Saturday, 14 May 2011

Deliver us from email

There's a bit of received wisdom that states that the three most stressful events in one's life are Funerals, Weddings and Moving House. Or it could be Childbirth, Divorce and Job Hunting. Or Alien Invasion In Your Home Town, Your Last Day As A Cop and Being Hunted For a Crime You Did Not Commit. I forget.

Be that as it may, I should like to suggest a fourth event: Setting Up Your Email.

I have wasted far too much of my precious time (that is to say, time that could have been better spent searching Google Images for the perfect children's character to vandalise with Photoshop) arsing about with email accounts, addresses, contacts, messages, servers and software than I care to imagine. But probably somewhere north of 48 hours. Not consecutive of course - spread out over the years. I'm not mental. But I'm getting there, thanks to the tyrannies of Outlook and its foul ilk.

Without going into painful detail, I shall shortly try to give you a flavour of my emailly adventures just this yesterday. Maybe you can spot where I'm going wrong. I suspect my major mistake is the foolish belief that I can do all my own technical support. You know, what with being a computery sort of person and everything. But let me tell you, having a 20-year old Computer Science Degree (oh yes) has in no way stood me in good stead by way of PC-literacy. Actually I probably mean laptop-literacy, which is at least pleasingly alliterative. As is notebook-knowhow.

As I say, a fading memory of predicate logic, how to wire Boolean logic chips and debugging Assembler code has proven to be no help whatsoever when it comes to attempting even the most basic of emailly manoeuvres. This shameful realisation on my part has come to me painfully and slowly. Yet somewhere deep within my brain there still lurks a tiny voice squeaking 'You can fix this. No need to ask anyone for help. Go on, just go into Tools and click on Accounts...'. Treacherous little bastard. But I shall heed its siren call no longer. I will stand up proudly and state 'I can no longer be trusted to set up my own email'. I think this is the first road to being put into a care home, but I no longer care.

So here's the situation. Without going into specific specifics, I find myself needing to set up a new email address with a new name. Those of you with whom I am a regular email correspondent will no doubt see the logic for this as I currently have two email addresses (work and home) and three actual names which could be classed as Boy Name, Girl Name 1, Girl Name 2. This is a source of confusion for others and of cringing awkwardness for me. For the sake of the illustration, let's say I started off with Fred, moved on to Velma and am now on Daphne. As you do.

Likewise, my current email stable consists of and But no This is a problem. It's a problem for my friends trying to keep track of what to call me today, a problem for me trying to remember what I'm called to which people, and a problem for prospective employers who take one look at my various email addresses and conclude that I am trying to run the most inept identity fraud since White Chicks.

So what's a confused person to do? I figured I'd just set up a new email address like in a couple of minutes and get on with my day. Fool, poor pitiful fool that I am. nowdefunctsuppler is - surprisingly - now defunct, long absorbed by maidenmedia, so I am forced to select as an address. Except that is not available. Some other Daphne has got there already, Oshtur take her. I am electronically advised that is available, as is and a variety of other substandard alternatives. But as this is neither Logan's Run nor The Prisoner, I refuse to be numbered.

What follows is a good hour or two of my life utterly wasted trying to think of another email address that is acceptable both to me for its originality and to maidenmedia for its availability. This process is further complicated by the maidenmedia webpage reserving any available names I come up with so that others cannot jump in and ninja it off me. All well and good, but if I find that Name1 is available, then go off and check the availability of Name2, I later find that Name1 is no longer available. Why? Because some other bugger has reserved it. Yes, me. I'm that other bugger, you stupid website. Let me have my name back, you slag!

Argle. Eventually I get a decent address - Lovely. All I need to do know is to tell the email software on my little laptop about this new address. What could be simpler? Almost anything this side of reciting the prime numbers of the Zeeman Series, it would seem.

Some technical background. My laptop uses Microsoft Outlook 2003 to handle email. My laptop is old. The software is old. I am old. We all go together quite well. Sometime during the first years of the 21st century I set up Microsoft Outlook 2003 to receive and send email on behalf of This is clearly before my mind had dropped below whatever the minimum threshold is for email maintenance, because I now find I am incapable of adding a new address. In terms of Marvel Superheroes: The Roleplaying Game, my Reason was Good (e.g. Captain America) but has since dropped to Typical (e.g. J. Jonah Jameson) or even Poor (e.g. Dazzler). If I were a GURPS character I would suspect I have picked up a punitive 20-point flaw: Catastrophic Irrational Inability (Sort Out Own Email).

