Communication in the internet age

With the age of the internet comes the access and exchange of information in ways never dreamed of.

We can send e-mails, view information compiled for us, we can share and express view points as is the case here.

But there are some of us, office holders and professional staff members, that are not quite up the jive of the new age of information.

We have city council members that do not use or check the e-mail in their office at government center. We have some that just delete the comments from the citizens they represent. We have some that read and simply fail to respond or insists that all communications be by telephone.

As for the professionals that seem to get little or no notice for their actions we need to remember that they are there to serve too and are not just employees.

Most recently I had sent e-mail to s.kosinski@tps.org about a school bus driving running a red light. Fortunately there were no students on the bus.

Boing....the mail bounces back... "> Your message to: s.kosinski@tps.org
> was blocked by our Spam Firewall. The email you sent with the following subject has NOT BEEN DELIVERED:
>
> Subject: Driver running red light
>
> mail delivery report attachment, "Delivery error report"
> Reporting-MTA: dns; barracuda.tps.org Received-From-MTA: smtp;
> barracuda.tps.org ([127.0.0.1]) Arrival-Date: Wed, 23 May 2007
> 07:35:13 -0400 (EDT) Final-Recipient: rfc822; s.kosinski@tps.org
> Action: failed Status: 5.7.1 Diagnostic-Code: smtp; 550 5.7.1 Message
> content rejected, UBE, id=14533-01-16 Last-Attempt-Date: Wed, 23 May
> 2007 07:35:18 -0400 (EDT)"

Great. There is a firewall with spam filtering blocking incoming mail.

Oh I know, I will contact the system admin; pam.jacobs@tps.org and ask how do I get an e-mail through the tps system.

Wait and wait and wait and here it is four days later, no response.

Sure, she may be on vacation. How many people use the out of office option on Outlook? Not many at all.

So while we observe and make comments about the politicos who fail to comprehend the modern age of communication let us not forget that there are civil servants that are also failing to use the system properly and thereby making communication with our city(s) difficult at best.

No votes yet

On the part of the Mayor that his staff would respond in 48 hours or less to everything one way or another. What happened to that? I personally believe that 48 hours is generous. I see no reason with the vast number of city employees that they cannot respond with an at least we're looking at it. Failure to respond leads one to think they just don't care. That is unaccepable! We pay them to care and if they don't, they should be fired.

For what it's worth, spam filtering saves the district money. And no offense, but the singular blocked email of a concerned citizen is probably not high on Pam Jacobs' list of priorities.

I'm not saying it's RIGHT, I'm just saying that I understand it.

I like e-mail because I have a record of what I sent, but I will use the phone if that is the only way available to communicate with government. But it is one of things I might take into consideration when I vote for someone. Maybe it is a case of "delegation", or resource management, or maybe I am at fault, but when I e-mail my councilman (Mike Craig), and get no response back I have to wonder how do I let this person know my wants?

Old South End Broadway

Would also respond to a citizens inquiry.

http://toledoohioneighborhoodconcerns.com/blog

...of these public institutions would just take a minute, put down their quills and look to the future, say the 19th century and beyond, then we might stand a fighting chance of dealing with them...

But, they are an extremely resistant bunch and they know that using email leaves a trail; a trail that most of those cowards would rather not leave.

Maybe we should work towards promoting and supporting only candidates who are email literate. . .

And another thing. Seeing as The City of Toledo and the Toledo Public School System are allegedly "open" and working on the behalf of the tax-paying public, then why don't both organizations have master email and phone lists published on their taxpayer funded web sites?

That seems like a "no-brainer" to me; but there are many "no-brainers" allegedly working in both organizations. . .

Hooda Thunkit

An excerpt;

"On December 21, 2000, the Children

I am not as technically proficient as many on this site, but I was wondering about this; if the city got WiFi that really worked would it be possible to consider giving up my cell phone (and its monthly expense; most of my calls are local). Could a small, hand-held WiFi capable computer take the place of a cell phone (if I used a carrier like Skype[?]) and could always be certain I would have access through a local WiFi network.

Old South End Broadway

I guess I am just trying to be cheap. I have Cingular, and pay about $50/mo. With talk of WiFi costing maybe $20 a month (if I what I read is what happens) then if WiFi could take the place of cell phone usage that would be a big savings.

