Google+ September 2011 ~ High Tech House Calls

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Email Management

Tired of reviewing the same email message on your laptop, iPhone and iPad? Here are some strategies to think about that might make managing your email a little easier.


Email accounts are of two general types:

   IMAP - email is stored on an email server. When you access email with Outlook or any other email application, the email you are reading is NOT downloaded to your PC or smartphone. When you delete the email, it is removed from the email server. Access your email again from another device and notice that the email is gone. Email is synchronized across all the devices you use to access your email. Email is not stored on your computer or smartphone. All email is stored on the email server. This is how an Apple MobileMe email account works. (MobileMe will soon be replaced by iCloud, due this Fall. http://www.apple.com/icloud/). Gmail can also be set up as an IMAP account. Unfortunately, most email accounts, by default, are not set up this way, and need to be reconfigured to work as an IMAP account. Some email servers may not support this type of email access.
   POP3 - in this model, email is downloaded to each device that accesses the email. The email server keeps track if a particular email has been downloaded before to the device accessing the email message. If you delete an email, in general, only your copy of that email is deleted from your device. It is still downloaded to all other email devices.
Therefore, the easiest way to synchronize your email – if you use multiple devices – would be to configure your email accounts for IMAP.

What if your email account cannot be configured for IMAP access? There are some settings you can change to make managing your POP3 email accounts easier:

   On a Windows PC running Outlook, on the advanced tab for your email account, make sure Leave a Copy on the Server is checked. This same feature is available for the Apple Mail program and for Microsoft's Office for Mac Entourage and Outlook programs.

   In addition to the Leave a Copy option, you can select Remove From Server When Deleted from "Deleted Items". Delete a message, empty your Deleted Items and the message will not be downloaded again. I empty my Deleted Items constantly. I set Outlook to Delete Items when I exit Outlook. I have many clients who seem to never empty Deleted Items and have 1000's of messages there.

   Many email accounts have the ability to be forwarded to another email account. You could forward all your email from a POP3 server account to an IMAP server account. If you did not access your POP3 emails other than through the forwarded copies to the IMAP account, your emails would be synchronized, but this will make the process of replying to emails complicated. To reply to a message, you would have to edit out the forwarded part of the text to make the reply look normal.

   The settings for email on an iPhone and iPad are minimal. If you use your iPhone or iPad to review the bulk of your emails, there is no easy way of deleting an email from your iPhone and have that deletion synced with your other email devices.

Coming up with a strategy to manage your emails is a workflow issue that you will need to resolve based on your particular work style and email device circumstances.

Wireless Network Roundup

Here is some general information about wireless networks that you can use to improve your wireless network.

   For your wireless network to be functional, the high speed Internet modem and wireless router must both be turned on. The computer nearest your network devices does not have to be on for your wireless network to be up. In fact, no computer, smartphone, Ipad, laptop, etc. has to be turned on for your wireless network to be functional.  Your wireless network is independent of any operating system resident on the device you are using to browse the Internet with.

   Occasionally, your computer will be connected to the wireless network, but you cannot access any websites on the Internet. Unplugging your high-speed Internet modem and wireless router may fix the problem. Count to 20 and then plug the modem back in. Count to 30 and then plug your wireless router back in. You may have to reboot your computer to take advantage of the fixed connection. If you need to do this procedure more than once a month, you may have a failing modem or wireless router or you have an intermittent problem with the Internet coming into your home.

   High-speed Internet access modems and wireless routers last between 3 to 5 years. You may want to replace your wireless router more often because wireless technology is evolving rapidly. A newer wireless router may mean a faster wireless network with more area coverage in a more secure environment.

   Never buy a gateway from your high speed Internet access provider. A gateway is a combination high-speed Internet access modem and wireless router. Many high-speed Internet access providers charge you a monthly charge for the privilege of having a wireless network in addition to renting the gateway. Most gateways provided by Internet access providers are of low quality. You can do much better with buying your own wireless router. Leading vendors for wireless routers are Cisco (previously know as Linksys and D-Link).
   Like any piece of electronic equipment, wireless routers will last longer if they are plugged into a surge protector. The surge protector should have a built-in protection of at least 1000 joules to be worthwhile. A better solution to protect your wireless router would be a UPS. This is a battery backup that constantly monitors your electrical level from your outlet. If there is a surge or spike in the voltage, devices plugged into the UPS are serviced by a steady voltage level from the battery until the voltage from the outlet stabilizes. Typically you buy a UPS and plug your computer and monitor into it. A model rated at 300 volt/amps should have enough outlets for you to plug your wireless router into it. (Please search my blog www.hthcatlanta.blogspot.com for a more extensive blog entry on UPS.)

   Each device you use to browse the network wirelessly has a limitation based on the wireless card built into that device. There are currently three main standards for wireless networks (801.B, 801.G and 801.N). Older devices will not be able to connect to a newer standard network. Newer devices can connect to older standards. Most wireless routers have the capability of broadcasting to all three wireless network standards, but may not be able to broadcast to all three standards simultaneously. Typically, a wireless router can be set up to broadcast to an 801.B and 801.G network simultaneously or to just an 801.N network singly. Based on the devices on your wireless network, you may have to dumb down your wireless router to 801.B/801.G so that all your devices can connect to the wireless network. New wireless cards can be purchased for windows computers that can upgrade that computers network access to 801.N, but it is rare to be able to upgrade older Apple computers with a newer standard wireless card.


