Damon Mahler: A True Story

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I persuaded an Internet acquaintance of mine to send me the following anecdote, received in an email dated 28 March 2000, which I reproduce below along with his gloss, and only minor editorial and HTMLization changes. If he recognizes himself, he is welcome to claim credit for forwarding this tale, but for now, I'll keep his identity quiet, lest someone trace it back to the author. (The author is unknown to me, by the way.) Enjoy. -- Bob


Okay, here's the tale from my friend. He has requested that he be identified only as "my friend who works at an HTTP mail provider", since he has an NDA and a job to protect.

The rest of this . . . is his text. Along with his final-line claimer of truth, I can personally vouch for the fact that he's been telling this story since about six or seven months ago, and does work at such a company -- this is *not* urban legend.


Here's what happened. One afternoon, I was in the process of helping a customer on the phone. She was sending email to her friends and none of it was getting through from her Mailprovider account, and 'AOL is a lot simpler than this'. Oh, boy, think I. Another Asshole On Line. We speak for a while, and a while longer -- she's describing the steps she goes through sending her email. Unfortunately, everything she's doing is right! I'm not finding any huge errors in her interactions with our interface. Finally, in desperation, I ask her to spell out the email address of her friend, Jane Doe. She tells me 'It's spelled J-A-N-E-space-D-O-E'. Just as I'm realizing that she's been leaving off our friend, the @domain.foo, I ask her if she has been getting any messages to tell her that her mail has been bouncing. "No, I haven't. So I know it went." I'm thinking she's got to be lying, and checking in our records -- sure enough -- there are 4 mailer-daemon notices in her account. As I'm about to ask her about them, she says -- and I quote -- "And I keep getting all this spam from some illiterate named Damon Mahler. He can't even spell his name right."

Pressing the mute button, I snickered, then pressed it again. As luck would have it, she could be online while we were on the phone, so we accessed her account and I had her read the address off the email -- M-A-I-L-E-R-dash-D-A-E-M-O-N-at-mailprovider-dot-com. I ask her why she hasn't opened them, and she says -- again, I quote, this one's just etched into my brain -- "Well, my friend told me that they have viruses in them."

More mutebutton. More hysterical laughter. We're now approximately 25 minutes into the call. I convince her to read one and she reads off our friend, the qmail 'no domain, you doof' message. I explain the entire message to her, line by line, until she understands what the message means. She thanks me profusely, I explain to her what an email address is and how you need to include the whole darn thing. We hang up.

HOWEVER -- this isn't the end of our sordid tale. About 2 hours later, I'm in the middle of lunch. Of course I am. One of my co-workers comes in to tell me she's called back to complain about Mailer-Daemon closing her account. And she WON'T tell him about it, despite me suggesting she do so. So fine. I put my damned sandwich down, and pick up the frigging phone. First thing I do is ask if I may log into her account and have a look. Here is what happened, in terms that you and I will understand. She put JaneDoe into the 'To:' field again. No @, no aol, no ., no com. Just JaneDoe. Just like I told her not to do. And of course, Mailer-Daemon came back with 'What the hell are you talking about?' -- along with 'this is a permanent error, I've given up trying. Sorry it didn't work out.' So she replied to Mailer-Daemon@mailprovider.com, saying

Mr. Mailer, I'm sorry -- I'm new to the Internet, and I don't understand what I'm doing. Can you please try again?
NOW -- here comes the really funny part. when you write to mailer-daemon@mailprovider.com you get a bounce (of course); for some reason, at the time, that bounce message was a 554 (I forget off hand) saying the addressed account had been closed for abuse.

She read this -- HALF AN HOUR AFTER HER TUTORIAL ON EVERY GODDAMNED LINE IN THE BOUNCE MESSAGE -- and assumed Mailer-Daemon was telling her he'd closed her account. Never mind that she also somewhere got the idea that Mailer-Daemon was a human being.

I swear to you all that this is true.


Bob Rogers <rogers@rgrjr.dyndns.org>