I found my own workarounds

inboxWith its Inbox app, Google is making a big push to help/make us rethink how we handle our email.

For me, anyway, it’s not working.

Having used GMail for more than 10 years and with more than 100K messages in my archive, I’ve developed a set of filters and habits that work well (enough) and are hard to undo. At this writing, I have close to 300 filters that mung various newsletters, group messages, and others.

I also disabled the Tabs feature that came out a couple of years ago because it was working at cross purposes to my filters. I’m seeing too many folks who are missing important emails because Gmail is automatically moving things into those tabs.

What I like about Inbox

Swipe to mark-as-read or to snooze is pretty cool. It takes a while to decide how long to snooze an item, but a new scheme emerges quickly. It’s somewhat better than starring items, because it defers action until a time specific. With stars, messages can hang around for months.

What I miss

All this tapping and swiping feels like more work. Maybe it’ll get easier.

As far as I can tell, there’s no way to use the email to create a new calendar entry. Snoozing is not the same as adding a calendar entry.

For example, someone sends me an email about meeting. The message contains the date and time of the meeting along with a sketch of the agenda and other pertinent details. I can click on the date and time, which Gmail renders as hyperlinks, and create a new calendar item with for that time, using the email’s subject line as the appointment title. The Google calendar entry contains a link back to the email for details.

To be fair, the Gmail app on iOS doesn’t support this, either.

I’m my own problem

We gave up our landline phone five years ago and use our cellphones for all calls, as well as texting, email, social media, calendar, camera, games, etc.

Even so, when we come home, I still miss the answering machine that gathered messages while we were away.

I know that I’m relying on habits, reinforced by these filters, to keep email the way I like it.

I have friends who still grieve the loss of WordPerfect 5.1, with the beloved Reveal Codes feature. Others manage to keep the Eudora client limping along with paper clips and duct tape. When/if they have to use another email service, they regularly complain about the loss of productivity.

I’m on a path to become those people.

Email is the hub of my communication, but there are already pressures to change.

  • Most people under 30 don’t use email unless required to do so by work or some external force.
  • I belong to an organization that does its best coordination by way of group text messages.
  • Other messaging apps and services (some of which I use, many I don’t)
  • For many people, particularly older folks, email is so loaded with spam and junk that it’s stopped being a safe, useful, or fun place.

I don’t know if new email clients, such as those from Google, Microsoft, or Apple, will reverse that trend. I doubt it.

Just as social media supplanted newsgroups, listserv group messages, and the like, other services are replacing email for the one-to-one and one-to-many types of communications.

A key element to finding new solutions is the willingness to abandon what’s old and, gulp, what works. The new thing may not work as well as the old thing. It may force a change of work patterns.

Change comes hard to those who are heavily invested in familiar ways of working.

change.is.good

Creating memorable passwords

Just about every website requires a username and password if you want to do anything useful. Shopping online, using a web-based email service, participating in social networking: all require a username, such as your email address, and password.
There are too many to remember without writing them down, so we use the same password on multiple sites. That’s where the trouble begins.
The majors sites, banks, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, and Google, have solid security and account break-ins are rare. Smaller sites, however, may not do so well. For example, you’ve used
the same email and password for your account on Fubarbco.com and on Amazon.com. Someone breaks into Fubarbco. Using the email and password information they found on Fubarbco,they’ll attempt to log in to Amazon. Bingo.
Using standard password cracking tools, a password such as Aa123.yz will take five days to break. That’s pretty good.
So, here’s a way to create a password that you can remember, but that is impossible to guess and difficult to crack.
Put a punctuation mark and four or more numbers in the middle of the site’s name. You can use the same mark and set of number. That’s the only part that you need to remember.
For example, for Amazon, you do something like this:
Ama&2120zon
2120 is the street address on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, the former home of the Chess Records.
According to How Secure Is My Password http://howsecureismypassword.net, it will take about four thousand years to crack the password. You can then use Goo&2120gle for your Google account and so on.
Your password for Facebook would then be:
Fac&2120ebook
Use some number that is meaningful to you – a date such as 102704 or the ZIP code of Graceland, 38116 – but which is not readily associated with you, such as your birth year or ZIP code..
It doesn’t matter much where you insert the punctuation and numbers.
I should note that many people use LastPass http://lastpass.com, KeePass http://keepass.info, or other account storage services. They like them. I don’t. Your mileage may vary.
The primary goal in security – at home or online – is to make the intruder take more time and thus increase the likelihood that you can detect the intrusion.

When help isn’t

A couple of products promise help and deliver but little.

AARP has touted its new RealPad, a low-cost Android tablet that promises 24/7 Real Help. They have phone service, videos, and an email support line. Sounds good.
A lot of people ask my opinion about various gadgets, so I thought I’d buy one to test and review. Before purchasing, however, I had a question. The tablet comes with the KitKat version of Android. Google is releasing a later version, named Lollipop, with new designs and capabilities. I wondered if the RealPad could be upgraded. (Yes, I know how to load alternate ROMs and could install most any version of Android; I wanted to know if the typical user would receive the new version.)
So, I sent an email to their support service at support@aarprealpad.org.

Windows has a program called Problem Step Recorder.  You can use it to record your activities on your Windows system either as a tutorial for others or to help tech support reproduce the problem you’ve encountered.
To start the program, search for PSR either from the Start menu (Windows 7) or the mega-global search (Windows key+Q in Windows 8).

Apple TV 404

Somewhere in a box of stuff in our storage room lies a sleek Apple TV remote control. Nice. simple, and hard to find.

Apple provides an app that lets you control your Apple TV from your iOS device. It works reasonably well, except after a software upgrade. When the device restarts, it wants to confirm its network connection and device name.

apple.tv.config.screen

You cannot, however, use the iOS app  to do this. Even though Air Play mirroring works, the app can’t find the Apple TV device.

apple.tv.not.found

Grr.

Staples. It’s (not) easy.

Staples has an app. All God’s children have an app.
The Staples app purports to let us do things, except the things that seem obvious.
Each time I buy something at Staples, I can’t find my card, the loyalty card that enables coupons and discounts. .I provide them with my phone number. They look up the card and apply the credit, if anything, to my purchase.
This last time, I thought I’d be clever. The app lets me store my Staples reward card. I did so.
When I went to check out at the store, I hold up the app, displaying the barcode and number.

The clerk looks at my phone and then enters my number by hand because their scanner cannot pick up the barcode stored on their app.
One less reason to use their app on the way to one less reason to shop at Staples.

At the Mall with Apple and Microsoft

We’ve seen this before, but it seems worse now. On a winter’s Saturday, a trip to the Natick Mall showed two very different retail experiences.

The Apple Store is lively with people of all ages. The further into the store you go, the more customers will you see, excitedly playing with, learning about, and buying stuff.

The Microsoft Store employees outnumber the customers. The liveliest place is not in the store, but out front, where a two-year-old girl is dancing to the big XBox video.

It’s no wonder that Apple, with but a sliver of the desktop computing market share, is worth twice what Microsoft is worth.

Attention to detail may not be their Forte

Forte.net is a payment-processing service that handles web, mobile, and other types of online payments.
Their website has a nice stock photograph of a diverse group of people, each with their own blurb about why Forte is cool.  Each person has an imagemap associated with his or her picture. Move your mouse over a person’s image and a speech balloon pops up. It’s a clever bit of Javascript.
As with any service, you want to pay attention to the fine print. In this case, Michelle might quarrel with her designation as a guy.