Here's part of "The Secret Guide to Computers," copyright by Russ Walter, 29th edition. For newer info, read the 33rd edition at


Here’s another popular Internet activity: you can send electronic mail (e-mail). An e-mail message imitates a regular letter or postcard but is transmitted electronically so you don’t have to lick a stamp, don’t have to walk to the mailbox to send it, and don’t have to wait for the letter to be processed by the postal system.

E-mail zips through the Internet at lightning speed, so a letter sent from Japan to the United States takes just minutes (sometimes even seconds) to reach its destination. Unlike regular mail, which the Post Office usually delivers just once a day, e-mail can arrive anytime, day or night. If your friends try to send you e-mail messages while your computer is turned off, your Internet service provider will hold their messages for you until you turn your computer back on and reconnect to the Internet.

Since sending e-mail is so much faster than using the Post Office (which is about as slow as a snail), the Post Office’s mail is nicknamed snail mail. Yes, e-mail travels fast, typically takes just a few minutes to reach its destination, and is usually free; snail mail travels slowly, typically takes several days to reach its destination, and usually costs 37¢ (for a stamp) plus money for paper and an envelope. So if your friend promises to send you a letter “soon”, ask “Are you going to send it by e-mail or snail mail?”

An “e-mail message” is sometimes called just “an e-mail”. Instead of saying “I sent three e-mail messages”, an expert says “I sent three e-mails”.

To use e-mail, you need a program called an e-mail client. These e-mail clients have been popular:

Netscape Mail (which is part of Netscape’s Navigator 3)

Netscape Messenger (which is part of Netscape’s Navigator 4.6)

Internet Mail (which is part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 3)

Outlook Express (which is part of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4&5&5.5&6)

Outlook (part of Microsoft Office for Windows; resembles Outlook Express)

Entourage (part of Microsoft Office for the Mac; resembles Outlook Express)

AOL Mail (part of AOL)

Yahoo Mail (part of Yahoo)

Hotmail (part of MSN)




Now the most popular e-mail client is Outlook Express. This chapter explains how to use Outlook Express for Internet Explorer 5&5.5&6.

Older editions of this book (available by phoning 603-666-6644) explain older e-mail clients, such as Netscape Mail, Netscape Messenger, Internet Mail, and Outlook Express 4.








Simple e-mail

To start using Outlook Express, choose one of these methods.…

Method 1 (works in all versions) While you’re running Internet Explorer, click the Mail button (which is at the top of the screen). Click “Read Mail”.

Method 2 (works just in version 6) Click “start” then “Outlook Express”.

Method 3 (works just in versions 5&5.5) Click the tiny Outlook Express icon, which is to the right of the Start button and shows an envelope with arrows orbiting around it. Answer any questions about your ISP and password. Click “Read Mail”.

If versions 5.5 or 6 say “Internet Connection Wizard”, do this:

Type your name as you’d like it to appear on all e-mail messages you send (such as “Russ Walter”). Press ENTER.

Click in the “E-mail address” box. Type the e-mail address that your ISP agreed to assign you (such as “”). Press ENTER.

Type the name of your ISP’s incoming mail server (such as “”). Press TAB. Type the name of your ISP’s outgoing mail server (such as “”). Press ENTER.

Press the TAB key. Type the user password that your ISP agreed to assign to you. (While you type your password, asterisks or black circles will appear on your screen, to hide your password from any enemy who’s looking over your shoulder.) Press ENTER twice.

If the computer asks you, type your password again (and press ENTER).

You’ll see the Outlook Express window. If it doesn’t consume the whole screen yet, maximize it (by clicking its maximize button, which is next to the X button).

Incoming mail

Here’s how to handle incoming mail.

At the screen’s left edge, below the word “Folders”, you see “Inbox”. Click that “Inbox”.

Now the screen is divided into 3 big white windowpanes, which I’ll call “left”, “top”, and “bottom”. (You might also see a tiny “Contacts” pane in the screen’s bottom left corner.)

The top pane shows a list of all e-mail messages that other people have sent you. For each message, the list shows whom the message is from (the sender’s name), the message’s subject (what the message is about), and when the message was received (the date and time).

The first time Microsoft’s Outlook Express is used on your computer, the top pane shows you’ve received a message from Microsoft. After you’ve used Outlook Express awhile, you’ll probably receive additional messages, from your friends!

Here’s how to deal with a long list of messages:

Each message is initially listed in bold type and shows a picture of a sealed envelope. If you spend at least 5 seconds looking at a message’s details, that message becomes unbolded and its envelope becomes opened.

If there are too many messages to fit in the pane, view the rest of the messages by pressing that pane’s scroll-down arrow (the symbol 6 or Ú at the pane’s bottom right corner).

