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Scott's Column
Reducing Spam, Burning DVDs, Another Laptop

February 1, 2004
By Scott Lewis

My wife bought another laptop, so I get her old one. This has allowed me the opportunity to finally try out the DVD burner. I also want to take a stab at Spam this month.

The New Laptop

My wife's laptop was acting up pretty badly. It would shut down for no reason. And shut down fast. It was if the power was cut, with no battery. It would even shut down while trying to boot up. It was getting very frustrating. Her brother has been using the laptop quite a bit lately and I initially thought it might be a virus or something. He has the bad habit of clicking yes to anything that pops up. I hope readers of this column know better than to do that. He has also installed RealOne and a couple of other things. I am more concerned with the pop-ups he says yes to. They install all kinds of nasty ad ware and spy ware. Any of which could be part of the problem.

I tried cleaning up the laptop. I uninstalled everything I could. I used Startup Cop Pro from PC Magazine. Finally I tried to run Spybot's Search and Destroy. I could not get through SpyBot's program. The machine would shut down in the middle of the scan. Never at exactly the same spot, however.

At this point I had not eliminated a hardware problem. Maybe we were tripping on some bad memory. We originally bought a laptop three years ago, and this is the most recent replacement under the extended warrantee that we received 6 months ago. You can go through the Archive of this site to find out all about our laptop woes from the past. This laptop was just out of the extended warrantee, and may or may not be covered by the a factory warrantee since it was a replacement from an extended warrantee. Since I could not pin point it for sure to hardware or software, I was reluctant to try to get it fixed.

But my wife wanted something more reliable. So we bought a new Toshiba laptop. Its specs were almost the same as the old one. But it was a lot cheaper, and actually has a couple of things the old Toshiba (if six months is old) was missing. Primary was the new laptop has 802.11g wireless built in. The old one has 802.11b. However, I was using a Linksys PC Card to get 802.11g with the old laptop.

For those of you that care, the basic specs are: 2.8 GHz P4, 512MB Memory, 60 GB hard drive, DVD & CD burner, 15 inch screen. The new one runs quite a bit cooler that the old one. In fact when the fan in the old laptop kicks on it sound a little like a plane taking off. And it is fairly noisy. The new laptop is at least half as quite, probably more.

Troubleshooting

After running the old laptop for a while and trying to determine the problem I was still stumped. My brother-in-law would use it for hours with no trouble. Then I would get on it in the evening and it would start shutting down. I finally did manage to get SpyBot to run through to completion. I could not pinpoint any software as the culprit.

Then I took the laptop to New York to watch DVDs on the plane rides. I would search for wall outlets in the airports to extend the range I could watch movies. It went well. I only had a brief period where it shut down. However, because I had to turn it off frequently I started assuming the problem was heat related.

Sure enough I think the laptop is overheating and shutting down. I need to do some more testing, but if I turn it off instead of leaving it on 24/7 I don't have a problem. I noticed the grill on the bottom of the laptop was dirty and I will need to remove it to get the dirt out (or it will fall in). Also, I leave the laptop along side my bed. When my brother-in-law or I (or my wife, when it was hers) used the laptop it was almost always on the bed. The problem with this is that when the fan comes on it is supposed to suck air from under the laptop and blow it out the back. Well, when it is on the bed it is sucking air through a bedspread. This has got to be bad for the laptop's cooling capabilities.

DVD Burning

I burned my first DVD. In fact I burned 5, with one failure. The 5th disc I tried to burn failed and the disc was unreadable. What is weird is that two of the other discs reported an error writing to disc, but those discs were read fine by both our laptops. At this point I am only burning data to DVD. I am attempting to backup my server. Since I only had a 5 pack of DVD-R blanks I was stopped short of getting everything on DVD that I wanted.

