Sunday, 05 April 2009

The company where I work uses discussion lists quite religiously, and I’m sure other companies do as well. A discussion list or group allows you to subscribe to emails about a particular subject, for instance ‘silverlight’. People can send email to the group and everyone that has subscribed will receive it.

The problem is that this can become chaotic pretty quickly. Of course, everyone will setup a rule in Outlook to move incoming mail from a group to a particular folder, but I’m interested in creating a workflow that will help me stay on top of all of those emails, all the time. That is hard, mainly because you will keep getting email from conversations that you do not care about. Some of these conversations take days to come to a conclusion, making you manually wade through all of that over and over again.

There are many systems devised to deal with email stress and organizing your life inside Outlook. One important system is GTD (Getting Things Done). I find that those do not directly apply to email received from discussion lists.

What is needed, is some way to kill a thread and not be bothered with it again. There are programs that will allow you to do that and I’ve played around with all of them.
However, none quite suited me, maybe because I don’t trust programs to delete email. There is one that is called ThreadKiller, which did not install for me. I believe it does the same as I’m describing here.

I am interested in the following workflow:

  1. email comes, either new threads or replies to old threads
  2. I will look at the new threads and decide if I’m interested in them or not
  3. Threads that I no longer want, should be moved to a folder
  4. When I have time to actually read whole conversations, of the threads that remain, I will first make sure that new replies to threads are removed

Basically it boils down to finding some way to easily find and delete mail that belongs to threads I don’t want any more. Easier said than done! I ended up having to drop to VB macros, which I really wanted to avoid.

Here is a description of my current setup.

Step 1: searchfolder to manage new threads

Each discussion list I am on will have a searchfolder that only shows me ‘new’ mail. You can create one by adding a search folder, and using the ‘advanced’ tab to setup these two criteria:

1. In Folder is (exactly) –the name of the folder that has the mail from the group -
2. Subject doesn’t contain RE:

Step 2: setup a delete staging folder

Create a folder called Delete staging. It will contain the start of threads that you are no longer interested in. Basically I will have a macro later on, that will look in this folder and remove all the mail that belong to the same subject.

Step 3: easily move new threads to the delete staging folder

I’m a keyboard junkie, and I want to easily move emails to that folder.
I dropped into the VB Macro editor and used this code:

Sub MoveToDeleteStaging()
    Dim objItem As Outlook.MailItem
    Set objItem = Application.ActiveExplorer.Selection.Item(1)
        Dim objNamespace As NameSpace
    Dim objInboxFolder As Outlook.MAPIFolder
        Set objNamespace = Application.GetNamespace("MAPI")
    Set objInboxFolder = objNamespace.GetDefaultFolder(olFolderInbox)
    Set deleteFolder = objInboxFolder.Folders("Delete staging")
    objItem.Move (deleteFolder)
End Sub

Even though I despise VB, this code is quite simple indeed. You can see that I hard coded the folder “Delete staging” in there.

Now, customize the toolbar to add this macro there. Rename it to something like ‘&Delete Thread’, using the ampersand to indicate the shortcut key.

When you select a mail item and you execute the macro, it will move the item to the delete staging folder.

Step 4: scrub your folder

The real work is to make sure that mail you receive gets deleted. The best way might be to create a rule to do that as the mail comes in. I don’t like that, because I get a kick out of seeing how much mail was removed. So for now I use a manual process. The code can be easily adjusted to run as a rule when new mail arrives.

So, being a VB newbie, I’ve written code that is vey inefficient but luckily very useful. The macro below will iterate through all the items in the delete staging folder and remove any mail it finds in the folder that you are scrubbing.

Sub DeleteMessagesThatAreInDeleteStagingFolder()
    Dim deleteFolder As Outlook.Folder
    Dim currentFolder As Outlook.Folder
    Dim runningItem As Outlook.MailItem
    Dim threadItems As Outlook.Items
    Dim itemToDelete As Outlook.MailItem
    Dim objNamespace As NameSpace
    Dim objInboxFolder As Outlook.MAPIFolder
    Dim Filter As String
    Set objNamespace = Application.GetNamespace("MAPI")
    Set objInboxFolder = objNamespace.GetDefaultFolder(olFolderInbox)
    Set deleteFolder = objInboxFolder.Folders("Delete staging")
    Set currentFolder = Application.ActiveExplorer.currentFolder
    For Each runningItem In deleteFolder.Items
        Filter = "@SQL=" & Chr(34) & _
            "urn:schemas:httpmail:thread-topic" & _
            Chr(34) & "= '" & Replace(runningItem.ConversationTopic, "'", "''") & "'"
        Set threadItems = currentFolder.Items.Restrict(Filter)
        For Each itemToDelete In threadItems
End Sub

The code uses a filter in the dsal language (some sort of SQL wannabe language used by Outlook) to filter the email in the folder so it can then delete it.

Again, I created a toolbar shortcut for it.


Just go to your search folder and quickly triage all the mail that is there by either reading the mail or moving it to the delete staging folder. Then go to the actual folder and scrub it using the second macro. This will remove all the threads that you were not interested in, leaving you with threads to you do want to read!!

I hope that is useful to someone.

Sunday, 05 April 2009 00:45:09 (Romance Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [18]  |  Trackback
 Wednesday, 27 August 2008

[intended public is not the silverlight guru’s, but rather my friends and others that do not understand the coming of a new web :) ]

As I am preparing for our adventure in Canada, I’m meeting up with loads of old friends to have ‘one last beer’. That always seems to take place in my local Irish Pub, where I have spent way too many nights drinking their lovely Irish Red beer. I prefer it to Guinness, although it was quite nice to visit the Guinness factory in Dublin…

But I digress.

