Managing your eMail


This post was created for the Cardiff U3A Computer Group meeting on the 23rd January 2020, but is possibly of more general interest.

Starting Point – the givens; what we’re trying to achieve

  • Having a manageable amount of email will make your life easier and better.
  • Focus on lifestyle habits rather than hard-and-fast rules.
  • Work out what you don’t want from your email, and then create habits that prevent it from happening.
  • Work out how you will handle email daily and if you can – weekly, and monthly, and decide whether you need a method to archive or store emails, or the information contained in them.
  • The importance of context. Use the appropriate tool wherever possible.
    • You need an immediate answer – use the phone, and leave a voice message if there’s no reply, possibly with a text message – “please get back to me after you’re listened to your voice mail” – as backup.
    • You need a record of the answer to a question – use email; and seek confirmation by email if the answer comes back a different way.
    • You need to just keep in touch, or chat – use text (SMS) messaging or WhatsApp (or any other – I don’t want to recommend one – chat platform).

Tools you can use (all the “F’s”)

Forever email – whatever your email address is now, seriously consider getting an email address that will last forever and not be dependent upon your currently favoured Internet Service Provider (ISP). So … Google’s gmail.com mail would be a good choice, as (if you’re wedded to one technology, say Apple) would be the email provided by that supplier, eg icloud.com. Here’s an article that lists the best email accounts currently. Personally, I wouldn’t go beyond the first three, and I would be tempted to say only the first two! So that would give you a choice of Google, Microsoft plus (in my case) Apple.
Fake email address – you don’t have to have just one email address. Create a duplicate for using when a retailer asks for your email address.
For you alone – don’t share an email address with a partner; have separate ones; you can always setup an email programme to read both email accounts on one device (eg a tablet). Keep your personal email address for yourself, and for life!
Feature-rich email program (a rather contrived “f” this one) – use the mailer that your operating system provides for you. On Windows and Apple this would be called Mail. On your phone or tablet it might be called Gmail or Outlook. There are others as well.
Forward your email to one place – if you’ve set up a new email address, you can forward mail from your old address to your new one and then apply filters (see below).
Filters – these are very useful and relatively easy to set up (or create). They allow rules to be followed and your email to be handled the way you want it to be handled and not just hang around clogging up your Inbox.
Flags (or labels) – you can put a marker against individual messages in some email programs. Perhaps a colour code to indicate their urgency or priority.
Folders – these are invaluable and when combined with a service such as the three (Google, Microsoft or Apple) I’ve mentioned, can ensure that you have an archive of messages that should last as long as you realistically would ever want them.

Techniques to keep your eMail under control

Aim for Only 20 Items in Your In-box
[Warning … Do as I say, not as I do!!!]. Twenty e-mails means that you can see your whole in-box without scrolling. As soon as you deal with a message, file or delete it. Only messages from the past week that you’ve yet to respond to belong in your in-box.
Stick to a Schedule (difficult but invaluable)
[Warning … Discipline needed] Even though I check my mail several times a day just in case something pops up which really needs to be urgently handled, I try to not process them right away. I try to only do that once a day, either at the beginning of the day or in the evenings. So I need to adhere to respecting the difference between checking and processing. So …
Delete ruthlessly, when you’re checking
Don’t reply immediately unless …
Can you write back in two minutes or less? If so, do it immediately, and delete the incoming email from your Inbox. Your reply together with the original message should be in your Sent mail.
If an e-mail requires more time, perhaps flag it so it can be handled during a scheduled window later that day or the next morning.
Important … if an email looks as though it can’t be answered easily – pick up the phone!
Sounds obvious but … you don’t need to read every single mail that comes in. Pick and select what’s relevant to you.
I subscribe to several newsletters – but I don’t read all the mails that are sent to me. I don’t delete them either, because I know they may have valuable information contained in them. Instead, I sometimes set up filters to automatically archive them to different folders (labels on Gmail), or move them to the appropriate folder manually. I only read them when I want to get more information on the topic.
Remember you can Unsubscribe from an email list – it’s not difficult and can reduce the amount of email you get quite considerably!
Turn off notifications that appear on your desktop. You really don’t need that kind of message appearing which drags you to your Inbox!!
Close email when you need to concentrate on something else. Close your email application or sign out of webmail when you need to do work that requires real focus for at least 30 minutes. When an email program is open, it’s tempting to check periodically (or obsessively) for new mail. Closing the program entirely (not hiding it)  removes the temptation.
Try to remember to remove old email messages from your Trash Can, unless you’ve set it to Auto-Delete after a week, or a month, or whatever.
Email programs and setting up accounts. This is much easier now than it used to be and instructions are usually provided for your email provider on their website, eg Google’s Gmail.

