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2010-03-20

Poor Dillinger

Filed under: Communication — rg3 @ 21:32

I’ve been enjoying the two Tron Legacy Official Trailers that have been released so far. My first contact with the original Tron movie was not long ago, when an uncle of mine gave me the Collector’s Edition DVD a few years back as my birthday present. Tron was released before I was born and it’s a very uncommon movie, at least in my country, so I didn’t have many opportunities to watch it until recently, with the 20th anniversary of the film release and, even more recently, the arrival of its sequel.

The first impression I got from the movie was so-so. It’s fun and, for a computer engineer, the references to mainframes, IO ports, programs and games are enjoyable. After watching the movie I went directly to disc 2 and watched the documentary on how it was done. It was then when I started enjoying the film much more. The documentary helps you appreciate TRON as the piece of art it really is and all the attention paid to the different details in the movie.

By coincidence, I watched the film last Christmas with a friend of mine and we both share a fun interpretation of its script. TRON is a movie you can enjoy because, as in many other good fantasy and science-fiction films, the bad guys win in the end. Now, before you jump at me and wonder what I’ve been smoking to say that, just think about it. Do you really think Dillinger and the Master Control Program are the bad guys in the movie? The bad guy is Flynn! And that little program, TRON! It’s a tragic and realistic story.

A company, ENCOM, and two programmers: Ed Dillinger and Kevin Flynn. Ed is the good guy in the company. Working hard to improve technology in his cubicle until late hours, motivated by the need to create something bigger, better and never seen before. He’s a shy guy with brilliant ideas and creates a program, called the Master Control Program, based originally on a chess program, with several features that will be a breakthrough in computing history. First, the Master Control Program allows for real multitasking. Programmers don’t interfere with each other and they no longer have direct access to the computer hardware. The modern operating system is born, also with a built-in firewall to monitor and control connections to and from external systems. Second, this program is powered by an incredibly advanced AI system capable of developing primitive feelings, and also features natural language parsing via audio input and replies in the same language, with a voice synthesizer.

The Master Control Program is amazing and could push ENCOM from being a medium-sized company into a big corporation in every field of technology. However, management are too short-sighted to pay attention to it and the shy guy who created it, and are amused by the extrovert programmer Kevin Flynn. Much younger than Ed Dillinger, as we can see in the film, he enjoys creating video games and breaking into different systems and, with such a personality, the company board is waiting for their golden boy to do something spectacular that will never really arrive, because Flynn uses the company resources to create games that he will keep for himself. He won’t let the company see the real good games and will be jumping ship as soon as he finds a good deal with a big game publisher.

Dillinger, untalented for creating popular games, sees envy grow at the core of his heart and one day decides to steal the good games from Flynn and presents them to the company board as his work. He shouldn’t have done that, but poor Dillinger thought that was the only way to get attention from the board. From then on, they finally pay attention to him and he can push the Master Control Program forward as a way to manage the company’s computing resources and is promoted to the position he really deserves. They even start investigating on teleportation. Of course, TRON (the program) is rejected by Dillinger and the MCP. After all, TRON is redundant and its tasks are already being performed by the MCP. No good engineer would tolerate such an evident duplication in functionality. Alan Bradley suffers from the NIH syndrome.

All that technology never reaches the market because, in the film, we see the bad guys preying on this good guy for his only mistake until he is defeated, his programs are deleted forever from the hard drive and he, probably, he’s fired from the company.

I’ll be watching Tron Legacy to follow the adventures of Flynn and the result of his evil and ego-driven plot to control the world with his videogames, unable to realize he lacks the talent Dillinger had. If you watch the trailers released so far you’ll see Flynn is really evil, as he has always been.

2009-09-07

Reclamación a Jazztel

Filed under: Communication,Hardware,Spanish — rg3 @ 18:01

Note: the following post narrates a complaint I filed against a Spanish telco. To maximize the usefulness of this post for people in Spain having a similar problem, it’s written entirely in Spanish.

Este verano tuvimos un problema con la empresa Jazztel cuando intentamos contratar el servicio de ADSL con ellos. Por si alguien tuviera el mismo problema, a continuación describiré los hechos desde mi punto de vista y los pasos que seguimos para que la reclamación se resolviese a nuestro favor.

