May 27, 2024

Bucks Blog: No E-Mail Response? ‘Life Goes On’

This past Saturday, I wrote my Shortcuts column on why people don’t respond to e-mails. And boy, did I get a lot of responses. Clearly many readers out there are fuming over their in-boxes.

One reader, Marc Allan of Indianapolis, e-mailed to tell me that when he didn’t get a response, “I would send another one with the subject line: ‘Are you still alive?’ I would then say: ‘When someone doesn’t respond to my e-mails, I worry that they suffered an untimely death. Please reassure me you are still alive.’ That always got a response. Now, though, I’m just going to send them Alina Tugend’s article, using the headline as the subject. So, thanks for that.”

Um, you’re welcome. I guess.

Another reader, Rick Wolfe, said he thought the problem has been getting worse. “Many is the e-mail that receives no reply. If I’ve sent an e-mail invitation to a business event, it doesn’t surprise me that many people don’t reply. When I’ve sent a personal message to a longtime colleague, the non-reply produces the range of emotions and tactics you suggested in your column.”

Mr. Wolfe was not the only reader who said he wished someone would come up with a good tool to address one of the problems — did the person I sent the e-mail to actually get it? Or even better, actually read it? A reader called Joey suggested that “perhaps the whassapp/facebook mechanism that enables the sender to know if recipient has read the message can be incorporated into e-mail. I hope the Google e-mail team will take notice of your article and help solve the issue of no reply. “

Others pointed out reasons e-mails are sometimes answered late or not at all. Mike from Maryland wrote, “The older chair of my university department used to send out e-mails on Friday. Often late Friday. Usually asking about something that involved calling university staff, who are often hard to reach and gone by Friday afternoon. If you did not respond by Monday morning, he thought you were late or not doing your job!”

He offered some good advice: “When you send an e-mail with the expectation of a reply, you need to ask yourself: when would this person likely see it? When can they first address the problem? When do I need a response by? If one of these is a problem, pick up the phone and call them.”

Tom Walker said he thought the article “touches upon a deeper business management question: is e-mail (just e-mail) a net positive or net negative in terms of efficiently using time and resources. Communication more and more replaces procedures,” he wrote. “Specifically, business problems get pushed around by e-mail instead of creating a process for dealing with them. This also blurs accountability.”

One reader wrote to say that people may not respond to e-mails because they don’t want to put anything in writing. That’s true, but then pick up the phone.

A reader noted the comment by a former film executive that in the film world, “No response is the new no.” For the younger generation, the reader said, it’s, in fact, the new yes.

As she noted: “A senior in college showed up to one of my on-location film shoots without permission or reason, and when I asked her for an explanation she told me, ‘Well, I e-mailed you and you didn’t respond.’”

Steven Ludsin of East Hampton, N.Y., has a philosophical approach. “Sometimes I write to the universe and it doesn’t write back,” he told me in an e-mail. “As they say in the Peanuts world, life goes on.”

And John Lin of Mountain View, Calif., sent an excellent quote he read way back in 1994 in The New Yorker magazine. “By making it so easy to communicate with people, e-mail changes the nature of communications; but e-mail also, I now know, changes the nature of silence. The silence of no e-mail is unlike the silence of a quiet telephone or an empty mailbox. It is thunderous.”

Judging from reader responses, almost 20 years later, that is more true now than ever.

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Facebook Cancels Shortcut Over Concern for Security

SAN FRANCISCO — What was supposed to be a shortcut for Facebook users to log into their pages ended up exposing their e-mail addresses — and, in some cases, potentially allowing access to their accounts as well.

A Facebook spokesman said on Friday that the company had created the shortcut, called auto login, to let some users go directly to their pages by clicking on a Web link sent to their e-mail addresses. Once they clicked on the link, they could get into their accounts, rather than having to go to and log in.

Some of the links required users to type their passwords, while others did not, the company said.

On the Web site Hacker News, a technology discussion board, Matt Jones, an engineer at Facebook, said the company had offered the service for “ease of use” and never made the Web addresses “publicly available.”

