Thursday, December 15, 2005

Well Done, Thou Good and Faithful Server!

SOMETIMES, MACHINES CAN BE overzealous in their efforts to fulfill the goals that fragile humans set for them. Such primitive artificial intelligences as spellcheckers, grammar checkers, spam guards, and Young Republicans can be easily confused by nuances of meaning, shades of irony, or simple soundalikes. One of my coworkers seemed amazed that a spellchecker could be fooled by a homonym. Although I will run important documents through a spellcheck at least once, I will feel better if I print it out, sit down with a sharp colored pencil, and dig in for spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as the copyeditor I once was.

There can be humor in these attempts on the part of these machines to save us from ourselves. Such an incident occurred today. Our email server at work will delete emails or attachments if:
  • The email has a suspiciously short header;
  • The email has an attachment over 1 MB in size; or
  • The attachment has a short or adult-oriented filename.
That last parameter snagged a file one of the out-of-house editors sent me for a newsletter. But first, a digression. . . .

I know full well that, by seeding this blog with certain keywords, I could get more search hits and visits. When someone visits my blog from a listing resulting from a search, the URL or the page of origin will include the search term(s). I found this out when I noticed people visiting this entry because they were searching for details on the financial-news anchorwoman I mention in passing therein. An alarming number of these searches concern her legs. Don't look at me — I have to share this half of the species with these specimens. My whole point is that I would consider this sort of deliberate seeding, whether in bogus paragraphs or invisible text or metatags, to be dirty pool.

With that background, I hope you'll be able to follow along when I describe the incident.

When our email server finds an objectionable item, it simply deletes it. It doesn't alert the potential recipient to the deletion. In fact, what happens is you see an email flash in the Inbox pane of Outlook, then disappear instantly. Very frustrating. So the only way I knew something happened was that the editor followed up and asked if I had gotten the file. She forwarded a copy of the text of the original message.

I spotted the problem instantly. The file — a photo of a healthcare professional that she wanted to run in the newsletter — was named after the person depicted. This person shared the same last name as a current adult actress whose initials are JJ; the last name is the same as the cantankerous editor of The Daily Bugle of comics fame. (Now you see why I digressed. I'm gonna get hits the old-fashioned way — I'll eaaaaaaarn them — not by splashing the moniker of a siliconed ho all over the place.) The email server, seeing this, figured it was a naughty JPEG and dutifully canned it.

Next came the delicate explanation to the editor of why her file got deleted. As broadly as I could without either sounding like a smut freak or having this email get deleted as well, I offered some reasons why her attachment might have been eaten. My suggestion was that she simply rename the file, which she did, and the problem was solved.

I can understand why the company doesn't want enticingly entitled viruses and spyware sneaking into the office network. It's just humorous to see how the system can become overzealous. On the plus side, if I want a day free of irritating emails, maybe I can add my own name to the server's reject list. My luck, it'll get crossed with the direct deposit system, and my paychecks will be cast into the trackless wastes of Spam Hell. . . .


Amy said...

Does this mean that no one can send you a message at work about that guy in the Spiderman comic either? :)

Amy said...

oh duh, you said that already. :) see how well I pay attention after 10 pm???

Schizohedron said...

Hey, better to lose focus after 10 p.m. than 10 a.m.!

I'm fairly sure that a picture of J.K. Simmons as everyone's favorite editor-in-chief would get eaten by the servers.

Fascinating factoid: The actress actually picked her "stage" name from a brand of liquor, not, as I had suspected, from Peter Parker's boss.