Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Spam, bloody spam

People may deride such entities as Facebook and Twitter as wastes of time – but at least those activities are voluntary!

I commence to compose this blog post at 1:08 a.m. I would have liked to have begun recreating in the blogosphere at a much earlier hour, but the fact is that I have been a victim, albeit an extremely peripheral victim, of spam, albeit a relatively harmless variety of spam, and I was not done dealing with that spam until 1:07 a.m.

The story begins with my office hours this evening – pardon me, yesterday evening, that is, Wednesday. I make promises to my students regarding my office hours: that I will always be available for them to come see me during my office hours, that I will answer my phone during my office hours, that I will check my voice mail and my email during my office hours, so if they leave me a message I will get it, no matter what.

I consider my office hours a sacred obligation to my students. Just as I expect a lot from them, they should be able to count on me. That means that I am present when I am supposed to be, and I always respond to messages.

There are other things that I do for my students, again, because I feel I owe it to them. For example, the community college where I teach has a unified computer system that combines information and registration and email and lots of other functions, and one feature of that system is that each class has a course homepage. I make all class handouts and assignments available on the course homepage, so students who miss class can sign on, find out what the assignments are, and get the handouts. It's good for the students, and it's also good for me – there's now no excuse for not doing the homework, even if the student missed the previous class.

So Wednesday evening, I came to my office hours prepared to check my voice-mail and email and respond as necessary, and to post assignments and handouts to the computer system.

I checked my voice-mail … there were no messages. Then I went to sign onto the unified data system, and I got no response – the little Windows flag in the corner of the IE window just waved and waved and waved, and nothing happened. I was able to sign onto my non-college email account – I've given my students both my college and my non-college email addresses – and I was able to read and respond to a couple of students' concerns. But when I clicked on the tab for the college's data system, all I got was a blank screen and that flag waving in the corner.

I went and did some copying that I needed to do, in order to give the page time to load. Even though I had to spend extra time at the copier dealing with a toner problem, when I came back to the computer, it still had not loaded the page.

I decided there were two likely scenarios. One, because of construction near the building where my office cubicle is, that building's communication lines with the rest of the college had been cut – that's happened before. Two, the unified data-information system was down. If the building's communications had been cut, I could go home and complete the tasks I needed to complete, although my home dial-up connection is frustratingly slow. If the data-information system was down, I couldn't perform the information tasks, but the students wouldn't be able to sign on either, so they wouldn't be disappointed by not finding the material that they would be counting on being there.

So I went home, tried to sign on, and discovered that Scenario Two was in force. The unified data-information system was down. I could have a clear conscience about not getting class materials online for my students – it wasn't my fault.

But I couldn't leave well-enough alone. I signed on again around midnight. The unified data-information system was sluggish, but it was responding. I checked my email.

The email was mostly routine, a couple of announcements from administrators, a message from the union, nothing urgent from any students, so it was all right that I was four hours late reading the email. (I had had an urgent message from a student earlier, but her message had arrived at the non-college email address, so I had taken care of it.)

There was, however, one email that caused me great grief. It was, at least in theory, sent by someone in the community college. It was addressed to everyone in the college. Because the recipient list included every single valid email address at the college, it took more than ten minutes, over a dial-up connection, for just the recipient list to come through.

And then, when the email itself finally came through, it was a multiply-forwarded urban myth – after going through seventeen layers of forwarding, the message was "I'm a poor police officer, and my sweet little daughter has cancer, and we don't have insurance, but every time you forward this message, (well known ISP) and (not so well known ISP) will donate 32 cents toward the operation she needs."

I would hope that the person from whose address these emails stem is innocent, and somebody has committed some sort of identity theft. If the person has been such a sap as to believe the line about the poor little girl dying of cancer, he's in trouble. He's in even more trouble if he found a way to find all of the college's legitimate email addresses (perhaps those efforts caused a "denial of service" situation that led to my inability to sign on Wednesday) and then publish all of said addresses in the "To:" field of the email, violating the privacy of every single employee and student of the college.

I reported this email to the IT folks at the college, although I'm sure that when they come in to work in the morning, they're going to have a lot of complaints to deal with. Depending on how early they get in, they may be able to delete this nasty email from most people's inboxes before the recipients even get it. I'm also sure, since the IT help desk was on the mailing list of the spam, that the IT people are going to be aware of this nasty email as soon as the first of them arrives at work.


Blogger Gerald said...

Yeah, I've been pretty lucky about the email here because the university contracts with Gmail, who's spam filtration is exceptionally well tuned, and who's tech support is instantaneous at all hours.

Fri Feb 27, 02:53:00 PM MST  

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