Thursday, June 28, 2007


Sorry about that. I got an apartment and went to Vegas... these things can suck the life out of you.

Here's one.


Edward Tom, director of admissions at the University of California, Berkeley, law school, was training a new office worker last week when it happened.

Tom was demonstrating the e-mail software used by the school and was highlighting several features, including how the user can filter mail and set it to send messages to one recipient or many at the same time.

That’s when he chose what happened to be a standard congratulatory message on being admitted to the university’s prestigious law school and accidentally sent it to all 7,000 students who have applied for admission to the law school. The problem, which the school quickly admitted, is that all of the applicants won’t be admitted. In fact, there’s only room for 800 to 850 of them. The e-mail congratulated the applicants on their recent “admission” to the school and invited them to an annual reception co-hosted by alumni and several student organizations.

“I hit the Send button,” Tom said, describing the mistake. “Normally when we do [training] for real, I have another person on staff who’s an expert.” But that worker was not available when the new employee started last Friday.

“I’ve never had a glitch with that expert in six years of training new staff members,” Tom said. “It takes a bumbling fool like me.



Lots of times, when an e-mail is accidentally sent to a large audience, it has no bearing on the audience's life. That is to say, we don't know the guy breaking up with the girl (or asking her out), we didn't take the sandwich in question, or we didn't know the NFL coach who's sending us nudie pictures. Lots of e-mail is like that; what amounts to an FYI bulletin about events or circumstances we care about, or at least think are funny. Some e-mails are inquisitive, and we reply to them in kind. Some e-mails, though, tell us something about ourselves that could change our lives.

This would have been one of those e-mails, if it were accurate, and it shows that not every accidentally forwarded e-mail is passive. It's an example of the speed and irrevocability of transmission; this guy probably wouldn't have overseen the packaging and mailing of thousands of acceptance letters bearing his signature when he had less than a thousand spots available. Then again, he does describe himself as an idiot, so we can't say that for sure.

There's not too much of a lesson here, other than to NOT trust form mail. Unless the message is addressed directly from you, or you've confirmed it from the source, maybe you didn't get into that school, land that job, or win the U.K. lottery. Like it or not, the e-mail is a part of the internet - your own private part - and you know what they stay about stuff written on the internet. Often, it's crap.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Highest of Profiles

D'oh! IMs and e-mails that embarrass | CNET

Embarrassment unites all people. We follow different paths in this life; all too often these paths are determined by our start point. But in the best of situations, we have enough options to walk the path that makes us happiest. Many people equate fame with happiness; the smart play is to take another look at that reasoning. The power, influence, money, admiration and respect that can come with fame sure sounds attractive, but among its costs are the increased risk of embarrassment. I may not be famous, and neither are you; but the chances of us embarrassing ourselves on a large scale are fairly low. (Not impossible, mind you - ask Claire Swire, that numa-numa fellow, and Steve Bartman - but low.)

Enter e-mail, and embarrassing e-mail. The link that follows - which, of course, has explicit language and links, more on such things in a later post - is all about higher profile embarrassing e-mails. Most of them were sent by people who were generally famous at the time of their writing; their authors really should have known better.

Then again, think about it. Is there an e-mail or two in your past that you'd like to take back?

I think most everyone can say that there is. Whether it's a passive aggressive emotional outburst to an ex-significant other, a gloating missive about an ethical or legal misdeed, or a furious venting of office frustration, I think most everyone reading this - and writing it - has a skeleton or two in their closets.

There. Now we're all united in fear of our own pasts. Where are those ill-advised e-mails, now? And are you still as upset as you were yesterday that you're not rich and famous?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Fortune Magazine did an article on their blog:
E-mail may be hazardous to your career
Careless e-mailing has brought down some high-flyers. Fortune shares tips on how to keep safe.

The article itself isn't all that great, but check it out. Then, check out the forum:
"FORTUNE Talkback E-mail could be hazardous to your career. �

Much, much more interesting. The stories speak for themselves; I could post for pages about a few of them. They show that for every Claire Swire, or mega-famous e-mail forward, there are hundreds of smaller stories. If you have any, send them in; I'm all interesting.

