Silent email filtering makes iCloud an unreliable option

Silent email filtering makes iCloud an unreliable option | Macworld:

Last November, our friends at Infoworld reported that Apple’s iCloud email system silently blocks emails containing certain phrases. And that hasn’t changed in the intervening months, as Macworld UK reports. Granted, the phrases in question may not be the kind that you’re likely to exchange with your correspondents. Through our own rigorous testing, we’ve managed to confirm that emails containing the phrase “barely legal teen” are simply never delivered to iCloud inboxes. In fact, we found that even emails with the offending phrase contained in an attached PDF—even a zipped PDF—were blocked. Even if you, like us, would almost never receive a legitimate email with such a phrase, this could still be problematic.

Back in the day when I was designing and building the original (oh my god…. see note below), one of the things I wanted to do was try to limit the ability of those occasional disagreements from flaring up into full-fledged flamefests (this is, of course, still one of the holy grails of community management). I decided to try to see if we could catch them as they escalated by adding a “PG-13″ filter to the incoming email; the idea being that when the language started escalating into profanities that things were probably getting out of hand. The hope was that if users got their nasty words bounced back it’d make them back off and think twice. Or at least give the admins some warning and time to wander in and see what was going on and intercede.

The filter was pretty simple regex checks, looking primarily for the “seven deadlies”. And it worked pretty well, except when it didn’t. 

I soon got to know a great Mac programmer by the name of Igor Livshits. We had a number of great conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of simplistic pattern matching in spam filtering. I started tweaking the filters so that Igor could actually use the mailing lists again (you DO see the problem, right?) — and spent time over the next few months testing and tweaking and tuning. And ultimately, I removed all filters except for the Big One, because there were just too many false positives.

And that’s the problem. Users hate spam, and want it to go away. Until their email starts disappearing or being rejected by over-aggressive filters. And then everyone learns that the only thing worse than spam are false positives. So if there’s any questions about legitimacy, the email needs to be let through — and honestly, reputation systems have really solved this problem to a couple of decimal points.

So filters like this seem like a good idea, but if they start trapping real email, they need to be turned off. And blackholing emails makes it even worse. Yes, it’s a hassle and a resource suck to reject and return as bounced spam emails, but if you don’t, then you lose any chance of a feedback loop to let you know when your system is throwing these false positives. And that’s bad. 

And the bottom line? be really, really careful building systems where there aren’t good metrics on accuracy and feedback loops that can tell you if the system is misbehaving. Even if this filter is 99% effective in trapping spam, blackholing that other 1% is a really bad thing because it impacts the reputation of your entire service. And since you don’t have feedback loops in place, you don’t know, until way too late…

(note below: taking a look at for the first time in many years, I see — it’s still basically the setup I built and handed off, including using Mailman 2.x. Part of that is sad, because the reality is email systems simply haven’t been innovating much over the last 15 years or so, but mostly, I think this is neat, because it’s rare and awesome to see a system you built still humming away years later where nobody saw any big urgency to rearchitect or throw it out and replace it — when stuff just works, that’s the best result you can hope for…)

Posted in Community Management, The Internet

David duChemin – Hokkaido Re-Cap

David duChemin – World & Humanitarian Photographer, Nomad, Author. » Hokkaido Re-Cap:

I’m not one to pigeon-hole, but all the same, I’m no wildlife photographer. Of course I said that about landscapes three years ago as well, so what do I know? I’ve spent almost 2 weeks in Japan, mostly in Hokkaido, with birds and monkeys, often flopping around gracelessly and hip deep in snow, and almost always freezing my arse off. It’s been amazing. I came to meet Martin Bailey, a friend I’ve never met in person until now, and to learn from a man I consider a peer and a colleague. 14 of us traveled around this northern island of Japan, with enough outdoor wear to open an outfitters and enough camera gear to keep B&H stakeholders very happy for a very long time. It’s been a wonderful trip and so much of that is to Martin’s credit.

David duChemin may not be a wildlife photographer, but you really need to take a look at what happens when someone approaches wildlife photography with the esthetic of a portrait photographer. It’s fascinating. And awesome. There’s some really great imagery here that truly honors the subjects. 


Posted in Photography

Department of Player Safety examines tripping/slew-footing

Department of Player Safety examines tripping/slew-footing – – News:

The National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety on Wednesday unveiled its “Tripping/Slew-Footing” video, the third in a series of educational videos designed to help players and fans better understand how specific infractions are viewed and evaluated, what is legal and what merits the assessment of Supplemental Discipline.

This is awesome material, because what the NHL is finally starting to do is put the league casebook online.

If there’s a significant difference between the Colin Campbell era and the Brendan Shanahan era in NHL discipline, it’s that Shanahan and the NHL have embraced transparency. I always felt Campbell got a bum rap from many for being arbitrary and I don’t think that was really true, but what Campbell didn’t do a good job on was explaining why he made the decisions he did. Shanahan is changing that in the way he’s disclosing the information and rationale that goes into suspensions and using online video to help explain the situation. You may not agree with his decision, but at least you’re getting a lot more of what went into making it than you got with Campbell. 