I am thinking it is time to get another contract. I

Old South End Broadway

Shane, I am a fifty something techie who cut his teeth on PDP 8/A's, 8E's and too a lesser extant the PDP11 and I also started in the field when the first remote modems were released with a blazing 150 baud.

Being that as it is, the filtering done by TPS is unnecessary and hinders communication from citizens to one of our agencies.

And the city mail system is a mess at times also and as is simple as it is some do not have any idea how to set an out of office up so people know that and as it stands now mail bounces and when you contact the IT department at government center your mail falls into the crevice and is never answered.

It is also about being responsible to citizens.

http://toledoohioneighborhoodconcerns.com/blog

The Mayor's staff, at least the one whose address is known Schwartz responds. The other staff members are not listed.

The city professionals are the ones I was referring too.

http://toledoohioneighborhoodconcerns.com/blog

I know that other have tried to reach the same person and failed for the same spam filtering.

While it "may" be saving money it is none the less hindering the publics effort to communicate with city departments.

The same habit of failing to respond is also the norm when writing to the It staff at government center.

http://toledoohioneighborhoodconcerns.com/blog

The Mayor went on a campaign for city wide wi-fi and we cannot get communications now through existing communications.

With the absolute lack of communication from some of the city council, like the deleter of e-mail before they are even read Sobczak, it makes me wonder what improvement can we expect beyond what the Mayor hoped to have happen.

I out the question to Kattie Bonds about members of her staff setting up or knowing how to set up an out of office reply, no answer yet.

We have technology to be used and used it should be and the more communication methods the better.

http://toledoohioneighborhoodconcerns.com/blog

That these emails are directed at TPS, not the City of Toledo, right? And that the two are completely separate organizations?

---------
"When I say your dumb name, please stand up briefly, but then quickly drop to your knees and forsake all others before me." -Ignignokt

There's a city full of walls you can post complaints at

Finally after contacting the system admin an the Mayor's office a response came;

"From: joe.kahl@tps.org
To: michael.anteau@tps.org
Cc: colin.pregibon@tps.org, mary.shenofsky@tps.org, sheree.nash-bumpus@tps.org, colin.pregibon@tps.org, jermene.koepfer@tps.org, Patricia.Mazur@tps.org, pam.jacobs@tps.org, twoquigleys , tomtroy@theblade.com,
Subject: Re: Trying to get e-mail to people at TPS
Date: Thu, 31 May 2007 16:16:59 -0400
Mailer: Lotus Domino Web Server Release 7.0.2 September 26, 2006

To all:

Received concern about red light violation this afternoon for the first time. ( 5/31/07 @ 4:00 pm ) We will identify the driver and bring this concern to their attention. One of our primary goals is the safety of all students, drivers, and citizens, we pride ourselves in working toward achieving this goal on a daily basis. We need the people of this city to helps be our eyes and ears, we take any and all violations / concerns seriously.

Sincerely,

Joe Kahl

Joe Kahl C.P.M.
Director of Transportation Services
Toledo Public Schools
419-671-8541 Fax 419-535-1241
Joe.Kahl@TPS.org"

And when I replied to it, asking how does one submit information like this, guess what? The spam/firewall at TPS rejected my e-mail.

And then this gem;

"Greetings,

In response to my director's request I wanted to let you know the status of your messages. We apologize that you have been having difficulty sending us e-mail. Your original message has now been delivered. Please note that Steve Kosinski is currently off on Military Leave, so I have copied this message, with your original at the bottom, to the Director of
Transportation, Joe Kahl.

TPS uses a SPAM Firewall to filter our incoming e-mail. We do this to
comply with Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA) guidelines. TPS receives
nearly 40,000 e-mail messages daily, and over 95% of this is junk e-mail
(SPAM). Accepting this junk e-mail could potentially expose students to
objectionable material.

Our firewall uses SPAM Blacklists, rule sets, and Bayesian logic to decide
what is SPAM and what is not. It does a very good job of this, but
occasionally messages are right on the edge of looking like SPAM or looking like legitimate e-mail. In these cases, sometimes good mail gets blocked, and that is what has happened in this case.

