Skip to content

It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place

My computer and operating system have this wonderful process that connects email to address books and calendars. Recognizing that addresses and dates are often sent in email, the developers were smart enough to remove the friction of cutting and pasting these things into other applications. If there's an address, the email program recognizes it, and clicking on the address will take you to a map, or add the information to the address book. Similarly, the program recognizes dates, and if you click on a date, it'll take you to the calendar and create an event.

So what does my workplace do? Sends out invitations and notifications in PDF format, instead of plain text (or at worst, HTML), which of course defeats the recognition algorithms. It's worse than it was before, because now I can't even cut and paste – I have to memorize it and copy it to the calendar by hand.


Similarly, the computer has a wonderful search and indexing system, which allows me not to organize emails or files anymore. I just search for the term that I want, or the date, and it finds things. And because we're not allowed to use Dropbox, I'd email files to myself in order to have them available on all my computers. The search function made them easier to find, six months or a year later.

What does my workplace do? It adopts a non-standards compliant email server system [1] which apparently can't handle large amounts of email (by which I mean normal amounts of email) [2]. So they archive all emails and attachments, making them – unsearchable. They no longer exist on my hard drive. I have to log in to a separate server to get attachments. Of course this server is not available off campus without shenanigans, or at all if you happen to be trying to work someplace without a working internet connection. Like, say, the last hotel I stayed at on business. And the indexing program can't index what doesn't exist anymore.

So we're back to where we were before we started, and perhaps a bit worse. Never underestimate the power of bureaucrats and IT sysadmins to make their jobs easier at the expense of the people they nominally support, and without whom they would not exist.

Being clever, I got around this by forwarding my email to another server (still workplace, so violating no rules), which does not archive. I download this onto my computer, and now I'm back to where I was before. Except that now my email takes up twice the amount of space it did before, on their systems, and on mine. So what exactly did they accomplish here, except to make my life, and eventually, some other sysadmin's, more complicated?


[1] as I said to the email guy when I complained about this, “You say that it's standard, in the sense that lots of places use it, but it's not standards-compliant – that's different”.

[2] approximately 20 GB accumulated over 10 years, or roughly 10 TB to store email for everyone here, or call it 100 TB including backups – which is a ridiculously small amount of data these days, and it means that the system they chose is remarkably poor at its function.