My Thunderbird 3 Fix-ups

I’ve been using the Mozilla Thunderbird email client for many years and found a few annoyances upgrading from v2 to v3 – here are my gotchas and fixes for it to fit my email habits.

While I’m sure it’s great for most people and cases, if you have the slightest bit of complexity in how you might connect to your mail server(s), the auto-account-creation wizard blows.. With one personal email account (on my own mail server), the account setup wizard worked out most of the settings pretty closely, however, my work account and a couple others went haywire and set up everything completely wrong. If you let the wizard run for any amount of time, it attempts to find servers by DNS and writes the account profile to disk in the wrong place just because some DNS name exists. The trick is to enter your Name and Email account in the very first window, then get ready to mash Stop immediately after continuing on to the next window. Then you can hit Manual Setup and add all the settings correctly and things are written to disk in the correct locations, etc.. There really needs to be a Manual Setup option on that first account creation window that bypasses the auto-account discovery, or a config setting to disable the discovery altogether. I like automagic things, but there always needs to be a sane manual option. Period.

Next up is the thread pane headers (thread, starred, sender, date, etc.).. In TB2, you set the headers in one view, and all folder views are the same. I can understand people wanting to have different views, but there is no option to set all views the same, so every single folder has to be modified.. This sucks when you have lots of folders and I have tons of them. There is a workaround – do not log into the account on the first prompt – set the thread pane headers you want on the Inbox, and most (not all) will inherit the Inbox view. Then log in later and fix the few incorrect views that remain (Drafts, Trash, etc.).

While you have the account created and have not logged in the first time, yet, you might want to dig through the account settings and decide if you want a few things changed – particularly under Synchronization & Storage.. no, I don’t want to keep all messages locally – I use IMAP – uncheck that box. I really don’t want to store gigs of messages locally by default – the whole point of IMAP is to keep the messages on the server. I also read some notes from people that use POP3 and (used to) “keep messages on server” – the default TB3 POP3 account creation pops all the messages off the server and deletes them from the server – be aware.. (and you should really be using IMAP, if you want this behavior anyway)

As of writing, the GPG/OpenPGP plugin, Enigmail, does not have a functional x86_64 Linux port for TB3 in the Add-Ons widget.. sigh.. There is a contributed port built on Arch Linux on the Enigmail download page that works for me. This should be fixed soon in the official Add-Ons widget, I suppose.

Some of my about:config modifications for sane behavior (Edit – Preferences – Advanced – Config Editor):

  • mail.check_all_imap_folders_for_new; true
  • mail.operate_on_msgs_in_collapsed_threads; false
  • mail.tabs.autoHide; true
  • mailnews.display.prefer_plaintext; true
  • mailnews.nav_crosses_folders; 0

OK, it’s just about time to actually log in and fetch mail! A bit of IMAP header fetching and on to reading some mail, changing the toolbar buttons to small, and then I found the message header collapse is gone.. Ah, there is a nicely working add-on for that: CompactHeader by jmozmoz Thank you, thank you!

And on restart of TB3, I end up in whatever folder I was last viewing on shutdown.. and very odd behavior of password prompting, if it was a nested folder (duplicate login prompts..). And no where is there an option to configure “Start in my f’ing Inbox”. This is retarded, in my opinion – who asked for this “feature” anyway? Once again, there looks to be a sort-of-working plugin for this (and once again, this is a manual download/install, at the moment): Select Inbox by Bogdan Rechi This works ok in starting up in the default account Inbox, but the weird password prompts still remain – looking at the plugin code, this is run at start time – my suggestion for TB3 is for the plugin to switch to the default Inbox at shutdown, and let TB3 just start normally. When I start up TB3 after hitting my Inbox prior to shutdown, I don’t get the strange duplicate login prompts at startup.

The default “New Messages in Folder” text color (they dumped the little star..) and the basic highlighting on folder pane, thread pane, message pane selections and focus are crap – almost unreadable blue text on blue background for “New Messages” on the default Debian Gnome theme – blue selected folders look nearly identical to the blue selected+focus folders. The colors are essentially just pulled from the OS color theme, which is fine, but it is very difficult to differentiate where the focus is – I use this visual queue a lot when scrolling up/down with the keyboard while drilling through folders or message threads. The only way to configure this is by setting up custom CSS rules via userChrome.css. My ideas came from the Mozilla Folder Pane Color for New Mail notes and from this killer resource for TB mods – here is my custom userChrome.css:

/*  Tree Text Highlighting (folders, thread pane, address pane, etc.)
    Highlight focused items, but use black on lightgrey when not in focus */
    treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(selected) {
        background-color: lightgrey !important;
        color: black !important;
    treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(selected, focus) {
        background-color: Highlight !important;
        color: white !important;
    tree[selstyle="primary"] > treechildren::-moz-tree-row {
        border: none !important;
        background-color: transparent !important;
    treechildren::-moz-tree-row(selected) {
        background-color: lightgrey !important;
    treechildren::-moz-tree-row(selected, focus) {
        background-color: Highlight !important;
/*  Folder Pane Color for New Mail */
    treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(folderNameCol, newMessages-true) {
        color: black !important;
    treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(folderNameCol, newMessages-true, selected) {
        color: black !important;
    treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(folderNameCol, newMessages-true, selected, focus) {
        color: white !important;

That about covers my fixes for my Thunderbird 3 sanity – if I need to set it up again and remember any other changes, I’ll add them in.

