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Robert Robbins rrobbins at GDB.ORG
Thu Jun 23 05:23:08 EST 1994

On 22 Jun 1994, jinsong sheng wrote:

> Who is Machi Dillworth, why my memory is jammed with this person's not doing 
> business?  J. Sheng

Machi Dilworth is a program officer at the National Science Foundation
who, apparently, set up her mail system to send an autoreply to people who
wrote her while she was away. 

Such an autoreply has no way of distinguishing between "real" incoming
mail and postings from arabidopsis at net.bio.ret, so it replies to incoming
messages with the some kind of, "sorry, I'm away from my desk," notice.

This is a very useful (and important) courtesy to provide, especially for
agency program officers, whose correspondents sometimes feel a great need
to contact the program officer but who do not know the program officer
personally and thus do not know the person's personal travel schedule. 

I regularly use this auto-reply feature myself and have, in the past,
occasionally found that my autoreply appeared on some discussion list
where it prompted a discussion much like the current one.  However, this
has not happened for some time, leading me to believe that many (most,
some?) of the lists have developed methods for filtering out these

Also, most such autoreply systems keep track of the return address of
places to which the message has been sent, so that the message is sent
only once.  This appears to have failed here.  However, the reason for the
failure seems to be that arabidopsis at net.bio.net is sending out its
postings with the return address shown as the poster of the message, not
arabidopsis at net.bio.net.  Thus, the autoreply system thinks each incoming
message is from a separate source and sends out the reply.

The use of autoreply messages is so important that it would be unrealistic
to expect that people who subscribe to groups like arabidopsis would never
use it.  The responsibility for filtering out such messages must lie with
the host machine that it distributing postings to the group.  

Since I have a hard time believing that Machi is the only person
subscribing to the list who uses autoreply (I still do, but haven't
lately), there seems to have been a filter in place that failed in this
case. Is this something on which you can shed some light, David

In any event, readers of this list should not blame Dr. Dilworth (or
others) whose autoreplies occasionally (and accidentally) find their way
onto distributed lists. 

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