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archive:internet:usenet
                How to Use USENET Effectively
                         Matt Bishop
      Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science
                       Mail Stop 230-5
                  NASA Ames Research Center
                  Moffett Field, CA  94035

1. Introduction

   USENET  is  a  worldwide  bulletin  board  system  in  which

thousands of computers pass articles back and forth. Of necessi- ty, customs have sprung up enabling very diverse people and groups to communicate peaceably and effectively using USENET. These customs are for the most part written, but are scattered over several documents that can be difficult to find; in any case, even if a new user can find all the documents, he most likely will have neither the time nor the inclination to read them all. This document is intended to collect all these conven- tions into one place, thereby making it easy for new users to learn about the world of USENET. (Old-timers, too, will benefit from reading this.)

   You should read this document and understand  it  thoroughly

before you even think about posting anything. If you have ques- tions, please ask your USENET administrator (who can usually be reached by sending mail to usenet) or a more knowledgeable USENET user. Believe me, you will save yourself a lot of grief.

   The mechanics of posting an article to USENET are  explained

in Mark Horton's excellent paper How to Read the Network News; if you have not read that yet, stop here and do so. A lot of what follows depends on your knowing (at least vaguely) the mechanics of posting news.

   Before we discuss these customs, we ought  to  look  at  the

history of USENET, what it is today, and why we need these con- ventions.

2. All About USENET

   USENET began on a  set  of  computers  in  North  Carolina's

Research Triangle. The programs involved (known as "netnews" then, and "A news" now) exchanged messages; it was a small, multi-computer bulletin board system. As time passed, adminis- trators of other systems began to connect their computers to this bulletin board system. The network grew. Then, at Berkeley, the

How to Use USENET Effectively 1

How to Use USENET Effectively 2

news programs were rewritten (this version became known as "B news") and the format changed to conform to ARPA standards (again, this became the "B protocol for news".*) This version of news was very widely distributed, and at this point USENET began to take on its current shape.

   USENET is a logical network (as opposed to a  physical  net-

work.) It is also a very amorphous network, in that there is no central administration or controlling site. There is not even an official list of members, although there is a very complete unof- ficial one. A site gets access to USENET by finding some other site already on USENET that it can connect to and exchange news articles. So long as this second site (called a neighbor of the first site) remains willing and able to pass articles to and from the first site, the first site is on USENET. A site leaves the USENET only when no one is willing or able to pass articles to, or accept articles from, it.

   As a result, USENET has no equivalent of a "sysop"  or  cen-

tral authority controlling the bulletin board. What little con- trol is exercised is wielded by the person at each site who is responsible for maintaining the USENET connections (this person is called the "USENET administrator.") Because most USENET ad- ministrators are (relatively) new to USENET, and because adminis- tering USENET locally involves a great deal of work, most USENET administrators tend to follow the lead of other, more experi- enced, administrators (often known somewhat irreverently as "net gurus.") This is not an abdication of responsibility, but a means of keeping the amount of work little enough so it can be done without interfering with the local USENET administrator's job. An example of this is the list of currently active newsgroups circulated every month or so. It is not "official" - no one has that authority - but as the maintainer is doing the work that every other USENET administrator would have to do otherwise, it is accepted as a valid list. If the maintainer changes the list in a way another USENET administrator finds unacceptable, that administrator can simply ignore the list. (Incidentally, the "net gurus" became known as such because of the work they have contributed to USENET. Their experience is a valuable resource for each USENET administrator.)

   Because the USENET has grown so wildly, a number of problems

have appeared. One of these problems is technical, and a number of the conventions this document describes spring from attempts to keep this problem under control.

