back to article Early experiment in mass email ends with mad dash across office to unplug mail gateway

It's Monday morning and we've all been buried under the avalanche of emails we abandoned at pub o'clock last week. Take solace in the latest instalment of Who, Me?, where Reg readers confess their past blunders. And email is the name of the game this week. Reader "Steve" tells us about the time he was a sysadmin at a small …

  1. Major N

    My colleague tells a tale of the time he was working for a company that prepared and sent mailshots for external clients, to a mix of commercial and private entities in a database. As part of the data cleansing for people, one of the tasks was to perform a find and replace for the word 'The' at the start of names of people and businesses, and putting it at the end, so The Reverend Green would become 'Reverend Green, The' and so on. They got a new member of staff in, and gave him this task.

    Unfortunately, said new MoS misunderstood his instructions, and instead of finding and moving 'The ' from the start of company and person names, he just removed the three characters 'the' from all names in the database, and sent them off to print, thinking nothing of it.

    The first they knew of it was when one of their clients rang up, very angry, as they had just had a call themselves from a very upset customer demanding to know why they'd sent a letter to their animal therapy company addressed to 'Horse Rapist'.....

    (Note: This may be apocryphal, as it is a third hand tale. But it's still damn funny.)

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Reminds me of the old website for finding a therapist.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Reminds me of ...

        ... AOL learning to filter "naughty words" and promptly causing Scunthorp to disappear. And several dozen other similar things that have happened over the years. It's the natural result of a million monkeys with a million keybr0ads being set loose on an unsuspecting Internet with little to no training. Or concept, for that matter.

        1. Paul 25

          Re: Reminds me of ...

          My personal favourite is the news website that had a similar system to enforce its style guide, which included using the word "homosexual" rather than "gay". This was all fine until someone on the sports desk wrote an article about the sprinter Tyson Gay...

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Reminds me of ...

            As Paul 25 mentions:

            Tyson Homosexual was a blur in blue, sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone ever has.

            His time of 9.68 seconds at the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday doesn't count as a world record, because it was run with the help of a too-strong tailwind. Here's what does matter: Homosexual qualified for his first Summer Games team and served notice he's certainly someone to watch in Beijing.

            “It means a lot to me,” the 25-year-old Homosexual said. “I'm glad my body could do it, because now I know I have it in me.”

            - One News Now, outlet of American Family Association

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Reminds me of ...

            When I was at school, back in the early sixties, just as the word Gay became synonymous with homosexuality, one of my classmates committed suicide because his surname was Gay.

            1. BoldMan

              Re: Reminds me of ...

              The old "Scunthorpe" problem , or in France the Marseille problem and in the US the Massachusetts problem!

              I once had to write a profanity filter for a company and spent ages persuading them NOT to profanity check addresses otherwise anyone who lived on Dick Turpin Lane or wanted to find the Two Cocks pub would disapointed!

        2. Flywheel

          Re: Reminds me of ...

          Scunthorpe? Ah, those were the days. I also had problems with "sniggering" which was kindly autocorrected to "sblackpersoning"

        3. Outski Silver badge

          Re: Reminds me of ...

          "...promptly causing Scunthorp to disappear"

          Hence why Scunthorpe United are sometimes referred to as Firewall FC

        4. wayne 8

          Re: Reminds me of ...

          I know of one current blog where the triad "tit" anywhere within a comment will make the comment queue for moderation. "Constitution", "constituent", "titular", "title", all earn a timeout.

          Scunthorp would probably trigger the same reaction.

          AI, machine intelligence, so smart.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Reminds me of ...

            "Scunthorp would probably trigger the same reaction."

            As did several of my customers:

            Messrs Haycock, Cocks and Cockeram

            yes, really. *sigh*

            1. Mike Timbers

              Re: Reminds me of ...

              An online grocery customer complained at not receiving their order confirmation email; investigations showed that the receiving school email system was rejecting the mail for "profanity". Much scratching of heads finally twigged that the customer had ordered "two chicken breasts".

        5. Sam Jelfs

          Re: Reminds me of ...

          Some years ago when I was applying for university places my 6th form had recently installed a new content filter, which would be fine if it didn't block the websites of universities such as Sussex, Essex, middlesex and the like.

        6. ricardian

          Re: Reminds me of ...

          and Penistone.

      2. 's water music

        Reminds me of the old website for finding a therapist.

        it's enough to make you miss NTK

        They deserve one--->

        1. Korev Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Upvote for NTK

          They even used to host the early BOFHs

        2. Stork Silver badge

          Or the sites for Pen Island, or Powergen Italia.

          1. D-Coder

            Can't believe no one on this site has mentioned the canonical version:

            The badword filter that removed references to Scunthorpe, Arsenal, and Manchester Fucking United.

      3. Locky

        @Aladdin Sane

        And who among us has never used expertsexchange?

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: @Aladdin Sane

          [raises hand]

          ExpertSexChange were really good at spamming Google links back in the day, but they were, and probably still are, utterly useless.

      4. Jaspa

        And Experts Exchange since hyphenated. You think they would have known better.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Or that one where "experts" exchanged info to help solve problems

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "sent a letter to their animal therapy company addressed to 'Horse Rapist'....."

      Otherwise known as "No NO NO - fix that sign, psychotherapist is ONE word, NOT three"

      1. Major N

        "I was the world's first combined Analyst and Therapist... The business cards were a mistake..."

