
find their names in the archives while ego-surfing)
-- and that I hoped that people would still write to me in spite of the
realizing now that
it might take a little for some of the changes to feel like business as
that's OK. I
understand that this is going to be an ongoing process, and that there
will always be things I need to do and learn and tweak and
now, for instance, I'm trying to decide whether or not I need a
personal firewall. And we've just finished installing one of those
programs that searches the hard drive, looking for spying/advertising
'bots,' and then rips them out by the tentacles. But overall I'm
pleased with the steps I've taken so far, not because I believe that
anything I do is going to completely eradicate crapmail from my mailbox
-- it's a fact of my Internet life at the moment, along with 45-minute
downloads, creaky dial-up connections and having to share a computer
with a fellow online addict -- but because it makes me feel like I'm doing
something about a situation that was making me miserable.
way I see
it, it's a lot like the Upstairs Neighbor Guy problem, this past week:
I can either sit here and take the abuse, day after day, week after
week, until I'm sick and angry and disgusted and tired and every last
*Tolerance Molecule* in my body is ground down to a little pointy stub
... or I can get off my butt and at least attempt to do something about
if only I could do
something about cucumbers and baggy pants.
to throw a rock?