But they did become publicly available, as the discussion on Hacker News revealed on Friday.

The Facebook spokesman, Frederic Wolens, said some users may have posted the links on the Web, allowing anyone to search for them. Those links could give a stranger access to the Facebook pages connected to them, as well as the e-mail addresses of those users. Mr. Wolens said he had no explanation why someone would post the links.  

When Facebook found the problem, it discontinued the shortcut.

The Hacker News thread said over one million Facebook accounts had been affected. Facebook could not confirm that figure on Friday afternoon.

TrendMicro, a private security company that offers safety tools for Facebook users, said Web address shortcuts were inherently dangerous because they could ultimately end up on the Web.

“Many, many hackers are targeting these portals because of the ubiquitous trust and use of them,” said Tom Kellermann, vice president for cybersecurity at TrendMicro. He added, “You don’t take shortcuts through the woods in cyberspace.”

The news of the security hole comes a week after a Bulgarian blogger, Bogomil Shopov, said he had bought 1.1 million Facebook users’ names and e-mail addresses on the Web for $5. He found the information for sale on a marketplace site, The items are no longer available.

Mr. Wolens of Facebook said the data had been acquired and compiled by someone who took whatever information Facebook users made public on their pages — and from other publicly available data about those users.

Mr. Kellermann of TrendMicro said the problem with the shortcut could explain how the names and e-mail addresses that Mr. Shopov had found became public. Facebook said the security flaw and the user data for sale had nothing to do with each another.

“We have no reason whatsoever to believe that these two incidents are related,” Mr. Wolens said.

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Shortcuts: Grappling With a New Economic Reality

I’M finding myself having the same conversation over and over with friends whose children are applying to college. We want them to be able to go to the best institution they can get into, but we may not be able to afford it.

And we’re having a hard time pairing our expectations with the reality.

It’s not that we’ve been immune from the economic turmoil that has troubled the country. The magazine my husband worked at folded in 2009, and though we were luckier than most and he eventually found other work, it was a scary time.

We dealt with it by paring back on eating out, vacations and other nonessentials. But it wasn’t until we faced the reality of a college tuition bill that we realized how difficult it was to let go of the assumptions we’d had all our lives.

And we’re not the only ones. Consider the students graduating from college who expected the same kind of lifestyle — or better — than their parents had and the 60-somethings who anticipated a comfortable, if not luxurious, retirement.

“We have made an upper-middle-class income and are living an upper-middle-class life, but with how the economy has played out, we need to make more middle-class decisions, and we refuse to do it,” said a friend of mine, who asked that her name not be used because she didn’t want her friends to know her financial situation. “We live paycheck to paycheck. We’re in debt, but we can’t wrap our heads around not being able to” allow their son to apply to an expensive private university.

“When we had these kids 18 years ago, we started saving for college,” she said. “We moved to an expensive town so they could soar and achieve and go as high as they could.” Then, her husband lost his job and took a while to find a new one.

“The economic landscape has changed, but we’re still rooted in our attitude that we had when we had these kids 18 years ago,” she said. “It’s so hard to realign our attitudes with the economic reality.”

And she knows that she and her husband are not doing their children any favors if they end up heavily in debt and have no money for retirement.

My friend is not alone in grappling with this dichotomy. Findings from the 14th quarterly Allstate-National Journal Heartland Monitor Polls released in October, which explored perceptions about upward mobility among Americans, found that nearly half of those surveyed say they had more opportunity to get ahead than their parents did.

But only about one-third said they believed there would be more opportunity for their children than in the past. The poll surveyed 1,000 to 1,250 people, depending on the question, by phone.

“The majority believe they will get ahead and live the American dream in their lifetime,” said Joan Walker, executive vice president for corporate relations at Allstate. “But they worry whether that dream will be available for their children. Americans understand that risk has been transferred from institutions to individuals and the future is very uncertain. Now, it’s not so much about getting ahead, but holding steady.”