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "There are dozens of us! Dozens!"

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Funny how we don't learn

      Had similar very recently - system automatically puts a keyword (start of line, in upper case and followed by dash) in comments and other systems pick it out as trigger - works ok for such a cludged process. Well untill the newly developed system took over and ignores the keyword context/case etc. so suddenly we have the trigger going off for keyword being in a name - I'll am sure you can guess what sort of development teams we have to use now

    4. DavCrav

      Something similar with less disastrous consequences happened with our mailing list: we wanted to remove all 'Dr' at the start of people's names for a conference. So the person deleted all instances of 'Dr' in the name field, not even case sensitive. Well, that's great unless your name is Andrew, or in one case the newly named 'Alessano'. Nobody noticed until people pointed it out on their name badges.

  2. jake Silver badge

    I've seen and/or heard of many folks ...

    ... doing an emergency powerectomy on servers. Bulk email boo-boos were almost common for a while, and of course we all know about recursive file deletion when in the wrong directory ... One Friday afternoon I actually watched a so-called Sr. Sysadmin unleash a network aware trojan on a 100,000+ seat network while demonstrating what NOT to do to his underlings. Unplugging servers didn't help with that one, but he tried. Oh, how he tried. I was there for an unrelated reason (consultant, drawing up an upgrade for the datacenter), and was nominated to clean up the problem without having to bid on it. Took all weekend, and I had to call in a couple friends to help, but the company gratefully paid my "emergency services" bill on Monday morning. Quite lucrative, that kind of work.

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Re: I've seen and/or heard of many folks ...

      Did you give the Sr. Sysadmin a finder's fee?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: I've seen and/or heard of many folks ...

        No on the finder's fee. But after talking to him, and deciding I could work with him on the system upgrade, I convinced his Boss not to fire him.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: I've seen and/or heard of many folks ...

      A power-ectomy is one option, but I've always tried to go for the network cable first. It might have made stopping the email a bit more tricky, but it avoids the risks of data-corruption and head crashes that just yanking the power might cause.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: I've seen and/or heard of many folks ...

        Some of us grew up with properly bolted down network cables. The power cord was by far the fastest, and thus the only, option in these cases. Data corruption was bad, so we took steps to guard against it. Disk crashes were always hardware failure, and thus the fault of the vendor.

    4. onefang

      Re: I've seen and/or heard of many folks ...

      "we all know about recursive file deletion when in the wrong directory"

      I did that last weekend. I had created a temporary directory in my home directory on my server, filled it with files, then SCPed the lot to my home computer. Since it was only temporary, I then deleted it. Only some network glitch, or perhaps a keyboard bounce, or just plain fat fingers meant I was doing it in the home directory instead, one level up from where I thought I was. Though I noticed a couple of seconds later, and desperately tried to abort the delete, it was too late, everything in my home directory was gone. I still had mc open on that directory in another tmux session, which confirm my suspicion that there was nothing important there anyway. Important stuff on that server actually gets backed up in several places.

  3. jmch Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    By the way...

    Welcome to On Call, Rebecca!

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Target fixation!

      The aptly named "Fixation Rock" is coming up on the right:

      Folks misjudge the corner and stare their way into the rock, from either direction. I knew one guy who hit it once from each side; sadly he didn't survive it the second time. Helpful hint: Look in the direction you want the vehicle to go, muscle memory usually takes over. Works with horses, too.

      Now you know why skid-marks on freeways often point unerringly at immovable objects. (Note: What looks like a recent skid mark in that video is actually the shadow of overhead wires.)

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Beaver College changed its name to Arcadia University in part because of overeager web filters, with smutty jokes providing the rest of the motivation.

    I note that Wikipedia makes no mention of this reason for the name change - are there any wiki editors reading this? The story was reported in dead tree news outlets and the BBC at the time if you want to cite a source other than The Reg.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Martin an gof Silver badge

      They could, of course, have had the best of both worlds - changing the spelling but keeping the pronunciation, as in the Leicestershire village of Belvoir.

      Similar problem placenames include Beaulieu (“bewley”) and Alnwich (“anick”) :-)


      1. Aladdin Sane

        It's funning listening to tourists (invariably left-pondians) trying to pronounce Worcestershire and Leicestershire.

        1. 's water music

          It's funning listening to tourists (invariably left-pondians) trying to pronounce Worcestershire and Leicestershire.

          As amusing as listening to One-Of-Us mispronouncing Dionne Warwick no doubt

        2. Waseem Alkurdi

          Let me try: is it the "c" being some sort of a "sh" instead of a "c"?

          1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            yeah , they cant even get the c to sound like a sh even when theres a handy h after it to help out.

            e.g. chassis

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Let me try: is it the "c" being some sort of a "sh" instead of a "c"?

            No, it's pronouncing the "ces" as a distinct syllable.

            1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

              Over this side, Worcester is pronounced "WOO-stah".

              And Quincy is "KWIN-zee".

              Welcome to dear old Boston,

              The land of the bean and the cod.

              Where Lowells speak only to Cabots,

              And Cabots speak only to God.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Come on Reg

                ...and Athol is pronounced just like it's spelled. Sadly.

              2. jake Silver badge


                Is that the AI in your automobile? Pahked in the Hahvad Yahd, of course.

