How I Learned to Stop Trashing Old Mail

I’ve joined the Google craze.

Many of you have probably already heard of Gmail, Google’s Webmail service that’s not yet open to the public. I was lucky enough to get invited to get an account and I have to say, it is leaps and bounds above the competition.

The 1,000 megabyte storage capacity is just the beginning.

The biggest usability improvement I’ve seen in Gmail is the ability to archive old messages and literally have them "disappear" until you want to find them again. This takes a bit of explaining to properly understand. Let me start over. This is how I used to work with my email:

  1. When I get a new email message, I would first look to see whether or not it should be filed in a special category. This process is at first time-consuming but eventually can be automated with filters and/or rules.
  2. Then, after reading the message, I would decide whether or not it is important enough to save. If so, I would need to file it manually and save it someplace on my hard drive. There are two major disadvantages to this necessity:
    1. Once saved, it was difficult to find again after some time. I don’t really remember titles as well as I remember the content of the email, and all these old saved emails are just files on my computer somewhere which means I’d need to remember their filename.
    2. If I was on my laptop or away from home, I wouldn’t have any access to my old emails unless I kept SSH running on my home computer, and then I’d need to log into the computer remotely anyway. That’s a hassle.

The Google-way™ of emails is much more intuitive:

  1. Get a new email, read, and respond. If it needs a special marker, such as being a "Business" letter, I can apply a label to it right there and then.
  2. Archive it to clear it away from my Inbox.
  3. Should I ever need to find it again, I can search for it by content. For example, if I need to find an email about an old client project, I simply type the client name and presto. Google’s search takes care of the rest.

To be honest, this was very difficult to get used to during the first week or so. I found myself constantly trashing emails out of habit instead of archiving them. It was also difficult to see how big a convenience the "search, don’t sort" methodology was because I didn’t have that many emails to begin with. Now that I’ve been using it for a while, I rather like it and see many benefits over using POP3 email client programs.

In essence, Gmails benefit can be summed up in the following sentence: Gmail makes the computer organize and store my information, while all I have to do is call it up when I need it. As I said previously, this is far more intuitive.

I’m still debating setting up a few email forwarders to funnel all my work-related email to a Gmail account. I still want clients to contact me through my own email address, that is, my email account. By setting up a forwarder to my Gmail account, I can direct all emails sent to over to Gmail. Then I can set my reply-to address at Gmail to my account, and voila…transparent email changing! I’ll test this Gmail thing out for a while longer before I do that for real, though.

Ten Dollar Karma

I found a ten dollar bill on the street just now! No, really, was walking home from Saint’s Alp Teahouse and on the street, in the middle of an intersection, was a folded, crisp ten dollar bill. Maybe it’s karma from advocating free Internet access for all, or perhaps from spending a great night out with my girlfriend and her ex. Ten free dollars, though…boo yah!

Oh, or maybe it was for fixing the site navigation on this blog. I noticed an unusual number of HTTP 404 errors coming up in my logs and this blog was the reffering page. Oopsie, my bad.

Philadelphia Considers Free Wi-Fi for All!

Philadelphia has the right idea when it comes to Wi-Fi. According to an article by the Associated Press, Philadelphia is considering a plan which would effectively make its entire 135 square miles one huge Wi-Fi hotspot. The city would either offer this service for free or for a nominal fee much cheaper than the exorbitant rates charged by most ISPs these days. This has to be the best move I’ve ever heard of by a municipality regarding Internet Access.

Among other things, this will enable all the city’s residents, wealthy and poor, to have access to the world’s most elite resource for information and knowledge. I see this as one way to help shorten the increasing gap between the rich and the poor in our society. Knowledge is power, and nothing is more beneficial in today’s world as free access to that knowledge which the Internet can provide.

According to the same article, New York is considering something similar, but their plan is reported to involve leasing municipally-owned space on city lamp posts to companies like Verizon or T-Mobile. Presumably, these companies would then put Wi-Fi APs on top of the lamp posts to extend their subscription-based "hotspot" services to the entire city. I haven’t found a news source to confirm that yet, but I can’t imagine the plan being any different.

So what’s wrong with New York’s idea?

Simple: it’s just as greedy and elitist as the "hotspot" idea was to begin with. I have a wireless-enabled laptop that I bring with me all the time. I’m almost never without it anymore. The problem is that its usefulness is severely limited because I don’t have a subscription to any hotspot service. Frankly, I don’t have the money to spend on it. I’m not rich, and I already pay for a cable Internet connection via Road Runner. I paid for my computers, both of them, and I paid for my wireless router at home. (Technically, I believe that’s actually a violation of Road Runner’s terms of service, which just goes to show you how greedy they really are.)

