Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Electronic Mail Etiquette

© 1995, 2011, Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

I got my first email account last century, in 1988, which in internet time is a very long time ago. This was in the days before domain names—you know, those things like RexJaeschke.com, WhiteHouse.org, and number10.gov.uk—and email addresses were often quite long and contained multiple ! characters (called bangs). Since then, I have relied heavily on email for both personal and business use. In fact, today, it's my primary means of communication (that is, apart from talking to myself and my imaginary friends). The main reasons for this are that I communicate across (sometimes many) time zones, I often transmit text that is to be reviewed without requiring live discussion, I distribute travel diaries and personal essays, and I enjoy writing and reading good writing.

As I live by email, it is easy to assume that most other people do too, when—believe it or not—there are people who only use it on weekends—or Heaven Forbid!—on a monthly or even less-frequent basis. [To the latter, as politely as possible, "I suggest that you check your email as often as you check your postal mailbox. Otherwise, don't bother giving out your email address."]

In this essay, I share with you a few of my pet peeves and observations about people who use email. I also include an email-related paper I wrote some years ago, but which is still relevant today.

A Good Subject is Worth a Hundred Words

Apparently, many people aren't able to come up with an accurate, succinct phrase to describe the purpose of their message. Let's call this the message subject.

Now and again I receive mail with an empty subject line or for which the sender's mailer has added their language's equivalent of the text "no subject". As one of the first things one sees when creating a new message is the subject line, I have never understood how people can miss this. That said, these mails usually come from dear friends who are not especially computer-literate, so I give them credit for trying. I've also made suggestions to them over time as to how they might reduce the chance of their mail to me ending up in my spam folder and being at risk of being deleted without being read.

Every so often, I get mail from someone I know, but for which the subject suggests one thing, yet the message actually contains nothing whatsoever about that topic. What they have done presumably, is gone to their trash can of deleted messages, found one I sent them back when Adam was a boy [as in Adam and Eve], and "replied" to that, thereby incorporating not only my return address, but also that old subject line, which they don't bother changing. Perhaps they are lazy. More likely, they haven't set up an address book with my address in it, or their address book is so poorly organized that they can't find me. [Hmm, now how did I file Rex's name: Rex Jaeschke; Jaeschke, Rex; MyVeryBestFriend; WhatsHisFace, or The Devil Incarnate?]

Many of us who live by email place messages we've received into folders, which we often sort in subject order. This allows us to see all the messages about that particular subject. Of course, that only works when the message really is about that subject.

There are Good Reasons for Having a CC List

In days of old, when knights were bold, before word processing was invented, people actually wrote letters on typewriters (and some still do, including some well-known authors). In the case of business correspondence, they often noted—using CC—after their signature that a carbon copy of the letter was to be sent to one or more named people. Given the utility of this, it is no wonder that the exact same approach can be used in email. In fact, CC has become a verb.

To be sure, one can overdo the CC thing. Do all 27 people in your department really need to see this poorly written and entirely unnecessary observation that you made at this morning's staff meeting? [In fact, does anyone need to see it—ever?]

Say you are working on a project with another person, and you know that a third person is also interested in that project. You address mail to Person 1, and you CC Person 2. This suggests to both that the main recipient of the message—and most importantly, the one who is expected to reply, if a reply is needed—is Person 1, and that Person 2 likely is interested in the subject, but is somewhat peripheral to the activity. When Person 1 sends a reply, she should note whether anyone was shown on the CC list of the original posting, and if there were and they should receive her reply, she should chose Reply-All instead of simply Reply. Unfortunately, I get way too many replies from people who can't seem to understand that. As such, when they send their reply to me only, I then have to forward it along to the CC list I had expected them to CC. Sacré bleu!

There are Good Reasons for Having a BCC List

Just as letters might contain a CC, they can also contain a blind carbon copy (BCC). So, while any recipient will see the name of the primary receiver and all the CC'd people, none will see if there were any BCC'd recipients. And any recipient who does not see their name as primary or on the CC'd list knows they were BCC'd, but they don't know who else might have been as well. [Like CC, BCC is now a verb.]