In case you are curious, the particular reasons listed in the block of your messages (including the one from twoquigleys) were:
Body contains Dear Sir
>From does not include a real name
Body: HTML is extremely short
Body: HTML included in message
Body: Message only has text/html MIME parts
HTML-only message, but there is no HTML tag
Missing Subject (on the mail from twoquigleys)

Employees have the ability to whitelist e-mail addresses so mail will not
be blocked. If you have difficulty sending e-mail in the future, you might want to give the recipients a call on the phone, and ask them to whitelist your address. Our district directory is available at http://www.tps.org, and includes phone numbers as well as e-mail addresses for all district administrative personnel.

I hope this information has been helpful.

Michael Anteau
Network Analyst
Toledo Public Schools
420 E. Manhattan Blvd.
Toledo, OH 43608"

Some mail? Everything is getting blocked and we have to call the person we want to send e-mail too and tell them that I am going to be sending e-mail so please add my address to your white list.

Dilbert episode anyone.

http://toledoohioneighborhoodconcerns.com/blog

"Could a small, hand-held WiFi capable computer take the place of a cell phone (if I used a carrier like Skype[?]) and could always be certain I would have access through a local WiFi network."

Could and maybe not.

There are more and more wi-fi devices coming to the market but wi-fi could be effected by the same woes as cell service, buildings, etc. When the signal level drops, off goes your call.

http://toledoohioneighborhoodconcerns.com/blog

Neighborhood is correct.

But..

I've seen hybrid phones. You'll have to google around, but one was a combo VoIP Phone (that you'd use with WiFi) and Cell Phone. You could buy prepaid cellphone minutes which would allow you to use your phone wherever, while keeping it in VoIP mode most the time.

I've also seen VoIP/LandLine combos that use Least Cost Routing to send a phone call thru either your landline or your VoIP connection, whichever is cheapest.

All in all, VoIP doesn't use a tremendous amount of bandwidth. I think you'd probably find the service acceptable in most areas within the city limits. This, of course, is a blatant guess considering the network isn't even built yet.

Yes, it's probably too sensitive. Most IT professionals would prefer false-negatives to false-positives. It does probably need to be "turned down" a bit...

And both governmental agencies share a common responsibility to respond to the public.

http://toledoohioneighborhoodconcerns.com/blog

Nearly all of your problems were caused by sending the mail as HTML. That's not your fault, I'm just giving you an explanation. In reality, that's pretty normal. Bayesian filters "learn" as they process known-good and known-bad messages. It's very sophisticated and the best way yet devised to combat spam. It just so happens that being an HTML message has a high correlation with known-spam.

That being said, they can tweak the "scores" they give each of those attributes. Most businesses would do this. A business would justify a few false-negatives in exchange for virtually no false-positives.

However, the school district has a law to comply with and students to protect. So it seems they've made the decision that false-positives are more desirable than false-negatives.

SPAM fighting is HARD and it's a moving target.

In the short-term, the district should put a FAQ on their website about this and suggest that all parents send any email in PLAIN TEXT FORM, with instructions on how to do so in the most popular mail clients.

And when you want to communicate with the TPS administrator do not send e-mail;

Your message to: john.foley@tps.org
was blocked by our Spam Firewall. The email you sent with the following subject has NOT BEEN DELIVERED:

Subject: Driver running red light

http://toledoohioneighborhoodconcerns.com/blog

I sent plain text. I never send html mail as it is annoyance.

I use Bayesian filtering and have been for three years now and it is a manual process by the user, I tell the filters what is and what is not and it learns that way.

Here are the headers;

"Subject: Trying to get e-mail to people at TPS
From: Neighborhood Concerns
To: mary.shenofsky@tps.org, sheree.nash-bumpus@tps.org, colin.pregibon@tps.org, jermene.koepfer@tps.org, patricia.mazur@tps.org
Cc: pam.jacobs@tps.org, twoquigleys , tomtroy@theblade.com

Content-Type: text/plain
Message-Id: <1180605900.2015.10.camel@localhost>
Mime-Version: 1.0
X-Mailer: Evolution 2.6.3
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
Date: Thu, 31 May 2007 06:05:07 -0400
X-Evolution-Format: text/plain

But there is a signature line that contains a url so maybe that is the problem, if so, it could be quarantined until the user decides it is okay or not.

"However, the school district has a law to comply with and students to protect. So it seems they've made the decision that false-positives are more desirable than false-negatives."

I am fully aware of the need to comply with laws and the school has a requirement to communicate with the citizens.

