The e-mail Challenge

E-mail has become as important to me as the telephone – and much more important than fax. I expect to have instant and continuous e-mail access to everyone on the Internet. Fortunately, e-mail reliability has improved steadily – the last time I had a hard failure was over a year ago.

But all is not sweetness and light with e-mail. I’m being inundated with spam (unwanted commercial e-mail). On a typical day, I can receive several dozen spam messages. Offers to expand or contract various body parts. Offers to correct all my credit problems. Offers from former African senior civil servants.

With telemarketers, I have taken to saying, “Tell me your home telephone number; I’ll call you when it’s convenient for me.” That form of relief is difficult with spam. Typically, the “From” address on spam is missing or bogus. You are expected to call a long-distance number or visit a Web site.

And I’m skeptical of offers to remove my name from the spammer’s list by sending a message to an e-mail address. One thing that such a message will do is to verify that my e-mail address is current and in active use. I suspect that’s all that I can accomplish by sending many cancellation requests.

Unfortunately, blocking spam is an art, not a science. spamWeasel, from, is a freeware Windows tool you can use to determine what e-mail you want to block as spam. When you initially install spamWeasel it sends you an e-mail message about every piece of spam it identifies.

I found it necessary to tweak the rules that spamWeasel applies. But with only a modest amount of fiddling, I was able to configure it so that it was only blocking “real” spam (my definition). At that point, I configured it to no longer show me the spam, but to keep a record of such messages.

I’m pleased with the result. Most of the spam has been blocked. The preview mode, now available in the latest version of the excellent freeware Pegasus Mail (, gives me an easy way to deal with the remaining spam. Everything works fine on my high-speed home computer.

It’s a different matter at the cottage. Out there, I’m limited to an old-fashioned telephone modem. I don’t want to waste the time to download potential spam – I want to nip it in the bud on the server. Easy Notification, a freeware program available at, solves that problem.

It checks any number of (POP3) e-mail servers, at whatever frequency you specify. You see a list of messages with Account, From, Subject, Date, and Size information. The messages are not downloaded, just the headers. It’s fast, even with a slow modem. You can then delete unwanted messages at the server.

I have one remaining e-mail problem, but I fear it doesn’t have a solution. Pegasus Mail is missing some features of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. It does a reasonable job rendering formatted e-mail messages, but doesn’t match the power of IE. But it also doesn’t match the increased exposure of IE. A fair trade-off.

Fabian is an established Canadian management and system consultant ( who has always been fascinated by technology.

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