And in the End...

"Robert Harper Finland", CSC HARPER at CSC.FI
Tue Feb 5 11:48:00 EST 1991

  This message was written on Sunday 3rd Feb 1991, and modifed on Monday
  and Teusday, after receiving "feedback" from the network. Thanks to
  all who were understanding, and to the rest here is my resignation

  ************************** RESIGNATION NOTE ***********************
  On Saturday night 2nd of February, I noticed that there was a loop
  starting on the BIONEWS list. The mailer that was responsible for it
  was situated at FTP at (UKC FTP Daemon), and the unfortunate user
  was from a commercial site in the UK (parsons_a at
  As per the usual proceedure I checked the lists at IRLEARN only to
  discover that this user was NOT subscribed to any of the lists, so I
  could not REMOVE him and thus stop messages being sent to him, and since
  the SERVE OFF command is reserved for people with special privilages at
  IRLEARN I could not shut off the rogue mailer in the UK. I felt pretty
  helpless. The only sensible thing to do was put ALL of the lists on HOLD.

  About midnight on Saturday, I had sent mail messages to Dave
  Kristofferson at Genbank, and also to the Bioearn Bboard explaining
  what was happening. I also managed to put the slave lists at IRLEARN on
  hold, but before I could get to the master lists the link between
  Finland and Sweden went down. Sometimes it feels that I am trying to
  manage these lists blindfolded with two hands tied behind my back. 
  Perhaps Helsinki, Finland is not the best place in the world to manage
  lists in IRELAND. The job could be better handled locally. I also
  informed LSTERN-L that the filters that were supposed to trap error
  messages were not working.

  On Sunday morning I checked the USENET distribution and it seemed that
  BIONEWS, GENBANK, and METHODS were the lists that had been effected.
  The loop had increased to about ten entries.

  IRLEARN has had a unique role in the BIOSCI network since it allows users
  to subscribe to lists without any human intervention, but this has also
  caused problems since users continue to send LISTSERV commands to the
  BIOSCI lists rather than to LISTSERV itself. The recent bout of CONFIRM
  messages is a point of fact. This problem will not go away. It seems that
  it is a mistake that the novice will always make, and if BioSci continues
  to run in the present setup then it is a fact that users will have to
  live with. As someone so aptly pointed out recently... the bug is in the
  users not the system.

  In private there have been many discussions as how to make the BIOSCI
  network better, but perhaps the managers at the BIOSCI nodes have been
  too timid in trying to implement other solutions. The main philosophy
  being don't interfere with a system that is working. 	In addition once 
  you have built up a system, it is not very encouraging to tear it down
  and try to build up another one, when you have no assurance that the
  new system would work better than the old one. The work that I have
  done for BioSci has been on a volunteer basis, but recently I have felt
  that management is taking up a considerable part of my working day, and
  as the events over the weekend show, it also eats into my free time.

  I also receive "private" letters saying why don't you do something
  about this LISTSERV business. Now 2 o'clock on a Sunday morning is not
  the best time to do your thinking especially if you know that some
  lists are looping, and there is nothing you can do about it. But here
  is a list of things that it is impossible for me to do.

  1) It is impossible for me to keep all the computer networks in the 
  world up and running: ergo, you will always have bounced mail.
  2) It is impossible for me to make subscriber keep their mailboxes 
  clean: ergo, disk quotas full... bounced mail.
  3) It is impossible for me to make users signoff lists when they leave
  University: ergo, bounced mail from dead accounts.
  I have been a "care-taker" manager at IRLEARN for about a two years,
  while the real list owner is in Holland. As a list owner I get:

  1) mail messages every time someone joins a BIOSCI list.
  2) mail messages every time someone leaves a list.
  3) mail messages from dead mailboxes
  4) mail messages bad network addresses
  5) mail messages from just about everyone under the sun asking about the
     workings of LISTSERV.
  6) a few mail messages of encouragement.

  In actual fact this morning I have 33 mail messages waiting for me from 
  people who have subscribed to the lists at IRLEARN. Nothing deters some
  In case you have not realized it, this is an official letter of
  resignation. I have asked for my ID to be removed as list owner at all
  the BIOSCI lists at IRLEARN. I find it rather ironic that I was
  operating as a list owner at IRLEARN, yet reading my BIOSCI news with
  NN on USENET. If everyone adopted a news reader solution then none of
  these problems would exist, since there would be no bounced mail
  messages, and there would be no strain on your personal mailbox. 

  I have a clear conscience that I have done my best to serve the BIOSCI
  network. When I run a status on BIOEARN which is a private conference
  set up for the BIOSCI managers I note that there has been an exchange
  of over 900 messages just to keep the system running smoothly... this
  behind the scenes work is something the BioSci end user knows nothing
  The proof if you need it...
  Name: BIOEARN (Finland)
  Type: Meeting Private Protected Writeable
  Organizer: Rob Harper (CSC)
  Creation date: 88-05-17  Default expiration time:    365
  Number of entries: 958  

  Everyone wants a simplification. If you can tag the culprit then you 
  can put a stop to what he is doing. To all the people who want to point 
  the finger and blame someone for looping messages who do you want to blame? 

  1) the user in the UK who has a dead mailbox.
  2) the friendly mailer that politely returns reject mail.
  3) the listserv programme that does not trap error  messages.
  4) the list owner cos he does not stay awake 24 hours a day 
  monitoring the lists.
  5) the BioSci network for handling the messages in the first place

So what do I hope to achieve by resigning?

  1) I will get some sleep at the weekends.
  2) I can go on holiday without worry.
  3) I might stimulate some open discussion about the restructuring 
     of the BIOSCI network.
  4) I can contribute to the BIOSCI network without worrying about its
     management, or being blamed for its "mismanagement".

  If I do not resign then I feel that things will just continue as they
  have done. Once the crisis is over then everything returns to status
  quo... until the next time. I do not want that. 

  As my trade mark I have always used Rob "insert something here" Harper. 
  The astute amongst you will have realized that I tell how I am
  feeling in between those quotation marks. I usually use lines from songs
  or bits of poetry. For this message I will use a line from Robert Burns.

Regards from the Ex-list owner

Rob "aie aft hand yer storie tell when wae a bosom crony
     but aie keep somethin' tae yersel' yid scarcely tell tae onie" Harper

P.S. Hmmm... this is 138 lines long... perhaps I should have made a BioBit
     out of it:-) 

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