Columbia Spam

Columbia Law endeavors to teach its students the lesson that technology is a scary thing, not to be trusted.  They do this by making our every encounter with technology as painful as possible.  The computer labs have two printers, one of which is always broken, to service forty computers.  The secondary computer lab has one printer for the same number of computers, and as an added bonus doesn't have a stapler.  Because why would someone printing something need a stapler?  Configuring your laptop to work on Columbia Law's wireless internet requires a big fifty-page manual that is so anal-retentive that it requires you to change your desktop theme to Classic (so you won't be confused when the shape of the windows in the the pictures in the manual are different than the ones on your computer).  Law School tech services requires all students to run Windows XP Professional (NOT Home Edition), which means almost every incoming student has to spend $100+ on an upgrade.  The only reason for the requirement is that XP Pro is mildly safer than Home edition, so tech services decided that students should pay for their liability insurance.  It should be noted that no other law school, to my knowledge, mandates Pro, nor does any other branch of Columbia University. 

And then there's e-mail.  Everyone gets a Columbia e-mail address which is used for all official correspondence.  You don't get to pick your address; it's assigned by a computer.  It's your initials followed by a four-digit number, so in my case  These addresses are 1. annoying to tell people, which is why I still give people my gmail account, and 2. eminently spammable.  Every person at Columbia has an e-mail address consisting of [letter][letter][letter][#][#][#][#]  That means there are a relatively small, finite number of possible Columbia e-mail addresses.  Which means enterprising spammers can, in seconds, generate a list of every possible Columbia e-mail address. 

Further: The e-mail server they use is awkward.  To get the full functionality (that is, the ability to delete e-mails) you need to either tel-net in and use PINE or use their awkward web interface, CubMail.  Deleting e-mails in CubMail is a three step process: You have to delete the e-mail, then confirm you want to delete it.  This causes it to be stricken through.  Only when you choose the "expunge deleted" option are your deleted e-mails actually deleted.  Further, you can only view twenty e-mails to the page, and since deleting is such an ordeal you tend to get a lot of build-up.  At one point I had over 600 garbage e-mails, each waiting to be hand-deleted by the three-step process. 

The problem is exarcerbated by the 20 megabyte space limit on e-mail accounts.  After 20 megabytes the servers just delete any further incoming mail without telling you.  20 megabytes gets used up fast when professors are sending Word documents and Student Services is sending PDFs.

20 megabytes also gets used up fast when you're buried under a steaming pile of spam.  And not just any spam: Law School spam.  The Law School sends us all sorts of e-mails, from the registrar, from student services, from student events, from the President, from tech services, from the Center for Public Interest, from Career Services, etc.  And then there are the student groups.  You know how in undergrad you signed up for a few student groups that you had a vague interest in, but never followed through with?  You're probably still on their e-mail list to this day, getting notifications about protests occuring on campuses you haven't visited in years.  Columbia Law student groups send out those same event notification e-mails, and to avoid the possibility that a student won't learn about an event they're interested in, Columbia Law thoughtfully subscribes you to the e-mail list of every group in the school.  What's more, you cannot unsubscribe from this list: the e-mails are routed through Student Services (which also tells you things like when class registration starts, so you can't just block their e-mails).  So Columbia Law gives you a tiny mailbox that is the only place they will send important notifications, makes it really hard to delete e-mails from that mailbox, then spams the crap out of you. 

Tonight I am up until 3 AM cleaning out my mailbox.  While doing so, I discovered the platonic ideal Columbia Spam.  A good Columbia Spam is one that is targeted at some small niche within the law school, yet bafflingly has been sent to all 1200+ Columbia Law students.  This e-mail comes from Peter Strauss, who's a professor at the school.  The subject is: 

"If you like sight-reading vocal music of the Renaissance..."

And what good law student doesn't?

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on January 5, 2006 5:36 AM.

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