Jennifer Turner, who lives outside Harrisburg, Pa., has younger children — 6 and 8 years old — so the tuition dilemma is still distant on the horizon. But ever since her husband lost his job at a stone quarry in 2009 and started his own auto body repair and refinishing shop, times have been tough.

“I grew up on a dairy farm and money was always tight,” she said. “We had secondhand clothes and didn’t eat out. Those things aren’t bad, but I thought we would be able to do more.”

She attended a four-year college and foresaw an easier life than her parents had.

“But we’re living paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “We’re trying to stretch it and sometimes it doesn’t stretch.” After-school activities like dance for her daughter and wrestling and gymnastics for her son are a thing of the past.

Will her daughter be able to attend college?

“If she does really good in school and gets scholarships and works,” Ms. Turner said.

But after resisting the idea for a long time, she said she was finally coming to terms with the reality of her life.

“We may not be able to do what other people do. I see commercials for Disney and would love to be able to give that to my kids,” she said. “But I need to accept that I can’t, instead of fighting it and being resentful.”

The expectation that life will just continue improving generation by generation is also part of the thinking of those now in college and in their 20s.


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Shortcuts: Helping Your Teenager Become a Safe Driver

I have the usual maternal feelings: wasn’t he just in a stroller? Is he really ready to maneuver a 4,000-pound machine? Can he pick up his brother from baseball practices?

But I also realize that I have no idea how to choose a driving school or what to look for. When I was learning to drive, drivers’ education was offered through my high school. Three students would be squashed in the back seat while one would be up front with the instructor.

I don’t remember much except being nervous. My father supplemented the lessons on our 1965 Dodge Dart station wagon (yes, it was old even then). And, as all California teenagers did at the time, I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles on my 16th birthday and took my driver’s test. I passed on the first try.

But now, many schools don’t offer drivers’ education, so parents must seek private courses. Most friends I know have been satisfied, but not everyone.

My neighbor Kim, for example, told me she was somewhat unimpressed with her high school daughter’s instruction so far.

“They drive around with the radio on and I hear more about the music they listen to than any constructive criticism,” she said.

Then there’s Nancy Freedman, whom I found online. She vividly recalled taking lessons in Brooklyn quite a few years ago.

“We were at a pier in Brooklyn practicing and I guess I wasn’t hitting the brake squarely and the instructor said, ‘Every time you don’t put your foot squarely on the brake, you will have to kiss me,’ ” Ms. Freedman said.

“I was 17 and was savvy enough and made sure my foot was square. I called the school and he got fired.”

Now, I don’t think most schools have inappropriate drivers. The bigger problem may be whether the students are getting the information and instruction they need to become safe drivers.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States, accounting for more than one in three deaths for 15- to 19-year-olds. Per mile driven, drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times as likely as adults to crash.

So a good driving course isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. A place to find out more, I figured, was the AAA, which has a helpful brochure, “Choosing a Driving School: A Guide for Parents of Beginning Drivers.”

The organization’s suggestions include these:

¶Ask friends about the schools they used and find out what they liked or didn’t like. But don’t leave it at that. Call several schools to compare programs and pricing.

¶Be sure to find out about additional costs on top of the price of lessons, like fees for missed lessons and cancellations.

¶Ask how many fully licensed instructors work at the school. A good ratio is 30 students to five instructors, which allows enough time for students to complete the training in about 12 weeks.

¶Visit the school to see how the classrooms look and the appearance of the cars. Kerry Donnelly, assistant manager of AAA Driver Training, a drivers’ education school run out of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, told me, “The building doesn’t have to be beautiful, but the vehicles should look good.” One school in the area, she said, used cars more than 10 years old and with more than 200,000 miles.

¶Check if the school has an in-car curriculum. The instructor shouldn’t just get in the automobile and wing it but have a lesson plan to follow with each student.

¶Find out if the behind-the-wheel sessions and classroom lessons correspond to reinforce and demonstrate practical usage.