          3. MJB7

            Re: Let me try

            The city of Leicester is pronounced exactly the same as Lester Haines' first name. The city of Worcester is pronounced pretty much the same as Bertie Wooster's last name (except this is slightly more confusing: the stress is on the last syllable, and the "oo" is a bit more of an indeterminate vowel).

            1. Bonzo_red

              Re: Let me try

              Not in Germany it isn't. If you want Lea & Perrins with your tomato juice you need to ask for Vor - Chester sauce.

              1. DJV Silver badge

                Here in Norfolk (UK) we have tourist-confusing names like Wymondham (pronounced Win-dum), Happisburgh (Haze-brer) and Costessey (Cossey or if you're broad Norfolk, then Caaar-sea). A friend of mine was once asked by a tourist if he could direct them to "Ack-lee" - took him a few seconds to realise they meant Acle (pronounced A-cull).

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  I'll see your non-phonetic place name spellings and raise you Keighley, West Yorkshire

                  1. Locky

                    A fine town in Cleckhuddersfax

                  2. agurney

                    Avoch (Och (as in Loch, not Lock) ), Milngavie (Mull-GUY) and Footdee (Fitty) are regular causes of confusion up here.

                  3. Caver_Dave Silver badge

                    Raise you with Towcester

                    I used to work for a 'merican company who used to pronounce it Tow-cess-ter rather than Toaster.

                  4. Stoolbend

                    All this talk of names reminds me of Alnwick near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I could swear that its pronounced "ALN-wick" but they are very insistent that it's "Annick".

                    And more local to me... Teignmouth. "TIN-mouth" anyone?

                  5. Colabroad

                    Whilst we're on West Yorkshire lets note the number of place names that begin with a never-pronounced "H"

                    'Uddersfield, 'Alifax, 'Olme, 'Olmfirth, 'Epworth, 'Onley, 'Ade Edge, 'Olmbridge, 'Ebden Bridge, 'Eckmondwicke, 'Aworth.

                    Then there's Slaithwaite, which not even the locals can agree on Slath-wait or Slough-it (Slough like Plough) Definitely not Slay-th-wait though, that would be daft!

                    1. defiler

                      Up in Aberdeenshire there's a town called Strachan. Pronounced Stron.

                      Don't get lost in Aberdeenshire,,,

                      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                        "Up in Aberdeenshire there's a town called Strachan. Pronounced Stron."

                        Pre-SatNav days, I was given directions from part of northern England toa destination in Scotland, by phone. I was to "take a right after the Post Office in "Stra'van". How the hell was I to know on the map it's Strathaven!?!?!

                      2. onefang

                        If all of those places didn't go and stuff their names with bits that are not pronounced, would be a lot less problems.

                    2. jake Silver badge

                      You forgot 'Arrogate, 'Ampsthwaite and 'Alifax. (Well, they were in the West Riding ... ).

                    3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

                      I was once asked for directions to the Lap Latta club. It took several goes before I realised they were looking for the La Plata club behind me.

                      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                        "It took several goes before I realised they were looking for the La Plata club behind me."

                        I had similar problems in Los Angeles getting directions from a friend. I wasn't until I saw the saw the signs that I realised he was saying Van Nuys and not Vanyes

          4. katrinab Silver badge

            Pronounced Woostershire and Lesstershire

          5. wayne 8


        3. Flywheel

          I had an Australian mate who need to get to Looga-baroo (Loughborough)...

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Coming from a country where the local language was transliterated by glaswegian missionaries and things are written as they sound (or vice versa), it's amazing to hear how people can _still_ mess up the pronunciation.

            Unsurprisingly the best rendition I ever heard was occasioned by giving a glaswegian colleague a page of such text (he couldn't understand a word of it) and telling him to "just read it as it's written". To this day he still has no idea what he read out, but it was word perfect.

            1. AJ MacLeod

              @Alan Brown

              I was out walking this morning and overheard a very confused "conversation" between two Glaswegian grass cutters and a carload of German tourists... the poor baffled Germans were perfectly comprehensible, the Weegies nigh unintelligible, even to me.

              I was tempted to suggest they might try communicating with the tourists in English but refrained...

        4. Jeffrey Nonken

          My girlfriend used to claim that if Niagara Falls was a British territory it would be pronounced "Niffles".

        5. wayne 8

          Only to those unfamiliar with Worcester, Massachusetts or Worcestershire Sauce.

          1. jake Silver badge

            That's pronounced "Warsh Yer Sister Sauce", right?

        6. Christoph

          I've heard of a US tourist asking the way to Key-app-siddy. While already standing on Cheapside.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The other Belvoir

        But then of course there's the excuse-of-a-lettings-agency ('coz it's a franchise outfit) which insists it is pronounced bel-voir.

        Franchisees get a tad upset if you call it beaver.

    3. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Beaver College changed its name to Arcadia University in part because of overeager web filters, with smutty jokes providing the rest of the motivation."

      Another reason why so-called "smut" filters need to be localised and look at context. Here in the UK, few people would see the smutty connotation of the word beaver in normal use, except in US comedies/jokes.

    5. wayne 8

      Two state parks in northern Kentucky along I-75.

      "Beaver Lick"

      followed by

      "Big Bone Lick"

      "Lick" is local word for a small stream.

      The "Big Bone" refers to a dinosaur bone that was discovered by the stream.

      Was fun to watch people, especially young women, when they saw the signs for the first time.