Update: I added in the config option to disable the new brain-dead collapsed thread display – nice try, Mozilla, but you can’t actually expand it and navigate with the keyboard, so FAIL.. mail.operate_on_msgs_in_collapsed_threads; false

mplayer Video File Properties

I was looking for some native 1080/720p HD media files and also comparing some lower resolution files played back on a new HDTV. Many times you can get some quick info on media file properties with the ‘file’ utility:

mshuler@gaea:~$ file Life.Of.Brian.1979.avi
Life.Of.Brian.1979.avi: RIFF (little-endian) data, AVI, 640 x 336, 25.00 fps, video: XviD, audio: MPEG-1 Layer 3 (stereo, 48000 Hz)

or not..:

mshuler@gaea:~$ file Three.Days.of.the.Condor.1975.mkv
Three.Days.of.the.Condor.1975.mkv: Matroska data

A quick look at the ‘mplayer’ man page gave me the options I needed to get all the properties without playback of the file:

mshuler@gaea:~$ mplayer -identify -frames 0 Three.Days.of.the.Condor.1975.mkv
MPlayer SVN-r30656 (C) 2000-2010 MPlayer Team
Playing Three.Days.of.the.Condor.1975.mkv.
ID_CHAPTER_0_NAME=The American Literary Historical Society
ID_CHAPTER_1_NAME=Out to Lunch
ID_CHAPTER_3_NAME=The Ansonia Hotel
ID_CHAPTER_4_NAME=Still in Flight
ID_CHAPTER_5_NAME=Some Safe Quiet Time
ID_CHAPTER_6_NAME=Sam's Apartment
ID_CHAPTER_7_NAME=Lonely Pictures
ID_CHAPTER_9_NAME=Sparrow Hawk
ID_CHAPTER_10_NAME=The Suspicion Business
ID_CHAPTER_11_NAME=Leonard Atwood
ID_CHAPTER_12_NAME=Fine Qualities
ID_CHAPTER_14_NAME=For that Day
ID_CHAPTER_15_NAME=Telling Stories
[mkv] Track ID 1: video (V_MPEG4/ISO/AVC), -vid 0
[mkv] Track ID 2: audio (A_AC3), -aid 0, -alang eng
[mkv] Track ID 3: subtitles (S_VOBSUB), -sid 0, -slang eng
[mkv] Will play video track 1.
Matroska file format detected.
VIDEO:  [avc1]  704x352  24bpp  23.976 fps    0.0 kbps ( 0.0 kbyte/s)
Opening video decoder: [ffmpeg] FFmpeg's libavcodec codec family
Selected video codec: [ffh264] vfm: ffmpeg (FFmpeg H.264)
Opening audio decoder: [ffmpeg] FFmpeg/libavcodec audio decoders
AUDIO: 48000 Hz, 2 ch, s16le, 448.0 kbit/29.17% (ratio: 56000->192000)
Selected audio codec: [ffac3] afm: ffmpeg (FFmpeg AC-3)
AO: [alsa] 48000Hz 2ch s16le (2 bytes per sample)
Starting playback...
Exiting... (End of file)

MacReport.Net Media Publishing, Inc. <- IDIOTS..

Public notice to the idiots at MacReport.Net Media Publishing, Inc.:

For over a year, various morons at your organization have been sending email to my address. Repeated replies requesting that the senders completely remove my email address from your organization’s contact lists have failed. Various forms of assuredly private information including profit/loss statements, merchandise invoice information, requests for payroll adjustments, insurance bills and quotes – stuff that I’m sure would be unfortunate to have publicly known – have been repeatedly sent to me.. This is my last reply in an attempt to address your incapacity to figure out who the hell you are sending email to. Today, I received two more emails from Patricia A. Phillips, so this is it..

If you cannot figure out how to manage your email and I receive future messages from your organization, I will simply publish each and every message, past and present, in a conspicuous place such as for feedback from the public.


What I Think About the iPad

Yesterday, a friend asked my opinion of the iPad (“If it can’t print what’s the point..?”), and this morning, Michelle asked me about whether it would be a good device for teaching, working on documents and presentations, etc. My answer to both is: It depends.

For one, it’s difficult for me to provide a completely objective review – this device is intended to evoke emotion and that’s exactly what Steve Jobs wants – you are *supposed* to fall in love with the iPad. Secondly, I do not own an iPhone nor an iPad – I’ve played with other people’s iPhones quite a bit and have not seen an iPad in person, yet. So, if you absolutely adore your iPhone, compare every other handheld device to it, and within 30 seconds declare that all other handhelds are bred of lesser mobile genes, sleep with it not just on the nightstand, but perhaps under the pillow, then you may wish to stop reading.. I have an opinion or two.

