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Internet Tools for Expatriates

Free Spam Filtering Service

brightmail.com provides an effective FREE spam filtering service for most POP3 mail accounts.  It doesn't work with web-based email like @yahoo.com or @hotmail.com, and some corporate firewalls may be incompatible.

With brightmail, you modify your POP3 host and username, and then when you check your mail brightmail.com retrieves it, filters out the spam, and gives only the "good" mail to your email program. (Interestingly it doesn't take any longer to check mail this way than the "normal" way.) Caught spam is saved at brightmail.com.  If you want to check your caught spam to make sure no real mail was wrongly snagged (this has never happened to me), you can either log into brightmail or it can send you an email digest.  Caught spam is kept for a decent interval (weeks/months) and then deleted.

To use the service, sign up at http://www.brightmail.com/.  The signup procedure is not TOO obnoxious.  If you use a common email program like Outlook or Eudora, brightmail.com automatically reconfigures your POP3 host and username for you.  Otherwise, it tells you to how to do it yourself. For example, for news@bicn.com the POP3 host became mail.brightmail.com and the POP3 username became news%bicn.com.  The POP3 password stays the same.  You can sign up separately for each email address you have.

Expatriation/Repatriation Resource

If you are an employee or spouse contemplating expatriation / repatriation, check out The Centre for Global Assignments at http://www.contactCGA.com. Among other things they publish several So You're Going Overseas workbooks that are used by various multinational corporations.

Tropical Fax 1:  Free US-Based Fax-to-Email

Faxing to Bangladesh from most places is expensive, and most fax machines resent 98% humidity. And don't we just love those faded barely readable faxes from yesteryear? Well, skip all that. Get a free private US-based fax number from Efax.com.

I have been using mine for several months and it's a godsend. My North American office pays about 10 cents a page (for the fax call) to send their faxes quickly and reliably to my email inbox.  I receive them as email attachments that I can view, save, and print in the free efax viewer.

There is no catch, by the way. This is efax's freebie to publicize their pay-for enhanced personal and corporate services. All you do is visit http://www.efax.com/  , sign up for your fax number, and download the efax viewer, which is quite modest in size.

Tropical Fax 2:  Email to Fax Service

You can also SEND faxes by email through the Internet ("email to fax"). At the receiving end the result is the same, which is that your fax comes out of the fax machine. 

Here's why you might want to do this, and how to get started.

The "why" is less cost and more convenience:

  1. Email-to-fax is cheaper than fax-to-fax for all international faxes and some domestic faxes. 
  2. Email-to-fax is more convenient for faxes prepared on your computer, because you don't have to print a hard copy and then babysit your fax machine while it tries to send it.

The "how" is to sign up with efax.com or htnet.net [no longer online]. There are of course other email-to-fax services but these are the best I've found so far. Both efax.com and htnet.net rates are very competitive.

Efax.com's system has the advantage of being very slick (thank you alpha geek Brent Berry for this info).  It's integrated with MS-Office such that you can send faxes right from inside MS-Word (no need to switch over to your email program). The downside, for those who fax infrequently, is that efax.com posts a minimum charge to your credit card every month, for as long as you have an efax.com email-to-fax account, whether you sent any faxes that month or not. Visit http://www.efax.com/ to sign up.

NB:  Call me a nervous puppy, but I still NEVER email-to-fax or fax-to-email files with my (scanned) signature. Unless PGP or other encryption is  used, every email, including email-to-fax and fax-to-email, crosses the Internet in the clear and can be eavesdropped "on the fly" during transmission, OR read later from any uncleared disk cache of computers along the transmission chain that is hacked into. (No no no human hackers don't sit there and numb their brains reading masses of unsorted email hoping to find something useful. Agent software is used to scan for goodies like credit card numbers and fax files with signatures.)

How to Bangladesh- Proof Your Computer

Since I'm nerdier than many of you, and because I love you, and I KNOW some of you are STILL having unprotected computing despite ILOVEYOU, Chernobyl, power spikes, and all the other bad things out there, can I just make a couple of motherly-nerdly suggestions? This is what I am doing to protect myself, in order of priority:

  1. Get the grounding to earth checked at the power points BEFORE you plug in any computer equipment.
  2. Always use a voltage regulator or uninterruptible power supply.  In Bangladesh this is basic.  Keep in mind, however, that a voltage regulator / UPS is designed to protect from "normal" line noise.  If the transformer on the street immediately outside your house goes (BAM!), your computer is toast, VR/UPS or no .  
  3. Run the highest level and most current virus checker software with up-to-date virus datafiles.  I use McAfee, which I bought and downloaded and periodically update over the Net from http://www.mcafee.com. I don't think it matters which checker you use.  The point is to have a virus checker installed; to update the engine and virus data files frequently (weekly is good); and to keep it configured to provide the highest level of protection.
  4. Write-protect the file normal.dot. This protects from MS-Word macro viruses.
  5. Back up key files frequently (at least weekly a week's work is a lot to lose).  Depending on how motivated, organized, nervous, or computer-dependent you are, you may want to have additional sets of backups for everything, or just for critical projects/software, going  back further than one week.  
  6. Make a static back up of your whole hard disk every 3-12 months (or at critical points like after upgrading your operating system or purchasing and configuring a new computer). This can be to a second hard disk, Zip drives, tape backup, or CD writer - yours or borrowed.  If your own backup hardware won't handle a full disk backup, phone a local computer company to come in and do it for you.