Still free will (at my peril)

Una Smith una at
Fri Sep 3 12:39:14 EST 1993

mark_hov at (Mark Hovenden):

>[...] it is highly likely that Mgr. Kruk does have access to the
>net, but if this is not the case then I ask that Mgr. Kruk be
>allowed access to the net once again [...]  I myself believe that
>there may be just a few problems with the net and no actual
>conspiracy involved.

What is this "net"?

The Internet is a physical network of networks sharing certain protocols.

Usenet is a convention, an information delivery protocol.  Usenet has no
physical identity.  Many (if not most) computer sites that carry Usenet
newsgroups are *not* on the Internet, but receive e-mail from the Internet
via a gateway.  Usenet articles are distributed from one computer to another
over many networks via many protocols, including standard e-mail.  Many 
Usenet sites are on the UUCP network, which means they call one another via
modem a few times each day and transfer any accumulated articles.  UUCP is
a store-and-forward logical (not physical) network, and it predates the
Internet (which is physical) by more than a decade.

Note that the usage is "the Internet" but just "Usenet" or "UUCP" (no "the").

What is bionet.*?  What is BIOSCI?

The bionet.* newsgroups are Usenet newsgroups that have additional e-mail
distribution points (gateways and mailing lists) for the personal
convenience of individual e-mail subscribers.  This additional service
is provided at two computer sites which are known collectively as BIOSCI,
and paid for by an NSF grant in the US and other sources in the UK.  There
is no owner or moderator, but there are many thousands of people who serve
as Usenet administrators at their sites, keeping the software running well
(they are often the same people who are responsible for the hardware at
their sites too, but this has nothing to do with Usenet) and helping users
learn to use their Usenet readers.

The people who maintain the mailing lists at BIOSCI provide a number of real
and useful services to all participants in the bionet.* newsgroups, and they
have earned themselves a degree of authority that corresponds to their
responsibilities.  However, the BIOSCI folks are not responsible for any
"network" (Tony's phrase) beyond their local sites.  They are not "in charge".  

How does it work, if no one is in charge?

In the past few months there have been various severe problems with both
hardware and software at the two BIOSCI sites (which are and  The BIOSCI folks should be complimented on their quick
detection of these problems, and their diligent and calm efforts to remedy
the problems even as many bionet.* participants have loudly complained
about the (minor) inconvenience to themselves. 

Because many bionet.* participants are e-mail subscribers, and thus dependent
on and, these problems have affected them greatly.
The malfunction of a single Usenet site generally has an insignificant and
only local effect, unless that site has the responsibility of passing Usenet
articles to many other sites who rely entirely on that site for their "feed".
The BIOSCI folks have a much heavier responsibility than the rest of us who
participate, but we *all* contribute to the maintenance and growth of the
bionet.* newsgroups.

We do this by treating newcomers with courtesy and tact, and by being helpful
in answering FAQs.  We do this by making constructive contributions to the
ongoing discussions, or taking the time to start new ones.  We do this by
determining the most likely source of any problems we experience, before we
complain.  We do this by sending e-mail to biosci at or biosci@ when we detect a problem (such as bouncing mail from an 
e-mail subscriber, or duplicated or inappropriate posts), rather than posting
a complaint about the problem to a bionet.* newsgroup.

What about this "conspiracy" theory?

G. Kruk's access to the Internet is provided by his local computer facility.
As he can send e-mail, he clearly has no difficulty accessing Internet.

As there are many public, automated access points to Usenet, both via
Usenet reading mechanisms *and* e-mail, he has no difficulty posting
or reading Usenet newsgroups.  However, he does need to have a good idea
of how Usenet works, since it is still very much a do-it-yourself affair.

No one except his local computer administrator has the power to remove
G. Kruk's access to the Internet and/or Usenet.  G. Kruk is in any case
free to seek access via another access provider.

There is no "invisible hand" or "shadow government" in the Internet or
Usenet.  There are no "powers that be", only powers that *do*.

Hope this helps!


      Una Smith      Department of Biology       smith-una at
                     Yale University
                     New Haven, CT  06511

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