The Spam Source Experiment

Let’s see who’s selling me out.

I get a lot of email and much of it is spam. That’s why I have a special email account I use for anything that’s not important. It’s a disposable account. Every few years, I simply stop using it and create a new disposable account. Then I slowly but surely update my records where I need to. The spam virtually stops.

For a while.

Eventually, it builds up again and I’m back to the point where I need to delete that account and create a new one.

And don’t talk to me about spam filters. Yes, I have one in my email client. Yes, it does work. But no, it doesn’t catch it all and, unfortunately, it misidentifies too much as spam. So I can’t trust it.

The other day, while drivinge, I came up with a novel idea. Instead of creating one disposable email account, why not create one for each organization that asks for an email address? Then use that account for just that organization. And then, when the spam starts coming, I can easily identify its source — it’ll match the name of the account.

I own multiple domain names, each of which can have as many email addresses as I like. So there’s no limit to the number of addresses I can create. And I don’t even have to set them up in my email client software! I can simply check for mail on the web if I’m expecting something. And let it accumulate on a distant server if I’m not.

Verify Address
Sure, this email address is mine. But don’t expect me to monitor it for your junk.

I started this today. I decided to use Microsoft Excel for iPad to maintain my helicopter Hobbs book (a record of hours flown) and Due List (a record of when various maintenance items were last done and next due). In order to access an Excel file stored in Dropbox from my iPad — and be able to edit it — I had to create a Microsoft account. That account needed a valid email address. So I logged onto my server and created one named microsoft @ one of my many domain names. And I used that email address to create the account for Microsoft Excel. I checked the email on the web, got the code I needed to complete the account setup, and am done.

And I never have to see any junk from that account again.

But I can always look if I need to.

Let’s see how far I can take this. I’ll report back, maybe next year.

What Part of “Leave Me Alone” Do You Not Understand?


It seems that every time I register a software product or sign up for a website or give anyone my email address for any reason whatsoever, a whole bunch of new email crap results. For the “reputable” organizations, I dutifully click the link in the email message to get off the list they’ve put me on. It usually works. For the rest, I just click the Junk button to flag it as junk and let my email app take care of it.

But lately even the “reputable” organizations don’t seem to understand when I tell them — using software tools they provide — that I don’t want to receive email from them. AOPA is notorious for this; they seem to make new email lists and subscribe me to them as quickly as I can unsubscribe.

Microsoft both annoyed me and made me laugh this morning when it sent this email message:

Email from Microsoft

Just getting the email pissed me off. I don’t want to receive any kind of product announcements, news, etc. from Microsoft. I don’t care about Microsoft.

But what cracked me up was the following line:

Did you know your current contact settings have cancelled our email communications to your inbox?

Yes, I did. But apparently those settings don’t mean shit to Microsoft when they send me an email message to tell me that they’re not allowed to send email messages to me.

Needless to say, I did not click the Re-Subscribe Now link.


Microsoft Customer Service = User Frustration

How I cranked up my blood pressure this morning.

Back in October 2010, while working on my Outlook book, I installed Microsoft Office 2011 on my old 15-in MacBook Pro. The installation process prompted me for a product key, which I found on the product packaging. The software then used my Internet connection to “activate” the software. The process worked without any problems and the software worked fine.

Microsoft Office

Fast forward to yesterday. I replaced the 100 GB hard disk in the computer with a 500 GB disk. Well, I didn’t replace it. A computer tech did. (It’s worth $100 for someone else to deal with all those tiny screws.) As part of the installation, he copied every file off the old hard disk to the new hard disk. When I started up the computer, it started just as if the old hard disk were still in there — but with a lot more free space.

The problem began when I launched Outlook. Microsoft presented me with a dialog that prompted me to enter a key code. It was as if I’d never registered it.

Now if I were in my office, this wouldn’t be a problem. That’s where the original disc and packaging is. But I wasn’t. I was in our Phoenix condo 100 miles away.

Easy, I figure. When I registered the software, I provided all kinds of identifying information. Microsoft could look this up and give me my key code.

So I go into online chat with someone from the Microsoft Store. He says he can’t help me, but gives me a toll-free number and series of menu choices to press.

I call the number and press the menu choices. I wait on hold about 5 minutes. I get connected to someone presumably at Microsoft. I tell him my story. He tells me that Customer Service could help me. He transfers me. I wait on hold for another 5 minutes. This time, I’m connected to an overseas support person. I tell her the same story. And this is where the real frustration begins.

She asks if I have the disc. I tell her I don’t. I tell her that if I had the disc, I wouldn’t have to call.

She asks for my order number. I tell her I don’t have my order number.

She asks me where I bought the software. I tell her it came directly from Microsoft.

She tells me she’s going to connect me to the Microsoft Store. I stop her and tell her that that’s who transferred me to her.

She asks again for the disc. I tell her I still don’t have it.

She asks again for the order number. I tell her I still don’t have it.

She tells me to call back when I have the disc in front of me. I tell her that if I had the disc in front of me, I wouldn’t have to call her.

She tells me she needs product information from the disc. I tell her what product I have.

I ask her why she can’t look up the information I provided when I registered the software. She tells me that they don’t keep that information. (Yeah. Right.)

She asks again for the disc. I begin to suspect that she doesn’t understand my situation. I ask to speak to someone who can understand me better.

She puts me on hold. I wait about 5 minutes. Then I’m disconnected.