Los antecedentes son sencillos. Contábamos con una línea de teléfono contratada con Telefónica. El servicio ADSL nunca ha estado disponible en esta línea, por motivos técnicos que no tengo totalmente claros. Hace unos años intentamos contratar ADSL con dicha empresa, pero no funcionó y tuvimos que devolver el router, costeando nosotros los gastos de la devolución del mismo. Desde entonces, siempre hemos tenido cuidado de rechazar todas las ofertas de ADSL que recibíamos por teléfono de otras operadoras, conscientes de que no funcionaba en nuestra línea. Como prueba, siempre comprobaba la disponibilidad del servicio ADSL en el sitio web http://www.telefonicaonline.com, que indicaba que el servicio ADSL no se encontraba disponible para nuestra línea.

En el mes de abril, debido supuestamente a unas mejoras técnicas en la zona, comenzamos a recibir una nueva oleada de llamadas teléfonicas de varias operadoras ofreciéndonos ADSL, entre ellas Jazztel, aunque eso carece de importancia. Rechazamos todas las ofertas pero, sorprendidos por la nueva oleada de llamadas, comprobamos una vez más la disponibilidad de ADSL para nuestra línea. En esta ocasión, por primera vez desde hace años, se indicaba que nuestra línea soportaba un servicio básico de 1 Mb y no más. Animados por la impresión de que quizás la mejora técnica fuese real y pudiéramos, en 2009, contratar ADSL y prescindir por fin de otras alternativas más caras y peores como conexión 56k y, recientemente, conexión con módem 3G, comparamos precios y ofertas.

La oferta más atractiva era la de Jazztel. A través de su web, jazztel.es, contratamos el servicio ADSL+Llamadas con conexión de 1 Mb. No recuerdo la fecha exacta en la que se hizo esta solicitud, pero fue a finales de abril. Jazztel envía a casa un router inalámbrico que llega el día 11 de mayo. Junto con el router, recibimos bastante documentación de bienvenida y una carta clara en la que se nos indica que la activación del servicio se comunicará mediante un mensaje de texto SMS al teléfono móvil indicado en el proceso de contratación. Jazztel permite consultar el estado del proceso de alta a través de su web, e inicialmente nos indica que el servicio estaría disponible a primeros de junio, aunque la fecha va variando ligeramente según avanza el proceso. Nosotros, en cualquier caso, estamos atentos a posibles mensajes de Jazztel y, además, periódicamente realizamos pruebas conectando el router para ver si se enciende el indicador marcado como “ADSL”, que indica que la conexión está disponible.

Sin embargo, pasan bastantes días y todo sigue sin funcionar. Finalmente, el día 8 de junio recibimos una factura de Jazztel, en la que se cobra por el servicio desde el día 2 de mayo al 14 de mayo, y se nos cobra una cuota de ADSL proporcional a 2 días, 13 y 14 de mayo, como si el servicio se hubiera activado el 13. Nosotros no recibimos ningún SMS y las pruebas que íbamos realizando eran todas con resultado negativo. Motivados por la llegada de la factura, realizamos una nueva prueba y comprobamos que el indicador ADSL no se activa. Llamamos ese mismo día a Jazztel.

La primera persona que nos atiende nos ayuda a realizar unas cuantas comprobaciones y pruebas durante un buen rato. Cuando nada de lo que probamos funciona nos transfiere con otra persona, que se identifica como un “técnico de nivel dos”, o una expresión similar. Seguimos haciendo pruebas con esta persona hasta que, finalmente, nos comunica que la distancia a la centralita parece excesiva y que nuestra línea no es adecuada para ofrecer el servicio ADSL, por lo que pasa a declarar la línea como no válida para ADSL, y nos asegura que se nos devolverá todo el importe del ADSL a partir de ese momento en cada factura. Le preguntamos si se nos va a devolver también el importe cobrado hasta ese momento. Este es el origen de casi todo lo que sucede a continuación. Lógicamente, desde nuestro punto de vista, habría que devolver todo lo cobrado por ADSL. Nunca se nos dio ese servicio, y el informe técnico que acredita que nuestra línea no es válida para ADSL supone una afirmación implícita de que no sólo no funciona a partir del día 8 de junio, sino que nunca lo ha hecho. Si nunca ha funcionado, no se nos debería facturar nunca, y lo facturado ha de devolverse. Sin embargo, la burocracia comienza de nuevo a partir de ese momento y el técnico dice que, para saber si se nos va a devolver todo lo cobrado hasta ese día, tendremos que consultarlo con una persona de facturación, que nos llamará a lo sumo en un plazo de una semana a partir de ese instante.

