Archive for the ‘E-mail’ Category

I hate your internet provider!

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

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But that’s okay, because I hate mine, too.

Recently, a client of mine was having trouble sending e-mail. Receiving was fine, however. Of note, the e-mail account in use was one from my client’s internet provider. Another account through Gmail was working fine. Also, e-mail using a local program (in this case, Thunderbird) wouldn’t go out, but using the provider’s web site worked fine.

So, I called the provider’s tech support line and essentially got nowhere. The basic line from them is, while they will assist with settings for a third-party program, they don’t guarantee access using one. I’d gone through the settings a number of times and tries various combinations of servers and account logins to no avail. I got to the point of asking the support representative if there was some kind of block on my client. The representative was unable to see anything and also unable to transfer me to a higher level of support to check on this contingency.

Some more details about this. I had removed some malware from this computer a week or so prior to this email issue. A different computer, using a different email address from the same internet provider, couldn’t send either. This other computer did not have any malware on it (its user tends not to do anything extravagant). It’s looking more like there’s a block of some kind, but at the IP address level and not the user level.

One of the features most consumer internet routers have is the ability to mimic the MAC address of one of the computers on the network. This has been around since the dark ages of broadband when some internet providers would lock you down to one device. The idea being to limit you to one computer on your end attaching to their network. This feature of the router allowed you to circumvent that limitation. The IP address assigned by your provider will generally remain the same so long as the MAC address of the device on your end doesn’t change.

So, I told the router to mimic the MAC address of one of the computers on the network so it would get a different IP address from the provider. Once this was done, mail began to work again.

What this did was get around the blocking the provider had done as well as proved to me one existed in the first place. The first level of tech support didn’t even seem to be aware such a block existed.  A downside is if the problem causing the block still exists (in other words, I didn’t successfully get rid of the malware), a new block will occur. I can only work this magic trick so many times before I run out of devices on the client’s network. Another downside is I’ve just now shifted the problem from my client to a random subscriber of this same provider who will now get the same lack of help from the provider.

The final takeaway from this is a recommendation I have of never using an e-mail address supplied by your internet provider. Which service you end up using doesn’t matter so much as using anyone other than your internet provider for your e-mail. The secondary advantage of this is never having to change your e-mail just because you’ve changed internet providers.

Outlook Express’s 2GB problem

Monday, July 11th, 2011

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I had a visit with a client today who used Outlook Express and it wouldn’t gather her e-mail. She knew it was there as she could go to the mail service’s web site and see it. She just preferred Outlook Express. I can’t say I blame her as I normally recommend using a program on your computer to read your e-mail (and there are certainly worse programs out there than Outlook Express).

The error which was given was “unknown” with a code of 0x800c0133. Not very informative (like most error codes). After a quick search, I discovered the problem could be caused by a corrupt mailbox file. I went to the location of the data files in an attempt to follow a method of repair I saw online when I discovered the true problem: The “In Box” data file was just under 2GB in size. Knowing Microsoft would have never imagined Outlook Express using a file so large, it’s probably hard-coded to choke when it finds one.

My options were simple. I could delete the data file or figure out a way to shrink it. The compress function in Outlook Express didn’t work. I couldn’t even view the In Box from within Outlook Express. In my case, my client wasn’t concerned about the past e-mails so deletion wasn’t a big deal. However, this won’t work for everyone and I began my search for a free utility to perform the job. Unfortunately, I didn’t find one.

There is a great site out there for anyone who uses or maintains Outlook Express: oehelp.com. From there you can grab utilities to help out with several problems however the ones which could be used to extract important e-mails weren’t free. In the past, I’ve used insideoe.com for assistance. It has a great deal of help, tips, and advice. However, both sites haven’t been updated in a great while. This doesn’t surprise me much as Microsoft basically abandoned support of Outlook Express when Windows Vista was introduced (let’s not forget Windows Mail which came with Vista which was basically replaced with Windows Live Mail a short time later). I imagine all support (whether from Microsoft or someone else) eventually going away with time as Outlook Express has been well and thoroughly replaced.

Now, if you’re looking to move away from what Microsoft offers, I strongly recommend Mozilla Thunderbird. I’ve been using it myself on my PC for quite some time. It’s a very capable e-mail program with many options out of the box and huge quantity of free add-ons. It might seem a little quirky to some, but I’ve found it to be significantly better then the Microsoft offerings (I even game Windows Live Mail a chance for nearly a year before giving up on it).

Don’t open that e-mail from PayPal

Monday, June 20th, 2011

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Or your  bank for that matter. Or any other bank that appears to send you e-mail. While spam is down this year, phishing is up. “Phishing” is e-mail targeted at getting your account login credentials. The typical tactic is that the bad guy will send an e-mail purporting to be from your bank with all the logos and language to make it look official. Click on one of the links and you’ll be sent to a web site that LOOKS like your bank, but isn’t. You log in and now the bad guy has your login credentials. A minute later, you have no money in your account.

