Haha right

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Apparently awakened early this morning by a stray cosmic ray, a mainframe somewhere in the depths of the University of Pennsylvania Health System sent me this email:

Subject: Required Training Expiration Notification


These items on your Knowledge Link Learning Plan may need your attention as soon due or overdue:

POCT: Bedside Glucose Testing – UPHS (HS.10010.ITEM.POCT112A)
due on 7/31/1990

All the headers and links seems to be legitimate, but this is the first that I've heard of this training, which was apparently due nearly 23 years ago.  Nor, as far as I know, have I ever needed or wanted to perform (or submit to) bedside glucose testing.

I wonder whether this is the same computer that once sent out thousands of (paper) applications for radiation safety badges, with my office phone number listed as the fax number to used in submitting them. The resulting flood of voicemail messages gave me a good reason to give up on voicemail, so it all worked out.

But I'm not ready to give up on email yet.


  1. Stan said,

    April 3, 2013 @ 9:08 am

    That's three nice miniature noun piles: Training Expiration Notification, Knowledge Link Learning Plan, and (the beguiling) Bedside Glucose Testing.

  2. turang said,

    April 3, 2013 @ 9:38 am

    What was the date on which the email was received?

  3. Elika said,

    April 3, 2013 @ 10:07 am

    phew, i'm not the only one who got this email this morning. Though my bedside glucose training module completion is only 5 years overdue.

  4. MattF said,

    April 3, 2013 @ 10:10 am

    POCT apparently stands for "Point Of Care Testing." Also, I'm impressed that your email address hasn't changed in 23 years.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    April 3, 2013 @ 10:16 am


    It was received this morning at 7:35 a.m.

    Like all other members of the University of the University of Pennsylvania community, I received the same message that Mark did.

    Less than an hour later, I received this:



    The following items were added to your Learning Plan to-do list in Knowledge Link:

    Title: POCT: Bedside Glucose Testing – UPHS (Item ID: HS.10010.ITEM.POCT112A)

    To access these items, please log in:

    For answers to Frequently Asked Questions, see:

    For Knowledge Link support, submit an electronic request:



    Upon receiving these messages, I commented to my colleagues and the administrators in my Department:


    Why the devil am I REQUIRED to receive training on "Bedside Glucose Testing"????????? And why am I being importuned with insistent warnings of imminent expiration????

    These notices come from a "noreply" eddress and are "system generated"

    The system needs to be fixed!

    And I just loathe the name "Penn Knowledge Link".


    I often receive notices from the "Penn Knowledge Link" and other bureaucratic offices in the University telling me that I'm required to fill out this or that form or undergo such and such a training course. When I try to log in to fulfill what is demanded / required of me, none of the codes or passwords that I know will let me do what is being asked. And then come the reminders. You must do this within a certain specified time period or this requirement will expire. When I get really, really frustrated, I will ask one of our Departmental staff members to clear that particular item off the books for me. I don't know how they do it, but the reminders for that particular item will stop for awhile. But then a new request will come at me, and I'll have to deal with it for fear of offending the powers-that-be.

    My distinct impression is that the tempo and importunate tone of these demands and requirements dramatically increased with the arrival on campus two years ago of Ezekiel ("Zeke") J. Emanuel (brother of Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel) as Vice Provost for Global Initiatives and chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy. Zeke may not be responsible for all of these new requests and requirements, but I'm sure that he's behind a significant number of them, because many of them came from his office and mentioned him by name.

  6. Gideon said,

    April 3, 2013 @ 10:38 am

    It looks like they've acknowledged the error:


    A problem occurred in the Knowledge Link system last night, and courses pertaining to Bedside Glucose Testing were placed on users’ Learning Plans in error. This has now been corrected.
    We apologize for the inconvenience.

  7. David L said,

    April 3, 2013 @ 10:53 am

    Sounds to me like whoever is responsible for sending out Learning Plan to-do list notices for Penn Knowledge Link participants has failed to complete their requisite Learning Plan to-do list operational to-do list items.

    But who will send that person a notice?

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 3, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

    Surely "Vice Provost for Global Initiatives" is the sort-of obviously made-up job title one would find held by a character in a comic novel about the vicissitudes of faculty life a la David Lodge etc?

  9. CD said,

    April 3, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

    The errors are not as bad as all the official spam you get when you work at a university.

  10. dainichi said,

    April 4, 2013 @ 12:26 am

    For a split second, my mind considered parsing "soon due or overdue" as "soon [due or overdue]". If it's soon due, isn't it soon overdue as well? Or maybe during the due date, it's due, but not overdue?

