3 for 2

A few years ago I had a regrettable email exchange with an author I admire. At the time he’d written a few online-only stories, and was searching for a publisher.

I emailed to say I’d enjoyed his first novel-length piece; he replied and, noticing my email address, asked whether I had any tips for publicity in the uk. I couldn’t think of any, but didn’t want to reply as such, so said something like “most people I know can’t resist the 3-for-2 tables”. He tersely replied that he was a long, long way from those. Which was obvious when I thought about it, and I felt rather stupid. The conversation disintegrated from there, with me trying to be witty and him thinking I was insulting his dog (don’t ask). This exchange occasionally pops up during internal debates on the subject of Why I Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Talk to People.

This afternoon in Waterstone’s I saw his now-published novel on the 3-for-2 table. Clearly I am a genius.

New gmail code improves performance

New gmail code is being rolled out at the moment, and it just hit my account. There are no major UI changes, but behind-the-scenes it’s apparently changed substantially. Differences I’ve spotted:

  • Emails are pre-loaded, so there’s no delay when an individual message is opened
  • The contact manager has been revamped and is much easier to use. I’m hoping there’s now an API, so we can finally sync gmail contacts with phones/outlook/whatever
  • Searches are now bookmarkable, for example: http://mail.google.com/mail/#search/chickens
  • There’s an ‘add event invitation’ option on new emails, linking directly into google calendar
  • ‘More actions’ now contains ‘mute’, previously only available as a keyboard shortcut – this automatically archives email threads that are of no interest
  • ‘More actions’ also contains ‘filter messages like this’, which sets up a filter with the appropriate fields already filled
  • What was orange is now yellow

You’ll need your language set to ‘US English’ if you want to receive the new version (major difference – ‘deleted items’ becomes ‘trash’). It certainly feels snappier to use, although that yellow is pretty sickly. Google Operating System also reports:

  • Individual emails are now bookmarkable
  • The back button works (although I thought it did before)
  • The pop-up ‘contact card’ that appears when you hover over a contact name is easier to use (good – damn thing always used to disappear half a second before I’d copied the address)

There’s apparently a new user-interface in the works, too, although there are no hints when this will be released. Unfortunately most greasemonkey scripts are now broken due to the code changes, but an upcoming API should prevent this problem reoccurring.

Email problems

I thought my inbox was a bit quiet, and since midnight I’ve had 20 emails from (roughly) the last two days arrive in dribs and drabs. Apologies if I haven’t replied to you – hopefully I’ll have everything by morning.

First time I’ve had anything like this with Gmail, although I guess it could be my domain hosts.

Ugly, ugly email disclaimers

What do you think of email disclaimers? The kind that say things like:

This confidential e-mail is for the addressee only. If received in error, do not retain/copy/disclose it without our consent. You must delete it immediately and return it to us. Please do not infer from this communication that we like you. We are not responsible for any damage caused by a virus or alteration by a third party after it is sent. Outgoing attachments are scanned prior to leaving our server but they are opened at your own risk and you are advised to scan incoming email for viruses before opening any attached files. Don’t think we won’t sue your ass. We give no guarantee that any communication is virus-free and accept no responsibility for virus contamination or other system loss or damage of any kind. Nothing you do is our fault. Nothing that happens is anything to do with us. Emails are not necessarily secure. Opinions held within this document and/or attachments are those of the author and not necessarily those of the company. We as a company operate under a groupthink principle, and no advice or help given by an individual is of any use whatsoever. We as a company take no responsibility for anything, but demand money nevertheless. Even this disclaimer is not to be trusted. It may have been altered by a third party. Any advice given herein should not be followed without consulting appropriate legal counsel.

I hate them. They repeat themselves, clog up inboxes, are normally all HTML, make email conversations ridiculously hard to follow, must take up insane amounts of bandwidth and have the air of businesswank. I also find them dubious. I send an email to the wrong person, and my telling them to delete it actually has any legal bearing? And surely there must be rules regarding the liability of a virus-laden email – does saying ‘it might have, but it’s nothing to do with me’ make any difference? I am not a lawyer, but that sounds dodgy. Research suggests that they’re advisable rather than legally binding, but nevertheless it seems OTT.

One of my clients has been told to put these ridiculous things in their emails, and it looks dreadful. I’ve recommended they put a link to disclaimer text hosted on their website. It’s still a bit of HTML, but far better than all that kak. Of course, nobody’s going to read it. But nobody reads it anyway, so what’s the difference? But maybe I’m wrong – any opinions?