The one post that I thought was really interesting, at least for tonight - I'll be back, talkback forum - is this one:
I don’t quite understand why you would ask this and why anyone would repeat for the whole world the contents of an embarrassing email. If it was embarrassing for the limited audience to see it the first time, why would anyone want to experience the embarrassment a second time in front of all of your readers?
Posted By Mark G. Manuel, Kenai, Alaska : May 3, 2007 5:06 pm

And it's a good point. Many of the people who posted their stories of accidental forwards were the senders themselves. Why cop to it? I think it has something to do with the nature of embarrassment. Embarrassment is both tragedy and comedy. Laughing it off is a coping mechanism to deal with embarrassment, to be sure. Much in the same way that someone with a spot on their tie or a black eye might offer the explanation for it without being asked. Those people anticipate the negative reaction their observer might have (slob, victim) and recast themselves in that person's judgment - often assuming the worst-case scenario - as something else (unlucky, accident-prone). But taking that one step further are people with embarrassing stories in their past who laugh them off by bringing attention to them, even when they're not readily apparent. It's as if they want to change the past, by recasting this action, in the largest collective subjective sense, as a funny story, rather than a tragic one. If everyone remembers a tragedy as a comedy, doesn't it become a comedy?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

This Just In: Steelers Attempt to Trade Adult Films for Draft Picks

Prisuta: Steelers hitting delete on e-mail gaffe - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Short short version:
What the offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers meant to do was send an e-mail with a pornographic video attachment to a few close friends. What he did do, though, was send it to all of the NFL's general managers, their secretaries and commissioner Roger Goodell.


Probably through sending it to an e-mail list, which as you know, can be one e-mail address that automatically forwards messages sent to it to any number of recipients.

It looks like the coach will survive with an apology and internal discipline, which a few sports bloggers have said might even be too strict a punishment given the lockerroom atmosphere of professional football. This guy likens any discipline to "putting a saddle on a tiger," which is a pretty good analogy if you forget about the NFL's massive brand and business presence. While the blogger makes a good point about the difficulty in teaching the intricacies of business norms to guys who are used to huddles as opposed to memos, I think this isn't the right instance to bring that up.

You can train someone for days about the dangers of sending e-mail to the wrong address; there's still a very real chance that they'll mess up. Rarely does anyone accidentally send e-mail to the wrong recipient because they don't know what they're doing. But you can teach someone to keep business e-mail business and personal e-mail personal. And that's where the real cause of this one.

Sending porn from your work address isn't really something anyone has to learn in business school. It's just dumb. Sending it to every team in the league and the commissioner by accident, that's dumb and really quite unlucky.

The NFL, by the way, has not thanked the Steelers coach for the e-mail, nor will they punish him. They're calling it a team matter. What does it take for a coach to be punished by the league? Something like this.

(See also very funny parody myspace profile).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Ham Sandwich

-----Original Message-----

From: Willis, Regina
Sent: Thursday, 1 September 2005 9:39 AM
To: sydflr22A - Senior Associates; sydflr22L - Lawyers; sydflr22S - Support Staff
Subject: My lunch...
Yesterday I put my lunch in the fridge on Level 22 which included a packet of ham, some cheese slices and two slices of bread which was going to be for my lunch today.

Over night it has gone missing and as I have no spare money to buy another lunch today, I would appreciate being reimbursed for it.

Regina Willis

-----Original Message-----

From: Scott, Elizabeth
Sent: Thursday, 1 September 2005 9:55 AM
To: sydflr22A - Senior Associates; sydflr22L - Lawyers; sydflr22S - Support Staff
Subject: RE: My lunch...

There are items fitting your exact description in the level 23 fridge. Are you sure you didn't place your lunch in the wrong fridge yesterday?


-----Original Message-----

From: Willis, Regina
Sent: Thursday, 1 September 2005 10:06 AM
To: Scott, Elizabeth

Probably best you don't reply to all next time, would be annoyed to the lawyers.

The kitchen was not doing dinner last night, so obviously someone has helped themselves to my lunch.

Really sweet of you to investigate for me!

Regina Willis

-----Original Message-----

From: Scott, Elizabeth
Sent: Thursday, 1 September 2005 10:14 AM
To: Willis, Regina
Subject: RE:

Since I used to be a float and am still on the level 19 email list I couldn't help but receive your ridiculous email - lucky me!

You use our kitchen all the time for some unknown reason and I saw the items you mentioned in the fridge so naturally thought you may have placed them in the wrong fridge.

Thanks I know I'm sweet and I only had your best interests at heart. Now as you would say, "BYE"!


-----Original Message-----
From: Willis, Regina
Sent: Thursday, 1 September 2005 10:15 AM
To: Scott, Elizabeth
Subject: RE:

I'm not blonde!!!

