Reflections of a ModemJunkie

May, 1997

How else do you get rid of the dead Indians from the bottom of the t.v.?*

The foregoing was the punch line of a popular joke in the late 40's and early 50's. In those day's the Western was the most popular television format. So much so that tri-color plastic sheets were sold which snapped over the t.v. screen. The top third was blue and the bottom was green. For two days I have been asking people what color the middle was and no one has been sure. But in any event, with the top third of the screen representing sky and the bottom grass, it would be years before anyone needed a real color t.v. Talk about redundancy and low band width.

In that pre PC era, so many t.v. Indians were killed each day that the questions was asked, "Do you have an Indian removal service?"

Well, maybe we didn't need a removal service back then but we sure do now.

The other day I was reading an article in local newsgroup using NewsXpress. At the bottom of the article I noticed the following line: "Attachment converted: c:\download\vcard.vcf" The only time I had seen such a line before was when reading some articles in the Clarinet news groups. When news photos were included with an article, the file and a text description were automatically saved to a \download directory on my hard drive. But Clarinet warns the reader in the article header that a graphic is attached. The poster in the news group had not provided warning.

I looked in C:\download\ and found a file which contained some incomprehensible information. I posted a rather intemperate message in the newsgroup and received a response telling me that I should turn off the ability to accept attachments in NewsXpress, along with the the following explanation:

The VCARD is a Netscape convention that is really handy IF YOU ARE A NETSCAPE USER. Along with every message is my VCARD. A Netscape 4.0 user can drag the vcard picture that they see at the bottom of my message directly into their address book, and it brings my name, address, and a whole slew of other info into the address book. This also then becomes available to applications like MSOffice. It is really quite handy. It is like having a business card with your email. Like what you put at the bottom of your messages [sig file] but in a format that is readily accessible.

How wonderful? How absurd!!. First of all I am not a Netscape user and haven't been, except for specialized purposes, since it approached 10 meg, so the attachments are totally useless to me.. Be that as it may, instead of a simple signature file, which any reader could cut and paste, he attaches a proprietary piece of gobbledygook to every message he posts which requires additional band width and goes unbidden somewhere on every reader's hard drive (and creates an ugly signature as well). But the story doesn't end here.

The file I found on my hard drive did not contain merely sig information but much more that the sender apparently didn't know he was attaching. His explanation:

Also, I discovered where my attachments were coming from. The newest Beta of Netscape also allows encryption and digital certificate use. The crap at the bottom of my message was additional VCARD info that I didn't mean to be sending. It is my public key for encrypted messages. That should no longer be present. I don't know how it got turned on. Sorry for any inconvenience.

[name withheld to protect the guilty]

Attachment Converted: "C:\DOWNLOAD\vcard.vcf"

So!! If I hadn't posted my intemperate objection, the sender wouldn't have even known he was attaching all of that junk (and note: his standard attachment is still distributed with his e-mail, as well.) So to add to the ridiculous things Netscape has foisted on the public, it has added the ability to unintentionally send large meaningless files over both the mail routes and the Usenet. Swallowing up bandwidth and delaying transactions.

If this were the only example, I probably wouldn't be writing this column. But in recent weeks I have received a number of unwanted files from a number of sources. My hard drive is becoming cluttered with unidentifiable files.

First, there was supposedly well meaning e-mail from someone in Israel (at least the address ended in .il). It congratulated me on one of my pages but contained a huge attachment in an unrecognizable font, most likely Hebrew. I didn't ask for this nor can I interpret it. A reply from me went unanswered so I still don't know what it was. < /p>

And spam is bad enough, but now some spam comes with attachments that frequently turn out on examination to be files in HTML advertising this or that. But since I am not using a browser to read them, they are totally wasted on me. At least with spam, all I have to do is click on the trash can, but now I have to go to a file manager and clean out the download directory as well. (Which reminds me, many spam messages come with instructions as to various ways to remove yourself from the list. A local t.v. show suggested replying with "Remove" as the only text in your message. WRONG!! The best thing to do with spam, unless you want to go to a lot of work, is to simply delete and ignore it. Any form of reply verifies your address and makes its inclusion on lists more valuable.)

Of course there are many other ways in which our drives become cluttered with unwanted and even unidentifiable files. Installation programs leave behind debris. Uninstall programs leave behind .dlls and .ini and registry entries which are no longer needed. Manual removal leaves behind even more.

When I had a 40 meg hard drive, I knew what just about every file on my machine was for. Still I sometimes deleted things I shouldn't have. But with the huge hard drives which are now so readily available, there is no way to know what all that stuff is. Some of it can't be avoided but we don't need to be the recipients of gratuitous files we never asked for.

When Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer, many of us were fiercely loyal to Netscape. During the past year, NS has tried our patience with unnecessary proprietary extensions and other folderol in addition to its bloated size. But this unbidden cluttering of our hard drives is simply too much. It confirms my decision to stick with Opera.

In the meantime, does anyone know where I can get a removal service.

*I recognize that the title of this month's column is not PC, but then it comes from an era long before the term PC was invented, in either of its current uses. Copyright 1997 Leonard Grossman

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