Much of the remainder of yesterday is spent in increasingly frustrating - and frustrated - attempts to tell Outlook about It needs to know my incoming POP3 server name. My outgoing SMTP server name. The port number. Something about SSL-enablement (supersonic lemurs?). What my new personal data file will be. And on and on. I kind of give up trying to add Daphne in as an Outlook account. I can't see how to switch between her and Fred. You can on Outlook Express, but that's like a whole different sort of email software. It's just spelt quite similar, which is just cruel and perverse. The difference is something to do with identities and message images I think. Gaah.

So I set up a rule in Outlook to get all my Fred emails rerouted to Daphne, who I can only access via the maidenmedia mail webpage. This sort of works. Except that all the rerouted emails have been Forwarded, not Redirected, so they all look like they've come from Fred and not the original senders, which is less useful. Certainly a bit more of a pain for sucking up sender contacts, I suspect. Also, I'm not completely sold on using webmail anyway - the interface doesn't seem as user-friendly as Outlook and I don't know how to use it properly. And I'm not sure I can face laboriously building up all my old contacts on a webmail site, or even if that's possible.

I think a lot of the stress of changing emails comes from:
  • fear of losing old precious emails,
  • fear of losing old address/contacts,
  • fear of old friends sending something to your old email address and you not knowing about it.

Yeah, I know you can export address books and messages from one machine to another (barring stupid 'MAPI initialization' errors - a tale for another time), but can you somehow upload all that old gubbins to a webmail site if you switch to purely webmail use? Or would you have to settle for keeping some old email software on your machine anyway, as an old folks home for your venerable emails and contacts? I dunno. I have Reason Poor.

By late yesterday afternoon, I have set up a account. Which may be the same as an address. I can only use this address from the webmail page. It has no contacts and none of my old Fred emails. I have also added and removed a new Daphne account to Outlook several times in fear and ignorant, impotent confusion. I have set up a 'fredToDaphne' rule (note the correct Java-style naming convention), with all the Forwardy drawbacks that entails. I have even set up a account in a moment of desperation, only to find that the gmail web interface looks exactly the same as the maidenmedia one, and thus offering no advantage over that other.

Finally, in a rare moment of clarity and self-knowledge, I decide that I cannot solve this problem on my own, and am in serious danger of having some kind of mental breakdown over this trivial bloody issue. Other people, people who are not the brightest of sparks, manage to set up emails. Why can't I? Am I cursed? Is this a punishment for my hubris? Should I have stuck to the cosy sandpit of Outlook Express? I only installed Microsoft Office in the first place because I liked the cute little square program icons.

I eventually stop rocking back and forth on my seat like Arthur Fowler and the Christmas club money incident and do what I should have done straight away and take it to a professional. I shove the hibernating laptop in my bag and set off for the PC support shop on the high street. Halfway there I turn around and return to Pouch Central for the power lead, just in case. I catch the PC support men at lunch, but a woman who works there runs interference for me while they gobble their snacks. She glazes over somewhere in the middle of my email monologue and confesses that this is out of her league. The PC man appears from the back of the shop and I begin my saga again. This goes on for about 5 minutes. He then tells me that they are just too busy at the moment. I suggest that he could have told me that at the start. Heated words ensue. I leave the shop with a sharp turn of the heel and a 'Good Day to you sir' worthy of Jules and Sandy.

Back home, I fish out a business card from the mulch of the workdesk and call a nice man called Andy who has fixed our PC in the past. I sketch out the problem and he agrees to come over in a couple of days. Good. All I have to do now is resist the urge to try to fix it myself in the meantime. Curse my Y-chromosome. It twists and deceives like wily Loki. It then occurs to me that a helpful email to Andy might prepare him for the herculean feat of mailomancy that awaits him. This tech-heavy note stretches to several screens and reads like a cross between a technical requirements document and an identity crisis confession. God knows what he's made of it. I can't bear to check my inbox to see.

So while I wait for Andy to deliver me from email, I throw the floor open to you, my pouch perusing pals. I need your brains. Should I throw in the towel and bid farewell to Outlook in all its incarnations? Should I throw my lot in with webmail? If so, which? Why, why, why is this so stupidly hard? Learning to drive a new car is nothing compared to setting up email. I require Nintendo Wii levels of plug and play simplicity, not build your own particle accelerator complexity.

To recap:

  • I want more than one email address.
  • I want to switch easily between email addresses/account/identities.
  • I want the old email address to automatically forward all emails to the new one.
  • I want all my existing contacts available to my new email address.
  • I do not want to lose my old email messages, for old time's sake.
  • If I use webmail, I do not want to lose my messages after X months.
  • If I use webmail, I want to be able to set up extra folders and the like, as in Outlook.
  • I do not want to have to remember POP3 and SMTP names not never no more.
  • I want to get another laptop at some point in the not so distant future, and I do not want to go through a whole lot of setting up and migrating kerfuffle ever again.
So please, big wide world, lend me your brains. I am yours for the advisalment.

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