More on Folders and Filters, and Flags (Apple)

Folders (or labels, if you use gmail) are there to help you organise your mails.
Firstly, use a relevant naming system to what you’re doing.
Secondly, use hierarchy structure. First level folders are for the big categories, and second level folders are for sub-categories, and so on.
These work best when you’re using an email program such as Mail or Outlook.
Filters are tools that help you sort out the mail automatically when it gets into your mail. There are 2 basic things are required for a filter – (1) The term to look out for (2) Action to apply if the term is matched.  You can set up filters for different email addresses, subject titles, body text … whatever! Depending on what filter it is, the mail will be automatically sorted into a respective folder / archived, or moved to the Trash can.
Flags are ways of colour coding a message to give you an indication of how you might want to handle the message.

Watch out for Catalina!

I was asked last week about a message that had appeared on a Lightroom 4 users’ screen with this warning …

… scary eh!?

Well yes it is but if you’ve got a relatively new Mac you do have the choice NOW of making sure you have the latest version of software that will support older versions of Lightroom, and do an upgrade to Mojave (v.10.14) BEFORE Catalina (v.10.15) is released later this year – probably in October. That way you’ll be nearly up-to-date with your version of MacOS and that may be sufficient for you if you don’t feel the need to have the latest version of MacOS.

If you have Lightroom 6 installed (or even 3, 4 or 5), you may be getting the message above EVEN THOUGH it is a 64-bit app. This is because the Installer/Uninstaller and Activation code software is 32-bit. That means the software “should” continue to work, but you won’t be able to re-install it to a MacOS of Catalina (v.10.15), or later.

The only other alternative if you want to stick with Adobe Lightroom is to swallow hard and subscribe at £9.98pm to the Photography Plan of Adobe’s Creative Cloud programme. You do get Photoshop as well as what Adobe call Lightroom Classic, plus their in the cloud version of Lightroom which they (confusingly) call Lightroom!

Adobe detail the changes and implications in this blog post. Another post from Laura Shoe Training gives more information here.

UPDATE: I’ve just read this really useful and interesting article from the magazine MacWorld – I suggest you read it too – and I’ve found out that Microsoft 2011 for Mac and Picasa (amongst others on my iMac) will not work with Catalina. Whilst I’m not particularly concerned about losing either of these as there are alternatives I’m already using – such as (in the case of the former) Google Docs, Open Office, Libre Office or Apple’s Pages, Numbers or Keynote applications – it’s better to be prepared and to have made the decision to move before I have to jump! Also in the case of Picasa, that I haven’t got anything in the database that I haven’t catalogued elsewhere – I think that unlikely, but I ought to check!

I’ve also stumbled upon an entry in “About This Mac > System Report …” which you get to from the Apple Icon in the top-left corner of your desktop. Go to Software and if you’re running Mojave there’s an entry called Legacy Software. Look at that and you’ll be able to see quickly what software is unlikely to work in Catalina. If you’re running an earlier version of MacOS go to Software and click on Applications and look for non 64-bit applications (a column to the right of the window).

Other links worth following …
MacOS 64-bit – what it means to you
32-bit app compatibility for Macs with current Mojave operating system

PS I’m still running Mojave [16th April, 2020] on desktop and laptop.

GPS jamming exercises – Ofcom

Thought you might be interested in seeing this. Don’t rely on your GPS signal if you’re within 50 miles of Sennybridge at the beginning of April …
The Ministry of Defence conduct occasional tests on military systems which may result in some loss of service to civilian users of the Global Positioning System (GPS) including in-car navigation devices and networks which rely on GPS signals.
— Read on www.ofcom.org.uk/spectrum/information/gps-jamming-exercises

Is it time to move to more paid subscription services?