Como viene siendo costumbre y ya comenzamos a intuir, Jazztel realmente no nos llama. Nosotros esperamos y lo vamos dejando de lado hasta que, finalmente, decidimos llamar el día 27 de junio (20 días más tarde). La persona que nos atiende nos permite reclamar la devolución de cualquier factura posterior al 8 de junio, el día que la línea se declaró como no válida para ADSL, pero no antes. Esta es la primera noticia que tenemos en la que se nos niega explícitamente la devolución de lo cobrado antes del 8, por lo que mostramos nuestro desacuerdo. Como suele ser habitual en estos casos, la persona al otro lado de la línea parece incapaz de hacer nada por nosotros.

A partir de este día nuestras acciones se dividen en dos grupos. Por una parte, tenemos que seguir reclamando las facturas que nos van llegando, donde no se bonifica el importe del ADSL. Cuando recibimos una, tenemos que reclamarla y se indica que el importe se regularizará en la factura siguiente. Naturalmente, es bastante irritante que esto suceda así. Cuando nos dicen que se nos va a devolver todo lo cobrado por ADSL a partir del día 8, uno espera que eso suceda automáticamente y en la factura del mismo mes.

Por otra parte, realizamos dos reclamaciones a Jazztel para intentar que se nos devuelva lo facturado antes del día 8. Una primera reclamación por teléfono, donde relatamos nuevamente los hechos e insistiendo en la declaración de la línea como no válida para ADSL. Jazztel la rechaza. Realizamos una segunda reclamación por escrito a atencion.al.cliente@jazztel.com, exponiendo en detalle la cronología de los hechos y nuestra opinión de que lo justo es devolver todo lo cobrado. También es rechazada. A partir de aquí, lógicamente, las vías directas para hablar con la empresa se consideran agotadas, así que intentamos informarnos y ver qué se puede hacer para que se devuelva todo el importe.

Acudimos a la Junta Arbitral de Consumo del Principado de Asturias. Es una opción de la que ya habíamos oído hablar, y viene a ser como un juicio pero sin abogados y sin costes. Si la empresa decide que esa vía le parece adecuada, puede acudir y comprometerse a acatar la resolución del árbitro. Sin embargo, primero hay que comprobar si la empresa está suscrita a la junta arbitral, y la persona que nos atiende en la Junta nos indica que, quizás, la vía más adecuada para nuestra reclamación es la Oficina de Atención al Usuario de Telecomunicaciones, sita en Madrid.

El mecanismo es bastante sencillo: se escribe una carta o se envía un burofax a esta oficina. Ellos evalúan nuestro caso y la documentación aportada. Si lo creen conveniente, ponen una queja ante Jazztel en nuestro nombre, y Jazztel está obligada a responder en un plazo de 6 meses. Si resuelven la reclamación de forma negativa, habría que acudir a los tribunales. Cuando se empieza a hablar de meses de plazo uno comienza a sentirse defraudado y con la sensación de estar caminando entre fango cada vez más profundo, pero igualemente decidimos probar. Enviamos una carta el día 22 de julio, redactando nuevamente los hechos y adjuntando fotocopias de las facturas y todo el material que tenemos. No nos sale muy caro todavía.

La respuesta de Jazztel es sorprendentemente rápida. Se pone en contacto con nosotros el día 12 de agosto. Indicamos que estamos de vacaciones en el extranjero, así que se pondrán en contacto con nosotros a la vuelta. Mala suerte, pero todavía no he mirado cuánto costó esa llamada. En cualquier caso, llaman nuevamente el 24, preguntan si somos nosotros los que hemos puesto la reclamación y deciden que, lógicamente, por supuesto que tenemos razón. Se nos devolverá el importe facturado y, además, para no tener que reclamar la bonificación con cada factura, se tramitará la baja del servicio de ADSL+Llamadas inmediatamente, quedando únicamente el servicio básico de voz. Todo pinta muy bien, aunque esperamos la llegada de la siguiente factura.