In what order do the messages appear? If you click the word “Received”, the messages are listed in the order received (in chronological order); if you click the word “From” instead, the messages are listed by the sender’s name (in alphabetical order). Clicking “Received” is typically more useful than clicking “From”. When you click the word “Received” or “From”, a triangle appears next to that word. If you click that same word again, the triangle flips upside-down — and so does the list. For example, suppose the triangle is next to the word “Received”: if the triangle points down, the messages are listed from newest to oldest; if the triangle points up instead, the messages are listed from oldest to newest.

Look in the top pane, at the list of messages you received. Decide which message you want to read, and click the sender’s name. Then the bottom pane starts showing you the complete message. Read it.

The complete message is probably too long to fit in the bottom pane. To see the rest of the message, press that pane’s scroll-down arrow (the symbol 6 or Ú at the pane’s bottom right corner).

How to send mail

To write an e-mail message, perform 5 steps.

Step 1: get the window Click the Create Mail button. (Versions 5&5.5 call it the New Mail button.) You’ll see the New Message window.

Step 2: choose a recipient To whom do you want to send the message? To send an e-mail message to a person, you must find out that person’s e-mail address. For example, if you want to send an e-mail message to me, you need to know that my e-mail address is “”.

For the Internet, each e-mail address contains the symbol “@”, which is pronounced “at”. For example, my Internet address, “”, is pronounced “russ at secret fun dot com”.

(To send me e-mail, you can use either my new address, “”, or my old address, “”. Either way will reach me.)

To find out the e-mail addresses of your friends and other people, ask them (by chatting with them in person or by phoning them or by sending them snail-mail postcards).

If you send e-mail to the following celebrities and nuts, they’ll probably read what you wrote, though they might not have enough time to write back:

                              Comment                      E-mail address

Comic actors

Jerry Seinfield        Jewish humor         

Tim Allen              Home Improvement

Bob Saget               Funniest Home Videos

Adam Sandler         Saturday Night Live

Rodney Dangerfield   says gets “no respect”

Steve Martin          “wild & crazy guy”

Paula Poundstone   stand-up comedienne

Ed Asner                My Little Margie’s boss

Mel Brooks            directs & acts        

Dramatic actors

Clint Eastwood      rugged Westerns     

Brad Pitt                heartthrob                

Tom Cruise            heartthrob                

Leonardo Dicaprio Titanic heartthrob 

John Travolta        black-jacket cool   

Adam West            the original Batman

Tom Hanks            nice guy in difficulty

Talk-show hosts

David Letterman    CBS’s “Late Show”

Jay Leno                NBC’s “Tonight Show”

Conan O’Brien       NBC after Leno     

Oprah Winfrey      warm                     

Jerry Springer        man has wild guests

Ricki Lake             woman has wild guests

Howard Stern         talks dirty on radio

Bill Maher              “Politically Incorrect”


George W. Bush     President of USA   

Dick Cheney          Vice-President of USA

Ted Kennedy         Senator                  

Ross Perot             Presidential candidate

Tony Blair             Prime Minister of UK

Reporters & commentators

Tom Brokaw          NBC news anchorman

Dave Barry            syndicated columnist

Roger Ebert           movie critic, thumbs up

Martha Stewart      “perfect” homemaker

Xaviera Hollander  “Happy Hooker”   

Bill Nye              PBS’s “Science Guy”


Scott Adams       Dilbert                   

Garry Trudeau        Doonesbury           

Fiction authors

Tom Clancy           writes spy thrillers 

Santa Claus            delivers presents    


Bill Gates               head of Microsoft, rich

Russ Walter           nut, wrote this book

Pop singers

Madonna               sexual                 

Amy Grant            Christian               

Britney Spears       young                    

Jennifer Lopez       Hispanic                 

Sports heroes

Larry Bird           basketball              

Evander Holyfield  boxer had his ear bit

Tiger Woods          golf                       

More celebrity e-mail addresses are at and

When you type an e-mail address, you don’t have to capitalize. The computer ignores capitalization.

Never put a blank space in the middle of an e-mail address.

Warning: people often change their e-mail addresses, so don’t be surprised if your message comes back, marked undeliverable.

Type the e-mail address of the person to whom you want to send your message. If you’re a shy beginner who’s nervous about bothering people, try sending an e-mail message to a close friend or me or yourself. Sending an e-mail message to yourself is called “doing a Fats Waller”, since he was the first singer to popularize this song:

“Gonna sit right down and write myself a letter,

And make believe it came from you!”

If you send an e-mail message to me, I’ll read it (unless my e-mail address has changed) and try to send you a reply, but be patient (since I check my e-mail just a few times per week) and avoid asking for computer advice (since I give advice just by regular phone calls at 603-666-6644, not by e-mail).

