2139: Email Settings

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Email Settings
What are all these less-than signs? What's an HREF? Look, we know you live in a fancy futuristic tech world, but not all of us have upgraded to the latest from Sun Microsystems.
Title text: What are all these less-than signs? What's an HREF? Look, we know you live in a fancy futuristic tech world, but not all of us have upgraded to the latest from Sun Microsystems.


The comic shows some email settings with a few less-than-helpful options.

  • Default Reply Behavior
    Normal reply behavior would be to reply to the person who sent the original email. Typically in email programs, there is an option to Reply to all (reply all) other recipients of an email in addition to the sender. Depending on the email usage pattern this is a potentially useful or a potentially annoying option. "Forward to address book" takes this one step further by sending your reply to every person who is in your address book, whether they received the original email or not. This could be a reference to "chain emails", which are popularly forwarded to many users.
  • Vacation Autoresponder
    This is a message that is automatically sent out in reply to an email to let them know that you are away and won't be replying until you return. Rather than the settings being "on" and "off", this system consists of "while on vacation" and "always". Email systems typically have no way of knowing that you're on vacation (although some email providers, such as Gmail, could figure out if you're on vacation using information gleaned from your emails, such as hotel and flight confirmations). The "reply to all emails with vacation notice, even when I'm not on vacation" is an option used by some companies (e.g. travel agencies) to let the sender of a request know the expected reply timeline and similar information. In the second case, the notice is not a "vacation notice", but applies the same functionality of the email program.
  • Reply to all newsletters with "Thank you for the newsletter!"
    This option is completely unnecessary, in that newsletters are usually automated and shotgunned out to thousands of addresses at once, often with a do-not-reply address. Clues such as those aside, this also somewhat presumes that the system can reliably identify all (and only all) the messages that are indeed newsletters.
  • Attachment limit
    These attachment limits are all pretty small, with 300 kilobytes and 1.4 megabytes being the capacity of old 5.25" and 3.5" floppy disks, and 5 megabytes, while better, is smaller than most high-resolution cell phone camera pictures. It being in beta means that it might not be as dependable. However, setting the maximum attachment size would likely not be a user setting; it would be a setting the email system enforces on the user. In the past with slow connections and very limited mailbox sizes, this option was useful to keep the message size in check. Presently, Gmail still has the same 25MB attachment limit it had in 2004.
  • Default email format:
  • Plain text is self-explanatory; plain text with no special formatting options. HTML means that it can have markup to allow for bold text, colors, etc. CSS is in reference to Cascading Style Sheets, which is a styling option often combined with HTML, but useless on its own. With emails, it is typically used as inline CSS.
  • Reply to HTML emails with "Whoa, buddy, what's all this code?"
    HTML email is a format for sending email with rich-text contents, which may include images and links. If your email client isn't configured for HTML, the content may look like text interspersed with a bunch of weird code. Since HTML email is a common format, replying this way to every HTML email you receive can be an effective way to annoy people. This may be a "throwback" option: a few years ago, email systems didn't always recognize HTML emails, so if you sent an HTML email you might very well receive this kind of reply.
  • Character set
    ASCII is the character group containing all of the letters in the English alphabet, as well as the digits and common symbols. The Non-ASCII set contains all of the non-English alphabets and the rest of the (lesser-used) symbols. Some of those characters, such as those from Cyrillic and Greek, resemble letters from the Latin alphabet; when spammers use these resemblances to deceive users, it is called an IDN homograph attack, but now that this email client is set to exclude ASCII characters, the user must use the same technique to communicate with speakers of most European languages. Older computer programs often only allowed ASCII characters or a much more limited set of characters than the full amount of recognized Unicode characters, and the email protocol itself requires a form of encoding (often MIME, these days) to send 8-or-more-bit characters via systems designed for the 7-bit transportation that covers the ASCII set and allowed non-printable characters. It would be unusual today for an email program to default to only allow for ASCII characters to be read or written, although someone might want to deliberately set things that way. The second option is nonsense because, while you would likely want to allow other characters, you would definitely not want to allow only those and exclude the ASCII characters (so people couldn't use regular letters or numbers or the most common punctuation, although most East Asian users can use the Fullwidth form of Latin letters instead).
  • Smart autocomplete
    Some email platforms, including Gmail, have the ability to use machine learning to suggest possible, usually short reply options for you to choose from. If the original email asks if you want to go to dinner, the auto-complete replies might be, "Yes", "No", "How about Friday?" and then you could choose one, or type your own reply. The third option to automatically respond to all emails with suggested replies is putting a lot of faith in the computer and is likely to backfire quickly, even more so if your recipients also have activated this option.
  • Important emails
    Showing important emails is the expected behavior, and hiding only them would be a very strange thing to want to do. If it is set to hide only certain emails, a program would definitely do the opposite, and hide emails judged to be most likely unimportant "spam" emails.
  • Show unread email count...
    Seeing your unread email count is normal behavior, and a good way to see how much you're getting spammed by useless emails from people you never asked for. A projected unread email count based on when the system expects you to die, and how well you do at reading your email on a day to day basis is probably going to be depressing or in the extreme could be so overwhelming to be the actual cause of death on the projected date. Showing the unread email count on the user's projected day of death could also be a reference to a feature in many video games where the player's score is shown when they die. In this case, the "score" would be the user's unread email count.
  • Signature
    An email signature is a bit of canned text that gets added to the end of an email, often containing your name, and sometimes a bit of other information like a title and other contact information. Having the choices being None and "That's my email. Hope you liked it!" is less useful. Less useful signatures somewhat came into vogue after Apple used it for cheap iPhone advertisement ("Sent from my iPhone") and Apple as well as non-Apple users made fun by using quite creative signatures themselves (here is a breakdown with examples). For many, the actual purpose of email signatures got lost.
  • Title text
    The title text also references HTML email, in which angle brackets (i.e, less-than and greater-than symbols) are used to show the opening and closing tags of elements. "href" is a common attribute in HTML elements denoting the location a hyperlink will take you to upon being clicked. This is likely another "throwback" reference as Sun Microsystems was a maker of Unix workstations popular in the late 1980s through 2000s (now part of Oracle Corporation). The message could also be written by someone receiving an HTML email that is not recognized as one and directly shown on the screen.


