Mark Crispin: 1956 – 2012

Mark CrispinMark Crispin passed away on the 28th of December. While I didn’t know him well, Mark was a very important visionary in the area of Internet applications, and Email and character sets in particular.

I first enjoyed his work as a user of the MM program on TOPS-20, upon which he based the design of IMAP. MM featured strong searching and marking capabilities, as well as all the customization a person could want. It was through MM that people individualized their messages with funny headers or a cute name. And it was all so easy to use. Mark was constantly reminding us about that, and how UNIX’s interface could always stand improvement. Mark was an unabashed TOPS-20 fan.

Before the world had fully converged on vt100 semantics, Mark worked to standardize SUPDUP and the SUPDUP option. He was also early to recognize the limitations of a single host table. Mark’s sense of humor brought us RFC-748, the Telnet randomly-lose option, which was the first April 1 RFC. He also wrote another such RFC for UTF-9 and UTF-10.

Most of us benefit from Mark’s work today through our use of IMAP, which followed Einstein’s advice by having a protocol that was as simple as possible to tackle the necessary problems, but no simpler. We know this because our first attempt was POP, which was too simple. Mark knew he had hit the balance right because he made benefited from his experience with lots of running code and direct work with many end users.

I will miss his quirkiness, his cowboy boots, and his recommendations for the best Japanese food in a town where the IETF would visit, and I will miss the contributions he should have had more time to make.

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Email: I’ve shown you mine. What about yours?

[Now updated to include the obvious missing category!]

So now you know all about my email evolution.  What do you use to Email.  Take the OfcourseImRight Poll.  What works for you and why?

Which Email system do you use?

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Mail Programs: Time for a Change?

It used to be the case many years ago that I would try just about any E-mail program that came into the market.  To give you some idea, here are some of the mail programs I have used:

  1. MM (TOPS-20)
  2. BABYL (TOPS-20)
  3. Mail (VMS)
  4. Mail (UCB)
  5. Mailx (UNIX System V)
  6. MUSH
  7. Mutt
  8. Elm
  9. Pine
  10. Babyl (GNU Emacs)
  11. VM (GNU Emacs)
  12. Z-Mail (A Program written by Dan Heller based on MUSH, probably the first pseudo-graphical MIME program)
  13. Andrew (CMU)
  14. dmail (written by Matt Dillon)
  15. Some really zippy MMDF mail program
  16. MM (Columbia University)
  17. Outlook
  18. Outlook Express
  19. Eudora
  20. MH
  21. Mozilla
  22. and for about the last eight years: Thunderbird

Thunderbird has been great to me.  For one thing, it’s had a very extensible architecture that has lasted quite some time, with plugins and everything.  For another, it’s done quite well handling the gigabytes of mail that I process.  The filter systems are reasonably flexible and it supported client-side certificates when I needed them.

Eight years for me is a pretty good run.  I am, however, noticing that my trusty Thunderbird is showing its age and I really have run out of time to help (not that I really helped much anyway).  For one thing:

  • Later versions try to index my entire collection of mailboxes (all 50GB of them) and this never completes.
  • The composition component is no longer sufficient to my needs.  It’s not handling fonts correctly when I wish to send multi-media messaging.

And so I ponder a change.  The question is, “to what?”  Apart from all of my needs above, I have one more need: to be able to migrate from what ever I migrate to.  This probably isn’t a problem, because one can always use IMAP copying in the worst of cases, but that can be slow.

First task, of course will be reducing what I can to ease transition.  Wish me luck and do let me know what mail program you like, these days.

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How Important Is Your EMail Address To You?

Really it’s not clear to me if this is a generational thing or what, people tell me that email addresses are no longer that important to them, what with MySpace, FaceBook, and the like.  Others just use SMS, where their cell phone number is the important for people to reach them.  For some, however, their email address is their identity, and their only means of being reached by friends and family.  That’s true for me, at least.  I’ve had the same sets of email addresses for about 12 years– one for work, one main one for play, and a bunch of others for special use.  This is nothing compared to my parents, who have had (roughly) the same phone number for almost forty years.

If your email address is important, here’s a question you should ask: is it important for you to control it from a legal standpoint?  Why would you want to do this?  Let’s look at a few cases:

  1. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) provides you your email address with your Internet service, be that DSL, Cable, or something else.  What happens if you decide to change ISPs?  Do you lose your email address?  And do you care?  Can someone else get your old email address, and what are they likely to receive?
  2. You have a free email account from a service like Yahoo!, MSN, or Google, and the account gets broken into.  The first thing the bad guy does is change all of the security questions that are meant to cover password recovery.  How, then, are you able to prove to the service provider that the account was yours in the first place?  Can you even get your old account shut down, so that the attacker can’t masquerade as you?
  3. This is the inside-out version of (2): suppose someone claims you are masquerading as the legitimate owner of your account?  Who do you go to in order to prove that you are the legitimate owner of the account?
  4. Your mail service provider goes out of business, and the domain they have been using for you is sold.
  5. There’s one special case I’ll mention, but let’s not try to solve it: you use your work email for all email, and you change jobs or are laid off.  It’s a safe assumption that the primary use of your work email account should be work, and that you are taking a risk by using the account for more than work.

For all but the last case, you have a way of  at least mitigating the problem by have your own domain name, like ofcourseimright.com.  That is- go to a registrar that you trust and choose a domain name that will be yours as long as you pay the bill for the domain.  However, is this just moving the problem?  It could be if someone breaks into a registrar account that is not well secured.  However, because you own the domain and the registrar does not, you are able to take at least some actions, should either your registrar not recognize you, or should your registrar itself go out of business (this has happened).

The hard part is finding someone to host your domain.  This sounds like a royal pain in the butt.  And it is!  So why not just use your cell phone or a social network site?  Cell numbers are at least portable in many countries.  Social networking like Facebook is another matter, and can leave you with many of the same problems that email has, and more, as we have seen.  Similarly, many financial services that play with your money, like PayPal and eBay, rely on you having a stable email address.

My online identity is tied to...

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