This isn’t the first time I’ve wasted 30 minutes of my life dealing with Microsoft Customer Service. The last time, I had a copy of Windows XP in front of me and needed to know whether I’d already installed it on a computer. I knew I had an extra copy but wasn’t sure which one it was. I had all the key codes and other information they should need to answer this simple question, but after bouncing between two departments for 45 minutes and not getting anywhere, I hung up in frustration.

I compare this with Apple’s customer service, which is is pretty damn good.

Even Adobe was able to help me when I had a registration issue with Photoshop after my computer’s logic board was replaced. (By the way, Photoshop still works fine on the computer, despite the hard disk change.)

Looking back at all the years I’ve been using computers, it’s always Microsoft customer service or technical support that fails to provide the help I need to resolve an issue. First, it’s nearly impossible to find what might be the right phone number to call. Then, after navigating a phone tree, waiting on hold, and telling my story to someone, I invariably get transferred to someone else and need to go through the same process. Sometimes this is repeated until I realize I’m being transferred back and forth between the same two departments. Along the way, I have to deal with people who don’t speak English very well or are reading off scripts they’re not allowed to stray from. No one is ever helpful.

Why is this?

Many people don’t use Microsoft software because they hate the company so much. I can understand this.

I have to admit that I have no love for the company at all. But I use Microsoft software — at least some of it. Word is still the industry standard word processor. My editors would not be very happy if I told them no, I can’t view your manuscript edits, changes, or comments because I don’t use Word.

And Excel — well, I’ve been an Excel jockey (and a Lotus jockey before that) since 1990. It’s the only spreadsheet software I’m comfortable with. Everything else seems just plain wacky. (Think Numbers.)

What I don’t understand is how a company that’s so cash-rich and has such an enormous installed user base can’t give proper support for its two biggest products: Windows and Office. Could it have something to do with its management? Or have they simply adopted a “we’re too big to have to care” attitude because — well, they are?

What supports that last theory is that Microsoft never sends a follow-up e-mail asking me to complete a satisfaction survey. (Apple always does.) They obviously don’t want to know how satisfied I am. Why? Because they don’t give a damn.

So my laptop will remain Office-crippled until I get home to re-activate the software. Not much productivity when your primary productivity tool doesn’t work.

Technical Support FAIL

Staff that can read, understand, and reply to requests in English would be helpful.

Two weeks ago, I needed to access a restricted area on a Web site operated by a major software vendor with beta software I needed. I’d been given an invitation link that should have gotten me access, but it didn’t work.

After searching the site, I finally found a link I could use to send feedback. Because I’m under nondisclosure for this project, I’ve redacted some of what I sent, but you can get the gist of it here:

I’m supposed to have access to the [redacted software] beta. I got an invitation. I filled out the form and it said the invitation was invalid. My contact is [redacted contact], at [redacted PR firm]. The error code I got when I tried to get a product key following the instructions of my [redacted PR firm] contact was 2f1dc2b1-4e83-4dc5-8c3b-8988079801af. I need access to the software. Can you please help me?

Several days later, I got the following response:

Hi Maria,

The reason you are getting this error is because the [redacted acronym] with which this invitation is associated is no more a valid [redacted acronym] hence to fix this you need to follow following steps:

1. The account for which the [redacted acronym] no longer exists will need to be merged with an existing (valid [redacted acronym]) account ,
2. You need to create a new registered account in [redacted service] with which, we can merge this existing account.

Thank You!

[redacted name]
[redacted company] Team

I had no freaking idea what this meant, so I responded:

This information does NOT help me. I cannot get the software. Can someone PLEASE help me resolve this? It’s been going on for nearly a week and I NEED the software ASAP.

Nearly two weeks have gone by. In the meantime, I was suddenly able to access the software. I no longer had a problem. Yet today, I got the following message:

Hi Maria,

The reason you are getting this error is because the [redacted acronym] with which this invitation is associated is no more a valid [redacted acronym]. Every invitation is associated with users valid [redacted acronym] and in your case there is no [redacted acronym] a/c showing and hence to fix this issue there are 2 steps:

1. You give us a valid registered [redacted acronym] and we will merge it with your account for which the [redacted acronym] no longer exists. OR
2. You need to create a new registered account in [redacted service] with which, we can merge this existing account.

By merging we here means that all the permissions which your original [redacted acronym] had will be transferred to this new [redacted acronym] of yours.

Thank You!

[redacted name]
[redacted company] Team

Look familiar? It should. It’s almost exactly the same message I got two weeks ago. It’s even purportedly from the same person.

One thing is obvious to me. The support system of this major software vendor is broken — possibly because it’s hosted in India where the people sitting at keyboards don’t understand English. They might consider getting some English-as-a-FIRST-language support staff to help their English-speaking customers.

This is the Kind of Stuff I Get in E-Mail

Come on folks! Get a clue!

I found this message in my spam folder this afternoon:

I have xp, I have been using microsft exscel 2007 with no problems until today
the spread sheet prints with wavy lines
cells are wavy, it is not the printer because when I go back and print old spread sheets it is fine
thank you for your help

I have not edited this other than to remove the sender’s name. I had never before been in contact with the sender.

Yes, I know I’ve written books about Excel, including Excel 2007. But does that make me the go-to person for all Excel questions? Like I have nothing better to do than sit at my desk and wait for Excel user questions to come in so I can answer them?

My Contact page clearly indicates that I do not answer questions about my books via e-mail. But this isn’t even a question about my books. This is a technical support question about a printing problem. How am I supposed to know what this person — who is borderline illiterate — did in Excel to get wavy cell lines?

This message is good for one thing, however: it gave me fodder for a rant about the kind of crap I find in my e-mail in box.