Beyond that, we’re now starting to see the publication of casebook material. The game is governed by a rule book, and the official rules of the NHL (and other hockey leagues) have been available for years — I collect them and I have rulebooks going back into the early 40′s. But the way leagues have traditionally helped instruct referees and linesmen is with what’s known as a casebook. This has traditionally been some kind of publication that describes how the league wants the rules interpreted. Sometimes it’s bound and published as a book; sometimes it’s a series of sheets or sections distributed in a binder for easier updating. 

What the casebook tries to do is help the referee interpret the rule. With descriptions and pictures in classic ones, and today increasing use of video samples, casebooks try to define where the edge cases are — if a player does THIS it’s hooking, but if they do THAT it’s not. Since interpretation of a rulebook is subjective even if the words in a rulebook isn’t, the casebook is the guide to where to draw the lines around the rules and when to make the call and when to let it slide. 

They can be fascinating reading. They also are intended to be a living document as special cases or new interpretations happen. The NHL has long updated their casebook on an ongoing basis and distributed memos with clarifications or notes describing specific situations. 

A number of years ago — more than a decade — I had a few conversations with people working in the officiating department of the NHL, and one of the things I encouraged them to consider was publishing their casebook so all fans could (if they wish) learn how the rules are intended to be called.  that won’t stop much the fan griping, but I felt it would help fans become better educated and give them another tool to study the game. 

At the time, there were people in the department who wanted to, but there wasn’t enough support to make it happen. Now there is, for which I take absolutely zero credit — but I did want to call it out and offer credit to the folks at the NHL who are now willing to take this step. If you’re interested in the details of the game, these videos will be a useful tool is learning to watch for them.

One of the things happening at that time was a lot of criticism of the NHL refereeing; I was writing about it a lot then as well, and not always positively. But a number of broadcasters and journalists (people who’s job it was to know how the rules were supposed to operate) were either too lazy to actually learn them (too true in some cases) or had made a conscious choice to criticize based on how they wanted the rules to be written (the, ahem, Don Cherry scenario). Occasionally I’d hear about something that I got wrong, and that led to a discussion about the situation. I felt that having the casebook available would give broadcasters no excuse for being lazy or craven about knowing the rules (I also suggested they look into pre-season seminars on the rules that team broadcasters and journalists could sit in on and ask questions. Again, teaching and transparency. Now, with modern online webinar capabilities, this is even easier to accomplish). 

These days, I think that the broadcasters do a much better job of being balanced and knowing the rules, and I think overall, the reffing in the NHL is better, thanks in large part to the two referee system. It creates some challenges, but it reduces the difficulty of handling the game and makes it easier for the refs to ref it appropriately. Mistakes still occur — refs are human and the game of hockey is by far the hardest game to referee, with perhaps the offsides call of a soccer game at an elite level — but overall, I think NHL refs today do a pretty good job. 

I do think there are steps the league could take to push even further into disclosure and transparency. I don’t expect to ever see these happen, however, but I’d love to see these be implemented:

  • Disclosure of referee and linesman ratings, as well as discipline (fines and suspensions) when issued. Unfortunately, when i’ve brought this up, it hits the wall of this being personnel issues and not wanting to get into disclosure issues over an employee. Of course, the league does so with players suspensions and fines, but that’s negotiated with the PA. Trying to negotiate the same disclosure with the refs union would be tough. (you do know that referees and linesmen are subject to reprimands as well as suspensions? And some leagues (not sure about the NHL) they can be fined in some cases as well. you have to be careful, though, because officials get time off in-season just as teams get extended breaks between games, so just because a referee doesn’t show up in the box scores for a while doesn’t mean he got suspended. And referees get injured and sick, too..)
  • Post game media access for referees and linesmen. Let them sit at the podium and talk about their decisions. Players have to man up and be responsible for what they did on the ice, I think the referees should, too. Not holding my breath. It might get uncomfortable at times; knowing that is something that I expect would make referees more thoughtful about their decisions. And non-decisions. 
  • Get a referee off the ice. While I like the two ref system, at the time I felt a better option would be for the second ref to be off ice and in some kind of elevated viewing position. One ref covers the actions on ice, the other covers the entire ice surface from an “eye in the sky” position, because, frankly, there’s a lot of stuff going on that at ice level with all those bodies moving around is hard to see, even with two sets of eyes. Move one set of eyes above the action, and give them access to video replay and let them be responsible for it instead of the Toronto War Room (unless they want help). And that removes that extra body off the ice again. A minor advantage to this is that refs would end up skating half as many miles per season — so the senior refs would likely go longer before retirement. 
  • And finally, I want to see coaches challenges happen. There seems to finally be some movement in that direction. Video review and challenges and all of that can really screw over the flow of the game (hello, NFL replay…. yawn) — but getting it right and giving the teams some discretion in when it needs to be gotten right is a good idea. The devil is in the details (Hello, NFL Replay, in the 93 variants they’ve tried so far…). What major league baseball does is actually pretty good, but probably doesn’t go quite far enough. What you do NOT want is to screw up the game making sure you get every call right, because we’ll all die of old age before the third period ends. but there are key plays that if you get them wrong, you can destroy the integrity and results of a given game. And for those — find a way to get it right. And what seems to work is giving the coaches a limited right to challenge, and penalize them for being wrong (yes, the NFL Replay mode…. It works). 
Posted in Sports - Hockey