EhBC Mailing List Technical Issues

The EhBC list has hundreds of people on it, and it’s not unusal for some of them to occasionally run into problems. This web page is an attempt to help solve some of them.

First off, the EhBC list is not run Yahoo or any other web-based mailing list system. There are several reasons for this:

  • Security — nobody except the list administrator can find out who is on the list
  • Reliability — as anyone who has used Yahoo Groups or similar services can tell you, they often have problems that can delay email for days or simply never deliver it at all
  • Consistency — Yahoo Groups and other similar services can change their policies on a whim, and in the past they have made it more difficult for people exploring alternate sexual lifestyles to maintain their mailing lists

In this document, I’m going to address the some of the most common problems people run into with the mailing list.

Not receiving email

People will often contact me to let me know they’re not receiving any email from the list. The first thing to keep in mind is that the traffic on the mailing list is variable — there won’t always be an active discussion. Sometimes days will go by when nobody has anything to say. One reason we have weekly announcement messages is to make sure everyone is getting a message or two every week.

However, in some cases people really do stop receiving list email. There are two main reasons for that. The first is that they’ve changed their email address and forgotten to tell me, so the list email is going to their old address and not to their new one. The other reason (and this one is much more common) is that their email started bouncing and I removed them from the list.

Bounced email is the biggest problem any mailing list administrator runs into. When someone sends a message to the list, it automatically gets sent out to everyone who’s signed on to that list. Out of the 300+ list members on ehbc, at least a few of them will be having email problems at any given time — it’s just the law of averages. For every message that can’t be delievered, a bounce message gets sent to me as mailing list administrator. I typically receive two or three bounce messages for every message that gets sent to the list.

There are two basic types of bounce message — those that indicated a temporary problem, and those that indicate a permanent problem. The most common temporary problem is that someone’s mailbox is full. The most common permanent problem is that their email account has disappeared.

If I get a message back saying that someone’s email address has vanished (“user not found”, “no such user”, “invalid address”, that sort of thing), I immediately remove the person from the list. I obviously can’t contact them to let them know, and if I leave them on the list I’ll just get more bounce messages. Removing them is the only sensible thing to do.

If I get a message back saying that someone’s mailbox is full (“user over quota”, “mailbox quota exceeded”, “full mailbox”, that sort of thing) then I leave the person on the list for a while. It’s possible that they’re away for a few days, or just too busy to check their email. However, if their email continues to bounce for a couple of weeks, I’ll remove them from the list. The most likely scenario is that they set up a separate email address to receive messages from the list, and then forgot it was there.

Note that 95% of all mailbox-full errors come from hotmail accounts. Microsoft bought hotmail a few years ago, and initially left it as a free service. They’re now trying to make money off it, and one way they’re doing that is by setting a very low quota on the free mailboxes in order to convince people to upgrade to the paid version with higher quotas.

If you use hotmail, you have three options:

  • Switch to a different email service [recommended!]
  • Upgrade to the paid version of Hotmail
  • Check your email constantly in order to avoid losing email

In any case, if you do end up getting removed from the EhBC list because of bounced email, just send me a message when you’ve got things fixed up and I’ll be glad to put you back on the list. If it’s been a long time since you were on it (like a year or more), I may ask you to read over the list rules again before adding you.

Can’t send messages to the list

Another frequently-reported problem is that users can receive email from the list, but are unable to send to it. The most common reason (by far) is that they’ve changed to a different email address, and arranged for their old email address to forward to the new one. The EhBC list is set up to only accept messages from people who are on the list, in order to avoid spam (unwanted email). If you change addresses and forward your old address to the new one, you will still receive email from the list but won’t be able to send any. The messages you send will come from your new address, which is not on the list and therefore get rejected. The solution is simple — just send me email, telling me your new address. I’ll update it on the list, and you’ll be all set.

Spam Filtering

Spam is unwanted email. Advertisements telling you that you can enlarge your breasts and/or penis, bogus letters from obscure countries claiming that you have an inheritance coming to you, offers of free porn, that sort of thing.

There have been several approaches to blocking spam. One of them has proven to be more of a problem than a solution, and I’ll describe it here to help you understand how it works and why we no longer use it (and why we discourage others from using it too).

Spammers like to deliver their messages anonymously, so that they don’t end up receiving spam themselves (or complaints, which is much more likely). They do this anonymous message-sending using unsuspecting host machines called “open relays”. The idea is that an email server will accept connections from any machine, and relay email on behalf of that machine. These open relays are what allow spam to be anonymous.

A few years ago, someone came up with the idea of creating lists of these open relays and making them available over the internet. People who run email servers could then block all email coming from those open relays. It was a clever idea, but it quickly ran into problems. The most serious of these was that entire domains were being blocked, so that some people were no longer able to send email to other people. Users quickly complained to their system administrators (like me!) and said “my friend sent me email and it never arrived, and it turns out you’re blocking them!”. The number of these “false positives” grew so large that most system administrators stopped using the “open relay blockers”. They were simply more trouble than they were worth. This was compounded by the fact that the people who set them up were notoriously unresponsive when it came to dealing with the false positives.

I no longer use these open-relay-blocking techniques on any of the servers I administer, including the one the ehbc list is on.

However, some other systems are still using them. This means that email from the EhBC list won’t necessarily be delivered to you, even if your email address is correct and your mailbox has never filled up. The messages will silently disappear, and you won’t even know that you missed it.

All I can suggest is that you switch to an email provider that does not use filters based on open relay checking. Even better, simply avoid using email providers that block email at all. On the systems I run, we use a spam filter called SpamAssassin that does an excellent job of separating spam from non-spam. It consults the open-relay lists, but doesn’t necessarily relly on them. More importantly, it never deletes messages! It simply tags them by putting “*****SPAM*****” at the start of the subject line, so users can do their own filtering if they choose to. I strongly recommend this approach, either using the free SpamAssassin software or something similar.

That’s it

Hopefully this has answered some of your more technical email-related questions. Remember, We also have a list of Frequently Asked Questions that is less technical and may help you find what you need.

If you have any questions that aren’t answered either here or in the FAQ, get in touch with us using the Contact Us link at the top of this page.