BioBit No 13... er No 12a (THE BIG PICTURE)

"Robert Harper ", Finland HARPER at finfun.bitnet
Fri Feb 2 06:06:00 EST 1990

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                               No 13

                     Government health warning
    The reason I wrote this "funny" BioBit was to outline some of
    the problems that exist in managing a world wide network for
    life scientists. In the next two issues of BioBit I intend to do
    do reviews on PORTACOM and ANU NEWS to perhaps point the way
    to the future.

    This edition of BioBit is a satire... and it makes heavy use
    of irony... so please read it that way. The main purpose of a
    satire is to point out things that are wrong by making them to
    appear foolish. Read on at your own risk.

    So the time has now come to write BioBit No 13. The number 13
    has never been very popular, right from the times of Jesus and
    the apostles. So what would be the proper thing to do when the
    number 13 is involved... write a BioBit No 12a?

    No!!! I have decide to do the BIG PICTURE on the BIOSCI
    network from a very personal point of view. This will be as
    near the National Enquirer and the News of the World that
    BioBit will ever get... that is unless we ever reach No 666,
    which will be the "BioBit at the End of the Universe" edition.

    Basically I will tell about all the things that you can do to
    make the BIOSCI network as boring and dull as possible, give
    you insights into how you can make things difficult for the
    managers of the BIOSCI nodes, cause inconvenience to other
    users, and generally make a fool of yourself on the network
    with little or no effort.

    Some people are born with a natural aptitude for screwing
    things up. Do not dismay if you do not happen to have this
    gift. For computer networks are no respecters of persons and
    even if you have the best intentions in the world... are
    intimately acquaint with the Crosswell mailer and have more
    than a passing friendship with VAX Gmail system, you will find
    that regardless of your expertise you are sure to get it wrong

1) What is the BIOSCI network?

    The BIOSCI network is a E-mail network which allows scientists
    working in the life sciences to communicate with each other
    electronically. I once took part in a working group that
    discussed why some newsgroups are very successful, while
    others just limp along and never get off the ground. The
    distilled wisdom of those sessions said that for a Newsgroup to
    function properly it must have three components.

    Make sure your messages have content. "Hi Mike!" and similar
    one liners are so informative.

    Always reply to "Hi Mike!" messages, for remember with many
    newsgroups it is often the question of "out of sight/out of

    If you are the "Mike" of the "Hi Mike!" message it is always
    good to make a reply... a reply something like "Hi Ron!"
    should stimulate further intellectual debate. Use personal
    names since this confers an atmosphere of comradeship in text
    that though interesting scientifically, might be stylistically
    sterile. (... nice use of alliteration there... ED)

2) To Post or not to post that is the question

    When posting to the BIOSCI newsgroups always cross-post to all
    of them. Mike might miss your "Hi Mike!" message if you only
    post to EMBL-DATABASE so why not make sure and post it to BIO-
    CONVERSION as well.

    It is a pure fallacy that you should keep discussions strictly
    within specific newsgroups. A molecular biologist never knows
    when he might need to construct a composting toilet, so you
    can regard the odd cross posting between BIO-CONV and MOL-EVOL
    as an uplifting cultural exchange.

    Everyone really knows that the most worth while part of
    anybodies message is the end signature, cos it usually
    contains some neat little saying. A good rule of thumb is that
    if your message has one line of text in it your signature
    should have at least 24 to make up a full screenful. Develop a
    personalized signature that will get you recognized on the

    If you are irritated by what someone says on the BIOSCI
    network then FLAME them in public. Everyone enjoys a good
    haggling match... and it usually works wonders for newsgroups
    that you thought were dead and gone.

    If people begin to ask you awkward questions that you can not
    answer then it is best to refer them to someone else who is
    totally incompetent to  answer their question... the resulting
    confusion is very stimulating for newsgroup activity.

    If you moderate a newsgroup never make any contributions to
    it. Putting in interesting information into a newsgroup is the
    responsibility of the members. A moderator should not need to
    dirty his hands or do any work to maintain activity in his

    Long silences with no messages is often the best way to arouse
    group members from their slumbers. Usually after a period of
    silence they will begin to make contributions like "Hey is
    this newsgroup dead?", and the newsgroup will miraculously
    spring into life again with replies like "Yeah I haven't had a
    message in 5 months!!!" The Orwellian motto of every moderator
    should be "The root of all activity is inactivity."

2) Mistakes you can make

    One of the BIOSCI nodes is situated on a LISTSERV, and is an
    ideal place to start if you want to confuse people. You might
    consider the following ploys.


    Remember the Wall street crash? It all started with a run on
    the banks to get your money out while there is still some
    left. When somebody takes their money out of the bank then
    everybody has to do the same. This is also known as the
    "Lemming syndrome".

    When a new Newsgroup has been established just send the word
    SUBSCRIBE to the newsgroup address. This will not achieve any
    purpose what so ever. Your message will be sent to hundreds of
    people around the world and they will all think that this is
    the correct way to do things, and they will then send
    SUBSCRIBE messages to the same newsgroup and soon you will get
    a fine avalanche of SUBSCRIBE messages irritating everyone on
    the network.

