Learning from Alumni (CSC 281 2014F) : Handouts

Thoughts About Email, Including Thoughts About Encryption

Choosing Subject Lines

I get way too much email, hundreds of messages each day. I rely on programs to automatically file my email and to search my email. Hence, I'd appreciate it if you'd help me process email from you more carefully. Here are a few short guidelines.

  • Please take the time to choose an appropriate subject line for your email message.
  • If I tell you to use a particular subject line for an email message, particularly for an assignment, please use that subject line. The correct subject makes it easier for me to file your email and, more importantly, for me to find your email. The typical subject line is “CSC 281 *Assignment*: *Title* (*Your Names*)”. For example, in submitting the typical introductory survey, I might use the subject line “CSC 281 Assignment 1: Introductory Survey (Samuel A. Rebelsky)” or the subject line “CSC 281 Assignment 1: Introductory Survey (Rebelsky)”.
  • If you are asking for help on an assignment, please do not use a title like “Homework assignment”. I generally assume that titles like that represent submissions of homework assignments, and may file them without looking at them until it comes time to grade the assignment. If you're asking a question, please put a term like “Question” or “Help” or even “HELP!” in the subject line. (Yes, I know that the use of all capital letters is a form of shouting. It's okay if you virtually shout when asking for help.)
  • If you are replying to a message and are changing the topic of the message, please also change the subject line. If you want to be precise, you can include the old subject line in parentheses, prefixed by the word “Was”, as in “Question on the assignment (was re: This week's convocation)”.

Authentication and Encryption

Most of us, myself included, don't think much about email, other than that it's a convenient way to communicate. But a few recent events suggest that we should be a bit more thoughtful. Hence, I encourage you to consider using mail encryption software, particularly the GNU Privacy Guard (GPG).

Since I use GPG, I've written a really brief introduction. There are a host of more useful and more comprehensive introductions to and tutorials about GPG, so I'm not going to write much here, other than to recommend that you learn about using GPG. I will say that, depending on what email package I'm using and who I'm communicating with, encryption is either trivial (one click and one password when I'm using Mail.app on the Macintosh and sending email) or a slight pain (saving the encrypted message as a file and then running a decryption program when I'm receiving an encrypted message via Webmail).

GPG is available for all three major operating systems (and probably for others, too).

  • On the Mac, I use GPGMail 2. I find it simple and straightforward.
  • I don't use Microsoft Windows, but I hear that gpg4win works pretty well.
  • On the Linux workstations in the MathLAN, GPG is installed as a command line tool.

If you send me your public (or a link to your public key) and ask me to encrypt email to do you, I will do my best to remember (although I may not always succeed). You can find my public key at http://www.cs.grinnell.edu/~rebelsky/rebelsky.gpg or at the MIT key server, http://pgp.mit.edu/.

Copyright (c) 2013 Samuel A. Rebelsky.

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