Reading the fine print

Upon contemplation, blaming a time zone issue for the mail server problem just doesn’t seem right. Email works just fine across all the various time zones; why should it fail over something so simple?

When I “solved” the problem it was by updating the time zone, and bringing the server into proper sync with the client. But why would this be needed? As I made the change, I noticed something else unusual – there was a persistent connection to my mail server’s IMAP port, from the Amazon cloud. That struck me as odd, and potentially undesirable. So I closed the connection, and waited… and it reestablished itself within seconds. I put this down to being the tech-support diagnostic from the email client vendor, and then went about the business of kicking them off the server (write email to them, remove the extra account created for them, changing master passwords). As always, when I’ve opened a diagnostics port for outsiders, when it’s finished I go back and reset any master passwords which might have been [inadvertently] exposed – in this case, the password to my primary email – access to which had been the impetus for the whole exercise.

Changing the password on that email requires updating not just the mobile client on the phone, but also the mobile clients on the notebook computers, and the POP3 client on the administrative computer.  It’s an easy routine; pull up the client, stop the automatic message pull (which will fail as the password has changed), then make the change, do another message pull to validate, and we’re done.

Not so, this time. Instead, upon updating the password in the POP3 client, I get a “server closed connection” message. What? Did I type the password wrong? Let’s go try that again… get the same error… but that’s the wrong error for a password change. So it’s off to the mail server console to see what’s happened now – and the primary email account is now on ‘auto-ban’ status, meaning too many attempts were made with the wrong password in too short a time frame. I remove the account from auto-ban, do the POP3 pull from the client (works fine), then check the phone app.

It’s complaining it can’t connect. And that’s when it hits me – that persistent cloud connection was from the phone app. But why would it care? I’ve told the phone app to poll the server every 15 minutes… let’s fire up wireshark and do some packet analysis, see what’s happening. And sure enough, it’s the phone app, probing the mail server every 60 seconds for new email. Say what? And then I notice the section on the app menu, about privacy, and look in there. “Erase your data from our servers” – ahem. What data are you storing? Selecting Yes to “Erase data” tells me I may no longer use this app, and when I persist, it deletes the account from the app – resetting it back to the beginning.

Let’s go examine that app again… I should have been a bit more aware (read the fine print!) as to what was going on; how did a no-ads-install-for-free app have a dedicated tech-support team, without a visible source of revenue? Well, if you’re not paying, you’re the product, not the customer. In this case, the company providing the app is indeed reading the mail and making marketing trend analysis data available – to third-party [paying] clients. That’s how the app makes money.

I’d complain about deceptive advertising but… GMail is essentially the same. So Edison Email comes off the phone, and it’s time to find a better client.

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Time and the ancient email server

For the past few days I’ve been chasing a rather pernicious problem – email clients weren’t interacting properly with the server. Since I haven’t changed the server software in, oh, five or six years, my first thought was – there’s something crazy going on with the clients.

As of this writing (November 2018) I run my own primary email server. It’s been a stable platform for years, requiring only very intermittent maintenance. However, it’s an older product, running on a non-supported platform. I run in a blended mode; the server is nominally IMAP4 but when I’m in the office I’m retrieving messages using the older POP3 protocol – which then removes the messages off the server. I’m used to this routine (23 years and counting) and it limits message exposure to only a few hours under most circumstances.

The symptom was – the phone email client showed unread messages on the server, but gave me no way to access them. Over the period of a few days I narrowed it down to a specific sequence – leave a few messages on the server, off to bed, wake up in morning, check mail and find the unread and inaccessible new mail… which then caused me to do a POP3 run and retrieve stuff. But this wouldn’t do for the long run. I experienced the same phenomenon on Edison Email (Android) and on GMail (browser and Android client).

