Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘email’


In which we pass something on

Do not forward this email.

If you do not forward this email, nothing bad will happen to you. No terrible ancient email curses will be unleashed.

If you do forward this email, your wish will not come true. You will not receive unexpected love, or come into some money.

If you do forward this email, the missing child will not be found. Noone will break any world records. Bill Gates will not send any money to charity. Luck will not come your way.

This is not a virus, and there has never been any virus of this name. A websearch could have told you that. So don’t tell everyone in your address book about it.

Pass this information on to everyone you know.


In which Exchange causes problems

Microsoft, everyone’s favourite evil behemoth, have been getting as much press as they can in the past few days to push their new operating system. At the same time, though, their software has been making my life a drag. And there’s nothing at all I can do about it.

The problem is their email server “messaging solution”, the horrible and nightmarish Microsoft Exchange. I know it’s a horrid system to babysit, but fortunately I don’t have to do any of that. Worse, though, it can make life bad for people like me who shouldn’t have to have anything to do with it.

Like most things Microsoft produces, it has a showstopper of a bug. It’s triggered by an innocent salesman* who decides to send an email to a long, long list of people at once. His (or her) own system has nothing to do with this; the problem is when one of the people in the recipient list uses a buggy Exchange. Their server will read the email, and send it out again. To all of the recipients. Thousands and thousands and thousands of times. Each copy looking like it’s coming from the original sender.

Moreover, some of those people will then reply, saying things like “why are you sending me thousands of emails, you fuckwit?” They don’t really help, though, because inevitably they push the “reply to all” button. Meaning they then generate a second email which triggers the same bug, so that email, too, gets duplicated thousands and thousands and thousands of times, until the administrator of the buggy server wakes up and takes their server offline to recover for a while.

Bugs in software are unavoidable. Most of them, though, don’t cause problems for more than one person at once. Bugs like that, though, that can block up internet connections and mail servers for hours at a time, should never have been released. Releasing software that disrupts the rest of the world, in that way, is verging on unforgivable.

* Well, it’s not salesman-specific. But for some reason, it seems to be salesmen that set it off most of the time


In which we answer back

I gave you my vaguest possible list of things to change this year, on Monday. I’ve thought of something to add, though, something slightly more practical. I’m going to try to respond to people quicker.

I’m not the only person who is bad at responding to emails and so on. I once had a boss who had a long list of emails in his inbox, ones he should definitely have answered. Every few months he would delete the ones that were more than a year old, on the grounds that by then the original query would be so out of date to make replying pointless. I don’t want to get that bad. I’m none too bad at one-line responses to one-line questions, but anything that needs a substantial response I’m terrible at. And as soon as it drops off the bottom of my inbox, it’s out of my mind.

So, from now on, I’m going to make an effort. I’m going to make use of the “show starred mail” view in my inbox, for one thing. I’m going to reply to things. I’m going to answer questions, write to people, put some effort in to keeping in touch. A friend recently said: “if you want to stop talking to me, tell me so, don’t just stop writing.” And I don’t want people to think I’ve lost interest in them just because I haven’t answered their emails. From now on, I’m going to be responsive.

Years and years

In which we remember early days on the Internet

Hello to internet friend Angeldust, who starts at university today as a mature student. How she’ll cope with having to be mature, I really have no idea.

It reminded me, though, that it’s ten years this month since I started at university myself. Ten years, and it feels like no time at all. It certainly doesn’t feel like I’ve grown up at all in that time, although I almost certainly have without realising it. And ten years since starting university also means ten years since I got my first email address, and ten years since I first went on the web,* using university public labs with Apple Macs running Mac OS 7.5. I did even, occasionally in that first year or so, browse the web in black and white, because some of the university Macs only had monochrome screens. It wasn’t very impressive, partly because given the state of the university computer network at the time, the effective download speed in a busy lab was about the same as the 56k home dialup connections which were starting to appear around then too.

I didn’t get my own PC until I was in my second year at university, and didn’t get internet access until late in that year. Even when I did, the university was my ISP – I applied for, and was given, access to one of the university dial-in lines, available to any student who was good enough at navigating the university bureaucracy to find and fill in the right form. Somehow I doubt that universities offer that service now – but, then again, offering full network access to hall bedrooms was unheard of ten years ago too.