    6. Kernel

      "Beaver College changed its name to Arcadia University in part because of overeager web filters, with smutty jokes providing the rest of the motivation."

      Yes - surprisingly my 5yo grandson, newly started school, is allowed to call his teacher by her first name - it seems even at that age children can do far too much with a name like Mrs Bottomley.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I used to work on technical support for a large, not-yet-bankrupt, UK electronics retailer around 2001 or so. On other floors in the same building were customer services, accounts etc.

    The majority of our customers used the phone to contact us but email was just gaining momentum for this sort of thing so there were a team who were just reading and responding to emails - typically with a nondescript "Very sorry to hear this, we can't deal with XYZ over email so why not give us a call". I had some mates on that team, quite jealous of them as they avoided the relentless barrage of phone calls injected into their ears for 8 hours at a time.

    One day, Friend A got an email from quite a rude customer - although in fairness we'd probably made them that way through a multitude of mistakes. He tapped out a joke reply which was along the lines of "Why don't you just go and fuck yourself", tapped Friend B who was sitting at the next desk on the shoulder and showed him the reply with with a giggle.

    Friend B grabbed the mouse and jokingly went to click "Send", Friend A panicked and went to snatch it back, accidentally hitting the left button on exactly the bit of interface you're thinking it was

    The pair of them shortly became Ex-Colleague A and Ex-Colleague B.

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      There's a very simple solution for that: Don't type that kind of shit.

      1. LeahroyNake


        I didn't do it on purpose but sent an email to the boss and managed to type cun#somers with the t and not the #. I didn't even notice until he phoned me up laughing, could have been a lot worse...

        Needless to say I now double check, have a 5 minute delay on sending and an outbound profanity filter just in case ;)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Net send

    A friend of mine worked in the IT department of a fairly large UK pensions company. One of his (non-IT) workmates was delighting in the revelation that the IT department could send messages to users' desktops, and asked how it was done.

    When he accidentally sent "fuck off" to the entire company instead of his mate, he was immediately escorted from the premises.

    No, I don't know how a "normal" user ended up with permissions to 'net send' across the domain, but I suspect it was part of the hijinks going on between the two of them...

    1. Lee D

      Re: Net send

      A long time ago there was no such thing as permissions. As kids we use to do this all the time. The only obstacle was not running winpopup on the destination machine (which meant the message did nothing). But if you wanted to "opt in", just run winpopup and net send would show you your incoming messages.

      By default, net send was unprivileged, broadcast-wide, and anyone running winpopup would see the messages. The solution by most places was "turn off winpopup".

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Net send

        Actually, Lee, a long time ago permissions were de rigueur ... and then Microsoft discovered networking. The rest, as they say, is history.

        1. Rich 11

          Re: Net send

          Microsoft's greatest triumph was Microsoft Mail. It was basically a huge set of folders sitting on a server's file share, with near-total write permissions given to all Mail users. My hands have started shaking just thinking about it, 25 years later.

          1. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Re: Net send

            Microsoft Mail

            Had a similar thing happen many years ago when the group of companies I the worked for installed MS Mail. I may well have related the story here previously.

            Bearing in mind that up until this point the office where I was based boasted the grand total of (IIRC) four "PC" computers and a minicomputer with text terminals, we'd just installed a bunch of mostly '486SX machines with (mostly) 4MB RAM and 100MB (I think) HDDs, all networked with thin Ethernet to a "mail server" which was (again, IIRC) a 286 with 1MB RAM and a 40MB HDD.

            Mail was distributed by dial-up modem directly site-to-site, so limited to 28k8. There was a "gentleman's agreement" that once a connection was made, mail could be sent in both directions but of course over standard phone lines, the cost was with the originating modem.

            One day, the new computers seemed to "freeze" on bootup. It took a good couple of hours for the first of them to become responsive, and it turned out that the reason was a single email sent to "everyone, everywhere" by the MD of one of the other sites, notifying us of their snazzy new logo, which he had scanned at high resolution and attached - as a 10MB file - to the email. It may only have been transferred once (the system was "intelligent" like that), but the impact of a dozen or more clients trying to download it near simultaneously from the '286 over 10Mb Ethernet was entirely predictable.

            Oh, and then there was the phone bill to consider.

            Snotty email from big bosses and promises to be careful next time.

            Then, one April 1st, some low-rank wag decided to send a text-only joke to "everyone, everywhere" and despite it not clogging everything up for hours and actually being reasonably amusing, received a written warning.


          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Net send

            "Microsoft Mail"

            This was probably what convinced MS that "email is really hard" and then had them turn it into a self-fullfilling prohecy.

            The sheer amount of faff you'd go through to make MS boxen talk to the Internet and the mega-breakage they'd inflict in both directions was enough to drive a (wo)man to drink. It hasn't improved over time and Outhouse365 has all the charm and flexibility of a busy military latrine in the best tradition of the scene in Platoon.

            Mind you there were worse mail systems, some of which wouldn't just spin themselves into the ground if you looked at them funny, but dig themselves a large corkscrew-shaped hole too. (Novell systems really didn't like mail from postmaster to postmaster, for example) Even worse were the ones which would barf all over neighbouring systems in the days of $20/MB mail charges (AT&T mail was notorious for this if people weren't careful)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Net send

      As a user I could "net send", my favourite being "Warning: Computer overheating and about to set on fire, step away now" and then watching people move away very quickly.