   The technical problem arises due to the transport  mechanism

used by most USENET sites. Most computers on USENET do not have access to large-area networks like ARPANET. As a result the only

* See Standard for Interchange of USENET Messages for a description of the two formats. News Version B 2.11 October 19, 1986 How to Use USENET Effectively 3 viable transport mechanism these sites can use is a set of pro- grams collectively known as UUCP and which communicate over dial- up telephone lines. Initially, news programs generated one UUCP command per article. With the explosion of the USENET, the number of articles simply swamped many sites; phone lines would be tied up all day transmitting news, and many articles would be processed at the same time, slowing down the computers notice- ably. The solution was to batch messages. This way, many articles are sent via UUCP with one command, and the command on the re- ceiving machine would split the file into separate articles, which could then be processed individually. While this increased the size of the files being sent, it cut down on the number of UUCP commands sent, and since sending a command involves quite a bit of overhead, this decreased the duration of phone calls, and to a lesser degree the load on the computer. At some sites, such as Purdue, this was not quite enough, so a simple spooler was im- plemented to process the individual articles one at a time. This reduced the system load to a very acceptable amount. However, the problem has not gone away by any means. In one sense it has become worse; as more articles are posted to the network, phone costs and system loads averages increase, and sys- tem administrators require USENET administrators to cut back or eliminate newsgroups and to transmit news only at night (which means long propagation delays). In short, everyone who has any- thing to do with administering any USENET site is very concerned about the future of USENET, both in general and at his own site. Many of the rules you will read address this concern. The fear that USENET may collapse is not a bogeyman, but very real. We hope it will not collapse, and the rules below outline some ways to prevent problems and increase the likelihood that enough sites will remain on USENET to keep it alive. There is no cen- tral authority that can force you to follow them, but by doing so you will help keep USENET a valuable resource to the computer community. 3. Deciding to Post Before you decide to post an article, you should consider a few things. 3.1. Do not repeat postings This applies even if you did not post the information the first time around. If you know the answer to a question someone asked, first read the follow-ups, and if you have something more to contribute, mail it to the questioner; if you think it should be seen by others, ask the questioner to summarize the answers he receives in a subsequent article. One of the biggest problems on USENET is that many copies of the same answer to a simple ques- tion are posted. News Version B 2.11 October 19, 1986 How to Use USENET Effectively 4 If you want to repost something because you believe it did not get to other USENET sites due to transmission problems (this happens sometimes, but a lot less often than commonly believed), do some checking before you repost. If you have a friend at another USENET site, call him and ask if the article made it to his site. Ask your USENET administrator if he knows of any prob- lems in the USENET; there are special newsgroups to which USENET administrators subscribe in which problems are reported, or he can contact his counterparts at other sites for information. Fi- nally, if you decide you must repost it, indicate in the article subject that it is a reposting, and say why you are reposting it (if you don't, you'll undoubtedly get some very nasty mail.) Reposting announcements of products or services is flatly forbidden. Doing so may convince other sites to turn off your USENET access. When school starts, hoards of new users descend upon the USENET asking questions. Many of these questions have been asked, and answered, literally thousands of times since USENET began. The most common of these questions, and their answers, have been collected in the hope that the new users will read them and not re-post the same questions. So, if you want to ask a question, check Appendix A (Answers to Frequently Asked Ques- tions) to be sure it isn't one that has been asked and answered literally hundreds of times before you started reading the USENET. 3.2. Do not post anything when upset, angry, or intoxicated Posting an article is a lot like driving a car - you have to be in control of yourself. Postings which begin "Jane, you ig- norant slut, …" are very definitely considered in poor taste*. Unfortunately, they are also far too common. The psychology of this is interesting. One popular belief is that since we interact with USENET via computers, we all often forget that a computer did not do the posting; a human did. A contributing factor is that you don't have to look the target of abuse in the eye when you post an abusive message; eye-to-eye contact has an amazing effect on inhibiting obnoxious behavior. As a result, discussions on the USENET often degenerate into a catfight far more readily than would a face-to-face discussion. Before you post an article, think a minute; decide whether or not you are upset, angry, or high. If you are, wait until you calm down (or come down) before deciding to post something. Then think about whether or not you really want to post it. You will be amazed what waiting a day or even a few hours can do for your perspective. * Unless you are critiquing Saturday Night Live.

