Belt, suspenders . . . and a few safety pins


This is a post about email. And fail-safes. And redundancies. And fail-safes.

I’ll put the moral of this story right up front: A freelancer who uses email as the primary method of receiving and sending work messages and files needs at least one back-up email account and built-in redundancy.

Because if you have just one email account and that email server goes down, then you cannot receive emails from your clients and potential clients during the outage. And if you have a “spare” e-mail account for emergency use only, then when you have an emergency, you won’t have anything to work with at that rarely used account (if you can even remember your password).

Recently one of my email servers went down for about 36 hours. It was a pain, but because I use what I call a cascading system of email forwarding, I could continue receiving and sending mesages. I did not have to ask anyone to send messages to me at a different address, and chances are no one even noticed.

I readily admit that I’m an email hoarder. I’m not as bad as I used to be — I no longer save messages that I receive from discussion lists (the kind that reside on a university server or on Yahoo or Google groups and can be accessed online) — but I’m still pretty bad. I justify saving all these messages by saying I have a bad memory. A more accurate reason is that I am never sure I won’t need that information at a later date, and so I find it easier to save the message than to make a quick decision.

But I’m not saving all these messages in my computer, and I am not plagued by an overflowing inbox. And I’m not out of luck when a server goes down. Because of my cascading system of email forwarding. Here’s how it works:

E-mail cascade

I also have an email account on Yahoo and another one on AOL, but the former is an artifact of my Yahoo Groups ID and the latter is a holdover from the 1990s. These two addresses are not part of the cascade, but can be useful when I need to provide an email address for a one-time donation or purchase or freebie.

One reason I like my cascading system is that each server has its own peculiarities of spam flagging and filtering and black- and white-listing. Onebox, as the gatekeeper, tends to filter out most of the junk. On the other hand, I like because it is a local company (their offices are just a ZIP code away from me) and because the online interface is not only plain and simple, but also customizable in dozens of ways. inbox black

I mean, it can’t get much plainer than this!

For instance, I use the SquirrelMail interface, but there’s also Twig and RoundCube. SquirrelMail itself allows you to choose a color scheme and set various other parameters.

I almost always check my messages online before downloading them into Outlook (my email management program) on my computer. I can do this because I set up Outlook so that it only sends and receives when I tell it to. The setting is in Options, under Advanced.

Send-Recive options

File > Advanced > Send and receive: Uncheck highlighted boxes for more control.

When I’m reading mail online, I often delete the messages after reading them (sometimes before reading them) — discussion list messages, store ads, event announcements, Twitter and LinkedIn blasts, and the occasional spam or scam message. I’d rather not bring all that into my computer, so I send it to the online trash bin. If I’m very busy, I can also move messages I want to read later to a “holding” folder online — that way they won’t clutter my computer inbox, but won’t get lost in the online trash folder either. I do this mostly on low-tech

The only thing is, sometimes doesn’t let everything through, and for that reason, I need to keep an eye on Onebox as well. The Onebox interface is more like an e-mail management program.

Onebox empty inbox

I find it a bit cumbersome when I’m checking mail from my phone (even when using the mobile app), but it’s fine on the computer. And I mentioned the spam filtering already.

A digression — I started using Onebox way back in 2000, when it was free. And included in that price was a voicemail and fax number. They’ve come a long way since then, but their basic service — email and a toll-free number for voicemail and e-fax — is still very reasonable.

Anyway, as you can see — empty inboxes. My Outlook inbox is not empty, but it has only the 293 most important emails of the past five years in it. Well, a combination of the most important and least categorizable.

And now we get to “the dump” — my Comcast address. Everything forwards to Comcast, which makes sense given that the storage quota is 10 gigabytes, the highest storage capacity of all my providers. For the most part, I let my messages accumulate there — currently 20,000 and counting. By some fluke (or perhaps it is a feature), although I have duplicate messages on Onebox and and both forward to Comcast, only one copy shows up in my Comcast inbox. Once in a while I have to go into the dump to find an old message — something I deleted accidentally or filed in a “safe place,” never to be found again. And once in a while I go there and sort messages by sender or subject line (say, all messages from a particular discussion list) and delete swaths of messages at a time.


Did you notice what’s different about Comcast? The ad. and Onebox don’t display advertising. Comcast, even though it is not free (we pay for cable television and Internet service) pushes ads at us, not to mention the splash screens you have to wade through to even get to your email inbox. Something else to like about and

But to get back to the point: with this cascading system of email forwarding, if one provider is on the fritz, I can find my messages at another — usually without having to ask my client or colleague to send again to a different address. If DCA goes out, I can backtrack to Onebox. If Onebox goes out, I can temporarily change my alias to point to If Comcast goes out, well, that means I probably have no Internet or even electricity, but when I get back online, my messages will be waiting for me in my Onebox and inboxes.

Just having a second email address is not enough — messages have to arrive at and reside in more than one place for multiple email addresses to function as a relatively fail-safe system.

One comment

  1. tanarg

    Do you have a step-by-step procedure for the above. I can’t quite understand what you’re saying. Thanks!

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