      1. Chris King
        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Net send reloaded

          I have recreated a version of Net Send which will pop up a message an anyones screen

          using the -i option in psexec , and the msgbox command in vbscript.

          It even walks through all that UAC bullshit on win 7 / 10

          It also has options to start IE at the page of your choice or press the keys that flip the screen on certain intel chipsets.

          You do have to have admin rights on target pc though.

    3. AustinTX

      Re: Net send

      In the early 2000's, the glorious international Wincor Nixdorf corporation didn't allow instant messengers on employee's desktops (at least not in my dept) so many people resorted to NET SEND which worked perfectly, assuming you knew your recipient's full machine name.

      One evening, a new guy tried messaging his team lead, was ignored by them but engaged in a lengthy casual chat with someone who replied instead. The twist was that the new guy was messaging everyone on a whole network segment, if not everyone everywhere. Everyone in the room was simply ignoring the messages and no-one said a thing to him as the chat went on and on.

      The other participant turned out to be a sysadmin overseas who simply wasn't kind enough to say "hey buddy, you're messaging everyone". NET SEND was disabled soon after the announcement made to stop using it.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Net send

      Just checking...

      man write

      man wall

      Yup, still there after all these years.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Net send

        DrS, you forgot talk, also still there AATY.

  8. Lee D

    I have to say, it bothers me that email isn't still "send in batches 15 minutes after you pressed Send." The number of users who just press send without thinking... Don't even get me started on "Exchange can just revoke that email, can't it?" Not once it's left our boundaries, pal, and then it's purely an honour arrangement as to whether it actually does anything at the remote end.

    And why does it need third-party software to manage a release queue? (I want "papercut for email"... email to the queue, if it's tiny and not dodgy, off it goes, otherwise the user is flagged and has to release via a secondary method to actually send it). I never worked out why Windows server doesn't just buy Papercut and put it in the OS, then steal the idea for email too.

    I've never done an accidental send-to-all, even dealing with mass-mailing, but there's been a few close ones that were caught by the "No, look, let's be sensible and email a couple of internal people first and check it works as we hope".

    1. Baldrickk

      I'm yet to send an accidental email like the ones above, but the number of times I forget to attach something yet realise 0.025s after hitting the send button...

      1. Roger Greenwood

        "forget to attach"

        So many times Thunderbird has saved me from that one.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Lee, real email systems can be setup just the way you describe.

      1. Lee D

        Indeed... my comment is that Exchange in particular just doesn't have that by default.

        Hell, it doesn't have a lot of things by default.

    3. l8gravely

      Are you kidding? People come and bitch at me if the email doesn't arrive instantly now, $DEITY help us if it's not there across the world in two minutes or they're pissed.

      1. jake Silver badge

        "People come and bitch at me if the email doesn't arrive instantly now"

        I just tell 'em to deliver it for themselves if it's all that easy. They go away.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "People come and bitch at me if the email doesn't arrive instantly now,"

        I go into old fart mode when they do that, telling them about the time when I got a reply THE SAME DAY and then when I got a reply in THE SAME DIALUP UUCP SESSION

        Then I tell them that email has explicitly zero SLA and it's a best-effort system with no guarantee of delivery OR being read. If it's that urgent or delivery-critical, they should use a motorcycle courier.

      3. onefang

        "Are you kidding? People come and bitch at me if the email doesn't arrive instantly now, $DEITY help us if it's not there across the world in two minutes or they're pissed."

        I once sent an email that took three months to arrive. I have no idea how it managed that.

    4. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "I've never done an accidental send-to-all, even dealing with mass-mailing,"

      I specifically nail in a hardlimit of about 20 recipients in systems I admin. More than that is usually a cockup on the part of the sender or an indication they need to setup a list. It's saved more than a few people's bacon.

    5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Not once it's left our boundaries, pal, and then it's purely an honour arrangement as to whether it actually does anything at the remote end."

      Even if a cancel is honoured at the other end, there's a very high likelihood that all incoming mail is copied to an archive store anyway, cancelled or not, as soon as it arrives. DPA, GDPR etc usually require it.

  9. WibbleMe

    Years ago I starting at an office front line support position I did wild card *.support@e email to everyone in Outlook to say hello, assuming it would be my department, however since my employer was a international company in the business of making Watches and Printers I got reply's back from Japan and the States

    1. Waseem Alkurdi

      Does it happen that your employer is either Citizen (in all caps) or Seiko?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > Does it happen that your employer is either Citizen (in all caps) or Seiko?

        Canon has a subsidiary that makes watches. Not sold much in Europe and US though. I have one which says, I kid you not, "sprit time" instead of "split time" on the stopwatch button.

  10. Alister

    alert emails

    On three different occasions, with three different developers, I've had the pleasure of trying to recover and clean a mail server after they've written a try..catch in their code which sent any errors to the company alert email address - but didn't put any logic in to see whether the email had already been sent.

    The record was 176,000 emails sitting in the queue of the local environment MTA, waiting to be sent to our main email server after the developer set a site running on a Friday afternoon, and I didn't get a warning until Sunday night. One email a second for over 48 hours, dammit!

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: alert emails

      Only three times? You must live a charmed life. I'm sure it's not actually the case, but it sure seems to have happened monthly for decades around these parts! The largest I've seen was well over a million (at Amdahl in ~1993).

