Computer underground Digest Wed Aug 26, 1992 Volume 4 : Issue 39 Editors: Jim Thomas and G
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.
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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
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
Does anyone have any comments? Has anyone experienced other classes
of pests or unpleasant users?
Date: Tue, 24 Aug 92 18:20:41 CDT
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
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
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
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
MIKE GODWIN Staff Counsel Electronic Frontier Foundation Cambridge,
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
Publication Date: September 13, 1992
400 pages; indexed
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-- email@example.com (Edward Vielmetti)
Subject-- What is Usenet? NOT.
Organization-- MSEN, Inc. -- Ann Arbor, MI
In article firstname.lastname@example.org.EDU (Gene
>Last-change: 2 Dec 91 by email@example.com (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
>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
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
> 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
>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 net.hangout as a
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
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.
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
rec.pets.fish 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.
"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
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.
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.
"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." firstname.lastname@example.org
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. email@example.com
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
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank