Shooting Myself Squarely in the Foot


I started off this morning by managing to delete all the messages from my Inbox, which had almost 3000 messages in it.

Somewhere on the OSAF Wiki there was a page where they described several different common patterns of using email. One of them was methodically deleting or filing each email into a folder as it is read. Another was leaving all email in the Inbox and coping with it there (the fact that I can’t find that page now might suggest something about the effectiveness of wikis for managing lots of into) . Much as I’d like to behave in the former fashion, I’m much closer to the latter.

I was setting up a new account in Thunderbird on the Powerbook, looking at the same set server and folder set as my existing account, in order to use a different From: address. That worked fine, but I then realized there was a better way of accomplishing the same thing, so I deleted the account.

It was only after deleting the account that I realized that I had mistakenly set up the account using the default access method, which on Thunderbird (like many mail clients) is for POP instead of IMAP, and set to delete messages from the server after retrieving them.

Why would anyone ship an email client that by default deletes your messages from the server?

While there was a certain degree of liberation in suddenly being freed from all of the tasks I had facing me, I quickly realized that I was going to be in deep doo-doo without some of the messages in that Inbox.

Luckily, I was able to discover that, since I have Thunderbird on my Powerbook setup to make my Inbox messages available offline, there was a file named Inbox in my ~/Library/Thunderbird/Profiles directory. Seeing as the file was almost 66 megabytes and had a timestamp of just before I made my boneheaded mistake, I figured it was likely to be my Inbox – and it was!

The next task was how to access the Inbox, or the copy of it that I quickly made.

My first thought was to use Thunderbird’s Import facility, which can import mail from other programs, including Eudora, which uses the same mbox mailbox format as Thunderbird.

But the filenames for the Inbox file and the copy were greyed out when I ran the Import utility, so I couldn’t select them.

My colleague Zephyr suggested opening the file with Pine on the Powerbook.

I created a new collection in Pine, navigated to the Inbox file, and opened it – which worked beautfully! I was then able to save the 3000 messages back up to a new folder on the IMAP server, and all my messages were again accessible. Whew.

That’s no way to start a day.

But the moral of the story is, when you really need flexible ways to work with email, Pine is your friend!

2 thoughts on “Shooting Myself Squarely in the Foot”

  1. 3000!? I feel overwhelmed if I let my inbox grow to 300 messages.

    I like Gmail’s approach, which is just archive the message in a database, and let me search for it later.

    What would be ideal, though, would be to allow one to tag each message with arbitrary tags a la and Flickr and a growing number of utilities, and then just add it to the soup. There is no MUA that I know of currently that has this capability.


  2. Gmail does this; it calls the tags “labels.” You can set up filters to automatically apply labels to messages, and you can also apply them manually. You can then pull up all the messages tagged with a given label, or combination of labels.

    Of course, after trying Gmail for a month, I went crawling back to pine…but I did like the labels, among other things.


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