Microsoft’s live.com is offering email addresses, and the usual land grab rush is on to “secure” your identity on the service. What most people don’t realize is that securing a “prime real estate” email address is probably the LAST thing you want to do.
An obvious email address suffers from an insidious kind of spam you’ll never be able to properly filter or get rid of: I’m talking about wrongly addressed email.
(photo by planeta)
As a gmail beta tester I was lucky enough to grab several firstname.lastname@example.org accounts and a couple of email@example.com accounts. It was fine for the first year, but it has rapidly gone downhill as Gmail has risen in popularity. Now when I check my primary email account I’m lucky if one in four emails were intended for me.
I’ll get university class mailing lists, church lists, hotel bookings, and account signups by the handful.  It’s the digital equivalent to rifling through the magazine rack for subscription cards to sign up your ex. Except there’s no malice behind it; only ignorance and carelessness.
Possible email address for John Q Public
What makes it doubly-worse is that with many email programs automatically collecting any correspondence to your address book means that telling someone they have the wrong address might be enough to get you added to their address book forever. If you choose an email address with your last name, chances are that the people emailing you might have the same last name — automatic address collection means that you’ll be on the receiving end of each other’s Christmas newsletters for who knows how long.
I know I sound ridiculous, but you really can’t appreciate the number of similar email accounts on services like @gmail, @hotmail, @yahoo and now @live until you get a popular email address and start seeing the effect of several people who give out the wrong account name — yours.
- Password Recovery — The Achilles Heel of Your Online Security
- Why Posting Your Email Address in Plain Text is Never a Good Idea
- How to access Gmail when it is blocked at work or school
 And out of all those wrongly addressed emails there was only one mis-sent dirty letter.
I had a fun surprise when I woke up this morning: I was locked out of my Gmail account. I sometimes play in bad neighbourhoods on the internet, and this immediately brought up worries of that I might have a keylogger Trojan, but a system scan revealed nothing. The actual truth of what happened was much stranger…
Like most people who grew up in the last quarter of the 20th century I have been inundated with information technology since a very young age. I had one email address in high school, two others during university, and new email addresses with each job and change of internet service providers. For the last few years I’ve been stabilized on Gmail, but I still switch between four different accounts (real name, nickname, gaming, blog). Schizophrenic? Yes.
Email aside, I use around twelve different online user accounts over the course of a week, and many more irregularly. When it comes to those dusty accounts I often have to use the password recovery feature to retrieve my login information over email. Despite my distaste for OpenID, I have to admit that I see the appeal. Password recovery works fine only if you can remember which email account you used to sign up with and you still have access to it. Jobs change, ISPs’ switch, and that free web-based email account you got in 1999 eventually goes down.
It was that last scenario that blindsided me. Like any other web account, Gmail’s recover password feature will send a verification message to your secondary email address on file. In my case that secondary email address was a free account I used infrequently in the hazy years following the turn of the century. Because I used it so infrequently I had no idea that it had been sold and was under new ownership. And I would have remained ignorant for much longer if I hadn’t been using a common name for my gmail account.
Being a Gmail beta tester had it’s perks, one of which was being able to grab the good names before anyone else could. But as Gmail became more popular, that perk changed into a disadvantage: the world is full of idiots who don’t know what their email address is and put down your email address instead. The amount of spam I receive is almost equal to the amount of misdirected email I get because Erica T. put down the wrong email address when the professor was handing the sheet around the classroom. Often these savants trigger the Gmail password recovery cycle as they try to log in to “their” account.
I ignore these password recovery emails the same way as I ignore the misdirected emails. Unfortunately, the good Samaritan who bought the domain my password recovery email was pointing to wasn’t as laissé-faire. Things were eventually sorted out, but not before I had a heart palpitation when he tried to do me a favour by changing my Gmail password and trying to find an alternate means of contacting me. Don’t let this happen to you, and make sure you know what email address the password recovery feature is going to use for your most important accounts.
How to Change Your Secondary Email Address and Your Security Question With Gmail
Click on the Google Accounts Settings link. (It’s hidden in Gmail under Settings >> Accounts).
Click on the Change Security Question link.
Change your security question or your secondary email.
The Moral of the Story Is…
Well, I’m not quite sure what the moral of the story is, to be honest. Obviously, there is something to be said for having one email address and keeping it for as long as you can. There is something else to be said for using an email provider who requires voice confirmation with personal identifying information before changing your password. Don’t get me started on the benefits of having an account name that other people are unlikely to use.
I know that I’ve got a long boring task ahead of me over the upcoming weeks. I have to assume that any other accounts that were linked to that email address could have been compromised in the 12 hours I lost control of my account. Searches of the trash and sent folders showed no tampering, but that means nothing since a smart person would have just downloaded all of the mail and started data mining with a copy. Can I safely assume because the guy went out of his way to contact me to restore access to my account that nothing bad happened to it? Would you?
“How I Use” is a new series I’m starting about the software I use on a day-to-day basis. I want share tips and tricks and to learn tips and tricks from readers sharing with me in the comments.
