2012-03-23

Standalone mailer vs. web mailer as a personal information manager

Ever since I became a netizen about 16 years ago, email has remained the most important service of the Internet for me; this may also be the case with many other netizens. But having observed the behaviors of other people during these years, I have noticed two significant changes in the way many of them use email. The first change is that more and more people use web mail addresses as their primary or even only email addresses instead of those assigned by their respective providers, schools and/or workplaces. The second is that more and more people check email with a web mailer, i.e., through the online interface of the sites of their respective web or non-web mail services, instead of using a standalone mailer.

I myself use (two) Gmail addresses as my primary addresses for both private and professional purposes, forwarding to one of them those messages reaching the other addresses. It is true that the online interface of Gmail and other mail services has been improving constantly, but it has not surpassed the best standalone mailers in terms of functionality, customizability, hence efficiency. I need to spend at least twice as much time with a web mailer as with a standalone mailer because I have far less control over what I read and write with a web mailer than with a standalone mailer. The time I waste for each small operation may be tiny, but it can accumulate to a large amount of time because I, like many other netizens, use email all the time. So every time I receive an email message from a friend or colleague of mine who composed it with a web mailer, I cannot help feeling really sorry for the time he or she is wasting every day, perhaps even without being aware of this very fact.

I am especially sorry for those who used to use a standalone mailer, but once they have switched to Gmail or some other web mail service, they have also abandoned their standalone mailer, probably without knowing that switching to, e.g., Gmail, does not have to force them to stop using a standalone mailer. Actually, I think using Gmail with a standalone mailer is the most efficient combination with occasional use of its web interface, first and foremost in order to prevent my accounts from expiring (Gmail accounts will expire if you do not check them through the web interface for more than nine months), or while you are on the go without shlepping your computer.

I have been using a crossplatform open source standalone mailer called Thunderbird as my default mailer for nearly eight years since its version was still less than 1.0. In the first several years it was not so impressive, but as the time went by, it has become a quite sophisticated mailer. I have also tried a number of other mailers, but none of them has impressed me so much as Thunderbird in functionality and customizability. It allows you to add many functions through a variety of extensions.

An extension called BiDi Mail UI turns Thunderbird into one of the best and rare mailers with excellent support for RTL text direction as in Hebrew. But what I consider the most important for Thunderbird is a calendar extension called Lightning. Since I started using it a few years ago, Thunderbird has evolved from a communication tool to a personal information manager for me, i.e., I also use it as an electronic scheduler. I know that some of those who are otherwise computer-savvy still stick to paper schedulers, but they have to be aware that this way they are also wasting time; besides, paper schedulers cannot alert you about forthcoming events and tasks. Thunderbird also has some other built-in functions and other extensions which make it a very efficient personal information manager.

Many users of Gmail may also be using Google Calendar. In this respect I also prefer a standalone electronic calendar to an online one. Besides you can also check integrate Google Calendar into your Lightning through an extension called Provider for Google Calendar.

If you feel like trying a standalone mailer for the first time or after years of interval, I would strongly recommend Thunderbird to you. For people like you I have a webpage called Thunderbird: Guide for the Perplexed, which is the most popular page on my website TS-Cyberia. You can download the software for free from the above link to it. As is well known, there are two ways of checking email with a standalone mailer: IMAP and POP. You can check Gmail with Thunderbird in any of the two ways. But unless you are completely sure about your eventual switch to this mailer, please choose the former method. Gmail Help has a page explaining how to configure Thunderbird to check Gmail with IMAP. Even if you should decide not to switch to it in the end, you lose no data from your online inbox. Personally I prefer POP, though it is considered an older technology. But please do not try this method if you are not sure yet about your switch to Thunderbird, as your data will be transferred from your online inbox to that of this mailer. Again, Gmail Help has a page explaining how to configure Thunderbird to check Gmail with POP; I have been using this method together with the so-called recent mode. If you do not want to install the program on your hard disk and you use Windows, you can also try Thunderbird Portable, which you can install on your USB flash memory.

* Warning: It is true that Microsoft Outlook has similar functionality, but it is less customizable and is bloatware.

* Disclaimer: I have no commercial interest with this noncommercial software.