Unable to filter forwarded gmails

Here’s an odd little thing. I’ve accumulated numerous email addresses over the years, and currently they all forward to my gmail account, from which I can send using any one of them. But it’s actually impossible to reliably filter them on the original address. If the email was originally sent via blind-carbon-copy, then forwarded to gmail, only the ‘delivered-to’ header contains the correct information. But it isn’t searchable.

A small thing, really, but it’s strange that such information isn’t accessible. Not much of a problem for me, but today I was working on an account with hundreds of forwarded emails, and could find no way to separate them. I ended up turning off forwarding and using the Mail Fetcher, which can automatically assign labels to individual accounts.

Gmail workaround for Orange/Freeserve/Wanadoo customers with email problems

A few months ago it became apparent that people with Freeserve/Wanadoo/Orange accounts were having problems with email. My post on the subject has had a lot of attention. The company’s email servers were repeatedly listed on spam databases, and email providers all over the world were therefore rejecting all received email. F/W/O showed no interest in fixing the problem. I don’t know whether it’s working yet, but I don’t really care – their service was appalling and I don’t recommend anybody use them again. Unfortunately there was little that could be done at the time without changing email address, a process which is never fun. Recent updates to Google’s Gmail service, however, have provided a way around the problem without changing address.

It works by replacing your current email system with Google’s free Gmail service. Gmail can now automatically download your F/W/O emails, as well as make it look like all email you send is coming from your old F/W/O address. It means moving to a web-based email system (or not, with a little more configuration – see optional section) and giving your email password to Google (I personally don’t think this is anything to worry about), but email recipients should notice no difference and it should work exactly the same as before, except that all email is actually coming from Google’s servers, which won’t be rejected as spam.

Initial experiments suggest this should work:

  1. Go to www.gmail.com and sign up for a free email address
  2. Log into your gmail account (called Google Mail in the UK), then go to ‘Settings’, and the ‘Accounts’ tab
  3. New users should have a “Get mail from other accounts” option (if this option isn’t there try changing the display language to ‘English (US)’ in the ‘General’ tab). Click ‘Add another mail account’.
  4. Enter your F/W/O email address and click to continue.
  5. Enter your F/W/O username (this is your email address, as far as I know) and password. The POP server is ‘pop.orangehome.co.uk’ on port 110. You might want to tick ‘Leave a copy of retrieved messages on the server’ while everything is getting set up, then remove it later. People familiar with Gmail can apply labels etc.. When all details are entered, click to continue.
  6. It will ask if you want to be able to send email as ‘[your address]’, click ‘Yes’, and then ‘Next Step’
  7. Enter the name you want emails to appear to come from, and click ‘Next Step’
  8. It will need to send a verification email to ensure you’re who you say you are. Click ‘Send Verification’, go check your email as normal, and follow the instructions.
  9. Once you’ve verified the address, go back to ‘Accounts’. ‘Send mail as’ will contain a couple of different addresses. Click ‘Make default’ next to the F/W/O address.
  10. That’s it! All email you send via Gmail will now appear to come from your F/W/O address, and Gmail will deliver all replies into your Gmail account.

I think this will do the trick. Please let me know the results if you try it…

To use Outlook Express / Outlook:

People who are using Outlook or Outlook Express (or Windows Mail, for that matter) and want to keep all their emails in one place / don’t want to use webmail can try this:

  1. In Gmail’s settings, go to the ‘Forwarding and POP’ tab. Next to ‘POP Download’, click ‘Enable POP only for mail that arrives from now on’, then ‘Save changes’.
  2. Follow the instructions here to configure Outlook / Outlook Express (here for Outlook 2003). It’s probably wise to write down the existing configuration before changing too much over.

Email sent through Outlook/Express will appear to come from your F/W/O address as long as you’ve set it as Gmail’s default address in #9 above.

Notes:

This also lets you take advantage of Gmail’s formidable spam filters.

The changes were Google opening up to all users and releasing their POP3-fetching service, if you were wondering.

This would have been possible months ago if Orange provided an email forwarding service like normal ISPs.

Tiscali email problems

I increasingly loathe Tiscali. I’ve been struggling with their email systems for literally years, with all sorts of different problems. Their website is also extremely frustrating to use and seems unable to deal with completely un-paranoid cookie settings, requiring multiple logins to navigate account information. There’s also their webmail system, which logs you out after fifteen minutes of inactivity1. Typing an email = inactivity, and if take any longer than that to compose a message it’ll throw you out without any option to save.

