Aliases

So I know it’s Wednesday – the sports day – but unfortunately I’m behind with some things I have to do today and therefore I cannot post the long, thoughtful rumination of the sports world that I previous planned. Doh.

Instead, I’ll share with you a quick story that I was reminded of earlier today, when I was setting up alias emails for our customer support to use.

Back at Carnegie Mellon, all of our email addresses were tied to the Andrew file system, which was a super revolutionary enterprise-wide file management system that CMU built in the 1970s that even today I don’t really have my head fully wrapped around. As such, to email me in 1999, you’d have to email nmb2@andrew.cmu.edu and not simply nmb2@cmu.edu, which caused a lot of problems for parents, friends, and various well-wishers who may not have been as knowledgeable of CMU’s system.

To combat this, you were allowed to create aliases that forwarded the email on as a simple pass-through. The first one I created was simply nmb2@, to solve the obvious problem above. Once we learned however that CMU didn’t protect the namespace or set really any kind of rules on what (or how many!) aliases you could set up, my friends and I had a field day. It basically became a race with other parts of the University, most of which had no idea they could or even how to set up these aliases in the first place.

One of my friends reserved admissions@, which basically meant that he got a ton of overflow mail from prospective applicants, SAT results, and a host of other stuff. Another reserved dining@, and he got tons of requests for various catered lunches and presentations within the university.

Me? I went with housing@, which made me privy to an awful lot of hilarious emails about different mishaps that happened around various dorms as well as the occasional “My roommate used my toothbrush!” kind of stories. The only one we couldn’t get was police@, which in retrospect, was probably better that we didn’t.

(I will say that for anything really serious, involving abuse and the like, it was forwarded on correctly.)

Retrospectively and with the wisdom of age, it’s not quite as funny as it was to us back then because it’s very possible that had an actual email gotten to admissions or to housing to whomever correctly (or if it had just bounced and that person had realized their trivial error), lives could have been permanently changed. But it was for me an example of what happens when you give a lot of leeway to very bored 18 year olds, and it’s sort of the kind of random jackassery you can see all over the Internet today.


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