2012-03-09

The book that has affected my life most

When I left Japan for Israel in August 2004 to assume an offered position at Department of Hebrew and Semitic Languages, Bar-Ilan University, I sent all my books here. But for some reason I do not remember I left one book at my parents' house. Paradoxically, it is the very book that has affected my life most:

Mansoor, M. 1973. Hebrew Course. London: Linguaphone Institute.

My late grandmother (on my mother's side) bought this book for me as a present for my forthcoming 20th birthday; this was in January 1983, that is, almost 29 years ago (I was born in March 1963). When she asked me what present I would like to receive from her for my 20th birthday, she apparently expected me to ask for a nice suite or something like that. Instead, I asked for the above book as I wanted to learn Hebrew.

One may ask me why Hebrew out of the blue. Although I was born in a small rural town in the north of Japan, I was always interested in other languages and cultures. I even started learning English alone from some audio course (with all the explanations in English), which I had received from a niece of mine, before I started learning it formally at junior high school. I always liked learning this language, but it never occurred to me to study it at the university. I wanted to specialize in some "exotic" but important language in the university. I had some candidates, but in the end I chose Arabic, mainly because I was interested in the Middle East back then, and I did study Arabic as my major in the university. The idea of learning Hebrew was a kind of continuation of learning Arabic because they belong to the same language family.

When I started learning Hebrew from the above mentioned book, I could never imagine that I would end up receiving my PhD in Hebrew linguistics in Israel and teaching it there. Even the wildest imagination would have been able to foresee this. Anyway, a few months after I started to learn Hebrew, I told myself that I would like to dedicate my life to the study of this language. Since then I persevered in the pursuit of my dream, and very fortunately, teaching Hebrew linguistics at an Israeli university is my present occupation. All this started with the above mentioned book. It also reminds me not only of my late grandmother, who bought it for me, but also of my late supervisor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Prof. Shelomo Morag, who turned out to be one of the advisers to this book.

Now I see this book every day. Every time I see it, I am reminded of the days when I started learning Hebrew and the feeling I had back then, of my late grandmother and later supervisor, who affected my life very profoundly, and, of course, of the strange path I have taken in my life.


2012-03-02

Fighting against insensitive people in Israel

As I feared, the relief I felt upon my return here from a very fragile society called Japan last week, or my renewed "honeymoon" with Israel, did not last long. I was sure that I would encounter insensitive people back in Israel very soon. Unfortunately, I was right; it was only four days after returning here that I encountered the first insensitive person this time. I am already too familiar with this specific type of insensitive behavior; I have encountered it so many times here. I decided rather recently to fight against such people both by protesting them on the spot with a harshest language and by boycotting their businesses if they are in the service industry. So I did the same thing to him this week, though I do not think his business will suffer from my boycotting it; actually I am the one who suffers, but my self-dignity is not for sale. And I am afraid that the list of the businesses I may boycott here will continue to grow.

Although I prefer Israel to Japan as a place of residence, this preference is only a relative one, or the lesser of two evils. It is true that professionally and when I am with my close friends and colleagues, I enjoy myself here (back in Japan I did not have even this professional joy), but otherwise I cannot say that I am very satisfied with my life here, partly because I encounter too many insensitive people regularly. What makes me even sadder is the fact that insensitivity is also quite rampant among the so-called "educated". Of course, there are also enough sensitive people here, but considering the frequency of encountering various forms of insensitivity here, I am afraid that it may be one of the characteristics of Israeli culture.

I am not sure which is worse, fragility or insensitivity, but as long as I live in Israel, I have to cope with the latter, which is becoming more and more unbearable for me. I know that we can only change ourselves but not the whole society, but I have to tell insensitive people explicitly every time anew that their deed and/or speech are totally unacceptable to me and explain why this is so, instead of simply ignoring them, which the wise would do, because they are insensitive to their very insensitivity!

When I still lived in Japan as a Japanese citizen, I thought very naively that Israel would be a rosy garden, but it did not take me long to realize my naiveness and, to be honest, also become quite disillusioned with a number of aspects of Israeli society and culture, especially after I became an Israeli citizen. I am also rather ashamed to admit this, but I am afraid that actually whatever society I may live in, I will always find fault with it and kvetch about it. This is one of the conclusions about myself to which I have come rather recently. But on the other hand, I would not be able to live alone in a social vacuum, for example, on some unpopulated island, even with the best Internet connection and two synagogues. ;-)