Technology and the ATF

The ATF explosives examiner for Idaho said I could just email the scans of the copies I kept. But after two days of getting neither confirmation or bounced email messages about the “Employee Possessor Questionnaires” (background check paperwork for handling explosives) I was about to call him when he emailed me. He said he hadn’t received any emails from me after the first one. I had actually sent him two emails in that time frame. The first had bounced and I presumed it was because the attachment was too large. So I put the 9 Mbyte .ZIP file on the website (the .ZIP file has now been deleted and my logs indicate only I had attempted to download it) and sent him a link to that. That email did not bounce.

But I noticed something, the email address he used was different than the one I had originally used to contact him. I originally used and the one he responded with was So I sent the same two emails again. One with the attachment and one with the link. Then a couple hours ago I called him. He hadn’t received anything.

We verified the email addresses. The first one (which, on Tuesday, made it through to him) was wrong. The other, which I had done a “reply to” from his email was the correct one. He would not download a file from a website (“We don’t do that”). Okay, so I’ll try sending a plain text test message from a different email account to his preferred email address. That worked. Okay, now the 9 Mbyte .ZIP file. He’s not sure what a .ZIP file is. He knows about .PDF files. .JPG files? Yeah, kinda.

The 9 Mbyte .ZIP bounced. The message:

The original message was received at Thu, 05 Mar 2009 12:15:40 -0800

—– The following addresses had permanent fatal errors —– “”

—– Transcript of session follows —– .. while talking to

>>> DATA <<< 550 5.7.0 Maximum Attachment Size (12M) Violation

Yeah, my 9 Mbyte .ZIP file exceeded their maximum attachment size restriction of 12 M.

Maybe this is a test to see if I’m calm enough to be trusted with explosives.

I broke the 9 Mbyte file into five .ZIP files the largest being 1.95 Mbytes and sent them as attachments to five plain text emails from my alternate email address to his second email address.

About 15 minutes later he called back. He had received them but it was going to “take a while” to get them from “picture viewer” to the printer. He would start work on that the first thing in the morning.

Apparently I passed the test.

I’m going out to the Boomershoot site this weekend. I think I need to blow something up.


14 thoughts on “Technology and the ATF

  1. Meanwhile, on the civil litigation side (where we are accountable to our clients as to how we on both sides spend our time) we have disagreements and arguments about the most efficient way to send terabytes of data between parties.

    FYI: FTP sites are the norm for us.

  2. It’s probably larger than 12 megs because it had to be re-encoded in some format that presumes the mail transfer agents between are not “8-bit safe”.

  3. Bear in mind that encoding binary data for transmission over ASCII-only email inflates the size of the file. A BASE64-encoded file will be about 1/3 larger than its raw form. 9MB * 1.37 = 12.33MB – whoops!

    You’ll probably have to send the PDFs individually. You may not need to .ZIP them, as PDF is essentially compressed postscript. Take a look in your original .ZIP file and see if the compression ratios justify the effort (and the confusion at the receiving end…)

  4. Thus we are transformed, bit by bit (like the double entendre?) from productive citizens into paper-pushers.

  5. And these are the same people who tell us we need to standardize the computerization of our medical records — which, by me, don’t need to be computerized at all and probably shouldn’t.


    Aside: I guess I’m mistaken, but I thought ATF was a bureau of Treasury?


  6. The ATF was moved from Treasury to DOJ in the big reorg after 9-11.

    They were originally in Treasury because back around 1934 it was considered unconstitutional to regulate firearms–but the Attorney General at the time said the Feds could tax them. So they put a $200 tax on the politically incorrect firearms of the time. And, obviously, the agency assigned to collect the tax belonged in the department of Treasury.

    Now that the constitutional restriction on regulating firearms is ignored it doesn’t matter if they are in Treasury or not. They just dropped the pretense and moved them into the DOJ with the FBI who doesn’t have constitutional authority either.

  7. I used to have similar issues with the FDA. All we wanted to do was file doc’s with them electronically and we were forced to send paper for years. Until we bought them CD readers and taught them how to use them. I’m no longer with that company but I can’t help wonder how the electronic transfer upgrade is going.

  8. Try being a gubmint network engineer if you really want to torture yourself. The same agencies that rip me a new one for not eliminating token ring on the network are the ones that refuse to update or abandon the prehistoric systems that can’t connect to anything else.

  9. I’ll echo John Hardin above– we tend to just email pdfs of things between attorneys. It’s faster than faxing, and everybody can open a pdf, even the 70-year-old senior partner who’s never heard of .zip files.

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