Outlook Data File Corruption

Outlook became unusable. I tried switching to the webmail, but my workflow is such that I essentially stopped checking email for last week. Meeting invites went unseen. Notifications missed my attention. Every strategy I tried to ensure that I saw the email and calendar were ineffective. So, I kind of need the application to work.

The issue appeared to be some kind of file corruption. The application would crash due to “a problem.” When I opened the application, it would claim there was an issue with the data file and ask to repair it. I allowed it. It would make a backup and repair the file and tell me all is good. Things would be fine for a while until it happened again.

Back in November it just happened twice. Then in early December, it was a couple times a week. In mid-December, it was a couple times a day. Finally, today, it would only stay open for a couple minutes.

I decided that since my data is on Exchange, that deleting the files should not really be catastrophic. Outlook should just rebuild the data files for me. So, I renamed the data files. (“Should” != “definitely would.”) They are located in C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook and have the file extensions .ost or .pst. I chose to rename them with “bad_”. I started Outlook again. It rebuilt the data files. I have not seen a crash since.

My guess is the repair did not actually fix the problem. Certainly, the repair tool kept identifying things to fix.

Complicated Calendar

Noticed “Election Day” was in the wrong place in my work calendar. It was on November 1st when it ought to have been November 8th. This is because the date is the first Tuesday after the first Monday giving it a potential range of November 2nd through 8th.

The Microsoft Outlook / Exchange pattern for recurring dates has nothing to accommodate this. The closest pattern Outlook has is “on the first Tuesday of November” which leaves the date that occurs this year as the lone exception. Looks like it will happen again in 2022 (non-presidential) and 2044. It last happened in 1988.

I think this came from a Microsoft list of United States holidays I added. Certainly, looking at that, I have “United States” checked for the locations shown in my calendar. All the entries appear to be entered for each individual date rather than patterns set to handle regular recurring dates and just individuals for the crazy ones.

The only other calendar entry that I can think of that is so complicated is Easter. OK, actually it is far more complicated. Well, Easter is dependent on Passover. Passover depends on the full moon. And Orthodox churches have a different calculus than than Catholic/Protestant churches. Everything else is on a date or first/second/third/fourth day of week of the month. These are all easy to program with a rule.

Outlook 2016 Appointments

I got Office 2016 at work, so I am struggling through moved cheese. The big change for me is the To-Do appointments. In 2010, it showed several days worth of items. Which is ideal for me. I do not have a ton of meetings, but I like to see a list of what is upcoming so I know to prepare for upcoming ones. It is not in my workflow to look switch over to the calendar and look ahead unless I am looking for something I think I have that is not represented in the To-Do appointments.

Office 2013 shortened the list appointments list to the current day. WTF? Apparently Microsoft recognized the problem and added back a few days ahead. I prefer getting to see at least a week ahead.

So, I looked for some information about the problem, but there were no configuration change to address it for me. Instead, there was an Add-In called “Outlook 2013 Add-In” on CodePlex which looked promising. I installed it and am very pleased. It was to show 14 days. I might even need to switch over to the calendar even less than I did prior.

On the way to discovering the add-in, I found recommendations to use the Outlook Today feature. Unfortunately, it displays the same content as the To-Do. So not very helpful.

Integrate PeopleMap With Office

I work to integrate systems. So, when I learn about things, I guess my mind drifts into how would we use it. And then into how would tie together this with other things we have to make them better.

Used with permission from atmasphere

Last week news dropped about Microsoft (MSFT) buying LinkedIn (LNKD). The big deal people seem to be making of it is the Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) potential for Microsoft. Imagine in Outlook having a guide about whomever you are emailing. LinkedIn potentially could supply the data.

So Friday I also took a PeopleMap System communication training. (Leader-Task) The idea is that people have innate preferences for how they process information. Understanding their preferences and tailoring your communication to key off them will make one more effective working with them.

I guess the MSFT-LNKD deal was still on my brain because it seemed like what we really needed was a PeopleMap plug-in to Outlook which would remind us the type of the individuals we are emailing. My vision was since everyone was providing management with our types, that information would be populated into the directory service. Then a plug-in would use the email address of the recipient(s) to display that person’s type and perhaps advice on how to communicate with that type. No more wracking one’s brain for what is their type and how to deal with them.

Of course, I used Google to look to see if this already existed. It pointed me to PeopleMaps which is a service for exploring one’s social network to find connections to sales targets and get an introduction and avoid cold calls. Microsoft’s Social Connector would pull photos from Facebook for contacts.

Stop Processing More Rules

By default Outlook adds “stop processing more rules” to message filters. Eventually I run into the error:

The rule has a condition the server cannot process. The action ‘stop processing more rules’ will prevent all remaining server rules from being carried out. Are you sure this is what you want to do?

Well… That is what the condition is to do, right?

So, it turns out the message does not describe the problem very well. What it REALLY means is that the rule is a client-side rule and will stop processing server-side rules, but the server has no way to evaluate the client-side condition. So everything could get confused. So either stop using client-side rules or stop using “stop processing more rules”. The latter is a default, so it is applied to almost all the rules. The former is a small fraction, so easier to expunge.

Feel like I learned this when I was using Outlook at my old job and forgot it because I switched to Mozilla. So I am having to relearn it.

Paste Formatting

Ideally every email I send would be plain text. Many of the people I email send to me HTML-based email

For a decade an annoyance I had with Outlook was when pasting text from the clipboard, it would include source formatting. So, if I copied the title of a blog post to make it “Paste Formatting”, instead it would look like:

Paste Formatting

The workaround was to choose Paste Special from a menu or button and Plain Text.

