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The Only Spam Filter You Need is Free

You think you get spam?

Gmail's spam filter in action

My GMAIL Spam Folder

My email accounts have gotten over 10,000 pieces of spam in the past 30 days.

Unfortunately, most methods of spam protection fail.

  • The built-in spam protection that comes with the email accounts from your web hosting service marks too many legitimate messages as spam.  The spam algorithms, such as SpamAssassin,  are too aggressive in my experience. You’ll miss many messages you want to see if you rely on them.
  • The built-in spam protection of Outlook, the Microsoft email program, is both too weak and too aggressive. You’ll still see lots of sleazy messages in your in-box, and, in my experience, you’ll also have to read your spam folder to make sure real messages haven’t been filed there.

For many years, my solution was to rely on Spamarrest.  Spamarrest sends a challenge message to anyone who sends you mail, when that person’s email address isn’t in your list of contacts.  This approach was very effective.  I have received only a trickle of unwanted emails, most of those were from salespeople who manually responded to the challenge message and clicked to get their spam to me. I dealt with those exceptions by completely blocking that user or the whole offending domain.

Spamarrest is a cheap (about $50/year) paid service.  It lets you send and receive mail from a web page, too, so you can access your mail while traveling.

The downside of Spamarrest is that a fair percentage of real people either don’t see or don’t understand the challenge message that Spamarrest sends to them.  As a result, I have missed some business and personal messages, including some that were time-critical.  Still, Spamarrest has been the only effective spam fighter I’ve tried.

Until this month.

Over the summer I  tracked the spam-catching ability of the Gmail account I use to connect with Google services.  Though Gmail did not filter messages through Spamarrest, I never received any spam.  The messages in its spam folder were, indeed, spam.  All of them.  Google, alone, seems to be able to separate spam from wanted messages.

So, at the start of October I stopped Spamarrest from emptying my [email protected] and other email accounts.  Instead, I had Google connect to the accounts and get the messages in real time.  It’s worked.

I have received very  few spam messages.  When I have checked the spam folder, all the messages I’ve seen have looked sleazy. Better, no one has told me that they sent me a message that I didn’t see.

I’m sold. I’m recommending Gmail as a spam filter for your mail.  Get a Gmail account and have Gmail empty the mailboxes of your other email accounts.

Note: I am not recommending that you use an Gmail address as the published address for your personal or business life. Gmail is free, and Google has no obligation to you to keep that free service going. There are scary stories of people who relied on Google and Gmail, only to have Google suddenly block their accounts.  I do not want you to trust Google with anything that is critical to you.

Instead, use Gmail as an email concentrator.  Read your messages in Gmail online or else download them to your computer. You’ll like the spam protection.  And, if Google ever decides to stop Gmail or to ban you, you can still access your email through Spamarrest, Outlook, or whatever other method you’re using now.

Give Gmail a shot!

By |2012-10-27T14:52:14-07:00October 27th, 2012|Tips and Resources|2 Comments

iOS 6, Too Hot to Handle

Yesterday Apple unleashed a new version of the operating system that runs its iPhones, iPads, and probably iEverything.  I accepted the offer to download and install iOS6 on our household’s iDevices when I synched one of our iPhones yesterday morning.  I’d heard good things about the operating system’s new features, and, besides, Apple is fairly insistent that you upgrade when you can.  I didn’t make Apple nag me, I eagerly upgraded.

The OS looked good, but when we took our  iPhone 3gs’s outside of the house and tested the new mapping feature, the iPhones started running hot to the touch and losing battery life very quickly.

The news media has ignored the power story, instead reiterating how wonderful the iPhone 5 is and talking about the new features of iOS6. However, consumers like me have been screaming for help (or vengeance) on online forums and Tweets. A Google search for “iOS6 Battery Drain” shows plenty of anguish loose in the Apple orchard.

The loss of battery power is severe, maybe especially so in the older models like our 3gs.  A few hours without recharging and your phone is a lump of inert electronics and trim.

The Google search does turn up what the user community suspects are the problems.

  • Apparently the widely-disliked Apple map app is a power hog, in addition to its functional failings.  It, and other apps that use “Location Services,” do something wrong, like check-in with the mother ship too frequently. As a result the cell radio is active too much of the time.