News Version B 2.11 October 19, 1986

How to Use USENET Effectively 5

   Bear in mind that shouting hasn't convinced anyone  of  any-

thing since the days of Charlemagne, and being abusive makes peo- ple hold even more tenaciously to their ideas or opinions. Gen- tleness, courtesy, and eloquence are far more persuasive; not only do they indicate you have enough confidence in your words to allow them to speak for you, but also they indicate a respect for your audience. This in turn makes it easier for your audience to like or respect you - and people tend to be far more interested in, and receptive to, arguments advanced by those they like or respect than by writers who are abusive. Finally, remember that some discussions or situations simply cannot be resolved. Be- cause people are different, agreed-upon facts often lead to wild- ly different feelings and conclusions. These differences are what makes life so wonderful; were we all alike, the world would be a very boring place. So, don't get frantic; relax and enjoy the discussion. Who knows, you might even learn something!

3.3. Be sure your posting is appropriate to USENET

   Some things are inappropriate to post to USENET.  Discussing

whether or not some other discussion is appropriate, or if it is in the right newsgroup, is an example. Invariably, the "meta- discussion" generates so many articles that the discussion is simply overwhelmed and vanishes; but the meta-discussion lingers on for several weeks, driving most of the readers of that news- group out of their collective minds. Help preserve the sanity of your fellow USENET readers by mailing such comments to the people involved, rather than posting them.

   Another example of inappropriate postings  is  the  infamous

"spelling flame." Every few months someone takes another poster to task for poor spelling or grammar. Soon, everyone jumps on the bandwagon, tearing apart one another's postings for such er- rors. To put it mildly, this angers almost everyone involved for no real reason. Please remember that we all make mistakes, and there are a lot of people for whom English is a second language. So, try to keep your spelling and grammar comments to yourself - but if you find you simply cannot, mail them to the poster rather than posting them.

   Far more insidious are requests similar to "How can I splice

into the local cable TV transmission line?" Posting to USENET is akin to publishing, so don't ask for or post instructions on how to do something illegal. And please don't quote the First Amend- ment, or the laws allowing freedom of speech in your country; while the posting programs will not stop you, the aftermath could be very unpleasant - lawsuits and court trials usually are, and the USENET would certainly collapse as sites dropped from it to protect themselves from legal liability. You wouldn't want that on your conscience, would you? Of course not.

   Related to this is the next rule.

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How to Use USENET Effectively 6

3.4. Do not post other people's work without permission

   Posting something to USENET puts it in the public domain for

all practical purposes. So, be careful about posting things like UNIX*-related material (specifically source code) or company do- cuments; consider licensing and nondisclosure agreements first. Some people regard the posting of "diffs" based on licensed code to be a suitable compromise, as they are only useful to those who have the base code already.

   Copyrighted works  are  a  separate  problem.   Both  United

States and international law provide protection for copyrighted works; other than short extracts for purposes of criticism, you cannot copy a copyrighted work in whole or in part without per- mission of the copyright holder (who may, or may not, be the au- thor.) Without this protection, artists could not make any money and hence would have limited incentive to make the fruits of their art available at all. Posting a copyrighted work without permission is theft, even though the property stolen is not tan- gible in most cases. Hence, posting movie and book reviews, song lyrics, or anything else which is copyrighted without the permis- sion of the copyright holder, could cause you personally, your company, or the USENET itself to be held liable for damages. Please be very careful that you obey the law when posting such material!

3.5. Don't forget that opinions are those of the poster and not his employer.

   Every so often, someone will post a particularly  disgusting

article, and a number of responses will ask if all employees of the original poster's company share his (revolting) opinion, or suggest that action be taken against that company. Please remember that all opinions or statements in articles are to be attributed to the poster only, and in particular, do not neces- sarily represent the opinions of the poster's employer, the owner of the computer on which the article originated, or anyone in- volved with any aspect of USENET - and consequently the responsi- bility for any USENET message rests with the poster and with no one else. The appropriate response is not to attack the company or its other employees; let the poster know what you think of his posting via mail. If the postings continue, take advantage of the news software's presenting you with the author's name and the subject line and then asking if you want to see the article; start looking for the poster's name or the offensive subject in the articles presented to you and skip them. If you really get offended, you can unsubscribe from a newsgroup.

