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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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Monthly Archives: December 2004
this posting is based on a response to an email I got asking for advice on a problem on a mail list over what some folks see as “proper” behavior and how to convince others to follow it. The answer is not what I think they were expected, and the more I thought about it, I felt it might make an interesting conversation piece on general issues of “usage standards” and online etiquette issues — and it’s very different than I used to think on these issues, so I wanted to air them more generally and see what folks think…
If you have time, a “sanity check” and answers to a couple of questions on the subject of “included text” would be much appreciated.
Our mailing list etiquette document <http://lists.apple.com/tips.html> does ask that users:
“Edit included messages in replies to minimize the amount of text.”
I suspect that for some reason I happen to be particularly sensitive to failure to abide by this.
The key word here is “ask”. there are two classes of things in the list documentation.
They are suggestions, not requirements, for a reason. What you are essentially trying to do is convince everyone to do things YOUR way. think of any social situation, whether it’s top-quoting in email, or cel-phones in restaurants, or talking in movies, or using your stupid turn signals while driving. Even where there is force of law behind it, you have those that wont do it.
Educating folks won’t completely solve the problem, if it is in fact a problem. Some folks don’t know any better. Others, however, have simply decided they prefer it another way, and why should they change for your benefit? How would you react if they came and asked you to change to meet their preferences?
So down this road lies disappointment, madness, anger and in the case of driving, road rage and sometimes, being shot. And even if you avoid most of that, you STILL won’t really solve the problem, because even if you teach everyone who doesn’t know and convince everyone who disagrees, next week, there’ll be new people showing up that simply start the process over for you. So ultimately, the only thing you’re going to do here is frustrate yourself.
I used to be fairly active in trying to educate the community to the “right” way of doing things — and I’ve finally come to the realization there is no one right way. Generational differences (both age based and “how long you’ve been on the internet” generations), and tool differences (which tools you grew up with, where tools like AOL and Outlook encourage a specific style, and other tools tend to encourage one you’re more compatible with) make this really impossible, since many of those folks aren’t in the “don’t know better” class, but in the “this is how I grew up, why don’t YOU change” part instead. And if you think about it, by sheer numbers, AOL and Outlook would win any vote, no?
Think about it from the point of view of a typical user. I’m not typical, by any means, but I have 400ish people in my address book, and a somewhat larger group of people I communicate with, and 15-20 mailing lists I’m involved with in some form or another. Some lists are set reply-to list, some aren’t. Some users hate if you CC them if you mail the lists, others (like me) prefer that you do it. Some top-reply, others don’t. I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep track of who likes what email which way. Even if I could, the most likely response to having to keep track of all the differences in things people prefer. So — I do things the way I’m comfortable with, because the alternative is, basically, silence. Which I know some people might prefer, but we’ll ignore that.
As way of explaining this, imagine I start sending everyone who emails me a note saying “sorry, you MUST email me in 18 point Helvetica text colored red, or I won’t read it” — those are exceptionally arbitrary values, but so are all of these other things (reply-to, cc’s on list mail, top posting replies, etc). Would you actually remember my demand to do email to me MY way? probably not. Would you actually do it? Of course not (unless I was the only person in the universe with the answer to a question and you were desperate, and then, probably not until earlier emails were ignored or rejected). Is it reasonable for me to expect you to contort like that just to send me email? Hell no. (actually, one person I know actually DOES send me email in that format, but he’s just being pedantic and refuses to acknowledge he can’t tell the entire universe to do email his way, and that’s his response to this argument in a previous existence).
And that’s why I’ve come to believe that trying to push personal preferences out to others is the wrong thing to do. You have your preference. But to the other person, you’re one of 100 or so people on one of half a dozen mail lists, and they all have different preferences and standards, and how is that person supposed to keep it straight?
They can’t. And asking them to is unfair. Telling them they HAVE to is arrogant. Neither works, so all it does is create conflict and stress and really doesn’t solve anything useful. So what I tell people today, basically, is to chill. The internet is a diverse universe, and anything that attempts to regulate or limit that diversity is asking for failure — and will get it.
Doesn’t mean education isn’t important. It’s always good to try to set useful standards and get people information they can use to learn — but so is diversity and tolerance and understanding and moving beyond concepts of “one true way”. So what I try to do, and what I encourage people to do now, is not this kind of educational activism (because it won’t work, and actively pisses off some folks), but instead look at what you can control, which is the incoming data stream.
