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The Digest
and how it's made


You may have wondered how the email digest works, who does what and how it all comes together. I hope this will answer those questions.

To the right you can see Paul hard at work making this process run. Although his office has at least 3 computers, he really only needs one to do the job.. unless he wants to get fancy.

Luckily this job is not all tedium and pain. As people who have been to Paul's house will tell you, it's a nice place to work. And the picture below shows the view from Paul's office seat, in all he's doing just fine... :-)

Logistically, it all starts with the list management software that runs on our server. Your emails, when sent to that server, are preprocessed by a program I wrote to strip out all the viruses, mail bounces, spam and other trash that accumulates in an email account.

The messages that pass muster are sent on to both Keith and Paul. This allows us to both comment and lets us switch off digest duty if required. It's also a nice backup in case something goes wrong.

Paul gets your emails in his personal email queue, with a clue in the subject that it came from the above source. If you ever send a note to him directly that ends up in the digest, remember that it is may not be completely clear what your intentions were, so if you want a note to be private you'd better say so!

Paul uses Compuserve, so you may also see an occasional comment from the Avsig or other source.

Paul collects these emails into a single file, which is run through an email processing program that Keith wrote. That program strips the huge volume of header data that is a side effect of internet traffic today, and breaks the lines down to a hard width within the capabilities of the outbound mailer.

It's a simple program, written in Basic and run in Qbasic on Paul's NT machine.

Side note: many mailers today are very flexible about line lengths, and most don't have a limit to line length. So Paul gets lines hundreds of characters long. But the mailer only handles lines of 62 or so characters in length. This program saves him manually editing those long lines back to 62.

There are also various encoding schemes for special characters. Most common is Mime encoding, which turns most punctuation into an =xx number. If you know ascii it would be familiar... " is =94 and a space is =20. The program reverts these to their ascii characters.

Finally Paul gets his hands on the text and does a manual edit of any stuff left over. That stuff consists of two items: new forms of header info that the internet has invented and HTML enclosures sent by people who's mailers default to that mode.

This is why Paul asks folks to turn off their HTML option when sending to the list. For guidelines for using the digest, check out this page.

Paul also has this chance to put any personal comments into the digest, which he will enclose [in square brackets]. If you have bracketed comments, he'll thank you to use {curlies} or (parenthesis). He will also sift in any comments taht Keith passes along, as always editing as required. :-)

Finally the completed digest is sent off on the outbound leg of the mailer's function. Another of Keith's programs grabs the outgoing digest, sends it to all of the addresses in the list and saves a copy in the archives.

And that's all! Paul and I hope you enjoy the digest and the web page, and we enjoy being able to help Cardinal owners come together. Thanks for your support!




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