The Internet should be free. Currently, I’m writing this entry from Saint’s Alp Teahouse on Bleeker street. They offer an 802.11g Wi-Fi network for no charge. They’ve actually got a lot more money from me than they would have otherwise because of it, too. I come here to work, to read the news, and to blog. Plus, the tea is great.

I sincerely hope Philadelphia officials go forth with the plan to offer free Wi-Fi city-wide, because if they do other major cities who are planning to charge for the service will be pressured to reconsider. It will also put a heavy strain businesses which have made their livelihood based on offering access to the Internet for a fee. Free government-supplied access to the Internet is a step in the right direction for all.

As an afterthought, this whole thing is making me very interested in the infrastructure that is necessary to maintain such a network. In San Francisco, I know that there is quite a strong movement in which ordinary tech-savvy citizens have set up their own free wi-fi networks across neighborhoods, and I am wondering if something similar exists in New York. I’d be interested in setting up one of these networks if it’s at all feasible. If anyone has any information on this, please let me know. Maybe we can get something started. :)

Rollerblading, Movies, and More

Thanks to Danica, rollerblading has become routine. In the past week, we’ve rollerbladed at least three times at night. The first time we skated on the pedestrian walkways, but the next times we made it onto the bike path. Yesterday, we managed to skate all the way down to Chambers street and back. Yesterday also marked the first time I saw Danica fall on her skates. I’m glad she has: now she won’t be nearly as afraid of it anymore.

In addition to skating, we’ve simply been going out more. The school year is starting for her in less than a week, and a few days ago she received a call from an ex-boyfriend-now-friend. After rollerblading yesterday, the three of us went out to see a midnight showing of the movie Hero together.

I think the best way to sum up the night is, "great movie, horrible seating choice." We were sitting right in the middle of a typical crowd of thug kids who kept making the most idiotic remarks at the movie. "Stupid Americans," I kept thinking to myself, feeling more Chinese while watching the movie than American myself.

Anyway, I’m happy with the way things are right now with work and with Danica. In both, patience is the single most critical virtue I have needed to demonstrate. I credit all the good things to the successful execution of the "count to ten and breathe" technique.

Tongue Twisters and Unlucky Lightning Strikes

After quite the ordeal over the last two days, the Web site for Sapphire Group, LLC finally launched today. It marks my first work-for-hire Web site that launches (semi-)publicly.

During the process, I found myself scrambling to learn as much as I could about DNS entries across the Internet. Did a lot of reading over at Wikipedia about it and had to communicate and translate some of the technical aspects of how to achieve what we wanted to both tech support folks and business folks alike. In the end, though, the biggest lesson I learned is that proper previous planning prevents piss poor performance. (Thanks, Char!)

On a side note, I’m really happy to see HBX Networks’ free shell project back online after a lightning strike took out Nova, their old server.

The 9 Newest Things in my Life

  1. This new blog design! I struggled with a few very strange IE bugs while trying to create the look of this page, but thankfully Position is Everything was able to help me out with them.
  2. A new Chicago Cutlery chef’s knife.
  3. The milestone of having my first work-for-hire web site publicly launched.
  4. Visiting Burlington, Vermont to help my brother move in to his new dorm at UVM college.
  5. Driving outside of New York at aforementioned college town.
  6. Programming a small web application from scratch.
  7. Rollerblading with my sweetheart in the on the Hudson River Park bike path.
  8. My own business cards!
  9. Scrabble! My first game garnered 306 points, which, according to the instructions is in the range a "skilled player playing a two-person game" would score. Nevertheless, I still lost to my sweetie.

Why not ten? Because I don’t want to make things up. :)

Can’t TouchPad This

This morning was horrible. It reminded me exactly why I’ve been using a Mac as my primary computing platform for years.

I woke up after a bad dream and after grabbing a drink, I turned on my Windows laptop to check my mail. As I was downloading my new messages I tried to scroll my inbox with my mousewheel. Didn’t work. That’s when I noticed the Synaptics TouchPad™ system tray icon was missing. In addition, none of the TouchPad’s features would work: no tap zones, no edge motion, no nothing. Now, this is not really that big a deal (at least my cursor was still moving around), but it just goes to show how much damn babysitting these computers need. Isn’t the whole point of technology that things should just work and make our lives easier? ::sigh::

Ultimately, uninstalling and then reinstalling the driver fixed my problem. I have no idea what caused the problem in the first place, though and I didn’t bother to do any digging.

