Archive for the ‘lifehack’ Category

Stop Your Loose-leaf Junk Mail

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Often my tiny mailbox is jammed with loose-leaf advertising addressed to “RESIDENT,” obscuring or crumpling important mail.


Today I noticed a phone number for inquiries, then called the number and found that they accept requests to be removed from their mailing list!

If you live in the Bay Area and dislike this kind of generic, paper-intensive marketing, do what I did: Call the San Francisco Chronicle at 415.777.7979 and leave a message containing your address exactly as it appears on the mailing.

Thanks to a tip from Kip, I got rid of redplum, an additional source of coupons and junk mail. The publisher (Valassis / Advo) removed my address when I called their friendly consumer support line: 888-241-6760 (8:30am-5:00pm EST). You can also fill out a removal form online.

Valpak sent envelopes of coupons addressed to a “Smart shopper at” my address, so I called the number on the envelope (1.800.676.6878). There was no human, but I was able to get these removal instructions from their automated system:

“Mail your request along with your blue Valpak envelope to:
Valpak Direct Marketing Systems
8605 Largo Lakes Drive
Largo, FL 33773
Your name will remain on our suppression list for two years.”

(I pressed 1 for english, 3 for corporate, 1 for mailings, 2 for removal)

Avoid Lock-in: How to Get Your Own Email Address

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

These days, we use our email addresses as a form of online identity. You don’t want your digital identity to be owned by an ISP, DSL, or cable company whose service you might wish to cancel someday. Your email address goes away when you cancel, with forwarding usually not provided. I know people that are hopelessly stuck paying AOL or Comcast every month because of such lock-in. Silly as it may sound, it can be a big problem if you end up having a hundred online accounts tied to that email address.

The free email companies (gmail, yahoo, hotmail) are only somewhat better, in that they are at least not charging you for the lock-in experience. But the lock-in principle is the same. With every online account you tie to that email address, you lock-in even tighter to that address.

Here is how to own your own identity: Buy your own domain name, and pay for professional email hosting. Neither of those services is locked to your email address. Both are seamlessly replaceable if you find a better deal. Your email address remains your own.

Additional benefits are that you get to choose a personal or professional sounding email address, and you will never need to change your email address ever again.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Register your domain name (about $9/yr) at GoDaddy. (more on GoDaddy below)
  2. Sign up for “Individual Email at Your Domain” (about $11/mo) from LuxSci. Using this link gives you 5% off. (more on LuxSci below).
  3. Once you are logged into GoDaddy, choose “Domains->My Domain Names” from the menus.
  4. Now in the “Domain Control Center” select your domain.
  5. Click on “Total DNS Control and MX Records”.
  6. In the “MX (Mail Exchange)” section, add three new MX Records (delete any pre-existing MX Records). Your MX records should correspond to the instructions in the setup message you get from LuxSci, and may look something like this:
    Priority Host Goes To
    15       @
    25       @
    35       @


  7. You are done! Test your new email, both sending and receiving. Be aware that it can take anywhere from 0-3 days for your new DNS changes to fully propagate through the net (this is a normal property of how DNS works).

I have been using godaddy for the past two years, and have no affiliation with the company. It is mass-consumer oriented, so you have to be careful to avoid buying many of the unnecessary extras they are pushing. If you can live with that, you will find a good value and full-featured domain management tools. I have also dealt with their customer service twice, and without any issue.

Here is what you can expect (based on my experience):

  • ~$9.20 for a .com domain, plus ~$7 more for private registration, which I added.
  • Complete control of your DNS (in this case we need the MX control)
  • No hassles transferring domains in or out. (I’ve tested both).

I have been using LuxSci for two years. I provide a coupon code (BUNGEE) for a referral program that gives you a 5% discount and me a 5% commission. However, be sure that if I ever stop using LuxSci as my email hosting provider, I will immediately stop recommending them in this way.

Note on Both GoDaddy and LuxSci: Each of the two companies will actually provide both domain registration and email. Not surprisingly, each of them only does one service best, so I can’t recommend either as a one-stop-shop. Below are details of how each company offers the corresponding service.

GoDaddy does offer an inexpensive email service, but since GoDaddy’s email does not include IMAP, I chose LuxSci instead. IMAP is the full-featured mail synchronization protocol that lets me keep desktop, and mobile, and web mail readers, all in sync. POP is a half-baked protocol, but often offered because its much cheaper to provide that IMAP. Life is too short to waste time with POP.

