Computer underground Digest Wed Aug 26, 1992 Volume 4 : Issue 39 Editors: Jim Thomas and G

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Computer underground Digest Wed Aug 26, 1992 Volume 4 : Issue 39 Editors: Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer (TK0JUT2@NIU.BITNET) Copy Editor: Etaion Shrdlu, III Archivist: Brendan Kehoe Shadow-Archivist: Dan Carosone CONTENTS, #4.39 (Aug 26, 1992) File 1--Electronic Pests - Whiners, Thumpers, and Others File 2--Mike Godwin's Response to William Sessions on Telephony Bill File 3-- N.S.W. (Australia) anti-Corruption Report Released File 4--Internet Guide (Nutshell Resource) File 5--What is Usenet? NOT. Cu-Digest is a weekly electronic journal/newsletter. Subscriptions are available at no cost from The editors may be contacted by voice (815-753-6430), fax (815-753-6302) or U.S. mail at: Jim Thomas, Department of Sociology, NIU, DeKalb, IL 60115. Issues of CuD can also be found in the Usenet news group; on CompuServe in DL0 and DL4 of the IBMBBS SIG, DL1 of LAWSIG, and DL0 and DL12 of TELECOM; on Genie in the PF*NPC RT libraries; from America Online in the PC Telecom forum under "computing newsletters;" on the PC-EXEC BBS at (414) 789-4210; and by anonymous ftp from ( and European distributor: ComNet in Luxembourg BBS (++352) 466893. COMPUTER UNDERGROUND DIGEST is an open forum dedicated to sharing information among computerists and to the presentation and debate of diverse views. CuD material may be reprinted as long as the source is cited. Some authors do copyright their material, and they should be contacted for reprint permission. It is assumed that non-personal mail to the moderators may be reprinted unless otherwise specified. Readers are encouraged to submit reasoned articles relating to computer culture and communication. Articles are preferred to short responses. Please avoid quoting previous posts unless absolutely necessary. DISCLAIMER: The views represented herein do not necessarily represent the views of the moderators. Digest contributors assume all responsibility for ensuring that articles submitted do not violate copyright protections. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: 22 Aug 92 00:01:17 EDT From: Bob McClenon <76476.337@COMPUSERVE.COM> Subject: File 1--Electronic Pests - Whiners, Thumpers, and Others This is a draft think piece for now. I have been thinking in the last few weeks, based on experience on various bulletin board and mail systems, about a taxonomy of electronic pests -- people who make bulletin board systems unpleasant. I propose four categories for now: whiners; thumpers; snipers; and dumpers. Whiners are unhappy people who complain a great deal. Some whiners do nothing but complain; they never ask for advice (which they wouldn't accept anyway); offer advice; or engage in pleasantries. A few whiners ask for advice but don't like it. There is no hard and fast line between acceptable behavior and whining, but "you'll know it when you read it". Whiners are unassertive unhappy people. (Bulletin board users who are assertive about their unhappiness become other types of pests.) In my experience most whiners have been female, possibly because they have been socialized to be unassertive. Whiners are the least destructive class of BBS pest, because they can generally be ignored, and will usually heed a sysop warning to cool it. Thumpers are doctrinaire or ideological people who believe that all the answers that matter can be found by reference to a holy book or similar authority. The prototype for a thumper is a Christian Bible-thumper. Objectivists thump the works of Ayn Rand. Communists thump the works of Marx. Pseudo-scientists or adherents of pseudo-scientific cults are sometimes thumpers, if they have accepted a single truth rather than pursuing bizarre truths electically; for instance, Velikovskians are thumpers. I have also seen thumpers holding subviews in the true sciences. Thumpers are a common problem in the comp. newsgroups of Usenet, and are one reason why the number of issues of digests constantly increase, to deal with their constant counter-flamings. One difference between thumpers and other believers is that thumpers habitually denigrate other views, rather than ignoring them or engaging in real dialogue. Their usual objective is to win converts; however, they generally do not succeed, because they do little to persuade the unpersuaded. Telling a skeptic to read the Bible is not useful; he may have already read it and find it complex and requiring difficult interpretation. Telling him to read the Bible and understand it is empty unless one already understands a particular interpretation. Telling someone to read Atlas Shrugged who finds it flawed literature is not helpful. Thumpers are common in religious or ideological sections. They may be harmless there. But their intolerance may cause others to lose faith, especially if the faith is one, like Christianity, that has a tradition of tolerance. They often engage in internal quarrels. However, I have seen that a few Bible-thumpers in a political and general section can be destructive, because they squelch questioners by their thumping. They are very difficult