First and foremost, Apple is crazy brilliant at marketing. Everyone is iPad-caffeinated right now because deliveries have started and people now have these devices in their hands and flooding the twitterverse with their excitement – same has happened with each iPhone hardware and software release. There is love in the air, and Apple loves you for loving them. People do not do the same with ThinkPad hardware releases and Windows updates (unless MS breaks shit, which happens..)

There is a lot to love with the iPad! I don’t want to be a party-pooper, far from it – I want an iPad, too! The form factor is killer – this type of device will definitely change the way people interact with the web, social media, medical patient rounds, watch movies, etc. The physical hardware engineering – the beautiful touchscreen, the weight, the *feel* (yeah.. when I actually get to feel one), the applications – these type of devices *will* change the Internet world, so I would like one, too, please.

Will I buy one? Should you? That depends.

I probably won’t – not unless Apple comes out with a compelling Gen2 iPad.. Look around at some of the (non-iFanBoy) reviews in the last couple days: no camera (the chassis has the identical insert as iPhone’s camera CCD, so it will eventually get one), no multi-tasking, difficult data transfer, etc. For me to be compelled, at the very least, Apple needs to allow me to run more than one application at a time, if I would consider it anything more than a browsing toy. I think the #1 design failure of iPad was basing the OS off the iPhone OS, as opposed to a mobile port of OS-X, but I understand the business decision. The iPad is a fantastically gorgeous toy and if that’s your thing, it is something you should absolutely have! Go get one! Just don’t expect to do any actual work on it, unless your work is directly related to the social media arena – even then, I would almost guarantee that you will still do most of your *real* work on a laptop or desktop. After all, Apple doesn’t want to kill their laptop business, do they?

“If it can’t print what’s the point..?” – Can your iPhone print? Yeah, that’s what I thought. With the Gen1 iPad, you get essentially a neutered iPhone (it can’t make calls and no camera) with a big screen and a few extras like a very, very cool eReader and the potential to run iWork. You can absolutely work on documents, presentations, etc., but you can do that efficiently only if you do it the Apple way. If you have existing documents you wish to load up on the iPad, I understand from second-hand knowledge that it is rather difficult. Things will get better, and people will figure out how to do some work on the iPad (do you *work* on your iPhone?) – there will be some cool apps that make interesting use of the screen real estate, for sure, but..

The apps.. you really only get one choice of where to shop for your applications. And the iTunes App Store has full control over the extent of your freedoms. If you keep your entire music and video media collection in iTunes, and if you are fine with paying for almost every song and every piece of software you use (some are free), and if you either you don’t know anything about, nor understand, nor really care about software freedom, then by all means keep doing what you are doing – it is a system that really does work well. Apple does this very well – the Apple ecosystem is very functional, very pretty – even sexy, but you are bound to it by design. This ecosystem (and that’s really what it is – a technological island environment with a wonderful array of cohabitating hardwares and softwares that compliment one another – if you have the ability to build your own boat and can brave the waters, you can do some cool things outside of Apple Island) does not go well with my philosophy and beliefs in Open Source Software (google it, non-techies..) and the extreme idiocy of a great deal of software patents granted in the last 10-ish years. (sidenote: New Zealand is considering a patent reform bill that bans some forms of software patents)

So where I am going with this.. buy an iPad, but don’t expect it to be something that it is not. You might want to wait until they come out with the next version – the iPhone 3G kicks the pants off the original.

I truly believe that this type of device is the perfect (although not yet perfected) device for non-technical users – I’m fairly convinced that my mom would learn to love it. You really don’t have to think much, once you figure it out; the UI and the UX are wonderful; the hardware/software island leads to little (I hope) in the way of trouble from trojans and other exploits.

As a good schizophrenic, yeah, I would love to have an iPad. I love computing devices and I could certainly find ways to use an iPad that suit it’s design very well and it would be fun. Most likely I would hack it – I’ll build my boat (using boat plans of more talented boat designers than I), see how far I can travel off the island, and wave back at the curious looks from the sheep on the beach.

I’d guess that more likely, if I decide to spend money on a keyboardless tablet, I will get something in the same form factor, but one that allows me to have the ability to use Open Source Software, one that allows me to run an email client *and* browse the web at the same time(!), and most definitely one that has a kick-ass SSH client (is there a good one for iPad?) – much of what I do is on remote servers, so SSH is an absolute must.

Update: I understand there are a couple really good SSH apps – this alone might be the “killer app” for me.

I’m a bit of a nutcase when it comes to free software (free as in speech, not beer) – just ask my mom how fired up I get in conversations about technology.. I breath it. I tattooed it on myself. So take my words with a grain of salt, if you wish – these are only the opinions of a highly opinionated technology advocate.

Debian Tattoo