Thursday, June 17, 2010

SMTP Filtering on ISPs

I've fielded a number of questions about this over the past couple of weeks, so I thought it would be worth writing about. While I generally prefer to write about policy issues these days, I'm not above a good nerd piece.

If you experienced an abrupt disruption in your ability to send email from home, it's likely that you're the victim of SMTP filtering by your home ISP. Verizon, Comcast, and other ISPs implement SMTP filtering to stop spammers from taking over computers on their networks and using them to send SPAM. If you find that you can no longer send mail from home because of this, there are a couple of solutions.

1) Use an alternate port, if your server supports it -- the default port for SMTP (sending mail) is 25. ISPs block messages by filtering out any traffic bound for port 25. Many mail servers also support ports 587 and 465 for sending mail. Try going into your SMTP settings and changing your port to 587; see if that fixes it. If not, try 465.

2) Use your ISP's SMTP server. Most ISPs will provide you with an email account (which you may or may not use), which is useful in bypassing this issue, as ISPs will not filter their own servers. Properly configured, you'll be able to send mail using their servers and have your mail appear to come from your usual email address.

Also see my previous post on port 587 -- the most popular post on the site, according to Google Analytics.

Hope this helps!


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ohio Facilitating SLAPP Suits

On the heels of my recent praise of many states for attempting to contain SLAPP suits, I came across this beauty of a story on PogoWasRight, one of my favorite blogs. To summarize, the state of Ohio is trying to make it such that "people no longer have safe haven to smear Ohio businesses online from other states." In other words, it is trying to remove jurisdictional boundaries to aid Ohio businesses in suing out-of-state citizens who "defame" them.

Aside from the rhetoric in the article being pretty biased -- the author seems to espouse the beliefs of the Ohio Supreme Court from the quote above and his presentation of the article's supporting anecdote -- it is one-sided. I was under the impression that good journalism told both sides of the story. What about the damage this ruling has on free speech? How about the fact that making it easier to sue outside of jurisdictional boundaries could lead to more tactical suits to silence valid claims?

Anyway, article aside, I don't think the legislative system should be looking for more ways to chill free speech on the Internet. Justice Hugo Black is probably rolling over in his grave about this ruling.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Shakespeare App

I just want to take a moment to promote one of my favorite iPad applications, the Shakespeare app. It's a product of a required app for anyone who loves language, poetry, or literature. The app contains the collected works -- all of his poems, plays, and sonnets -- beautifully formatted.

Nice formatting is not always a given with ebooks. If you're familiar with other free public-domain ebooks, you know what I'm talking about. For example, when I downloaded the free Kindle copy of Alexander Pope's translation of The Odyssey, it was a trainwreck; Pope's translation is done in rhyming couplets, and the line breaks didn't line up! So, staring at a dense block of seeming prose, I had to keep track of the meter in my head. This is not the case with the Shakespeare app -- characters are clearly labeled, the text is spaced well, etc.

While the Pro verion of the app is a little pricey at $20, I intend to purchase it just to support this wonderful project. Definitely worth checking out. Now, if only someone would build me a Christopher Marlowe app...


One of the coolest things that has ever happened to me was when I was invited to be part of the Yelp Elite Squad, an invitation-only group of restaurant reviewers on the restaurant-review site Yelp. To date, I have written reviews of about 100 restaurants (nothing compared to some of my peers). I've doled out high praise to establishments worthy of the praise, in addition to stinging critiques of subpar gastronomical experiences. My experiences, the feelings manifested by visiting the restaurants, belong to me; I am free to document them; I am free to exercise my First Amendment rights. But what if one or more of these restaurants attempted to use the legal system to silence me -- to squelch my right to speak my mind? Unfortunately, some businesses are starting to walk this path. I recently came across a great article in the NY Times about SLAPP suits, tactical lawsuits designed to silence critics through intimidation or insurmountable legal fees.

Tactical lawsuits are nothing new -- businesses and individuals have filed suits against each other without any intention of winning since dinosaurs roamed the Earth (see Stegosaurus v. Australopithecus); likewise, SLAPP suits predate the Internet. The confluence of factors at the root of this particular problem, however, stems from the melding of the egalitarian ethos of the Internet (that anyone has the ability to comment on anything) and the permanence of this information (while spoken comments are but locally-concentrated ephemera). As such, we can understand why some businesses, especially small businesses, might want to quash someone's ability to permanently etch damaging information into the annals of the Internet.

Of course, these suits are gross misuses of the legal system. They're just one of the many ways that well-intentioned legal devices (in this case defamation torts) are being misapplied in order to stop people from speaking their minds. The article mentions another such instance where doctors ask their patients to sign release forms when they become patients at a practice; these forms prevent patients from reviewing their doctors online by having the patient sign over copyright for their opinions about the doctors. That's right: they use the DMCA, designed to protect artists' royalties from copyright infringement (at least ostensibly) to silence their patients.