Email Settings
[A list of controls with radio buttons and checkboxes]
Default reply behavior
( ) Reply
( ) Reply All
(*) Forward to address book
Vacation autoresponder
(*) While on vacation
( ) Always
[x] Reply to all newsletters with "Thank you for the newsletter!"
Attachment limit
( ) 300 KB
(*) 1.4 MB
( ) 5 MB (Beta)
Default email format
(*) Plain text
( ) HTML
( ) CSS
[x] Reply to HTML emails with "Whoa, buddy, what's all this code?"
Character set
( ) ASCII (Unicode 0-127 only)
(*) Non-ASCII (Unicode 128+ only)
Smart autocomplete
( ) Do not suggest replies
( ) Suggest replies
(*) Automatically respond to all emails with suggested reply
Important emails
(*) Show
( ) Hide
Show unread email count...
(*) Now
( ) On my projected day of death
(*) "That's my email. Hope you liked it!"
( ) None

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


Character set: I read the choice to be between ASCII only and non-ASCII only. That is, if you select non-ASCII only then you have no ordinary English letters, no decimal digits, no ordinary punctuation. Rather minimally useful.

Non-unicode can show ordinary English letters, for example the group starting at U+FF0x, but an ASCII system will see it as binary garbage that will generate unexpected beeps, corrupt terminals, and crash old software. 20:23, 19 April 2019 (UTC)

ASCII, OLD ASCII, which is characters 0-127, includes ONLY CAPS, plus the common punctuation and whitespace. The lower case letters are all part of EXTENDED ASCII. So, limiting to old ASCII, is limiting to all-caps, and limiting to only the second half of ASCII is even worse, as it has all the lower case letters, but, not only no caps, but also no punctuation, whitespace, or numerals. I'll leave it to someone with a login to make the correction.

