Thursday, March 30, 2006

Updates, Spam, and Forms 

First, a general comment: with the sale of my dayjob employer from one high-tech firm to another high-tech firm about six months ago, practical issues about updating the website and monitoring e-mails have become much more difficult. The new owner is much more restrictive about all things Internet, as I've alluded in previous posts; one consequence is that I'm no longer able to update the site via FTP from my workplace computer (roughly 8-5 Pacific time), and a more recent consequence is I've had to cut off auto-forwarding of Locus-related e-mail to my workplace computer completely. (The IT department was noticing how much spam came in from that account.) I've taken great care over the years -- obviously -- not to abuse company policy about e-mail and Internet access during work hours, using those facilities only when urgently needed to meet the responsibilities of maintaining the site, but in recent weeks I've been unable to do even that.

The mitigation plan that's been put into place is that I've detailed instructions for the Locus magazine office staff in Oakland on how to update the website when I'm unavailable to do so. This plan went into effect for the first time this past Monday, when I first learned of Stanislaw Lem's death shortly after arriving at work about 8 a.m. that morning. I found enough time (during breaks, between meetings, etc. -- obviously) to consult various references and write a brief death notice about Lem for the website, but since I couldn't post the updated homepage myself, I emailed the updated index.html page to Locus in Oakland, where Tim Pratt kindly FTP'd the page to the Locus Online server. (Meanwhile, of course, Tim was busy writing a much more comprehensive obituary for Lem for the next issue of Locus Magazine.)

Second, there's been an apparent disruption in processing of the various webpage forms on the site, including the Locus Poll and Survey form, and the Subscription form. This seems to coincide roughly with a remarkable drop in the amount of SPAM I've received each day. I first noticed this Monday, when I got home from work and launched Outlook and saw that it had only about 200 e-mails to download since 7:30 that morning...whereas usually it had been 800-1000 e-mails each weekday during that period. Spam reduction is great; I assumed this was some new service provided by the website hosting service, CI Host. It took a couple more days for me to realize that during that same period no new Locus Poll ballots had been received, and for me to confirm that with the Locus Magazine folks in Oakland (who get cc'd all the Locus Poll ballot submissions). Since I was effectively incommunicado at work today, Tim Pratt for a second time updated the homepage this morning with the 'Important Announcement' about these technical difficulties.

I suspect the Spam filtering and the disruption in form e-mail responses are related; but, though I filed a 'trouble ticket' with CI Host as soon as I got home this evening, I haven't yet gotten a response from them about the cause, much less a fix. They are usually fairly decent about responding to problems, so hopefully by morning this will all be resolved. That might still require some folks to resubmit Locus Poll ballots...

Third--a final comment: it's almost April 1st, and one of my indirect (via Gorilla Nation, the ad service who provides all those random rotating ads in various spots) advertisers has set up a special ad for that day, which requires pop-up windows for full display. I've already installed the pop-up ad tags for the homepage this evening, so for the next couple days try clicking through to allow those windows, if you can. I usually resist them, but just this once. I'll turn them off again on Sunday...
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Mark R. Kelly

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mark R. Kelly, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine.
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