Hackin’ The Net


I have said this a time or three previously, but it bears repeating: The longer I work with computers and electronics, the more e-mail looks like the old “snail mail” stuff. In other words, the more it seems that e-mail I send out to people (or they send to me) “bounces” for this or that reason or the more it’s delayed “somewhere out there” or never goes or lands anywhere.

The sad part of all of the above is that we (that’s all of us) have this badly mistaken idea that if we use e-mail there is a 100% chance what we send will arrive …and arrive “immediately.” In truth, that’s not always the case and if we go through life believing in the impossibility of e-mail and e-commerce failure then we are going to eventually end up sad (not to mention broke if we are counting upon e-mail to pay a bill or send a job to the boss, etc.) and I got a bridge I wanna sell you, too!

The issue has been driven home with our recent move and sale of the company we owned, necessitating a new domain name and new e-mail addresses at our end. The setting up has been a nightmare and meanwhile those wanting to write us have often called frustrated when e-mails bounced back to them as undeliverable.

Add to that we have, for way too many years, used an e-mail programme called Microsoft Entourage to get our mail. To quote Wikipedia, “Microsoft Entourage was an e-mail client and personal information manager developed by Microsoft for Mac OS 8.5 and higher. Microsoft first released Entourage in October 2000 as part of the Microsoft Office 2001 office suite; Office 98, the previous version of Microsoft Office for Mac OS included Outlook Express 5. The last version was Entourage: Mac 2008, part of Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac, released on 15 January 2008. Entourage was replaced by Outlook for Macintosh in Microsoft Office for Mac 2011, released on 26th October 2010…”

Notice the use of the word “was”. The problem is and long has been that for the past seven years we were using software to do e-mails which was first a little and then a lot out of date. It’s our way to tell readers that keeping what you use to send and receive mail needs to be and stay updated and current. As the address of sending and receiving changed over the years (not to mention the OS — operating system — of our Mac) parts of the outdated and antiquated Entourage quit working or (even worse) they worked intermittently or improperly.

There was also the issue that we changed domain names and services we were using to provide our e-mail. Instead of a Gmail or Hotmail or Yahoo, we have always had our own domain, which is that phrase which appears after the @ (at) sign in an address. Different companies have different ways to set up their e-mail servers and those can come into play also.

Think of it like a car. They all get you (hopefully) from Point A to Point B, but some have manual transmissions, some are automatic. Some have two-wheel drive and some are four wheel. Some are red and some blue. Some have the wiper controls in one place and some have satellite radio. But at the end of the day what matters is that the car you drive get you where you want to go.

E-mail programmes are the very same way. They all use different sets of controls; different behind-the-scenes ways to tell the servers they are “here” and that they want to send or receive your mail. And they all display it differently and check for it differently.

Think of that whole thing like buying a plane ticket from Indianapolis to Orlando. You can call an airline and buy one. Or buy one online. Or go to the airport and get one. Then you get on the plane and fly. But some airlines will take you non-stop. Some via Charlotte or Chicago. And some will charge for luggage while others allow a bag or even two. At the end of the day you land (hopefully with your luggage) in Orlando.

In the case of an e-mail client, what it is supposed to do is signal your server “I am here!” when you tell it to send or check for incoming mail (like you checking in at the airport). Then the server says “we are ready” as airlines do in that boarding announcement and when they check-in your ticket. That’s the password and electronic check. Next, just as you would board the plane, the properly set-up client will venture out and send or receive your e-mails and then tell you with a bell or beep or signal that it’s done. Rather like the stewardess saying “fasten your seatbelts and place all tables in the upright and locked position as we prepare to land in Orlando!” And when it’s all done you and your luggage are there together.

But if the e-mail client doesn’t function right or there’s an issue with the client and your mail service communicating you might find you get no e-mail at all or only part of what’s been sent. Think of it (to continue the analogy) that you went to Orlando but your bags got to New Orleans. Or weather or something wrong stranded you in Toronto while your luggage went to San Diego. There’s bad and worse.

So what do we want to do on our computers? First off find an e-mail client you like and which is rated to work on your gear. If you are Mac there are some different options than are available for our pc readers. There are still others (many pre-installed) which work for iPads, phones and other devices like game consoles.

Next, get your device and client set up correctly. This might mean research and it might mean a trip to the Genius Bar or Geek Squad desk. Remember that just like you landing in New Orleans with a ticket that says Orlando, your mail can take a wrong turn — and most (not all) of the time that happens it will land back where it started: returned to sender as undeliverable. That’s the merry “mailer-daemon” notice you get.

What is a mailer-daemon? PC Magazine did a great job in their “encyclopaedia” describing it, so we will just quote as it’s never been said better: “When you get a MAILER-DAEMON@whatevercompany.com message in your inbox, the server at that company is informing you that it is returning your message because of some failure. The ‘to’ e-mail address may no longer be valid, or there may be a problem routing the message to the appropriate mail server. Your domain name may be on a blacklist, and the server is refusing all incoming messages from it…”

Did you catch the part about the routing problem? Just like an Indiana friend snail mail wrote me in Maine and put my correct street address and city on the envelope but was a number off on his ZIP Code and got his mail back, this is the same thing. If the servers and the client and the computer are not all on the very same wavelength, mail can and likely will bounce.

But still more maddening is when nothing happens. We send off an e-mail ordering something or writing to someone and it leaves our screen and goes off into the ether but is never seen nor heard from again. This is maddening because like a land without report or what lies beyond the grave, we have no clue as to if this got delivered and was not seen by the intended recipient or was seen and ignored or was read and action is taking place, but we were not told. In other words: we do not know what’s happened. And just like a letter of the stamp, pen and ink variety can land in the “dead letter office” e-mails can and do land in the electronic one where they usually stay forever.

The best bet then? Well, in our way of thinking if we send an e-mail and make sure we got the address right (my snail mailman will be fine if you get two letters transposed in my name or that of my street as long as he gets and sees the envelope because he has a brain and knows me which a computer does not because it’s a machine) then after a few days I follow up with a phone call or text. Do not get me wrong: a text can also go astray (like if you try and text a landline), but it’s less likely. And an old-fashioned voice call? Those work 99% and you’ll know immediately if you have a wrong number.

So there you have it. Some of the finer points of e-mail. And a note that if you have written to us lately and you didn’t get response you might wanna try again because we have had issues with the provider and we are working with them to get it all resolved. Meanwhile, just like you, we are at the mercy of the firm who provides the service which comes after the @ sign.

Article republished with permission from The Gay Word.

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