En cualquier caso, son destacables varios hechos. Sin nada que ver con asuntos xenófobos, la persona que nos llama el día 12 y 24 y de agosto es una persona española, con acento español de España. Todas las personas con las que habíamos hablado anteriormente tenían acento sudamericano, posiblemente argentino. Cuando ocurre así, uno tiene la sensación de estar hablando con alguien subcontratado y que, sea como sea, tiene poco poder para decidir nada. Sin embargo, en agosto uno tiene la sensación de que ha hecho el ruido suficiente como para llamar la atención de alguien con poder para solucionar el problema.

Además, el importe reclamado es desde el día 13 de mayo al 8 de junio, y no supera los 30 euros. La queja a través de la Oficina de Atención al Usuario de Telecomunicaciones es una señal clara de que estás dispuesto a llegar relativamente lejos, y el paso siguiente es potencialmente más costoso para ellos que para ti. Recomiendo a cualquier persona que tenga este tipo de problemas, que haga lo mismo que hicimos nosotros. Si la reclamación es lógica y justa, hay que tomar buena nota de las fechas y los números de reclamación e incidencia que nos van dando. Si las reclamaciones directas a la empresa fallan, la Oficina de Atención al Usuario de Telecomunicaciones es una opción que ha funcionado a la perfección en nuestro caso.

También he de manifestar mi decepción con Jazztel. La empresa, a través de su sitio web cuando contratas uno de sus productos, manifiesta su compromiso de antender al cliente adecuadamente y dar una buena atención al usuario. Esta era sin duda una oportunidad para Jazztel de demostrar que, efectivamente, esto es así. Sin embargo, Jazztel, sea como fuere y debido a las razones que sean (mala organización interna de su servicio de atención al cliente, imposibilidad de los operadores de tomar la decisión adecuada, etc), nos rechazó una reclamación que tenía toda la lógica del mundo, negando tres veces como San Pedro[1]. A día de hoy podríamos estar contentos con Jazztel pensando en lo bien que nos han atendido y cómo han dejado que la razón caiga por su propio peso aunque perdieran algo de dinero. Sin embargo, la imagen que nos han dejado es la de una empresa que se comporta igual que las demás empresas grandes cuando surgen problemas: mirar para su propio bolsillo y negarse a actuar de forma lógica y justa hasta que una fuerza mayor se lo reclame.

[1] A pesar de ser agnóstico, creo que he conseguido adornar el texto con una referencia exitosa a un pasaje bíblico.

2007-08-29

Reporting Bugs

Filed under: Communication,Software — rg3 @ 20:31

Today I’m not writting about something new. On the contrary, I’m writting about a document that has been available on the net for years. It is, however, so well written and complete that it would be a mistake not to spend at least one post emphasizing its virtues and ignoring its faults. Yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s the essay How to report bugs effectively by Simon Tatham, the author of Putty. I’m talking about it now because some days ago Mr. Tatham accepted my Spanish translation of the document and it is now listed in his website, so it’s a good moment to dedicate some lines to the document, before I forget about it. By the way, I’m aware that the translation has a couple of mistakes that I will correct in order to send him a new version soon.

Not long ago I hadn’t created any open source programs that were available for everyone to use, but in the last years I have created a handful of small tools (I don’t think any of them surpasses 2000 lines of code) that have become a bit popular, especially youtube-dl (which, by the way, is only 405 lines long at the time I’m writting this). youtube-dl has a number of users in the thousands, I think, and the number of emails it generates is much bigger than for any other tool. So far, my *-dl mail folder (dedicated to emails about youtube-dl, metacafe-dl and pornotube-dl) has about 400 messages, and this has given me a good amount of first hand experience in user emails. The style and contents of those emails is quite varied. There are a number of them that simply thank me for creating the program. I try to reply to every one of them and thank them for their support, because it’s very nice. I’ve written a few emails to exclusively congratulate the people responsible for a program, and the emails I received motivate me even more to continue doing so, because now I know how much appreciated those can be.

