Fathom before forward! – A sneek peek into the world of chain letters.

Why do people forward irrelevant emails? A few reasons that I could gather –

  • No harm – There’s no harm in forwarding a simple email right?
  • Spreading knowledge – I’m doing a noble task of spreading knowledge to my fellow earthlings!
  • I don’t want to die – I’m scared I may die if I do not pass this onto ‘X’ people ASAP!
  • I want my soul mate to call/meet me – My soul mate will call me in the next 30 minutes if I forward this mail to X people.
  • I want to get rich – If I forward this message to ‘X’ people, a large corporation will pay me ‘X’ money!
  • A large company will pay… – A large company has promised to pay some unfortunate people ‘X’ money if I forward this mail!

Is Bill Gates an idiot to pay me to forward mails? If I could find my true love by just forwarding emails, doesn’t it make the love as meaningless as well? If I were to die because I failed to forward a mail, I don’t remember the number of times I must have died by now!

As of July 2010, Symantec reported that 92% of all emails were junk. Having cleared my Inbox of about 6000-odd unread forwarded messages, I began wondering if forwarded emails had any meaning or value.

Chain mails are not something new. Interestingly, chain mails in physical form existed even before the internet was born. (Apparently, a chain mail scam ran in Colorado way back in 1935.) Chain mail on the internet is much easier and cheaper – virtually free. With hundreds of free e-mail providers, cheap servers, and software created just for the purpose of sending such mails, it is easy to create a ‘scam’ in minutes and see it spread to thousands of people in a matter of hours.

Most of such mails carry wrong messages and trap thousands of gullible persons to spread it more. While this is happening, the message secretly attaches the sender’s reputation to it. For instance, you would tend to believe something because your teacher or uncle sent it to you. Here is an article that rightly says,

Perhaps the most subtle and powerful viral element of chain letters in email is the social proof that comes with many of them. Every time someone forwards one to his or her address book, another list of recipients and senders is attached to it, creating essentially a list of people who implicitly give authority to the message. If one person sends an email to another, the source may or may not be cited, and the sender’s reputation is the only real social authority the email carries, with a huge list of hundreds of others attached it, with popular viral emails, it suddenly appears that the message is common knowledge and the receiver is perhaps the only person left on the internet who wasn’t warned of the danger.

While, most often, these emails either leave you disappointed or fool you, they do not cause real harm. However subtle the implications might be, I have managed to list a few:

  • Time – Many of us receive such emails when at work. Reading forwarded mails silently eats away our time – seconds, to minutes, to hours.
  • Distraction – Chain mails prove to be a nuisance when you are working on something important and you open the mail thinking it is relevant.
  • Resources – The resources – memory, computing power and electricity that goes into transferring billions of unwanted emails everyday could be put to much better use!

I believe the internet can be a better place if people took time to investigate and verify if the mail that they were going to forward to many more people was true. A simple and easy method is to go to Snopes.com and search for the key words in the mail. Then forward the mail with the link to the Snopes page if the information is true. This way, the recipient will be sure of the authenticity of the email.

After you have verified the truth of the mail, one more check to perform is the how much your recipient would be interested/profited by your email. An easy way of finding out is to ask yourself:

  • Would the recipient be benefited from this mail?
  • Is the subject of the email within the area of study, expertise or interest of the recipient?

One general suggestion: Fathom before forward! 🙂

P.S: While I remember to have posted a false email on my blog, I have definitely learned my lesson, and hence this write up. This article might have helped me vent my irritation against chain mails, I hope there be a little reduction in the number of such mails I receive. 🙂
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A fascinating story; fascinating, not true!

I’m slowly coming to believe that not all email forwards are bad. This story – which Pele told me before – is another example:

I guess all of you have read the story of creation of Stanford University. Well, a story it is – albeit a false one! I recently got the information about it from Capri (Thanks for clarifying!). Sorry for publishing something unverified. In my defense, the story seemed very original. 😦 Anyhow, I’m back to my original stance – Never believe whatever you got as a forward in an email!

I’m leaving this post stay so that I could let others know that its not true.

A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband,dressed in a homespun threadbare suit, stepped off the train in Boston, and walked timidly without an appointment into the president of Harvard’s outer office.

The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard and probably didn’t even deserve to be in Cambridge.

She frowned. “We want to see the president,” the man said softly. “He’ll be busy all day,” the secretary snapped. “We’ll wait,” the lady replied. For hours, the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away.

They didn’t. And the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even though it was a chore she always regretted to do. “Maybe if they just see you for a few minutes, they’ll leave,” she told him.

And he sighed in exasperation and nodded. Someone of his importance obviously didn’t have the time to spend with them, but he detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office. The president, stern-faced with dignity, strutted toward the couple.

The lady told him, “We had a son that attended Harvard for one year. He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed. And my husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus.”

The president wasn’t touched, he was shocked. “Madam,” he said gruffly. “We can’t put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery”. “Oh, no,” the lady explained quickly. “We don’t want to erect a statue.

“We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard.” The president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, then exclaimed, “A building! Do you have any earthly idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical plant at Harvard.” For a moment the lady was silent.

The president was pleased. He could get rid of them now. And the lady turned to her husband and said quietly, “Is that all it costs to start a University? Why don’t we just start our own?” Her husband nodded.

The president’s face wilted in confusion and bewilderment. And Mr. And Mrs. Leland Stanford walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California where they established the University that bears their name, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about.