Other people are sending plain text and the Barracuda system is dev nulling them also.

I am simply not going to call someone to tell them I am sending e-mail, this is simply absurd.

http://toledoohioneighborhoodconcerns.com/blog

1. I never suggested that sending plaintext was the cure to all your ills. There is a lot of plaintext spam as well.

2. Bayesian Filtering is not a "manual process," at least not by my definition of "manual." All you do is point it to a morgue of known-good, and a morgue of known-bad, and it gets trained. After that you can continue to train it by marking "spam" as "not spam" or vice versa.

3. What can be tweaked, though, is the scoring thresholds. They've clearly set theirs low.

4. He attached teh "Spam Cues Report" that barracuda provided. According to it, at least one of the mails you sent were HTML. If you had any formatting at all (text size, color, weight) or any links (as opposed to just plain-text URLs) then you sent HTML email.

5. The responsibility to protect kids is > than the responsibility to communicate with citizens VIA EMAIL. It's not as if they weren't accepting your phone, fax, or snail mail, either.

6. You said "it could be quarantined." That's clearly exactly what happened. If it wasn't quarantined, the only other options would have been that it was deleted or sent to the user. Clearly it was put in the spam queue.

7. I'm not saying you're in the wrong. But I am saying that this isn't as simple as you seem to think it is. Spam filtering is insanely tough because they're actively trying to defeat filters.

8. My only point is that you seem to have suggested that there was some negligence here. I disagree. This is a difficult problem to solve. Every organization faces it. Every organization has some success with it and some failure with it. It happens.

No it's not, the system admin or an assistant surely could have gone to the users and added my address to the white list.

"Your message to: mary.shenofsky@tps.org
was blocked by our Spam Firewall. The email you sent with the following subject has NOT BEEN DELIVERED:

Subject: Re: Trying to get e-mail to people at TPS"

Quarantined?

Ah, but you see here is the quaranteed message;

"Return Receipt

Your [QUARANTINE] Trying to get e-mail to people at TPS
document:

was colin.pregibon@tps.org
received
by:

at: 05/31/2007 08:53:02 AM"

So, the difference is that one is not delivered and one was Quarantined.

"It's not as if they weren't accepting your phone, fax, or snail mail, either."

Quite. And I prefer to use e-mail and that is commonly done, so this way I have a record.

"Bayesian Filtering is not a "manual process," at least not by my definition of "manual."

I had to train my Bayesian Filtering by reviewing and every mail, at least 300, and then all other mail I received is filtered so I can validate the process.

"I never suggested that sending plaintext was the cure to all your ills. There is a lot of plaintext spam as well."

Quite and I never stated that you did, I posted the headers.

"Every organization faces it. Every organization has some success with it and some failure with it. It happens."

Yes, and the organizations faced with a need to allow people to communicate with them make adjustments and not ignore the problem for almost a week, now.

Negligence is so wide and varied. I would prefer to think it as a failure to communicate and I was reporting a school bus running a red light.

And the protecting kids is fine and I support that, but I was sending mail to the administration.

The people in IT at tps.org need to review the processes and maybe after enough complaints that will happen as I am pretty sure that there are others that want to communicate in electronic form and are getting blocked also.

http://toledoohioneighborhoodconcerns.com/blog

I like email too. But it's not the most reliable form of communication out there. And really, it's less reliable now than it ever has been before.

All I'm saying is that if you understand the technical dilemma orgs like TPS is facing, it's easier to understand why this is not negligence on their part. Spam filtering your Outlook e-mail is a little different than spam filtering however many thousands of messages they get every day. The moral of the story seems to me to be "Don't expect e-mail to be useful as primary mode of communication." I'm a 20-something software developer. I'm as tech-savvy as they come. I love email. But the truth of the matter is that SPAM, etc, reduces the utility of email. This is an expression of that.

I do think they could create processes that mitigate this. A procedure to get white-listed. A contact form on their website that can be used instead of email. A process for checking and responding to quarantine items in an efficient way. Who knows...

...One thing about the quarentine, though: If they get, say, 50,000 spam messages a day, it wouldn't sound crazy to me that 25% are "borderline" and thus would be quarantined. That's 12,000 emails EVERY DAY that would have to be reviewed in order to pluck-out the good ones.

That's why I say that spam is different in an Org than it is at home. It's like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles.

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