At the end of the e-mail address, press the TAB twice, so you’re at the line marked “Subject”.

Step 3: choose a subject Type a phrase summarizing the subject (such as “let’s lunch” or “I’m testing”). At the end of that typing, press the TAB key again.

Step 4: type the message Go ahead: type the message, such as “Let’s have lunch together in Antarctica tomorrow!” or “I’m testing my e-mail system, so please tell me whether you received this test message.” Your message can be as long as you wish — many paragraphs! Type the message as if you were using a word processor. For example, press the ENTER key just when you reach the end of a paragraph. If you wish, maximize the window you’re typing in (by clicking the window’s maximize button, which is next to the X button).

Step 5: send the message When you finish typing the message, click the Send button (which looks like a flying envelope).

If the computer says “Display name” (because your computer uses Internet Explorer 6 and hasn’t sent e-mails before), do this:

Type your name as you’d like it to appear on all e-mail messages you send (such as “Russ Walter”). Press ENTER.

Type the e-mail address that your ISP agreed to assign you (such as “”). Press ENTER.

Type the name of your ISP’s incoming mail server (such as “”). Press TAB. Type the name of your ISP’s outgoing mail server (such as “”). Press ENTER.

Press the TAB key. Type the user password that your ISP agreed to assign to you. (While you type your password, black circles will appear on your screen, to hide your password from any enemy who’s looking over your shoulder.) Press ENTER twice.

The window you typed in will close automatically. (If you’re using Navigator, you might have to wait one or two minutes for the window to close. Be patient.)

When do messages transmit?

When you try to send or receive a message, when does the transmission actually occur?

Receiving a message from a friend When a friend tries to send you a message, the message goes from your friend’s computer to your friend’s Internet Service Provider (ISP), which passes the message on to your ISP. The message is stored on your ISP’s hard disk.

Since your ISP’s computer is always turned on (day and night, 24 hours), it’s always ready to receive messages your friends try to send you, even while your own computer is turned off.

When you try to examine your Inbox, your computer ought to contact your ISP and tell the ISP to transmit any new messages to your computer; but if your computer is lazy, it might not contact your ISP immediately to get the newest messages. Instead, your computer might decide to wait awhile before bothering your ISP. For example, your computer might contact your ISP just once every 30 minutes to check whether there are any new messages for you; or your computer might not contact your ISP until the next time you start running the e-mail program — which might be the next day.

To make your computer communicate with your ISP now, so all the messages you’re trying to receive get transmitted to your Inbox now, click the Send/Recv button.

Sending a message to a friend When you tell the computer to send a message to a friend, the computer typically transmits the message immediately to your ISP (which passes it on to your friend’s ISP).

Automatic transmission If you wish, you can make your computer and your ISP send messages to each other more frequently, automatically, without their waiting for you to click the “Send and Receive” button. I’ll explain how.

But beware! If you make your computer and your ISP automatically transmit messages more frequently, you’ll consume more of your ISP’s time, which will cost you more money if your ISP is charging you by the minute. Also, you’ll consume more of your own computer’s time, so your computer will be interrupted from performing other tasks and seem sluggish. Also, you’ll consume more of your own time, because you’ll more frequently have to help keep the connection going by retyping your password.

If you’re sharing your computer with colleagues, get their permission before making the following changes.

Click “Tools” then “Options”. Put a in the box marked “Check for new messages” (by clicking). Put a small number (such as 10) in the minutes box (by clicking the box’s down-arrrow). Click “Send” (which is at the top of the screen). Put a in the box marked “Send messages immediately” (by clicking). Click OK.

Smiley’s pals

Here’s a picture of a smiling face:



It’s called a smiley. If you rotate that face 90°, it looks like this:


People writing e-mail messages often type that symbol to mean “I’m smiling; I’m just kidding”.

For example, suppose you want to tell President Bush that you disagree with his speech. If you communicate the old-fashioned way, with pencil and paper, you’ll probably begin like this:

Dear Mr. President,

I’m somewhat distressed at your recent policy announcement.

But people who communicate by e-mail tend to be more blunt:

Hey, George!

  You really blew that speech. Jeez! Your policy stinks. You should be boiled in oil, or at least paddled with a floppy disk. :-)

The symbol “:-)” means “I’m just kidding”. That symbol’s important. Forgot to include it? Then poor George, worried about getting boiled in oil, might have the Secret Service arrest you for plotting an assassination.

The smiley, “:-)”, has many variations:

Symbol   Meaning

:-)             I’m smiling.

:-(             I’m frowning.

:-<           I’m real sad.

:-c             I’m bummed out.

:-C            I’m really bummed out!

:-I             I’m grim.

