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

Who, me? 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 financial services firm – where he learnt about impulse control the hard way.

The biz, he said, ran three servers, including an ageing Exchange 5.5 server that ran the Windows NT 4.0 operating system, which pinged off mail every 15 minutes via a dial-up connection in the office.

“We were embarking on an email infrastructure overhaul,” said Steve. “At the same time we were coming up with a way to send a mass email out to our customers, which was an Outlook template that grabbed email addresses from our Filemaker-based CRM.”

The first part of the work was to make use of a new 2Mbps circuit that the team had installed.

“For that I installed Mailsweeper Gateway on a new separate box, and this meant that emails would go instantly instead of waiting for the modem to dial up,” Steve explained. “A send connector was installed on the 5.5 server a day or two previously to send mail to the Mailsweeper server then out via our new circuit.”

The second project was the mass email template, which Steve’s colleague developed, who was proudly showing it off on the day in question.

“It was a one-press button that grabbed all of the users’ email addresses from our database and inserted them into the BCC field in Outlook,” said Steve. “It was impressive stuff at the time, and I was amazed at how quick it grabbed all the data and put it into Outlook, where previously it was a laborious task.”

“Somewhat elated, I thought it would be funny to put some text in the subject field,” he added, ominously.

Now, as any good sport knows, “funny text” means rudeness and swear words. And Steve was no different, admitting that “it may or may not have said ‘F*ck you all’.”

But his glee was short-lived, because – after confirming with his colleague that if he pressed “Send” the missive would go out to everyone – he discovered something of an itchy trigger finger.

“I never intended to send that message…” Steve said, remorsefully. “I intended to click on the X in the top corner… but for some reason my brain saw the word SEND instead of X.”

After a couple of seconds, Steve said he was faced with “the sudden realisation of my world coming to a crashing end” – as it occurred to him that he had just installed a new mail gateway that sends email immediately.

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So he did the one thing he could do: he legged it (no, no, not quite like that).

“I ran over to the other side of the office, shoving my colleague out of the way, and I made a beeline for our shiny new gateway server. Faster than you can say anything fast, I pulled the power out of the gateway server, bringing my new box to a crashing halt.”

And so, “shaking and sweating”, Steve made his way back to the old email server and brought up the delivery queue to see if his “joke” had landed.

“You cannot begin to imagine the sheer relief when I looked in the queue to see my message still with a status of Pending Delivery,” he said. Heart still in his throat, Steve was able to remove the message from the queue.

“Had I been 1 or 2 seconds slower in pulling the power out I would not be in the position that I’m in now,” he added.

Of course, the users didn’t notice anything unusual, since as far as they were concerned emails always took 15 minutes before they sent, and Steve and his colleague agreed to never to speak of it again.

He concluded: “I then went home to change my underwear.”

Have you nearly told an entire user base what you really thought of them? Has your blue joke turned into a code brown? Tell Who, Me? all about it here. ®

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