Spaf’s Farewell Letter

dflood Computer History 0 Comments

From news.columbia.edu!sol.ctr.columbia.edu!howland.reston.ans.net!gatech!purdue!not-for-mail Fri Apr 30 11:27:16 EDT 1993 
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From: [email protected] 
Newsgroups: news.announce.newusers,news.misc,news.admin.misc,news.groups,soc.net-people 
Subject: That's all, folks 
Followup-To: poster 
Date: 29 Apr 1993 19:01:12 -0500 
Organization: Department of Computer Sciences, Purdue University 
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* * *
[ I originally was going to post nothing on this topic. I'm burned out, and I don't want my fatigue to appear like I'm posting  self-indulgent garbage. However, several people have argued with me, and convinced me that maybe I should make a statement to "end an era," and as a piece of net "history." At the least, even if it is perceived as self-indulgent garbage, it will fit right in with the rest of the net. ]
There is a Zen adage about how anything one cannot bear to give up is not owned, but is in fact the owner.  What follows relates how I amowned by one less thing....
About a dozen years ago, when I was still a grad student at Georgia 
Tech, we got our first Usenet connection (to allegra, then being run 
by Peter Honeyman, I believe).  I'd been using a few dial-in BBS 
systems for a while, so it wasn't a huge transition for me.  I quickly got "hooked": I can claim to be someone who once read every newsgroup 
on Usenet for weeks at a time!
After several months, I realized that it was difficult for a newcomer 
to tell what newsgroups were available and what they covered.  I made 
a pass at putting together some information, combined it with a 
similar list compiled by another netter, and began posting it for 
others to use.  Eventually, the list was joined by other documents 
describing net history and information.
In April of 1982 (I believe it was -- I saved no record of the year, 
but I know it was April), I began posting those lists regularly, 
sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly; the longest break was for 4 
months a few years ago when I was recovering from pneumonia and poor personal time management.  (Tellingly, only a few people noticed the lack of postings, and almost all the mail was "When will they come 
out?"  rather than "Did something happen?")  As time went on, people 
began to attach far more significance to the posts than I really 
intended.  It was flattering for a very short time, and a burden for 
most of the rest; there is no telling how much time I have devoted 
over the last decade to answering questions, editing the postings, and 
debating the role of newsgroup naming, to cite a few topics.  I really 
tired of being a "semi-definitive" voice.
Starting several years ago, at about the time people started pushing 
for group names designed to offend or annoy others, or with a lack of 
concern about the possible effects it might have on the net as a whole 
(e.g., rec.drugs and comp.protocols.tcp-ip.eniac) I began to question 
why I was doing the postings.  I have had a growing sense of futility: 
people on the net can't possibly find the postings useful, because 
most of the advice in them is completely ignored.  People don't seem 
to think before posting, they are purposely rude, they blatantly 
violate copyrights, they crosspost everywhere, use 20 line signature 
files, and do basically every other thing the postings (and common 
sense and common courtesy) advise not to.  Regularly, there are postings of questions that can be answered by the newusers articles, clearly indicating that they aren't being read.  "Sendsys" bombs and forgeries abound.  People rail about their "rights" without understanding that every right carries responsibilities that need to be observed too, not least of which is to respect others' rights as you would have them respect your own.  Reason, etiquette,accountability, and compromise are strangers in far too many newsgroups these days.
I have finally concluded that my view of how things should be is too 
far out-of-step with the users of the Usenet, and that my efforts are 
not valued by enough people for me to invest any more of my energy in 
the process.  I am tired of the effort involved, and the meager -- 
nay, nonexistent -- return on my volunteer efforts.
This hasn't happened all at once, but it has happened.  Rather than 
bemoan it, I am acting on it: the set of "periodic postings" posted 
earlier this week was my last.  After 11 years, I'm hanging it up. 
David Lawrence and Mark Moraes have generously (naively?) agreed to 
take over the postings, for whatever good they may still do.  David 
will do the checkgroups, and lists of newsgroups and moderators 
(news.lists), and Mark will handle the other informational postings 
(news.announce.newusers).
I'm not predicting the death of the Usenet -- it will continue without 
me, with nary a hiccup, and six months from now most users will have 
forgotten that I did the postings...those few who even know now, that 
is.  That is as it should be, I suspect. Nor am I leaving the 
Usenet entirely.  There are still a half-dozen groups that I read 
sometimes (a few moderated and comp.* groups), and I will continue to 
read them.  That's about it, though.  I've gone from reading all the 
groups to reading less than ten.  Funny, though, the total volume of 
what I read has stayed almost constant over the years. :-)
My sincere thanks to everyone who has ever said a "thank you" or 
contributed a suggestion for the postings.  You few kept me going at 
this longer than most sane people would consider wise.  Please lend 
your support to Mark and David if you believe their efforts are 
valuable.  Eventually they too will burn out, just as the Usenet has 
consumed nearly everyone who has made significant contributions to its 
history, but you can help make their burden seem worthwhile in 
between. 
In closing, I'd like to repost my 3 axioms of Usenet.  I originally 
posted these in 1987 and 1988.  In my opinion as a semi-pro 
curmudgeon, I think they've aged well:
    Axiom #1: 
        "The Usenet is not the real world.  The Usenet usually does not even resemble the real world." 
    Corollary #1: 
        "Attempts to change the real world by altering the structure 
        of the Usenet is an attempt to work sympathetic magic -- electronic 
        voodoo." 
    Corollary #2: 
        "Arguing about the significance of newsgroup names and their 
        relation to the way people really think is equivalent to arguing 
        whether it is better to read tea leaves or chicken entrails to 
        divine the future." 
    Axiom #2: 
        "Ability to type on a computer terminal is no guarantee of sanity, 
        intelligence, or common sense." 
    Corollary #3: 
        "An infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of keyboards 
        could produce something like Usenet." 
    Corollary #4: 
        "They could do a better job of it." 
    Axiom #3: 
        "Sturgeon's Law (90% of everything is crap) applies to Usenet."
    Corollary #5: 
        "In an unmoderated newsgroup, no one can agree on what constitutes 
         the 10%." 
    Corollary #6: 
        "Nothing guarantees that the 10% isn't crap, too." 
Which of course ties in to the recent:
"Usenet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea -- 
massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a 
source of mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect 
it."            --spaf (1992) 
"Don't sweat it -- it's not real life.  It's only ones and zeroes." 
               -- spaf (1988?)
-- 
Gene Spafford, COAST Project Director 
Software Engineering Research Center & Dept. of Computer Sciences 
Purdue University, W. Lafayette IN 47907-1398 
Internet:  [email protected]   phone:  (317) 494-7825

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