:-/             I’m skeptical.

:-7            I’m smirking at my own wry comment.

:->           I have a devilish grin.

:-D            I’m laughing.

:-o            I’m shouting.

:-O           I’m shouting really loud.

:-@           I’m screaming.

:-8            I talk from both sides of my mouth.

:-p            I’m sticking my tongue out at you.

:-P            I’m being tongue-in-cheek.

:-&            I’m tongue-tied.

:-9            I’m licking my lips.

:-*            My lips pucker for a kiss or pickle.

:-x            My lips are sealed.

:-#           I wear braces.

:-$            My mouth is wired shut.

:-?            I smoke a pipe.

:-}            I have a beard.

:-B            I have buck teeth.

:-[             I’m a vampire.

:-{}          I wear lipstick.

:-{)           I have a mustache.

:-~)          My nose runs.

:-)~          I’m drooling.

:-)-8         I have big breasts.

:*)            I’m drunk.

:^)           My nose is broken.

:~I           I’m smoking.

:/i             No smoking!

:~j            I’m smoking and smiling.

:'-(           I’m crying.

:'-)           I’m so happy, I’m crying.

:)             I’m a midget.

;-)             I’m winking.

.-)             I have just one eye,

,-)             but I’m winking it.

?-)            I have a black eye.

%-)          Dizzy from staring at screen too long!

8-)            I wear glasses.

B-)            I wear cool shades, man.

g-)            I wear pince-nez glasses.

P-)            I’m a pirate.

O-)           I’m a scuba diver.

|-O           I’m yawning.

|^O          I’m snoring.

X-(            I just died.

8:-)          My glasses are on my forehead.

B:-)          My sunglasses are on my forehead.

O:-)          I’m an angel.

+:-)          I’m a priest.

[:-)           I’m wearing a Walkman.

&:-)          I have curly hair.

@:-)         I have wavy hair.

8:-)          I have a bow in my hair.

{:-)          I wear a toupee,

}:-)          but the wind is blowing it off.

-:-)           I’m a punk rocker,

-:-(           but real punk rockers don’t smile.

[:]             I’m a robot.

3:]            I’m your pet,

3:[            but I growl.

}:->          I’m being devilish,

>;->         and lewdly winking.

=:-)          I’m a hosehead.

E-:-)         I’m a ham radio operator.

C=:-)       I’m a chef.

=|:-)=      I’m Uncle Sam.

<):-)        I’m a fireman.

*<:-)        I’m Santa Claus.

*:o)          I’m Bozo the clown.

<:I           I’m a dunce.

(-:             I’m a lefty.

Since those symbolic pictures (icons) help you emote, they’re called emoticons (pronounced “ee MOTE ee cons”).


People writing e-mail messages often use these expressions and abbreviations:

Expression                           Abbreviation

I’m GRINNING!                 <g>

I have a BIG GRIN!                 <bg>

I have a VERY BIG GRIN!   <vbg>

Laughing out loud!              LOL

Rolling on the floor, laughing!   ROTFL

Ha ha, only joking!                HHOJ

Tongue in cheek!                    TIC

No problem!                           NP

Way to go!                             WTG 

Great minds think alike.         GMTA

Oh my God!                            OMG

before                                     B4

later                                        L8R

real soon now                          RSN

See you later!                          CUL8R

Talk to you later!                   TTYL

Ta-ta for now!                        TTFN

Best friend forever!                BFF

Be back later!                          BBL

Be right back!                         BRB

Be back in a flash!                   BBIAF

Just a minute!                          JAM

Back at keyboard!                   BAK

Welcome back!                       WB

Long time, no see!                  LTNS

Thanks in advance.                TIA

No reply necessary.                NRN

in my opinion                         IMO

in my humble opinion             IMHO

in my not-so-humble opinion IMNSHO

for your information              FYI

frequently asked question    FAQ

Read the manual.                    RTM

Read the f***ing manual.    RTFM

Oh, I see.                                OIC

Still in the dark!                      SITD

Are you OK?                           RUOK

in real life                               IRL

Been there, done that!            BTDT

by the way                             BTW

for what it’s worth                  FWIW

in any event                            IAE

in other words                         IOW

on the other hand                  OTOH

Those abbreviations are called acronyms.

What did you send?

To check which messages you sent, click “Sent Items” (which is in the left pane).

You’ll see a list of messages you sent. For each message, the list shows the address you sent it to, the message’s subject, and when you sent it.

When you finish admiring that list, make the screen become normal again by clicking “Inbox” (which is in the left pane).


While you’re reading a message that somebody’s sent you, here’s how to reply.

Click the Reply button. Then type your reply.