This Macintosh PowerBook is now officially on my wish list!

Productivity, tea, and…stuff.

I finally got around to doing something about the horrid state of the old Ups and Downs web site. Specifically, I began playing with new design ideas utilizing my increased knowledge of XHTML and CSS.

Earlier today, I got that familiar restless feeling that happens whenever I haven’t done anything productive for too long. It’s ugly: makes me feel like I don’t know what to do with myself and like I just want to crawl out of skin. Thankfully, Danica and I were able to leave the house and head on over to Saint’s Alp Teahouse with my laptop in tow. The Saint’s Alp by us offers free Wi-Fi access so it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite places to hang out.

While chowing down on some great minced pork I SFTPed myself a few sample pages from the Ups and Downs site and began working on redesigning the whole things in a standards-compliant and accessible way. It was actually quite a lot of fun besides being something I had been telling myself I’d do for over three months already.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that I get real irritable when I don’t keep my promises to myself. No, wait, scratch that: I get angry at myself when I feel like I’ve been wasting my time. While the solution is laughably simple (don’t waste my time) it’s not very easy to do on a consistent basis. I don’t know why, but I think it’d help me out if I did.

Feeling productive, like I’ve done something with my time, is absolutely crucial to waking up day after day and not becoming totally apathetic about life.

I woke up this morning after having a bad dream involving lava, rhinoceros made out of water and evolution, and spent the next two hours fighting with my Windows PC laptop about my Synaptics TouchPad™ driver. I had the worst feeling this morning that the rest of the day would be just like that.

It takes some effort on my part to actually go and do something — anything — when I haven’t in a while. I’ve had minimal work to do this week (which is because no one seems to be returning my calls [I’ve tried to get the Basil Rouskas people to look at my redesign for them for more than a week already! AUGH!]) so I got addicted to Sim City 4 for a while. For the past two days or so I’ve been watching lots of Twin Peaks episodes with Danica. Anyway, take a look at the work I’ve done so far (I’m taking the road less traveled and making all my changes live). I’m looking forward to seeing what else I can do in my apparently too-ample spare time. Suggestions are more than welcome, they’re appreciated.

I’m scared of Spyware

On Sunday I went to my mother’s for a chance to get new sneakers (tax-free!) and to help out with the computer situation there. My brother is headed to college in a week which means that my mother will be alone with two Windows computers in the house.

One of my main concerns, which I refuse to get paranoid about, is her online security. I love my mother so she’ll understand when I say this, but it would be more effective to try to teach a chicken to fly than to try to teach her about staying secure online. Phishing scams, viruses in email attachments, and spyware are all things that pose a threat, and even though she knows some good online safety ground-rules they are an ever present threat.

But the absolute worst of all of these by far is spyware, or malware, or scumware, or whatever you want to call it. Even I’m scared of it, and I like to consider myself somewhat of a competent technophile. Case in point: when I came over I wanted to clean up some of my old files from my brother’s PC (which I had an account on), and so he asked me to help clean up the whole thing. I spent the next 4+ hours going through the computer and deleting various programs.

At first, I didn’t understand where all these programs came from. Things like AdDestroyer and VirtualBouncer, to name a few. When I asked my brother about them he said he didn’t recognize them but they had been popping up on his desktop at every system start-up. I grabbed AdAware 6.0 and ran a scan, and sure enough it found over 300 files, folders, and registry values and keys. I think I did a pretty good job of cleaning up that computer. I did the same thing just yesterday with my father’s old Windows 98 machine. It had been crashing every time he hit the shut-down button and running AdAware discovered more than 350 data miners and malware programs running on it. Removing them fixed all the crashing problems he was having.

Today, I ran across this entry from Tris Hussey who has had a similar experience as I have. And I must agree with him: SPYWARE MUST DIE! The very fact that someone may write a program that begins acting on its own on my property, on my computer, without my explicit permission is a problem and criminal. This is exactly why programs need to be activated by a user to run! I expect and demand that no program on my system run unless I have started it! Spyware does exactly the opposite. Grr.

Congress is getting involved against Spyware, which I think is a step in the right direction. But unless the technology industry itself grows up a little and begins behaving with some social maturity, I’m really scared for all of our privacy and security.