Horde’s Idiotic Email Interface

I use Horde for my web-based email here at mischel.com.  Not because I particularly like it, but because it’s the best of the three options I’m given by my ISP.  The other two options are Squirrel Mail (aptly tagged “Webmail for Nuts!” because you’d have to be nuts to use it), and the interestingly named RoundCube Webmail, which is two oxymorons in one.  Not that Horde is so much better.  It’s just the best of three bad options.  To date, it hasn’t aggravated me enough to make me want to go to the trouble of switching.

Tonight I went searching in my Trash folder for a message.  Since their search function is, to be kind, somewhat lacking, I figured I could more easily find the message by sorting the folder by the From field.  Then just scroll down to the ‘M’s, (the message in question was from my sister Marie) and locate it.  So I sorted, scrolled down, and … there were no messages from Marie!  Where are they?  Why, they’re sorted further down with the ‘O’s, of course, because her email address starts with ‘O’.

That’s just stupid.  I could maybe understand it if the program showed me the email addresses in the From field, but it doesn’t.  It shows me the name.  So what I have is a list that’s sorted by email address, but shown in what appears to be random order.  You want a sample?  How about the following?  The first column shows the names as they appear in the list when I sort by the From field.  The second column shows the email addresses, which aren’t shown in the user interface.

From email Address
Presidential Who’s Who info@2009strathmore.net
Charterhouse Leads info@thecharterhousegroup.com
Phil info@thecharterhousegroup.com
jennifer@greenschoolfundraiser.com jennifer@greenschoolfundraiser.com
TechWeb msdn@e.techwebresources.com
Amazon.com music-store@amazon.com

I think you get the idea.  If you’re searching for that email from Amazon, are you going to look for it with the rest of the ‘A’s, or with the ‘M’s?

(Spammers and email harvester bots, please pick up those email addresses and spam the hell out of them.  They do it to me.)

Is there any wonder that people think computers are confusing?  What moron decided that sorting by email address and displaying the name would be a reasonable user interface?  Whoever designed and implemented that should be sentenced to three months working with Microsoft’s Business Desk, as well as a boot camp like refresher course in user interface design.

The really odd part is that sorting things the way they did it is more work than doing it the way that makes sense.  The From field in an email address appears in one of two ways:  either it’s a naked email address (jim@mischel.com), or it’s a name followed by an email address in brackets (Jim Mischel <jim@mischel.com>).  A simple sort by the From field would have placed things in the proper order:  by name if there is one, otherwise by email address.  To sort the wrong way, they had to parse the From field, extract the email addresses, and then sort.

More work to produce less useful output.  Yeah, that’s a good idea.

Idiots.

I’ve had enough.  I’m looking for a better email solution.  It has to be web-based, and it has to let me keep my current email address.  Oh, and the interface has to be at least as good as Yahoo’s.  (And I’d rather not use Yahoo for my email because it does stupid things.)  Preferably, I can keep my current ISP and either change the DNS entry for mail, or I can have the other mail provider reach to my ISP and get the mail.  Either way, I have to free my email from the Hordes.  Suggestions?

Solid state storage

I still have a hard time referring to the new crop of mass storage devices as “flash drives.” The “flash” part is correct, seeing as they’re built with flash memory, but the “drive” part is just … wrong. There aren’t any moving parts. It’s like referring to “dialing” a telephone. Or the telephone “ringing.” You don’t hear that good ol’ Ma Bell … bell … anymore.

In any case, solid state storage has come a very long way in the two years since I last talked about it.  You no longer have to build your own device from parts cobbled together.  Today you can get flash “drives” in the 2.5″ form factor with capacities up to 512 gigabytes.  That’s right, half a terabyte of solid state storage.  Granted, the 512 GB units are ridiculously expensive, but the 128 GB units are pretty reasonable.  We just got one in the office for about $300, delivered.  That’s expensive compared to conventional storage ($2.35 per gigabyte compared to 10 cents per gigabyte), but it’s still an incredible deal.  It’s less than you would have paid for a 128 gigabyte hard drive five years ago.

The new crop of solid state storage devices really is worth taking a look at.  The one we got (G.Skill Falcon), claims throughput of 230 MB/sec on read and 190 MB/sec on write.  In initial tests, we were able to sustain very close to the 230 MB/sec read rate, and our sustained write rate was close to 150 MB/sec.  That’s about three times as fast as we can read a convential hard drive, and four times as fast as we can write.  We won’t be replacing all of our hard drives with these units, but we certainly can use the speed in a couple of critical I/O-bound applications.

Earlier generations of these solid state storage devices had some interesting limitations.  The first generation units were almost universally slower than or, at best, just a little faster than conventional hard drives.  Many of them also used more power than a spinning hard drive.  And some were just unreliable.  Things have improved quite a bit.  Hard drive manufacturers have gotten power consumption down to the 6 or 7 watts range, but that’s still 50% more than the 4 watts or so that the SSDs are taking.

The cost per gigabyte is huge and even a 200% performance increase doesn’t justify that price for the normal user.  But imagine you’re a developer with a laptop computer that has the typical slow laptop hard drive.  A lot of my development tools are I/O bound on my laptop.  Just try starting up Visual Studio some time.  Tripling the I/O throughput could very well greatly improve the development experience on that machine.  That would be $300 well spent.

