Category Archives: Work

Tony on Anti Spam

Tony has a post about anti-spam, specifically what the three worst cases for filitering spam.

The third worst thing: having spam get through to users. Of course, this is what we’re trying to fight, but having spam get through, although bad, isn’t the absolutely worse thing that can happen.

The second worst thing that can happen is blocking a good email. False positives are the challenge in anti-spam solutions. I would much rather have hundreds of spam messages get through than to block a single good message. But blocking a good message isn’t really the absolutely worst thing that can happen.

The worst thing: The absolutely worst thing that can happen in your anti-spam solution is to block a good email and not let anybody know about it!

I’ve been getting more and more complaints from my end-users at work in regards to junk in their inbox, and regardless of how they managed to subscribe themselves for it, it is still a problem. In my almost three years there, our policy has always been “Let the end-user be their own filter” rather than us filtering it on the server end of things. I’ve been pondering lately turning on our spam filtering service within Ipswitch, simply for logging purposes for a few weeks so I can gather some stats and not change a thing on the user end of things for now. After collecting data, I could make a judgment on whether or not something needed to be done. I probably don’t need to get too cozy with it though, as we’re planning to move our mail to a Linux box later in the year and that would just be another feature to have to implement.

Work Updates

Well, in a few hours, it will have been a full seven days since my switchover to Asterisk and it’s all gone pretty smoothly. There were a few bumps here and there, mostly in regards to my failure to properly train end-users. It’s so hard for me as a techie to put myself in their shoes and think about their work flows and how they use certain pieces of hardware (and software for that matter) differently than I do as the IT department. We’ve also had some small echo issues with our Sangoma A101 and the PRI from US LEC/Paetec, with echo varying at times from “barely noticeable” to “hang up and call me back so I can hear you” at other times. I quickly learned something that I never ran across prior to troubleshooting the echo: echo training in Asterisk doesn’t work on T-1/PRI! The software echo cancel does work, but there’s no training, so it stays at a constant level all the time. Most all of our echo problems have been cured by setting “rxgain = -5″ and “txgain = -10″ in /etc/asterisk/zapata.conf. I’m still working on some key features that folks are wanting, such as BLF, but overall, everyone is REALLY happy and that makes me REALLY happy.

I mentioned last week that I was going to try switching to Outlook for my email while in the office. That was a flop. A big stinkin’ flop. I was miserable all day on Friday and was so frustrated when I got to work on Monday that I quickly moved back in to Thunderbird. I’m a creature of habit, and I could not make Outlook 2003 fit my work flow. It was definitely being counterproductive, and theres no room in my schedule lately for that.

Make It Right

Tony Dye,a church IT blogger whom I’ve discovered in recent weeks, continues to crank out content that is both interesting and relevant to both my day job and as a volunteer IT Manager/Tech Arts/Webmaster at Crestview.

Over the weekend, Tony posted about a Make It Right Fund at Microsoft which is a very intriguing idea from the customer service perspective. The MIRF caps out at around $40 million a year and “would give salespeople unlimited resources to solve customer problems.”

I would love to see some other big box companies, and even some online retailers implement something like this. Knowing upfront that your supplier/vendor has the resources available to make you happy, no matter what, would certainly be a reassuring factor and more than enough to encourage me to possibly spend my dollars with them instead of a company without such a guarantee. For example, USLEC, the telco I just signed a three-year term agreement with for T1/PRI service at work has an amazing customer service gurantee: “If, at any time, you are not satisified that the quality of USLEC’s network, service, or support is at least as good as your previous carrier(s)… you may terminate this agreement without penalty…”

It layman’s terms, it’s called “Putting your money where your mouth is” and it’s very reassuring to me as one-man IT department for a multi-million dollar company and as the “Chief Tech Guru” for my church.

Lookout Again

I’m going to force myself to use Microsoft Outlook as my email client on my Windows box at work for at least the next week, maybe two. Since getting my Treo, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with having different versions of my address book scattered in so many places, on so many devices. Doing this will allow me to at least consolidate two of them and have my most recent contacts always at my hip. I’m not excited about it at all, but I figure it’s good to try things every once in a while.

It will also allow me to become a little more calendar-centric on my work PC. I’ve became fairly reliant on the Treo for keeping track of personal appointments and it’s been a real blessing since we’ve been so insanely busy lately. My Thunderbird mailbox files are being converted to .eml files right now for importing into Outlook Express, and then into Outlook 2003 (my Office 2007 and Vista stuff should be here any day!). I’ll be sure to log my thoughts here as the trial progresses.

