August 30, 2008

I just *love* return receipts!

I serve as a Lotus Notes administrator in my day job. I've been an end user of Notes since R3 in the mid 90s. I've been a Notes administrator since R4 and an amateur application developer since R5. Presently, We're at R7 and R8 is on the horizon. In my office environment, Notes is the backbone of many corporate applications -- workflow tools, enterprise messaging, and of course good old email. Notes, like all email applications, has the capability to include a return receipt in any sent message. In essence, you are requesting to be notified when the recipient of your message has opened it up. And that's why I hate it.

As a concept, it's perfectly valid. If you have critical information that needs to be shared, and you have a dependency upon others completing an action, then a return receipt request on your email is a way to ensure that your colleagues are staying on point.

But a return receipt has absolutely no guarantee that the recipient has actually read the email, only that they have opened it up! So when the notification comes back to you indicating that your email has been opened, the only assumption you can draw is just that - it's been opened. I've been burned at work before by colleagues who interpret a return receipt with 'action completed.'

So what do I do? I make sure they never get their return receipts! First I determine if they have even requested a return receipt. Notes uses the field ReturnReceipt on documents; if its value is 1 (true), then a return receipt has been requested. I modified my inbox to show any incoming messages with ReturnReceipt = 1 to display with a flag. Once I see those, I then run a simple agent against those messages that sets the ReturnReceipt field to 0 (false). Problem solved! I can open the message -- even read it -- and the sender is none the wiser.

August 22, 2008

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

This quote is one of my favorites, but for a rather peculiar reason. It has no personal meaning for me. Instead, it's the story of how I came to know about it that is worth telling.

It begins with Mad magazine.

Yes, the fine journalistic standard, born in the 1950's and still going strong I understand. As a child in the 70's, it was a special treat to get my hands on each month's copy. Let's be honest, it's not Pulitzer-worthy but the satire and social commentary was ahead of its time. Additionally, Mad magazine had a series of paperback books that were dedicated to a particular topic or genre, such as "Mad about the 60's." One such paperback I read over and over again was "A Mad History of the World." It applied the Mad perspective on critical events through world history, such as Roman citizens trying to calculate their taxes if they're in the XVIII bracket. One particular panel, however, totally stumped me at the time with a joke that I "didn't get."

It went something like this:
The illustration was of an indigenous group of tribesmen, somewhere deep in sub-Saharan Africa, with two WASPy looking gentlemen (think of Colonel Mustard in a pith helmet) standing face-to-face. One tribesman is standing next to one of the men, whispering in his ear.

The caption simply read "embarrassed at the lack of wit being displayed, a native offers a one-liner that makes all the papers."

As a ten or eleven year old boy, that one flew right over my head, and it bugged me for years to know what it meant. Sometime later, I finally realize that Mad was satirizing the "Dr. Livingstone I presume?" question that Henry Morton Stanley posed to David Livingstone. The irony, of course, that no presumption should be needed since they were the only two white men in the area.

So, the mystery of that Mad comic from my youth has been resolved. And it has helped me to create some of my web identities, where I play on the Stanley and Livingstone names.

August 21, 2008

Stepping delicately into the fray.

Middle-aged, so it's not too late to learn new tricks.