February 1, 1998

Geek News: E-mail makes everyone’s lives easier — right?

It’s funny how new technologies designed to make life easier create a whole new set of problems.

E-mail is one of these new technologies. I can’t imagine being without e-mail these days — it’s become virtually indispensable to me. When I’m away from my computer I feel really out of touch. I can make it for a day or so, but anything more than that and I start to get the shakes. What’s one to do on a business trip? Or, worse still, vacation?

Well, there are ways to keep in touch. All it takes is a little imagination and persistence, or perhaps just good planning.

This summer I spent 10 days at my uncle’s home in Austria. I had my laptop with me, so I was pretty sure I’d be able to retrieve my e-mail. My e-mail account is hosted by a Web-hosting company, not by a service provider or online service, so it doesn’t matter how I get onto the Internet, once I’m online I can retrieve my e-mail. I had it pretty well figured out. With a CompuServe account and a Microsoft Network account, both of which had numbers in Austria, and nearby in Germany, I’d get on somehow.

It wasn’t that simple.

For some reason my modem didn’t like the Austrian phone system; or maybe the Austrian phone system didn’t like my modem. Either way, I couldn’t get onto the Internet. This was a real problem, because I was in the middle of a book, and was using e-mail to communicate with my co-author and with editors.

So I drove to the post office in the small town a few miles from the village where I was staying. In much of the world, the organization that delivers the mail also runs the phone system,

and if you need to make a long-distance call — and don’t have a phone available at home — you go to the post office.

I thought that one of their phones might have a data port; maybe there was something wrong with the line to my uncle’s house, and my modem would be able to connect through the

post office phone. Well, it didn’t have a data port, and nobody at the post office had any idea why my modem wouldn’t work. But they did know one thing; there was a cafe, in a village in the next valley, that had an Internet connection.

Amazing, an Internet cafe, in the depths of the Tirol. That evening I drove 40 minutes to reach this little cafe, but was a little surprised at what I found.

It was just a normal Austrian cafe, very quiet — it was almost empty — and with no evidence of computers. Did I have the wrong place? No, it turned out they did have an Internet connection, from a computer in the back room. And the computer was almost never used, I was told.

Anyway, I’d found my Internet connection. I began by copying my e-mail program from the laptop to the cafe’s computer; I could have used the one they had on their system, but, well, it was all in German, and my German isn’t quite good enough to figure it all out. Finally, I could retrieve my e-mail, and respond, too.

So, every couple of days I’d drive down to the end of my uncle’s valley, along the Inn valley, then up the next valley to the Wald cafe, where I’d sit and drink a beer and read my e-mail.

There are easier ways to retrieve e-mail; in fact you don’t need to carry a laptop with you when you travel. There are lots of free e-mail systems that allow you to read your e-mail using a Web browser. All you need to do is sign up for a free account at the service’s Web site (see box), and you’ll be given an e-mail address.

Later, to read e-mail you’ve received, you connect to the service’s Web site, enter your account name and password, and see a list of your incoming messages. You then click on a link to read the message.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend these systems for day-to-day use. They tend to be slow to use and sometimes a little buggy. And they have message limits, so if you get a lot of e-mail you won’t be able to use them. I’ve used them so I could send anonymous messages to mailing lists, but I’d never use one for all my e-mail. But for a temporary system while traveling, one of these

services is perfect.

Here’s how I’d use such a system. First, I’d suspend my membership to mailing-list discussion groups. Some mailing lists generate scores of messages a day, so if I was checking my e-mail every two or three days it could go over the message limit.

Next, I’d forward my e-mail from my main account to the account I’d set up on the Web. Unfortunately this means that if your main account is with a major online service, you won’t be able to use this system, because they don’t allow you to automatically forward mail. (On the other hand, AOL is creating a Web interface for it’s e-mail system, so AOL subscribers will be able to access their mail without using two systems.)

Of course you always could tell people with whom you want to keep in touch that they should use your Web account when you are traveling.

Now, how do you get your e-mail while you are traveling?

All you need is a computer with Internet access, and there are lots of those around these

days. If you are visiting a client or branch office, you’ll probably be able to access the Web there. Some airports and hotels have Internet terminals these days, as do most libraries in North America, and many in other parts of the world.

However you get onto the Internet, simply start the Web browser, go to the mail service’s Web page, log in, and read your mail.

Peter Kent is the author of “Poor Richard’s Web Site: Geek-Free, Commonsense

Advice on Building a Low-Cost Web Site” (http://www.poorrichard.com/info/bcbr.htm). He can be contacted at [email protected]

It’s funny how new technologies designed to make life easier create a whole new set of problems.

E-mail is one of these new technologies. I can’t imagine being without e-mail these days — it’s become virtually indispensable to me. When I’m away from my computer I feel really out of touch. I can make it for a day or so, but anything more than that and I start to get the shakes. What’s one to do on a business trip? Or, worse still, vacation?

Well, there are ways to keep…

Christopher Wood
Christopher Wood is editor and publisher of BizWest, a regional business journal covering Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer and Weld counties. Wood co-founded the Northern Colorado Business Report in 1995 and served as publisher of the Boulder County Business Report until the two publications were merged to form BizWest in 2014. From 1990 to 1995, Wood served as reporter and managing editor of the Denver Business Journal. He is a Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder. He has won numerous awards from the Colorado Press Association, Society of Professional Journalists and the Alliance of Area Business Publishers.
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