    "Due" is a strange word. Both "This bill is due next month" and "This bill will be due next month" sound OK to me, but while the latter is a regular future tense, the former is a present tense focusing on the current state of having a due date. If that analysis is correct, "next month" is not really modifying the verb (or the sentence, not sure), but "due". Kinda similar to the financial expression "I'm long this or that stock".

  11. RP said,

    April 4, 2013 @ 2:57 am

    I don't think "due" is such a strange word. "I am in Canada next month" and "I will be in Canada next month" both sound OK, too.

  12. Phil said,

    April 4, 2013 @ 8:56 am

    As a modern-day Plato might have said, "Who will guard the Guardians?" Particularly when those omniscient university executives commonly generate such moronic spam as the "urgent" demand for bedside glucose testing?

  13. Dave K said,

    April 4, 2013 @ 10:16 am

    Is it sunspots? I got an e-mail yesterday
    Sender: None
    Subject line: None
    Message: None

    Dated 12/31/69.

    I just put it down to a disturbation in the Force.

  14. Faldone said,

    April 4, 2013 @ 10:37 am

    Was that 1969, 2069, or what?

  15. Kitteh said,

    April 4, 2013 @ 10:39 am

    I suspect you have the joy of being subjected to a Learning Management System, the latest global initiative for creating annoying emails. Like most "management systems" it creates lots of income for some self-appointed expert(s), seemingly endless yet fruitless work for the lowly staff pukes tasked with implementing it, and frustrated resentment in its targeted audience.

  16. dainichi said,

    April 4, 2013 @ 11:26 am


    Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/due) has as its first 2 definitions of "due":

    1.owed at present; having reached the date for payment: This bill is due.
    2.owing or owed, irrespective of whether the time of payment has arrived: This bill is due next month.

    If "This bill is due next month" can only be read as a simple "use present for future tense" sentence, there would be no need for definition 2.

    Consider "The bill is scheduled for payment next month". Here I consider it clear that "next month" modifies "payment" and not "is scheduled". "The bill will be scheduled for payment next month" means something else.

  17. Jason said,

    April 4, 2013 @ 10:56 pm

    Dave K said

    Sender: None
    Subject line: None
    Message: None

    Dated 12/31/69.

    You just got The Very First Email, way back on New Years Eve 69! It's been bouncing around the Internets ever since. You must get your mail server admin to redirect it to someone else within 48 hours, or the avatar of Vint Cert will appear in your monitor and suck the life out of you.

  18. Duncan said,

    April 5, 2013 @ 1:09 am

    @ Dave K:

    That Dec. 31, 1969 date is quite interesting. UNIX/POSIX (and thus Linux, where I come in being a Linux geek) time is measured in seconds since its epoch, 12:00 AM, January 1, 1970, UTC. (FWIW one of its more infamous complications is that it defines and counts exactly 86400 seconds per day, with no allowance for UTC's leap seconds. Wikipedia has far more on that…)

    I assume you live somewhere with a negative time offset from UTC, and that if you check the time, it'll be offset equivalently, such that the time was the Unix epoch , thus it's effectively a zeroed out/blank date/time header as well.

    (Meanwhile, yet another issue with Unix time is that for systems using a signed 32-bit integer to track time, it'll roll over the sign bit and thus into NEGATIVE time on January 19, 2038. This "domain knowledge" was in fact the reason given by "John Titor", the claimed time traveler, for his being sent back in time, in an attempt to retrieve an early IBM model computer that had functionality that could be used to work around this issue, one of the reasons many thought there might actually be something to his claim, since both the Unix time issue and in particular the fact that this model of computer could work around it were rather obscure facts that checked out, that not everybody would have known. Of course many modern systems are 64-bit, and on Linux (at least, I'd guess it's POSIX standard), a 64-bit time-T integer has been defined for some years now as the standard for even 32-bit systems, so for anything modern, it shouldn't be a big issue. But just as with the Y2K problem, there's still enough 32-bit embedded and older general purpose 32-bit systems around, that there really /is/ some concern about it. Again, for more information, Wikipedia/Google "Unix time" and/or "John Titor".)

  19. Tekla Bude said,

    April 9, 2013 @ 6:27 am

    I — a PhD student at Penn, in the English Department — receive these training notices at least once a year. Although they are for skills totally unrelated to my field, I have dutifully taken them for the last five years despite the fact that they require me to turn off my pop-up window blocker.

    I go to great lengths to procrastinate.

  20. PQuincy said,

    April 9, 2013 @ 6:35 pm

    I'm more interested in the word "Expiration" in the string "Required Training Expiration Notification."

    If something expires, it is dead, null and void. You can't drive on an expired license. You can't cash an expired check. So, according to any sensible logic, you are not required to carry out an expired 'Required Training', right?

    They weren't telling you to DO the training; they were telling you that it was no longer necessary. How kind!

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