Start the Year with an Empty Inbox!

Here’s a nice Gmail tip that will make you feel like a million bucks: empty out your crufty email inbox. There’s nothing like an empty inbox to motivate you and give you a fresh start for the year.

“But Matt,” you say, “my inbox is my to-do list!” I know, me too. So here’s how to do it without losing that to-do list. Add a label like “oldinbox” to everything currently in your inbox and then archive all the email in your inbox. Presto! Your inbox is clean and empty, but you can still visit the “oldinbox” label when you’re ready to whittle down those older emails. I know it sounds scary, but there’s only two simple steps, and both can be undone.

Step 1: Add a label to all the email in your inbox. Click on “Inbox” at the top left of your Gmail. Then look for “Select: All” and click on the “All” link. If your inbox is bigger than one screenful, you’ll see a message like “All 25 conversations on this page are selected. Select all 666 conversations in Inbox.” Click on the second sentence of that message to select everything in your inbox. Now click on the “More Actions” button and select “New label…” . You’ll be prompted for a label name, so enter something like oldinbox as the label name and click OK. Gmail will ask if you’re sure you want to apply this label to all the selected emails, so say yes by clicking that OK button. Congrats! Everything in your inbox now has the label “oldinbox”. Now we just need to archive every email with that label.

Step 2: Archive all your email with that label. Look for the “Labels” box on the left-hand side of the screen, and click on “oldinbox” (or whatever label name you gave). Click Select: All. Do the trick to select all conversations if you need to. Then just click the “Archive” button. That’s it. Your inbox is now empty, but you can get to those older emails if you need to by clicking “oldinbox” in the Labels box.

Can you undo these changes? Yes!

Putting the email back in your inbox. If moving things out of your inbox is too stressful, you can move them back into your inbox. Click on the “oldinbox” label (which you can find in the Labels box on the left-hand side of the screen). Select all of the emails with that label. Then click “More Actions” and click “Move to inbox.” In a jiffy, all that old email is back in your inbox.

Removing the “oldinbox” label. Under the “Labels” box on the left-hand side of the screen, click “Edit labels” and then you’ll see a “remove” option for each label. Note: do not remove the “oldinbox” label if you’re still using it to keep track of your old inbox.

Try this trick to start out the new year with an empty inbox. It’s also great if you want to declare email bankruptcy, but think that you might find the time to get back to those old emails as some point. Try this trick, and you’ll feel like you’ve got a fresh new chance at keeping your inbox at zero.

Five fun smartphone tips

Tip #1: See what you’re ordering. You’re at a restaurant and looking over the menu. But you don’t know the difference between a turkey bolognese and a turkey piccata. What to do? Fire up your iPhone, Android, or other smartphone and go to images.google.com and do a search for turkey bolognese. In just a few seconds, you’ll see what to expect:

Turkey Bolognese images

Ah, turkey-based sauce over spaghetti or pasta. Why couldn’t they just say that? 🙂

Tip #2. Comparison shop. A few days ago I was in a college bookstore that wanted to charge $178.60 for a copy of Mathematical Physics, by Eugene Butkov. $178.60? For a used, paperback book? Grrr. I took a picture of the UPC code and/or ISBN number:

UPC code

You can search for an ISBN or UPC code (e.g. [9780201007275] ) on Google or other search engines and usually find out a product pretty quickly. I found a copy for $115.34 at Amazon, plus eBay had a hardcover copy with a current bid of $23.20. For a college student, $60 to $150 is a lot of savings.

Tip #3. Make a note to remember later. You’re at IKEA or Petco or someplace where you need to remember a part number or the aisle/bin to pick up some IKEA furniture. Do you need to write the info down with a pen and paper? No! Just whip out your phone and take a picture of the label or part number:

Cat toy

In this case, my cat Ozzie loves the “long boa” cat toy, but two different Petco stores were both sold out. Taking a picture let me order the exact right product from Petco later online.

Tip #4. Archive a brainstorming meeting. If you end up brainstorming on a white board, it’s nice if someone is taking notes. But just to be safe, you can snap pictures of the whiteboard before you leave the room:

White board notes

Now you can refer back to the notes you made.

Tip #5. Keep a food diary. Some blogs have a direct “email-to-post” address that you can add as a contact in your phone. When you eat interesting food, take a picture of it and email it to that address:

Food diary or blog

Sometimes it’s fun to remember the more memorable meals you’ve eaten.

Are there smartphone tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment..

How to stop junk mail

I’ve been learning how to stop receiving junk mail, and I thought I’d share what I’ve learned.

Reducing Junk Mail

There are several services that will help you reduce your junk mail:

GreenDimes offers a free basic service, but I decided to do their $20 one-time fee because it offered a few extra things I wanted. GreenDimes walks you through some easy steps that will reduce unsolicited mail, and also lets you decline catalogs. Each time you receive an unwanted catalog, you go to GreenDimes and type the name of the catalog in. GreenDimes takes care of removing you from that catalog’s mailing list. I’ve been quite happy with this service, especially since it’s a one-time fee.

