E-mail

As I write this we are in the third day after the earthquake in Haiti.  Images, videos, the sounds and the horrors of the earthquake have sunk into our collective memories.  While many of us feel a great need and compassion to give, in the hopes of helping those in their hour of great need, it would behoove us to take pause for many of the requests that we have coming in for donations.

It is noble that our government has chosen to send aid to this impoverished nation.  In my mind, it is more than noble–it is a necessity.  Having said that, in no way do I want you to think that means that we, as American citizens, should not give of our own resources and wealth that God has so graciously bestowed on us to assist those in need.

While this is not a blog post that is intended to encourage you to give, I certainly don’t want to discourage giving. The intent of this post is to merely point out the obvious–during this time of need, you will probably receive e-mail requests that are designed to get you to send your hard earned money to assist some organization in order to help the Haitian people.

And I want to let you know that you should be wary of many, if not all, of these requests for assistance. As I have previously posted on this blog (here and here), it is not hard to craft an e-mail that can send you to a phishing or a spoof site that will take your donation and put it into the pockets of some unscrupulous persons.

If you really want to give so that helps folks in Haiti, I would recommend you take the initiative and give to the nonprofit charity of your choice. This maybe the American Red Cross, World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, or any one of hundreds of organizations that can help during this time of need.

I would not suggest you give to organizations that are run by our government. Unfortunately, many of these organizations have higher overhead costs (such as management, oversight, bureaucracy, etc.) so that your dollar dwindles in its assistance power.  (Note: I’m not saying giving to government organizations is bad, I am pointing out the obvious–that you may not get the most bang for your buck.)

So during this time of great need, I’m positive Americans will rise up and give greatly.  It seems to be in our nature.  It seems to be the path we continue to choose to walk down.  And that’s (yet) another reason to be proud of being an American!

But be wary of those asking for your donations.  You may want to bypass the e-mail requests altogether, and just take the initiative to give to the organization of your choice.  Keep the people of Haiti in your prayers as they struggle through this time of great sorrow.


 

This post is really just giving props to a great resource.  I mean, I could start to discuss all the implications of spam, how spam bots go about harvesting e-mail addresses to add to their growing list of spam addresses, or even if there is a way of keeping your e-mail address from being harvested.  But, let’s be realistic.  Once one way is figured out, normally there are ways that can be worked around to find out the address, especially if you are just typing the e-mail address in as plain text through your web software or blog.

That’s where this great page comes in.  Before I give you the link I must give props to Will Bontrager.  I would certainly recommend signing up to receive his weekly newsletter and any of the many software offerings he has in his growing library.

Now for the promised link.  Will has provided a great resource for those of you wanting to cut down on spam harvesting of any e-mail address or e-mail link you may want to post.  It’s called the Advanced Email Link Generator with Anti-Spam Encoder. Now I want you to know(as does Will) that this method is not perfect, but it is better than a plain text e-mail address.  In fact, there are links to other resources you can use for harvest proof links.

My intent is just to give you some tools to help you when developing your information – and that includes giving folks an e-mail address to contact you with!  So I hope this starts you down that path.  Take care – if you have other helpful resources feel free to leave a comment and rave about it!


 

It finally happened.  Now, for those of you reading, this has been something I’ve put off.  When I say put off, I mean I have put this off for years.  Way back when free e-mail was in its infancy, I got a free Juno account.  I liked it so much, I paid for the service.  Years go by, I switch to broadband, I change my service with Juno (don’t need dial up access much anymore, except with my air card) but keep the account.

I guess it is like anything else – you grow use to the program and can work well within the confines of it.  The program changed, and up until May of this year I was using version 5 of the Juno client.  I mean, I’d been using Juno since 1998, why switch now (please, attempt to stifle the gasps you just had)?  But early in May I got a notification a newer version was available, and I downloaded/installed Juno 8.x – and it wasn’t so bad.  Until yesterday morning, that is.

I’ve seen the ‘Juno is examining your mailbox’ message and the program has placed various items in the recovered folder.  But yesterday it ‘recovered’ everything – over 10 years worth of messages I had in various folders, and lined up all those messages by date and placed them into the recovered folder.  Basically – it wiped out years of my filing system.  I was not a happy camper.

