Apple Mail Searching: Still Broken

It’s pretty pathetic. It was back in 2013 that I gave up on Apple Mail, in part because its searching function had gotten more and more broken as the years passed.

The other day I had a chance to use Apple Mail, mainly because while searching works OK in Thunderbird, printing is broken. Well, it works fine if you think it’s acceptable to waste a page of paper printing every damn header in your message in a ridiculously small font.

Really, now: just what’s their problem? It’s a trivial operation to filter out all but the most significant headers before printing. Do most people care about seeing every relay hop the message went through, and its antispam heuristics? No, of course not; most of us just want the message body and a few of the most important headers (time stamp, subject, origination address, and destination address, primarily). Make that the default and have the option of also printing with full headers. Is that so hard?

But I digress. I wanted to print a message without all that extra header crap so decided to print it from Apple Mail. Of course, that meant finding it. No problem: it contained some pretty unique keywords; searching should uncover it in a snap. No dice.

Again: Just what’s their problem? It’s not as if searching for a substring in a file is that difficult a problem to code. Is there some “intelligent” indexing at work? Is there a “smart” search heuristic deciding that my keyword isn’t “important” enough to merit reporting as a match? Who knows, but it’s enough to keep me away from Apple Mail for another five years.

I’ll point out that even Thunderbird is somewhat broken when it comes to searching. The default search function is one of those useless “smart” searches that is always hiding messages because it decides they are not “relevant” enough to match (even though they do). Thankfully, Thunderbird has a Quick Filter option that has a good old-fashioned plain vanilla search. No stupid indexing or “smart” heuristic to get in the way.

Really, if I can remember an unusual keyword or two, I should be able to use it to find a message. Anything that gets in the way of this is a huge step backwards. Come the revolution, software developers who make “smart” searches the only possible option get the guillotine.  They will not be missed.

New Software Won’t Fix the 737 Max

Disclaimer: I am not an aircraft engineer. But I am a software engineer, one who looks at my own field with a critical enough eye to see how software is often used inappropriately, and I see the signs of the latter all over the place in this latest story.

The original software didn’t fix its fundamental unairworthiness, so why should new software be able to? The problem with the 737 Max isn’t that it has buggy software, it’s that it should never have been built in the first place. Its safety should come from its airframe being compatible with its engines. It can’t come from a software-and-sensor kludge that tries to compensate for an unsafe physical design.

In an article in today’s Washington Post:

Boeing said it would take about an hour for technicians to load a software update for the planes. The company’s software fixes will change the way the MCAS receives information, requiring feeds from both outside “angle of attack” sensors, rather than one, before it is triggered.

The system will also have more limits on how often it will engage, and Boeing will make changes that prevent the anti-stall feature from angling the plane’s nose too far downward in its attempts to correct for a possible stall.

Let’s take the fix of requiring both sensors to concur. We know the angle of attack sensors are unreliable, because they sometimes falsely indicate an excessive angle of attack. Being unreliable, it seems reasonable to presume that they also sometimes fail to indicate an excessive angle of attack. So this “fix” will actually fix nothing. It will merely trade one form of unsafe behavior for another.

The second fix is in fundamentally the same category as the first: like the former, it makes the system more conservative in deciding when to engage. That system was put there for a reason: the attempt to compensate for an unairworthy plane, whose airframe mismatches its engine size and placement. The physical plane will remain as unairworthy as before, only with less software compensation for it. Again, one problem is merely being traded for another.

Instead of tragedies caused by planes falling out of the sky because MCAS engaged in error, we will have tragedies caused by planes falling out of the sky because MCAS didn’t engage and they stalled.

I strongly suspect the only fix for these planes will be to scrap them and sell their bodies to recyclers, who will turn them into new metal stock from which fundamentally safe planes can be built. Those “fundamentally safe planes” will mostly be Airbus A320neo’s. Boeing’s attempt to get out of the corner they found themselves in the cheap and devious way is going to end up costing that company a lot.

The 737 Max Scandal

I was going to make a long post of my own about it, but Vox just preempted me. Executive summary (I encourage you to read the Vox article):

  1. Boeing found themselves painted into a corner by decades-old design decisions whose consequences they couldn’t have foreseen.
  2. Basically, it was not possible to easily and quickly make a safe aircraft that was more fuel efficient, to compete with the new Airbus A320neo.
  3. Boeing should have sucked it up and taken the loss involved in playing catch-up with Airbus.
  4. Instead, they decided to bolt new, more efficient engines on the existing 737 airframe (even though they didn’t really fit) and christen the result the 737 Max.
  5. The new planes had kludges installed (sensors and software) in an attempt to paper over their fundamental unairworthiness.
  6. A corrupt relationship with the FAA allowed the kludged-up planes to be approved and sold.
  7. The inevitable happens.

Really, it should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody that a plane that substitutes good engineering practices based on the laws of physics operating in the real world, for software operating in cyberspace, ends up sometimes startling and surprising pilots, sometimes with tragic results. It should also come as no surprise that said software has bugs, also sometimes with tragic results.

The most important overall rule of software development is that it’s extremely difficult to get right. As someone who’s worked in that field, I know this by first-hand experience.

Setting the Screen Width and Height for BlueStacks on a Mac

There’s no way provided to set the screen width and height for the BlueStacks Android emulator. In fact, there’s no settings menu at all.

There’s write-ups how to get around that problem on Windows, but not on the Mac. Hence this post.

