These area few useful tech points I've accumulated and thought I'd post them in case they help anyone else.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Thunderbird - include 'Notes' in the search of the address book

By default, the open-source email client Thunderbird does not search the 'Notes' field of contact entries when doing a quick search from the 'Name or Email' search box on the top right corner of the Address Book window. Here's how to add that capability.

Open the 'Config Editor' via the Tools-Options-Advanced-General menu. Smile at the 'There be dragons' warning and continue. The 'Config Editor' presents a long list of keywords next to their assigned values, similar to the 'Registry Editor' in Windows (hence the warning). Type quicksearch in the filter text box, which will return the preference mail.addr_book.quicksearchquery.format.

Double-click the quicksearchquery entry to edit it.  The field is a complicated logical formula of the format


with each (..) item being something like (PrimaryEmail,c,@V)
The important point to note here is the list ends with double brackets i.e. )) which makes sense if you look a the overall structure.
Your job is to insert another entry in the (..) list:
In simple terms this means putting that entry between the double brackets at the end of the list, so you end up with something like:
If you insert the new value as (..) and don't have still have a double bracket at the end of the list, then you've messed up.

I'm not sure when Thunderbird reloads the config values you've just editted, but in my case it seems to take an exit and restart of Thunderbird to get the settings to take effect...

Now when you use the search in the address book, it will look for your string in the Notes field as well.

To find the names of the othe fields if you want to include others in the search, type attr in the filter text box, and you will find the various field names.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

DVD slow in Windows 7 - the green bar of death

I don't have the answer yet but Win 7 clearly has a serious issue reading data from DVD drives.

Putting a data DVD in the drive, and then opening the drive in Win 7 Windows Explorer is taking an *excruciating* long time to complete. Tested the same drive with the same DVD-ROM in a Win XP computer and the response was pretty much immediate.

Putting a *CD*-rom in the drive results in normal quick performance. Changing the drive from DVD/RW etc to plain DVD-ROM didn't make much difference - at first I suspected Win 7 was trying to be clever with a writeable DVD drive but that wasn't it.

When you search around the web there are thousands of posts from users seeking help with this problem, but most threads go through the lines of "ensure your AV is turned off", "check your drive hasn't got errors and fallen back to an old/slow read mode (PIO)" "make sure you haven't got malware" but it's clear to me the issue is related to Win 7 software support for the DVD drive.

Win 7 seems to be doing loads of IO to the drive, maybe it's indexing the files, or it's trying to create a thumbnail of everything on it, but the throughput for your application (in this case I'm just browsing in Windows Explorer and eventually (many minutes later) clicking on a msoft installer) is excruciatingly slow.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Managing an SSD on your desktop PC

There is one technique for managing SSD's with Vista or Windows 7 that just kicks ass - anyone that doesn't know this method has just received a major critical freebie piece of advice here:

1) Install the SSD as your BOOT drive (i.e. C:) - say min 60GB - now you have a fast boot but have already used 25GB. FYI turning hibernate off (see web) saves at least the amount of mem you have, e.g. 8GB so it's worth considering.

2) Install a decent sized hard drive - e.g. 1TB (e.g. E:)

3) Create a folder on your hard drive e.g. E:\Documents

4) Install applications as per normal to the C: drive - e.g. this makes things easy with Steam

5) When some data is less performance-critical e.g. My Videos
5.1) COPY the C:\..\My Videos folder to E:\Documents
5.2) RENAME the C:\..\My Videos folder to C:\..\My Videos_backup (just in case you screw up)
5.3) Open a "CMD" window as administrator in the C:\.. folder that has My Videos
5.4) Use the command mklink /d "C:\..\My Videos" "E:\Documents\My Videos" i.e. create a symlink pointing to the new E: folder with the exact same name the folder used to have.
5.5) test your software and it should be unaffected. If so, delete the C:\..\My Videos_backup folder.

See? This method simply moves whole folders from your SSD to your hard drive, and then creates a 'symlink' back on the SSD where the folder used to be so that PC software still thinks it's on C:. It's easy to check in Windows Explorer - you just click through the C: folders as normal and you'll move onto E: as you click on the folder that still appears to be on C:. I.e. to software the PC behaves 100% as if the "C:\..\My Videos\Disneyland\Hamburger" folder still exists on the C: drive. The move is so seamless even Windows Explorer will give you folder-size stats for the documents folder that include the stuff that's actually been moved (confusing, given the point of all this) but the *disk* stats correctly show the saved space on C:.

Major plusses of this approach are
  •  it's actually pretty simple
  •  you can move huge chunks of the filesystem over to the hard drive using the same technique, e.g. My Music, My Pictures, My Videos, without applications noticing you've done it
  •  the 'default' install of all software to C: is unchanged - Steam in particular installs to C: always so if you want an SSD boot drive you need to know how to do this
  •  it's not a 'sudden death' cutover - you can leave the C: folders in place (renamed) for a while until you're 100% confident you haven't screwed up - delete the link and rename the folder back reverses out the move.
  •  the 'default' for a game install is to have all files on the SSD for fast access, and you then move big chunks that you know are large volume, low performance. This is easier that starting with the game on E: (hard drive) and trying to find the bits that turn out to be important for performance and moving them to C:.
  •  there's a subtle benefit - moving some stuff that was in C:\Program Files to E:\ actually moves it out of the UAC controls, so pre-Vista software (like FSX) that clashes with UAC actually work better if you move their executable folders (i.e. Modules in FSX) over to E:\. In my case all the FSX scenery is still on the SSD so the app runs fast. The 'SimObjects\Airplanes' folder is huge but doesn't affect flight framerates (only aircraft load times) so that's moved to the hard drive. If/When I get bored with FSX I'll move all of it to the hard drive, not uninstall it.