      1. Alister

        Re: alert emails

        As a small company, I'm able to wield the LART at a very personal level, so if a developer does it once, he and his colleagues are unlikely to forget for a considerable time.

        So only staffing churn is responsible for those who missed the message...

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: alert emails

          Ah. Mine have been spread out over multiple companies. Hazard of consulting.

    2. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Re: alert emails

      Nothing that large, but I once misplaced a line of code to send an email for every row of a 65,000 line product feed, not at the end of the 65,000 line product feed to a whole team.

      The IT guy was on holiday at the time.


      1. Aladdin Sane

        Re: alert emails

        I once wrote a SAS program that sent managers 1 email for every item of outstanding feedback for their minions, including those that had subsequently left the company. Some managers had 30+ emails come through. My response was that they should have delivered the feedback within 2 working days of it being logged (AKA doing their fucking job).

      2. usbac

        Re: alert emails

        Years ago I was working on writing a new alert system for HVAC in our data center. I missed a flag in code and sent about 1000+ text messages to both my boss and myself (personal cell phone).

        My boss went from fairly pissed off to laughing his ass off when I explained to him that HE had unlimited texting, however I pay 25 cents per text!!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Some years ago an ex-colleague got an email announcing that "xxxx xxxx has just been promoted to VP of Engineering". Not being a fan of the person in question he forwarded this to another colleague with the comment that "The peter principle strikes again".

    Or at least, that's all he intended to do, but unfortunately he managed to paste the Subject text into the CC field. The mailer obediently parsed it, and found the company-wide "engineering" alias among the destinees... Not much chance of a poweroff in the circumstances (big company, servers locked in labs). The rest of us were a little surprised to get the mail, until we worked out what had happened. There was much unkind laughter in the corridors.

    When realization set in he then compounded his error by trying to send an explanatory apology/excuse to the entire alias. He quit not long after.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Career-limiting

      I once sent a rather steamy love letter to my Boss, and a system status report to my girlfriend (now Wife). Thankfully, they both found it hysterical. No harm, no foul. An extra pint that evening helped :-)

    2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Career-limiting

      I suppose you could try to pretend that you thought Peter Principle was the name of a very famous engineer - the youngest chief engineer in Starfleet or something. Scotty has a nephew named Peter on board in "Star Trek 2"; it could work.

  12. Cannister

    Target fixation, Ted

    Target fixation - always reminds me of Father Dougal Maguire:

  13. Adam 1

    About a decade ago and working in a development environment old enough to order its own pint, a (former) colleague was struggling to get some application he was debugging to stop at his breakpoint. He had been through the rigmarole of doing all the pre incident steps several times and wasn't seeing the funny side of it. He finally twigged that the compiler was being too clever by half and skipping the compilation of a bunch of units that it had compiled earlier, and instead directly linked the previous build of those classes. There were no changes, except the inclusion of the debug symbols. The workaround was to make a dummy change to the file then build. Which he did, adding a message dialog to suggest that the compiler should proceed firetruck to a different location. This did the trick, the compiler stopped at the breakpoint and then the issue was resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

    Fast forward a few days, the MD was demonstrating this particular feature to $IMPORTANTACCOUNT$ when a direction was displayed involving removing oneself with a firetruck.

    To this day, I'd still like to know whatever dirt he held over the PHB that allowed him to not be frog marched out to the car park.

    1. DuchessofDukeStreet


      Is this a leftpondian expression? Is there a SFW translation...

      1. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: Firetruck?


        1. David Nash Silver badge

          Re: Firetruck?

          The presence of those 4 letters in the word gave a clue, but the original comment

          "the compiler should proceed firetruck to a different location. " still makes no sense.

          1. tekHedd

            Re: Firetruck?

            "proceed" to travel, to go "off" somewhere

            "firetruck" no additional expln. needed

            Ya gotta use the noggin DN! :)

            1. DryBones

              Re: Firetruck?

              So the dialog said to sod off?

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge


      A lot of customers would find that kind of thing quite funny. not everyone is an uptight prude.

      That said "wibble" tends to be safer.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have to admit to ...

    Having done the old "paste into cc: instead of bcc: screwup. It was not helped by one customer "helpfully" hitting reply all to tell everyone that he'd still be happily selling his wares. IIRC it was an early announcement of some changes we were making to the email service and was sent to every email address on the service.

    Oops, and anon because I don't want to admit it in public.

    But on the cleanup front, quite a few times we'd been hit with customers hit with a lurgy and spewing vast quantities of spam through the server. I later got the software upgraded to a setup where we could impose quotas, but this was before that happened. It was fun having to filter through millions of messages - sometimes easy (simple match for identical spam), sometimes quite a bit harder where it was lots of varied spam messages. All the while trying to keep the service going for existing users who were complaning at the delays caused by the backlogs.

  15. Velv

    It's one of the reasons that everywhere I've worked I've reconfigured Outlook to send on a schedule and not instantly. That 10 minutes of mail sitting in the Outbox has saved a little embarrassment on more than one occasion.

    1. DryBones

      Cue hitting send, being all "oh crap", navigating to the outbox, and watching it all launch itself because it' sends every 10m, not 10m after you hit send for that one mail.