for a sysop to silence because they are convinced of their own rightness. The best way to deal with thumpers, if possible, is to isolate them. This is not always possible. Snipers are angry people who lie in wait for the unsuspecting and lash out at them. Sometimes they do so briefly and obnoxiously, sometimes at length. Unlike both whiners and thumpers, they are usually silent, but when they are aroused they can cause great unpleasantness, and can even be slanderous. Snipers are difficult to control because they snipe at sysops. Dumpers are a special class of whiners. They complain, but they also attack people or classes of people whom they believe (rightly or wrongly) have made them unhappy. They in particular "dump" torrents of abuse on people and classes. They are difficult to control because when admonished they dump on the sysop about the unfairness of censorship. Does anyone have any comments? Has anyone experienced other classes of pests or unpleasant users? ------------------------------ Date: Tue, 24 Aug 92 18:20:41 CDT From: Subject: File 2--Mike Godwin's Response to W. Sessions on Telephony Bill ((Reprinted from: Effector 3.03, Aug 24, 1992)) THE EFF AND THE FBI: An exchange of views This is an exchange of letters in the Wall Street Journal between the Director of the FBI, William Sessions and EFF's Staff Counsel, Mike Godwin. ++++++++++++++++ August 4, 1992 FBI Must Keep Up With Wonks & Hackers Re your July 9 article about a very successful "computer hackers" investigation conducted by the FBI and the Secret Service ("Wiretap Inquiry Spurs Computer Hacker Charges"): The article mentions that court-ordered electronic surveillance was a critical part of the investigation and that the FBI is seeking laws to make it easier to tap computer systems. Mike Godwin, general counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that "the success in this case 'undercuts' the argument that new laws are needed." I believe the opposite to be the case. This investigation clearly demonstrates why legislation is absolutely necessary. What Mr. Godwin is referring to is a legislative proposal on behalf of law enforcement to ensure that as telecommunications technology advances, the ability of law enforcement to conduct court-ordered electronic surveillance is not lost. Without the legislation, it is almost certain that will occur. The proposal is not directed at computer systems, but pertains to telephone service providers and equipment manufacturers. In 1968, Congress carefully considered and passed legislation setting forth the exacting procedure by which court authorization to conduct electronic surveillance can be obtained. Since that time it has become an invaluable investigative tool in combating serious and often life-threatening crimes such as terrorism, kidnapping, drugs and organized crime. The 1968 law contemplates cooperation by the telecommunications service providers in implementing these court orders. The proposed legislation only clarifies that responsibility by making it clearly applicable regardless of the technology deployed. Absent legislation, the ability to conduct successful investigations such as the one mentioned in your article will certainly be jeopardized. The deployment of digital telecommunications equipment that is not designed to meet the need for law enforcement to investigate crime and enforce the laws will have that effect. No new authority is needed or requested. All the legislation would do if enacted is ensure that the status quo is maintained and the ability granted by Congress in 1968 preserved. William S. Sessions Director, FBI, Department of Justice Wall Street Journal, August 4, 1992 +++++++++++++++ August 14, 1992 Letters to the Editor The Wall Street Journal: 200 Liberty Street New York, NY 10281 In his Aug. 4 letter to the editor, FBI Director William Sessions disagrees with my quoted opinion that the FBI's success in a computer-wiretap case "'undercuts' the argument that new laws are needed." His disagreement doesn't disturb me too much; it's the kind of thing over which reasonable people can disagree. What does disturb me, however, is Sessions's claim about the FBI's initiative to require the phone companies (and other communications-service providers, like CompuServe) to build wiretapping capabilities into their systems. Says Sessions, apparently without irony: "No new authority is needed or requested. All the legislation would if enacted is ensure that the status quo is maintained and the ability [of law enforcement to implement wiretaps] is preserved." Earlier, Sessions says the proposed legislation "only clarifies [the phone companies'] responsibility" to cooperate with properly authorized law enforcement under the 1968 Wiretap Act. What Sessions does not mention, however, is that his legislation would, among other things, allow the government to impose upon those phone companies and communications-service providers who do not build wiretapping into their systems "a civil penalty of $10,000 per day for each day in violation." By any standards other than those of Sessions and the FBI, this constitutes "new authority." If this proposal "only clarifies" providers' obligations