While you type, the computer shows a copy of the message you’re replying to. The copy has a vertical bar (“|”) in front of each line. If you want to abridge that copy (so it doesn’t clutter your screen), use your mouse: drag across the part you want to delete, then press the DELETE key.

When you finish typing your reply, click the Send button (which looks like a flying envelope). The computer will send your reply, along with your abridged copy of the message you’re replying to.

Delete old messages

The list of received messages — and the list of sent messages — can become long and hard to manage. To reduce the clutter, delete any messages that no longer interest you.

Here’s how to delete a message you received (or a copy of a message you sent): make the message’s name appear in the top pane, then click the name (so it turns blue), then press the DELETE key.

That tells the computer you want to delete the message. The computer moves the message into the Deleted Items folder (which resembles the Windows Recycle Bin).

To find out what’s in the Deleted Items folder, click “Deleted Items” (which is in the left pane). You’ll see what’s in the Deleted Items folder: a list of the messages you said to delete.

Are you sure you want to delete all those messages?

If you change your mind and want to keep one of those messages, do this:

In the top pane, right-click that message’s name (using the mouse’s right-hand button). Click “Move to Folder”.

You see the Move window. In that window, double-click where you want the message moved (“Inbox” or “Sent Items”); if you don’t see those choices, make them appear by double-clicking “Local Folders”.

When you’re sure you want to eliminate all messages in the Deleted Items folder, do this:

Right-click “Deleted Items” (using the mouse’s right-hand button). Click “Empty Deleted Items Folder” then “Yes”.

That makes all messages in the Deleted Items folder vanish.


At the bottom of your e-mail message, you can include a few lines that identify who you are. Those lines are called your signature (or sig).

For example, your sig can include your full name, address, and phone number. You can mention your office’s address & phone number, but be cautious about revealing your home address & phone number, since e-mail messages are often peeked at by strangers.

If you’re employed, you might also wish to give your company’s name, your title, and a disclaimer, such as “The opinions I expressed aren’t necessarily my employer’s.” You might also wish to reveal your personality, by including your favorite saying (such as “Keep on truckin’” or “Power to the people” or “May the Lord bless you” or “Turned on by Twinkies”. But keep your sig short: any sig containing more than 4 lines of text is considered an impolite waste of your reader’s time.

Don’t bother putting your e-mail address in your sig, since your e-mail address appears automatically at the top of your message.

Here’s how to put the same sig on all your e-mail messages easily.

On the menu bar at the top of the screen, click the word “Tools”. Click “Options” then “Signatures” then “New”. Put a check mark in the first box (called “Add signatures to all outgoing messages”), by clicking.

Next to “Text”, you see a big white box. Click in that box’s top left corner.

Press ENTER (so the top line of your sig will be blank). Type five dashes (so the second line of your sig will be “-----”) and press ENTER. Then type whatever words and numbers you want to be in your sig (pressing the ENTER key at the end of each line).

Click “OK”.

Then the computer will automatically put that sig at the bottom of each new message you write.

While you edit a message, edit its sig! Customize its sig to match the rest of the message.



An e-mail message can have a file attached to it.

Send a file attachment

While you’re writing a message, here’s how to insert a file (such as a picture you drew in Paint, or a document composed in WordPad or Microsoft Word).

Click the Attach button, which looks like a paper clip. (If you can’t see that button, widen the New Message window by dragging the window’s bottom right corner farther toward the right.)

Which file do you want to insert? Make its icon appear on the screen. (If its icon is not on the screen because the computer is showing a different folder, do this: click the 6 or Ú next to the folder’s name, then click the hard disk’s “C:” icon, then double-click the folders that the file is in.)

When the file’s icon is finally on the screen, double-click that icon.

Above the message you were writing, you should see your file’s name (in the Attach box). Make sure the message and the file’s name are correct.

Then click the Send button (which looks like a flying envelope). That makes the computer send the message and attached file.

Receive a file attachment

Here’s what to do if a friend sends you a message that includes an attached file:

While you’re reading the message (in the bottom pane), you’ll see a paper clip in that pane’s top right corner. Click the paper clip.

Under that paper clip, you’ll see the attached file’s icon. Click that icon. (If the computer says “Open Attachment Warning”, click “Open it” and then “OK”.)

The computer will try to show you the pictures and words that are in the attached file, by running the program that created the file. For example, if the file is a picture created by Paint, the computer will try to run Paint; if the file is a document created by Microsoft Word, the computer will try to run Microsoft Word. If the file is a forwarded message created by Netscape Mail or Netscape Messenger, no new program needs to run, since Outlook Express can imitate Netscape. (If the file was created by software that your computer doesn’t own and your computer doesn’t know how to handle the file, your computer will gripe by saying “Open With”.)

