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How to Use USENET Effectively

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                  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-

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.

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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-

     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

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.

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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

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

* Unless you are critiquing Saturday Night Live.

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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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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

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


     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-

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 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

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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-

     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

     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 ([email protected], [email protected])
     Mark Horton ([email protected])
     Rick Adams ([email protected], [email protected])
     Chuq Von Rospach ([email protected])
     Matt Bishop ([email protected], [email protected])

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-

     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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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 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

     Some newsgroups have special rules.  This section summarizes

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.          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

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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-

     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

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

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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-

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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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-

          + 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

          + 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

          + 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

          + 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.

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How to Use USENET Effectively                                  14

Appendix A.  Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

originally from Jerry Schwarz ([email protected])
modified by Gene Spafford ([email protected])
modified by Matt Bishop ([email protected])

     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, 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

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

    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.

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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

 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

        tr "[a-m][n-z][A-M][N-Z]" "[n-z][a-m][N-Z][A-M]"

 8.  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.  Where can I get the source for empire(6)  or  ro-

    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

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How to Use USENET Effectively                                  16

    -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

14.  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

             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.

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How to Use USENET Effectively                                  17

    The newsgroup 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.