Asterisk Anxiety

Approximately 48 hours from now, Asterisk will be in full production usage at work. I have phones deployed to 8 out of 10 desks in my office right now and have instructed those users to be using that Aastra 9133i for all of their outgoing calls. Late Wednesday afternoon, our numbers will be ported from our old POTS lines with BellSouth/AT&T to our new PRI from USLEC/Paetec. I can’t help but be a little nervous about the whole situation. I know I’ve done my homework, crossed most of my t’s and dotted most of my i’s, but I still feel just a little bit anxious about it. Part of me is just scared to death that it’s going to blow up in my face and leave me holding the bag containing about $5,000 worth of VoIP/telephony hardware.

I have little doubt that the system, a Dell PowerEdge 830 with a Dual-Core P4 3.20GHz HT and 2 gigs of RAM, can handle the load, and I have little doubt that we will have any issues with the PRI. I believe most of my concern stems from how my users (aka co-workers) will embrace the new technology. People typically do not like change, and there will be a great deal of change involved here. Yes, it’s still a phone – you pick it up, dial a number, and get the person on the other end, and for my co-workers who only use that, they will care less. However, the voicemail works differently, conferencing works differently, and most importantly, they’re losing the “Line 1, Line 2, Line 3, etc.” functionality that they are all so used to. No longer will they be able to say “You have a call on Line X” but instead, they’ll have to transfer the call directly to that person’s extension. Also, our current “operator” is losing her ability to glance at her phone and see that x20 is on the phone or Line 3 is on hold. I’m planning to eventually bring this functionality back, but it will be a few weeks.

Once thing that I think is super-cool is how you can integrate Asterisk into pretty much anything. I plan to add our phone status on to our company intranet so that anyone can view our corporate phone list online and see if John Doe is on the phone or not before dialing the number.

The final item I’m most concerned about is reliability in regards to system failure/disaster-recovery. I have full faith in Asterisk and my ability to admin it most of the time, but what happens if the system crashes while I’m on vacation? Yikes – that’s what happens. I’m not presently aware of any consultants that have Asterisk experience within at least 50 miles of here – maybe farther than that. I should probably consider keeping a spare T1 interface card on hand, but it’s going to be hard to justify a $450 part sitting on the shelf “just in case” since my budget is already blown.

If you run Asterisk in a production environment, please drop me a note – I’d love to chat with you about it sometime.

Bond Multiple T1 Circuits

If anyone reading has experience with T1s, specifically bonding them for higher bandwidth, please let me know. I think I’m getting a line of crap fed to me by a CLEC and I need to be sure before making a decision. If any of you have telecom experience at all, please do get in touch – I’d love to pick your brain for a few minutes.

Treo 700w vs Motorola Q

Hopefully I’m not putting the cart before the horse here (since I know my boss reads this), but odds are, my employer is about to get me a Smartphone, and I couldn’t be happier unless they were also buying me a new laptop (insert snicker here). However, I ‘m left with a bit of a tough choice. Brandon just got a Treo 700w a few weeks ago and he’s absolutely in love with it. He and I normally have almost identical opinions (and needs) when it comes to phones and gadgets, so I have to respect his opinion, even though he’s yet to write up a full review (*ahem*). We’re so much alike in this area, that he’s followed my lead on our last two phone acquisitions, first with the Verizon/LG VX6000 back in late 2003 and then the Motorola E815 in August of 2005.

However, for some reason, I can’t just scroll past the Motorola Q when I go to Verizon’s web site to drool for a while. Maybe it’s the thin-factor, or maybe it’s because its a Motorola (my E815 is by far and away my favorite phone I’ve ever touched), but there’s just something appealing about the Q to me. They both run Windows Mobile 5 and have very similar sized displays, so I’m really having a hard time. Also, for my company’s pocketbook, the Q is about half the price of the Treo 700w.

So, I’d like some input from you folks, particularly any of you who my happen to own either of these devices (or some other Windows Mobile Smartphone) and especially if you use it with Linux in any way. I know that the Treo 700w can be used as a modem when attached via USB, out of the box if I’m not mistaken, which is definitely a huge plus for me as I often need connectivity for my laptop while on the road. Being able to do that over Bluetooth with a Smartphone would be even better.