Monday, August 5, 2013

Death of an Email Address

A long time ago, in another lifetime, I worked in the rapid prototyping industry. Where many science fiction fans only dreamed of the day they could walk up to a computer and say, “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot,” I could do it for real. Only, it took hours to generate the tea cup, and the moment any hot water hit it, it would melt from the heat. But the process worked.
I was proud of the work I did. For a while I was one of the few people in the world who could take someone’s engineering drawings, create a 3-D model in a computer and have it generated into an object hours later. The downturn in the economy that got me into the field also left many engineers out of work who turned to doing the same kind of work. I have to admit, I was somewhat outclassed out of work. My last claim to fame was I had a knack for creating stable models that could be tessellated for stereo lithography work where others could not.
I created one of the first commercial web sites on the new [then] World Wide Web. With it, I created my first personal email address. It was mine! Not something that was handed out or assigned.
While involved in this field, I was a participant on the Rapid Prototyping Mailing List (RPML). The mailing list was highly active and ideas and networks spread far and wide.
Stupidly, people didn’t heed the warning about protecting their computers with anti-virus software. The RPML gained the ignominy of being at the top of the list for the spread of junk email and email-spawned worms and viruses. Junk emailers (aka “spammers”) discovered the list and began using it to pump junk email far and wide.
The junk took over and the RPML succumbed to it like the victim of a virulent cancer.
More important to the junk emailers wasn’t so much the delivery of garbage, but the harvesting of active email addresses. Did you ever get one of those emails forwarded from a friend saying, ‘Oh my God! Pass this on to ten people and you’ll get a winning lottery ticket!’? At the head of this email being forwarded were hundreds—if not thousands—of email addresses. Obviously your friend didn’t send it. Ever wonder who creates these things?
The people who create these emails are the very same vermin who run junk email businesses. They use them to harvest email addresses. They know thousands of well-meaning people will forward a heart-rending email about helping “Ailing Annie” collect a thousand stuffed animals before she dies from [insert horrible disease here] to many of their friends. As time goes by, the email will eventually make the rounds and get sent to the malfeasant who created it, and he now has thousands of email addresses collected to which he can send more important emails about deals on V•1•a•G•r•4 and potentially lucrative monetary transactions from Nigeria.
Once your email is on one of these lists, it will never, ever, escape. Even if one junk emailer is murdered by one of his colleagues, the list will pass to someone else and through that individual to others. Ad infinitum.
Still, I held onto the email address and I’ve continued to use it for years. Almost 18 years, in fact.
It was always getting flooded with junk email on a daily basis. The record, set back in 2000, was 7823 junk emails in one day. That whole week was nuts.
There was always an ebb and flow to junk email. It would reach annoying peaks and then back off for a while. Like the smell from a leaking sewage pipe, it just never went away. In recent years, I began to debate whether or not it was worth keeping that address active.
Last year, I received an email threatening that they would put my email on the junk email lists unless I paid them a sum of money. Written in very bad English, might I add. I actually laughed out loud. The stupid dip shits should have considered the fact that the email address in question was already on all the junk email lists. I ignored it. Nothing ever came of it.
Recently, an uptick in junk email got me thinking about retiring the address again. I admit, it was a fairly clever campaign. The flow started with just a few emails here and there, and slowly increased over time. It reached a point where I realized I was receiving an average of 30 junk emails an hour. The junk email filters were handling the vast majority of it, but there were enough getting through that it was starting to be annoying.
I came to the conclusion that it was time to retire that address. I unplugged the accounts from the email server.

For the first time in nearly 18 years, my email has been quiet for an entire evening.