Always assume that any message you receive was BCC'd by the sender to your local newspaper editor, your worst enemy, your parish priest, your wife and your mistress!

Even if you don't use BCC directly, you probably forward a copy of mail you've sent earlier, to others at a later time, which is simply a delayed BCC.

People with Lives Don't Need Extra Mail

It's an old joke that "If I didn't have bad luck, I'd have no luck at all!" Sadly, the email equivalent might well be, "If I didn't get spam or unnecessary CCs/BCCs, I'd get no mail at all!" I hope you don't suffer from that situation. As for me, I'd be quite happy to get fewer messages, especially those informing me I've won a lottery without even having bought a ticket, and those promising to enlarge certain of my body parts.

Regarding spam, I must say that my mail program's spam filter does an excellent job of putting true spam into a separate spam folder. Unfortunately, when I'm using mail on my laptop, the spam folder has often scrolled off the (smaller) screen such that I don't see that it has anything in it. As a result, some legitimate and important mail that was inadvertently filed there by my mail program, sits there for hours if not days before I discover it.

If You Want Me to Read It, Make it Readable

One can argue that if it doesn't fit on a displayable screen, it doesn't exist. That is, don't put really important stuff later on because many readers don't get that far or pay less attention as they go. Instead, summarize the purpose of your mail in the opening paragraph, so the reader knows what it's all about and whether or not they should spend their precious time reading further.

Beware reading something that so annoys you that you just have to respond immediately, and without censorship. By all means write a reply, but sleep on it a night or two before you send it. Hurried and/or emotional replies quite often are so poorly organized that they have the opposite effect to that the author desired.

Spelling and Grammar Do Count

Pretty much any mail program these days has some sort of spelling checker, and some might also check grammar. If you have such a facility, please use it. If you are too lazy to use correct spelling and capitalization, then I expect you are also too lazy to manage well the project you are proposing to me in your email. I "see" you as you present yourself!

Resist the Temptation to Share

The Forward button on mail programs should charge your bank account each time you press it. At least that way, a lot less mail would probably get forwarded.

The worst example I have of forwarded mail is that of truly stupid jokes. And the really sad aspect of this is that these are often the only communications I ever get from some people. That is, they never have anything sensible to say or share. Clearly they have no life!

Group Mailings of Personal Stuff

At the end of each year, I write a 4-page review of that year, which I circulate to numerous friends around the world. However, although it is tempting to send it to all of them in one big receiver or CC list, that is way too impersonal. Instead, I take the extra time to send it to each person individually, which also allows me to add something personal as well. I can respond to their news if they have done likewise with their own report.

It is my general policy to delete, possibly without even reading, impersonal "Dear Friend" mailings, even if they do come from friends or acquaintances.

My one exception to this rule is my travel diaries. I do distribute these to all recipients in one big (anonymous) list; that is, each recipient gets exactly the same message. In this case, no personalized message is necessary. However, I address the mail to myself and add all the other names using BCC, not CC, an important distinction. As such, none of the recipients knows about the others and if any of them replies, it comes to me only, not to all recipients like it would if I'd put them on a CC list. That is, in this case, Reply-All acts just like Reply.

Whether you send customized individual messages or you send group mailings, understand a potential problem of assuming these people actually want to receive your message at all. The only way for them to get off your list is for them to ask you to remove them, and that might be embarrassing to either or both of you. In my case, each year, I go through my mailing lists and weed out the ones for people from whom I have had no meaningful communications in the previous year or two.

Identifying Yourself

More than a few email senders have email addresses that do not contain anything resembling their real names. (What are they hiding? Are they insecure?) Most mailers have a way to add your real name as well, and if you do that, when mail from you arrives in my in-box, I can tell straightaway who it's from.


Like doing any other task well, being a good email citizen requires a dose of knowledge, some forethought, and more than a little discipline. In this on-line age, your main—and possibly only—communication with many people might be your writing, so make the effort to create a positive picture. And, for Heaven's sake, please think twice before you press Send or Forward. Now I did ask nicely.


