Here’s to the simple solutions

For the past couple of days, Mail had stopped working. It couldn’t connect to the email servers for some reasons and kept taking my accounts offline. I knew I hadn’t changed any of its settings. In all my years of using a Mac (since 1994), I’d never run into a situation where Mail settings had gotten corrupted, but I was now willing to look into it. I kept looking at all sorts of scenarios and guides online — things such as these (1, 2, 3, 4) — but nothing helped.

Then it occurred to me that three days ago, as I worked late, past midnight, I got the bright idea to switch the firewall level to High from Medium. “Oh, let’s get some extra protection, shall we?” My router is one of these gizmos handed to me by my ISP, it’s a ZTE that came with no printed documentation and barely any online documentation beyond “this is ON button, this is internet port”. So how was I to know that switching it to High would mean all traffic other than port 25 and 80 would be closed off? But that’s what happened. I did it, forgot about it, and when my email stopped working, it took me a couple of days to connect the dots.

I’m writing this down for you because it’s a great reminder that sometimes the simple solutions are the best (and possibly the only) ones. That, plus writing down changes to the internet configs, especially when I’m working late… Sure, I could have taken a dive into deep-level Mail documentation and email servers and the intricacies of setting up IMAP and opened up ports on my firewall and deleted my Mail settings and set up everything again, but all it took was me logging onto the ISP router and switching the firewall back down to Medium. Less than a minute vs. hours and hours of needless work.

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Good to know, right?

How To

Tips for handling telemarketers

Here’s what will work, because it’s backed by law.

Unwanted phone calls

What I did to cut down on my telemarketing phone calls was to register with the National Do Not Call Registry (it’s free). I screen all my phone calls as well, through Caller ID and voicemail. I let telemarketers and phone numbers that I don’t know go to voicemail, where I can delete useless messages promptly.

Unwanted mail

I also make it a practice not to respond to junk mail; I shred it when I get it. And I have also registered with the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service, which lets you tell marketers that you’d rather not get junk mail. I opted out of all unsolicited mail.

Here’s what may not work, but would be fun to do.

Got the advice quoted below via email. (Thanks Nicole!) Apparently Snopes has debunked it as ineffective. Still, I say it’s fun to mail the junk mail back to the companies that send it. If nothing else, it costs them extra, and higher cost is always a deterrent. Plus, no one can deny the satisfaction to be gotten from wasting telemarketers’ time the same way they waste yours — on the phone.

So, read through this stuff, but keep in mind it may not work as desired, other than allowing you to blow off a little steam and get a chuckle at the expense of the companies that waste your time.

💡 Three Little Words That Work

“The three little words are “Hold On, Please…”

Saying this, while putting down your phone and walking off (instead of hanging-up immediately) would make each telemarketing call so much more time-consuming that boiler room sales would grind to a halt.

Then when you eventually hear the phone company’s ‘beep-beep-beep’ tone, you know it’s time to go back and hang up your handset, which has efficiently completed its task.

These three little words will help eliminate telephone soliciting.”

💡 Do you ever get those annoying phone calls with no one on the other end?

“This is a telemarketing technique where a machine makes phone calls and records the time of day when a person answers the phone.

This technique is used to determine the best time of day for a ‘real’ sales person to call back and get someone at home.

What you can do after answering, if you notice there is no one there, is to immediately start hitting your # button on the phone, 6 or 7 times, as quickly as possible. This confuses the machine that dialed the call and it kicks your number out of their system. Gosh, what a shame not to have your name in their system any longer!”

💡 Junk Mail Help

“When you get ‘ads’ enclosed with your bills, return these ‘ads’ with your payment. Let the sending companies throw their own junk mail away.

When you get those ‘pre-approved’ letters in the mail for everything from credit cards to 2nd mortgages and similar type junk, do not throw away the return envelope. Most of these come with postage-paid return envelopes, right?

It costs them more than the regular 41 cents postage if and when they receive them back, but it costs them nothing if you throw the ads away! The postage was around 50 cents before the last increase and it is according to the weight. In that case, why not get rid of some of your other junk mail and put it in these cool, little, postage-paid return envelopes.”

💡 Extra

“Send an ad for your local chimney cleaner to American Express. Send a pizza coupon to Citibank. If you didn’t get anything else that day, then just send them their blank application back! If you want to remain anonymous, just make sure your name isn’t on anything you send them.

You can even send the envelope back empty if you want to just to keep them guessing! It still costs them 41 cents.

The banks and credit card companies are currently getting a lot of their own junk back in the mail, but folks, we need to OVERWHELM them. Let’s let them know what it’s like to get lots of junk mail, and best of all, they’re going to pay for it… Twice!