I have to admit, the events of the past few weeks have made me look much more seriously at paying more for the IT services that I’ve taken for free up until now. Of course they’ve never been free, I’ve had to put up with the adverts and the email messages I don’t really want – alerting me to this deal, or that deal, and I’ve willingly put up with that as a price worth paying for the service I’ve been receiving. But two events have changed my mind, and moreover I feel the IT world is actually changing slowly as a consequence of the mistakes (to be exceptionally generous) of Facebook and Google; and the decision of Apple to switch more attention to Services, targeting this as their  main income stream for the future, and not relying on Hardware alone.
So what were the earth-shaking events in the Harrison-IT-world? Well the first was Google’s announcement that having hidden the news of a potential security weakness in an API, for several months (presumably to secure their stock-market price at the time Facebook was struggling, and presumably also after ensuring that the potential breach was secured) they used this as an excuse to kill-off (sorry “sunset”) Google+ next August. Now this service was not the success Google hoped it to be, and most definitely has not generated the revenue they hoped it might, but for me, my family and for many communities (particularly of photographers – because of the close linkage to Google Photos) – it was a hugely valuable tool. Now, we have to look for another social media platform. It could be Google Photos – Google may have plans to “enhance” it to take on features from Google+, or it could be another platform, but it’s just a pain in the neck having to move off something we’re used to! Google have real history with “sunsetting” tools that people get used to using [Thanks to @MrSimonWood for this link.]
The second was Flickr’s announcement that they were going to limit their Free account to 1000 imagesexcluding those that were licensed under Creative Commons, which a lot of mine are. They are encouraging users to take out a Pro subscription to remove restrictions and allow more and larger images to be uploaded. This didn’t meet with the same “horror” feeling. I immediately felt that this was a decision that would secure the future long-term of the service under the new owners – SmugMug. [A feeling that I didn’t have when 500px made changes to their platform which led me to delete my account.] So I immediately subscribed and took advantage of the first-year discount price (still available for a few more days I believe).
So what am I saying. I’m saying that if there’s a service that I really want, and I really need some feeling that it’s going to be around for a while, I should pay for it. I wasn’t given that option by Google – shame on them; it appears I’ll never be given that opportunity by Facebook. Both of them are essentially marketing and advertising platforms. I don’t see either of them being able to develop a hybrid model as Flickr has been able to do.
This all makes Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography Plan and Microsofts’ Office 365 seem so much more sensible. I’ll continue with the former, but decline the latter as my roots are now firmly planted in the Apple world where I look to see how they will develop their Service offerings in Music, TV, Home and Car fields.
Interesting times.

Creating your own online magazine

I am a creature of routine. I used to listen to Today on Radio 4 when I got up in the morning; now because I can’t stand the egos being pushed into my ears, I have a much more peaceful and indeed useful start to the day – after I’ve scanned The Guardian (online), BBC News (online) and Wales Online websites, and checked my email and other social media such as Google+ (alas – soon to be no more), WhatsApp, Twitter and less frequently than I used to – Facebook.
I’ll start at the beginning and describe what I do to curate my interests, my daily internet workflow. The jumping-off point is to check my RSS Feeds using Feedly. What is an RSS Feed I hear some of you say? Well it’s a signal from a website that new content has been posted on a website. So if there are a number of sites that you are interested in, you can get an alert with an extract of content sent to you by what is called a RSS Feed, which you can then pick-up and read in full using a RSS Reader. Now the favoured Reader for a long-time was Reader (from Google) – but as is their wont, Google “sunsetted” it. That is they killed it off. Fortunately a really good alternative came to the rescue in Feedly. Every time I come across a website I want to follow, I add it to my Feedly and, as long as a RSS Feed can be setup for the site, place it in a category for the feed (eg photography, or IT) so that my stream of reading is organised to some level. I could stop there, after all I’ve got the link to the webpage, it’s stored in a category and I can go back and read it anytime I’m online. However, what if I just want to scan quickly the content, and go back to it later, or what if I want to read it online? That’s where Pocket comes in.
If I see an article in Feedly that I want to read later, or even archive, I add it to my Pocket, giving it some tags to help me find it later. I do both of these tasks on a smartphone, or tablet, it’s much easier than using a desktop/laptop as there are good apps which work together for both Feedly and Pocket. Once in Pocket, the article, stripped of everything that is irrelevant, can be read offline – once it’s sync’d the content from the web to your device – or alternatively you can click on a button to read the original article online.
But then occasionally, I come across some content that I want to share more widely – to the Thought grazing community for instance; and for this I use Flipboard which is a really easy way of creating an online magazine; made up of articles (perhaps with comments added) which you found interesting. From my Pocket app, I just click on the Share button and select <Share via …> and chose Flipboard. On Flipboard I’ve created a couple of “magazines”, so I chose which one I want to “publish” the article to, and perhaps write a comment about the article; and then Post it. That’s all there is to it, but what do you need to do to replicate my workflow and produce something like this …
View my Flipboard Magazine.