Electronic Mail – The New Form of (Mis)Communication

[In 1995, I took an entry-level university course in English Composition. It had an accelerated schedule taking four weekends instead of 16 weeks. The final project for each student involved researching and writing a paper on a topic of their choice. Mine was on email. Although this paper is dated, it still makes sense in today's context when you include instant messaging and text messaging as well. I've dusted it off and I now present it here.]

The decline in the art of writing began in earnest with the introduction of the telephone. After all, writing a letter takes time and who has that anymore? And as the need for writing has decreased, so too has the emphasis to teach it. It's no wonder then that today the level of business English in the United States is 6th grade!

It is interesting to note that what one technology pushed far into the background, another technology now demands; to communicate effectively by electronic mail (email), one must be able to write well. And given the rapid growth in the use of email, there are large numbers of adults communicating using, at best, 6th-grade English, providing a lot of opportunities for miscommunication. So much so, that a whole syllabary has been invented to help writers and readers of email understand the real tone and meaning of an electronically transmitted message. These symbols are called emoticons, a contraction for emotional icons. Emoticons "are symbols created by arranging characters into a meaningful picture. Often they must be read sideways to be understood. For example, here is the most common type of emoticon, the smiley face or smiley :-), which can be seen best by tilting your head to the left 90 degrees" (Rose 12).

For a detailed description and discussion of emoticons, click here.

Another device used in email is the acronym. While this device certainly can save typing, it has become an integral part of the language of cyberspeak. The following table contains a sampling:






Basis in fact


On the other hand


By the way


Pain in the a*s


Frequently asked question(s)


Point of view


Face to face


Real life


For what it's worth


Rolling on the floor, laughing


For your information


Real soon now


In my humble opinion


Read the f**king manual


In my not-so-humble opinion


S**t out of luck


In my opinion


Thanks in advance


In other words


Tongue in cheek


No basis in fact


What the f**k!


No f**king way


What the heck!


In terms of interaction, writing is a passive activity. It usually involves thought and planning, and we tend to pay more attention to grammar and correctness. We can also produce and review several drafts if we wish. On the other hand, speaking is interactive and, depending on the number of speakers involved, may be one- or many-sided. The agenda is fluid, we are much more susceptible to emotional impact, and we pay far less attention to grammar and correctness. And in cases where we can see the speaker, we often glean a significant part of the message from non-verbal clues such as facial expressions and gestures.

Email is a hybrid form of communication, having aspects of both writing and speaking. At best, email is semi-interactive. Some electronic forums require participants to be "on-line" simultaneously. Their dialogue is interactive, however, they cannot interrupt each other; their interactions are electronically synchronized. Like speaking, emotions can easily have a significant impact when writing, to the point when a considerable amount of the dialogue is accusatory or disrespectful in nature. This is known as flaming. Flaming "is where people impulsively react to a message and send uncensored, emotionally laden and often derogatory messages—a practice that is almost nonexistent in paper writing" (Kelley quoted in Safire 14). Responses are often spontaneous, impulsive, and incautious.

Since the exchange is solely via the written word, emoticons and acronyms are needed to communicate emphasis and tone. For example, writing words in capital letters is the equivalent to shouting them. Hawisher and Moran wrote, "In writing to a screen, writers may at times lose the sense of an audience, become self-absorbed, and lose the constraints and inhibitions that the imagined audience provides. What would be censored in face-to-face confrontation or in a paper-mail letter may not be censored on email" (631).

A considerable amount of email is composed "off-line". In theory, this provides the respondent an opportunity to read a message carefully before replying. However, the ease and speed with which we can originate and respond to email is an important factor. Hawisher and Moran suggest that "While it is possible to reread a message many times the medium itself does not encourage much rereading and reflection before responding.

Further, if the original response is put off, the original email message may be superseded by a new one, In general, originators of email seem to demand a rapid response. "Communicating on-line involves a minor but real personal risk, and a response—any response—is generally interpreted as a success while silence means failure" (Feenberg 23–24).

There is conjecture that the electronic medium makes screen-text more difficult to read than print-text. Printed matter uses typographic aids and is organized side-by-side in pages. On the other hand, most email consists of loosely formatted text in one typeface, written on a continuous scroll. According to Hawisher and Moran, "Our own experience suggests too that readers of email messages have difficulty in sorting out the salient from the less salient elements of a message" (630). How best to organize an email message? Put the important bits at the front? At the very end? Try to pick a title that adequately describes all main points? These important questions have yet to be answered.