  16. Alien8n


    Back around 2000 I worked for a company that used Groupwise for email. While there 2 senior managers went on holiday at the same time, but one of them made the mistake of firing off an email before turning his PC off.

    Needless to say back then auto-replies weren't intelligent enough to know you've already told the other person about your holiday so the email queue soon filled up with the bounce messages between the 2 managers each telling the other about them being on holiday. About a million times...

    1. DuchessofDukeStreet

      Re: Groupwise

      Groupwise? *shudders*

      One of my (non-IT) colleagues did something similar in a previous life. He was on secondment to a customer who insisted that all secondees use their IT hardware and systems only, and didn't provide access to third party webmail etc. So he set up a forwarding rule to send any email sent to his employer's email address onto his customer email address, which he had access to throughout the working day.

      Fine until he went on holiday.

      At which point every employer email generated an out of office email from the customer system - which then created both a new forwarded email and an out of office from the employer system, which then get the idea. By the time the two IT functions had managed to get together to stop the mess, the email platforms of the two organisations had completely imploded.

    2. Sam Liddicott

      Re: Groupwise

      Despite the Precedence: junk

      header that Unix systems had been using for years.

  17. Comedy of Errors

    Dear Rich Bastard email

    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the famous "Dear Rich Bastard" email, which surprisingly turns out to be a true story:

  18. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    To err is human..

    .. and sometimes you don't need a computer. Well, not make the actual error.

    End to end testing of a snail mail system.

    The client sent us a life-sized test file of correspondence which would have been sent had the system been live. I'm not sure how they generated it, maybe from their own training exercises but it used real postal addresses. The arrangement was that it would be run right through the system, including the enveloping line, a sample of the results checked and the rest shredded.

    That was the computer part and it worked perfectly. The human bit came when the trolley was wheeled over to the outbound post area instead of the shredder.

    It was publicly explained as "someone pressed the wrong button".

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Root cause, perhaps?

    Can we, one day, ask what the root cause of these excessive risk takers is? I am intrigued, not at least since I have been on the receiving end of things like this.

    At a university that shall not be named the sysadmins thought they were running out of space so they launched a find job to hunt down all gif and jpeg files ... and delete them. That sure freed up a lot of space - especially in the numerous PhD theses that suddenly had no figures but were about top be handed in before the rapidly approaching deadline. Without going into the details it ended up with the sysadmins installing extra locks on their doors. Of course no backups were taken immediately before the wipeout.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Root cause, perhaps?

      "Without going into the details it ended up with the sysadmins installing extra locks on their doors."

      All that would achieve is allowing the lumber to be piled higher and more kerosene poured over it.

      One of my friends offed himself after losing his thesis in a head crash about 25 years ago (no backups). This is one of those areas where fucking around with people's lives can and rightfully should be a career ending decision.

      That event is one of the things that guides my attitudes to backups in an academic environment and makes me quite resistant to attempts to reduce what's done.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Root cause, perhaps?

      launched a find job to hunt down all gif and jpeg files ... and delete them

      Our IT department did something very similar, though instead of deleting they moved everything to a ReadyNAS in RAID0. They also sent several snotty emails around complaining about people saving images and using up all the space on the local file server. Local managers believed them and repeated said snotty emails.

      Local "users" came moaning to me as a vaguely technical person, because they couldn't see anything further to cull.

      I did as much of a check as I could (as a "user") and discovered that all the files by all the users on our local file server took up somewhere around 10% of the space.

      It took a lot of cajoling for IT to admit that the other 90% was their own data, but at least the snotty emails stopped.

      We still can't save image files to the main file server though. No dissertations were harmed, but a lot of manuals that I'd saved there were wrecked.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We can do it too!

    Who remembers the "reply to all" foulup?

    1. EnviableOne Silver badge

      Re: We can do it too!

      That was the week from hell for All in NHS it, luckily it was my holiday (but we were still clearing up for about a month)

      That was almost as good as the company secretary that sent a 4GB video file as an attachment to the ALL-STAFF email in one of the previous companies i worked for, 3000 employees, and 500MB mailbox limits, that caused a serious afternoon of work .. manged to delete most of it, and educate the use of the company intranet and hyperlinks .....

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: How fast is 'fast moving'

    A couple of decades ago I was working an ISP helldesk, where the ticketing system had a "Wank-O-Meter" drop down to allow us erks to add such comments as "fantastic bloke", "sweetie" and less flatteringly "Tosser" and "Bitch". Sadly, an earlier iteration of GDPR forced the retirement of the drop down :-(

  22. NiceCuppaTea

    It was ruined for me a few years back when someone pointed it out to me and now i will ruin it for all of you good readers as well.

    The well known resource site for IT pros that have reached the end of their tether trying to fix a problem and cant is not experts exchange, its expert sexchange. You're welcome :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, Pen Island probably regret choosing as well, and there's also the one for finding your local congresscritter:

      1. David Nash Silver badge

        Not to mention

        Powergen Italia

        1. Loyal Commenter

          Re: Not to mention

          Or indeed therapist finder.

      2. Korev Silver badge

        Who could forget the Wig and Pen is open for business sign...

        It sells St Austell Ales' finest -->

      3. katrinab Silver badge is a very suitable name for a site to contact your congrescritter, given that they whore themselves out to the highest bidder.