How to fix the power drain:

  • Turn Location Services OFF for the new map app.  The setting is buried in the General, Privacy menu, but it’s a treasure worth hunting for. On my phone I went on a disabling spree, and I turned off location services for the map app, turned off Genius for Apps, and turned location-based iAds is OFF.  I also turned off “Use Cellular Data” for automatic downloads and iTunes Match.Yes, having a map not be able to tell where you are is stupid.  

But when we  turned off that location service and rebooted (because somewhere we read that the map app keeps the gps function going even after it is closed), our phones stopped being hot and battery life returned to pre-iOS6 levels.  We made our changes this morning, and my phone didn’t even want a mid-afternoon snack.

Now we’re enjoying iOS6 without having to keep our iPhones plugged into a charger.

Still, as a IT professional, I wonder all to hell and back how Apple could have put out another power-draining operating system release, this one caused by an Apple-made map app that is both inferior and faulty. Don’t they have pride, or at least a quality control department?

By |2012-09-21T19:41:00-07:00September 21st, 2012|Tips and Resources|0 Comments

What “Non-Professional” Photographs Can Do For Your Site

You don’t need professional formal photographs on your website. You know the type of picture I’m talking about:  the perfectly focused, perfectly lit staged shots that show off the military crease in the pants a model is wearing or depict a manicured office waiting for clients.

That type of professional picture has its place, and a couple of my clients use professional-photographer-created images very effectively.  But, clients on a budget that doesn’t include a photo session don’t need to worry that their site is going to suffer.

Photographs on your web pages should be engaging and tell a story.  That doesn’t mean that they have to be picture perfect.  Use the tricks of professional marketers and emphasize pretty women, cute kids, and adorable puppies if you want to amp up the effectiveness of your informal photos.

One of Sequel's Cow Palace fans

One of Sequel's People

For example, I love this picture taken of one our dog Sequel’s fans at this year at the Cow Palace show. The focus isn’t sharp and there’s too much going on the background.  But, I’d use it in a heartbeat to help tell the story of the crowd-pleasing day at a  dog show. (See more pics in Sequel’s People gallery online.)

San Francisco pro photographer, John Ater, has a two-sided business card.  One side displays a studio shot he spent all day perfecting for a major retailer’s billboard campaign.  The other side is an iPhone picture of people on a bus.  The home page of his website displays an informal shot of kids on the street.  His point is that many types of photographs can be compelling and technical perfection is rarely required.

Mark Rogers is a professional photographer who specializes in non-posed shots.  His forte is pets, but he shoots for businesses and even weddings.  It’s just that when Mark hires on as the wedding photographer, he’s clear that his love is for informal action shots and there are only so many staged “mother-in-law of the bride” wedding party photos he can handle.  He does great work capturing the personality of his subjects and feel of an event.

And, a feel for your business is exactly what you want to show on your web pages.

The best professional photographers — the ones whose work I like best — tell a visual story.  Their equipment, experience, and artistic skill give them an advantage, but the magic is in capturing of the moment, the composition of the scene.

So, take out your point-and-shoot camera or phone, and see what you can do for your website. Perhaps pictures you already have can work for your business!  (My favorite client photographer is estate planning attorney Julia Wald.  Every month she uses her vacation or around town shots for her newsletter.  Check out how she tied the idea of leaving a legacy through estate planning to her trip to Egypt and the legacy of the pyramids — lots of her clients write in with praise!)

Sure, if you’re busy or don’t have a feel for appropriate shots,  you can engage a professional photographer or even your webmaster to take some pictures for you.  But, you need to explain to them the story you want to tell. Talk about out what views, places, or events will tell your business’ story.  Experiment.  Have fun.  And, let me know what happens!

By |2012-04-24T07:23:38-07:00March 25th, 2012|Tips and Resources|0 Comments

Don’t Send Me This If You Want to Keep Me as a Customer!

My Shopper App's Automated Reponse to Automated acknowledgements can reassure clients that their message has been received and will be responded to when you’re back in the office.

Other automated messages, like the one above, convey disinterest and unhelpfulness.  Getting no response is better than getting a message like this.