under the 1968 Act, one shudders to imagine what Sessions would call an "expansion" of law-enforcement authority. MIKE GODWIN Staff Counsel Electronic Frontier Foundation Cambridge, Massachusetts ------------------------------ Date: Sat, 22 Aug 1992 09:32:08 EDT From: Roger Clarke Subject: File 3--N.S.W. (Australia) anti-Corruption Report Released A long-running 'Independent Commission Against Corruption' enquiry in N.S.W. has finally reported on an investigation into leakage of personal data to private enquiry agents, and the leading Sydney daily had over 2 large pages devoted to the matter. Here's the lead article. Roger Clarke +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ SYDNEY MORNING HERALD August 13 1992 HUGE TRADE IN PERSONAL FILES By MALCOLM BROWN Westpac, National Australia Bank, NRMA Insurance Ltd, Custom Credit and Citicorp are some of the big names in a damning report by the ICAC Assistant Commissioner, Mr Adrian Roden, QC, on the unauthorised release of confidential government information. Mr Roden found that there was a multi-million-dollar trade in such information which involved public servants, including police, and private inquiry agents. "Information, from a variety of State and Commonwealth government sources and the private sector has been freely and regularly sold and exchanged for many years," he said. "NSW public officials have been heavily involved." Mr Roden heard 446 witnesses in public and private hearings over 168 days before compiling his 1,300-page report. Even so, he said, it was necessary to be selective; thousands of private and commercial inquiry agents had not examined. Mr Roden found that more than 250 people had participated in the illicit trade or had contributed to it. Of these, 155 had engaged in corrupt conduct. A further 101 had engaged in conduct which allowed, encouraged or caused the occurrence of corrupt conduct. Many are NSW and Commonwealth public servants who sold information collected by the agencies where they work, including the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), police force, Telecom and Sydney County Council. The Attorney-General, Mr Hannaford, announced that the Director of Public Prosecutions had set up a task force to consider laying charges against more than 100 people named in the report. He said many of the public servants named could expect to lose their jobs and that the heads of all the government departments involved had been told to examine the report and take action against those involved. The Assistant Police Commissioner, Mr Col Cole, confirmed yesterday that five police officers had been suspended and announced that three task forces had been set up and computer security upgraded. Mr Hannaford foreshadowed the introduction of privacy legislation to make the unauthorised use of confidential information a criminal offence. The major banks said that they could not condone what their staff had done but said the staff had believed that they were acting in the best interests of their employers and the community. None of the banks was planning to sack staff found to be corrupt although several said the staff had been counselled or "educated". Mr Roden said the trade involved banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions which had provided "a ready market". The link was provided by private and commercial inquiry agents. With some banks, codes had been used to conceal the nature of the transactions. "As they have gone about their corrupt trade, commercial interest has prevailed over commercial ethics, greed ha~ prevailed over public duty; laws and regulations designed to protect confidentiality have been ignored," Mr Roden said. "Frequently the client, generally an insurance company, bank or other financial institution, ordered the information from the agent with a full appreciation of how it was to be obtained. "The evidence disclosed that in the collection and recovery departments of a number of those institutions, it has long been standard practice to use confidential government information . . . as a means of locating debtors." Some finance and insurance companies had directed agents to keep all references to the trade off invoices and reports. "Some even directed that the agents falsely state the source of the information in their reports," Mr Roden said. "Some solicitors in private practice have sought and purchased confidential government information in circumstances in which they must have known that it could not have been properly obtained." Mr Kevin Rindfleish, an unlicensed private inquiry agent, had sold Department of Motor Transport/Roads and Traffic Authority and social security information "on a large scale". His principal client had been the ANZ Bank. A private investigator, Mr Terence John Hancock, and his company, All Cities Investigations Pty Ltd, had sold confidential government information to the National Australia Bank and Westpac on a regular basis. Two employees of the NAB had used prior contacts to provide the bank with access to RTA, social security, Australia Post and immigration information. Between them, the employees also provided silent numbers and information on electricity