Read through campus emails these days and you might assume everyone is cloaking their messages in some inscrutable code. Or that they've had a wee bit too much to drink.
The new Unified Communications system's "voice mail preview" feature, which needs some tweaking, is providing some memorable email exchanges — and unintended entertainment.
"Hi Carol," began a recent email from Chris Harris, public affairs research coordinator, to Carol Livingstone, director of the Division of Management Information.
"I have a question about some hot respect new city data up for a Dr. Wheeler I'm looking for. Berkeley and uc Davis. Greasy sandy sandy and I got some good stuff that the CDs isn't up I didn't know if maybe there's another source I could find so thanks again give me a when you get a chance bye."
That one made its way up the email chain in a hurry — with lots of speculation about the identity of "greasy sandy sandy."
The real point of his message? Harris wanted to find some race/ethnicity data for Provost Richard Wheeler about the University of California-Berkeley, UC-Davis and UC-San Diego (aka "greasy sandy sandy").
To be fair, campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler pointed out, the technology behind "voice mail preview" is still fairly new. And it's not billed as a verbatim translation.
"If you want to treat it as transcription, no, it is certainly not accurate from that standpoint. It can truly mangle stuff," said engineering IT officer Chuck Thompson, who heads a Unified Communications governance committee. "Even with the lack of accuracy, it can still be useful as a general feel for the message."
Every email includes an audio file of the voice mail, so the recipient can simply listen to the message or check the caller's ID and phone number, Kaler noted. Employees can also turn off the voice mail-to-email feature.
"But they're so funny, why do that?" said Cindi Howard, director of business and operations at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. "We get people who call and leave messages in Spanish, just to be funny. It doesn't do Spanish."
Kaler said the technology will get better, and until then "you just have to see the humor in it."
A joke circulating on Facebook is called "stuff Lync says."
One infamous example: Last fall Jeff Unger, director of the UI's News Bureau, sent a message to a colleague at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications asking about "Petaflops," a word used to describe processing speed. "Flops" actually stands for floating point operations per second, and Unger wanted to know whether the "s" should always be used (i.e., one Petaflop or one Petaflops?).
NCSA spokesman Bill Bell left him a voice mail, which Lync sent as follows (oddly getting the technical part correct):
"Hey Jeff it's Bill Bell returning your call from yesterday about settle slops it gets it it's all style issue within the next community swaps FLOPS is actually an acronym for floating point operations per second so the net can be used therefore it sausages for common attack your reason like you are describing yes is often dropped BC about way I can be dropped the at night."
Unger sent the message back to Bell, who replied, "You've made our day around here," then signed off, "Sausages for common attack, jwb."
The email was forwarded to Provost Richard Wheeler, who commented: "Well, it is good to know that somebody (or something) besides me understands the utility of 'sausages' as a verb when talking about reasons."
Bell, now executive director for marketing and communications for the College of Engineering, said he can't remember the original message, but the email has taken on legendary status. Harris (who has a Monty Python ringtone) has posted it on his office door, and Bell is still greeted by the cry, "Sausages for the common attack."
Bell said the new system has good features, such as a notification on his mobile phone when he has voice mail. But he tends to skip the email version and just listen to the message.
"It always gets the name and phone number right ... even if you've got 'sausages for the common attack' in there, too."
This story appeared in print on June 3.