    If you want to work some variations on this theme then other
    useful words that trigger the "wall street syndrome" are HELP
    and UNSUBSCRIBE and the judicious use of SIGNOFF can also
    initiate a cascade effect.

    It is a closely guarded secret that those types of commands
    should only be sent to the address LISTSERV at IRLEARN. So what
    ever you do make sure that you never send  a SUBSCRIBE message
    to that address... you might find yourself becoming a member
    of a newsgroup, and that would inconvenience nobody but

    One of the best ways to cause a mail loop is to wait until it
    is near the holiday season. At this time the networks are
    understaffed, computers get shut down for routine maintenance
    and if things go wrong then there is never anybody about who
    can do anything to stop mailing loops.

    If your text happens to be about 500 lines long then by the
    time the holidays are over you should have substantially eaten
    into the disk quota of everyone's mailbox.

3) Group subscriptions

    Now there are some Clever Dicks (CD's) on the network who use
    Newsreaders like NETNEWS or ANU NEWS or conferencing systems
    like PORTACOM to read the BIOSCI newsgroups. Your computer
    center will never progress if you have these type of systems,
    and here is the reason why.

    If there are ten people at you center who wants to read
    BIONEWS then every individual should subscribe to the BIONEWS
    newsgroup. Why receive only one message into a newsreader when
    you can receive ten into individual mail boxes. Your computer
    center will be impressed by the amount of network traffic in
    the Biosciences and the users will get plenty of practice in
    deleting lots of SUBSCRIBE messages from their mailboxes.

    Most computer managers are impressed by volume so if you want
    to rack up some statistics to convince the people at your
    computer center that the Biosciences are alive on the network
    then this is one way to proceed. Remember the old adage "Never
    mind the quality feel the width!!!"

4) Mailbox problems

    One of the easiest ways to generate confusion is not to look
    after your mailbox. Just let the messages pile up, and never
    delete any of them. Soon you will get to the situation where
    your system will not receive any more messages because of
    problems like DISK QUOTA FULL.

    This will usually generate a mail loop, and the BIOSCI
    managers will have a great time tracking down the offending
    mailbox and deleting it from their distribution lists.

    Alternatively when you leave your university or institution
    neglect to tell anybody that you are leaving... then when they
    scrap your account those silly BIOSCI mailers will keep on
    sending mail to an address that does not exist. This is real
    fun since you are not even around to observe all the havoc
    that is being created.

    But if you want to be really sophisticated then get yourself
    fixed up with an address with a % hack in it... something of
    the type USER%NODEaaa at NODEbbb. Mailers usually send to NODEbbb
    first of all, and if it makes it to there it then changes the
    first % sign to a @ and routes the mail on to USER at NODEaaa.

    If the gateways are not working properly you can generate 40
    rejection notices in a 24 hour period. This is a rather
    conservative estimate of course.

5) Geographical location

    Now if you are from the University of Hawaii it does not make
    much sense to subscribe to your nearest BIOSCI node which is
    at Genbank.  Why not subscribe to the BIOSCI node in Sweden at
    BMC... it is such an exotic experience to receive mail from
    Sweden rather than plain old USA.

    Similarly people in the UK should avoid subscribing to their
    node at Daresbury. You see when everybody sticks to their own
    particular geographical region then it is so much easier for
    the BIOSCI managers to track down problem ID at NODES.

    If you stick to a BIOSCI node geographically near you then you
    will spoil all the fun and the detective work that goes on to
    detect rogue mailboxes (c) (Rogue mailboxes... I like that...
    put a copyright on it... ED)

6) User friendliness

    The chair of the paranormal at Edinburgh University is to
    occupy itself with why some machines are user-friendly while
    others refuse to function for certain people. (You know the
    type of thing... the Heraus centrifuge that refuses to open
    its lid and give you back your eppindorf tubes, but will
    gladly do that very thing for the cleaning lady when she lends
    you a hand). If computer networks do not work for you, then
    you may be in the grip  of some inanimate objection. I am sure
    Edinburgh would be most interested in your experiances.

    As you will have guessed I am one of those lucky fellows who
    just happens to manage the BIOSCI lists at IRLEARN. So I
    happen to know about some of the wacky things that go on.

    So to end on a more serious note I would like to ask for some
    feedback on how you find the BIOSCI network... or if you
    cannot find it at all?

1) How many newsgroups do you subscribe to?
2) How do you read them (mailbox or communal newsreader)?
3) Do you know the difference between a SERVER and a MAILING
4) Do you have difficulties knowing where to post messages
   or reply to them?
5) Are you a LURKER (read mesages... rarely post messages)?
6) Do you have any suggestions as to how the BIOSCI network
   could be made better?

    You can send answers to these questions or any fan mail to
    HARPER at FINFUN and you can be assured that I will bring them to
    the attention of the other BIOSCI managers. We need feedback
    from the user community in order to make things easier for
    both users and managers.

    All that remains now is to append the nifty signature and the
    terse imaginative thought provoking scientific quote.

-=ROB=- %% Robert Harper %% HARPER at FINFUN %% HARPER at CC.HELSINKI.FI %%

Rob "there is no gravity... the earth sucks" Harper

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