Friday, February 27, 2009 Redirection and Spam

It happened so that I use premium redirection service for my emails. (When I started using it it wasn't premium, and it wasn't either. It was Altavista – does anyone remember this word? - giving out “permanent personal email addresses for life”.) The service works slowly, but it used to work more or less stable – and I am too lazy to change my primary email address in gazillion places.

Recently, however, I started getting complaints from my correspondents. They told me that my mailbox bounces their emails. I also started to notice that I am missing some emails. I tried reaching customer service – they told me that everything is all right, yes, everything's fine, and I couldn't reproduce the effect.

Yesterday, when my wife told me that she got her mails bounced, I got really angry. I asked her for the error, she showed me the bounced letter, and then I understood what happened. I logged on to my account – which I usually never do, because, as I said, I am using them only as redirector – and discovered that they turned on spam protection.

I definitely didn't ask for it, and I don't remember them telling me about it (though I could have overlooked the notice). Which is worse, the setting were totally absurd – caught spam was stored in a “Junk e-mail” folder on the server, so I had no clue that some messages were sorted out. (They could have tag them as spam, or, at least, send me once a day a reminder that such and such messages were put into Junk folder – their system knows that I use it only as redirector!).

I turned their spam protection off, and I hope it will fix my problems. So, just a word of advice – if you are using premium redirector, go to the server and check the settings – it might save you from some unpleasant surprises later.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In search of a ticketing system

Using ticketing systems to organize project workflow became almost my second nature, and now I am looking for a good system to use with my personal projects. Here is what I need:

  • The system should be simple enough to be usable in a small-scale environment.

  • It should provide all core ticketing features. Tickets should have reasonable set of data fields: type (defect/feature/enhancement etc), status, due date, etc. The system should provide me with capability to assign tickets, to append notes and comments to tickets, to attach files to tickets. It should also provide reasonable number of canned reports (my tickets/all open/ due today etc).

  • The system should also have some basic notion of projects, and should be multi-user (I mean that personal to-do lists will not do).

  • The system should be able to notify me with email about all relevant events (ticket assigned to me, edited, closed etc.)

  • The system should be easy to use; preferably with an option to turn off unneeded features.

  • It should be installable on a server with no command line access.

  • ... And, yes, it should be free.

So far I played with two systems that my hosting provider could install automatically: phprojekt and dotproject. I didn't like both of them. PHProjekt was just too huge for me, with no way to turn unneeded modules off (I do not need timecards, chat or helpdesk features, thank you). Dotproject was somewhat better – at least it allowed me to hide all unused modules, and provided more help on its configuration screens. But then I discovered that creating new tickets (“tasks”) was possible only from the project screen, and I decided that this is too inconvenient to be useful.

From my other projects I have experience with Jira (love it, but it's not free), RT (not again, thank you!), Trac (pretty cool, and free – but, alas, requires command line access to install), and FogBugz (also not free). So, now I am at loss – is there any software at all which fits my needs?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sad story of ma.gnolia

Well, well, well... Seems like it takes a really sad story to bring me out of my hibernation.

The story in short: very popular bookmarks-management service ma.gnolia recently suffered a major data loss – I mean, really, REALLY major. So major that it lost ALL data for ALL users. Now the users are crying over the loss of all their precious bookmarks, and the service owners (or owner?) are inventing some desperate ways of recovering at least parts of users' data (like combing through Google cache) and saying “We are sorry!”.

This story not only brings the feeling of compassion to poor ma.gnolia users – it also raises some interesting questions.

For example, the question about the service itself. I absolutely cannot understand, how it could happen that there were no good backups – even a month old backup would be a real salvation here. Even more, it seems that ma.gnolia was a one-man-shop (or, to be more precise, two men shop – this is how many official representatives of ma.gnolia are talking to the frustrated users on some page. Which means one simple fact: hundreds of thousands of people trusted their data to two incompetent and irresponsible guys. The outcome is no wonder.

But here is the next question: what do we really know about the services we are using on a daily basis? We are storing picture on Flickr, build communities on Facebook and LiveJournal, write our wise thoughts on Blogger – but do we know much about these tools? Who runs them? How well do they protect our data? What will happen if they, like ma.gnolia, screw up big time – can we, the users, get some compensation for the data lost? And what happens if they will just decide to pull the plug – will there be a way for us to reclaim what's ours?

What I would like to have is the ability to get some sort of verified answers to these questions. I no longer want to hear “we are top of the line technology company staffed with brightest people and using the best hardware and software”. I want somebody to actually go and tell me: “ This Web2.0 service is run by Sam and Bob from their father's garage; they backup data once in a blue moon and store the only backup on an old DVD-RW disk”.

In other words, I want to have a centralized online service certification authority. This authority will inspect the company, and, if the company follows certain reasonable rules (have a process for daily data backup in place; use services of professional sysadmins; have hot-swappable backup servers etc.) the authority will issue a certificate, which the company can proudly display on their site. And I, the customer, will definitely prefer the certified services, just because I do not want to lose any more of my data.