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by Lloyd A. de Vries

Vol. 45 - Love & Hate On The Road

Gotta love the Internet.

I was at the American Philatelic Society's AmeriStamp Expo in Charlotte in January, 2008, helping staff the American First Day Cover Society's booth. The AFDCS convention that year, Americover 2008, was in Falls Church, Va., in August. That's about 6 hours from Charlotte, and some of the people at the show live closer than that to the show.

I designed a flyer promoting the show, but forgot to bring copies with me. I didn't have a "soft" copy on my laptop computer, either.

But I had distributed copies of the flyer, as a PDF (portable document format) file, to members of the Americover 2008 committee. I called AFDCS executive director Doug Kelsey on my cell phone, and asked him to e-mail the file to me.

There was Internet access in the Charlotte Convention Center, but it's a little pricey. Worse, there was no electrical outlet anywhere near the AFDCS booth, and I wasn't about to pay $14.95 for something I could only use for an hour until my battery dies.

But my hotel across the street had a free business center, with Internet access and printers. I ran over there, accessed my e-mail (on the World Wide Web rather than downloading messages using Eudora or Outlook), got the file, and printed out 50 copies.

Problem solved.

Gotta hate the Internet.

While at the Charlotte Hilton, someone sent me e-mail with a question about using computers to aid in collecting first day covers. I replied to his Comcast account. Minutes later, the message bounced back, with a notice that my message had "fatal errors" and had been in queue too long. (Five minutes?)

He then sent me a second question, because his e-mail to the AFDCS person to whom he'd sent it had bounced.

Comcast has one of the strongest spam filters among major Internet service providers (ISPs). The default setting is at the highest level. Subscribers can lower it, I believe - don't ask me how, I don't have Comcast - but most don't.

And I was using a hotel Internet server, which doesn't match the server through which I'm sending the message. That's often the mark of a spammer. So I couldn't completely blame Comcast for rejecting my messages.

Or America Online, which also bounced a few.

I got around the communication problem by going to AOL's webmail site (http://webmail.aol.com) and sending the messages from my AOL account. It was a little frustrating, because AOL sings out "You've got mail" when you log on, and my AOL address isn't my preferred e-mail account. But it worked. So would Yahoo and Gmail.

Another alternative that might have worked better would have been to send the messages from my primary e-mail's webmail site. Then there wouldn't have been a mismatch between the hotel's and my e-mail server.

It's good to know how to find your ISP's webmail site. Chances are good there is one, and it's handy to have when, for whatever reason, your regular e-mail system doesn't work or isn't available. You may be visiting a friend and using the friend's computer; your e-mail software may have crashed; or, as in my case, overactive spam filters can't tell friend from foe.

To find out where you can access your e-mail on the World Wide Web, either call your ISP's customer service number (maybe with a browser window open to The Virtual Stamp Club to read while you wait) or go to the ISP's Web site (probably something like www.isp_name.com or .net) and look for "e-mail." In most cases, the resulting address will be easy to remember, such as "webmail.aol.com" mentioned above or www.virtualstampclub.com/webmail (that's my site).

Earlier in this column, I referred to PDF files.

I wasn't a fan of them originally, because in their early days they were bloated, huge files that took up too much room and took too long to open. However, they've gotten smaller (most of the time) and they can be incredibly handy, as was the case for the Americover 2008 flyers.

PDF files allow you to preserve the formatting, fonts, colors and all the rest of a Microsoft Word file. I like some fonts that aren't installed on most computers. Had I opened the show flyer as a Word file, it would have looked terrible. When I opened the PDF file on the hotel's computers, it looked exactly the way I intended, and printed out that way, too. It's very handy, almost necessary, if you are sharing files with other people.

PDF is a file format for Adobe Acrobat, which lists for $299. Most computers have or can download a free version of Acrobat Reader, but Windows users have to buy a program that will write PDF files. (The ability is built into Macintosh computers.)

But that program doesn't have to be Acrobat. You can buy a program from another developer for far less. Shop around.

You can reach Lloyd at stamps@pobox.com or via The Virtual Stamp Club, www.virtualstampclub.com.

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