The case of the 500-mile email

18 Jun 2020

I love this story. It’s from the early days of the interwebs, mid 1990s.

Many stories from the world of IT support will leave you feeling that “everyone who asks for help is a fool”. It’s a world where the Bastard Operator from Hell is still seen a positive role-model, and any assistance often comes with a hefty side-helping of contempt.

This one starts with the classic:

“We can’t send email more than 500 miles,” the chairman explained.

I’m reading this, and I’m braced for the traditional “Ha! Ha! These lesser mortals are such fools!”

But it goes on, and there is some investigation, and test emails are sent, and the user is entirely right. They can’t send email more than 500 miles.

It’s complicated; there are sendmail configuration files, and the speed of signals in a fiber backbone is relevant (this story has a FAQ page) but my main take-away is that.. wait for it…