Before you find yourself in this predicament, you may want to consider another mail client.  I still like Juno, I still use Juno – but I can’t use the Juno client anymore.  I needed to recover my data and get stood up again, pronto!  So I write this to let you in on the steps taken – and to get you to think of what you may need to do for your future needs.  Juno is a proprietary software, and by that I mean there is no true ‘export’ tool for addresses (contacts) or mail – it was all in the program and it is what it is!

First Step – Where’s My Backup?

Since I had only recently upgraded the program I needed to find a way to get to the latest breakdown of my files and folders.  I didn’t have much luck in the v8.x area finding tools, but I did find just what the doctor ordered for v5.x – juno5bdb.  I pointed that to my last backup of the Juno 5.x data I had, and then had my data.  If you were wondering, I needed to pick a mail client as well.  I’ve used Outlook for many years, but am a huge Firefox / Mozilla fan, so I went with Thunderbird and like it so far.  So I used the juno5bdb2netscape.bat method described to generate files with no extension which would then be copied to the Mozilla mail directory.

Next Step – Install Mail Client

Since I chose Thunderbird, the install was painless.  The client looked good, and the help files are wonderful as well.  The files generated from the first step were then copied / pasted into the area needed for review in Thunderbird on my hard drive (Local Folders – very similar to Outlook’s profile and .pst handling of mail).  I reopened Thunderbird and there was my folder structure with all the mail that I had in there – my filing system was back!

Get Mail Working

This one wasn’t the hardest to do either.  In fact, by reviewing the information listed below, I had incoming mail in no time via POP3.  But I did struggle with outgoing mail.  I set up the client using settings found at http://help.juno.com/support/email/auth-smtp.html but that wasn’t the answer (would never send mail).  The clue was found in this post – needed to change the SMTP port to 587.  Bingo – Houston, we have outgoing mail!  (Note – I am a Juno MegaMail customer – this is a must to send mail via a third-party mail program.)

What About My Contacts?

As stated earlier, in Juno you can’t just export much of anything in bulk.  This is where I found Dawn.  As stated on their website:

Dawn will convert your address book from one program’s format to another. If you have ever wanted to switch E-Mail programs or even simply use that WordPerfect address book in Outlook Express you have no doubt been put off by being forced to retype every single address by hand. Well, retype no more. A complete conversion is just a few clicks away.

Dawn did the trick – followed the wizard and had my addresses out of Juno and into Thunderbird with no problems.

The Final Clean Up

The last thing I needed to do was to go through mail that was ‘recovered’ in the old Juno program and send them to me, but in Thunderbird.  And now…I’m totally recovered and – as far as I can tell – not missing any data.  A testimony to backing up your data regularly and finding some neat tools to help me switch from a proprietary program to a more robust mail situation!

I hope this post helps someone who may be thinking of switching to another mail client.  I won’t say it was pain-free, but you can glean from my experience and pull this off yourself.  When looking at 10,000 mails with no filing system, I was a bit downcast.  But taking the steps listed above, I was up and running pretty quick – and my filing system was back in place.  Take care, and thanks for reading!

*****UPDATE***** added 1/18/10

I just installed the latest release of Thunderbird, and – while I could receive mail, I couldn’t send it!  If you run into this, here is the ‘fix’ that worked for me.

Once you are in Thunderbird, navigate to Tools | Account Settings, then select Outgoing Server (SMTP) settings.  You then need to select the outgoing Juno account you have set up and then Edit.  Once you are there, you need to uncheck ‘use secure authentication’.  Then click your way back out (select OK, then select OK again) and send your mail!


 

You know how it goes…you either send e-mail to someone and it never arrives or you expect e-mail from someone and you never receive it.  So, what’s up with that?  This post is not all-exhaustive, but is a primer for these types of issues.  There are so many mail clients you or your recipients may be using (Eudora, Thunderbird, Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, various web mail and other clients…), couple that with the mail client you are using and various computer and server settings along the way, and  you have a recipe for many questions and posts!