When you finish looking at the pictures and words that are in the attached file, close whatever program created it (such as Paint or Microsoft Word) by choosing Exit from the File menu. You’ll return to seeing the Outlook Express screen.


Multiple people

An e-mail message can be sent to many people. Here’s how.…

Multiple addresses

If you want to send a message to several people, put semicolons between their addresses. For example, if you want to send a message to the President of the United States (whose address is and also to me (, address the mail to:;

That little list of addresses is called the mailing list.

The space after the semicolon is optional. If you accidentally type a comma instead of a semicolon, the computer will eventually turn the comma into a semicolon for you.

Carbon copies

Here’s how to send a message mainly to the President of the United States but also send me a copy:

In the main address box (called “To”), write the address of the main person you want to send the letter to (which is

In the box marked “Cc” (which stands for “Carbon copy”), write the address of the person you want to send a secret copy to (which is

Here’s how to send a message mainly to the President of the United States but also send me a copy, and make the copy be secret, so the President of the United States doesn’t know the copy was sent to me:

In the main address box (called “To”), write the address of the main person you want to send the letter to (which is

Below the Cc box, make sure you see a Bcc box. (“Bcc” stands for “Blind carbon copy”.) If you don’t see a Bcc box yet, create one by doing this: click “View” then put a check mark in front of “All Headers”, by clicking.

In the Bcc box, write the address of the person you want to send a secret copy to (which is


If somebody sends you a message, you can reply to the message by clicking either the Reply button or the Reply All button.

If you click the Reply button, your reply will be sent to just the person who sent you the message. If you click the Reply All button instead, your reply will be sent to the person who sent you the message and also to everybody else on that person’s mailing list.

For example, if Bob sends a message addressed to a list of three people (you and Sue and Jill) and you want to reply, you can either click the Reply button (which sends your reply just to Bob) or click the Reply All button (which sends your reply to Bob and also to the other people on Bob’s mailing list: Sue and Jill).


While you’re reading a message you received, here’s how to send a copy of it to a friend.

Click the Forward button. Type your friend’s e-mail address.

Press the TAB key several times, until you’re in the big white box where you can type a message. Type a comment to your friend, such as “Here’s a joke Mary sent me.” Below your typing, the computer automatically shows a copy of the message you’re forwarding.

Click the Send button (which looks like a flying envelope).


Remember this poem:

Beware what messages you send.

They may reach eyes you don’t intend.

For example, suppose you send an e-mail message to Bob. Your message might be read by people other than Bob, for one of these reasons:

Maybe Bob shares his e-mail address with his wife, kids, parents, and friends.

Maybe Bob works for a department that shares just one Internet address.

Maybe Bob’s secretary reads all Bob’s mail, to discard junk.

While Bob shows a friend how to use e-mail, the friend can see Bob’s e-mail.

While Bob goes to the bathroom, a passerby can peek at Bob’s screen.

Whenever Bob receives interesting e-mail, maybe he forwards it to friends.

Maybe you meant to reply to Bob but accidentally sent the reply to “All”.

Maybe your e-mail reaches a different guy named “Bob”.

According to U.S. law, if you’re an employee who writes an e-mail message by using the company’s computer, the message becomes the company’s property, and your boss is allowed to look at it. Your message has no privacy. Moreover, if your company is sued (by a competitor or customer), United States law can require your company to reveal all e-mail messages about the lawsuit’s topic and about all the people involved in it: the cute joke you wrote can embarrass you when the judge makes you read it to the courtroom.

You should therefore be especially careful about writing any e-mails that contain sexual references (such as “I love your body, so let’s go out on a date and have sex!”) or anger (such as “The boss is a jerk, a prick, I wish he were dead, I hope somebody kills him!”), since your e-mail might accidentally fall into the hands of the one person to whom you don’t want to show that message. Here’s the most important rule about e-mail messages:

Before you send a sexual or angry e-mail,

wait a half-hour (to cool down) then read your draft and think again!

No “Undo”

When you tell the computer to send an e-mail message (by clicking the Send button, Reply button, or Reply To All button), the computer immediately tries to transmit the message to your ISP (which in turn will try to pass the message to the recipient’s ISP). You cannot cancel the transmission easily, since there’s no “Undo button”.

If you try to wreck the transmission (by unplugging your modem or by turning off your computer’s power), your computer will detect sabotage and overcome it: the next time you run your e-mail program, the computer will try again to transmit the wrecked message (by using a copy of the message that the computer keeps in your computer’s Outbox folder).

Since e-mail transmissions can’t be easily canceled, remember:

Before you click Send or Reply or Reply All,

check your spelling and emotions, or you’ll be appalled!

