How a Lot of Typos Lead to Late Emails?
So, yesterday’s Now I Know was a bit of a mess, typo-wise — more so than my usual typo or two, I mean. And it may have done something (I think, I’m not sure) which may have caused you to get yesterday’s email a little late — because email doesn’t work the way you think it does.
When you send an email, you think it just flies through the Internet at near-light speed, reaching your intended recipient in the blink of an eye. And in most cases, that’s true. If you send me an email from your personal Yahoo address to my personal Gmail address, that email is going to travel from you to me basically unabated.
But along the way, there are a few systems that scan emails to see if they’re spam or otherwise malicious. Those personal emails typically fly through those systems without more than a fleeting glance. When you send the same email to a lot of people all at once — like I do every day — those filters sometimes act up. Yesterday was one of those days for me.
This is a guess, but I think the reason is that I had a bunch of typos densely packed together in one paragraph, causing the paragraph to make very little sense. And I think some of the spam filters delayed delivery of my emails until the filters had more signals suggesting that my email was mostly harmless.
Here’s the paragraph from yesterday’s email, as sent. I highlighted the typos that I (and a few of you who wrote back) found:
Here’s the problem, though: the government can’t just go around taking stuff because sooner or later, the owner of the stuff is going to say “hey, give me my stuff back.” And that’s typically not a big problem, at least procedurally. To protect the rights of the owners of that stuff, authorities will go to the court beforehand and ask permission to take the stuff. Alternatively, it might take the staff for us and ask her permission later in some cases. But as a general rule, you need to get a court’s permission. And that means some sort of legal proceeding, which intern means that there is another person or group of people on the other side of the table.
Four typos in three sentences, with two right next to each other. (“Staff” and “for us” are actually separate typos.)
If you read the sentences aloud, you may get what I’m trying to say here, particularly with the “intern” typo (which should be “in turn”). But if not, it’s a hot mess. “Take the staff for us” and then “ask her permission”? What could that possibly mean? The staff? For us?? And who is giving permission??
How it happened was pretty simple. I had written the first half of the email and then realized I had to go pick up my son from school, so I got in the car and did that, thinking about the next couple of sentences as I drove over. When I got there, I began dictating the next couple of paragraphs into my phone to save myself some time. I then pasted the dictation into the email, cleaned up the typos, etc. (or so I thought!), and prepped the email to send.
But obviously, I missed a lot of typos that defied spellcheck and Grammarly. So you got that mess, above.
The “funny” part, though is that a few spam filters must have been tripped up on that word salad, too. I can’t see when emails hit inboxes, but on the aggregate level, I can see — to some degree — what percentage of people open each email. And an hour after sending yesterday’s, that number was very, very low. I couldn’t figure out why — and then later in the day, the number rebounded to its usual end-of-day levels. My best guess is that something caused a delay in deliveries. And I think it was that awful paragraph. As Google explains (and I think this is about enterprise-level Gmail customers, not regular people, but the point holds), “when Gmail detects suspicious content, it introduces a short delivery delay to perform additional checks.” Those “additional checks” may involve whether the people who opened the early-sent email were smashing that “Spam” button or not; the filters, seeing few if any such actions — yes, all that gets communicated back to various systems around the Intenet — then likely released the email for delivery.
That’s all speculation, of course, but I like the theory so I’m going with it.
I corrected the typos on the archived version of the story and I’m going to share it now, too. Here’s what I was trying to say
Here’s the problem, though: the government can’t just go around taking stuff because sooner or later, the owner of the stuff is going to say “hey, give me my stuff back.” And that’s typically not a big problem, at least procedurally. To protect the rights of the owners of that stuff, authorities will go to the court beforehand and ask permission to take the stuff. Alternatively, it might take the stuff first and ask for permission later in some cases. But as a general rule, you need to get a court’s permission. And that means some sort of legal proceeding, which in turn means that there is another person or group of people on the other side of the table.
