2003.07.31

P.T. Barnum is credited with the quote “There’s a sucker born every minute” though supposedly he never said it. Well, guess what folks, you’re not getting the whole story. What story is that? The HTML email story that is! Gather round kids…

See, like most people, I get a lot of what we call spam. Unsolicited commercial email, as it were. Now as a reasonably intelligent person, I don’t like HTML email much, over 95% of the HTML email I get is spam, so I generally ignore it. Now, I use Mozilla for Mail (and Thunderbird as well) and they let you easily toggle between seeing an email as plain text or HTML, or viewing the source if you’d like to do that. Now, those familiar with email, Content-Type, and multi-part messages know that you can have a section of your message show up to plain text folks, and another version show up to HTML folks. So I got curious when what appeared to be spam by the subject, showed the following message in plain text.

In 1835 he removed his family to New York, taking a house in Hudson street. For a time he tried to get a position in a mercantile house, not on a fixed salary, but so as to derive a commission on his sales, trusting to his ability to make more money in this way than an ordinary clerk could be expected to receive.

I mean, at least some spam makes sense, I want a better rate on my mortgage, don’t I?

So I figured I’d view the HTML part of the message, and sure enough, it was spam about what else – getting a better rate on my mortgage.

I had to know what that plain text was all about though, which led me to learn a little bit more about ol’ P.T. Barnum, and in doing so, discovered the quote is from The P.T. Barnum of the Barnum and Bailey Circus
by Joel Benton.

Thinking about the relation between P.T. Barnum, suckers, and spammers, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…

(Oh, I did recently get a better rate on my mortgage, and it’s due to my neighbor, not to some random email I received…)

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