On the other hand, the most common type of email is the bug report or help request. Of those, some of them are very polite and share the same style I normally use. Let’s call them congratulations-however emails. Let’s see: “First off, thanks for creating blah. It’s a great tool and blah. However, I hit the following bug and blah blah blah.” That type of reports is also well received on my side, even when the bug does not really exist or is a user problem or temporary problem that the user identified as a bug.

Some others leave a lot to be desired. Starting by the people who don’t thank you, nor in advance nor after receiving your reply. There are a good amount of these cases. People who write you, for example, about a specific problem they’re having to make your program work. They contact you, they explain the problem as detailed as they can and you take a lot of time to write them a step-by-step guide that even a drunk monkey could follow. Then, silence. Not even a reply thanking you for spending 10 minutes on their problem. Maybe it’s only me, but if I have a problem and someone gives me a long reply trying to explain what the problem is and how to solve it, the first thing I do is to reply thanking them for their time and their efforts to enlighten me, even if that was a complete failure or the instructions weren’t helpful or I didn’t understand a word of what they said. I’d feel bad otherwise.

The worst type of emails are the bug reports that say nothing, do not mention the problem and, on top of that, are so poorly written (by English speakers) that I can barely understand a word of what they say. Or maybe they report about a possible problem with the program and when you request more information they go silent, which leaves you expecting a reply. Maybe you’re even delaying a release in order to fix the possible bug in time, but you have to release it anyway 3 days later because they don’t reply.

So the majority of bug reports and help requests are not as useful and clear as they should be. I think every computer user should spend 10 to 15 minutes reading Simon Tatham’s essay. Really, it looks long but that’s the time it takes to read it. It covers almost every aspect of reporting a software bug or technical computer problem, and those aspects are all explained in detail. It gives all the whys and hows and is very easy to understand. In fact, it’s so complete that parts of it can be extrapolated to other situations like when you’re reporting problems to a system administrator instead of a programmer. To complete it a little bit, given that it explains in detail how to report bugs, I’d mention the why. It’s important to report bugs. Bugs may not only affect you but also other users of the same program. When the program doesn’t have a bug-tracking facility, the number of reports the programmer receives about a bug is a measure of how many people are experiencing the problem and how frequent it is. It lets the programmer concentrate on solving the most important bugs first. It doesn’t matter if you are a clueless user that has problems explaining things. If you lack knowledge and vocabulary, you can replace them with detailed descriptions. It doesn’t matter that you say “I clicked on the Edit word next to File at the top of the program, just below the bar that has the X icon to close it” or “I clicked on Edit on the menubar”. So it doesn’t matter that you don’t know what a window, window border or menubar is. If the bug report is detailed enough, anybody can understand what you say, and anyone who reads your report will appreciate your efforts to write it and is more likely to lend a hand to make you and other users happy.

Now, please, go and read the essay. Really. It may even be available in your first language. :)

2007-03-17

Vodafone USB Modem

Filed under: Communication,Hardware — rg3 @ 23:16

This post intends to be a big thank you directed at a young lady working as a local Vodafone employee in a shop near the area where I live. I still live in one of those places where, as of 2007, there’s no broadband available. Not a single possibility of getting ADSL or cable, so I’m a dialup user. Recently, my hopes for getting broadband increased as two of the most important cell phone companies in Spain released a similar product, which is a USB GSM modem. With these devices, you can connect to the Internet from almost anywhere.

Depending on where you’re connecting from, the modem can currently establish three types of connection. I’ll ommit acronyms and I’m sorry if I’m a little vague on the details. The most basic connection type, available almost everywhere, gives you a connection speed similar to dialup access (56 kbps). If you’re a little bit lucky, you may live or connect from an area in which the second type of connection is available, giving you around 350 kbps. I don’t recall the exact number, but it’s not 384. Finally, if you’re plain lucky or live in one of the main cities in Spain, you can get a 3.6 mbps connection.

In the most common offer from both companies, Movistar and Vodafone, you can get one of these devices and pay around 40 euros a month for the connection, which has a traffic limit of 1 GB per month. Compared to ADSL or cable it’s expensive (mainly due to the traffic limit), but it was the only possibility for me. I had two main concerns. The first and most important one was about what type of connection I could get at home, and the second one was that the device was officially supported under Windows and Mac, but not under my operating system of choice, which is Linux. The devices from both companies look similar. I’d swear they’re the same model with different colors and stickers. Movistar published in their webpage the exact model number and it seems support for it was recently added to Linux, from kernel 2.6.20 onwards. It uses the module called option, which can be found in the configuration menu at Device Drivers > USB Support > USB Serial Converter Support > USB driver for GSM and CDMA modems. This location and the module name may vary in the future.