ASCII 0-127 includes _both_ uppercase and lowercase. 20:23, 19 April 2019 (UTC)
That's correct. Note that some popular non-ASCII home computers, such as the Commodore 64 (which used PETSCII), did only include uppercase letters within the first 127, or only lowercase letters, depending on the screen "shift" mode, with the 8th bit used to either give the other case or add additional special line drawing, circle, or playing card symbols. -boB (talk) 21:33, 23 April 2019 (UTC)

Show unread email count: Wording in the graphic is ambiguous for me. Does show unread email count on my projected day of death mean a) show, today, what will be the count on my projected day of death, or b) wait to show any count until the very day I will probably to die. Choice a is indeed probably depressing. Choice b is more of a pop-up surprise if you didn't know it was coming, saying Hey, buddy, here's your final score, well done. JohnB 14:15, 19 April 2019 (UTC)

I interpreted the unread email count as you laid out in option "b," this could be a reference to the relatively new features of social networks which create "memorialized" profiles for members who died. This number would undoubtedly be like a memorial, provided you actually died on that day. If you didn't die it would be like a pop-up. It could also be a simple exaggeration of the statement that you'd rather not see your number, as seeing the number is depressing. 15:24, 19 April 2019 (UTC) Sam

I was going to edit the page with specifics on when html e-mail came into use, because I was sure I was using/experimenting with html in e-mail as early as 20 years ago. But looking at the wikipedia page on the topic seems to suggest that the adoption was much sooner than that, but I can still remember using html when I was a teenager, so I'm not sure what's going on here... 15:24, 19 April 2019 (UTC) Sam

I certainly remember sending emails with HTML formatting back in the late 90's. IIRC, I was using Netscape Communicator(?) and it used html snippets in an otherwise ascii email. At my first job in the early oughts, I had to manage an email subscription list for a newsletter that used mime-encoded multipart html emails. Not all the subscribers could see the html part, and I think AOL users often got gibberish due to bad support for mime-encoded messages in the AOL email client. -- 16:00, 20 April 2019 (UTC)

Seems to be that since the first option says 'reply functionality' the option which says 'Forward to Address Book' does not allow you to type a reply. Rather than 'forwarding your reply to your address book' I believe this would simply forward the email to everyone in your address book. Make sense as a joke at the expense of people who just forward emails/email chains. 16:26, 19 April 2019 (UTC)

Despite what the explanation currently indicates, "reply all" definitely means reply to all recipients of the original email. 21:15, 19 April 2019 (UTC)

Any idea why the dialog uses a Right-to-Left (RTL) formatting? 18:14, 21 April 2019 (UTC)

Having the text right next to the radiobuttons/tickboxes makes it much easier to identify which button belongs to which setting.--Lupo (talk) 04:42, 22 April 2019 (UTC)
I agree with the previous reply, but I think you mean "right-aligned" formatting instead of "RTL" formatting, which usually means the letters are actually ordered from right to left in reverse order. I don't think radio buttons are typically displayed on the right side of the label though. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 11:46, 22 April 2019 (UTC)

Wanted to open this discussion here with other nerds...does anybody else cringe at the idea that "What are all these less than signs" implies a lack of greater than signs? Presumably a number of greater than signs would be just as concerning, or it implies that there are a significant number of erroneous less than signs. 20:20, 4 May 2019 (UTC)

Google and vacation[edit]

Google knows when you're on vacation by comparing your present cellphone GPS coordinates to your typical gps coordinates. They also always know your location via IP, to some extent. 02:50, 21 April 2019 (UTC)

That doesn't work necessarily, you could be on a work trip.SDSpivey (talk) 17:35, 22 April 2019 (UTC)
Don't forget that any of this technology is probably founded on Microsoft (doesn't)Works. 02:19, 23 April 2019 (UTC)