Let’s help keep our postal service busy since they are saying that e-mail is cutting into their business profits, and that’s why they need to increase postage costs again. You get the idea, right?”


USPS, how slow can you go?

I’ve written about the USPS before, and how slow and unreliable it can be. I want to give you an idea of how terrible their service can be with hard, indisputable evidence (see screen shots enclosed below).

A package was mailed to us from a vendor on 11/14/2007. It came from Capitol Heights, Maryland, and shipped to my city, which is North Bethesda, Maryland. [For those unaware of this, North Bethesda is not officially a city (yet); it’s a borough between Bethesda and Rockville. The Post Office treats it as Rockville but anything addressed to North Bethesda will get there just fine.] It arrived on 11/27/2007, approximately 13 days after it left Capitol Heights.

Here’s the kicker: not only are Capitol Heights and North Bethesda in the SAME state, but they’re only 25 miles apart. According to Google Maps, and taking the long way around DC by going on the Beltway (I-495), it’s approximately 25 miles from Capitol Heights to my place.

How in the world could it have taken them 13 days to deliver it? I don’t know how, but there it is. If you want to talk about incompetent service, I think this would be a good example. If they’d have walked the package to my place, it would have been faster. But no, they have fleets of cars, and automated systems, and all sorts of things to speed things up, and somehow they not only manage to miss deadlines for Priority Mail and lose packages on top of that, but they bungle up a 25-mile delivery so badly that it takes them 13 days to get the package to me.

Here’s the proof. The package was supposedly processed on 11/20/07 at their Capitol Heights facility.


It arrived at my place on 11/27/07.


USPS Track & Confirm (screen 2)

But they received the electronic shipping notice sometime on the 14th, according to the Additional Details page. That means they received the package itself either on that same date, or shortly afterwards. Whether the vendor took their time to get the package to the post office, or whether it sat at the post office between 11/14/07 and 11/20/07 is irrelevant to me. Even if I give the USPS the benefit of the doubt and say they started working on the package on 11/20/07, that’s still 7 days to transport it 25 miles. It’s still unacceptable.


USPS Track & Confirm (screen 3)

Any way you look at it, the USPS is a mess. If it takes them this long to process and transport what’s essentially a local package, I suppose I should be happy it “only” takes them 7 days to get a letter from me to my parents down in Florida. That could be called an improvement on their local delivery service.

To top it all off, they want to keep increasing the price of first-class postage and other services. I’d like to know what we’re getting in return, other than copious amounts of junk mail.


USPS Priority Mail is anything but that

USPSRecently mailed a package with Priority Mail, and it didn’t arrive at its destination on time. All the USPS website would tell me is that the shipping info was received. When I called them 7 days later — remember, Priority Mail is supposed to be a 2-3 day delivery — I told them I had a shipping/label number and asked what happened to my package. They couldn’t tell me anything. Their official answer was: “We can’t track Priority Mail packages.”

What’s the point of offering a tracking service if you can’t track it?

So I asked them, is there a way to start an investigation, and find out what happened to that package? What if it’s lost, what if someone stole it? What happens now? Their answer? “We can’t investigate Priority Mail packages. We can only investigate Express Mail packages.”

So I asked them what weight is carried with all of their “official” notices that say that tampering with or stealing postal mail is a theft, and is punishable under the law, etc. If there’s no way to tell where a Priority Mail package is, and they’re not willing or not able to start an investigation, does that mean people can go ahead and steal Priority Mail packages? No answer there.

There you have it. Not only is Priority Mail more costly than First Class Mail, not only does not take 2-3 days for mail to get there (it usually takes a week and the USPS only offers excuses when that happens), but the tracking service is non-existent, and you can’t find out what happened to your package if it never arrives at its destination.

What lesson are we to draw from this? My take on it is that Priority Mail is inferior to other shipping services out there. It may be cheaper than UPS or FedEx, but the packages can get stolen, they can get trampled on, they can be late or never arrive at their destination, and the USPS won’t care.

Updated 11/14/2007: I held a book drawing here, and one of my readers won it. After mailing the book via Priority Mail to him, the envelope got there damaged, opened and empty. We know we sealed it properly right at the post office and paid $8 to ship it. To add insult to injury, the message stamped on the envelope from the post office in his town that said the envelope was received opened and damaged. So not only did they damage my package and lose the book, but they lied about how the book got to be “lost” in the first place.

Updated 12/13/2007: The USPS has managed to top its previous performance. It has now taken them 13 days to deliver a local package to a distance of 25 miles.