Email writing style can vary widely, even depending on the sender's profession. For example, some scientific users dispense with uppercase letters completely; changing case slows down typing. They simply view email as a communications tool and use it in a clinical way, much as they would a calculator. People from other professions often use a more friendly protocol involving polite introductions and elaborate signatures containing cute pictures.

In Shea's "Core Rules of Netiquette", she emphasizes the importance of good writing: "Networks let you reach out to people. And none of them can see you. You won't be judged by the color of your skin, eyes, or hair, your weight, your age, or your clothing. You will, however, be judged by the quality of your writing ... So spelling and grammar count."

Email is but one part of the electronic communication revolution. Another part is multimedia, which involves the use of film, video, animation, and sound. The current craze in this area is the obtaining of information from the World Wide Web (The Web), a set of repositories of information providing everything from a visual tour of the Whitehouse to ordering from a clothing catalog. "Considering the sorry state of literacy, there's real danger in even a partial abandonment of narrative forms and rigorous modes of though associated with logical arguments, where A leads to B.

Multimedia's forte is not reason, but hot emotional impact—the same ingredients that make TV news compelling yet less filling. Will the level of discourse in this country, already fuzzied up by television, sink to that of videogames? Or will the proliferation of information and new techniques to impart it initiate a new Renaissance?" (Levy 25).

Email and its electronic siblings are ushering in a new age of communication, around the block, across the country, and throughout the world. Like all technologies, the impact, both positive and negative, will be up to the individual users. At least they are getting more people to communicate and more often as well. And without communication, there can be little progress, in any civilized sense. :-)

List of Cited Works

Feenberg, Andrew. The Written World. Mindweave: Communications, Computers, and Distance Education. New York: Permagon, 1989.

Hawisher, Gail E. and Charles Moran. "Electronic Mail and The Writing Instructor." College English Oct. 1993:55.

Levy, Steven. "TechnoMania." Newsweek. Feb. 27. 1995.

Rose, Donald. Minding Your CyberManners on the Internet. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 1994.

Safire, William. "Safire on Language." The New York Times Magazine. 19 Jun. 1994.

Shea, Virginia. Netiquette. San Francisco: Albion Books, 1994.

Technology, Unplugged – Part 1

© 2010 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

I've been involved in the computing industry for 36 years. As a result, more than a few people who know that assume I'm a gadget guy who has the newest technology. And while I do like to play with electronic toys, I have shown great restraint in not rushing in to new technologies. In fact, I'm very often a latecomer, preferring to wait until a fad shows signs of lasting, and if so, to see if I can justify making the move at all; and that justification often has little to do with price. The question I ask is, "Given my situation, does it make sense?" [I have often said, "This is America. We do things because we can, not because it makes sense! Here, we spell need 'w-a-n-t'."]

In recent years, it seemed to me that everyday life was getting way too complicated. However, on closer inspection, I decided that the problems were pretty much the same, yet the tools available to deal with them were numerous and complicated. Now that every gadget has a computer chip onboard, it is capable of being programmed, and, of course, every toy has a different interface to learn. For example, a typical household has a TV, a CD/DVD player, an audio receiver, and a Cable TV box, all with their own remote controls. You need a coffee table just for the controllers! Of course, there are supposedly universal controllers, but they don't subsume completely all the functionality of the individual controllers they are intended to replace. [For many years, I've had a theory that I adapted from my buddy Al (Einstein, that is): "Problems are neither created nor destroyed; they are merely transformed." And technology seems to bear that out. Each new solution we invent seems to create a completely new set of problems.]

A watershed moment came earlier this year when I started evaluating my whole lifestyle. Just what did I really need to live comfortably, what could I do with the extra time I'd have if I gave up certain "necessary pleasures", and just how much money was I spending on those pleasures anyway? As a result, I set about simplifying things. It's an on-going experiment that I'm refining as I go.