-----Original Message-----
From: Scott, Elizabeth
Sent: Thursday, 1 September 2005 10:16 AM
To: Willis, Regina
Subject: RE:
Being a brunette doesn't mean you're smart though!

-----Original Message-----
From: Willis, Regina
Sent: Thursday, 1 September 2005 10:17 AM
To: Scott, Elizabeth
Subject: RE:

I definitely wouldn't trade places with you for "the world"!

-----Original Message-----
From: Scott, Elizabeth
Sent: Thursday, 1 September 2005 10:19 AM
To: Willis, Regina
Subject: RE:
I wouldn't trade places with you for the world...I don't want your figure!

-----Original Message-----
From: Scott, Elizabeth
Sent: Thursday, 1 September 2005 10:23 AM
To: Willis, Regina
Subject: RE:
Oh my God I'm laughing! happy relationship (you have been with so many guys - yep really happy relationship with Trevor JONES), beautiful apartment (so what), brand new car (me too), high pay job (I earn more)....say plenty more.....I have 5 guys at the moment! haha.



The Register


This one comes as advertised: it happened at a law firm in Austrailia in 2005. Nobody knows who actually took the sandwich, and it's somewhat of a moot point, as both senders involved were fired.

From the Register's article:

An Allens Arthur Robinson spokesman confirmed that "anyone involved in passing on the e-mail would be disciplined", explaining: "Email is a business tool, not a personal messaging system - the use of it in this case was not in any way acceptable, nor is that the way we expect people to treat their work colleagues."

Yowza. Here we see a company actually cracking down on "passing on" the e-mail, which brings with it an interesting point; the additional liability for anyone who just forwards an improperly sent e-mail outside the company. Lawyer-types do have a general rule in litigation that unintentionally disclosed documents should be returned immediately and ignored - this happens, in these days where opposing litigants serve motions on each other via e-mail. It seems like the office here is adopting somewhat of a similar policy. I haven't read anything anywhere about anyone other than the two flame combatants being disciplined, so it's possible that the original forwarders only recieved a talking to.

As for the senders, well, this is an example of the sort of message you don't want to use a department-wide e-mail for. Have one's lunch stolen from a work refrigerator is frustrating; but really, did the first sender actually think someone was going to cop to the theft and pay her back? It's doubtful, particularly considering her tone. I can think of two basic explanations that would come to mind upon finding that someone stole my food out of the fridge: the first, that someone mistook it for their own lunch. You'll note the irrepressible optimisim and believe in the basic decency of human beings. Still got it, Mom. The next, that someone took it out of an evil (or at least hungry) heart, and ate it filled with shame (and ham). Trailing along behind would be the slight chance someone mistook it for a lunch that had been in the fridge long enough to become a science experiment and threw it out; that certainly can happen. But in the most likely scenarios, it was an honest mistake or a theft for which one isn't inclined to confess.

Yet it's that second possibility that the original sender has latched on to - you can tell from the accusatory tone of her message - and she attempts to shame the person into 'fessing up. Ballsy, yes, but more importantly a message like that really does beg to be lampooned.

Which is where the responder comes in, and boy, is reply-to-all the worst way to deal with this. The original sender even says so, which is, really, awesome. This makes the art form of unintentionally forwarded e-mail post-modern; it is now aware of its status as art. It knows what it does is wrong.

Obviously these two have some sort of history. The exchange goes from Zero to Snippy in about 1.5 messages. The brakes - which is to say the self-awareness that this exchange is inappropriate for common office e-mail chatter - come off just as quickly. In a real sense, these employees might have avoided sanction if they just took it private or, better, yet, stopped sending e-mail about it all together. Instead, the old ghost that stands six feet in front of them and taunts "Are you going to take that from her, in front of everyone?" has claimed another poor soul or two. The urge to counter-show-up someone who's just shown us up in front of an audience is the genesis of so many e-mails like this, fights in nightclubs, and international military conflicts. It's one of those annoying aspects about being human, and one that almost never pays off as well as it promises to. Because the last word in this e-mail exchange is, of course, the company's. And both senders look equally rediculous.

So, the next time someone steals your lunch from the fridge at work; try leaving a note. Or maybe, just let it go.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bradley and Claire: Adam and Eve of the Unintentionally Famous E-mail?