Worse, this email was the only answer to my support request when I checked my mail the next day.  When I saw the message in my inbox I expected that it was going to be the actual answer to my problem.

Folks, don’t tell me that you’ll get back to me “at a later date”.  Geeze!  The next day after never is a “later date”.  If you have to, tell me something concrete yet far away like “within 10 working days”.  Or better yet, hire enough people to quickly respond to your clients (adding staff actually can increase your profits because like Costco and others you get more business;  read the research).

Moreover, telling me that I am one of many questions waiting around for an answer is not reassuring.  It doesn’t speak well about the quality of  your software, nor does it make me feel like a individual, valued customer!

I responded to this automated message with something like a “Huh? What does this mean?”  Miraculously enough, the reply-to address worked, and after an hour or so I received a real answer to my original question. They told me to do something on my iPhone that I don’t know how to do, but it least their real response gives me something to work on when I have the time.  I have no idea how long I would have waited for even this information if I hadn’t responded to the automated message.

This company fell victim to a common problem.  They saw an available technology (auto-response email messages) and used it.  They should have remembered this Ozdachism:  Just because a technology exists, it doesn’t mean you should use it!

By |2012-03-22T16:32:28-07:00March 22nd, 2012|Tips and Resources|0 Comments

How to Organize and Edit Your Photos Like a Professional

I have 53,990 digital photographs on my computer that I have taken for vacation, for business, and for just the hell of it.  Or, I have downloaded them from stock photo sites or other legal spots on the web. The shots are scattered in different folders throughout my disk drives.  Finding a specific image when I want to illustrate a web page or include a visual clue in an email has long been a challenge.

Over the years I have used a lot of different systems to store my photographs in places that I’d know to find at later.  I’ve created sub-folders with dates and topics and themes.  Unfortunately, these storage spaces are scattered over different drives in folders called My Pictures, Images, Old Images, and more.  In fact, most of my client folders themselves have dated and tagged sub-folders, and I cannot quickly explain the division among the top-level folders of “Clients”, “Clients Old”, and “Clients Traditional”.

Finding a photograph of a specific person or scene that I know I have taken can involve a lot of searching. Did I file it by the project or by the date? And, has it become “old” or “traditional”?

Then, when I find the photograph, it’s usually the wrong size. Or, maybe there’s a stray person in it who needs to be cropped out.

Until last November, my experience with photo indexing and retrieving tools had all been negative.  Sporadically I downloaded several trial products and freeware solutions, but nothing both located all of my pictures and let me find them easily.

Years ago I gave up on free or low-cost photo editing software.  Nothing let me do enough fixing of flawed pictures, and I broke down and bought the industry-standard — and expensive — Photoshop program.

I thought there was nothing in the market that was both effective and reasonably priced to help with day-to-day photographic workflow.

I am happy to report that I am now wrong both about organization software and editing programs.  I stumbled across Adobe Lightroom 3 last fall.  It was recommended by John Ater, the professional photographer whose GroupOn photo shoot session I enjoyed.  John said that he, a professional, used Lightroom to organize his photos and he said he did 95% of all of his photo correction using Lightroom alone.

Lightroom works for me, too.  I use it to store, find, resize, and edit most of pictures I touch in my personal and professional lives. It does a great job of finding images computer-wide by their file/sub-folder/folder name and it also searches successfully by the tags I have started to add to my graphics.  Once I have found the image I want, I can crop and fix the coloring or lighting.  Then I can change the image’s size, and post it to Facebook, Flickr, or save it in another folder for uploading to a site.

That’s all I need to do 95+% of the time.

Adobe released Lightroom 4 earlier this year. They’ve added features like better video handling, and they’ve cut the price in half.

Lightroom 4 now costs only $149, a fraction of the $699 for Photoshop. Plus, it does the organization of photo collections that Photoshop doesn’t do.

I am switching my recommendation for personal and web photographers.  Check out Lightroom.

I think Lightroom is the best reasonably priced program that will keep you on top of your pictures.  And, like most Adobe products, you can try it for free for 30 days.

By |2012-03-11T18:53:23-07:00March 11th, 2012|Tips and Resources|0 Comments
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