Curating the web
Step 1 – create a Feedly account, and download the app if you’re going to use a smartphone, or tablet
Step 2 – select websites you want to get an RSS feed from [see above, or read What is an RSS feed?]
Step 3 – check periodically to see what has “popped-up” in your feed reader.
Saving for another day, or for off-line reading (bookmarking+)
Step 1 – create a Pocket account, and download the app if you’re going to use a smartphone, or tablet
Step 2 – save to Pocket from your browser (perhaps using a browser extension), or from a sharing icon in Feedly
Step 3 – tag your articles, and read at your leisure, or when you want to
Creating a magazine to share with others
Step 1 – create a Flipboard account, and download the app if you’re going to use a smartphone, or tablet
Step 2 – create a Magazine within your Flipboard account, and decide whether to make it Private or Public
Step 3 – add articles to your magazine from your Pocket app (as described above) , or from your web browser
Good luck!

iPhone Battery Replacement

I was in conversation the other day with someone who was complaining about the short battery life of their iPhone. I remembered that I’d put an alert in my calendar for later this year to take my 6s, and Jenny’s SE down to the Apple Store to get a battery replacement under their “special offer” scheme.
This came about as a result of them changing the way the operating system (iOS) worked on older models – slowing them down – to retain battery life. This caused a bit of a stink at the time, and so Apple responded with a replacement programme that means a replacement battery would cost £25, as opposed to £79, through 2018.
Apple also issued an advisory note to tell users a little bit more about how batteries would cease to work at full performance in this note which also explained how you could manage performance – which is of course what they should have done before they implemented it in the background without telling anyone. This article tells you how you can monitor and manage your battery health.
So … if you have one of the affected models (iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus) you should consider taking advantage of the Battery Replacement Offer, but for a few people with a 6S, it could be a free replacement.
The Apple Store calls …

"Just google it …"

Something I’ve only just recently become aware of is that people don’t know the difference between Google and an internet browser. Now this is a spectacular success for Google (the company) and drives their revenues up a lot, but means that users are potentially missing out on a lot in terms of their internet experience so this short note attempts to address that balance, albeit in a very small way!

How did this come about? Well principally because Google introduced an app for the iPhone and other smartphones and tablets called (unsurprisingly) … Google. It presents in a nice easy to use interface a way of searching for information on the internet – that is how Google started after all, which is how they also managed to corner the term for searching the internet – “just google it”. [You don’t hear many people saying – “just bing it”, or “just yahoo! it” – in fact in the case of the latter they just gave up and decided to use the Google search engine and ditch their own one.] So … at a stroke, new users to digital devices thought that the way to connect to the internet was through their “Google” app.
No, no – there is another way that presents you with so many other possibilities and no, no – you don’t have to restrict yourself to using just Google as your search tool. [In an earlier post I described some experiments with using DuckDuckGo and other search engines and I will return to that subject at another time.] So … what might you use?
Well even using Google’s Chrome browser is better than using the Google app on your smartphone or tablet. It probably uses the same software  “under the hood” based on Google’s Open Source Chromium code base but it does offer the possibility of adding extensions, and allowing the use of alternative search engines.
But what else could you use? On my iOS (Apple mobile devices) I tend to use Apple’s Safari browser. On my desktop/laptop I tend to use Chrome, or Firefox (another Open Source project) from the Mozilla Foundation. Then there’s Microsoft’s Edge – supplied with Windows, or Opera (a lean,  clean browsing machine), or I could be really radical and use something like Brave (and I am) which doesn’t track my browsing history … but I’ll leave that for another day, and for another post.
For today, the message is simple … don’t use the Google app as your main internet browser, just use it if you want to for simple searches. Find a browser you like and use that … and maybe even choose which search engine to use, it doesn’t need to be Google – I’m using Chrome with DuckDuckGo as I write this. You won’t regret making a change to your internet browsing/searching experience – believe me!
 