Here is the lie-buster and the true story. Thanks again for the links Capri. 🙂

A worthy forward!

Of all the forwards (and spam) that I receive everyday, I guess this one sent by Pele is really worth sharing:

This is a list of more than 110 free online video courses from Top Universities like MIT, Stanford, Wharton, UC berkeley, Washington, NOVA etc., on various Subjects. Theses are  class room recorded videos. No Login, No fee required.

Try to Share this with others so that everyone is benefitted by this.

Computer Science & Programming (31)
1.        Introductoy Progamming [University of Washington]
2.        Understanding Computers and the Internet [Harvard University]
3.        Computer System Engineering
4.        Freshman Computer Science Seminar
5.        Data Structures
6.        Graduate Computer Architecture
7.        Introduction to Algorithms
8.        Introduction to Computers
9.        Machine Structures
10.        Computer Language Engineering
11.        Data Structures, Algorithms and Applications in Java
12.        Introduction to Copy Right Law
13.        Operating Systems and Systems Programming [OS]
14.        XML foundations
15.        Programming Languages
16.        Introduction to Symbolic Programming
17.        Vision Algorithms
18.        Data Management System Design
19.        Computer System Analysis
20.        Object oriented programming with Java
21.        Relational Database Management Systems [RDBMS]
22.        Introduction to Programming
23.        C Programming
24.        Programming in C++
25.        C++ for Particle Physicists
26.        programming with JAVA
27.        JAVA, Advanced JAVA
28.        ASP.NET AJAX and 2.0
29.        SQL Server 2005
30.        Python, Java, Ruby, Linux, Graphics, Blender etc…
31.        MSVC Debugger Tutorial

Electronics (17)
32.        Solid State Devices
33.        Circuits and Electronics
34.        Digital Integrated Circuits
35.        Electricity and Magnetism
36.        Electromagnetic Fields, Forces and Motion
37.        Integrated Circuits for Communications
38.        Introductions to MEMS Design
39.        Linear Integrated Circuits
40.        Introduction to Microelectronic Circuits
41.        Microelectronic Devices and Circuits
42.        Advanced Analog Integrated Circuits
43.        Advanced Digital Integrated Circuits
44.        Analysis and Design of VLSI Analog Digital Interface Integrated Circuits
45.        CMOS Analog IC Design [Boise State University]
46.        CMOS Mixed-Signal IC Design [Boise State University]
47.        Advanced Analog IC Design [Boise State University]
48.        Physics of Microfabrication: Front End Processing

Signals & Systems, Communication systems (6)
49.        Digital Image Processing [DIP]
50.        Digital Signal Processing [DSP]
51.        Electromagnetics and Applications
52.        Principles of Digital Communication II
53.        Structure and Interpretation of Systems and Signals
54.        MATLAB Tutorial Movies

Computer Networking (13)
55.        Introduction to Computer Networking
56.        Computer Communication Networking
57.        Wireless and Mobile Networking
58.        Internet Protocols [IP]
59.        Broadband and Optical Networks
60.        Wireless, Wi-Fi, VOIP and Many more

61.        Introduction to Network Communication – Audio only
62.        Cisco Certified Networking Associate – Audio only
63.        Local Area Networking [LAN] -Audio only
64.        Integrated Communication Networking -Audio only
65.        Communications Hardware -Audio only
66.        Network Interface Design -Audio only
67.        Internetworking and Higher Layer Protocol -Audio only

Mathematics (20)
68.        Linear Algebra
69.        Differential Equations
70.        Introduction to Statistics
71.        Mathematical Methods for Engineers I
72.        Mathematical Methods for Engineers II
73.        Mathematics of Finance
74.        Fundamentals of Algebra
75.        Applied Probability
76.        Discrete Mathematics
77.        Calculus-I Key Concepts
78.        Limits, Differential Equations and Applications
79.        Mathematical video lectures [All Topics]
80.        Brief review of Elementary Algebra
81.        Mathematical Problems II
82.        Statistics and Numerical Methods in HEP
83.        Applied parallel Computing
84.        Finite Mathematics
85.        Integration and Infinite Series
86.        Single-variable Calculus
87.        Dovermann’s Derive Videos

Physics (17)
88.        Introductory Physics [University of California]
89.        Physics I: Classical Mechanics
90.        Physics II: Electricity and Magnetism
91.        Physics III: Vibrations and Waves
92.        Physics for Future Presidents
93.        Descriptive Introduction to Physics
94.        Exploring BlackHoles: General Relativity & Astrophysics
95.        Electromagnetic Fields, Forces and Motion
96.        Introduction To Mathematical Physics -Audio podcast
97.        Geometric Optics
98.        Modern Physics [Prof Sharma’s]
99.        Lectures on Quantum Physics
100.        Physics of Microfabrication: Front End Processing
101.        The Wonders of Physics
102.        Physics – How Things Work
103.        String Theory
104.        Quantum Mechanics for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

Chemistry ( 9 )
105.        Introduction to Chemistry
106.        Introduction to Solid State Chemistry
107.        Principles of Chemical Science
108.        Chemical Structure and Reactivity
109.        Organic Chemistry
110.        Astrophysical Chemistry [NOVA]
111.        Organic Chemistry [Hoverford college]
112.        Organic Chemistry II [University Regensburg]
113.        Imperial college chemistry

Anatomy & Physiology (4)
114.        General Human Anatomy
115.        Comparative Physiology
116.        Human Anatomy & Physiology
117.        Anatomy and Physiology [California State University]