consumers. The Advance Bank had "over a period of years" obtained information improperly released from the RTA, the Department of Social Security and the Department of Immigration. The practice was "known and approved at least to senior management level". New Zealand Insurance and Manufacturers Mutual had bought confidential government information from private investigators. NRMA Insurance Ltd and the Government Insurance Office were "found to have participated as freely in the illicit trade in confidential government information as their more commercially oriented competitors". "Evidence relating to NRMA Insurance Ltd established not only that it purchased confidential government information through private investigators, but also that investigators were required to obtain relevant government information by unauthorised means if they were to retain the company's work." Esanda Finance Corporation Ltd had bought confidential information over at least 23 years. Custom Credit Corporation Ltd which had engaged in the illicit trade over "many years", had maintained false records to conceal how it obtained information. Alston de Zilwa, former underwriter and operations manager of Citicorp Ltd and later, Toyota Finance Australia Limited's credit operations manager, had established for each of the two companies a system for obtaining confidential information. The companies would seek information directly from employees of the DMA and RTA and pay a private inquiry agent, Mr Kevin Robinson, who would "launder" it, then invoice the companies for the corresponding sum. Mr Roden said that hundreds of thousands of dollars had changed hands in the trade uncovered. One agent had estimated that he had paid $40,000 to $50,000 a year for Social Security information alone. Another had said he received $100,000 over two years for government information. Yet another had, according to records, charged a bank $186,000 for "inquiry services" over a period of 18 months. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Simon Davies and Graham Greenleaf know a great deal about these matters; I know a bit too, so if there's valuable info in here to support your own work, let one of us know and we'll track down the refs. If there's interest, I could also get the rest of the articles scanned in and put them on an archive. ------------------------------ Date: Mon, 24 Aug 1992 12:42:22 PDT From: Brian Erwin Subject: File 4--Internet Guide On September 13, O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. will publish the most comprehensive guide to the Internet, THE WHOLE INTERNET USER'S GUIDE & CATALOG. Written by Ed Krol, assistant director for LAN Deployment at the University of Illinois, this 400-page book covers the basic utilities used to access the network and then guides users through the Internet's "databases of databases" to access the millions of files and thousands of archives available. To help users maneuver smoothly through the system, THE WHOLE INTERNET USER'S GUIDE & CATALOG presents: * The History of the Internet * How the Internet Works * What's Allowed on the Internet * How to Remote Login, Use Electronic Mail, and Move A File * How to Find Software or Someone * How to Deal with Network Problems An added bonus of Krol's work is a resource index that covers a broad selection of several hundred important resources available on the Internet, ranging from the King James Bible to archives for USENET news. In addition, Krol uses commands that can be used on almost any computer, be it a PC or an open system. THE WHOLE INTERNET USER'S GUIDE & CATALOG by Ed Krol ISBN 1-56592-025-2 Publication Date: September 13, 1992 400 pages; indexed $24.95 ------------------------------ Date: Mon, 24 Aug 92 16:19:09 EDT From: Edward Vielmetti Subject: File 5--What is Usenet? NOT. I read the reviews of Zen, especially ch 4 the "what is usenet" bit. _Zen_ has many good points but I suspect it will need to get better in that section; the text there looks pretty old and stale to my eyes and really hasn't been revised since the first "What is Usenet" postings went out to the net oh lo those many years ago. Following is my response to the "What is Usenet" information found in the "what is Usenet" archive and reprinted in many books. From-- (Edward Vielmetti) Subject-- What is Usenet? NOT. References-- Organization-- MSEN, Inc. -- Ann Arbor, MI Archive-name-- what-is-usenet/not In article spaf@cs.purdue.EDU (Gene Spafford) writes: >Archive-name: what-is-usenet/part1 >Last-change: 2 Dec 91 by (Chip Salzenberg) > >The first thing to understand about Usenet is that it is widely >misunderstood. Every day on Usenet, the "blind men and the elephant" >phenomenon is evident, in spades. In my opinion, more flame wars >arise because of a lack of understanding of the nature of Usenet than >from any other source. And consider that such flame wars arise, of >necessity, among people who are on Usenet. Imagine, then, how poorly >understood Usenet must be by those outside! Imagine, indeed, how poorly understood Usenet must be by those who have the determined will to explain what it is by what it is not? "Usenet is not a bicycle. Usenet is not a fish." Any essay on the