How To E-Mail Me
As I mentioned on Friday, I'm off this week. So don't bother calling me, because I won't pick up. And if you e-mail me, you'll have to wait until next week to get a response. (I will still have a column on Thursday.)
In the meantime, and in the hope of not being completely inundated with reader mail on my return -- not to mention our ombudsman's professed interest in having the Post make it easier for readers to reach us -- I'd like to share a few tips about the most effective ways to talk to me in e-mail. (You can also call me at 202-334-6394 or write me c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington DC 20071, but I can't lie: Your odds of getting a response aren't as good, and it's a lot easier for me to point you to a helpful Web site in e-mail.)
First off: Yes, I do read all my reader mail. I try to answer all of it as well, but that's not an instant or a guaranteed thing. If you're writing just to say "great story" or "you suck," you should expect a reasonably quick acknowledgment along the lines of "thanks for the input." If you see the same wording in repeated responses to successive e-mails, it's not because I'm stuck in a rut; I use an add-on to my mail software to paste in these canned replies to save a little time (not to mention wear and tear on my wrists).
If you're writing a "what about this issue?" type of message, that will take a little longer for me to answer, but I can usually come through.
If you're e-mailing me to ask what to buy, give me some idea of how you'd use the product in question. Some of the most frustrating messages for me to read are context-free requests for my advice on "a good laptop" or "a decent HDTV": I'd have to read people's minds and/or break into their houses to give any sort of useful answer to those e-mails.
The tough e-mails are the ones I most need to answer -- the "how do I fix this problem?" queries that keep Help File filled. I've written before about the best way to send me a Help File question, but that was years ago, so let me update that advice:
* First, see if I've already answered your question in Help File. The majority of the tech-support queries I get address old topics. I admit that our archive of old Help File columns is not terribly helpful; fortunately, any good search engine should find what you're looking for, thanks to my distinctive last name (there are other Pegoraros, but I can assure you that I'm the only one writing a tech column for an English-language newspaper). Type a brief description of what you want to do, plus "Pegoraro," into your favorite search site: For example, "copy from iPod Pegoraro" lead to this 2007 item.
* If I haven't covered your problem before, help me help you by providing as much specifics as possible. Don't say "my Web browser is acting funny"; give me the details. Look up its version number (in any Windows program, go to the Help menu and select the "About" item; in a Mac application, go to the top-left corner of the screen, hit the menu named after the application and choose the "About" item there) and copy whatever error message you see. You can also try to take a screenshot and send that to me; instructions on how to do so come after the jump.
* A clear and informative subject header works too. I have received way too many e-mails headlined "HELP!!!" for that all-caps header to get my attention anymore.
* Please understand that there are some issues I can't help you with. I'm a personal-tech columnist, so I don't address office-computing topics -- I'm not the guy to ask about your Exchange server issues. And if you're asking about an extremely old consumer product, your odds aren't good either. On one hand, I'm not likely to have access to the software you're using (it's been years since I've used a Windows 95 system); on the other, time I spend researching a problem that few readers are likely to experience is time I can't spend digging into issues that affect far more people. Finally, there are some situations that I won't help you with because they'd leave your computer in an unsafe situation -- say, going online without a firewall or sticking with Internet Explorer 6.
If I don't get to your message right away, please show some patience. Nagging me for a reply 48 hours after you sent your first message is not a terribly polite way to ask for free help. But if weeks go by -- or if you've got new information to add to your first report -- go ahead and send me a follow-up e-mail.
Years ago, I tried to answer every message, no matter how long it took. I gave up on that a while back and am now trying to stick to a two-month rule; anything I haven't replied to by then gets filed away for reference in some folder besides my inbox. My assumption there is that by two months, either the reader's gotten an answer from somebody else or the problem has worked itself out somehow. If that's not the case, feel free to bug me again.
Does this help? If not, I'm sure you'll let me know in the comments...
How to take a screen shot:
If you use Windows:
See that "Print Screen" key? It actually does something useful! Hit Print Screen to copy everything on the screen; hit the Alt and Print Screen keys simultaneously to copy only the current window (i.e., your Web browser). Then go to the Start Menu, select All Programs, then scroll up that menu until you hit its Accessories sub-folder, then select Paint. When the Paint program opens, hit Ctrl-V to paste the screen shot you just took.
Go to Paint's File menu and select Save As... From the save-as window's "Save as type" menu, choose JPEG (the default format, .bmp, yields huge, e-mail-unfriendly files), then make sure to save the file someplace where you can find it later on.
Windows Vista simplifies this process by including a "Snipping Tool" program for the task. To find it, type "snip" into the search box at the base of the Start menu.
If you use a Mac:
To take a picture of the entire screen, hold down the Command (aka, Apple-logo), Shift and 3 keys to take a picture of the entire screen; it will automatically be saved to your desktop as a file named "Picture 1." Subsequent screen shots will be saved as Picture 2, Picture 3 and so on.
To shoot only a single window or a selected area of the screen, hit Command-Shift-4, after which the cursor will turn into a set of cross hairs. To grab a specific window, tap the space bar and click once on that window; to capture a particular area, drag to select it and let go of the mouse. As before, your picture will be saved automatically to your desktop.
September 2, 2008; 8:49 AM ET
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