The Ritual of the Slingshot

Published at 19:19 on 12 December 2013

It is time again for the yearly ritual of copying my contacts from this year’s Slingshot Organizer to the next. It’s something of a chore, but it also forces me once per year to do the necessary task of purging old and obsolete information. Moreover, I keep all the old Organizers and use them as a sort of back-up device to the current one I am using.

Yes, I’m old fashioned. I’ve rehashed this several times before and won’t bother doing so again. Suffice to say I’ve considered a smart phone and concluded it just doesn’t suit me as well as more traditional technologies.

Good Riddance to Apple Mail

Published at 18:34 on 1 December 2013

I’ve put up with it’s broken search function for years. Searching in Apple Mail depends on a fragile and basically broken indexing system that is typically out of step with the actual contents of a mailbox file. Upshot is that a search typically fails to find the message I’m trying to locate.

Then filtering mysteriously stopped working. I had set up a battery of filtering rules to ensure that the torrent of low-priority messages I get on my work computer get shunted to one of two low-priority folders, leaving the main inbox folder for messages that typically have higher priority. This was even worse, as important messages were now getting buried in the torrent of low-priority babble.

The last straw was when deleting mail suddenly stopped working for my Gmail account after I upgraded to OSX Mavericks. I’d delete a message only to have it immediately pop back into existence. OK, time to get off my butt and stop procrastinating about dumping Apple Mail, now.

After a little bit of research, I downloaded Thunderbird because it seemed to have fairly good ratings and I could download it for free right now and start using something that was hopefully not fatally broken.

The first pleasant surprise was configuring my inbox. It was shockingly easy compared to how painful it typically is in Apple Mail, where there always seems to be a crucially important setting buried in an obscure submenu which has defaults to the incorrect value.

The second pleasant surprise came when my messages were displayed: the display looked much like the old Apple Mail did, before Apple started playing games with the display of the inbox in various ways which always seemed to reduce the number of message subject lines and senders you could see at a glance.

The third pleasant surprise came when I set up filtering. There was a most useful “From, To, CC, or BCC” option which let me define in one rule what it took creating four rules to do in Apple Mail. And the filtering actually worked, instead of silently failing for no good reason.

The fourth surprise happened today, about a month later, when I set up Thunderbird on my home computer. I have a bunch of email accounts, and one of them is on a discount hosting service and has some truly strange options. I saved that one for the last. Before I got to it, I noticed Thunderbird flashing a message about checking its database of mail server parameters when I configured one of my other inboxes. So that’s why things “just work” and I don’t have to fight my way through obscure sub-menus. Could it be? Yes: I enter that final account, the message about checking the database flashes, configuration parameters found, done, even the obscure one “just worked”!

And searching works, too.

AJAX Makes Javascript Suck

Published at 18:12 on 1 December 2013

Probably the biggest reason Javascript-infested websites suck so mightily is AJAX. Every GUI widget no longer simply operates local to the browser; in the background things are talking to the server for every little thing you do. This makes pages act erratically if your Internet connection is anything less than rock-solid and high-speed.

Making matters even worse is the tendency for JS-infested pages to re-invent the wheel. Instead of using standard buttons and other widgets, it’s all implemented from the ground up in Javascript. Unlike the standard widgets, these JS ones violate the look and feel of what the rest of your computer is doing.

Add that to the erratic behavior that AJAX causes with anything less than optimal network connectivity, and you have a recipe for an unusable web page. Do I need to click on that widget or not? One click or two? Does its color indicate it active, or disabled? Did the click I made register, or did AJAX make it vanish due to network flakiness? Or is the response just delayed? Oh, it did something! Was that my first click (with an unwanted second response coming when the network catches up), or my second one? And so on, and so forth.

Mind you, I’m not saying “never use Javascript”, just “use Javascript with great caution, and only when there’s no other way to do what you want (and are you sure it has to be done in a way that requires Javascript in the first place?)”.

Javascript’s proper place is as a seldom-used last resort, not as a commonly-used first one. Browsers work best when they run functional and descriptive code such as HTML and CSS, not procedural code such as Javascript. They also work best when user interaction is handled “off-line” (i.e. completely locally by the user’s computer), not “on-line” in an AJAX fashion.