There are other advantages of SSDs besides the performance boost, but again they won’t justify the cost increase for the average user.  The reduced power consumption mentioned above is less of a benefit than you might think because the hard drive takes relatively little power when compared to the CPU, RAM, and display.  Still, any little bit helps by reducing generated heat and increasing battery life.  Shock resistance and temperature tolerance are much higher on the SSDs, and since there are no moving parts the thing is absolutely silent.  It seems that the lack of moving parts would make the thing more reliable, too, but it’s hard to say.  I don’t know if I can believe the 500,000 hour (57  year) MTBF that hard drive manufacturers claim, much less the 1.5 million hours claimed by the SSDs.

One of my coworkers pointed out that the SSD or something similar is essential to private pilots who are flying unpressurized aircraft over 10,000 feet.  Modern avionics packages often include computers that display moving maps and download real time weather data.  That data has to be stored somewhere, and a conventional hard drive becomes unreliable at high altitude because  there isn’t enough air to float the head over the platter.  Considering what avionics packages cost, an additional $300 for an SSD wouldn’t even be noticed.

I wouldn’t recommend the SSDs for normal users, simply because of the high cost per gigabyte.  But if you need a relatively inexpensive way to increase your I/O throughput, if your computer has to run in areas that are outside a conventional hard drive’s operating environment, or if you just want to have the latest geeky toy, then by all means pick one of these up.

The Foot

A while back, a wind storm tore a branch from one of our elm trees.  Figuring it’d make good fodder for my new found carving hobby, I trimmed it, stripped the bark, and put it up in the rafters of my garage to dry.  All except for one piece:

foot1

I knew immediately what I wanted to make from it, but I left it sitting on my desk for months because I was afraid I’d mess it up.  Last week I cut most of the jagged end off with my coping saw, and started carving.

The resulting piece is just under 6 inches long from toe to heel.  It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.  I did all the carving with a utility knife (box cutter) and my pocket knife.  For finish, I just sanded it and then let it soak in mineral oil overnight.

foot_done1

More pictures in the gallery.

Kameeke, April 15 1989 – May 16 2009

kameeke

Kameeke got her name from the little boy next door whose attempt to say “come here, kitty” sounded like “ka mee kee.”  Debra acquired the cat in early June of 1989, about two months before we met.

Kameeke had been a part of our lives from the first time I went to pick Debra up for a date.  Debra showed me in and asked me to sit for a few minutes while she finished getting ready to go.  She said that the dog (Sandy) didn’t like men very much and would probably be standoffish.  The cat, she said, was unlikely to appear, as she always hid when company came over.

When Debra came back downstairs after about five minutes, the dog was plastered against my leg on the couch, and Kameeke was curled up in my lap, purring.  When she saw that, Debra says, she figured I couldn’t be all bad.  If the cat and dog liked me, there must be something good about me.

Kameeke wasn’t a hugely affectionate cat.  She’d come by now and then for some loving, but then would hop down and go off to her corner.  She liked being in the same room as the rest of the family, but didn’t need to be reassured every moment.  That suited me just fine, as I don’t think I could handle having a cat lying on my chest and drooling on my face all the time.  A few minutes here and there was quite sufficient.

Kameeke carried her age well.  She started slowing down, of course, but she’d still tear through the house from time to time, and she never lost her fascination with string.  It was only just recently that the years started catching up with her.  At some point we realized that “cure” wasn’t an option, and when it became evident that all of our efforts were just prolonging her suffering, we acknowledged that it was time to let her go.

We’re richer from having known her for 20 years: countless smiles, some real belly laughs, and most importantly the love she showed when she crawled up and asked to be petted while she purred.  We’ll miss having her, but will always remember.

Rest well, Kameeke.

On the road again

It’s been a long trip—about two weeks longer than we expected it to be.  But that’s the way these things go sometimes.  Debra’s dad was in the hospital, in a rehab facility, in ICU after a procedure called kyphoplasty, and finally in a hospice facility where he’ll likely stay.

To say that it’s been a difficult time would be an understatement.  One of the most difficult parts has been dealing with bureaucracy.  So much so that I have said, more times than I care to remember, “The wheels of bureaucracy grind you under very slowly.”

I often release tension by blogging, but I don’t feel quite comfortable detailing what all we’ve been through in the last three weeks.  Perhaps some time from now, when emotions aren’t quite so high and I can reflect on things a bit more clearly.

One thing I’d like to mention, though, is that the ICU nurses do a very difficult and demanding job, sometimes while having to deal with uncooperative or even abusive patients and family members.  And yet they go about their tasks competently and seem to always have a smile.  I was so impressed with their work that I carved them a little bear in recognition of their efforts.

rnbear2

I don’t suppose the nurses are terribly impressed with my carving skill, but they seemed to appreciate the acknowledgment.

It’s 9:30 PM on Friday in Phoenix.  Debra and I will be on the road by 6:00 AM.  From where we are in the West Valley, it’s about 1,100 miles to home.  Figure 17 or 18 hours.  Tomorrow is going to be a long day.

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