The Edison Software app has excellent tech support – and during the various steps they went through (including establishing a test account on my server) – I finally recognized the problem. My server had already executed the reset to standard time – two weeks early. Once I reset the server back to daylight time, things are back to working normally. Then it was time to track down the timezone file and fix that, so this won’t be a problem (at least for the next several months).

 

Leaving Facebook… the process.

I don’t intend (at least in the next year or so) to actually leave Facebook. It’s a nice way of keeping in touch with some people, and a good experimental platform for understanding the ways and wiles of tracking systems.

But there’s been a lot of chatter the last few days about how to leave Facebook, and the [obvious, if you think about it] algorithms used by Facebook for victim customer advertising target retention. Specifically, Facebook starts hitting the notifications hot and heavy, and eventually starts ignoring its own settings in the quest to keep you entertained on the hook.

The process you should follow (at least as of this writing)… 1) Start removing your content. Don’t do it all at once, but my approach is to slowly remove all photo “albums” with the exception of the auto-generated foursome (uploads, timeline, profile, cover).

2) Create an alternate identity email somewhere. Change your Facebook email over to this new account. Don’t use this email for any other purpose.

3) Remove ALL references to your primary email, web, phone, etc. from Facebook. Don’t use any identifier other than the alternate email address.

4) After a month or so, disconnect Facebook from your phone (if you ever gave it the number to start with)… watch as Facebook starts to fill your auxiliary email with notices.

5) On your fated day, sign in to Facebook, do the removal thing – it may take a number of attempts complete with various captchas and pleadings and confirmations and so on.

6) You may now walk away (figuratively speaking) from that alternate email, safe in the knowledge that Facebook can’t bug you any further.

 

 

Keeping email private…

Whenever one of the market-anointed tech titans speaks, people start to pay attention to their privacy… or lack thereof. In this instance, the question received regarded email, asking about alternatives to Microsoft & Google offerings, as compared to a Swiss service ProtonMail. Get your beverage(s) ready, this is going to be a long one.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and I did not sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night. This discussion is relative to my understanding of United States Laws and court decisions. Your mileage may vary. 

First – how much inconvenience are you willing to suffer to keep your email private? What are you willing to pay?

On the surface, ProtonMail (which prides itself on end-to-end-encryption, and being based in Switzerland) seems like the obvious winner, since there’s a free version. But there are issues here. First is the recently passed CLOUD Act (Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act, HR 4943, signed into law March 23, 2018) which allows for bilateral treaty-based exchange of overseas data between signatories. Note there is already such a treaty in existence with Switzerland. Proton’s off-stated “we only store encrypted data” claim is only good to the extent a user is not otherwise compelled to give up a password… or that the encryption is as described. Further, the only interface allowed to Proton is via web browser…

Gmail/Hotmail etc – “free” or “paid” – your email is going to be read by robots, mostly looking for advertising ‘bait’ or to build a better profile… (more on this later). Of course, these offerings win on convenience, and of course “free!”

Finally, there’s “roll-your-own” email. Invest in a server, configure your own email, have your own custom address pool, make your own filters and blocks, set auto-replies, run email lists… in simple terms, do everything the big boys can, but in your own way. All the mission-critical email for me has run on my own email server for more than twenty years. I use Gmail as a convenience, and am forced to use Outlook by various clients.

Now – let’s look at the legal implications on privacy, for the three offerings above. In the US, email privacy is governed by two major acts: the aforementioned CLOUD Act, and the ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 1986). Most email communications falls under the [ancient] ECPA guidelines (assuming it is stored in the US).

The ECPA defines five types of communication for email. Three of those types require a warrant for access; two require a subpoena. Subpoenas are routinely issued by lawyers in the name of the court; penalties may be assessed for non-compliance. Warrants are issued by a judge, have stringent requirements for issuance, and are usually enforced by police agencies.

The ‘warrant required’ types of communications are: email in transit, email stored on a home computer, and email in remote storage, unopened, stored for 180 days or less.