 
 

I've now had an introduction to the SBOD

Now I’ve been uber-charitable about Apple and their MacOS, but yesterday and today I was introduced to the Spinning Beachball of Death which froze me out of doing anything on my iMac whilst I trawled the internet (on another machine) trying to find out what could be wrong.
I’d not left the machine on, in sleep mode, and yet it just crawled through boot and sign-in until it basically gave up the ghost when it got to the Desktop. What could it be?
Obviously it was probably a hardware problem … wasn’t it? Well a bit of Cmd + R work, running disk utility showed everything was in fine fettle, many re-boots later things seemed to be improving, but not all was right. What could it be? Try logging-in to another account on the same machine I thought. Well I had one, but it wasn’t an Admin account, but it was worth a try. This seemed to be much better so I was now thinking about Corruption of the User Profile and the need to Restore from a Time Machine backup … maybe. But then, out of the blue, all seemed to be well again … until this morning, when the SBOD returned.
This time I knew it was likely to be something to do with my User Profile, so I setup a new Admin account once I managed to get to the screen that allowed me to do that. Logged out, and then logged into the new account and, as I hoped, the login screamed through. I set up the machine and right at the end I was told that my Paragon NTFS for Mac (which allows me to read Windows files) needed to be updated as it was not optimal for my version of MacOS (High Sierra, 10.13.6). The penny dropped! This software wasn’t installed on my MacBook Pro. This piece of software was interfering with Finder on the iMac in some way to slow everything down. Quickly into System Preferences then, disable the NTFS for Mac driver, and re-boot. All seems to be well. Some hard lessons learnt and a lot of time wasted.
The lessons learnt?

  1. Have a spare Admin account on your machine so that you can check your user profile
  2. Disable, or Uninstall any software that you’re not using because inevitably it will go out of sync with something else
  3. Make sure that you know how to start your machine in a number of different ways to check for faults – I had to print out a cheat sheet to do this
  4. Make sure you have an up-to-date backup … just in case; I did, so that was my last option, and I’d have been OK … I think!

 

How much do you know about computer fraud?


Recently in a U3A meeting we discussed Computer Fraud. We often do, or so it seems. If it’s not fraud, it’s security online, or scams and what’s done with our data … but more about that later!!!

This short post is just to alert people to a simple, short quiz (or test) that has been produced in conjunction with the UK Government to help people recognise fraudulent activity.

Go to this website, satisfy yourself it’s genuine and is a government backed initiative. According to the Daily Mail – so it must be true – only 9% of people taking a test were able to accurately recognise all the scams and false messages, that despite a claim that 80% felt that they were able to recognise a fraudulent message.