In the late 18th Century, an Englishman called Ned Ludd supposedly broke some manufacturing equipment in a factory. His actions were inspirational to those whose livelihoods were threatened by the Industrial Revolution. Those Luddites started a social revolution that opposed modernization because of its supposed negative impact on society. Now I'm no Luddite, and I don't own a buggy whip either; however, on some issues, one simply has to move with the times or be left behind. My moves just happen to be deliberate and slower.

By the way, it's been 15 years since I've worn a watch. One day, the band on my $10 watch broke, and as it was built-in to the watch, it couldn't be replaced. Then after carrying it around in my pocket for several months, I stopped taking it at all. I've found that people will tell you if you are late, and that when asked the time/date, "October" or "autumn" often are adequate replies.

The purpose of this essay is to tell you how I have dealt or am dealing with technology. I have no wish to be a missionary for any particular electronic faith. Make up your own mind, but beware of snobs and zealots.

Mr. Watson. Come Here. I need you.

Borrowing from Wikipedia, this "first demonstration of electronic transmission of speech by Alexander Graham Bell" ushered in a completely new era of communications, and one that—to my way of thinking—now has way too many options, most of which are solutions looking for problems. If you've tried to compare two phone companies' services lately, you'll know what I mean.

Ok, let's get it right out there. I do not have a mobile phone and I have no plan to get one anytime soon. If I had one, I expect I would find uses for it, but I'm pretty sure I'd have it primarily for outgoing/emergency calls and would keep it switched off most of the time. And I'm certain its ring tone would not be a 100-decibel version of Beethoven's 5th, and that I'd have some manners when using it among other people.

Once mobile phones became mainstream, all kinds of people simply assumed I had one and when I said that I did not, I sensed that they felt sorry for me. I realized I needed an offensive (as in, going on the offense) reply. And that reply now is, "You cannot simply call and interrupt me any damned time you feel like it. Call me on my landline and if I'm not there, leave a message. Or, send me an email. And if I believe either warrants a response, I'll make one in a timely fashion. As far as I can tell, you and I don't have any business that is so important that it needs an immediate response any time night or day."

The mobile phone scenario that sticks most in my mind occurred several years ago in my local supermarket. In the first aisle, a woman saw some item and called her partner. "Hi Honey, it's me. So-and-so is on sale. Would you like that for supper tonight?" Two aisles later, she spied something else, and called Honey again. And this happened several more times, in subsequent aisles. All I could think was, "It's called planning, damn-it! You make a shopping list before you leave for the store. It's called Making an Executive Decision. Presumably you know Honey's eating preferences." Unfortunately, we're living in a time of "instant-on" and "gotta-have-it-now". The marginally disciplined are becoming poorly disciplined and the poorly disciplined are becoming undisciplined.

So what do I use for phone calls? Two cans and some string, of course! It's very cheap, it's low maintenance, I don't get any unwanted solicitations, and I don't need Caller ID; I always know who has the other can. But seriously, I have a landline with various extensions throughout the house (I work from home). And I even an old-style phone that gets its power from the phone line. If the power goes out, I still have phone service! Back in the old days of dial-up internet access, I had a second line installed, and I shared that with a computer-based fax program. As part of my recent simplification, I discontinued that line and my fax support (almost all those I received were junk anyway). I also had call waiting on my primary line to alert me if another call was coming in while I was on the line. I found that I rarely used it, and as my good friend, John told me, some people consider it rude being put on hold while you take another—apparently more important—call. (And that applies in spades to mobile phone users and text message proponents who think nothing of interrupting a serious conversation to take a call or read a newly arrived message.)

My one surviving landline includes 50 local calls per month and has no long-distance or international call package. It's a bare bones system and it suits my needs. Now, each month, I do make quite a few international calls for pleasure and, occasionally, for business, as well as a few calls around the US, but I don't use my phone service (see later below).