   Part of the price of freedom  is  allowing  others  to  make

fools of themselves. You wouldn't like to be censored, so don't advocate censorship of others. No one is forcing you to read the

__ *UNIX is a registered trademark of AT&T.

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How to Use USENET Effectively 7

postings.

   In some countries, posting or receiving certain types of ar-

ticles may be a criminal offense. As a result, certain news- groups which circulate freely within the United States may not be circulated in other nations without risking civil or criminal li- abilities. In this case, the appropriate action for sites in that country is neither to accept nor to transmit the newsgroup. No site is ever forced to accept or pass on any newsgroup.

4. Where to Post

   The various newsgroups and distributions have various  rules

associated with their use. This section will describe these rules and offer suggestions on which newsgroups to post your mes- sage.

4.1. Keep the distribution as limited as possible

   A basic principle of posting is to keep the distribution  of

your article as limited as possible. Like our modern society, USENET is suffering from both an information glut and information pollution. It is widely believed that the USENET will cease to function unless we are able to cut down the quantity of articles. One step in this direction is not to post something to places where it will be worthless. For example, if you live in Hacken- sack, New Jersey, the probability of anyone in Korea wanting to buy your 1972 Toyota is about as close to zero as you can get. So confine your posting to the New Jersey area.

   To do this, you can either post to a local group, or post to

a net-wide group and use the distribution feature to limit how widely your article will go. When you give your posting program (usually postnews(1)) a distribution, you are (in essence) saying that machines which do not recognize that distribution should not get the article. (Think of it as a subgroup based on locality and you'll get the idea.) For example, if you are posting in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you post your article to rec.auto but give ba as the distribution, the article will not be sent beyond the San Francisco Bay Area (to which the ba distribution is lo- cal) even though you put it in a net-wide newsgroup. Had you given the distribution as ca (the California distribution), your article would have been sent to all Californian sites on USENET. Had you given the distribution as world, your article would have been sent to all sites on USENET.

4.2. Do not post the same article twice to different groups

   If you have an article that you want to post  to  more  than

one group, post to both at the same time. Newer versions of the news software will show an article only once regardless of how many newsgroups it appears in. But if you post it once to each different group, all versions of news software will show it once for each newsgroup. This angers a lot of people and wastes

News Version B 2.11 October 19, 1986

How to Use USENET Effectively 8

everybody's time.

4.3. Do not post to moderated newsgroups.

   You may not post directly to certain newsgroups; you  cannot

post to some at all. Newer versions of the news software will inform you when either of these restrictions apply, but older versions of news software will not.

   If you want to have the  appropriate  moderator  post  some-

thing, mail it to the moderator. (If you do not know the ad- dress, ask your USENET administrator. In some cases, the software will automatically mail, rather than post, your article to the moderator.)

4.4. Ask someone if you can't figure out where to post your ar- ticle

   If you cannot figure out where to post  something,  look  in

news.announce.newusers for the list of active newsgroups. (This is posted biweekly. If you can't find it, look at the list in How to Read the Network News; but be aware that list is undoubt- edly out of date already.) If your article does not seem to fit in any of the listed groups, post it to misc.misc or don't post it.

   If you still are not sure which newsgroup to post your arti-

cle to, ask an old-timer. If your site doesn't have any old- timers (or none of the old-timers will admit to being old- timers), contact any of the following people:

   Gene Spafford (spaf@gatech.CSNET, spaf@gatech.UUCP)
   Mark Horton (mark@cbosgd.UUCP)
   Rick Adams (rick@seismo.CSS.GOV, rick@seismo.UUCP)
   Chuq Von Rospach (chuq@sun.UUCP)
   Matt Bishop (mab@riacs.ARPA, mab@riacs.UUCP)

We will be happy to help you. But, please, do not post the arti- cle to the net before you ask us!

4.5. Be sure there is a consensus before creating a new news- group

   Creating a new newsgroup is, in general, a  very  bad  idea.