(Language not safe for work, children, or the easily offended)

So, here's the problem. It's occurred to me that a good deal of e-mails appropriate for the subject matter of this blog aren't, well, appropriate. In the interests of good taste and decency - so common on the internet these days - and moreso in the interests of not getting fired for running an explicit blog - I'm just going to link to them. Wussy, I know. But I have student loans in repayment, people. Besides, the irony of someone getting fired from work for running a blog that's often about people who get fired from work is so delicious it sounds readily possible.

For those of you too genteel to click through to the link, the e-mail forward over on the other site that has no affiliation with me whatsoever is possibly the first mass-forwarded unintentionally famous e-mail. Sent in 2000, it's a thread from a guy named Bradley and a Woman named Claire, and to be honest, it's not all that interesting. The double entendre that they come up with (hayoo) isn't really half as clever as the average e-mail forward that your aunt, your bored friend at college or your travel agent sends you on a daily basis.

But, circulating as it did, you have to wonder: what's so special about it? Why was it forwarded so much?

Snopes writes about voyeurism, and that's a factor, to be sure. The relative newness of the medium, maybe.

But I think there's more to it. The way the thread goes, Bradley forwards the e-mails to his friends, who then forward it along. There's your "oh, crap" point, in which the e-mail reaches the critical person-who-doesn't-care-who-else-reads-this. It's that person who's the typhoid mary of the original sender's deepest, darkest secrets. Bradley probably never met that person, either.

That person's motivation is key, I think, and there's no way to know for sure what it was. I think the forward had more to do with embarassing Bradley than it did Claire. Bragging about our sexual exploits is a tricky business, obviously, but it may be simpler than that: bragging about anything brings with it the risk of having one's audience turn hostile. Better be funny, or interesting, or at least neutrally not annoying. Otherwise, audiences will boo and jeer to teach a lesson... and e-mail audiences can do so much more than boo.

Which brings me to the real point of this e-mail, as opposed to the billions of e-mails that happened after it; here's the first example of e-mail as a medium of both personal expression and mass communication. Only the distribution method is, for maybe the first time in mass communication (second if you count ham radio), controlled by the audience. The redistribution of the media needs only one producer out of any number of audience members to spread the words. And of their recipients, only one needs to do the same redistribution to keep the virus spreading. And so on.

It's sort of a wonder that Bradleys and Claire e-mails aren't in our collective inboxes much, much more often.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


When I push the "publish" button on this post, I realize that what I say will be published in seconds, and it will have a potential audience of millions.

The key word in the past sentence is, of course, "potential." There's a possibility, however remote, that what I write will arise out of the practically infinite cacophony of Internet discourse to be widely read. I realize this. The content of what I write, then, would characterize me in the snap judgments of casual readers. If this post is funny, I am a funny person. If it is angry, I am an angry person. If it is embarrassing, I am a foolish person.

So, I will try to choose my words carefully.

What I haven't realized - and what you, likely, haven't realized - is that I've pushed an achingly similar button dozens of times already today. That button is "send." By pushing it I saved a copy of a post, of sorts, to my own computer and transmitted it, in a similar amount of seconds, to another computer. Along the way, it may be saved on any number of servers and archives. Most, if not all of the posts I sent today were intended for, and read by, one recipient. Assuming, of course, that I directed the post to the appropriate parties. The scary part is that the difference between sending a message to one intended recipient as opposed to many, many other unintended recipients is often measured in millimeters of graphical user interface real estate. The scarier part, however, is that even if I did send my post to the correct recipient, I no longer have control over its dissemination.

It almost makes you want to go back to buying stamps.

This blog is, as you may have guessed, about those instances in which the beauty of e-mail has turned cruel; in which messages clearly intended to be private have become all too public. More than just a repository for the shame and embarrassment of ordinary people who could just as soon be you or me, this blog will attempt to determine why such posts capture our attention; how they occurs, what they say about the people who wrote them, and about the people who sent them along.

This blog isn't intended to defame, embarrass or hurt anyone. Real names won't be used unless they've been disseminated through the mass media, the cat being far out of the bag and down the proverbial street. Comments and submissions are encouraged and accepted at

It's doubtful this blog will solve any great mysteries about the human condition. But the e-mails are fun to read, and fun to think about. And maybe that's the point.

There. In a moment, I'll press "send," and with any luck, this will catch on and I'll be the latest firefly blink everyman Internet celebrity star. But maybe, you're more famous than I'll ever be, already. What have you sent today?