So what did I do? I went to a local Movistar shop and to a local Vodafone shop to get information about the price and service conditions. Basically, I explained to the employees in both shops the situation I described above, saying that broadband was not available, and informing them of the area where I live, because this is a small town and lacks street names and house numbers (yes, we have been complaining to the townhall for years!). Everyone knew the area, probably because there’s a popular beach 1.5 kilometers away. I also explained to them that the basic connection type was not acceptable for me, because I can get a similar dialup connection for a much lower price. So far, so good. Everyone nodded their heads and understood what I wanted and my worries.

Movistar had a lower price, but you could only get a 18-months minimum contract with no test period. Basically, “pay us and then try”. Too risky. They gave me a phone number where I could get more coverage information. Vodafone had a higher price, with 18-months minimum too, but the device had a 15 days test period. If I had a problem with it, I could cancel the contract in those first 15 days. They also gave me a phone number to get more information.

I arrived home and called both companies. Noone was able to give me accurate information. Mind you, I even had my house coordinates at hand in case they could have been useful, but everyone was asking for the town name, which didn’t appear in the database, and also asked for the postal code, which covers a very big area which wasn’t good enough to give me a definitive yes or no answer.

I thought about it and came to the conclusion that Vodafone was the way to go. After all, the two questions in my mind (could I get a 350 kbps connection? was the device going to work under Linux?) could be easily answered by simply trying, and the Vodafone test period was appropriate. I simply cannot understand why Movistar doesn’t let you test the device. A device you can use almost everywhere but with a very variable connection speed (from 56 kbps to 3.6 mbps). I think it’s very important to test it before agreeing to pay (40 x 18 = 720) euros. Even if they consider their database accurate enought (which is not, as my calls proved), you can’t still be sure. What if the connection works perfectly in the kitchen but not in the computer room due to the building structure? You can’t really be sure.

I went back to the Vodafone shop and explained my decision to the young lady. I had been unable to get accurate information, but the best thing I could do was to use the 15 days test period and try. She then explained me that eventhough I really had that test period I would really need to get information on the coverage, because the process of cancelling the contract was a pain in the neck. She asked for phone number to reach me later and volunteered to try to find out the information for me. I also asked her to give me precise information about the amount of money I would lose if I cancelled the contract in those first 15 days, because she wasn’t really sure.

Due to previous experiences with this type of situations, I wasn’t expecting her to call me back and was already making plans to return to the shop one week later to see if she had more information. However, fast forward 3 hours, I’m at home and she calls me. She had traced two customers they had in my area, who used a similar device to get an Internet connection and said only the basic 56 kbps type was available. Then, she had contacted what she tried to explain was the Vodafone man in charge in my area, which also seconded that information. Conclusion: I better not get the USB modem, at least for now.

I was really impressed because she really cared about me. She didn’t try to sell me the modem and get me to pay. Moreover, she answered quickly, very precisely, with the information I needed. In the past, everytime I had been involved in similar conversations with phone companies, they always wanted me to buy first. When you asked about the service quality, the price, the conditions, they’re evasive. The data in their webpages doesn’t match what the sales representative tells you, which is also different to what the customer support representative tells you. I can’t vouch things always work this way at Vodafone or if this was an exception, but I doubt I’ll get such a good response in the future from a big company. With this post I only wanted to thank her again for being so efficient and professional. This country needs more people like you, so keep up the good work!

2007-01-11

Imitating Yahoo’s AddressGuard using GMail

Filed under: Communication — rg3 @ 20:21

Since some days ago, I’ve been moving all my mail from Yahoo! to GMail. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, considering that I use an e-mail client to store all my mail in my hard drive. With that, I mean that I don’t use the web interface. I download all my mail using POP3 access. My main reason to stay with Yahoo! is that I had been [ab]using AddressGuard intensely. AddressGuard was still free in the Spanish version of Yahoo! Mail, as opposed to the USA and other countries in which it was only available via Yahoo! Mail Plus, which costs like 20 or 25 USD a year.