Currently, there are so many articles being posted that the USENET is in danger of collapse as site after site decides to cease to accept and retransmit certain newsgroups. Moreover, there is no established procedure for deleting a newsgroup, so once created, newsgroups tend to stay around. They also tend to encourage people to think up new newsgroups, and the cycle re- peats. Try to avoid thinking up new newsgroups.

   If, however, you believe a new group should be  created,  be

sure you have a consensus that the group is needed (either a

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How to Use USENET Effectively 9

mailing list has enough traffic and readers to justify turning it into a newsgroup, or a discussion in a current newsgroup becomes so large for a period of time long enough to warrant splitting it into a newsgroup.) Then post an article to news.group as well as any other groups related to your proposed new group, and discuss the topics you are proposing be covered in your new group, what it should be called, whether it is really needed, and so forth. Try to resolve all objections, and take into account all sugges- tions and comments; finally, have everyone mail you a "yes" or "no" vote on whether the group should be created. Try to get at least 40 or 50 "yes" votes before creating the group; if you want to be safe, get around 100.

4.6. Watch out for newsgroups which have special rules about posting

   Some newsgroups have special rules.  This section summarizes

them.

rec.arts.books Do not post anything revealing a plot or a

                  plot twist without putting the word "spoiler"
                  somewhere in the "Subject" field.  This  will
                  let  those who do not wish to have a surprise
                  spoiled skip the article.

rec.humor If you want to post an offensive joke (this

                  includes  racial, religious, sexual, and sca-
                  tological humor, among  other  kinds)  rotate
                  it.   (If  you  do  not know what this means,
                  look in the section Writing Your Posting.)

rec.arts.movies Do not post anything revealing a plot or a

                  plot twist without putting the word "spoiler"
                  in the "Subject" field.  This will let  those
                  who  do  not  wish to have a surprise spoiled
                  skip the article.

news.group Discussions about whether or not to create

                  new  groups,  and what to name them, go here.
                  Please mail your votes to the proposer; don't
                  post them.

comp.sources Source code postings go here. Discussions

                  are not allowed.  Do not post bug fixes here.

comp.sources.bugs Bug reports and bug fixes to sources posted

                  in comp.sources go here.

comp.sources.wanted Requests for sources go here.

misc.test Use the smallest distribution possible. In

                  the  body  of  the  message, say what you are
                  testing.

News Version B 2.11 October 19, 1986

How to Use USENET Effectively 10

misc.wanted Requests for things other than source code go

                  here.   Please  use the smallest distribution
                  possible.  Post offers here, too.

5. Writing the Article

   Here are some suggestions to help you communicate effective-

ly with others on the USENET. Perhaps the best advice is not to be afraid to consult a book on writing style; two of the best are How to Write for the World of Work by Cunningham and Pearsall, and Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

5.1. Write for your audience

   USENET is an international network, and any article you post

will be very widely read. Even more importantly, your future em- ployers may be among the readers! So, try to make a good impres- sion.

   A basic principle  of  all  writing  is  to  write  at  your

readers' reading level. It is better to go below than above. Aiming where "their heads ought to be" may be fine if you are a college professor (and a lot of us would dispute even that), but it is guaranteed to cause people to ignore your article. Studies have shown that the average American reads at the fifth grade level and the average professional reads at the twelfth grade level.

5.2. Be clear and concise

   Remember that you are writing for a very busy audience; your

readers will not puzzle over your article. So be very clear and very concise. Be precise as well; choose the least ambiguous word you can, taking into account the context in which you are using the word. Split your posting into sections and paragraphs as appropriate. Use a descriptive title in the "Subject" field, and be sure that the title is related to the body of the article. If the title is not related, feel free to change it to a title that is.

5.3. Proofread your article

   This is a matter of courtesy; since you want others to  read

your article, the least you can do is check that it says what you mean in a clear, concise manner. Check for typographical errors, silly grammar errors, and misspellings; if you have a spelling checking program, use it. Also be sure the article is easy to read. Use white space - blanks, tabs, and newlines - and both upper and lower case letters. Do not omit the definite and inde- finite articles, either; not only do "a", "an", and "the" make a posting much easier to read, their omission can make a posting ambiguous.

