John C was a vigilant protector of justice, a dark guardian of a public who didn’t even know he existed, striking fear into the hearts of criminals. Specifically, he did IT support for the local police department. It wasn’t a great job. Their infrastructure was ancient, underfunded, and under-supported. He was expected to provide just as much support for the department’s website as well as their radio system. The customers were a “special” brand of ignorant, and often pretty angry about it. The department provided service 24/7, which meant John was expected to be available at weird hours, and not even for emergencies. Many of his customers only worked night shifts, and he had to support them.
At around 3AM, John caught a ticket, entered in by one of the secretarial staff. “Officer Bishop reports her email is broke”. With that cornucopia of information, he called Officer Bishop.
“I had a high school student participate in a ride-along,” she said. “He wanted some pictures of what our shooting range looked like for a presentation, so I tried to email them. I emailed them to ‘napoleon dot wilson at hot mail dot com,’ but I got an error message about it was undeliverable.”
“Well,” John said, “are you sure the email address is accurate?”
“Yes!” Bishop said. “It was his first name, dot last name, at hot mail dot com.”
“And it’s spelled correctly?”
“Yes!” Bishop said, becoming increasingly indignant. “n-a-p-o-l-e-o-n-dot-w-i-l-s-o-n-at-h-o-t-m-a-l-e.com”
John chuckled. “I don’t think that’s quite right. I think it’s hotmail, as in postal mail. Like a letter. M-a-i-l.”
“I know what email address he gave me,” Bishop said. “He said ‘hotmale’. I know what he said.”
John took a breath and tried a different tack. “The words ‘male’ as in a man and ‘mail’ as in letters sound the same. If he just said his email address aloud, you might have simply heard him wrong.”
“I know what he said,” Bishop said. “Do you think I’m stupid? I know what words mean. He told me his address was hot male!”
“Officer, I’m not saying you’re stupid,” John said, summoning every ounce of self-control that he could. “But hotmail, like the letter, is a popular email service. Hotmale, like the restroom, is… um… something very different.”
“Look, I know you IT people think you’re soooooo smart, but stop treating me like an idiot. I’ve been a police officer for longer than you’ve been wearing diapers. I know what he said.”
“Ma’am, can I just get you to try sending an email to email@example.com, like the letter? Just try it for me?”
“He said hotmale.”
Fine, John thought to himself. It was 3AM, and Officer Bishop was on his last nerve. “Ma’am, let’s try something here. I want you to open hotmale.com in your web browser.” He was the IT person- and thus he knew that there was a lot of porn-browsing on station computers, what was a little more, right?
“That’s the little blue E, right?”
After a beat, he heard, “ACK!”
John waited a beat, hoping to hear Officer Bishop could finally turn her powerful investigative mind to understand what he had been trying to tell her. Her “ack” segued into a gasp of understanding. John started nodding to himself, happy that Bishop had finally figured it out, now that a gay pornography site was staring her in the face.
“Oh, I didn’t know… he’s gay?! He didn’t look gay.”
“No, he’s not- I mean, he might be, but-”
Bishop wasn’t listening to him at all. “Oh, but I guess you can never tell these days…”
“No, try and go to hotmail, like the letter now…”
“Hey, there’s a link to contact them at the bottom of the site. Maybe we should tell them that their email is broken.”
John looked at the clock- it was 3:15 at this point, but it felt like he’d been working on this ticket for hours. “Okay, actually, so it sounds like the problem must be on their end. Why don’t you do this: start a new email, and send it to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them that you were trying to get in contact with Napoleon Wilson, and include the error message that you were getting, along with the message you were trying to send to Napoleon.”
“Okay, I’ll do that, but let me give you a piece of advice- don’t talk to people like they’re stupid.”
“I’ll definitely keep that in mind,” John said. “I’m just going to go ahead and close this ticket.”