ProQuo is a free junk-mail reduction service. In the future, they intend to make money when consumers opt-in to request offers; ProQuo will make money from those advertisers. I tried this service today. It lets you stop many services with just a couple mouse clicks per service, but for about 50% of the marketers (maybe 10-15 of them) you have to print and send a letter or leave to an external website to complete a form. It’s still better than nothing though, because even if you’re lazy you can opt out of a lot of junk mail with just your mouse for free. Overall, the service is free, easy, and helps you opt out of a wide variety of lists.

Catalog Choice is a site solely for opting out of catalogs. It doesn’t tackle things like credit card offers, PennySaver, or list brokers, but the site is clean with a really nice user interface. One of the founders, Daniel Katz, has been interviewed by Bill Moyers, so I trust that they’re a legit organization, even though their WHOIS information is private and there’s very little information about the group on their site. It sounds like three different environmental groups formed Catalog Choice as a non-profit. One piece of advice for Catalog Choice: please give a little more information about yourselves (e.g. history, founders, press) so that people can easily see that you’re legitimate.

41pounds.org charges $41 for five years of service. The name comes from the fact that they claim to block 41 pounds of junk mail per year for you. I haven’t tried this service.

Contacting services directly

– You can visit the webpage of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) to opt-out online so that you don’t receive mail from companies that use DMA lists. The pretty url http://www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglist takes you to the url https://www.dmachoice.org/MPS/proto1.php where you want to select option #3 (“Remove your name from DMA Member Prospect Lists”). You will have to provide a valid credit card number, but your credit card will not be charged.

– You can opt out of ADVO online.

Other options

– While you’re at it, why not place yourself on the “Do not call” list at www.donotcall.gov to prevent most telemarketers from calling you? All you need to give is your phone number and an email address, and you will be permanently opted out. Read more about the do-not-call list if you’re interested.

All these actions won’t eliminate junk mail completely, but it will prevent a lot of the junk from showing up in your mailbox. These aren’t affiliate links, just stuff that I think people will find handy. Good luck!

Protect yourself: get a free credit report

I wanted to write down 3-4 easy steps to protect yourself from identity theft and help you check your free annual credit reports.

Credit check options

– If you haven’t checked your credit in the last year, visit the official site that lets you get a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. The site is annualcreditreport.com and you’ll have to be on the lookout for upsells like “Find out your credit score for $5.95” or “Sign up for a credit monitoring service.” But this option is a safe and free way to get access to your credit report from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

– Suppose you don’t want credit card companies sending you offers by snail mail. After all, a thief could steal the offer from your mailbox and use it to open a credit card in your name. Again, there’s a free, official service from the three major credit bureaus to stop getting “free credit cards” offer by postal mail. The site is www.optoutprescreen.com. You can opt-out online for five years, or print out and mail a piece of paper to do a permanent opt-out.

– If you had any type of open credit account between 1987 and May 28, 2008 (which is probably most adults in the United States), you can receive nine months of free credit monitoring. TransUnion, one of the big three credit unions, is settling a class action lawsuit and provides this monitoring for free if you sign up before September 24, 2008. The official site is www.listclassaction.com and you can choose from several options. I chose the nine month credit monitoring service.

If you think you might have been a victim of identity theft or are at higher risk for identity theft (e.g. someone stole a laptop that might have had personal information on it), you have a couple options. A fraud alert requests that before a new lender opens up an account, they take extra steps to verify your identity like calling you on the phone. It should be free if you call the credit bureaus, but it only lasts for 90 days, so you would need to renew the fraud alert every three months.

Meanwhile, a credit freeze is just what it sounds like. It freezes your credit record completely, so that identity thieves should not be able to open new credit accounts in your name. A credit freeze costs $10 per credit bureau each time you want to freeze or un-freeze your credit record.

I used the first three websites earlier to get my free credit report, opt out of getting more credit card offers, and sign up to for a credit monitoring service. Again, all of these are free or official sites; I don’t get any money for recommending them. 🙂

Other options

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also get a public records report on yourself to see what turns up. I believe you can get this report free once a year as well from ChoicePoint. You can get more information here but I believe the short answer is that you need to print, fill out, and mail this one-page form (PDF link). You need to include a photocopy of your driver’s license or other ID and a copy of a utility/phone/credit card bill — see the instructions for the form (PDF link) for more info.

Do you know of other ways to protect yourself from identity theft or otherwise monitor your credit record or score?

When your USB thumb drive doesn’t show up in XP

Start->Run and type “diskmgmt.msc” then right-click the drive and select “Change drive letter and Paths” and change the drive letter to something completely different like T: or W:.

Hat tip to Java Jane.

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