Google Reader is a web-based RSS reader. Because it’s web-based I can access my Google Reader from multiple places (home PC, home laptop, work PC, visiting family, etc) and all of my information is stored and updated in one place. I use the Firefox web-browser with the Greasemonkey extension.
Google Reader is an RSS reader
RSS can be best described as a stream of news. Instead of visiting different websites at a time, you subscribe to them and you get all of the updates from the websites you follow in one place. For me that one place is Google Reader. This video will describe RSS and why you would want to subscribe to an RSS feed.
Subscribing to a Feed
I subscribe to feeds either by clicking on the feed link directly or by using the autodiscovery feed option in Firefox.
The first time you subscribe to a feed, Firefox will display the feed in a nice, human readable way, with a yellow box asking you what you want to use to subscribe to this feed. Choose the Google option and chose the option to always use Google to subscribe to feeds.
Unfortunately, Google isn’t smart enough to remember your preference between Google Reader and Google Homepage — so you have to always chose the red pill or the blue pill. There is a handy Greasemonkey script to fix that though: always subscribe to Google Reader.
Accessing Google Reader
I access Google Reader by typing reader.google.com into my address bar or by clicking on the Google Reader icon in the Google Toolbar.
Setting Up My View
Google Reader lets you save your view settings which ever way you like them. I like to view all items at a time instead of sorting them by tags (I’ll switch to tag view if I don’t have time to read all my feeds and I want to focus on a specific subject).
I click on the Expanded view tab in the top right hand so that I can see titles and the body of each item.
I turn off the left sidebar by clicking the left margin or pressing ‘u’ on the keyboard.
Then I click on the View Settings drop-down and choose sort by newest and set as start page.
Now Google Reader will remember these settings every time I log in.
I read feeds by
- using the middle mouse wheel to scroll down the page with my right hand
- my left hand hovers over the ‘j’ and ‘k’ keys on my keyboard
- ‘j’ jumps past a post that I don’t find interesting enough to read completely
- ‘k’ jumps back to the previous post if I decide that I do want to read it
I find quickly scanning through full posts like this lets me read many more feeds than if I have to click on the titles I find interesting.
I open links I want to read by
- clicking on the link with my middle mouse button to open it in a background tab
When I get around 10 links I take a break from reading feeds and go through all of those open tabs, closing them as I’m done with them.
Read a Post Later
If I come across a blog post that’s too dense to read at the moment I’ll use the Readeroo extension to save it to delicious with the toread tag. Readroo will let me fetch it later, and mark it as read.
Leaving a Blog Comment
When I find a blog post I want to comment on
- I hit the ‘v’ key to jump to the post on the blog
- hit the ‘end’ key on my keyboard to go the bottom of the post
- press ‘alt+c’ to fill in my name / email address / blog url thanks to the handy prefill comments Greasemonkey script
- write my comment and click send
- press ‘ctrl+w’ to close the tab and return to my Google Reader tab
Bookmarking a Blog Post
When I find a blog post I want to save for my ‘Best of Feeds’ series
- I hit the ‘v’ key to jump to the post on the blog
- click on the ‘TAG’ button in my toolbar to save it to delicious
Google Reader has it’s own mechanism for sharing and bookmarking posts but I don’t find it nearly as useful or as fast as delicious. That might change with time.
I’ve seen a Greasemonkey script that lets you bookmark the post from within Google Reader, but I prefer using the official delicious extension to bookmark posts because of other enhancements I’ve made to it.
How Do You Use Google Reader?
The reason for writing a post like this isn’t only because I want to share how I do something, but because I also want to learn tricks I might not know about. Got a trick I’m missing out on? Please leave it in the comments, or write your own blog post about it and send a trackback.
This post is by a guest blogger.
Ashish writes about security and technology at Technospot.net
Quick Tips on how to Search Using Google
One of the major complaints people have is “I can’t find this on google.” Which is surprising, because it’s the best search engine. It all comes down to knowing how to search. Here are some quick tips to help you become better at searching.
RSS is a way of subscribing to news/blog feeds that keeps track of new updates and what you have already read. It’s like having your very own little paperboy trapped inside the computer scouring the Internet for the things you like to read (except not nearly as creepy and possibly illegal). RSS is the best way to keep track of several sites with the minimal amount of hassle. It’s also one of the few reliable ways to find out how many people are regularly read your blog.
Darren at ProBlogger leveraged his 20,000 RSS readers and polled them to find out why people unsubscribe from blog RSS feeds. They came up with a list of 34 reasons. The top three reasons people unsubscribe from RSS feeds is because there are too many posts, there are too few posts or because the blog uses partial feeds. Partial feeds are when the RSS feed only shows a snippet of post and you have to click through to the blog to read the entire thing.
That’s an interesting contradiction! Obviously, the solution is to have a consistent posting rhythm, but why is there such a schism between people unsubscribing because of too few or too many posts?
The answer is in which RSS application they use.
Which RSS reader people use greatly affects how they interact with and view RSS feeds. Different RSS readers will have different features and limitations that will change the user’s behaviour. I’ve tried out Firefox Sage, Netvibes, Google Personal Homepage, Bloglines and Google Reader (in that order) and these are the conclusions I’ve drawn.