A typical driving school package, which ranges from $300 to $500, includes about 30 hours in the classroom and six to 10 in the car, said Sharon Fife, president of the Driving School Association of the Americas, which is composed of owners of driving schools.

The AAA suggests that beginning drivers have two lessons a week to reinforce what they’ve learned.

And check to see if the school you are considering is a member of the Better Business Bureau and whether there have been any complaints, Ms. Fife said.


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Shortcuts: Where to Turn When the Appliance Warranty Expires

I’M going to tell you the tale of my refrigerator breakdown and recovery. Now, I’m not devoting a column to this because I believe you are all so fascinated by the life of my appliances. But rather, I learned some valuable lessons on the way, and I thought my mistakes and discoveries might help others.

It all started when I opened our refrigerator on Monday as I usually do on a school morning — half asleep — and took out the milk. It dawned on me that the milk felt warmer than usual, but I didn’t really think much about it.

After getting my sons off to school and puttering around, I went back to the refrigerator again, and when I reached in this time, a light bulb went off (in the refrigerator, yes, but also in my head). The refrigerator was functioning but nowhere near as cold as it should be.

I opened the freezer (we have an LG with French doors on the top and a freezer on the bottom). The freezer was appropriately cold. I checked the control panel. The numbers that typically show the temperature for the refrigerator didn’t light up.

I pushed the buttons. The control panel beeped, but nothing happened. This didn’t look good.

So I checked the warranty. The manufacturer’s warranty of a year had, of course, lapsed six months earlier. And even more dismally, for some reason, we had not bought the refrigerator with our credit card, but with a debit card. This was unusual for us, and a mistake.

That is because major credit cards will often double the life of a manufacturer’s warranty. But debit cards usually do not.

“Always make major purchases with a credit card,” Mark Kotkin, director of survey research at Consumer Reports, told me later.

Then I searched the Internet looking for similar problems to see if there was a simple fix. I couldn’t find one.

I called the number for LG service, which, since I was out of warranty, referred me to Sears, where we bought the refrigerator. The repairman couldn’t get to us until Wednesday. And if he didn’t have the part we needed, we might have to wait a week or more until it was fixed.

But I was offered an extended warranty, at the price of $270, that would cover all repairs up to $500 and be good for a year.

I questioned the customer service representative closely. Were parts excluded? No. Labor? No. It would definitely cover the repair I was calling about? Yes.

I am not usually an advocate of extended warranties. Mr. Kotkin said that they were almost never worth the money. And since Sears wouldn’t allow me to talk directly to a technician to explain the problem, I was still looking at a long wait for a repair.

So I started calling around to find an appliance repair shop that fixes my brand. I found one nearby, which could send someone out in a few hours for $65, which is pretty reasonable in the New York area. The repairman showed up, spent less than 10 minutes looking at it and told me it was an expensive computer problem that could cost half the price of the refrigerator.

This freaked me out. I told him I would think about it, paid him his fee and panicked.

So I decided to turn to someone who had given me good advice in the past — Vernon Schmidt, who has been a repairman for almost 35 years and is the author of a self-published book, “Appliance Handbook for Women: Simple Enough Even a Man Can Understand.”

Unfortunately, he is based in Indiana, so he couldn’t pop over. But I asked him if he had any suggestions.

“Did the repair guy call LG?” he asked me. No.

Was he an authorized servicer for LG? he also asked me.

Well, he told me he could repair the LG refrigerators, I replied.

Not the same. Mr. Schmidt, who is authorized to service LG and many other brands told me that an authorized servicer has to go to annual training workshops to learn to repair that particular brand.

In addition, as an authorized servicer, he can avail himself of a dedicated technical helpline on the spot to resolve issues.

“It’s not like the old days,” Mr. Schmidt said. “Everyone needs technical help nowadays,” because appliances change so often and are so sophisticated.

And that technician on the other end of the phone is required to keep a record of the problem, he said. So if it crops again, the history can be traced.


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