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How to Use USENET Effectively 11

5.4. Be extra careful with announcements of products or services

   When writing a product or service announcement, bear in mind

that others will be paying most of the telephone bills. So, if you are announcing several things, combine all the announcements into one article. Mark the posting as a product or service an- nouncement in the title in the "Subject" field. Advertising hy- perbole is not appropriate here; remember that your audience is to a large degree technically literate, and your product will stand or fall on its technical merits. Be aware that posting ob- noxious or inappropriate advertisements is very serious and if you do it, you may find your neighbors yanking your USENET ac- cess.

5.5. Indicate sarcasm and humor

   Remember that people cannot see  you  when  they  read  your

posting; hence, all the subtle nuances of body and facial motion are hidden. It can be quite difficult to tell when you are being sarcastic or humorous. To deal with this problem, the USENET readers and posters have developed a special sign. Mark passages you intend to be taken as humorous with the "smiley face", while looks like this: ":-)". (Think of a head facing you lying on its right side and look again if you don't understand why that symbol was chosen.) As for sarcasm, there is no universal symbol for that (unless the sarcasm is meant humorously, in which case use the smiley face again.) But mark your passage so everyone will realize you are being sarcastic.

5.6. Mark postings which spoil surprises

   High on the list of obnoxious messages are those that  spoil

the plot of a book or movie by giving away an unexpected detail. If you post such an article, please put the word "spoiler" in the "Subject" field of your posting, so people who do not wish to have a surprise ruined can skip the article.

5.7. Rotate offensive postings

   If you feel you must post a message that may offend  people,

you can take steps to be sure the message will only be read by those who explicitly ask for it to be shown to them. The USENET convention is to encrypt these messages by shifting each letter 13 characters, so that (for example) "a" becomes "n". (In more precise terms, this is a Caesar cipher of shift 13; on the USENET, it is called rot13.) When you do this, put the word "rot13" in the "Subject" field. The news reader you are using almost certainly has a command to encrypt and decrypt such mes- sages; if not, use the UNIX command

                   tr a-zA-Z n-za-mN-ZA-M

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How to Use USENET Effectively 12

5.8. The shorter your signature, the better

   Keep signatures concise; 2 or 3 lines  are  usually  plenty.

Include your name and addresses on any major networks (such as ARPANET, BITNET, or CSNET). This helps people contact you quick- ly and easily, usually more so than by following the return path of the article. Do not include pictures, graphics or clever quo- tations that make the signature longer; this is not the appropri- ate place for them, and many sites resent paying the phone bills for such signatures.

6. Conclusion and Summary

   Here is a list of the rules given above:
   => Deciding to post
        + Do not repeat postings
        + Do not post anything when upset, angry, or intoxicat-
          ed
        + Be sure your posting is appropriate to USENET
        + Do not post other people's work without permission
        + Don't forget that opinions are those  of  the  poster
          and not his company
   => Where to Post
        + Keep the distribution as limited as possible
        + Do not post  the  same  article  twice  to  different
          groups
        + Do not post to news.announce newsgroups
        + Ask someone if you can't figure  out  where  to  post
          your article
        + Be sure there is a consensus before  creating  a  new
          newsgroup
        + Watch out for newsgroups  which  have  special  rules
          about posting
   => Writing the Article
        + Write for your audience
        + Be clear and concise

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How to Use USENET Effectively 13

        + Proofread your article
        + Be extra careful with announcements  of  products  or
          services
        + Indicate sarcasm and humor
        + Mark postings which spoil surprises
        + Rotate offensive postings
        + The shorter your signature, the better
   The USENET can be a great place  for  us  all.   Sadly,  not

enough people are following the customs that have been esta- blished to keep the USENET civilized. This document was written to educate all users of the USENET on their responsibilities. Let's clean up the USENET, and turn it into a friendly, helpful community again!

Acknowledgements: The writing of this document was inspired by Chuq von Rospach's posting on USENET etiquette, and it draws on previous work by Mark Horton, A. Jeff Offutt, Gene Spafford, and Chuq von Rospach.