If you have a specific preferences, then you should use what you DO control: your mailbox, your incoming mail stream, your mail client, your computer (and perhaps mail server) to implement those preferences. Instead of telling everyone to send you email in 18 point red helvetica — teach your server or client to display it that way. Anything that really bugs you, the way to fix it successfully is to fix it on your own machine, not attempt to distribute that requirement out to hundreds or thousands of people who might not agree with you and will probably ignore you. It’s a lot more effective to look for technological solutions you CAN control than social solutions you don’t.
And anything you can’t fix technologically, one of the best pieces of advice I ever gave myself was both simple and tough to actually buy into: “get over it”. Learn to relax and just not worry about stuff you can’t fix; I find my life is a lot happier when I’m not tilting at windmills.
For me, it’s a common courtesy — on a list, at least, I appreciate that some people do have different styles in personal communication — to edit out that which isn’t necessary in a response.
But what if we, say, did a survey and found out most people want it the other way? Would YOU change and do it their way? You’re making a basic assumption here that your way is the “right” way, and therefore, everyone else is wrong. it’s a lot more ambiguous in reality, and even if you ARE “right”, it doesn’t matter. Some will disagree, and they’ll just continue being that splinter under your fingernail.
The main issue is to do with space and efficiency: This calendar year’s [[list]] mailbox is 145MB which
is probably at least twice as large as it need be simply because of those who include 40 lines of quote for a two line reply.
Sorry, I don’t have a lot of support for this any more. Disk is cheap. bandwidth is cheap. it’s just not a REAL issue, it’s a perceived one.
Reading individual messages is slower than it could be simply because of the amount of extra work that Mail has to do. Searching is less efficient. And backing up my system is slower etc.
marginally. I just think you’re rationalizing out what you already believe. it’s no longer a real or persuasive argument
One of the behaviours that irks me most is the inclusion of the personalised list “footer” in replied to the list, e.g.
Do not post admin requests to the list. They will be ignored.
[[list]] mailing list ([[list]])
Help/Unsubscribe/Update your Subscription:
This email sent to [[list]]
Which is one sed script away from not being your problem any further. Just modify your archives to fit your preferences.
I have drawn attention to the etiquette document in occasional postings to the list, and in a few cases of particularly egregious transgression mailed individuals off-list. The problem, however, persists, and even some of those I’ve mailed directly continue to “misbehave”.
well, yeah. what if they don’t agree with you? why should your opinion win? You only speak for yourself, not the list, not even the majority of the list, not even necessarily any significant population of the list. Why is there only ONE way this stuff should be done, anyway?
I have three questions for you:
First, am I simply being over-sensitive? This is an irritant for me, but perhaps no-one else is bothered.
I don’t think you’re being over-sensitive. you are what you are. I will, however, phrase it differently, and note that you’re pretty far out on the edge of the bell curve of responses. There’s someone over on the other edge, too, and if you two ever get into an argument, it won’t be pretty… (grin)
Secondly, in especially bad cases, where a user persists in posting short replies with large volumes of quoted text (and where such inclusion isn’t necessary to maintain context) — here I’m thinking of about a 10+:1 ratio, and including the footer — what is a reasonable response? Excluding someone from the list, even on a temporary basis, does seem excessive.
IMHO, none. unless you are the list admin. so if you want to complain to the admin, that’s fine, but it’s up to the admin to ENFORCE things, and frankly, what you want enforced is admitted upfront to be optional (it’s not a rule, it’s a note of etiquette). So — if it were me, I’d probably tell you to relax and learn to deal with the fact that other people do things differently. Hmm. I just did. oh.
Thirdly, might it be possible at least for quoted footers to be automatically excised?
that’s up to the list admin, but I wouldn’t. there are too many other things that really matter that I’d consider higher priorities.
Frankly, I don ‘t see this as the LIST’s problem, but yours. and solving it by telling everyone else to change, instead of changing your local environment, is a failed policy. 20 years of trying to do this on mailing lists and USENET merely proves this to be true, IMHO. So I’d encourage you to look at what you can do to tailor your environment to your own preferences and learn to love (or ignore) the rest, and not try to change the world to match your ideas of what it ought to be. Down that road lies nothing but frustration and anger, and life’s too short for that.
While blogging has been light, I’ve been spending more time away from the computer and catching up some some reading.