Outlook 2010 has options for how pasting works for several places: same email, other email, between emails with conflicting styles, and other programs. Not only do I get to pick keep the text only, but I get to pick where it happens. Perhaps others had the same concerns and made Microsoft address it. Finally.

Square Peg, Round Hole Outlook

Requirement: Boss wants an email on the 14th of the month and day before last weekday of the month with a status update. This is so the boss can combine and submit the information on the 15th and last weekday of the month.

Reoccurring Outlook calendar entries can apparently take only one pattern. There is no way to make one calendar entry for multiple patterns. I cannot make one for say both the 14th and 28th or even worst the 14th and last weekday.

There is no concept of day before last weekday or day. At first, I looked at setting the reminder for the 28th, which could be the day before the last day of February in a leap year and last day of a non-leap year. However, it would be as many as 2 days too early for most other months.

Reluctant Solution: Set the entry for the last weekday and the reminder for 2 days prior. I get the reminder in time even if the date is not ideal.


Microsoft Failed

A good error message in my opinion provides enough information for the user or administrator to determine likely cause. It doesn’t have to be THE cause. Just something I can try changing and see if the problem disappears.

For a while now, Outlook was telling me the “Operation Failed” in a toaster pop-up. O… kay…. After some initial poking around I was able to discover the failure was because of an RSS feed. No mention of which one. The problem didn’t go away, so I decided to delete the feeds to no improvement. So I had no RSS feeds and was still getting the error about the RSS feed. So I looked in the Deleted Items to see which feeds I should add back and noticed one I didn’t deleted. So I permanently deleted all of them.

No more errors.

So the problem was: I deleted an RSS feed. Send/Receive was unable to write new results to the deleted feed, so it told “Operation Failed.”

No, Microsoft, you are the fail.

Microsoft Outlook 2007 Wishlist

From 2001 to 2006, Microsoft Outlook was the email client I used for work (and on my home computer to access work stuff). Back then, Exchange was not available, so a number of the features were more hacks than reality. However, it worked pretty well.

When I changed jobs, Netscape and Thunderbird were the pre-installed clients. I opted for Thunderbird. It worked pretty well for me. Calendaring was in MeetingMaker. Everything worked pretty well.

Recently work shifted to Exchange, so going back to Outlook made sense. Maybe because I have so much experience, the transition was not as bad as it might have been. Still… These are gotchas which have annoyed me lately:

  1. Editable subject usability: The emails from our client issue tracking system put the description where its hidden. I was really pissed that I could not edit the subject until I figured out unlike most software which changes the shading to show it is now editable, Outlook just lets me edit at any time. Also, editing the subject after it is used by something else like a task results in the change in the email but not the task. (The main reason I want to change them is so it appears correctly in the task list. ) Copying to a second email results in the same problem. Apparently I have to either create a new task and copy-n-paste the subject I want or forward the email to myself.
  2. Spacebar moves to next message instead of next new message: I really like the Thunderbird method of skipping to the next unread message when I hit the spacebar at the end of the current message. It even will find the next unread message in another folder. Outlook just advances to the next message.
  3. Boolean is more than OR: I had this fantastic Thunderbird filter which looked for user@ AND domain.tld. Outlook only honors OR. We have 15 admin nodes and databases which send up reports. Alerts and tickets come from a different source and unaffected by this.
  4. Search ignores special characters: I thought in the past I had sent email to abc-defghi@domain.tld. However, the message bounced, so I searched my email for part of the address “abc-defghi” as its not in the address book. I got results which match “abc” not “abc-defghi”. So it ignored the hyphen and everything after. FAIL!
  5. Send email as plain text or paste a plain text: Yes, I know lots of people have HTML capable clients. I hate Outlook puts my replies in a sickly blue font. When I copy and paste from the elsewhere in the message, it changes the font. So then I have to go and do formatting to have a presentable email. I just want to type and send. I don’t care about fonts, colors, etc. If I did, then I would create a web page. … (Added 2009-JUN-03)

That’s it for now.

Suck It Up And Pay the Price

Doesn’t it always look like this?

  1. User runs script against service.
  2. Script operates so quickly and sucks so much traffic its obvious its a script.
  3. Service’s automates systems detects the abuse.
  4. User gets automated notice about violation of Terms of Use and prevention from accessing the site.
  5. User pitches a fit because he is “famous”.

Services lock out abusive users because people conducting this kind of activity cause slowness. I’ve personally caught people doing this. How I got them to stop usually depended on my ability to contact them. People I knew or others directly knew, a phone call was enough to resolve it.

People outside of my social circle usually got an email and found their account locked. Doing so prevented their scripts from working. At Valdosta State, I would leave instructions at the Helpdesk for the offender to have to contact me in order to regain access to the account. Tyrrannical, I know.

UPDATE: So, it turns out Scoble was using an alpha of Plaxo Pulse. The ideas was to download ~5,000 images of Scoble’s contacts’ email addresses, text names, and text birthdays. Then the software would match them against people in Plaxo. He could then sync Plaxo with his Outlook address book for a good contact list.

He accuses Facebook of singling him out as others have not been caught. (Were the others trying to download and push 5,000 in a few seconds?) He also accuses Facebook of being hypocritical… They import contact information from other sources, but they do not allow anyone to export the same information.

I still think a user hitting 5,000 images for email addresses look like a spammer. Of course, I think Scoble is a spammer … Maybe its confirmation bias? 😀