Gmail filters and Boolean operators

Filed under: neat!,useless @ 13:15

If you haven’t heard me proselytize Gmail before, count yourself lucky; I tend to spout off about it. Yes, I know that Gmail is creepy. I understand all the privacy concerns and the potential to allow Google to earn lots of money off of my correspondence. It’s just so damn convenient.

But I digress.

Gmail allows its users to construct email filters to tag messages with various labels, forward things to different address and so forth by specifying the conditions an email must meet before the filter in question is applied. One can specify that the message be From a particular source, be sent To a certain address, contain specific text and so on. Since the filters are implemented as Gmail search queries, Gmail filters may also include basic boolean logic. For instance, you can create a filter that catches emails From bob@example.com OR sally@example.org. In terms of Gmail’s search syntax, this filter would be denoted as from:(bob@example.com OR sally@example.org). Similarly, NOTs are specified with minus signs, and spaces are used for ANDs.

Gmail’s filters, then, are fairly robust. However, the interface for writing filters is very limiting. The user is presented with five text boxes: From, To, Subject, Has The Words, Doesn’t Have. And that’s all the options we get. Suppose, instead of the above, I wanted to create a filter that caught messages From bob@example.com OR To sally@example.org. I can type ‘bob@example.com’ into the From box and ‘sally@example.org’ into the To box to try to construct such a filter. But Gmail does not offer me the ability to specify the boolean operator that should be applied between the From and To conditions; it assumes AND. I’m hosed.

But only at first glance. You can actually implement a relative OR between fields. A cursory internet search yielded the following clever solution.

In the From field, enter

bob@example.com) OR to:(sally@example.org

It’s the sneaky use of parentheses that makes it all work. Another solution would be to enter the entire search query into the Has The Words field:

from:(bob@example.com) OR to:(sally@example.org)

Though more straightforward, some will argue it isn’t as clean.

Anyway, don’t let Gmail’s (in this case) crappy interface stop you from making arbitrarily complicated filters.


Paperwork Sucks

Filed under: rants @ 17:17

I renewed my vehicle registration with the California DMV sometime in October or November. The DMV was (unlike last year) quite prompt in both initiating and following through with the transfer of information and funds. I, however, proceeded to lose the registration card and sticker after they sent it to me. Now I have to pay $32 to get new copies. I could lie and tell them I never received the stuff in the first place, but lying sucks. Fine. I have an appointment at 3:10 pm Monday afternoon to straighten everything out. Despite the pain of being at the DMV, I’d rather negotiate this treacherous path in person than hope for miracles to occur behind the desk in some DMV warehouse of trained monkeys.

The bigger issue? There need be no appointments and no monkeys (trained or otherwise) involved in this situation. Here’s what I had to do. I called the DMV hotline and found out that they could do nothing for me. Nothing. So I printed out a paper copy of DMV form REG 156 and filled in the little boxes by hand. I see, too, that in the corner, this form will eventually be initialled by some poor sap. How many people have to touch this piece of paper before I get my sticker? At least I was able to print it from online rather than being forced to pick it up in person.

I should also note that part of my reason for deciding to speak to someone face to face is that the exact names of the bits I lost (the registration card and the little year sticker) are not defined anywhere on the form or the website as far as I can see. Presumably, they are explicitly named in the missive originally sent to me by the DMV. But that’s lost (indeed, I checked the “Lost” box on the form). It reminds me of inquiring of your bank the number one should call after having lost one’s credit card. “The number is on the back of the card” is not a helpful response. So, in order to determine which of several likely looking checkboxes on the form I need to check, I need to ask someone.

Incomplete information aside, there’s a big problem here. The DMV has a giant computer database of vehicles and owners (or rather, I pray to all I call holy they do; I can’t fathom doing everything with files and cabinets). Stovepipe a damn user interface on the thing and allow me to access some of it from the web. Asking for replacement stickers cannot possibly be a very difficult task, but doing it via paper and several middlemen is costly and time consuming. That and I hate it.

Somebody get these people some IT.


LA in the rain: a harrowing drive

Filed under: a group of folks,slice @ 14:39

Michelle got a call from a good college friend of hers on Friday telling her that she’d be in Santa Monica for the weekend at an Ultimate Frisbee tournament. Not having any set plans for Saturday, we decided to drive down in the afternoon to hang out. The problem? It was raining Saturday.

Most people who’ve lived in the area for more than a few months dislike driving the freeways in the rain. There’s two main reasons for this. First, since it rains so seldom here, the water brings up a lot of oil from the roads when it actually does precipitate. Second, and for the same reason of frequency, LA drivers aren’t any good at driving in the rain; they go too fast, think they can stop faster than the conditions allow, and can’t control their cars when they skid out.

Having lived in Pasadena for well over the specified time interval, I count myself both among the people who dislike driving LA highways in the rain, and now among the people who cause chaos when they try.

We were driving down the 110 and had to stop short. My wheels locked, and (close your eyes, Mom) the car skidded across two of three lanes of traffic (thank the Lord there wasn’t anyone in the next lane). I got back control of the car and managed to avoid hitting anything: both cars and walls. Everyone was fine. We went on our merry way (after being stuck in traffic for thirty minutes or so).

Personally, the worst part of the whole experience was that I had a passenger with me; though she was able to help calm me down afterward, I don’t think I’d have been as freaked if Michelle hadn’t been sitting in the passenger seat. The best part (if there is one) is that I humbly believe my reaction times will be significantly faster if anything like that happens again (though I pray nothing will). There’s at least that to be said for honest to God experience.


Christmas 2005

Filed under: useless @ 11:29

A great deal can happen in a month. With all that potential material, allow me to describe some of what happened this past month in as boring a way as possible.

Paul.za and I went home to .id.us for Christmas, and I’d like to think he wasn’t bored to tears. Watery eyes, perhaps, but not tears. I had loads of fun seeing everybody back home (a shoutout to Siri who says she reads this from time to time and to Brendan who at least used to). Good to see Ed, Father Matt, and everyone I ever knew from my graduating class. But enough name dropping, on to the excitement.

Hm… it could only possibly be exciting if you knew all the names, so suffice it to say I had a good time with the fam and everyone else. New years with Lincoln and Hannah rocked (though Chana was conspicuously absent), and the trip back to Pasadena was fine except that, even with a direct flight, I still managed to have a layover.

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