The discussion of the evening always, at some point in time, touches on Silverlight and how I think the web will change because of it. It’s quite a good feeling for me to see that I get all jazzed up talking about it :)
The current reigning web technology is obviously html. It has been king ever since the first webbrowser was introduced and for good reason. It is multi-platform, fast, easy to deploy and well-understood. Most importantly, it is stateless.

However, it can not compete against a desktop application when judged on UI richness and interactivity. Now, I am not talking about a simple mail-client or an rss-reader, but I’m talking about a big client application where quite a bit of information is processed. Is a stateless architecture appropriate for such an application?
No, it is not.

To be more exact: a large part of the application would be best to run on the client, where it can cache data and do processing. That application could (should) still talk to a back-end in a stateless manner.

The html-world has been working hard to ‘fake’ interactivity and has done so remarkably well. However, they will always be fighting against a technology which just wasn’t created to support the scenario’s they are trying to accomplish.

With the introduction of AIR, Flex and Silverlight 2, the kind of scenario’s I am envisioning are becoming a real possibility. It is now possible to create an application that is as rich as a desktop application, without all the hassle of deployment.
But, and this is what amazes me most, many of my friends don’t ‘get’ it. Ouch!! They fail to see how a RIA could do much better than a html based application. It is curious to me how we now all have a powerful desktop computer, and are still using it as a terminal. And even liking it!!

There are things html is perfect for: bringing text and even images in a nice layout. But that’s about it. Asp.Net, Ruby, Php and the lot, are all trying to add programmability to html. Since that is not what html is designed for, they have to process on the server. This model is slow and wasteful.

The only way it seems to really show people how a different web could look like, take a look at the work of thirteen23. Here they show a few different designs of how facebook could look like. It only shows off some nice visuals, so take a look at the incredible photosynth application.
My all time favorite in showing people what the world could look like is still the microsoft health patient journey demonstrator. If that doesn’t make it ‘click’ for you, check out another demo of woodgrove financial or a different way of browsing amazon.

The next few months or years, html will still be king. But it is inevitable that the web will transition towards the richness the new technologies are able to offer. I’m looking forward to seeing that happen and I hope that the current batch of html/ruby/ developers are not missing out on the incredible opportunities it presents.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008 13:36:18 (Romance Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [8]  |  Trackback
 Friday, 25 July 2008

I started my career when I was still in university. I started a company named Sitechno that did webapplications and custom solutions. The last few years, I’ve been hired as a consultant on some big projects.
The role I was given on my last project, allowed me to do some crazy cool stuff, using nHibernate and winforms. I was able to push WCF, WF and WPF into a big client/server application, and had great success with it. We reformed a monolithic data-oriented application into a domain-oriented loosely coupled application.

It’s easy enough to find new projects, but the market for the cutting edge technologies is not very big ;-)

When I was asked to join Microsoft, my main attraction to the offer was the opportunity to work on cutting edge technology with a group of passionate people. When I talked Microsofties on the Redmond campus, it became clear that they could certainly offer just that.

I was torn between working on EF (which, I’ve been very involved with lately) and on Silverlight.
In the end, Silverlight won, because I strongly believe it to be the strongest contender in the client space, there is an interesting ‘war’ going on right now, and I have really enjoyed working with the WPF-framework in the past. I was torn by the decision because whatever choice I made, I knew that a great opportunity would be lost.

We will be heading to Vancouver, Canada in September and I will work for Microsoft Canada for a year. After that, I will be allowed to work in the U.S.A. and we will move to Redmond.

You can not believe how excited I am about this opportunity. I will be working for Shawn Burke on Silverlight Controls. I’m not sure yet who else is working on the team, but I believe/hope I’ll be working with David, Ted, Kirti and Jeff.

As for EFContrib: although I’m dedicated to it, I’m having a hard time finding the time to work on it. Also, since version 2.0 of EF will feature some nice Poco capabilities. So, I’m not sure if people are waiting for the solution. It would be nice to make it work with SL though! So, if I find the time, or get lots of mail of people wanting me to finish it properly, I’ll work on it some more.

Friday, 25 July 2008 09:46:13 (Romance Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [15]  |  Trackback
 Sunday, 30 December 2007

I have been on the same project for a long time, and it has given me many opportunities that I am very thankful for:

  • Big time WPF experience. The project was one of the first big WPF projects, starting out when WPF was called Avalon. I have gained a deep insight in the technology and I am very happy to say that I really love it. Yes, it has it's flaws and sometimes feels 'beta-like' still, but it has great potential and is fun to work with.
  • WF experience. I was able to do some great stuff with WF and I view WF as a major step forward for business proces modelling. However, it does have it's downfalls , and I am looking forward to the next version to correct those. Having said that, for specific scenario's, WF is really the way to go, even at this moment.
  • Architecture: I was able to shape the project using these great technologies and I was given a great team of people to implement it with.

However, it's time for a new challenge now! I'm taking some serious time off to relax and look into new technologies. I'm very interested in the Entity Framework. I haven't blogged about these things for a long time, because I was totally into WPF, but I feel a strong desire to start poking at the framework. I also hope to spend some time looking into F# and all the dynamic language stuff that's been hitting us lately (the DLR). Obviously, I'll take a look at Silverlight, potentially the best thing ever to come out of Redmond. I hope it lives up to expectations!

After my little sabbatical, I will be interested in helping out with new projects. Especially if they are working with .net 3.5. Let me know if you have any projects coming up by emailing me.

First up though, u can expect some newbie posts about the Entity Framework!

Best wishes for the new year.

Sunday, 30 December 2007 16:22:31 (Romance Standard Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Comments [1]  |  Trackback