Retrieving Information From E-Mail

Losing your paper due to an application failure in Microsoft Word is a large fear. But this is not the only type of document you can lose while working on a computer.

With the growing importance of rapid communication, e-mail has, for many of us, become our primary word processor. And for most students on campus, pine is the application of choice.

Whether we're sending an actual paper to a teaching fellow or corresponding with a potential employer, our reliance on e-mail requires a reliable means of recovering lost data.

So, if you've ever "lost" an e-mail in pine, this column's for you.

The first thing to understand is how these cases arise. Usually, you are composing a message and somehow the process is interrupted. Perhaps you accidentally closed the telnet window, or you could have been disconnected by a network outage. Either way, you want your letter back.


In the ideal case, you would login again and start pine. Then, at the bottom of the screen, the following message would appear: "Use compose command to continue interrupted message." You just press "c" and a rift in space-time places you back in the middle of your message. Ain't technology grand?

However, things do not always return to order in such a simple fashion. If you do not get the automatic notice alerting you to an interrupted message, all is not lost. It just means that you have to work a little harder and go find your stuff.

Associated with each user account on fas is a home directory. Most users can store a maximum of 6.5 megabytes of data, and the largest portion of this is usually taken up by mail folders. A number of other files exist in your space that you might never notice, and one such file is "dead.letter".

When a message is interrupted in pine, often the program dumps whatever you are writing into a file called dead.letter and puts this in your home directory. All you have to do is open this file, get the goods and be on your merry e-mail-addicted, information overloaded, hyperstressed way.

Another file that may hold your mangled message is more similar to a temp file associated with Microsoft Word. These files, which begin with "#pico" and are followed by some numbers, also reside in your home directory. On example is "#pico 19951."

So how do you get your message from one of these mystery files? Using a few simple commands, you can check to see if the files exist and see what's in them.

Assuming pine does not automatically retrieve the interrupted message, you want to edit pine and at the prompt type the command "Is", which gives you a listing of the files in your home directory. The more useful version of the command is "Is-1l more". Don't worry about how nasty this looks; just do it. It will list the files and their dates and other information.

If you see a dead.letter file or a #pico file whose date matches that on which you lost the message, then you're in luck. To verify what is inside the file, type: pico . For example, "pico dead.letter" will let you see what the contents of dead.letter are.

In the very likely event that you do find the message you are looking for, your last task is to get it back into pine and finish composing it.

Exit pico, start pine and begin a new message. When you get down to the body of the message, you want to just insert the file from your home directory containing the cut-off message.

Use the command control-r and type in the name of the file to read into your current message, delete random text and pick up where you left off.

And so in this high-tech world, you just lost one high-tech excuse for not getting your work in: No longer can you say "the computer ate my homework".

--Baratune R. Thurston '99 is the Claverly user assistant for HASCS, editor-in-chief of Computers@Harvard, published by the Harvard Computer Society and a Crimson editor. He can often be seen riding his bike through the snow.

"No longer can you say 'the computer ate my homework"'