Saturday, November 30, 2013

Backing Up Gmail Automatically via Thunderbird (free and easy)

I've been (mostly figuratively) losing sleep for most of a decade now, not having a local backup of my cloud-based Gmail account. Now that kids are mostly grown up, I find I actually have time for stuff like this. So I spent a chunk of my Saturday night working on fixing this bad situation. 

Huge thanks to Chris Hoffman of for a great article (here). As a mid-level but not hardcore geek, I agonized over what approach to take. I finally decided to go with Thunderbird, as Chris described. Very happy, not much pain, 90 minutes later I have my 10-year-old, 7 Gb Gmail account backed up. THANK YOU, CHRIS. I actually spent more time researching and agonizing, than I did configuring--even with a couple of minor Murphy's Law incidents.

A couple of updates to Chris's article:

1. Biggest thing--if you have Gmail 2-step authentication, you will have to generate an application-specific password. Obvious to some, but not me--I only realized in a "duh" moment when I searched for help.

2. In the new version of Thunderbird, I didn't have to do any of that boolean preferences stuff. It all just worked. But took me a while to give up looking where I could set them, and try my luck. What a pleasant surprise.

3. Avast had SSL conflicts. I wound up turning off Mail monitoring. Will go back to it eventually and see if I can make it happy.

In the meantime--thanks again to Chris and!

Next stops for me: Google Takeout, and a 1 Tb external drive.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Jargonwatch: Clubbed (together)

Example: "If we wait till next week, we could just club these three changes together, in one update". "I clubbed all the complaints under the category 'poor communication'. "

The first time I heard this usage was 6 years ago. I have heard it intermittently since then, mostly at my employer. I found it very strange. "Clubbed" didn't seem to convey anything that "combined" did not already accomplish. And the denotation was unclear to me.

Although I still do not care for the term, some quick research suggests it is not simply a modern invention. Many sources give secondary definitions of "unite or combine". I think the usage goes back to the root: "1175–1225; Middle English clubbe  < Old Norse klubba  club; akin to clump".

Idiomwatch: "[That's] on you"

Example: "Nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft Office. If it has problems, you as the IT Executive aren't held personally responsible. But if you take a chance on some small shop or open source thing, and it doesn't work out--that's on you."

Definition: an act or decision for which, if things go badly, you are going to be "held accountable" (another over-used phrase). I.e., you will be roundly blamed for the action and its outcome, and you will be viewed as a weasel if you don't accept full responsibility (because, after all, it "on" you).

Like "on line", I suspect this of being a British-ism that has crossed the ocean. Unlike "on line", which seems a case of variety for variety's sake only, I find it unobjectionable. It provides a very compact formulation, that seems to have a usefully different connotation than the conventional "that's your fault".

The closest variant that comes to my mind is "that's your doing". Difference: "that's your doing" seems to be used more for small-bore, personal actions. "That's on you" for actions that have a widespread, public effect.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Idiom Checker, as a Software Component


Next frontier for word processors and text editors of all kinds: an "idiom checker". One obvious purpose: in multi-nationality work teams, to point out to writers that they may be using idioms unfamiliar to other nationalities. Conversely, for the non-native speakers, to highlight idioms, and offer immediate, integrated translation.


Develop this as an open-source project.


Crowd-sourced library of idioms. Somewhat like Urban Dictionary, but more curated, along the lines of Wikipedia.
Ability to obtain a structured extract, for local usage and packaging.

UI Conventions

Something comparable to the now-ubiquitous red-squiggly underline that signifies a misspelling. I am thinking maybe a purple, dashed underline[3]. 

For definition lookup, I am thinking a two-stage presentation, along the lines of Amazon Kindle. E.g., a mouseover brings up the first, short, most common definition. A right-click brings up the option to "see idiom wiki page". 

Nice-to-Have Enhancements

Some degree of "fuzziness"...e.g., identify "out of a clear blue sky" as being a trivial variant of "out of the clear blue sky".

Providing examples that replace the idiom with non-idiomatic formulations.

Rating the idiom in various dimensions: uniqueness (something will be lost in translation), triteness, ambiguity, frequency, age-group popularity, source [2].

To take the rating to the next level, define contexts: business, personal, official correspondence, journalism, general public announcements.


[2] "Sports" may be the 800-pound gorilla of categories, for frequently used business idioms.
[3] Since I can't make a purple, dashed underline with my text editor, I am substituting lavendar highlighting for the examples herein.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Blockbuster's Demise: Bad Karma from Late Fees

I have a deeply-held belief that companies which generate significant, sustained ill-will from their customer base will suffer in the long run. I both think this is true, and really want it to be true. I think Microsoft is headed there.

NPR's report on Blockbuster reminded me how greedy they were with late fees, in the VHS days. They thought they had wiped out the competition, so customer goodwill didn't matter much. Now, they are closing their last few stores, and still being sued over late fees.

What are some other companies that I think are candidates for cosmic justice?

Comcast. High fees, forcing too much bundling on consumers, offering too many short-term teaser deals, rather than solid, long-term value.

Facebook. For relentlessly testing consumers' limits on privacy. Like a 2-year old testing their parents.

Verizon, AT&T. For high rates, complicated price structures, and relentlessly sticking to the opaque business model of bundled handsets and two-year contracts. Go T-Mobile!

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Shift-F2 Zoom: Great Feature that Nobody Bothered to Copy

Shift-F2 zoom was present in the earliest versions of MS-Access, and is still there to this day. Editing a cell or field with a long text string becomes difficult, tedious and error-prone if you can only see a few lines at a time. This is an issue in long database fields, in spreadsheets, in web forms. The terrific solution that MS-Access implemented was Shift-F2, in order to zoom the field into a much bigger editing box. I use it all the time in Access.

20 years later, and nobody seems to have copied this feature. I frequently fill in forms and edit cells that don't have enough real estate to view the entirety of a paragraph or two of text.