Herewith a few of the highlights…
I’ve struggled to find good SF or Fantasy that I find enjoyable. Fortunately, one of the folks I work with recommended Terry Goodkind, and the suggestion was a good one. So far, I’ve made it through “Wizard’s First Rule (Sword of Truth, Book 1)” (Terry Goodkind) and “Stone of Tears (Sword of Truth, Book 2)” (Terry Goodkind), a total of 1800+ pages of type a bit too tiny for these middle-aged eyes, and I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly, and in fact, bought the next two books in the series for holiday reading (people who remember me from my days writing OtherRealms probably remember I am not a huge fan of series books. I’m not — unless they’re well written….)
The storyline is classic fantasy. a dark evil challenges the world, and the good people (magicians and others) must struggle to overcome it and protect life as they know it. You have your wizards, and your sorcerors, your good youth who is not what he seems, a love story where fate guarantees they cannot live happily ever after (but of course, love conquers all, maybe). Dragons, great battles, death, destruction, evil beasts….
In the hands of a lesser writer, what you’d have is 1800 pages of chaos. In the hands of many writers today, you’d have 1800 pages of bloated, sloppy prose that would be much better with another round of editing and a 10% cut in word count (but in today’s fictional reality, thick books sell well, so there’s little incentive to make the book better through good editing, something that’s really hurt authors like Scott Card and George R.R. Martin, IMHO).
Each book stands alone, telling its own story within the larger story arc of the series. I found myself pulled in to each volume, sometimes reading late into the night. The characters are strong and multi-dimensional, not convenient puppets, and all have both positive and negative aspects that keep them from being stereotypes. And unlike many series, you don’t hit the end of the book feeling like it was an unresolved stopping point; each of the first two books is a proper ending, even though the larger story arc is clearly to continue.
Goodkind reminds me very much of an early Ray Feist — not afraid to challenge the reader, but not looking to show off with excessive complexity or storylines that defy your ability to keep track of what’s going on. it’s good entertainment AND good writing, unfortunately a rare combination these days. And it’s a series I’m looking forward to crawl back into….
Also on the fiction side, I’ve finally caught up with Steven Brust again, having finally finished off the Viscount of Adrilankha series (“The Paths of the Dead (The Viscount of Adrilankha, Book 1)” (Steven Brust), “The Lord of Castle Black (The Viscount of Adrilankha, Book 2)” (Steven Brust), and “Sethra Lavode (V of A)” (Steven Brust)). This series is Brust honoring a favorite writer of his, Alexander Dumas, and it’s written in the style and language of Dumas (in all it’s flowery glory). This is both the series greatest strength and it’s biggest weakness — the books are amazingly hard to read to this modern-day reader, who sometimes found his eyes turning sideways trying to keep track of what was going on, especially after a long day at work (So you say? Yes, I shall say it!). It ties into the larger universe Brust plays in, and tells the story of the end of the Interregnum and the return of the Orb to the realm of man, and the fight for control of the Orb and the throne.
If you’ve never read Steven Brust, this probably isn’t a good place to start. it’s well-written, but not necessarily easy reading, and assumes some familiarity with Brust’s universe (if you’re interested, I recommend starting with this: “The Book of Jhereg: Contains the Complete Text of Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla (Vlad Taltos)” (Steven Brust)). But with that one restriction, it’s a series I recommend highly. It’s not, though, a series I’d want to read if I was going to be interrupted or unable to concentrate on it (it’s a series for next to the fire, not for the subway…)
Also in the catching-up-with category is another favorite author, Greg Bear. I loved “Darwin’s Radio : In the next stage of evolution, humans are history…” (GREG BEAR) and the premise that our genes would evolve us into newer, more advanced forms. If you could buy into that, the storyline of fear and hatred in society is scary and gripping. The sequel, “Darwin’s Children” (GREG BEAR), however, wasn’t as successful for me. Carrying the story forward, I found it interesting, but as a sequel, didn’t stand up to the original work. the relationships seemed more awkward, the storyline forced. Here is a series where I think what really needed to be said was said in book 1 — and book 2 didn’t really add to the conversation between author and reader, it just added to the word count. While it’s not a bad book, Darwin’s Children just didn’t click with me the way Darwin’s Radio did. Read the first book, borrow the second from a friend who bought it.
