Transparency, a 500-mile Journey

There’s an entertaining story that has been going around for years in the sysadmin forums about how a University of North Carolina sysadmin gets a call from a user who’s growing desperate over a problem with the department’s email server: nobody in his department is able to send emails to destinations that are over 500 miles in distance. The sysadmin argues that’s just impossible, email is not bound by physical distances. However, the user insists he has researched the problem thoroughly.

The sysadmin gives in and decides to test the user’s hypothesis. To his upmost surprise, an email to Providence fails while one to New York works. He repeats the test many times over to similar results. To his amazement, the claim was true although it defied common sense.

The user also had a hunch. He pinpointed a system patch that occurred around those days. But the consultant that made the changes attested he “didn’t touch the email system.”

Digging deeper, these were some of the user assertions checked:

  • Emails won’t go past a 500 mile radius (confirmed)
  • System was patched recently (confirmed)
  • Consultant who patched says email is not involved (claim)