Empty Spam E-mails

Viagra: it’s something which happens to most of us. You’re browsing through your inbox and then suddenly there’s an advert there for Viagra staring you in the face.

OK – I get that. Someone is sending out millions of e-mails; safe in the knowledge that even if they get a tiny percentage of respondents, it will have been worthwhile. I actually get relatively few spam e-mails either at home or work, so it’s never really been a hassle for me.

What I am starting to receive more frequently (especially at work) is the empty spam e-mail. No content whatsoever. Even inspecting the message body to try and work out if there’s something my e-mail client isn’t displaying turns up no answers.

So what use can an empty spam e-mail actually be to anyone (including the spammers)? It’s useless as marketing tool: the only information you’re receiving is the sender’s address, which is usually faked and not that of the real originator. So you can’t advertise or sell something a la little blue tablets. It’s useless as a tool to test for valid e-mail addresses: if an initial empty e-mail gets through, then what do you send as a follow-up? You might as well have sent a content-laden spam e-mail in the first place. Also, there’s no images for the user to download and indicate this is a valid and monitored e-mail account.

So what are empty e-mails really for? Any suggestions?

As a footnote to this blog entry, I had to do a quick Google search to confirm Viagra tablets were blue and not purple. Congratulations Ian, you’ve just done a search for Viagra on your work laptop.


E-mail Fix and Disk of Doom

We returned home on Saturday having spent a nice long week away in the North East with parents – hence no blogging. Unfortunately, I’ve been without e-mail since Tuesday because something had broken with my PC at home (which manages my e-mail and runs 24×7). That meant I’ve been without my e-mail fix for about 5 days now. 🙁

I first noticed something was wrong when I couldn’t connect with my usual webmail access. My mini-ITX PC fetches my mail and stores it locally, which I can then access from wherever I am in the world via a web interface. Something broke with this and I couldn’t work out what it was without physically accessing the machine: I couldn’t get any sort of remote access and being the security-conscious type that I am, there’s no “back-doors” to the system.

Unfortunately, on returning home I find that the PSU for the USB external drive on my mini-ITX PC has given up the ghost. It’s a laptop-style brick power supply, which is now failing to give any output. That meant the machine wouldn’t boot at all. I tried taking the disk from the external enclosure and installing directly into my mini-PC, but that had its own problems.

Normally the system boots off a CompactFlash card, which then passes control to the USB storage device. Now the USB storage device was missing, but the bootstrap on the CompactFlash card didn’t have the necessary modules to boot from an internal drive. The disk itself had an old, old version of the bootstrap code, which meant I could boot the system (of sorts), but it meant I couldn’t access anything USB or network. So that was a catch-22 situation. The only system I could successfully boot was running a kernel for which I had no modules available.

I’ve finally now fixed things by creating a new bit of bootstrap code and booting from the hard disk using all-sorts of mkinitrd hackery. At least the system is now up and running, if not necessarily exactly how I wanted it.