University’s X.500 e-mail, a monument to idiocy

If the University were an animal, X.500 would be a lack of opposable thumbs thwarting our ability to make decent tools.

John Hoff

I mean, naturally, the University insists the inadequate and inefficient X.500 e-mail system should be “official” student e-mail. The fact that X.500 lacks bells and whistles is understandable. Resources, after all, are finite and there’s only so much cyberspace to go around. However, X.500 not only lacks bells and whistles, but essential components, kind of like those ancient, rusting bikes eternally locked to racks, retaining just one wheel, but not quite up to being a unicycle. X.500 lacks, incredibly, a SENT file.

I didn’t even know it was possible for e-mail to lack a SENT file until I was issued my X.500 account. I was like a new army recruit being tossed an M-16 rifle left over from Vietnam and no flak jacket, and told to “suck it up and drive on.” How on earth do people get by without decent, adequate equipment like a SENT file?

Perhaps you remember my last column about my stolen bike. I e-mailed that column to my editor Karl Noyes saying, hey, here’s my stuff. Here’s what I can do. It was about that time I discovered the lack of a SENT file with the crappy X.500 system. Getting a copy back of the original column for revisions required one in-person conversation, three further e-mails from Karl and two cell phone conversations. That’s just one e-mail, needed by one person, on one day. Multiply this satanically inspired level of inefficiency by every X.500 account held by tens of thousands of University goers by innumerable e-mails in the accounts and by all the days of the year. Factor in variables like unforeseen emergency and the value of red hot inspiration with an original draft.

If the University were an animal, X.500 would be a lack of opposable thumbs thwarting our ability to make and use decent tools. Fortunately, grad students at the Humphrey Institute get their own Humphrey e-mail account, with a SENT file and not just bells and whistles, but also … fog horns and trombones. Ah, bliss. Now I can set up X.500 to forward everything to my “real” e-mail account at The Hump, but plenty of undergraduate students fail to set up forwarding systems and, instead, just neglect to check their X.500 e-mail account for weeks or months at a time.

Meanwhile, important stuff happens like … reciprocity. Oh, yes, reciprocity doesn’t just go forward by itself as I found out when I checked my tuition balance and found (horrors) a negative number. A few cell phone calls to North Dakota and some documents got faxed and negative $1,200 became $2,900 of real, spendable money. How kind of North Dakota. Now I almost feel bad about certain Internet writings comparing the entire state to a drunk lying face down in the gutter, pathetically addicted to low wages paid to youth like an alcoholic hooked on cheap, rot-gut liquor. 

In any case, somewhere a little e-mail reminder is going out that you have to fill out forms before the deadline and make sure the bureaucratic reply about reciprocity is properly forwarded. You can’t just let things go because students who are accustomed to the wonder and glory of Hotmail and Yahoo! would no more like to think about checking X.500 than checking the contents of a septic system.

This is not to imply that X.500 is so advanced as a septic system. X.500 is more like an outhouse with corn cobs and copies of the Sears and Roebuck farm catalog for bathroom tissue. Where, I ask, where is a student government to stand up and state the obvious … that X.500 is inadequate and that it’s a sad day when students at far less prestigious universities (like anything in North Dakota) have far superior e-mail systems. E-mail zips through the air like the voices of angels, surges through cables underground like a primal Atlantean power … what a waste, what a horrible waste for important messages to disappear into the ether like the burning library of Alexandria.

No, terrorists didn’t bomb a library in Egypt. Even if you know the story, these days you have to do a double take and wonder what just exploded and burned. No, the burning of the Library of Alexandria happened a long time ago, when civilization was young but thought itself old beyond measure, a day kind of like today when tiny choices about the direction of technology changed the destiny of the world forever.

Down with X.500. Students at the University deserve better, for the sake of the world, for the sake of civilization itself, that the message may be known and understood in a timely fashion, like the message of a runner named Marathon who ran so hard he dropped dead, but not before blurting out the all important piece of information: “Victory is ours!” On that one piece of information, a city took heart and held its ground, and the history of Greece was forever changed. All for a single message. If somebody has to drop dead to get the work of changing X.500 accomplished, so be it, but it’s about time students in one of the most advanced universities in the history of the world had a system slightly more evolved than sweaty, half-dead runners delivering scrolls.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]