purported "nature of usenet" that doesn't get revised every few months quickly becomes a quaint historical document, which at best yields a prescriptivist grammar for how the net "should be" and at worst tries to shape how the Usenet "really is". That's especially true of essays on Usenet that complain about how little the old hoary chestnuts get changed! The first thing to understand about Usenet is that it is big. Really big. Netnews (and netnews-like things) have percolated into many more places than are even known about by people who track such things. There is no grand unified list of everything that's out there, no way to know beforehand who is going to read what you post, and no history books to guide you that would let you know even a small piece of any of the in jokes that pop up in most newsgroups. Distrust any grand sweeping statements about "Usenet", because you can always find a counterexample. (Distrust this message, too :-). >Any essay on the nature of Usenet cannot ignore the erroneous >impressions held by many Usenet users. Therefore, this article will >treat falsehoods first. Keep reading for truth. (Beauty, alas, is >not relevant to Usenet.) Any essay on the nature of Usenet that doesn't change every so often to reflect its ever changing nature is erroneous. Usenet is not a matter of "truth", "beauty", "falsehood", "right", or "wrong", except insofar as it is a means for people to talk about these and many other things. >WHAT USENET IS NOT >------------------ > 1. Usenet is not an organization. Usenet is organized. There are a number of people who contribute to its continued organization -- people who post lists of things, people who collect "frequently asked questions" postings, people who give out or sell newsfeeds, people who keep archives of groups, people who put those archives into WAIS or gopher servers. This organization is accompanied by a certain amount of disorganization -- news software that doesn't always work just right, discussions that wander from place to place, people who don't follow the guidelines, and parts of the net that resist easy classification. Order and disorder are part of the same whole. In the short run, the person or group who runs the system that you read news from and the sites which that system exchanges news with all control who gets a feed, which articles are propagated to what places and how quickly, and who can post articles. In the long run, there are a number of alternatives for Usenet access, including companies which can sell you feeds for a fee, and user groups which provide feeds for their members; while you are on your own right now as you type this in, over the long haul there are many choices you have on how to deal with the net. > 2. Usenet is not a democracy. Usenet has some very "democratic" sorts of traditions. Traffic is ultimately generated by readers, and people who read news ultimately control what will and will not be discussed on the net. While the details of any individual person's news reading system may limit or constrain what is easy or convenient for them to do right now, in the long haul the decisions on what is or is not happening rests with the people. On the other hand, there have been (and always will be) people who have been on the net longer than you or I have been, and who have a strong sense of tradition and the way things are normally done. There are certain things which are simply "not done". Any sort of decision that involves counting the number of people yes or no on a particular vote has to cope with the entrenched interests who aren't about to change their habits, their posting software, or the formatting of their headers just to satisfy a new idea. > 3. Usenet is not fair. Usenet is fair, cocktail party, town meeting, notes of a secret cabal, chatter in the hallway at a conference, friday night fish fry, post-coital gossip, conversations overhead on an airplane, and a bunch of other things. > 4. Usenet is not a right. Usenet is a right, a left, a jab, and a sharp uppercut to the jaw. The postman hits! You have new mail. > 5. Usenet is not a public utility. Usenet is carried in large part over circuits provided by public utilities, including the public switched phone network and lines leased from public carriers. In some countries the national networking authority has some amount of monopoly power over the provision of these services, and thus the flow of information is controlled in some manner by the whims and desires (and pricing structure) of the public utility. Most Usenet sites are operated by organizations which are not public utilities, not in the ordinary sense. You rarely get your newsfeed from National Telecom, it's more likely to be National U. or Private Networking Inc. > 6. Usenet is not an academic network. Usenet is a network with many parts to it. Some parts are academic, some parts aren't. Usenet is clearly not a commercial network like Sprintnet or Tymenet, and it's not an academic network like BITNET. But parts of BITNET are parts of Usenet, though some of the traffic on usenet violates the BITNET acceptable use guidelines, even though the people who are actually on BITNET sites reading these groups don't necessarily mind that they are violating the guidelines. Whew. Usenet is a lot of networks, and none of them. You name another network, and it's not Usenet. > 7. Usenet is not an advertising medium. A man walks into a crowded theater and shouts, "ANYBODY WANT TO BUY A CAR?" The crowd stands up and shouts back, "WRONG THEATER!" Ever since the first dinette set for sale in New Jersey was advertised around the world, people have been using Usenet for personal and for corporate gain. If you're careful about it and don't make people mad, Usenet can be an effective means of letting the world know about things which you find valuable. But take care... - Marketing hype will be flamed immediately. If you need to post a press release, edit it first. - Speak nice of your competitors. If your product is better than theirs, don't say theirs is "brain damaged", "broken", or "worthless". After all someone else might have the same opinion of your product. - Dance around the issue. Post relevant information (like price, availability and features) but make sure you don't send everything out. If someone wants the hard sell let them request it from you by e-mail. - Don't be an idiot. If you sell toasters for a living, don't spout off in net.breadcrumbs about an international conspiracy to poison pigeons orchestrated by the secret Usenet Cabal; toaster-buyers will get word of your reputation for idiocy and avoid your toasters even if they are the best in the market. - You can't avoid representing your company when you post under the banner of the company's name. No matter how many disclaimers you put on, no matter how laid back the audience, it still happens. To maintain a separate net.identity, post from a different site. > 8. Usenet is not the Internet. It would be very difficult to sustain the level of traffic that's flowing on Usenet today if it weren't for people sending news feeds over dedicated circuits with TCP/IP on the Internet. That's not to say that if a sudden disease wiped out all IBM RTs and RS6000s that form the NSFnet backbone that some people wouldn't be inconvenienced or cut off from the net entirely. (Based on the reliability of the backbone, perhaps the "sudden disease" has already hit?) There's a certain symbiosis between netnews and Internet connections; the cost of maintaining a newsfeed with NNTP is so much less than doing the same thing with dialup UUCP that sites which depend enough on the information flowing through news are some of the most eager to get on the Internet. The Usenet is not the Internet. Certain governments have laws which prevent other countries from getting onto the Internet, but that doesn't stop netnews from flowing in and out. Chances are pretty good that a site which has a usenet feed you can send mail to from the Internet, but even that's not guaranteed in some odd cases (news feeds sent on CD-ROM, for instance). > 9. Usenet is not a UUCP network. UUCP carried the first netnews traffic, and a considerable number of sites get their newsfeed using UUCP. But it's also fed using NNTP, pressed onto CD-ROMs, faxed to China, and printed out on paper to be tacked up on bulletin boards and pasted on refrigerators. >10. Usenet is not a United States network. A recent analysis of the top 1000 Usenet sites showed about 66% US sites, 15% unknown, 10% Germany, 7% Canada, 2-3% each the UK, Japan, Sweden, and Australia, and the rest mostly scattered around Europe. You can read netnews on all seven continents, including Antarctica. The state of California is the center of the net, with about 15% of the mapped top sites there. Other states and provinces with widespread news connectivity include Massachusetts, Texas, Ontario, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Oregon. If you're looking for a somewhat less US-centered view of the world, try reading regional newsgroups from various different states or groups from various far-away places (which depending on where you are at could be Japanese, German, Canadian, or Australian). There are a lot of people out there who are different from you. >11. Usenet is not a UNIX network. Well...ok, if you don't have a UNIX machine, you can read news. In fact, there are substantial sets of newsgroups (bit.*) which are transported and gatewayed primarily through IBM VM systems, and a set of newsgroups (vmsnet.*) which has major traffic through DEC VMS systems. Reasonable news relay software runs on Macs (uAccess), Amiga (a C news port), MS-DOS (Waffle), and no doubt quite a few more. I'm typing on a DOS machine right now. There is a certain culture about the net that has grown up on Unix machines, which occasionally runs into fierce clashes with the culture that has grown up on IBM machines (LISTSERV), Commodore 64's (BIFF IS A K00L D00D), and MS-DOS Fidonet systems. If you are not running on a Unix machine or if you don't have one handy there are things about the net which are going to be puzzling or maddening, much as if you are reading a BITNET list and you don't have a CMS system handy. >12. Usenet is not an ASCII network. There are reasonably standard ways to type Japanese, Russian, Swedish, Finnish, Icelandic, and Vietnamese that use the ASCII character set to