It really doesn’t feel like ten years that I’ve been on the net – but then again, I couldn’t imagine life without it now. In the past ten years, it’s gone from being exotic and new, to being an everyday part of life.

* Using Pegasus Mail over a Netware network for email, and Netscape Navigator 2 for the web

On sucking

In which we discuss some design flaws in Lotus Notes

Spent quite a while last night reading Lotus Notes Sucks***, a collection of reasons why, as you could probably guess, Lotus Notes sucks. I have to use the thing at work every day, and it is indeed truly awful; but I didn’t really like the site. It lists 80-something superficial bad things about Lotus Notes, without listing any of the truly awful things about it.

Aside from the slightly smug nature of the site – every entry on it ends with “Conclusion: Lotus Notes Sucks”, repeated over and over again with the subtlety of a 10-ton cartoon weight – it’s written solely from the point of view of someone who uses Lotus Notes purely as an email program. That is, to be fair, probably what most people use it for; but that’s not what it is. It’s really a generic NoSQL non-relational database and data-sharing program that has been shoehorned into an email mould, and doesn’t properly fit. So, all the complaints are fairly trivial ones, and a lot boil down to: “it’s slightly different to Outlook”.

There are some true horrors inside Lotus Notes, if you ever have to do any programming or development work with it. The help files, for example, are all just specialised Notes data stores with a suitable interface on the front. This is completely fine, right up until you have a buggy bit of program code that you want to step through in the debugger.* If you’re running something in the debugger, you can’t access any other Notes data. Which, stupidly, includes the help files. Programmers have no access at all to the help files at the very time they’re most likely to need it.

There are other horrible things too. Things go wrong in unfixable ways. Files can mysteriously corrupt themselves and be unrepairable. If a file is deleted, shortcuts to it can become undeletable. If you accidentally delete half your email and ask your IT people to recover it from a backup, then unless IT knows the necessary cunning tricks,** when you open the backup copy of your mail file Notes will happily go “aha! this is the same datastore, but it’s out of date!” and delete everything in the backup too. Oh, joy. Lotus Notes Sucks doesn’t even mention some non-programming problems that I thought were obvious: you can’t search for empty fields, for example. You can search for documents where Field X contains “wibble”, no problem, but you can’t search for documents where Field X is blank. Well, you can do it if you’re a programmer and you write some code to do it for you, but there’s no way to trick the normal search interface into doing it.

In short, Lotus Notes is a horrible can of worms which will trip you up whenever you try to do something the programmers didn’t think of. So it’s a shame that Lotus Notes Sucks finds so many trivial surface-level problems with the email part of the program, when if you try to do more than just email with it, there are so many deeper faults lurking under the surface.

* Don’t worry if you don’t understand this. It means: run the program one line at a time so you can spot the point where it all goes wrong leading to your program falling over.

** Which we do, the second time someone does it, of course

*** Update, 27th August 2020: the site I originally linked to here has sadly disappeared.


In which there’s been a flood

Well, that was a good holiday. I’m back again, and the only dark shadow on the horizon is the thought of being back at the office tomorrow. There’s already one bad omen: getting home and opening my email, to discover some evil person has been sending out junk mail with my return address on it. Six thousand bounce messages were in my inbox and my spam folder, which leaves me wondering just how many emails did get through. If you’ve emailed me and I’ve deleted your mail by accident, I’m very sorry.

Microsoft accuracy

In which we check the junk mail folder

Bill Gates clearly knows what he’s talking about. Two years and one day ago, he said that by now, email spam would no longer be a problem.

To be honest, in one way he’s right. Junk email isn’t actually a problem for me, personally. Not because it’s disappeared, though, but because I changed my address. I still have the old address – for a lot of people it’s the only contact info they have for me – but I rarely use it. I skim through it about once a week, or so, to see if there’s anything important in it.

The reason I stopped using it: even with filtering, it gets too much spam to be usable. Altogether, it gets around 100 to 150 junk mails per day. Whether that counts as “no longer a problem” in Bill Gates’ terms, I’m not really sure. Somehow, though, I think he’d probably admit that his prediction was slightly off.*

* and, to be fair, in the past few years, Microsoft has been putting a lot of time, money and effort into suing professional email spammers out of business.