Bad e-mail

You’ll receive several kinds of e-mail messages. Some of those messages will help you (because they’re written to you by your friends or business acquaintances, or because they’re weekly or daily news bulletins that you requested from companies whose Web sites you visited).

But most of the e-mail messages you receive will be bad
e-mail that’s “a waste of your time to read” or “dangerous”.


10% of all e-mail contains viruses. A virus is a malicious program that tries to wreck your computer and automatically spread itself to other computers. Even if the e-mail claims to come from a friend you know, the e-mail can contain a virus (because your friend doesn’t know it contains a virus, or because the virus lied when it said it was from your friend — the virus could have just stolen your friend’s name and e-mail address).

Many viruses come in e-mail attachments.

Don’t open an e-mail attachment unless it comes with a cover letter that convinces you the attachment is really about something specific that you were expecting and that’s specifically about you. For example, don’t open an e-mail attachment that comes with a generic body saying just “open the attachment” or “look at these pictures” or “I’m shocked at what the attachment says about you” or some other depersonalized enticement. On the other hand, it’s okay to open an attachment that says “Here are the pictures from the party I had with you and Sarah last Friday at 9PM”, if you really did have a party with that person and Sarah last Friday at 9PM!

If the attachment’s name ends in .scr or .vbs, the attachment is almost certainly a virus, since normal attachments don’t have such names.

If the attachment’s name ends in .zip, the attachment is probably a virus but might be innocent. Be extremely cautious.

If the attachment’s name ends in .doc, the attachment is probably just an innocent Microsoft Word document; if the attachment’s name ends in .eml, the attachment is probably just an innocent forwarded e-mail. But you can’t be sure (since some viruses pretend to be “.doc” or “.eml”), so still keep your guard up. If you wish, phone or e-mail the sender and ask whether the sender really intended to send the attachment.

The easiest way to avoid viruses is to buy an antivirus program. I explain viruses and antivirus programs on pages 246-256.

Even if you buy an antivirus program, you can’t completely relax, since new viruses keep getting invented. You must keep your antivirus program up-to-date, to make sure it can detect the newest viruses.

Some viruses are so powerful that they destroy antivirus programs. Some viruses even print their own fake messages saying “no virus found”.

Get-rich-quick schemes

You’ll get e-mails promising you’ll get rich quick — if you pay the sender first. If you’re stupid, you’ll pay the sender — then realize you’ve become poorer, not richer, since the sender gives you nothing worthwhile in return.

For example, in what’s called a multilevel marketing (MLM), you’ll be told you can get rich by selling products (such as pills or e-mailed reports) if you buy them first from the seller.

After you stupidly buy the products, you realize you can’t easily find other stupid people to buy them from you. That’s because the products themselves are junk.

The classic MLM scheme tries to get you to send $10 each to 5 people (for worthless “e-mail reports”), while you hope many people, in return, will be stupid enough to send $10 each to you. You’ll soon discover than most people are not stupider than you, and just you are stupid enough to lose $50. Such a scheme is called a chain letter or pyramid scheme. The post office has ruled all such chain-letter pyramid schemes are illegal and constitute mail fraud, since the only way to get rich in such a scheme is to make hundreds of stupid people become poor. Most such schemes claim to be legal but aren’t.

Another false road to riches is the Nigerian scam:

You’ll receive a letter begging your help in moving $30,000,000 out of Nigeria (because the money was secretly acquired by a slightly corrupt Nigerian official), and you’ll be allowed to keep 30% of the money for yourself. The “catch” is that before the money is transferred to you, a “small” fee must be paid to lawyers, etc., to transfer the money. If you’re stupid enough to believe the tale, you pay the fee (a few thousand dollars) — then find out you have to pay another fee, then another, then another, to get around “unexpected difficulties”. You never receive a penny. All fees wind up in the pocket of the scammer (who pretends to be a lawyer).

Thousands of Americans were stupid enough to fall for that Nigerian scam. The typical victim lost $50,000; the stupidest victims lost $300,000 per person. Several victims were stupid enough to go to Nigeria to get their money — and got murdered.

The Nigerian scam is a more lucrative crime than anything the Mafia ever did. It brings in over $1,000,000 per day from all the victims. It’s been imitated by other African countries and other constituencies. Example: “I’m a sinner who acquired $30,000,000 but I’ve mended my ways, and now I’d like to donate it all to your church, if you could please help me move it out of Sierra Leone.” Some churches went broke believing that tale!

For a different scam, you’ll be told you won $3,000,000 in the Netherlands lottery (though common sense should tell you that you can’t win a lottery you didn’t enter and never even heard of), and you just need to pay a “transfer fee” to get your winnings transferred to you.