News Version B 2.11 October 19, 1986

How to Use USENET Effectively 14

Appendix A. Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

originally from Jerry Schwarz (jerry@eagle.UUCP) modified by Gene Spafford (spaf@gatech.UUCP) modified by Matt Bishop (mab@riacs.ARPA)

   This document discusses some items that occur repeatedly  on

USENET. They frequently are submitted by new users, and result in many follow-ups, sometimes swamping groups for weeks. The purpose of this note is to head off these annoying events by answering some questions and warning about the inevitable conse- quence of asking others. If you don't like my answers, let me know and I may include revisions in future versions of this note.

1. What does UNIX stand for?

  It is not an acronym, but is a pun on "MULTICS." MULTICS is a
  large  operating  system that was being developed shortly be-
  fore UNIX was created.

2. What is the derivation of "foo" as a filler word?

  The favorite story is that it comes from "fubar" which is  an
  acronym for "fouled up beyond all recognition," which is sup-
  posed to be a military term.  (Various forms of  this  exist,
  "fouled"  usually  being  replaced by a stronger word.) "Foo"
  and "Bar" have the same derivation.

3. Is a machine at "foo" on the net?

  These questions belong in news.config  if  anywhere,  but  in
  fact  your  best bet is usually to phone somebody at "foo" to
  find out.  If you don't know anybody at "foo" you can  always
  try  calling  and asking for the "computer center." Also, see
  the newsgroup mod.map, where maps of USENET and the UUCP net-
  work are posted regularly.

4. What does "rc" at the end of files like .newsrc mean?

  According to Dennis Ritchie, "The name rc comes from  RUNCOM,
  which was the rough equivalent on the MIT CTSS system of what
  UNIX calls shell scripts.  Of course, RUNCOM derives from run
  commands."

5. What do "- (nf)" and "Orphaned Response" in an item's title

  mean?
  It means that the item was created by "notefiles," an  alter-
  native  news  handling interface that many people prefer.  If
  you want to find out more you can read the  Notesfile  System
  Reference Manual" or contact uiucdcs!essick.

News Version B 2.11 October 19, 1986

How to Use USENET Effectively 15

6. What does ":-)" mean?

  This is the net convention for a "smiley face." It means that
  something  is  being said in jest.  If it doesn't look like a
  smiley face to you, flop your head over to the left and  look
  again.

7. How do I decrypt jokes in rec.humor?

  The standard cipher used in rec.humor in called "rot13." Each
  letter  is replaced by the letter 13 further along in the al-
  phabet (cycling around at the  end).   Most  systems  have  a
  built  in  command  to decrypt such articles; readnews(1) and
  vnews(1) have the D command, rn(1) (another  popular  public-
  domain full screen news reader) has the X or <CONTROL-X> com-
  mands, notes(1) has % or R.  If your system  doesn't  have  a
  program  to encrypt and decrypt these, you can quickly create
  a shell script using tr(1):
                   tr A-Za-z N-ZA-Mn-za-m
  On some versions of UNIX, the tr command  should  be  written
  as:
      tr "[a-m][n-z][A-M][N-Z]" "[n-z][a-m][N-Z][A-M]"

8. soc.net-people: Is John Doe out there anywhere?

  I suspect that these items are people  looking  for  freshman
  roommates  that  they haven't seen in ten years.  If you have
  some idea where the person is you are usually better off cal-
  ling  the  organization.   For  example, if you call any Bell
  Labs location and request John Doe's number.  They  can  give
  it to you even if he works at a different location.

9. sci.math: Proofs that 1 = 0.

  Almost everyone has seen one or more of these in high school.
  They  are almost always based on either division by 0 or tak-
  ing the square root of a negative number.

10. rec.games: Where can I get the source for empire(6) or ro-

  gue(6)?
  You can't.  The authors of these games, as  is  their  right,
  have chosen not to make the sources available.