There’s a flash demo in Yahoo’s website that explains what AddressGuard is and how to use it. Essentially, it’s a mechanism that allows you to have disposable e-mail addresses in a very convenient way. You have to create some sort of secondary Yahoo! ID which is used as a prefix for your disposable addresses, which have the form prefix-suffix@yahoo.com, replacing the .com domain by the relevant one. That secondary ID, which does not relate to your original Yahoo! ID is used as the prefix, and you could create suffixes quickly on demand. It’s like a web interface to qmail’s alias system.

You may know that one of the best ways of avoiding spam (probably the best) is not letting the spammers get your real e-mail address, and this is what AddressGuard facilitates you. Instead of giving people your real, true address, you gave them secondaryid-suffix@yahoo.com, and they couldn’t, from that, reach or know your primaryid@yahoo.com address. Mail sent to secondaryid@yahoo.com is not accepted. In fact, only mail sent to valid suffixes is accepted and ends in the inbox of your Yahoo! mail account. So you have your Internet newbie friend John who asks you for your e-mail address and you give him secondaryid-john@yahoo.com. In the moment John makes a mistake by sending you a chain-letter email, or is infected by a virus or malware which leaks that address to the public and you start receiving spam, you delete that suffix. You may inform John of what has happened, using the level of violence you consider appropriate, but you won’t receive more spam. This can also be used for other friends, websites, online stores, forums, mailing lists, etc.

I had abused the system so much that I had around 50 different suffixes in around 50 different places. This fact together with knowing that I wouldn’t have a similar system in GMail is the reason I considered to stay with Yahoo.

On the other hand, GMail had its own advantages. For example, GMail’s POP3 and SMTP access is secure. This meant that my username and password were going to be transmitted over an encrypted connection, detail that I like. It’s not about the e-mail message itself (I would use GPG for that), but about the username and password. Also, GMail doesn’t put ads at the end of the message like Yahoo does (unless you’re paying for Yahoo! Mail Plus), which is better when you send mail because having those ads at the end of the message looks very unprofessional. Also, GMail’s attachment size limits are higher. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but they are.

Anyway, I thought of a way to imitate Yahoo’s AddressGuard with GMail and then I moved all my mail. It was a long task, converting a handful of addresses each day until I finished. The system is not perfect for several reasons. I’ll explain it all.

I created 2 accounts. One was going to be the equivalent of Yahoo’s primary ID. The second one would imitate the secondary ID. GMail also has a suffix system, but it’s different to the one from Yahoo. In GMail, mail sent to yourid+suffix@gmail.com is also delivered to your address. This smells like a web interface to Postfix’s alias system. However, GMail doesn’t let you decide which suffixes are accepted, and it won’t hide your real ID. I chose to redirect every known secondaryid+suffix@gmail.com address to primaryid@gmail.com using GMail filters. GMail doesn’t impose a limit in the number of filters. Caveats in this system, which may be important but so long they haven’t been for me?

  • GMail “To:” filters let you put the address there, but they will only look at the To and Cc e-mail headers. If someone includes you in their Bcc header, it won’t be forwarded. Note that the Bcc header won’t be present when you receive the message either. The same happens when someone doesn’t explicitly put your address in the message. This is typical in mailing lists. Mail is sent to the list address, but doesn’t mention who is receiving the message. This second case has a solution, which is to include an explicit filter so that mail sent to the mailing list (identified by the To header, words present in the subject or whatever) is also forwarded. The first case is unresolved. I mailed the GMail team so the system would use the Delivered-To header instead, which mentions your address, but so far I haven’t received a reply about it.
  • If an e-mail message is classified as Spam, it won’t hit the message filters. This means you have to check your mail using the web interface from time to time, just in case an important message is not filtered. Currently, there’s no way to disable GMail’s spam filtering features.
  • You can’t use the SMTP server and use any From header. If you use your primary ID account to authenticate to the SMTP server, the From header will be replaced. If you not only want to receive messages to secondaryid+suffix@gmail.com, but also to send them, that is, use that address in the From header, you have to explicitly tell GMail to allow you, and you have to pass a simple verification process to do so.

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