   Any wireless network should be made secure by changing the administrator account password needed to access the wireless router setup program. Default passwords for wireless routers are easy to find out with a Google search or by downloading installation guides from vendor websites.

   To prevent unauthorized users from connecting to your wireless network, your network needs to have a password key. You can set this up when you configure your router for the first time. As wireless networks allow more and more area coverage, it is not unusual to see four or five neighbors' wireless networks from your home office. Amazingly, many of those networks can be connected to by you because they are unsecured by a key. If you have a label maker, create a label with the username and password pair to administrate the router along with the key and tape it to the wireless router. You will be glad you did. You can find out the key if you have the username and password pair, but if you can't log in to the administrator account, you will need to reset the router to the default factory settings and re-program it.

   You apply patches and updates to your computer and smart phones. You need to do the same to your wireless router. Typically those patches and updates are in the form of firmware. There is not an automated way to be informed of firmware updates. You must periodically check the vendor's website for firmware updates for your wireless router. In fact, the first thing I do when I install a router is to check for a firmware update before I configure the router. Follow the directions closely for the firmware update. Typically, you want to apply the update from a computer that is physically connected to the router (via an Ethernet cable), rather than attempting an update from a computer connected wirelessly. It is possible the update will wipe out all the original configuration settings, so be sure and document all settings before attempting the upgrade.

   Wireless networks in college dorms and off-campus college apartments are of poor quality and have poor support. If you buy a wireless printer for your college student, have the printer physically connect to the computer through a USB cable, rather than a wireless connection. Your college student will grumble about having to connect the USB printer cable to the laptop to print something but this beats not being able to print because you could not get the printer to work wirelessly or to work consistently on the wireless network. If you ignore my advice, remember that to program a wireless printer to work on a wireless network, you must install the printer software while connected to the specific wireless network that the printer will be connected to. So after you got everything unpacked and the bed made, remember you still have to install the wireless printer software.

Passwords You Need to Remember


Here is a list of passwords anyone working with your computer environment will need:

   The Administrator user account password for your Windows Operating System.
Many times the best way to solve a problem with a computer that will not boot is to boot the system in safe mode (a way of starting your computer in a diagnostic mode with a minimum amount of resources assigned to programs and devices). To log in to the computer in safe mode, it may be necessary to use the Administrator account.

   The username and password pair for a computer administrator enabled account for your Windows Operating System.
Administrator tasks such as installing a new printer or application program can only be installed by a computer administrator enabled account.

   The password for each of your email accounts.
In order to access your email, you must have the password associated with that email account.

   The Administrator username and password pair for your DSL or Cable Internet modem.
If your DSL or Cable Modem needs to be replaced, this password is necessary to re-establish your high speed Internet connection.

   The Administrator username and password pair for your wireless router.
Any changes to the router - such as a firmware upgrade (fixes to the software on the router that is supplied by the router manufacturer) – will require the username and password.

   The username and password pair associated with your anti-virus software.
Many times to de-install an anti-virus product so that it can be replaced, requires a valid username and password pair.
Carl Thorne High Tech House Calls Expert Computer Consulting 

Store Passwords Safely

Do you have so many usernames and passwords to remember that you write them down in a book?

   What happens if the book is lost or stolen?
   What happens when you need a password and the book is at home?

You can buy software to maintain your list of usernames and passwords. The two major players are:

   RoboForm (http://www.siber.com/)
   SplashID (http://www.splashdata.com/)

How about a free solution? In a previous blog, I talked about using DropBox (www.dropbox.com) to backup files on your computer. If you create a document in Word - one that lists your usernames and passwords, for example - you can store that file on the cloud using your DropBox account. The file can now be accessed from any computer, smartphone or tablet that can connect to the Internet and can read a Word document. Your files are encrypted on DropBox.  Only someone who knows your DropBox username and password can read this file.

How about a less complex solution for free? Everyone has a USB flash drive. If you don't, the price has dropped so much that you should go out and buy one anyway. You could copy your password list onto the USB flash drive and keep the flash drive with you. When you need to retrieve the password list, simply plug the flash drive into the USB port of your computer and access the file. If your device doesn’t have a USB port (i.e. an iPad or Smartphone), this solution won’t work for you.

If you find this solution still lacking in security because the data is not encrypted, you can encrypt the file. This article describes the software and the encryption process: http://ask-leo.com/how_can_i_keep_data_on_my_laptop_secure.html

If you are not interested in encrypting the file, but still want the file to be secure, be crafty in how you display the passwords. Think up a shorthand memory jogger than only you would know to store the password.

For example, if your password was a combination of your son’s name and birthday, you could write “firstborn bd”. You are limited only by your imagination for the shorthand notation for your password.

Carl Thorne High Tech House Calls Expert Computer Consulting