My business model involves working mostly from home where I have ready access to a landline. And if I am teaching seminars, that's an all-day job, so I can't be interrupted then. Likewise for when I'm traveling and when I'm sitting in daylong conferences and meetings, especially in time zones far-removed from home. I was an early adopter and fan of Skype, and for $3/month I get an unlimited number of minutes within North America. And for around 2 cents/minute, I can call landlines in most countries using Skype-Out. (Calls to mobiles are often 10 times that price, so I rarely make them.) And whenever my account goes below $2, my Skype account is automatically topped-up from my bank account. That lets me make any call from my desk using my computer or from on the road using my laptop or netbook from my hotel or public wifi hotspot. For people like my wife who don't spend their days tethered to their desk/computer, I have another option. Via Skype, at no charge, I have a local phone number that can be called from any phone and used to place calls using Skype. I currently use a Bluetooth earpiece for Skype, and for the most part that works well. My netbook has a built-in microphone, and that always works, plus it comes with a webcam, which Skype supports.

I can count on one hand the number of times I could really have benefited by having a mobile phone. One that comes to mind was on a ferry from Helsinki, Finland, to Tallinn, Estonia. I'd tried to call my host family from the ferry terminal before departing, but was unable to figure out how to use the Finnish public phone system. Then once onboard, I discovered there were no pay phones. However, that being Nokia's backyard, everyone (literally) had a mobile, so I asked a businessman if I could pay him to use his mobile to make a call, and he said, "Go right ahead, and as I have an unlimited plan, there is no charge." The down side of mobile-phone mania is there is a growing shortage of public pay phones available, and I avoid using the phone in my hotel room due to the ridiculous fees they charge.

Answering machines are worth a mention. I have come to rely on them on my phone and on others'. Yet it is interesting to note just how many people hate talking to them. Of all the people I phone on a regular basis only one does not have an answering machine, and that took some getting used to on my part.

One question I like to ask mobile phone aficionados is, "Just how much time is 1,000 minutes?" They generally reply, "What do you mean?" To which I reply, "Just how many hours is that each month that you can talk? And what were you doing with that time before you had that mobile plan? Or did you not have a life previously?" [FYI, 1,000 minutes is 16 and 2/3 hours.]

Television: Is it Still the Idiot Box?

For years, I've subscribed to a Cable TV service, each month paying for the service as well as one or more converter boxes and remote controls. And each year it seemed that the price increased. At some point, I moved payment to an automatic debit from my checking account. However, that meant that the cost was somewhat hidden as the monthly bill no longer received any scrutiny.

Of the 100-odd channels I had, I probably watched programs on 10 of them, at most, and more likely five of them, on average. [All attempts to legislate a la carte cable TV programming in the US have failed, so one is stuck with an all-or-nothing program selection. Only premium channels are unbundled.] My service provided no way for me to limit the channels in the selection list to only those I watched. What's more, that program list included all the channels available, including those for which I had no subscription!

More than 10 years ago, I was watching five hour-long series each week, but then I went abroad for six weeks without access to my regular programs. On my return, I simply stopped watching them, and I haven't watched any show on a regular basis since. I have to say that I don't miss them one bit. [Perhaps I don't need the escapism many of them provide.]

Fast Forward to the era of Digital/Hi-Definition TVs. I love watching movies, documentaries, and various other programs, and I like a big screen experience as much as does the next person. However, I don't view it as essential. As poor as the NTSC [sometimes pooh-poohed as "Not the Same Color Twice"] analog system used here in the US (and elsewhere) might be, it's been adequate for me. Recently, 18 months after I started looking at digital/HiDef TV, I stuck my toe in the water with a 40" screen that cost less than $500. Then I did several heretical things: I experimented with a digital antenna and I looked at recording to DVD and, yes, even to VHS tape!

The cost of my cable service had gotten out of control, and I didn't even have any premium channel packages. It was time to re-evaluate the whole "being connected" thing, so I started preparing for the scenario of not having a Cable TV connection at all. In the process, I was pleasantly surprised at the range of (the more than 30) channels being broadcast over-the-air in my area; almost all of the ones I watched regularly via cable were available free of charge. Don't you just love that when that happens? [Interestingly, neither my TV tuner nor my converter box pulled in all of the local channels, and the sets of channels that they did find were not the same. One got some the other didn't, and vice versa.]

