Direct Mail Responses

Joe Smith jes at
Thu Aug 2 20:55:01 EST 1990

Having flamed in public to my own embarrassment more times than I care
to admit, and having been burned by 'stupid' fences built into the
software, I preface this message by saying 'I understand where you're
coming from'.

That said, it seems you have some (all too common) misconceptions on
several points.

> The filthy UN*X software wouldn't take my article BECAUSE I DIDN'T

I believe this is a (perhaps misbegotten) attempt to enforce a point
of net-etiquette: namely, it is considered bad form to post a followup
article which contains only the quoted article plus a few lines of
added comments - which is exactly what you were about to do.  If you
think about it, this is a reasonable policy.  Whether or not the news
software should enforce it in this way, apparently without explaining
the reason behind the limitation is another story.

Include enough of the message, quoted appropriately, to make it clear
what your comments are referring to, but *no more*.  In some cases,
you may need to paraphrase the gist of the previous article.
Remember, readers of your article can usually go back and retrieve the
entire article if necessary.

If you get the standard USENET groups, subscribe to the
'news.announce.newusers' group.  There is a wealth of information
there for novice netters.

> ...BUT NO, because the amount of new
> material I added did not exceed the amount of material I quoted, IT
> ...
> really, if I am to be allowed to post this at all, I have to use lots
> and lots of words.

If the included text is longer than your comments, you need to ask
yourself 'is my comment really worth posting to the world?'.  If it
is, then maybe you need to reduce the quoted part.  The intent is to
*reduce* the amount of 'noise' on the newsgroups, not increase it!

> The filthy UN*X software...

Rn, that 'filthy' software which finally did post your message, after
trying vainly to keep you from embarrassing yourself :-), is not 'Unix
software'.  It was written (primarily) by Larry Wall at the JPL who,
out of a spirit of community, developed it and gave it to your site
for the asking.  If you had any idea of how complex a beast it is, and
the work that went into it; or how much Baylor would have had to pay
if AT&T had written it, I'm sure you wouldn't think so little of it.

You must understand that a lot of the 'Unix software' owes a great
deal to such unpaid efforts.  There hasn't been enough of a market for
any company to sink a great deal of money into.  I wouldn't be at all
surprised if Microsoft has spent more developing MS-WORD or OS/2 than
AT&T has spent on Unix in all of it's 20+ years.  Most of these people
have 'real' work to do (unlike us :-)) and the last thing on the list
is to 'idiot-proof' it.  This is changing rapidly, fortunately for all
of us.

> Semi-seriously, those of you who wonder why biologists stay away from
> computers, consider this: If my scintillation counter, or
> spectrophotometer, or whatever ever did something like this to me, I
> would send it right back to Beckman.  And I _like_ computers.

Have you ever returned an instrument because *you* didn't know how to
use it?  Unix really ought to better, but consider this - it takes a
significant amount of effort to learn to use those instruments
effectively (I mean other than just rote button-pushing).  Yet I've
seen so many 'biologists' sit down and expect to carry out a complex
task on the computer *without so much as cracking a book*.  Yes, it
shouldn't be any harder than it needs to be, but most people have very
unrealistic expectations about using a computer.

> If I ever catch the SOB's from Bell Labs who invented UN*X, I will dry
> their hair with my microwave. ...

That's odd, I believe the computer science community awarded Ken
Thompson their highest honor for just that accomplishment.  In spite
of it's geeky, unfriendly appearance, Unix has contributed
tremendously toward making computers really useful, and will continue
to do so.  Unix has plenty of room to grow.

Think about it - if we were all using Macs, there wouldn't be a
newsgroup to soak up all this excess time we have on our hands!
Maybe that wouldn't be so bad... :-)

 Joe Smith
 University of Pennsylvania                    jes at
 Dept. of Biochemistry and Biophysics          (215) 898-8348
 Philadelphia, PA 19104-6059

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