encode your national character set. The fundamental assumption of most netnews software is that you're dealing with something that looks a lot like US ASCII, but if you're willing to work within those bounds and be clever it's quite possible to use ASCII to discuss things in any language. >13. Usenet is not software. Usenet software has gotten much better over time to cope with the ever increasing aggregate flow of netnews and (in some cases) the extreme volume that newsgroups generate. If you were reading news now with the same news software that was running 10 years ago, you'd never be able to keep up. Your system would choke and die and spend all of its time either processing incoming news or expiring old news. Without software and constant improvements to same, Usenet would not be here. There is no "standard" Usenet software, but there are standards for what Usenet articles look like, and what sites are expected to do with them. It's possible to write a fairly simple minded news system directly from the standards documents and be reasonably sure that it will work with other systems, though thorough testing is necessary if it's going to be used in the real world. >WHAT USENET IS >-------------- "Usenet is like Tetris for people who still remember how to read." J.Heller Usenet is mostly about people. There are people who are "on the net", who read rec.humor.funny every so often, who know the same jokes you do, who tell you stories about funny or stupid things they've seen. Usenet is the set of people who know what Usenet is. Usenet is a bunch of bits, lots of bits, millions of bits each day full of nonsense, argument, reasonable technical discussion, scholarly analysis, and naughty pictures. Usenet (or netnews) is about newsgroups (or groups). Not bboards, not LISTSERV, not mailing lists, they're groups. If someone calls them something else they're not looking at things from a Usenet perspective. That's not to say that they're "incorrect" -- who is to say what is the right way of viewing the world? -- just that it's not the Net Way. In particular, if they read Usenet news all mixed in with their important every day mail (like reminders of who to go to coffee with on Monday) they're not seeing netnews the way most people see netnews. Some newsgroups are also (or "really") available on GENIE (rec.humor.funny), BITNET LISTSERV groups (bit.listserv.pacs-l), or linked with Fidonet (misc.handicap). So be prepared for some violent culture clashes if someone refers to you favorite as a "board". Newsgroups have names. These names are both very arbitrary and very meaningful. People will fight for months or years about what to name a newsgroup. If a newsgroup doesn't have a name (even a dumb one like misc.misc) it's not a newsgroup. In particular newsgroup names have dots in them, and people abbreviate them by taking the first letters of the names (so alt.folklore.urban is afu, and soc.culture.china is scc). >DIVERSITY >--------- There is nothing vague about Usenet. (Vague, vague, it's filling up thousands of dollars worth of disk drives and you want to call it vague? Sheesh!) It may be hard to pin down what is and isn't part of usenet at the fringes, but netnews has tended to grow amoeba-like to encompass more or less anything in its path, so you can be pretty sure that if it isn't Usenet now it will be once it's been in contact with Usenet for long enough. There are a lot of systems that are part of Usenet. Chances are that you don't have any clue where all your articles will end up going or what news reading software will be used to look at them. Any message of any appreciable size or with any substantial personal opinion in it is probably in violation of some network use policy or local ordinance in some state or municipality. >CONTROL >------- 1. Keep the processors up and running, and make sure there's enough disk space for netnews. 2. Keep the network up and running so that the newsfeed comes in. 3. Install new newsreaders, get more feeds of more groups, test out the latest filtering code. 4. Plan for getting more disks so you can keep more news and index it all. 5. Read news (if there's time). Some people are control freaks. They want to present their opinion of how things are, who runs what, what is OK and not OK to do, which things are "good" and which are "bad". You will run across them every so often. They might even cancel your article that you spend hours composing if it suits their whims. They serve a useful purpose; there's a lot of chaos inherent in a largely self-governing system, and people with a strong sense of purpose and order can make things a lot easier. Just don't believe everything they say. In particular, don't believe them when they say "don't believe everything they say", because if they post the same answers month after month some other people are bound to believe them. If you run a news system you can be a petty tyrant. You can decide what groups to carry, who to kick off your system, how to expire old news so that you keep 60 days worth of misc.petunias but expire almost immediately. In the long run you will probably be happiest if you make these decisions relatively even-handedly since that's