Gmail tips, Firebug, and server rebuilding

This week we discuss some technical details of Gmail addresses, rave about a Firefox add-on called Firebug, and relate the saga of rebuilding a W2K3 server.

Before I dig in on this week’s topic, I thought I’d share a couple of useful oddities about e-mail addresses in Google’s Gmail service you might not know about.

First, a Gmail technical curiosity: Many people use periods in their names such as, but it turns out that Gmail ignores those periods. This means the real address is Moreover, you can add periods with wild abandon and Gmail will ignore all of them.

Second, you can create a unique Gmail address for particular recipients so if you decide at a later date you don’t want to handle e-mail from them you can easily filter them out. Another use of this technique is to see if and how a recipient shares your address with other companies.

Creating a unique Gmail alias – what is called a Gmail Plus address – is simple: You put a “+” character after your email user name and add characters. Thus, can have an alias and Gmail will simply ignore the “+” and all characters up to the “@” and put the message in the bob.jones inbox. What’s cool is that Gmail will preserve the original “To:” address of which makes it easy to filter as needed.

My last piece of Gmail information concerns Firebug. Firebug is a really cool Firefox browser add-on that allows you to inspect, edit and debug Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), HTML and JavaScript. Better yet, the changes you make are live in your Web browser so, for example, if you change a CSS-specified color or other attribute, the affected items are immediately updated.

But it turns out that Gmail is really slowed down by Firebug unless Firebug is correctly configured – Google has a note on the problem and how to fix it.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Last week I promised that this week I’d look at a really interesting data-format translation system. Per usual, what should have been a straightforward project turned into a saga.

The saga started when I decided that I needed to rebuild my Windows 2003 server on which I was going to run the software. The rebuild was needed for two crucial reasons: First, I’d run out of disk space on the system volume, and second, Windows had got a bad case of Winrot.

I got a new 500GB PATA (Parallel ATA, AKA IDE) drive from Fry’s ($99! That’s just 20¢ per GB!) and swapped out the measly 80GB drive I’d been using. I installed W2K3 Standard Edition and then downloaded the gazillion megabytes of updates.

I logged in and everything looked fine, but when I tried to access files on another drive (a 160GB SATA or Serial ATA drive that had worked perfectly before the rebuild) the system stopped. When I say “stopped” I mean exactly that – it froze!

I tried to run CHKDSK and again, the system froze. I tried having CHKDSK run at boot up and it reported errors and then, yes, you guessed it, Windows froze yet again. I tried to get Raxco’s PerfectDisk to analyze the drive and still Windows froze.

So, there are bad sectors on the drive, but what I can’t get over is how a server operating system – not a desktop operating system – can freeze when a drive that isn’t the system disk is bad! That doesn’t look like sound engineering design.

Anyway, in the end I removed the SATA drive (it’s a project for a later date) and installed the next part of my new server implementation, the recently released Parallels Virtuozzo Containers 4.0, which provides operating system virtualization. I’ve wanted to test this product for some time and let me bottom line my assessment of Containers: Outstanding! Amazing! Way cool! Next week, I’ll tell you why.

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