Instead of going into all the differences between clients and settings, POP3 and SMTP, IMAP and the like, or even explaining how e-mail works, I’m going to steer this column to why you may or may not be either receiving mail or your mail may not be received by the intended recipient.  And for that, let’s look to filtering of e-mail.

Content filtering

Here’s how Wikipedia defines content filtering:

Content filtering is the most commonly used group of methods to filter spam. Content filters act either on the content, the information contained in the mail body, or on the mail headers (like “Subject:”) to either classify, accept or reject a message. (from Wikipedia)

This filtering runs the gamut from anti-virus behavior to parental controls and web content filtering.  You can even read about how to do some of this in your own mail client if you are so inclined.

I recall (not so fondly) of an incident at my place of employment when spam with unsavory sexual content was getting through to my inbox.  I aptly used the term ‘hostile work environment ‘ (always sure to peak the interest of HR types) because this was unwanted information – I didn’t ask for it at home, and certainly did not want it at work!  The response from an individual in our IT department was to employ some filtering on my mail client.  I quickly informed this person that I did not use the words that needed to be entered into the filter and was not going to be typing them in a company owned machine on company time (not a good plan!).  I suggested they implement filtering on a higher level, like on the mail server.

Filtering can be done with words, file types (.JPG, .GIF and other picture types or any file type, like .ZIP, .PDF or other files), file sizes, or even mail type (RTF or HTML mail).  Each of these has their use (if there is a virus or malware attack, or just to keep junk that could carry the payload of some security threat out of your system).  And some have unintended consequences.

An example would be the word that catches our attention – sex.  This word is not dirty, but could be a clue to the content of any message that could be coming into an inbox.  In some instances, your ISP may choose to filter on this word.  It could be in the subject line, the ‘FROM’ field, the body of the message, or some combination of those items.  If they do, they will catch words like Middlesex (names of various towns like the one in Virginia, where I use to live or in many other places).  Your ISP would then place that message in some bulk junk mail area or delete the message outright and you would never know about it.  Some mail areas are set up to send a response back to you saying the message was not delivered due to _____ (fill in the blank), but those bounces may also not make it back to you based on various filtering settings.

This is the same thing as what can happen with searches, instead content filtering is at work in your mail.  Other examples could be breast (if you are a fan of Epicurious or other cooking and recipe sites and are looking for recipes with the entree of chicken, and chicken breast is called out, this could be the cause of missing mail if your ISP is filtering on that word) or Ford (was that the automaker or the modeling agency?).

So with any content in your mail (even URL’s are parsed and could be a cause for flagging good mail as spam) something as innocent as having some word in there that is taken out of context by the content filtering set up by the ISP or even the recipient can be a cause for undelivered mail.

How can I test that theory?

A fair question.  Some of my clients call me with that same question, so here’s my advice.  Sent the intended recipient a test message.  Make it simple!  The TO field will have the recipient’s e-mail address, the SUBJECT should have something like ‘mail to you’ and the BODY of the message something like ‘Please reply back to this message so I know you have received it – thanks’.  If that makes it through, then some content filter caught your previous message for some reason (perhaps it had a Word document attached and the attachment was not allowed, or any other number of reasons to block the mail…).  And you now have established a starting point for troubleshooting!

Of course, other things I did not touch on here is checking your junk mail folder, contacting your own ISP to see if content is being blocked (and never gets close to the recipient’s mail system), and items similar to these issues.  Mail is a wonderful thing, but you would be pretty disappointed if you received ALL the mail that was sent to you.  I’m thankful for the filtering that does happen, but I – like you – do get frustrated at time for those important (or expected) messages that I do not receive.

If you have tips, stories, or advise to give on this issue, feel free to post a comment.  As always, thanks for reading!


 

You’ve got to love those e-mails we get from friends, relatives, neighbors, and distant acquaintances.  My favorites (to delete) are ones I get from folks who don’t have anything to say to me – they just pass on ‘information’ they received from others.  You know those mails – ‘Bill Gates is sharing his fortune – pass this e-mail on to his tracker (THIS TOOK TWO PAGES OF THE TUESDAY USA TODAY – IT IS FOR REAL – gotta love that headline!)’ or ‘Applebee’s restaurants are giving away $50 gift certificates‘ to folks who forward an e-mail message.