  1. After installing BlueStacks, edit the file Library/Preferences/com.BlueStacks.AppPlayer.plist in your home directory. If the file isn’t there, try starting then quitting the BlueStacks.
  2. Make sure BlueStacks is not running.
  3. Open the file in your favorite text or XML editor.
  4. Locate the <key>FrameBuffer</key> element. Everything you need to change is in the dictionary below it.

The items to change are Width, Height, WindowWidth, and WindowHeight. The first two parameters control the size that the Android apps see. The second two control the size of the window displayed on your Mac.

iCloud Mail Frustrations

Generally, I like Apple’s iCloud (formerly me.com, formerly mac.com) email service better than Gmail. Unlike Google:

  • Apple doesn’t aggressively spy on users for purposes of marketing to them,
  • iCloud doesn’t have obnoxious security that gets false positives every time I travel or do something a tiny bit out of the ordinary.

But, there is one area where Gmail outshines iCloud like a star outshines a small, rocky planet: its Web interface. iCloud’s web interface positively sucks. It’s prime design goal was apparently to value appearance over all else, and to particularly value it over functionality. It’s bloated in the extreme with fragile AJAX-using Javascript that crumbles the moment your network connection departs from rock-solid. It’s also monstrously inefficient in its use of screen space; one must stretch the browser window to comically wide proportions just to be able to read messages. It’s so painful to use that the feature might as well not be there in the first place.

Gmail, by contrast, at realizes that not the whole world wants to run bloatware in their web pages, and offers a “basic HTML” mode which is actually pretty sane.

I’m hoping to work around the problem by installing Squirrelmail and using that to access iCloud for those times where I don’t want to configure a mail client. Already ran into one roadblock with my connections from one of my servers (a shared one) being blackholed. And I really shouldn’t need to do this: Apple should offer a simple, sane, non-bloated web interface for iCloud.

Selling Tires over the Internet? Really?

This strikes me as a strange niche for an online business. They are admittedly trying to address the main problem with ordering tires online: how to install them. But how well that will end up working strikes me as uncertain.

It still compels consumers to have to deal with two businesses to get a new set of tires. Ever since selling tires for automobiles became a business proposition, retailers in that industry have bundled installation and sales. I suspect that’s probably for a good reason.

Selling tires over the Internet sounds like it might be a better proposition for a business-to-business venture to me: focus on selling tires and help marketing tires at a competitive price to garages.

It all makes me wonder if this isn’t simply a sign of yet another dot.com bubble hitting its peak.

Sites that “Forget” Passwords

It happened again: a business I deal with that regularly bills me for an ongoing service asked me to update my billing information, because the credit card number I had furnished them expires this month. Fair enough, but when I tried to log onto their site, it rejected my password. I know I was using the correct password, because I use a password manager to keep track of such things.

As I began, this is hardly the first time this has happened. It’s inevitably for a site I don’t visit very often. My guess is that there is some sort of logic bomb coded into many sites, which proclaims a password stale if it is not used regularly enough. This is the case despite there being no password expiration policy (I never got any such email, and as usual the system simply let me “reset” the password using the same old one I’ve been using).

It’s strange behavior. If a password is old enough not to trust, wouldn’t you want to simply expire it, and demand a new one? And if you’re going to expire someone’s password, wouldn’t you want to send a warning email before it expires?

Yet More Evidence Apple Sucks Now

As I wrote recently, their laptops now mostly suck. Now their smartphones are starting to suck. Make that their smartphones are starting to suck more, because smartphones have always sucked. And their iPads now suck too, now that they’re programmed to deliberately brick themselves when you travel.

There’s definitely a trend going here, and it’s not a good one.

How Long Did It Take Apple to Start Sucking after Steve Jobs Died? About Four Years

I got a fancy new top-of-the-line MacBook at my new job. It disappoints me:

  1. It is deficient in ports and connectors; there is no longer a dedicated power connector; one must use one of the USB connectors to connect a power cord, and
  2. That latter fact means that the power cord has a USB-C connector on it, not a MagSafe connector.

It is beyond me how anyone could be so big of an idiot to not realize that (2) is just about the worst idea since New Coke. MagSafe connectors were one of the best things about Apple laptops, full stop. I can’t count how many times they saved a laptop of mine from crashing to the floor. And now this advantage is gone from most of Apple’s highest end machines.

Apparently Apple started this idiocy in late 2015. Until this week, I had been blissfully unaware of it, thanks to being a cheapskate who purchases lower-end laptops (and then only when the previous one dies and spare parts are unavailable).

Were Jobs still alive, the idiot who proposed such an idea would doubtless have been the victim of one of Jobs’ famous temper tantrums. And the idiot would have deserved it.

Thankfully, there’s a company out there dedicated to giving Mac users back what Apple took away. I plan to request one of their adapters; it should be a cheap insurance policy against my laptop meeting the floor at high speed.

Working around Apple Mail’s Auto-Complete Misfeature

If you use an address book, Apple Mail can be very aggressive about auto-completion, to the point that your ability to send messages to an arbitrary address ends up being seriously compromised. There’s a simple workaround to this problem: enclose the address in angle brackets, e.g. <user@host.com>.

There’s an old discussion thread on apple.com (without any resolution) about this, but not much else, so I figured I’d put it up here just in case it gets indexed and ends up being useful to someone.

Yes, I’m using Apple Mail again… for now… and only on my new work computer. That’s because others there report it interoperates better with their mail server than Thunderbird. I have the sneaky feeling that I’ll bail on Apple Mail within a month or two, but might as well be a good sport and give it an honest chance.

Keywords: Apple, Mail, address book, autocomplete, disable.