LuxSci offers a (resold) domain registration service. From what I can see, it is more expensive and less full-featured than registering at GoDaddy. In theory, you could save a step and register your domain at Luxsci, but I have not used their service and cannot make that recommendation. Share your experience if you do.

Tag Cloud Name Badge

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Friday’s holiday event at hatfactory had a great crowd. The coworking space tends to attract a really great mix of positive energy geeks, as well as alternative living, transportation, and media hackers.

I was delighted to run into my favorite think-tank couple, Linda and Erick Von Schweber. I was even more delighted to see that Erick was donning a tag-cloud name badge illustrating his various interests “for the month”.


Apparently Erick is not alone, he pointed me to “Daniel Steinbock, a PhD student at Stanford, who independently began producing and wearing a tag cloud tag, or cloud tag for short.”

I think its a brilliant idea to help people connect a little faster at gatherings. Now if only we could have our digital meta-data broadcast locally over bluetooth. Then we could get little software filters that help us automatically match interests with other nearby people. The system could apply a small voltage to give us a tingly feeling whenever someone interesting comes near… heyyyyy… wait a minute…

Inbox Address Book

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

You can easily spot an Inbox Address Book user.

First, her email message subjects all begin with “Re:”

Then, look beneath the message she sent you. You’ll find something unrelated that you sent her months ago, now quoted back to you.

I am thinking about the emergent phenomenon I call the “Inbox Address Book.” Traditionally, people kept a paper or electronic list of friends and their email addresses. The Inbox Address Book is more grass roots, and has some interesting properties.

The Inbox Address Book user never creates a new message with a fresh subject. Everything is a “reply” to the last thing you sent him. When the Inbox Address Book user wants to email you… well, hopefully you’ve recently emailed him.

Only the most sophisticated IAB user will change the subject line. For example, “Re: Conference in Las Vegas” changes to “Re: cristiano ronaldo”. I always appreciate and enjoy this phenomenon. Notice how the meaning of “Re:” is accidentally morphed from “Reply” to “Regarding” in this type of modification. It happens so easily because both words are abbreviated “Re” and both have to do with correspondence.

I don’t have statistics, but a good many humans I know make use of the Inbox Address Book.

I am curious: does the Inbox Address Book user more frequently email those who have recently emailed him? Or, is the impulse to correspond generated without influence from the current contests of his inbox?

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Working for Rojo has been an excellent experience for me. In my time there, I have architected and built massive news aggregation systems, feed readers, AJAX components, and social networks. I also lovingly crafted large-scale, distributed data designs for these systems. I have learned a lot from all of the talented people that I worked with.

Recently I put in my two-weeks notice and finished up my work at Rojo. After two Web-2.0-paced years of cranking out a personalized, relevant news system, I’m looking forward to exploring some new challenges. Next, I will be going back into independent software consulting. I am a get-anything-done generalist of course, but I will be specializing in web 2.0 architecture, data design, and scalability.

Unnecessary Instructions

Friday, June 9th, 2006

Are you like me?

Have you figured out that after you hear the person you’ve called say, “I can’t answer the phone right now…” that little beep signifies your big chance to leave a message?

Does it displease you that an icy-cold computer-woman* takes up 50 seconds of your life explaining how to leave a voicemail:

To leave a voice message, press 1, or just wait for the tone. To send a numeric page, press 2 now. [long torturous pause] At the tone, please record your voice message. When you are finished recording, you may hang up or press 1 for more options. [another fake-out pause]

Since I wouldn’t want anyone calling me to waste time hearing those unnecessary instructions, I’ve done my own small part to disable them.

Here’s how you can too: (Sprint PCS customers)

Press and hold “1” to get into voicemail. Once you’re at the “main menu”, press the following digits slowly and sequentially:

3 3 1 3 2 *

It is best if you use the above sequence as a menu guide, listening at each step for any changes that may have occurred in the menu system since this post was written.

I would love to see comments shared by anyone who figures out how to disable outgoing voicemail instructions in other networks besides Sprint. Since we’re going to have robots milling about everywhere, let’s at least have them be subtle.

*No offense meant if you happen to be the voice actor who recorded those instructions.