There’s such satisfaction in solving a computer problem. I’ve just done it. A week or so ago I realized that the program I use to process my mail before downloading it from the server was still automatically loading the old version of my email programme and not the new one.

For the life of me (great phrase!) I couldn’t see where in the Mailwasher settings I could change this.

Perhaps, I thought, it takes the programme from a computer-wide default setting. Thought I tried that. No go. Actually made it worse – it opened Microsoft Outlook, which I normally use for Hebrew messages only.

A couple of days ago I saw on my new netbook that its version of Mailwasher gave me the details of when the message was sent in a strange format: hour:minute:second followed by the month in Hebrew and the year, but not the day of the month. At first I couldn’t be bothered to sort this one out, but suddenly inspiration struck.

When I hovered my mouse over the system time in the task bar, lo and behold it was set to give me the date in Hebrew. Once I changed this, my Mailwasher problem was solved.

But this default email program issue had me beaten for a while. I had tried surfing for an answer to a problem related to the new software, and it took quite a while before I got my answer – that what I wanted to do couldn’t be done in the new version, unlike in its predecessor. (For the curious, the software is Eudora OSE and the new version does not allow you to change the server status of a message.)

But here I couldn’t be bothered to surf. And yet I was still bothered.

And then this afternoon the penny dropped: consult the help in Mailwasher. Which I duly did. And discovered that a button which I had failed to notice (“specify”), which for some strange reason is next to a check box called “Minimize Mailwasher Pro when [x] clicked”, contains the answer to my quandary. How was I supposed to know that it would give me a dropdown window marked “Select Mail Client”?!

I suppose this is one of the things that drives computer users mad. Whether novices or somewhat seasoned users. At one point David and I had a number of older friends who were just starting out on their computer journey and who treated us as if we were experts. In fact, sometimes it was a question of being the partially sighted leading the blind…

Google has made life somewhat easier for the computer user – often the answer to a question is out there on the Web and can be located without too much difficulty. Of course the rub (hi, Horatio!) is that often you need to be able to identify the problem and express it in words that appear in a description of the solution.

But in this case something even weirder happened. Consulting the Mailwasher “Frequently Asked Questions” guided me through changing the default email client in Windows XP. Why, I thought, does the built-in help give me one solution but the online FAQ another?!

Only after another look did I see that the next paragraph in the answer to the question about the email program Mailwasher opens did indeed contain the instructions that I had already found in help.

This experience is, I believe, fairly typical of what we all go through at some stage or other. Once we realize that there’s a problem – something we may not all do, or not do immediately – and decide (if we do) to try and solve it, we may set out on a long and tortured path. Or we may be lucky and find our “Holy Grail” with little trouble and great success.

Not to say a feeling of satisfaction!

To end on a less satisfying but very enlightening note: yesterday I gave a computer lesson to an older gentleman with some computer experience but little English. He was using an Excel file to list his contacts’ email addresses, and then laboriously inserting them manually in his email programme, the dreaded Outlook Express.

Since I discovered that he had Office 2003, I thought I would show him how to use the email client in Microsoft Outlook. We accordingly prepared a message to me, added my details to his address book, and prepared to send.

Embarrassment struck. I couldn’t see anything – not a command, a word, a button, an icon, anything! – which would enable this message to be shot off into cyberspace, perchance to arrive.

I checked the menu. At this point in my defence I should say that Sasson’s version of Office, as befits a true Hebrew-speaking Israeli, is in Hebrew. And I’m not used to the terminology in Hebrew. (Mind you, I discovered that some of the Hebrew terminology was incomprehensible to him too…)

I hadn’t thought to bring my new netbook with me. Eventually, in desperation I called David, who kindly went upstairs to my office and checked on my machine.

He reported that a button? tab? marked “Send” was prominently displayed.

No such luck on Sasson’s Hebrew version.

We tried surfing, we tried the online help – all to no avail.

I said I’d check it out at home.

I’ve just tried doing a search in the “Microsoft Office Word Help” on my machine.

The word “send” gave me a number of possibilities, one of which was:

” My Send button on the E-mail toolbar is missing”

The solution is simple:

For the Send button to be available, you must have an e-mail account set up in your Microsoft Outlook profile. You might have chosen not to add an e-mail account when you installed Outlook, or you might have canceled the E-mail Accounts wizard.
After you set up an e-mail account, the Send button will be available.

Of course, in order to apply this solution you have to understand about setting up e-mail accounts in Outlook….

As David explained to me what was obvious to him, and I failed to find this in front of my eyes, I had that feeling of failure, of tightness in the shoulders, a little warmth on the face, a little queasiness in the stomach – I was obviously doing something wrong or failing to do what should be as easy as falling off a log.

And here, in my mother tongue, I instantly identified the words that I needed to find and hence came upon the solution.

But (un)funnily enough, when I went back to the help in order to copy the text to this post, I felt the same queasinessin the stomach because I couldn’t find the magic words. I loaded it again, and again failed. On the third time I made myself stop panicking and hey presto, there it was…

Panic and embarrassment are the computer user’s worst enemies.

As I’m sure many of my readers will agree….


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