Getting to grips with Google Photos

It really is rather surprising that given the widespread adoption and use of Google Photos, that I can not find a sensible, easy to read, introductory guide on how to use it. Perhaps it’s because it’s so easy to use? Well, it is – up to a point. That point being how it works alongside Google’s other cloud-based software, ie Google Drive and Backup and Sync, and the now defunct and disconnected Picasaweb – where your photos are still accessible in your Google Archive.
So this note is an attempt to set out what you can do with Google Photos using images obtained on your phone or tablet, or uploaded from your camera’s SD card. It will principally work from the principle that you’ve taken the photos, you want to upload them to your laptop or desktop (PC or Mac) and then want to work on them there using a web browser. That is not an essential workflow, you can do everything on your mobile device – if that’s where the photos are, even down to editing the photos using Google’s Snapseed application for iOS, or Android devices, it’s just the approach I’ve taken here. So if you want to do everything on your iPhone/iPad or Android device you can learn how to use Snapseed on iOS here, I believe the application is nearly the same on Android.
To avoid duplication of effort however, here is an article that you should read first. It covers nearly all the features of the device apps, and the web browser version, and in particular handles some of the editing functions available, but it doesn’t cover the intricacies and peculiarities of the Backup and Sync tool which replaced the Google Photos Desktop Uploader and Google Drive Client tools last year; it doesn’t cleanly explain the relationship between Google Photos and Google Drive, especially if you’ve chosen to create a Google Photos folder inside My Drive on Google Drive; and most significantly, it doesn’t cover the recent decision by Google to remove the Google Photos tab/icon from the Google Drive browser-window interface.
So … how do you get photos into Google Photos? This Google article tries to explain how you can use Backup and Sync to do that. How does Google Photos work with Google Drive? This Google article attempts to explain how. Confused, I thought you would be! This is what I’ve done, why I’ve done it and perhaps most importantly how I do it!

Sometimes, it’s best to work backwards from Google’s most recent announcement because in doing that you can be reasonably sure you’ll be moving in the right direction … forwards! So, their announcement that the Tab for Google Photos in Google Drive is about to disappear takes on a certain importance. Google is attempting to separate Photos from Drive and encourage users to deal with them separately. It’s a continuation of the separation which started when Photos was spun out of Google+. To continue to see your Google Photos in Google Drive, you need to create a Google Photos folder in My Drive.

This you do from the Gear wheel > Settings in your browser. After doing this you will get a notification that your photos will appear in due course in a Google Photos folder in Google Drive. You can tell they’re not the same when you look at the document I’ve already mentioned (above) – How Google Photos works with Google Drive.
So to me, it’s a no brainer. I won’t use the Google Drive interface as a means of working with my Google Photos. It’s just one level of complexity, and a level of potential duplication, removed. On my system therefore, the box (above) remains unchecked and I don’t have a Google Photos folder in My Drive, on Google Drive.

So how do I get my photos into Google Photos? From the iPhone/iPad (or any other smartphone that has the Google Photos app) it’s quite straightforward.
From the menu iconchoose Settings, enable Backup & sync and then make decisions as to the quality of the images, and when they’ll be backed up (uploaded). I have opted to use the free storage option, and for them only to be uploaded when connected to a WiFi network. The reasons for this are that my main photo software is K=Lightroom and I have a different method of working with that. What I want to use Google Photos for is essentially sharing albums with family and friends.
From my desktop/laptop it’s almost as straightforward. I connect the camera by USB cable to the computer, or insert the SD card from the camera into the SD card reader in the computer and I will be prompted with this message …
 
They should then get uploaded to Google Photos and (as I’ve chosen NOT to have a Google Photos folder in my Google Drive), the images can be found in my Google Drive as an entry under USB Devices & SD cards, which remains even after I’ve disconnected the SD card from the computer.
So there you have it. I’ve disentangled Google Photos from Google Drive; I’ve used Backup and sync to upload photos to Google Photos and I’m now ready to edit photos, create albums and share images through Google Photos.
[By the way in deleting (after copying to another location, just to be on the safe side) my Google Photos folders from my Google Drive, I not only reclaimed a heck of a lot of space, but I also removed a lot of duplicated photos.]
Finally … if you were a user of Picasa and Picasaweb, your photos are still accessible. What you can, and cannot do with them is recorded in this Google Help document. You can still download and use the PC or Mac Picasa desktop client for editing your pictures and if you want a simple photo-editing tool to get started with as long as you’re using a 32-bit operating system (ie not Apple’s Catalina or later), it’s a good place to start, but, it is no longer linked to Google Photos (or Picasaweb).  However, there is a workaround! When you save an image that you’ve edited in Picasa, you can save it to a folder that will then be automatically scanned by Backup and Sync and thus uploaded to Google Photos.
[NB Only those who attended my two sessions on Google Photos will actually understand why I included the really uninteresting image at the top of this post – I’ll leave the rest of you to ponder on what could possibly be the reason 🙂 ]