  23. Secta_Protecta

    Mail systems are always good at tripping people up. I remember one nightshift sysadmin at an ISP who, as a response to persistent spam hitting our mailserver, blacklisted the whole domain. As this was in 2000 quite a few people were still using Yahoo Mail and the phones didn't take long to start ringing...

    1. Korev Silver badge

      I used to work somewhere that used a business line from NTL. Due to spam from infected machines a lot of places used to block all email from the NTL IP ranges - this included some customers who became unhappy that support "weren't responding" to their email....

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "As this was in 2000 quite a few people were still using Yahoo Mail"

      On the other hand, one of the larger IRC networks banned due to persistent spam and ddos problems, telling complainers to take it up with IBM. By all accounts the IBM helpdesk was getting upwards of 9000 complaints per hour with IBM lasting about a week before they broke down and agreed to start policing their abusers.

      I think that was one of the first real victories against the "we can't take responsibility for policing what our users are doing" (spam and DDoS attacks) mentality that large ISPs had at the time, that was turning them into abuse havens.

      What all the large companies seemed to forget is that noone's being paid to _accept_ mail, so if you blow your goodwill, you can be left high and dry. Most of them seemed to just count on being 9000 pound gorillas.

  24. ColinPa Silver badge

    Mail filters need to be clever

    I was involved in a sporting event which provided email - and software to filter threats.

    A skater known as "le bombe" got no mail.

    We also found the that the software could not handle subtle threats like "We have your children" which could mean that the child has been kidnapped, or that Granny has collect the kids from school as usual.

  25. Stevie


    Anyone older than a foetus knows that IT Production System "trials" are done using Spike Milligan Poetry and/or Unwinisms so that running and power cord pulling are unnecessary.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      I use and recommend Lorem ipsum for such trials.

      And of course, it escapes into the wild occasionally to much mirth. I once lost a contract after sending "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum." to a client. He was convinced I was cussing him out in Latin.

      1. Loyal Commenter

        Re: Bah!

        I prefer to use Bacon Ipsum. Unless your client happens to be a vegan restaurant, in which case it may not be wise.

  26. Trilkhai

    Majordomo woes

    Back when I was in college about 20 years ago, I volunteered to run a discussion list for a bunch of mostly-senior-citizen genealogists using my ISP account's Majordomo access in spite of having never actually tried to administer it before. In order to spare my users a ton of test messages, I created a "groupname-test" list for me to work out the kinks on before applying it to their group. After several hours of struggling to get everything set up, I sent a frustrated test message consisting of foul language — but predictably forgot to include the "-test" in the address, thus accidentally cussing out 20-30 grannies. (Thankfully, when I apologized they told me that they had actually found it quite funny.)

    1. Alien8n

      Re: Majordomo woes

      Reminds me of the early days when we had a 14k Demon internet dialup account and email and news access was via DOS. Some of the more techie members set up a mailing list for the group which was very popular until 2 members (who actually worked opposite each other) decided it would be great fun to spend the day emailing each other via the mailing list. End result was firing up the email client at the end of the day to several hundred emails from just the 2 of them. A few stern words from some of the more senior and respected members of the group soon put paid to that, when it was pointed out that most members were still paying per the minute for their internet access.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Years ago I installed an update to our anti-spam software on our mail server. The vendor decided to default the profanity filter to "ON".

    Queue a few minutes later a panic phone call from our CFO saying that "ALL" of his email is disappearing...

    Yep, about 60% of it gone! A few minutes later, filter turned off, and mailbox restored. It's a good thing we have backups! The other executives gave him crap about it for years...

    Anonymous, well, because!

  28. swm Silver badge

    voice mail

    The University of Rochester had (has?) a voice mail system that allows forwarding voice mail. Sure enough students would forward forwarded voice mail to insane depths (like 3 hours worth) to multiple people. You had to listen to the entire message to delete it. They finally needed to get a master password to stamp it out.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Worked at a large supermarket building a new online system, performance load/stress tests had generated tens of thousands of new accounts (registration emails), hundreds of thousands of orders (order confirmation emails) and even password resets (more emails). All of this was nicely segregated behind firewalls but on an ISP-class mail server.

    Great until the network team decided to test the production firewall rules, opening up the email pipe with the massive queue waiting to execute. All the emails were trying to go to the same address - one that didn't exist but on a real Tier1 consultancy's email domain (the evil empire one). The bounce back was the supermarket.

    45 minutes later, both consultancy and supermarket's email servers had collapsed under the load.

  30. GrumpyKiwi

    A mate who was working for a company that totally wasn't British and had nothing to do with Petroleum in the mid-1990's told me of a email from a fellow worker in Venezuela that took down their systems for a day and a half. Apparently it was meant to go only to his office and let everyone know he was moving house and had some spare furniture. Instead it went worldwide and even in those days the company was big enough to have a lot of people on email, but not robust enough to cope with that much email at once.

    I on the other hand accidentally sent out a sales promo in CC rather than BCC which was not a popular move. Only found out after people started to complain too.

  31. whbjr

    Back when eBay had interesting Chat Groups, they had a profanity-checker which (for better or worse) ignored whitespace, so you couldn't say "the PEN IS mightier than the sword" or "It's a BIT CHilly out tonight." Those of us familiar with HTML learned that it didn't understand the "nbsp" character.

    1. onefang

      'it didn't understand the "nbsp" character.'

      Naughty and Bad Serial Profanity? (Yes, I know it's actually Non Breaking SPace.)

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