Recently a friend of mine’s email address topped working. Emails to her bounced back with ‘unknown user’, and she could no longer login to webmail. She was still using Tiscali’s service, and her account was still fully active, working in other ways, and indicated the email address was still valid. At a loss, I emailed their support desk. I had a reply the next day giving me the standard troubleshooting regarding logging into webmail. I replied, emphasising the ‘unknown user’ error that suggested they had a problem with their system, and just received this:

I understand from your email that emails sent to [removed] are bounced back and you are facing logging problem in webmail. Also when trying to connect Outlook Express you get invalid username and password message.

Please ask the sender of the emails to check if he/she has blocked your email address, if found that it is not blocked than you need to report this fact to the Abuse Team at abuse@tiscali.co.uk.

Makes no sense. How would the sender blocking the email address result in a bounced message? And why would the abuse team care? I’m going to try to talk my friend into changing to a gmail account.

  1. or thereabouts, it’s hard to find an exact number []

Is having no Internet access actively problematic yet?

At the party on Saturday night somebody mentioned that their job had banned all email access, so there was no point emailing her any more. Two other people chipped in that they were in similar situations. It took me a moment to understand what they meant – it was like being told they no longer had a phone number. I’m so used to email as my primary method of communication that I forget it’s not a given that everybody checks it on a daily basis. How many people do you know who aren’t contactable via email? I can’t think of many, but almost all are in my age group. I guess that there are plenty of people with no interest in computers who don’t want / can’t afford to get a machine once they leave home, so rely on their job to access emails. I probably get a skewed impression of norms because most people I communicate with are by definition online.

It’s the implied lack of any kind of internet access that seems even more bizarre. I guess it’s because everything I do is strongly linked to the Internet, but I can’t help having the initial reaction that they’re missing out. If I think back over the last month, over the number of get-togethers arranged by email, or Strictly Come Dancing tickets, NaNoWriMo, finding old friends over Facebook, finding out about dancing medals, sharing photos on Flickr, reading about and discussing BA’s crazy uniform policies – everything was done online. Sure, most of it would have been possible without, but in many cases it’s the difference between a moment’s idle curiosity and actively planning in advance.

I’m aware that’s snobby of me, and I know I’ve been lucky in everything I have and always have had access to, but surely life’s going to become increasingly difficult without any kind of regular internet access, isn’t it? Or am I blinded by my own experience?

Gmail Mobile Client (and using it in the UK)

Just back from a fun, if completely exhausting dance lesson. I think we managed the Viennese Waltz for over two minutes! Next challenge is to keep going for the full four and a half minute song. My ankles hurt even thinking about it.

Anyway, the main point of this post is to point out the Gmail for Mobile Client that was released today. It’s a small java download that works on most modern mobiles, and provides a gmail-like interface for checking and sending email. Sounds good in theory, but does it work? Happily, yes!

I’ve just set it up on my Nokia 7610, and am very impressed. First impressions are that it’s an effective duplication of the online interface. You can archive / label messages, view the content of existing labels, send mail with auto-completion of contacts and search mail, all with shortcut keys. Viewing mail displays the conversation thread in the same way as gmail, with read messages collapsed to just a header by default. Best of all, it’s fast and intuitive. Well, fast for me, although I keep my inbox empty and label+archive anything that needs attention – I’d be interested to hear how it copes with a 2000 message inbox. The blog entry says it’ll let you view attachments, as well as click-to-directly-dial from the contact list, although I can’t figure out this last one. The only options it seems to lack are ‘All Mail’ and ‘Drafts’, although the former doesn’t really matter when there’s an effective search.

Pics of the interface can be seen here. Nokia users may want to go to the App Manager utility and grant the Gmail app permission to access the internet continually after only asking once, or it will nag you every time.

I had trouble accessing the official page, and wonder whether it’s meant to be limited to the US. Maybe it’s to do with it being called ‘Google Mail’ in the UK. Whether that’s true or not, going to http://www.gmail.com/app from my phone initiated the download.

Given that gmail.com (suspiciously) times out over my Orange connection, I’ve been using the POP3/SMTP setup, which is far from trivial and involves creating two separate accounts on my Nokia. This is a much better solution, imho. I’d best watch the data transfer costs, but overall: nice one, Google. This’ll come in very handy.