I am having a little trouble with know exactly how much data will fit on a disc. When I tried to burn 4.5 GB of data onto a 4.7 GB blank the software reported that it would need more than one disc. I had to remove stuff until I was down to about 4.1 GB of data. I did not have time, or the spare discs to see if it would really need more than one disc to burn 4.3 to 4.5 GB of data to a 4.7 GB disc. When I buy more discs I will try to experiment. At the least I need to know what the software will brun as the maximum amount of data to disc.

Since I only had 5 discs, I was selecting of what I backed up. I would like to buy a larger stack of discs and make a complete backup of my server's 60 GB drive (which has about 10 GB free. I will need about 10 discs to backup everything.

Spam

I have come up with a fairly simple idea to almost eliminate spam. I have had this idea for a while, but the recent federal spam law spurred me to write about it.

My plan will require nothing on the part of the end user (unless they want to). If the federal government can introduce a law that requires e-mail advertisers to put a valid return address in the message than the ISPs should be able to enforce that by not allowing any mail to be sent out without validating the return address. Simple.

I thought of this when I was trying to build e-mail capability into an application at work. I wrote a utility that would check various systems and would send out e-mails when things reached certain thresholds. I did a little research in trying to find the easiest way to just send a message. I tried 4 or 5 different methods. The method I used was the best compromise between minimum code, no third party modules and would work with my firewall. In the end the code actually needs to validate the "from" address.

So, how can this almost stop spam. Well, all e-mails must go out through an ISP somewhere. If every ISP is validating the "from" address then spam can't go out from an invalid address. Also, we can put one more little requirement on the validation. The "from" address cannot be an address that is full. That's the part that will really stop spam. How? Glad you asked.

Let's say I am BuyMyViagra@GiveMeMoney.com. Even if that is a legitimate address yet happens to be full, meaning it is at the maximum space the ISP allows to store e-mail messages causing all incoming mail to be rejected, then I can't send out e-mails. When I do send out those 12 million e-mails (when my account has room to accept mail) then when the 10-20% of the e-mail address I bought for $19.95 turn out to be invalid my mail box will suddenly fill up with replies from ISPs stating those accounts do not exist. Now my mail box is full, and I can't send out e-mails.

Even if I did setup a system to collect and empty my mail box of auto-replies, that would still be 100,000 messages for every one million I send out (assuming 10% of my list was bad). That would require a good deal of effort on the part of the spammer. At the very least this would introduce cost to mass e-mailing that don't exist today.

Next, by having a valid return address, with space to hold incoming messages, everyone could truly send the messages back to the spammer. Once this information became public people would actually enjoy replying to spam and give it back (remember, the end user doesn't have to do anything for this to bring benefits, but it helps). This would do a couple of things. 1) Again, the cost to the spammer would increase even if they just setup some way to keep their mail address clean. It is resources and even bandwidth that costs real money. 2) People could "flame" the spammer to force their inboxes to be full and prevent them from sending mail.

There is a bad sides to this. A good spammer could invest the time (and money) up front to process those auto-replies to clean up their mailing lists. This would mean that they will KNOW you really exist. But since you are getting spammed to death as it is, how much worse could it be.

Today, it takes one click on the delete button to remove spam from your inbox. In the future it would be three click. 1) Click reply, 2) click send, and 3) click delete. Once people get used to this, which I think they will once they realize they just increased the cost to the spammer, spam will slow down so that only those that can afford to be in the business of send e-mail advertisements would be left.

I bet it would take less than a year to wipe out 90% of the spammers due to operating costs.

What do you think?

Conclusion

That's it for this month. I really don't know what's in store next, but I am going to play around with the laptop some more. I was thinking about using the discs that came with it to reformat the hard drive and set it to exactly the way it came from the factory. That would surely remove any software problems. Then I may upgrade it to Windows XP Professional instead of Windows XP Home. An alternative would be to reformat it and install Win XP Pro right from disc. The problem with that is getting some of the hardware to work correctly. Power saving stuff and the drivers for the touch pad might be a problem. I will need to collect the drivers for them to make them work properly before I attempt to load a laptop with a generic MSDN base Windows XP disc.

Until then...
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