./backlog: Charlie's blog

meanderings through tidbits of mathsy computery stuff

The Phantom Email "J"

Since I started working at my internship placement this year, I've noticed a fairly frequent occurrence of a phenomenon where for some odd reason (and seemingly out of context) a phantom "J" character would appear in an email at the end of a sentence.

Take this (fabricated, but representative) example:

Hi all,
There is cake downstairs if anyone wants some. J

Anyhoo, with a bit of Googling, I found this blog post which explains the reason behind the phantom J.

When someone types a smiley face (i.e. :)) in Outlook on Windows, it's automatically "corrected" to the smiley face character in the Wingdings font (Microsoft's proprietary Dingbats font). The smiley face character in Wingdings just so happens to map to the ASCII character code "J". So, if someone types a smiley face in an Outlook email, and then you view that email on another platform (OS X, Linux, Android, etc) - then chances are, you'll just see a phantom "J".

You can check this by looking at the HTML source of an offending email:

<font face="Wingdings">J</font>

This is completely redundant - there's actually a Unicode character for a smiley face. Unicode is supported across almost all platforms created in the last... 20 years, and isn't reliant on an obscure proprietary font. The consequence of this is that anyone who doesn't use Windows now has to read emails with phantom "J" characters in...