Off into non-fiction land, one of the books I took with me to victoria was “Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead the People Who Deliver Technology” (Paul Glen, David H. Maister, Warren G. Bennis) — which I found terribly disappointing. As a geek, it mostly failed the “well, duh!” test with me. I suppose if you just fell off a desert island and got hired to run a group of geeks, it might help you avoid insanity — but it really read like “how to manage programmers 101 for people who think everyone ought to be interchangeable assembly line workers without having them laugh at you and quit” — and I expect the people most likely to need a book like this are unlikely to think they do.
And as usual, I’ve been off playing in military history and naval warfare…
Starting with “Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of : American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II” (JOHN PRADOS) — An interesting evaluation of the intelligence services on both sides of the Pacific war, and how both sides benefitted and were hurt by what they knew and what they didn’t. While the intelligence operations of the US are farily well-known by now, the japanese intelligence organizations and how their navy used them (or didn’t) hasn’t been extensively studied, and this book opens the door to that side of the conflict. What I found most interesting was the look at the politics and personalities of intelligence, with the infighting and turfing that seems to happen among the various organizations. it’s a case, I think, where history can show us things we should strive to avoid, an important lesson today in a time where after 9/11 we saw similar problems between the FBI and CIA, and where we’re still seeing the government try to figure out how to resolve them…
“Battle Ready” (Tom Clancy, Tony Zinni, Tony Koltz), is another book from the Tom Clancy factory, and is primarily an interview (told, intermittently and somewhat chaotically, in both first person and third person for no reason i can figure out) with Retired General Tony Zinni. Zinni was on the ground in Iraq, involved in the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan, Somalia, a former Commandant of the Marines, and carried on a 40 year career that started as an advisor in Vietnam (where he sustained serious injuries). Zinni also has strong opinions on many things, some of which got him in deep trouble with the Bush administration, and in this book, he’s not afraid to share them with you. It’s a fascinating read — his view of the reality of Vietnam is fascinating and likely to change your view of that war. After his involvement with Arafat and Israel, he came away with strong beliefs on why that process has failed, and during his time in the MIddle East, he pushed hard to prepare the military for the need to support the occupation after the war in Iraq was won — and was roundly ignored by the administration and his military peers. As we can see today, there are likely some people who wish they’d paid more attention. An interesting book that’s critical of many people (Clinton as well as Bush), likely to piss off both sides of the political spectrum, but a fascinating look into a number of areas of America’s foreign policy that have been relegated to five-paragraph explanations by the American media, simplifying them to the point of not explaining what’s really going on. Zinni does, and whether you agree with his opinons or not, he’ll give you the background and data that nobody else seems to be making easily available….
“Big Red: The Three-Month Voyage of a Trident Nuclear Submarine” (Douglas C. Waller) — ever wonder what it’s like to serve on a submarine? Times have changed since the days of the U-boats (so wonderfully described in the movie “Das Boot) — but it’s still no luxury cruise. Author Waller was given full access to the USS Nebraska, going on cruise with them and living with the crew. The Nebraska is one of the subs designed to act as a deterrent — it carries nuclear missles, and it’s primary purpose is to not be found (and sunk). it’s a fascinating look at the committment and sacrifices our military (and their spouses) make to protect us, as well as how the sub operates. An interesting perspective into the military life, and an area of the Navy that to date hasn’t been dicussed much.
If you’re curious about military (and naval) history, a good introductory piece on World War II is “War at Sea: A Naval History of World War II” (Nathan Miller) — it would make a good first book to explore this area of our past. I doesn’t go into excessive detail or get bogged down in analysis, making it accessible but still interesting and educational. For those of you (like me) who hated history classes in school, this might be a good first book if you’re curious about WW II, because frankly, history is fascinating — it’s how it’s taught that made us hate it. Make a good christmas gift for someone you know who’s curious about the past but not sure how to get started.
Finally, I happened to run into this book by accident: “Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II” (Robert Kurson) is the story of a group of wreck divers, scuba divers who explore shipwrecks. One of my programmers has recently gotten into scuba, and I’m interested in WW II Naval history and submarines, so a book on both scuba and a lost U-boat off the New Jersey Coast seemed a natural. It was — well written, it’s an account of a group of divers who discover a previously unknown sunken submarine and their search for its identification, and the changes in their lives that this search (an obsession, and not always a healthy one) caused. An interesting read on any number of levels — a non-fiction book that reads like a good thriller, it ought to be a must-read both for submarine geeks and for scuba geeks.