One of the recent ones I have received has to do with Ben Stein and his confessions for the Christmas holiday.  I guess on the bright side this has some partial truth to it, Ben Stein actually did say the words that were attributed to him, but there was other dross added on that wasn’t true at all.

So – how can you tell if this stuff has any truth to it?  Some of it is quite compelling at face value, but if it’s not true – what is the value of the information?  I’d like to pass on some helpful links so you can find out the validity of these claims for yourself.

Test Everything

That’s a great bit of wisdom from The Word, and it applies to every area of life – including your inbox and the internet! Just because it is on the web doesn’t mean it is truth or even partially accurate – and the same applies to the stuff you get in your inbox.  Well intentioned people look at information they receive about our troops, various political campaign fodder (pick a side, any side), or some issue they feel strongly about.  Then, because it agrees with their feelings or views – they somehow feel compelled to forward that message to everyone they know.

No need to check for truth.  No research on accuracy.  And that amazes me!  We’ll look at the issue of our military – that’s an area that has generated a ton of interest over many years.  And while our troops fight a war (necessary in the eyes of some, and not worth it in the eyes of others), the stories that are passed on as fact are nothing short of astounding.  It’s unfortunate that many of these passed on tidbits are nothing more than propaganda.  Some are just a lie, other stories carry a grain of truth, and a few are actually accurate.

So, my first place to look is an awesome site called Snopes.com.  Here you can find information on urban legends, hoaxes, and a ton of other claims and rumors. Some of the information on this site may be a bit ‘racy’ – but look at what you are receiving in your inbox and passing on…your point?

If you don’t find information on the item you are researching on Snopes, then try the Urban Legends area of About.com.  This area is also full of information on many of the same e-mails you have been seeing in your inbox for quite sometime.  It is another great resource in your hunt for fact over fiction.

Lastly, you probably want to know about ScamBusters.org.  They carry information on much more than the urban legends and hoxes they have listed.  It is another highly recommended resource in your quest for separating truth from lies.

What Do I Do With What I Learned?

This is the rubber meets the road area for us all.  I can tell you this from experience.  My standard response is normally to send something back to the person that sent me the information with a link to what I found (either Snopes or some other resource) so they could see what the truth is.  In the body of the mail I would also suggest they may want to send that information back to the list they chose to send to so those folks would also learn the truth.  Some did that, and were educated in how to fish for the truth themselves.  It’s hard to know you have been had and then brought others into that been had mix.

My next step, if that person keeps me on their friend list for these mass mailings, is to respond to all with the truth findings for the next one I receive.  Again, nothing in my mails are condemning to the person forwarding them out, and my intent is to share the truth and not spread less than that.

It is amazing the transformation I have witnessed.  Normally, for those I just send information to, less than 10% of those folks actually send out a note to the list.  You see, to do so admits you have fallen for something, and even perpetuated it further.  That’s a hard thing for many to do!  I can only assume the other 90% drop me from their mass distribution list for those mails since I don’t get them anymore.  For those that I have responded back to the entire list (my step 2 in my 2 step ‘get well’ program) – they usually get mad and let me know all about it.  I have been written back that the word needed to be spread about this ‘thing’ (issue, whatever) no matter if it is true or not.  Folks have pulled me aside and told me that I was in the wrong for sending back information to folks on the list (these folks don’t even think about what they are doing by leaving all their ‘friends’ in a To or CC list to start with).  But I have learned that it isn’t long before they drop me from these mass mailings as well. (I’m a HERETIC!)

I’m not complaining about the lack of these mails, because usually someone else sends it to me, these take on a life of their own.  What does concern me is folks that have no interest in the truth – so they are comfortable in perpetuating the lies.  It tells me something about them – for actions speak louder than words in many cases.

I hope this article gives you some insight and tools to learn more about stuff you (and I) run across on the web and in our inboxes.  If you have other tools you use, leave a comment – and as always thanks for reading!