SEARCHING THE “SUNDIAL MAIL ARCHIVE”by Carl Sabanski / edited by Mac Oglesby
Daniel Roth began the “Sundial Mailing List” (SML) in February of 1996 to serve as a means for the members of the world sundialling community to share their thoughts and ideas. Over the years many thousands of messages have been sent to the SML by the ever-increasing membership. The majority of the messages are directly related to sundialling but there have also been many “off-topic” messages of interest to many of the members. Seeing the need to make these messages always available, Mac Oglesby was instrumental in having the existing messages and any future messages stored for future reference in the “Sundial Mail Archive” (SMA). Its URL is:http://firstname.lastname@example.org/
But with thousands of messages stored in the SMA how do you find the ones relevant to the topic you are interested in. Or perhaps you remember the message was from a particular person or it had been sent during a specific period of time. How do you find it?
When you enter the SMA you will find at the top of the page the following items:
Using the “[Earlier Messages]” and “[Later Messages]” selectors will only allow you to view, at 200 per page, the first 3000 messages sorted by “Thread” or “Date”. This may appear to be a lot of messages but nowhere near the total number stored in the SMA. And this number keeps increasing continuously. All other messages are available using “Search”.
Using “Thread” or “Date” is not an easy way to search for a specific message or topic. To help you do this there is the SMA search engine. The search engine is a powerful tool and, if used effectively, is an efficient way to find what you are looking for. Searching is a word game and is a lot of fun. You will always win unless what you are searching for does not exist. Winning does not necessarily mean finding hundreds of messages related to what you are searching for but perhaps the few specific ones that will really help you. If you learn the techniques of searching and use them, you will quickly find that the more relevant messages will appear on the first page and not buried where you may not even find them. To search effectively you must also practice.
SMA SEARCH TECHNIQUES
The first step is to identify keywords that describe the message(s) you want to find. For example:
Think about your search words carefully and any synonyms or variant word forms the creator of a message may have used. You may not use all the words in a single search but they will provide options for subsequent searches if you do not find what you are looking for.
The next step is to determine what query to enter in the “Search” box. This is done following specific rules of engagement or “search syntax”. This is a lot easier than it sounds! A query is broken up into “terms” and “operators”.
There are two types of terms.
Terms can be entered in upper or lower case. They will be treated as the same by the search engine.
“Single Term” and “Phrase” searches provide a means of performing simple searches but may result in many messages being returned. If you wish to narrow the results to messages more relevant to the topic of interest the use of “operators” is necessary.
The terms can be combined with Boolean or logic operators such as AND, OR, NOT and “-”. It is important to remember that Boolean operators must be “ALL CAPS” or they will be treated as search words.
You can now enter your query in the “Search” box and select the “Search” button. It’s just that easy!
When you perform your first search, at the top of the page you will find the message “1-10 of ### matches” where “###” will be the total number of matches for your search query. At the bottom of the page you can select from any of 10 pages. Also note that the messages are not listed in chronological order. Each message is given a score calculated using a complex formula based on a variety of factors. This score determines how a message is ranked and where it appears in the listing after a search using your query string is completed.
The SMA search engine will also allow you to search particular email fields.
The email fields that can be searched include “from”, “date”, “subject” and “message”. If a field is not specified in the query then all four fields are searched by default. The field must be entered completely in lower case or no matches will be found.
There are number of term modifiers that provide even a wider range of searching options. These are listed below but only one will be discussed in detail. Wildcard and range searches have been used in the “date” field examples.
HOW TO PREPARE AN SML MESSAGE
If you are a contributor to the SML there are steps you can take that will help someone looking for your message find it more easily.
When a message comes into the SMA it must be threaded. Whether a message is threaded to an existing topic or is the start of a new topic will depend largely on the contributor. If you are sending a message on an entirely new topic described in the subject line a new thread will be started. Anyone replying to this message will have their message threaded to the original. At times the original topic of a thread may evolve into a new topic. If you reply to the original message but change the subject line to reflect the new topic a new thread will not be started. The threading subsystem must decide whether to track “who replied to what” or to track the subject line. The SMA goes with the former, as it is more reliable. That is why you see two different topics threaded together.
Any time you want your message to start a new thread be sure to start a new message with a new subject line. This is the best way to ensure that your message does not get threaded to an existing topic.
Take the time to include a good subject line that is relevant to your topic and uses descriptive terms found in the body. These are the terms that someone will be using to find your message when your message is no longer in the top 3000. These are terms that the SLA search engine may use to rank your message and make it easier to find.