11. comp.unix.wizards: How do I remove files with non-ASCII

  characters in their names?
  You can try to find a pattern that  uniquely  identifies  the
  file.   This  sometimes  fails  because a peculiarity of some
  shells is that they strip off the high-order bit  of  charac-
  ters  in command lines.  Next, you can try an "rm -i", or "rm

News Version B 2.11 October 19, 1986

How to Use USENET Effectively 16

  1. r" (see rm(1).) Finally, you can mess around with i-node

numbers and find(1).

12. comp.unix.wizards: There is a bug in the way UNIX handles

  protection for programs that run setuid.
  There are indeed problems with the treatment of protection in
  setuid  programs.   When  this is brought up, suggestions for
  changes range from implementing a full  capability  list  ar-
  rangement  to new kernel calls for allowing more control over
  when the effective id is used and when the real id is used to
  control  accesses.  Sooner or later you can expect this to be
  improved.  For now you just have to live with it.

13. soc.women: What do you think about abortion?

  Although abortion might appear to be an appropriate topic for
  soc.women,  more  heat  than  light  is  generated when it is
  brought up.   Since  the  newsgroup  talk.abortion  has  been
  created,  all  abortion-related  discussion should take place
  there.

14. soc.singles: What do "MOTOS," "MOTSS,", "MOTAS", and "SO"

  stand for?
  Member of the opposite sex, member of the same sex, member of
  the appropriate sex, and significant other, respectively.

15. How do I use the "Distribution" feature?

  When postnews(1) prompts you for a distribution, it's  asking
  how  widely  distributed  you  want your article.  The set of
  possible replies is different, depending on  where  you  are,
  but  at  Bell  Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, possibilities
  include:
           local   local to this machine
           mh      Bell Labs, Murray Hill Branch
           nj      all sites in New Jersey
           btl     All Bell Labs machines
           att     All AT&T machines
           usa     Everywhere in the USA
           na      Everywhere in North America
           world   Everywhere on USENET in the world
  If you hit <RETURN>, you'll get the  default,  which  is  the
  first  part of the newsgroup name.  This default is often not
  appropriate - please take a moment to  think  about  how  far
  away  people  are likely to be interested in what you have to
  say.  Used car ads, housing wanted ads, and things  for  sale
  other  than  specialized  equipment  like computers certainly
  shouldn't be distributed to Europe and Korea, or even to  the
  next state.

News Version B 2.11 October 19, 1986

How to Use USENET Effectively 17

  The newsgroup misc.forsale exists for postings  of  sale  an-
  nouncements.   Its  distribution is limited to North America;
  posters should restrict this distribution  even  further,  if
  possible and appropriate.

16. Why do some people put funny lines ("bug killers") at the be-

  ginning of their articles?
  Some earlier versions of news had a bug which would drop  the
  first 512 or 1024 bytes of text of certain articles.  The bug
  was triggered whenever the article started with  white  space
  (a  blank  or a tab).  A fix many people adopted was to begin
  their articles with a line containing a character other  than
  white  space.   This  gradually evolved into the habit of in-
  cluding amusing first lines.
  The original bug has since been fixed  in  newer  version  of
  news, and sites running older versions of news have applied a
  patch to prevent articles from losing text.  The "bug-killer"
  lines  are  therefore  probably  no  longer  needed, but they
  linger on.

17. What is the address or phone number of the "foo" company?

  Try the white and  yellow  pages  of  your  phone  directory,
  first; a sales representative will surely know, and if you're
  a potential customer they will be  who  you're  looking  for.
  Phone  books  for  other  cities are usually available in li-
  braries of any size.  Whoever buys or recommends  things  for
  your  company  will  probably have some buyer's guides or na-
  tional company directories.  Call or visit the reference desk
  of  your  library; they have several company and organization
  directories and many will answer questions like this over the
  phone.   Remember if you only know the city where the company
  is, you can telephone to find out their  full  address  or  a
  dealer.   The network is not a free resource, although it may
  look like that to some people.  It is far better to  spend  a
  few  minutes  of  your  own time researching an answer rather
  than broadcast your laziness and/or ineptness to the net.

News Version B 2.11 October 19, 1986

/data/webs/external/dokuwiki/data/pages/archive/internet/usenet.txt · Last modified: 2000/12/19 13:13 (external edit)