On Relying on History

“As the old Santayana quote goes, ‘those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,’ but in Silicon Valley, those who rely on their command of history too much often find themselves getting crushed by a 23-year-old who skipped history class in favor of a CS degree.”

A strange absence at the airport

With a bit of time to kill before a flight, I wandered into the news stand in terminal C at the San Jose airport, thinking that a paperback might catch my eye. After a few minutes of looking, I noticed something odd: There was no science fiction. Plenty of the usually horror, detective, and dysfunctional family fare, but no sci fi. I looked again, and eventually found two—a single copy of Greg Bear’s Eon, and one other from an author I didn’t recognize with a heavily recycled plot line that I did. They did have a copy Halo, which I suppose is arguably science fiction. But come on! The gateway to Silicon Valley, and no sci fi? That’s just wrong.

A sudden rainbow

Earlier this week I was driving South on highway 101 at sunset, into low, gray clouds and light rain; conditions almost perfect for one of the double rainbows that we get a few times a year during Silicon Valley storm season. The sun was setting directly behind me, and the Eastern foothills were a solid gray of light rain. There were clouds overhead, so there wasn’t enough canvas to paint a full rainbow. Instead, Mother Nature took a pass on subtlety, and let loose with one of the most intense rainbow fragments I’ve ever seen. Strong red and orange, a wide band of yellow that was almost painful to look at, and on through the rest. There was even a band of something past indigo and violet. Octarine?

It only lasted for a minute or two, then faded out from the bottom as the sun set. Fortunately, I was in stop-and-go traffic that stopped long enough for me to grab the camera and get one shot as the rainbow was starting to fade.

Sunset Fragment

Email woes, again

Many years back I was told the story of a software company V.P. who discovered that IT had misconfigured the company Exchange server to drop random items of her email on the floor, and how she marched into the IT Director’s office to “rip him a new one”. It was told from a “Ha Ha, those arrogant bastards in IT got what’s coming to them” perspective, but there was an undertone of fear to the story. Such a thing could happen to any of us.

Well, it just happened to me—for the second time this year—and it’s largely my own damn fault. I’d been just a bit too clever with how I was using my ISP’s spam filtering. Their filtering—a mix of SpamAssassin and something Bayesian—seemed highly reliable at first, but over time that reliability has gone down as spammers have gotten cleverer. A chance event set off an “uh oh” alert, which turned into an “oh, crap” when I investigated and found a scattering of false positives going back at least as far as June. Oh, crap. The extra painful part is that there have been a few hints along the way that something was awry, but I’ve been too damn busy, and blew the hints off.

So, on top of being insanely busy right now, I get to plow through a four+ month pile of spam looking for legitimate emails that I need to respond to, if only to give apologies. Oh, crap. Well, at least nothing got lost this time.

It does little good to wail and moan at the spammers who’ve made email filtering necessary, but there are still some lessons out of this. The first is to not quarantine email in multiple places, especially when one of those places is inconvenient to check. The second lesson is to make sweeps of the quarantined email part of a standard daily (or weekly) workflow, so that false positives don’t go unnoticed.

I’m taking both lessons to heart by moving the rest of the email traffic that I depend on to gmail.

Lost email

If you sent me email in the last week few months and I never responded, please accept my apology and send your email again. While trying to reduce the level of incoming spam, I screwed up something in my email filtering rules, causing a bunch of non-spam email to go *poof* before it even made it to my laptop. While fixing the problem, I found (and fixed) another, much narrower hole that’s been there for much longer. Oops.

On the plus side, getting my inbox down to zero this week was very easy.

“Find a way to unit test .procmail rules” has been added to the TO DO list. Plan B is to move everything over to gmail.