That, I hope, makes more sense — to you and to the spam filters.
The Now I Know Week in Review
Monday: Rosh Hashanah — no email
Tuesday: Rosh Hashanah, Day Two — no email. But I’ll use this as an opportunity to share a fun fact about the holiday. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and, like the secular New Year, was originally a one-day holiday. But in the time before telecommunications and even calendars, knowing when the new year started was tricky. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar one; months start on the new moon. So, as My Jewish Learning explains, “the new month was established after two witnesses testified before rabbinical authorities in Israel that they had seen the new moon. After the rabbis had confirmed the testimony, word was sent to Jewish communities throughout Israel and beyond.” The Jewish holiday of Passover, for example, starts on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which is to say, 15 days after the new moon. But because of delays in communicating when the new moon day was — and therefore when the month started — there was some ambiguity as to whether you were on day 15 or 16. To be on the safe side, per My Jewish Learning “the tradition arose of observing the major Jewish festivals for two days outside of Israel, just to be certain the holiday was observed on the correct day. This worked fine for most Jewish holidays, which begin in the middle of the month.” And even today, holidays like Passover are a day longer outside of Israel than they are in Israel.
Rosh Hashanah, though, is a bit different — it is observed two days no matter when you are. The holiday begins on the first day of the month at sundown, which unfortuantely means that you can’t quite tell if there’s a new moon until after the holiday already started. So the leaders at the time pre-ordained the day that they thought was the first day of the month. If the witnesses showed up a few hours later, great — the holiday had started and there was no issue. But if they didn’t show up, then, as Chabad explains, “the following day would be Rosh Hashanah and retroactively, the previous evening – which the court had sanctified – would turn out to be a regular weekday.” The only permanent solution was to just make both days holidays, to allow people to plan accordingly and cover all your bases.
Today, we have calendars that can flawlessly predict the lunar cycle and we know exactly when the new moon appears (or, I guess, doesn’t appear as new moons aren’t visibile). But traditions have a way of extending beyond their practical usefulness, I guess.
Wednesday: When Babe Ruth Was Banned From Baseball: Yes, I said in the above-email blurb that Aaron Judge had tied Babe Ruth’s personal career home run record; I meant he had tied Ruth’s personal single-season record. (And since then, he broke it!) Congrats to Aaron Judge and I hope you end up playing your home games across town next year!
Thursday: When a Lot of Wine Had to Defend Itself in Front of the Supreme Court: One other thing to note that I didn’t not above — yes, sherry is a type of wine. I should have known that.
And some other things you should check out:
Some long reads for the weekend.
1) “For fishermen in Louisiana, a livelihood lost after Hurricane Ida” (PBS, 12 minutes, September 2022). A year ago, Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana, causing billions of dollars of damage and knocking out power for almost a week for most. This is the story of how the fishing industry in the area, even a year later, hasn’t recovered. It’s something that struck me because right now, Florida is suffering through Hurricane Ian while Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other parts of the Caribbean are still dealing with the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. In a week or two, most of us will have forgotten about these storms and their victims. I think this story puts in perspective how much long-term damage these areas suffer, in ways you wouldn’t necessarily expect.
2) “Lord of the Ring Prevention” (Tedium, 12 minutes, September 2022). The surprisingly deep story of drink coasters. I have a coaster on my desk that’s a spongy-type of material, and I’ve had it for at least five years. I don’t think that’s important but I do wonder if it is kind of gross at this point. (As for the article, I didn’t select it just for the title, but I do love the title.)
3) “The Website MLB Couldn’t Buy” (Grantland, August 2015). The website is — or was, I guess — Twins.com. A pair of twins owned it and didn’t want to sell it to the Minnesota Twins, a baseball team. For years. The story hasn’t been updated (because Grantland was shut down years ago) but earlier this month, the twins finally sold the domain name to the league who pointed it to the Twins’ website. The history is still a great read.
Have a great weekend!