Free speech is the greatest of our rights, and we're living in an era when it's at its strongest, yet under perpetual attack. Luckily, some states are putting laws in place to prevent SLAPP suits. We can only hope they they move quickly and that all states follow suit (no pun intended).

Friday, June 4, 2010

iPad App List

Here is a list of the apps that I'm currently running on my iPad. I have no doubt this list will be somewhat volatile, so I will try to update this page with any changes until I get bored doing so.

1. IM+ Lite -- great IM aggregator app. I'm using it for AIM and Gtalk, but I think it can do Facebook chat, Yahoo, and others. Provision for push notifications so you can get IMs when you're in other programs. Free.

2. Facebook -- iPhone app, so renders small on the screen, but works well enough. free.

3. NPR -- can listen to most stories and read all. free.

4. Kindle -- of course. free.

5. -- everyone should have a dictionary handy all the time. This app is a fantastic implementation that works offline. With an Internet connection, you can play phonetic pronunciations of the words -- great for people like me, who grow vocabulary by reading rather than hearing the words spoken. free.

6. Penultimate -- the only app I have paid for. Notebook app that allows for drawing with fingers. Great for meetings and diagraming ideas. Can email images. $2.99

7. AccuWeather -- beautiful app that provides weather quickly and unobtrusively. free.

8. NY Times Editors' Choice -- nice summary of the times in a paper-like layout. free.

9. Netflix -- killer. I can watch any of the "Watch Instantly" content on the device. Looks great. free.

10. OpenTable -- make restaurant reservations on the go. iPhone app. feee.

11. Shakespeare -- collected works, beautifully formatted, unlike some public-domain Kindle works. free or $20 pro version. I may buy the latter just to support the project.

12. Popplet Lite -- good for memory maps and diagraming thoughts. free.

13. Shazam -- IDs songs that are currently playing using the built-in mic. free.

14. Wikipanion -- Nice Wikipedia app. free.

15. Blackboard Mobile -- so I can access my course site on the go. free.

And, of course, I use the built-in apps: Mail, Safari, iPod, Notes (I like this a lot), etc.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

iPad: Initial Reactions

iPad: What's Need Got To Do with It?

You know, it's pretty easy to fall into making conjectural evaluations of technologies that you don't own. When the blogosphere goes ablaze with legions of tech pundits bandying about whether or not you "need" something, it's tempting to jump in on the conversation by providing an intuitively-reasoned/anecdotal analysis: "The iPad looks cool, but why should I buy one if I will still need to own a laptop?," "It seems like just another device to carry around," etc. Well, while all of these arguments, vis-a-vis the iPad, make sense on paper, I refute them with this: it's freaking awesome, and it's place in your tech arsenal will become apparent once you own one.

As with many new technologies, I was skeptical of the iPad at first -- I can sometimes be a Luddite stuck in a technologist's body. "Yeah, but do you really need this thing? I mean, we have laptops; we have smart phones; what's the point?" Well, the opportunity to acquire one arose, and I pushed "need" aside. The result: awesomeness. After 2 weeks owing the device, I have to admit that I am now one of the multitude of educators teeming at the intersection of pedagogy and technology, salivating to use the device to enhance my course.

Things I like:
- multitouch interface and gestures -- not owning an iPhone, I wasn't previously familiar with the OS. It's extremely intuitive, though, and I love the swipes to turn pages and the pinch ins/outs to zoom.
- screen resolution -- high-res screen makes reading lengthy texts easier than traditional monitors
- app selection - of course (though there are still a few apps that are only available in iPhone format)

Things I don't like:
- looking like a fanboy with my Macbook Pro AND iPad (I don't have the iPhone)
- the screen gets really smudged with fingerprints
- not great for multitasking (OS doesn't yet lend itself to this)
- little bit heavier than the Kindle
- iPhone apps, by default, only fill an iPhone-sized portion of the screen -- it's possible to zoom to 2x, but then they get a little grainy

Uses I've found:
- I bring my iPad to meetings instead of my laptop -- it's great for taking notes and very portable. Lacking of multitasking ability helps to preserve focus, too. :)

- reading -- I read a lot, a whole lot, and having the Kindle app installed has been awesome. I also downloaded an app that contains the collected works for Shakespeare (plays, poems, sonnets).

- writing lengthier emails than I can on my Blackberry on the go

- keeping up to date on news

- catching up on the readings for my class so that I can prepare for course discussions

- getting walking directions with Google Maps/Streetview when I get lost

So, do you NEED the iPad? Well, who am I to determine need, but you should get one!