Error message or spam?

I received an email in my inbox a couple of days ago, which Thunderbird swore was spam. Even though it came from a trusted email address—the automatic error reporting system of someone else’s application we’ve been asked to manage—it was indeed indistinguishable from a certain type of spam. Here it is, in its entirety:

——– Original Message ——–
Date: Tue, 14 Nov 2006 16:27:02 +0000 (GMT)
From: ********@********
Reply-To: ********-bounces@work
To: ********
Subject: ERROR !!! No “to” add: -1 |

And that’s it. No body. No other diagnostics. If you don’t come to the obvious conclusion, that the punctuation of the subject line is entirely random and carries no meaning, and if you had word of what the client was currently trying to do, then you might be able to work out that ‘No “to” add’ was not some pidgin declaration of “Can’t be added”. But even then, you’d never find its source in the code, where error messages are fired off at all points by ad hoc commands, with no real centralized error-reporting system. Well, there is one, but it’s a red herring: nowhere is it used as far as I can see.

In the program, distributed over hundreds of files, no two filenames respect the same capitalization (which in turn is uncorrelated with how bits of the program refer to each other), which isn’t a problem unless you’re developing on a system that cares about capitalization, which we are. Also, not a single one of the thousands of lines of code is documented. The only comments are the disabling of test emails sent to the original developers, which were never removed, and pepper the files I’ve most recently worked with (the utterly indistinguishable act_foo.cfm, _act_Foo.cfm, act_Foo1.cfm and act_fooBKUP.cfm).

At least, even though I can’t figure out what I’m meant to be doing, I now know who’s responsible for the situation I’m in. They will pay.

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