Do you know what time it is? John was in bed, nearly ready to turn out the light when his wife — who had been burning the midnight oil in the computer room — rushed in.

"John, I think there's something wrong with the computer," she said. "I went online and things were going ok at first, but now the internet is at a crawl."

"Did you close everything and reboot?" he asked, hoping to avoid getting out of bed.

"Don't you think I already did that," she snapped, "YOU need to come and do something about this NOW!"

Not wanting World War 3 over a panic about the slow internet, John managed an "Ok, dear." as he slipped out from under the covers to go downstairs and see what was wrong.

Saving Money and Sanity is a WIN-WIN

John's wife worked as a nurse at the local hopsital and was in the midst of taking some mandatory medical training. In previous years, everyone griped that the training was only available during certain days at certain hours. That, and the sessions were a full eight hours of classroom time delivered by the inhouse trainer whose voice was a near match to Ben Stein's.

So, in the interest of staving off a mutiny of the hospital's nursing staff, management sought the expertise of Web-U-Learn, a "leading e-learning provider for the health care industry."

Skip ahead to the next round of annual training and, as anticipated, the e-learning suite was a massive success. However, if the hospital staff did not complete their training by 8AM of a certain date, it was off to the classroom they would go. And John's wife was damned if she was going to have to sit through eight hours of hell to get a certificate of participation.

Stopping the Flood

After making his way to the family computer, John sat down and pulled up a new browser.

Figuring that the training company's site was stressed under the load of all the late arrivals cramming in their testing, he was surprised to see that everything was slow: Google, MSN, you name it. John thought that there had to be some rogue app that was sucking up all available network bandwidth, so he pulled up the task manager.

As it turned out, Outlook was the guilty culprit. To be more specific, it was currently downloading message 20 of 621.

Immediately, John killed Outlook and logged into the webmail interface. It loaded up pretty quickly and displayed the customary "700 Unread Messages" notice. Well, customary, except for the 700 part. Scrolling through page after page of emails, it was apparent that the 700 unread emails (and growing) were all from Web-U-Learn. It was their newsletter and each one weighed in at about 256kb.

To remedy the problem, John deleted the hundreds of "spam" emails and redirected any messages from the newsletter address straight to the trash. With brownie points earned and the wife back on task, John moseyed himself into bed for the night. However, he couldn't help but wonder why the email was being sent out hundreds of times. Virus on their end? Batch job gone wild? Much to John's surprise, his answer came in the form of an apology email the next morning.

Mea Culpa... ab absurdo

The email read as follows.

Hey Everybody!

We are sooo sorry for the multiple emails that went out overnight 
and the ensuing grumbling, cursing, spitting, and swearing it caused 
as a result! The automatic emailing program that we use here went a 
little bit crazy and we TOTALLY feel the same pain you all felt. The 
madness was so bad on our end that our web host had to shut down our 
server and reboot it just so that we could send out this email. So 
thank you for all of you who called, emailed and sent the boys round 
to knee cap us (LOL).

Ok, skip ahead to now. We have stopped it now and are looking into 
what went wrong (if you are a "techy", and want to know the reason, 
check out the end of this email). If you would like to be unsubscribed 
from our newsletter, this can be easily done via your account, but for 
everyone else, our system will be changed so that it won't happen ever 
again. Scout's honor!!

Thanks for understanding and, after all that, if you did want to read 
the newsletter, that would be great!

A large serving of humble pie from all of us...

Eric McKean
on Behalf of Web-U-Learn (and the crazy server that started all this!)

In spite of the rather informal tone of the letter, especially the LOL (seriously Web-U-Learn, LOL?), John thought it was pretty gutsy of the training company to fess up and apologize for the flood of emails. However, after skipping the generous "DISCLAIMER: This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely...blah...blah..." that nobody ever reads to view the "techy" reason, John figured that the company doesn't have guts, it has balls to admit the real reason.

TECHY STUFF

After midnight a viewing of the homepage of your website runs the 
cron script which sends the enewsletter Sending 5000+ emails takes
time, its not recorded on the system as completed until all 5000 
emails have been sent. While this is going on other people view the 
homepage and this restarts the email newsletter script (because the 
database doesn't show that these emails have already been sent), so 
there are now multiple emails being sent. Meantime, the server is 
getting very busy sending out all these emails and crashes. When 
server gets going again the whole thing starts all over again. 
Eventually at about 7 this morning the web host support team came 
in and hard-rebooted our server and no more emails were sent out!