the posture least likely to get people to notice that you actually do have control. Your right to exercise control over netnews usually ends at your neighbor's spool directory. Pleading, cajoling, appealing to good nature, or paying your news feed will generally yield a better response than flames on the net. >PERIODIC POSTINGS >----------------- "I've already explained this once, but repetition is the very soul of the net." (from alt.config) One of the ways to exert control over the workings of the net is to take the time to put together a relatively accurate set of answers to some frequently asked questions and post it every month. If you do this right, the article will be stored for months on sites around the world, and you'll be able to tell people "idiot, don't ask this question until you've read the FAQ, especially answer #42". The periodic postings include several lists of newsgroups, along with comments as to what the contents of the groups are supposed to be. Anyone who has the time and energy can put together a list like this, and if they post it for several months running they will get some measure of net.recognition for themselves as being the "official" keeper of the "official" list. But don't delude yourself into thinking that anything on the net is official in any real way; the lists serve to perpetuate common myths about who's talking about what where, but that's no guarantee that things will actually work out that way. There is an elaborate ritual associated with preparing a periodic posting and having it appear in the newsgroup "news.answers". This ritual involves intimate familiarity with the arcana of netnews headerology, proper ordering of newsgroup names and accurate spelling of words that have both British and American spellings. PROPAGATION ----------- In the olden days, when the net was young, and you could still read it at 300 baud on a dumb terminal without a news reader and get work done during the rest of the day... In the olden days, news was sent out over UUCP and long-distance dialup lines. A few people managed to sneak the horrendous phone bills past their management, and they held a lot of power over which newsgroups could be carried where. Those people called themselves "the backbone cabal". Things have changed. Nowadays, internet sites have plenty of bandwidth, and it's generally disk space that's the limiting factor, and the patience of news administrators to deal with odd newsgroups appearing. New groups appearing and disappearing in the mainstream news hierarchies are fairly well controlled, and newsgroup votes tend to be accepted by most system managers. Netnews propagation has gotten to the point that systems running the newest news software, INN, will have articles sent out to remote sites all over the world within seconds of them being posted. There are many systems around the US which now sell a reliable newsfeed for a few bucks a month. These folks will generally gladly get you any group you want to read (to the best of their ability) because, after all, you're paying for it. NEWSGROUP CREATION ------------------ "If there are enough people who want to talk about Joey and the Shralpers coming to you from East Podunk, Ohio, and they vote and it passes, well, dammit, they get a newsgroup." It takes about two months, playing by the rules, to create a new newsgroup. Pick a name, write a charter, circulate it for opinions, and if after a month you don't have a raging flame-war in news.groups call the vote. A month after you call the vote plow through your mail box and count the results, if it meets the standards you're in. This is all explained with a substantially greater amount of wind in a document reverently called The Guidelines. In order for your newsgroup to be propagated widely, it must show promise. The name has to be good and consistent with other newsgroup names; the charter should provide enough substance that people will want to talk about those topics; and you have to figure out a way to make it through a month of sniping by the news.groupies before you call the question. Chances are, some one is already talking about some of the stuff you're interested in in one of the 2000-odd newsgroups and equally many mailing lists there are out on the net. The purpose of all this vote-gathering is to get the word out to them that there's some new niche appearing to discuss things and if they want to get involved here's the way to do it. If your proposed niche collides with someone else's happy mail list or if it runs up too close to a hot newsgroup argument be prepared for an unhappy vote-counting time. IF YOU ARE UNHAPPY... --------------------- Take a walk in the park, go rent a good movie, take a nice long bath by candlelight, or call up a relative you haven't talked to for a long time. Spend some time away from the net. You deserve it. -- Edward Vielmetti, vice president for research, MSEN Inc. MSEN, Inc. 628 Brooks Ann Arbor MI 48103 +1 313 998 4562 "Gigabits are not needed where rice is lacking!" Bob Sutterfield ------------------------------ End of Computer Underground Digest #4.39 ************************************


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