Years ago I had to take over maintaining scripting infrastructure for a build environment that was written in a language called Expect. Expect is a TCL package focused on dealing with interactive processes. It was also very different than anything I’d worked with before, and I kept shooting myself in the foot with every simple change I had to make.
Part of the problem was trying to maintain something without taking the time to learn the language, but what really made my blood boil was trying to search for Expect code snippets. Expect is a common word, so good luck finding a web page devoted to the language. Thankfully times have changed and Google now knows that you’re looking for information about Expect the language.
Google has a new product on the market that might fix problems like what I used to have with Expect. Google Code Search lets you search within source code. What makes it really powerful is that it supports regular expressions and it supports limiting search results to specific languages and filenames.
My friend Mike asked me if there was a quick way to get around the firewall that keeps him from being able to access his Gmail at work. I was surprised at how easy it is.
I don’t understand why Gmail gets blocked at work. I think it is much better that people are having their personal conversations using firstname.lastname@example.org instead of representing the company with every list of jokes, funny images, or comical videos they forward.
But enough of my diatribe against poor policies in the workplace. You can access Gmail using a different URL! They usually only block some of the web addresses.
I’m another one of those starry-eyed geeks who looks at Google with a moonstruck gaze and wishes I could work in a “developers, developers, developers“-centric company-slash-utopia. A rant like this one by Steve Yegge becomes a much treasured road map to the Holy Land.
I think I’m the last person on the Internet to read this (it’s at 141 comments so far), so tossing out a link is rather pointless… but I’ll do it anyways because
- if you’re still at work at this point on a Friday afternoon you could probably use a well-written, humorous (if slightly long) rant and
- if you’re not at work at this point then comparing your company to Google might be a great way increase your motivational mojo on a Monday morning (or maybe not).
Who is Stevey? He’s a former Amazon employee who now works at Google. I think Joel Spolsky sums it up best when he says:
“Recently I sat down with a long list of nominations [for the Best Software Writing 2] and worked through them. When I was done, I was extremely depressed to discover that there wasn’t enough material for a whole new book, and what I did find was 50% Stevey. It didn’t seem fair to give him half the book. “
I have one Gmail account I use to check the mail from 10-12 different accounts I’ve created. I create different Gmail accounts for different online activities:
- For friends
- For resume/job hunting
- For professional use
- For this blog
- For video games and video game modding
I set all of the accounts to forward to one Gmail inbox. When someone sends an email to any of these accounts, Gmail will automatically respond as that account even though I’m logged into a different Gmail account.
This is how I do it.
I tried Google’s Writely for the first time with the previous post. I’m pretty impressed, so far. It has all the WYSIWYG features I expect after using the WordPress.com blog editor, but doesn’t have nearly the same lag (or the same knack WordPress.com has for crashing if I play iTunes in the background).
The Holy Grail of Synchronization: combining Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar, Gmail, iPod, and mobile phone
The Holy Grail of Synchronization
Last updated: 2006/09/19
This is a guide for synchronizing Contacts (address book) and Calendars (schedule) across multiple computers and gadgets.
- synchronization – making the information the same on two different applications
- WAP/GPRS – wireless Internet access for mobile phones
- SyncML – a synchronization protocol
This is the setup I am trying to sync:
- Microsoft Outlook at work for professional scheduling
- Google Calendar for personal scheduling
- Gmail for email addresses
- Microsoft Outlook at home for contacts
- Nokia 6682 for access to contacts/calendar on the go (or any mobile phone that has software to synchronize with Microsoft Outlook, ie: all of them)
- iPod for access to contacts/calendar on the go
ScheduleWorld wasn’t something I used before I tried to do this, but it is the glue that holds it all together.
Here is a beautiful drawing of The Plan. It was made with Gliffy, a web-based Visio clone.
Tony Ruscoe finds out how to access a test account in Google Sandbox, and speculates on the results
- Local (AKA Local Business Center)
Google Local (now known as Google Maps) where you can create, edit, or suspend your Google Local business listing.
- Google Weaver
Most suspect it’s going to be some kind of Medical Scrapbook.
- Google WiFi
Free wireless Internet service offered to the city of Mountain View.
- Google Online Assessment
Assess job candidates online?
- Google Real Estate Search
- Mobile Marketplace
- Google Workplace
Microsoft Office killer?
Much more information and speculation is available at Tony’s site.
>> 55 Ways to Have Fun With Google (available as a book and as a free PDF download)
There is a new entry into the open source software code repository space: Google Code – Project Hosting. This will hopefully be a long awaited kick in the pants for Sourceforge.net which hosts many, many projects but it can be difficult to find the cream of the crop, compare similar solutions and weed dead projects from the results.
Update: I assume that the reader is already familiar with Sourceforge and I focus on what Google is bringing to the table.
Update: I wrote a guide on getting started with Subversion and Google Code hosting
Google Project Hosting Features:
The interface is clean, compact and concise. It is missing the abundant clutter that permeates Sourceforge and most programming tools. Avoiding “too many options” is something Google understands well.
After the break, all the features of Google Code Project Hosting as of launch 2006/07/28.