29 January 2006

Why You Should Use Mailinator

This will tickle your revenge funnybone:

Mailinator is a service for receiving email pseudo-anonymously. The idea is that when you register for something on the Web, they always ask you for an email address, right? So then you get the benefit of whatever "free" thing you signed up for, at the cost of having yet another mailbox overflow with the resulting Torrent O' Spam.

Mailinator lets you supply a guaranteed-valid email address; you just make it up on the spot, like lupus@mailinator.com or fnord@mailinator.com or try-and-spam-me-NOW-you-jerkwads@mailinator.com.

So the site sends email to that address. Mailinator's server accepts it, creating an "acccount" on the spot when the email arrives. To view it, you just go to mailinator.com and enter the email (e.g., lupus). Voila, your confirmation email from the spamatronic site is there, you click the link or copy the secret key or whatever, they're satisfied that the email is valid, and they open the floodgates for spam to that address.

Which Mailinator keeps for maybe a day, and dumps. Because they don't care.

You would never use this service for a real email account, because there's absolutely no security whatsoever. Anyone who guesses "lupus" can read all the mail for lupus@mailinator.com. And the mail is dumped after some short period, which is up to the Mailinator's adminstrators but would never be long enough for real email.

But you don't care!

Why is Mailinator there? Two reasons. One is because Paul Tyma Is A Good Guy. The second is that Paul Tyma Gets Mad Really Good, and he was royally pissed off at getting spammed whenever he registered for anything. So he set it up, and then he opened it to anyone (see Reason #1).

Thanks, Paul.

Coincidence? Bug? You Decide

I am working on a little course-ware Web application for a professor. The application went live Saturday, and he's announcing it in class tomorrow morning. Students log in, enter little news items, get graded...nothing too earth-shattering. It's crucial, of course, that they be authenticated without doubt, and that the work done gets ascribed to the right student. So I'd spent quite a bit of time on that code.

I posted a sample news item when I turned the switch Friday night, and noticed Sunday morning that two others had appeared. OK, one's a sample from the professor, and the other...

Hmm. It appears to be from a student. Nothing wrong with that--even though the announcement hasn't been made, he might have followed the link from the course home page. But he's the very FIRST student in the database. As a pilot, first-aider, and programmer, I have learned to distrust coincidences.

Well, someone had to be the first to post an item, after all, and...how many students are there?


RED ALERT! Call the prof! The authentication mechanism is clearly broken! At odds of 185 to 1, no sane programmer is going to believe that their software is bug-free. Ah-OOOOH-GAHH! Ah-OOOOH-GAHH! Monday morning I'm going to have a student lynch mob, 185 strong, pounding on my office door, demanding the head of the feeb that cost them credit for their hard work!

My Sunday is spent wallowing through the code and pinging the prof with increasingly frantic emails. Can't find the bug.

Comes an email from Mr. Head of the Alphabet: Yep, that was me. Hope it didn't mess anything up, he says politely.

I am shocked. Appalled at the card life has dealt me. Never in my wildest hopes did I dare to believe the coincidence would fall my way. My professional cynicism is, momentarily, shaken. Next thing you know I'll be spiraling down through some hole in the clouds, and there'll be an airport at the bottom of it.


All right. This is just spooky. Got a bug report from one of the students -- the app seems to have just lost part of her input. (There are only two fields on the form, how could it lose anything?) So she emailed me the info that was supposed to be included, and I hand-hacked it into the database record her attempt had created. Yep, there it was, the second student-created item. So I started to email her a reponse, and when I saw to whom I was writing, I got the cold shivers.

You guessed it. She's number two on the alphabetical list of 185 students. If you're keeping score, we're now up to a 1 in 34,225 chance that this is a coincidence, and I'm starting to mutter and wear tinfoil hats.