In a real lottery, there’s no transfer fee; in this faked lottery, there’s a transfer fee but no jackpot, except for the scammers who keep your transfer fee. At first, you’ll be told the transfer fee is $5,000; after you’ve stupidly paid it, you’ll be told that because of “difficulties” with the transfer, more fees will be necessary… and then more… and then more… until your bank account is empty.

The Nigerian scam and the Netherlands-lottery scam are both examples of advance-fee scams, where you’re told you’ll get rich if you pay a fee first.

For more details about scams, go to, then click on “Nigerian Scam” (or others).


You’ll receive e-mail offering you something for free (such as a free digital camera, or a free screensaver, or a free pornographic look at nude women, or free access to not-quite-legally downloaded music). You say to yourself, “What can it lose? It’s free!” so you click yes.

That launches a barrage of ads upon you — through Web sites and through e-mails — trying to convince you to buy more. Many of the ads come in the form of adware and spyware. Page 247 explains how to cure them.

Oh yeah, about that “free” digital camera: you discover it’s terrible, and it will be “free” just after you buy lots of other stuff first. Misleading, huh?

Some of the e-mails pretend to be surveys, such as “Who should the next President be?” The survey doesn’t really care about your political opinion: it’s just collecting (harvesting) your e-mail address and other personal data about you, to sell to advertisers.


Most e-mails hawking pornography try to make you to visit a sexy Web site, full of nude women who try to get you to reveal your credit-card number and become a paying member. Other pornographic e-mails try to make you phone a sexy girl whose area code just happens to be in the Caribbean or Asia or Hong Kong or some other island that will give you a huge phone bill, whose profits go to a foreign phone company that secretly gives the scheme’s manager a cut.


You might receive an e-mail saying that the security department (of your bank, credit-card company, or employer) wants you to reenter your personal information (credit-card number, PIN number, social-security number, mother’s maiden name, etc.) to protect against fraud. At the bottom of the e-mail is a button to click to go to the Web site, where you enter the info.

But that Web site’s a fake: it’s really run by a crook who’s waiting for you to enter your personal info so he can steal your identity and credit-card info and buy things billed to you, then disappear before you realize you’ve been robbed and your credit history has been ruined.

Banks NEVER send e-mails asking you to reenter your account info. Such e-mails are always frauds.

Those fake e-mails and fake Web sites are called phishing, because they’re created by crooks who are “fishing” for suckers who’ll tell the crooks all personal secrets. Phishing expeditions were first launched against customers of Australia and New Zealand banks, then spread to U.S. banks (such as Citibank) and beyond.


Unsolicited and unwanted e-mail is called junk e-mail. It’s mass-produced and sent to millions of folks all over the world, using a technique called bulk e-mail. Junk e-mail is also called spam (because it spreads all over the Internet, just like Spam luncheon meat spread all over Europe during World War II). The person who sends it is called a spammer and said to be spamming.

The typical spammer uses bulk e-mail to send spam to 3,000,000 e-mail addresses, all at once! 99.99% of the people who receive it will ignore it, but the other .01% keep the spammer in business: .01% of 3,000,000 people is 300 customers — and sending bulk e-mail costs nearly nothing!

In the USA, 90% of all e-mail is spam.

Internet service providers (such as Earthlink and AOL) complain that most of their equipment is now just handling spam. They’ve sued spammers for “trespassing”, and they’ve gotten some laws passed against spam. Remember:

If you’re a spammer,

You’ll wind up in the slammer.

If you’re trying to advertise a business, you’ll be tempted to send bulk e-mail (spam). It costs you nearly nothing, since Internet e-mail is free (unlike traditional mail, which costs 37¢ each, plus the cost of paper, plus the cost of putting labels onto all the envelopes). But since spam is associated with dishonest hucksters, sending spam can do your business’s reputation more harm than good.

To avoid wasting time reading spam, some people (and their employers and Internet providers) use spam filters, which automatically erase spam (or dump it into a “Spam” folder or put the word “SPAM” in the subject line). To decide which e-mails are spam, spam filters use 3 techniques: blacklists (lists of known spammers), whitelists (lists of friends who are not spammers), and Bayesian filters (lists of characteristics of spam).

But spammers evade the filters and get their spam to you anyway, by using these tricks:

Spammers keep changing their e-mail addresses (to addresses that aren’t blacklisted yet).

Spammers purposely misspell (they offer you “poorn” or “pOrn” or “p0rn” or “pron” instead of “porn”) and add word salad (irrelevant words & sentences, often printed in white on a white background), so most of the e-mail doesn’t seem to be about porn or Viagra or other spam topics.

Alas, spam filters reject valid mail that just looks like spam.

If you sent an e-mail to a friend, but your friend never saw it, that’s probably because your e-mail looked too much like spam (you used too many spam-like words or fonts or graphics), so a spam filter hid your mail.