Sunday, August 01, 2010

Chasing the bugs

Strange as it may seem, for me one of the more satisfying aspects of being a computer programmer was finding and eliminating the bugs that inevitably showed up in whatever program you were working on.  Of course, NOT finding the bug(s) or NOT being able to eliminate them was one of the most dissatisfying and frustrating aspects of computer programming.

Today I  felt vindicated when I finally was able to track down and solve by way of work around a bug in Microsoft's flagship communication program - Outlook. I call it a bug because it does disaastrouss things without warning, things that don't need to happen and could be easily identified if not circumvented with today's technology.  And there's no indication that anyone at Microsoft is working on this problem or, for that matter, even cares.

Briefly stated it is this:  Under certain circumstances email addresses, especially in a distribution list can end up with an "Unknown" tag.  This tag shows up in only a couple of strange places so it is not obvious.  Mail sent to an address with this tag will NOT get delivered even though the address is perfectly valid.  Furthermore, this email will NOT return to the sender as undelivered or undeliverable mail.  In other words, the perfect black hole.    We didn't believe the intended recipients until we saw a copy of the undeliverable mail heading and saw email addresses which should have been converted to converting instead to ( 

It turns out that Outlook sees the undeliverable addresses as something to hand off to one of the internet servers where it is somehow lost forever.

And the workaround?  To identify tagged addresses either (1) look for the parentheses in the address conversion; or (2) hover the mouse pointer over the beginning of the name in the distribution list producing a pop-up box with SMTP or UNKNOWN.  SMTP is good.  UNKNOWN is an address with a bad tag. Then to fix the problem simply open the contact's information record form and save it to disk again.  Then the entry in the distribution list must be saved again as well. Verify that the hover will now show SMTP.

Hooray!!!  One less bug in this world.

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