The subpoena required types of communications are: email in remote storage, opened, and email in remote storage, unopened, stored for more than 180 days.

I run a combination server – it is IMAP when I’m away from home, and POP3 when I’m home. In simple terms – during a work day outside the house, or while travelling, I’m running the server in much the same mode as one does with any web-based system. The email is available via remote access (remote storage in ECPA terms). When I’m home, I have a POP3 client which downloads the email to a home computer, and erases that mail from the server.

In this mode, my critical email is always in the warrant-required states per the ECPA. Warrants are issued under standards more than 200 years old – it must be based on probable cause, describe the place or person to be searched, and for what evidence the search is being requested; all under oath or affirmation to a judge or magistrate. I feel reasonably secure.

Hope this helps the decision matrix.

ps – Gmail’s robots really kick in after about 200 emails are in the account. Want to baffle the builder? Set Gmail to operate in POP3 mode (delete after download) and watch the fun. (Running NoScript and disabling the Google Stats scripts also screws up the profile builder).

 

In praise of PagePlus X9

PagePlus X9 turns out to have sufficient functionality in layout design to replace InDesign CS3. (See the prior post “Migration” for why I have to change).

PagePlus is a product of Serif, a long-time competitor to Adobe. The Plus line of software is no longer in active development but licenses are still available – PagePlus is $25 from Serif directly, or a bit less in DVD form on Amazon.

Down the road a bit, the company expects to have a more full-featured layout package (Affinity Publisher)… but it’s been pushed back several times. I think the main development effort is in their Photoshop replacement software.

As to PagePlus, so far it’s worked fine for the four-to-eight page layouts I routinely need; shortly I’ll test it on a longer project.

Migration

[…tap… tap… is this thing on??]

It’s time to abandon the Adobe-sphere before it abandons me. In October 2017 Adobe decided to kill off the last vestiges of perpetual (non-subscription) licensing for Lightroom… and change the name to “Lightroom Classic.” And making things worse, somewhere in November a routine update broke functionality on my venerable InDesign CS3.

Historically, renaming software to “classic” has been the indicator of abandonment of same, and I expect that’s what Adobe has in mind, as the all-new-shiny Lightroom CC is all cloud-based and mobile and “fun” and made into lightweight eye-candy for the iPhone set.

Now of course I could go with the flow and pay the tribute, which for Lightroom/Photoshop is $10/month, but InDesign isn’t included and that would add another $20/month. Not happening, at least not with me.

I restored CS3 functionality by configuring a Windows 7 Virtual Machine and just installing the bare-bones stuff I need, but that’s a short-term patch, not a long-haul answer. So I’m now evaluating other publishing packages.

Lightroom is the big problem; I’ve been with the package since its first release and thus have a solid ten years’ work in creating a workflow, geotagging and keywording the 25,000+ photos in the master catalog. Right now, there’s nothing quite like LR out there, although there are promises.

Having played with some of the alternative RAW converter/editors, I’m waiting for the ON1 crowd to include digital asset management in their product. Hopefully that comes along soon.

Bleh.

 

Death of a tablet

It feels like an old friend is gone. The Wacom Intuous 3 pen tablet, model  PTZ-431W, vintage December 2006, has died.

I had thought it was essentially indestructible. I’ve spilled iced tea on it twice, coffee once; each time took it apart and gently cleaned the circuit board, and back to work it went. I’m on the fourth (and probably last, since I can’t find another to order) pen… the side switches wear out.

I use the pen tablet in preference to the mouse, which feels clumsy by comparison (albeit not as awkward as the touchpad on notebooks). I’m quite happy with pressure- and tilt-sensitive controls, and direct proportional mapping.

The replacement has new features, knows touch gestures, has edge lighting, even a wireless option (must remember to periodically charge the battery and not lose the fiddly bits) which generally won’t get used…

Serial number 7AZM14858, I salute you. Come to think of it, I’ll raise a pen to you.