I have a big investment in prerecorded VHS tapes (which I continue to buy from thrift shops for 25–50 cents each), home movies on VHS, and I have several players and recorders, so I wanted to preserve that investment. The obvious argument against that is that the analog quality is lower, so why not simply record to disk using a Digital Video Recorder? As it happens, my Cable TV company would be happy to let me do that, but at a cost of $13/month, and I'm trying to reduce my bill. Alternate services ran the same cost, and while there is software to allow this sort of thing to be done in conjunction with a computer, I'm not quite ready to go that route.

I am very happy to report that there is life outside of subscription TV. And in the case of my 90-year-old very vital friend, Jim, life can be full without having a TV at all! [Hmm, Jim might still own a buggy whip; I'll have to ask.]

The Omnipresent Internet

I live by email, and as I travel away from my home time zone at regular intervals, email is the best way to reach me. No matter where I am in the world, I deal with important email in a timely manner, typically within 12 hours. I also use Instant Messaging (IM) with a few colleagues and friends. As such, I have a tethered version of text messaging, which is adequate for my needs. However, I never did learn to type with more than a few fingers, so it's not my preferred medium.

As for browsing the web, I do very little of that. From time to time, my work requires me to upload or download (often-large) files. On occasion, I play a few puzzles at the USA Today newspaper site, I look at the headlines and sports scores in several Australian newspapers several times a week, and I visit Wikipedia and Wiktionary from time to time. (And, yes, I know that Wikipedia is full of lies!)

I was paying for some really fast internet service that came through my Cable TV connection, but, recently, it occurred to me that the extra speed was totally wasted. My in-house network uses an 802.11g protocol router, which is limited to wire connections of 100 Mbps with wifi at 64 Mbps. Unless I upgrade to an 802.11n router and matching receivers on all my computers, the extra speed means nothing. Yet, it is hard to get a slower service. After all, everyone must need the fastest speed possible, right? Yes, there are times where I really need throughput, but they are few and far between. All I really care about is not having to wait for web pages to refresh. Recently, I downgraded my service from 6MB to 1MB, and I'll try that for a month or so to see if it is adequate. I also recommended a friend use a DSL service instead of a much higher speed (and more expensive) cable connection.

I love the fact that I can get affordable, if not free, broadband internet access in all sorts of seemingly unlikely places. Running my business certainly became easier once I could do it while on vacation or business travel in some remote spot.

Play Me a Song, Mr. Piano Man

I love music, so much so that in my next life (yes, dear reader, I'm planning on coming back for another round), I plan on being a songwriter, composer, and musician. I probably own only 100 CDs and another 100 cassette tapes, mostly recorded from albums and radio. I've also ripped 10–12 CDs to my computers, primarily so I can play them when I'm on the road. And when working from home, I have one favorite radio station I listen to for my regular music fix.

I don't download music and I don't have a portable digital music player. (Are my Luddite tendencies showing, again?) I look at the various music-player ads and I hear that a certain device allows storage for 5,000 songs. Even assuming I had 5,000 favorites, and I wanted to spent $1 each to buy them—you aren't copying them illegally are you?—when would I have time to listen to all of them? 5,000 songs at 2½ minutes each runs 208 hours, or twenty-eight 8-hour days. That means that if I had no life, I could hear each of them once a month. Hold me back! Where can I buy such a useful device?

Much has been written about how more and more people are retreating into their own private world, and I believe it. That said if I had to sit on a train for 2–3 hours each business day getting to/from work, I could imagine having a music player, but I think 100 songs would suffice. I'd be more likely to load it up with podcasts of current affairs and entertainment programs from the radio, or perhaps listen to books being read. As for those who are using such devices to avoid contact with their fellow man, well that's their choice, but we already suffer considerably from the inability of many people to express themselves clearly, and becoming even more disconnected from the real world won't help. [In the US, the level of business English is 6th Grade, and fewer and fewer of us can say a phrase—let along a whole sentence—without using the word "like" inappropriately. Right? Like, yeah; that is really like true!]

Stay Tuned

In Part 2, I cover automobiles and GPS, still and video cameras, the written word, a digital data preservation strategy, and my right-hand gadget.

By the way, by dropping my subscription TV service and lowering my internet speed I'm saving $73/month.