Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Case of the Missing Emails

Today, a great mystery was solved, and I am no longer plagued by something that has bothered me for months. The issue was this: for the past eight months, I have had great difficulty receiving emails from certain people. There's been no real pattern as far as the senders went, and there was no consistency in the incidents, either. Some messages would arrive. Some just never made it. It seemed like a roll of the dice. The only thing that was consistent was that emails containing attachments were less likely to arrive in my inbox, but that's all I had to go on.

If the sender was fortunate and I knew to expect any of these emails, I'd have the sender resubmit again and again to no avail. So I'd give them another email address to try. If the sender was less than fortunate, and I wasn't anticipating their email... well, let's just say that I can't even begin to tabulate how many emails never made it through.

The only things I was certain of was that I hadn't changed any of my email settings. As such, I spent an awful lot of time with my email host's support desk trying to solve the issue only to be repeatedly disappointed. Today, it reached kind of an apex when I came to realize that I'd missed about a half dozen emails or so.

So back to the help desk I went. Between messages back and forth with the support staff, Amy and I had a chance to chat for a bit about the issue, but we couldn't come up with any reason for the issue off the top of our heads. So, she went back to work and I went back to trying to shake the tree of internet knowledge in order to find a solution. Minutes later, she suddenly forwarded me an email.

Now, back when my website was first created, I was technologically useless. I had no more chance of creating my own website than raising the dead. This is the reason that Amy was my first webmaster. She built the original site and helped me navigate the bayous of html coding and internet jargon. Sure it was all primordial compared to today, but it was pretty daunting to a guy whose computing experience was limited to writing English papers on his old Tandy computer in high school, and begrudgingly doing college work in Photoshop 3 and QuarkXPress in between marathon runs of playing Diablo on his Mac. Amy made sure that I had a site that worked and she lorded over it rather thoroughly. As the years went by, however, I slowly took over those responsibilities so as to not pester her with updates. To my chagrin, as I learned the ropes, the ropes continued to change. Still, I managed pretty well.

Until, I guess, a couple years ago when a more advanced spam filtration system was introduced by my host. I didn't pay it much mind at first, and I set it to a rather mild level of filtration to see if i could curb a sudden influx of spam I was getting from Brazil. It took a while, but after about three months, all of the Brazilian spam began to disappear and I finally reached a pretty happy medium. Problem was that the filter kept evolving. It continued to sift when it needed to stop. No longer content just to block the Brazilian spam, it started to take out monthly newsletters and special offers from companies I'm a customer of. Over the last six months, I started losing emails from friends. About three months ago, emails from clients started to disappear. It's been pretty frustrating.

Of course I know all this in retrospect. From my point of view, due to about a year of getting what I wanted and not getting what I didn't, the spam filter could hardly have been the issue. Still, one fact about the spam filter escaped me: it apparently kept and quarantined emails. Looking at it today, the filter was set to notify me when any messages were held in quarantine, so clearly I should have known about it from the getgo, right? Wrong. Truth is, I never got any notifications. Nothing. Nada. Zip. No indication whatsoever ever reached me to let me know that there were emails being held hostage by my spam filter. Without any notifications, I remained blissfully ignorant of my ability to actually dig through such messages. And of course it was in quarantine where I'd have found my missing correspondence.

Thing is, there was no lack of communication on my host's part. In fact, I was being notified the entire time. Turns out that Amy's name as webmaster had never been removed. She was getting those messages constantly and assuming they were for her own website and email address which are hosted by the same company. Given that she was in the habit of ignoring her own, she naturally ignored mine as well. For some reason, our conversation this afternoon piqued her curiosity and she took a moment to look more closely at those emails and discovered that for the most part, they were quarantine notifications for my email, not hers. That is what she forwarded to me. The most recent notification finally arrived where it belonged.

If I'd have known about any one thing in the chain of ignorance, I could have saved myself a great deal of frustration. All I needed to have known was that the quarantine existed, or that Amy was getting emails about my email address, or possibly even that she was still listed as the webmaster. Alas, no. I managed only an epic fail instead.

After the shear embarrassment subsided, I carefully went through all my settings and made the tough decision to sack Amy as webmaster (something she thought had happened a while ago). These notifications will now come to me, and I should be able to finally keep on top of my correspondence once again.

So, problem solved, right? Sort of.

Sadly, after finally digging through the quarantine and recovering the missing emails from the last couple days, I reached the end. A few days is as far back as the quarantine seems to go. Everything older than that is gone for good, and I'll continue to wonder what I've missed in the meantime. A job? A sale? An offer from a Nigerian Prince?

I guess the point of all this is two fold. First, despite my repeated assertion that the technology was letting me down, it was that it was more my own idiocy and a lack of communication between me and my old webmaster that really nailed me. The technology was doing what it was supposed to (if a little overzealously).  Second, if you're someone who's written me over the last eight months or so and are pondering my rudeness at not having emailed you back, I apologize. I honestly had no idea I was ignoring you, because as far as I knew I never got your message in the first place. I promise to try harder from now on, and will keep my fingers crossed that yet another new layer of email protection is not introduced in the near future.

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