PayPal and some banks, however, are still sending out legitimate e-mails which include active links back to their sites. The same behavior we despise in these phishing e-mails. The best advice I can give you is to just never open an e-mail from PayPal or your bank unless you have a reason to expect it (such as a confirmation to an action you just performed). Even so, NEVER CLICK ON A LINK IN THE E-MAIL EVEN IF IT’S LEGITIMATE. If I were doing this in audio or video, I really would be shouting this out.

Seriously, though, while you might be able to recover the money to your account because of some insurance the bank has (most consumer accounts have legal protections against fraud, but check your bank to see what’s covered), if it’s a brokerage or business account, there is no protection under the law for this kind of thing. Even if you can recover the money, you have to go through a process and wait some time before you get it back.

Opening the e-mail is bad. Clicking on the link is “take you out back behind the woodshed” bad.  If you need to go to your bank’s or PayPal’s web site, just type the address into your browser each time.

Bringing e-mail home

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

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I often recommend that people use an e-mail service separate from their internet providers so that a change of internet provider doesn’t require a change of e-mail address.  I’ve had clients maintain their AOL accounts because this is the e-mail address that everyone knows.  Since you can keep your AOL e-mail address forever for free, I count them among the many free e-mail services you could potentially use.  (As an aside, I saw a client today who continues to use AOL because she doesn’t want to change her e-mail address.  I understand this and support it, but she had a client of hers tell her to move on.)

I also recommend using a program on your computer to access your e-mail rather than using the mail provider’s web site.  This isn’t always possible or is made particularly difficult (e.g. Yahoo e-mail requires you pay a fee if you want to access your mail via POP, but I’ve found workarounds you can use without having to pay, but they aren’t easy or reliable).  Google’s GMail and AOL’s e-mail allow you to use a program on your computer to get your mail without paying a fee.  Programs you can use include Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Live Mail, Apple Mail.app, and Mozilla Thunderbird.  There are many more less known applications also.

One big reason to use a program on your computer is that it acts as a form of backup for your e-mail in the event that there’s a problem at your provider.  If you’re getting your e-mail for free, you can’t count on a great deal of support from the provider.  This article really points that out.  At the end of December, thousands of people using Microsoft’s Hotmail lost their mail.  While Microsoft claims to have recovered it, some have complained that they didn’t get theirs.  Not only that, it took days for it to be recovered.  If you have a business relying on access to these e-mails, it can be devastating.

The upshot is that you should have a backup of your free e-mail on your own computer.  Then you need to follow all the other advice I’ve given about backup and backup the data on your computer’s hard drive to another.  Go the extra mile and get still yet another copy located somewhere else or subscribe to a service that will backup your computer to the internet.

Much ado about e-mail

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

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I helped a client get a new e-mail address today.  I set one up on a public service instead of using one provided by his internet provider.

I took this opportunity to discuss my opinions on e-mail and I feel they are worthy to share with everyone else as well.

Most people will get an e-mail address provided by their internet provider and be happy with that.  But what if you decide to switch providers?  How about if you move and can no longer use the old provider because it’s not available where you went?  That means you have the get a new address and struggle to tell everyone you know what your new address is.  It’s probably more complicated than the system the US Postal Service uses for updating your physical address.

Because of this, I strongly recommend using a public service such as Google’s Gmail, Yahoo mail, or Microsoft’s Live.com mail.  These services are not likely disappear quickly so you should be able to keep your e-mail address indefinitely.  If you’ve been using AOL for a long time, you can keep this address for as long as AOL exists even if you quit using their dial-up service.

My preference of the above services is Google’s Gmail service.  If you use the gmail.com web site, you’ll find that the interface is very clean and easy to use.  The ads they place to pay for the service are very unobtrusive.  However, the biggest reason I prefer Gmail is the second subject on today’s opinion piece.

In general, you have two choices for accessing your e-mail.  You can use the provider’s web site or you can use a program on your computer.  The advantage of using the web site is that you can access your e-mail equally well from anywhere.  This is additionally beneficial if you ever get a new computer.  The downside is that it is more difficult to manage your mail.  I’ve also seen some ISPs make it impossible to get your address book so you can take it elsewhere.

My recommendation is to use a program on your computer to access your e-mail because the advantages of managing your mail and address book outweigh the inconvenience of moving it from one computer to another when you choose to upgrade.  If you have a Mac, Apple’s Mail.app is a great program for this.  On Windows, I’ve gravitated toward Thunderbird as a very capable and sophisticated program.

At the end of it all, I find that my opinion boils down to independence.  You maintain some independence when you don’t lock yourself down to your internet provider for e-mail and accessing it through their web site.