From: tmills@easynet.bakedbeansareoff.de (Beebit)
Newsgroups: news.admin.net-abuse.misc
Subject: Confessions of a Superannuated Newbie
Date: Thu, 03 Apr 1997 23:55:53 GMT
Organization: The Viking Warship Class
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Message-ID: <3344413c.44017056@news.easynet.de
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Omnibus et Singulis has Literas Lecturis, Salutem!

In another time, another place, in article <33421C94.1BAA@idt.net
Steve Boursy may have written:
}   Oh don't be silly Mr. Darcy.  There are no
} 'consensually-agreed-upon standards; the majority
} of users on usenet are new and it is they who will
} and presently are deciding what is and is not
} appropriate--not the old control freaks from
} yesteryear.
}   My position is that all email forgery is
} contemptable regardless of rationalization but
} that if one may do it all may do it.  The
} inbred gang of thugs known as the cabal that
} hangs out in news.admin.net-abuse.misc is
} hardly representative of users at large and
} they have no more or less right to forge anothers
} email address to cancel their post than anyone
} else.
}                 Steve
}                news.admin.censorship

As an exemplar of Mr. Boursy's "majority of new users"
("nusers"?) on Usenet,  my story may be of interest.  I first
got onto the "Information Super-Mudpath" which was the local
(former Soviet Union) approach ramp onto the Internet, about a
year ago.  I had a "luggable" 286 with a 2400 baud modem, a Unix
shell account, a Pine news and mail reader and a Lynx browser.

I was, all things considered, happier than a pig in mud.  The
Web was a vast wonderland I was only beginning to explore, bad
city phone lines permitting.  Usenet was a closed book more or
less, if only because my old 286 CGA wouln't support the only
cyrillificator available, and I was therefore unable to make
sense of the Russian- and Ukrainian-language newsgroups.

Imagine what it was like to have a 14k4 modem attached to a 486
on a decent phone line in Bavaria, even if only to Compuserve.
The horizons were even vaster: in little time I had supplanted
the Mosaic browser with Netscape.  The only fly in the ointment
was a rather high bill from the server (lots of time waiting for
lots & lots of bytes) and a phone bill the size of a small
country's defence budget.  That, and the Compuserve mail server
making an absolute _pig's ear_ of text attachments sent from my
Pine setup in Kyiv made us consider the possibility of looking
for a local ISP.

Then, one fine day, we got our _first_ e-spam.  How d'you like
that?  I had yet to begin _reading_ Usenet let alone posting.
Or maybe it was when we filled in all those silly forms when
downloading the n+1 Netscape plug-ins...  Well, hell!  *Thunk!*
At first we thought it a joke, if in bad taste.

A newer, better modem with a closer and better ISP later: the
connection became faster; the horizons even vaster.  And as I
was setting up my Netscape Gold with thumpty plug-ins what
should I (re)discover but _Usenet_!  Some of you may remember
the little welcome thingies one gets with Netscape's Mail&News
Browser (I use the term "browser" advisedly), complete with
automatic subscription to news.announce.newusers...

How I laughed when I read the Emily Postnews screed.  How so
much of the other introductory stuff just seemed like plain,
common sense: "Ty menje, ja tebje" ("You to me, me to you") as
they used to say east of the Curzon Line.  Not so much standards
to be strictly adhered to as guidelines intended to assure some
sort of compatibility so that these diverse machines can talk to
each other intelligibly over a variety of connections.

And then I began to lurk in some of the flipty thousand groups.
A novelist would have a very hard time dreaming up the variety
of characters whose noms de clavier vary from the prosaic
through the whimsical to the bizarre.  Almost any day one can
see displays real or contrived of every emotion there is, and to
watch the unfolding of debates on morals, ethics, philosophy,
psychology, aesthetics, linguistics, law, technology, sociology,
biology... and that's just in comp.fonts!
 
At the same time I began to look at those groups which would be
of professional interest, mainly to do with medical imaging and
image transferral.  This was at what to me seemed to be the peak
of the cretinous meow-cascading: pointless interminable threads
of me-too cross-posted all over Hell's half-acre to a myriad of
groups with no conceivable interest in the puerile exchange
which was taking place.  Then came those fatuous MMF postings
with their pathetic averrals of being perfectly legal in spite
of being specifically prohibited in the United States and a few
other countries, and the outrageously excessively cross- and
multi-posted adverts for Web sites only a gynecologist,
proctologist, or urologist could find useful were the pictures
of better quality and the camera and light angles such as to
permit a proper diagnosis...  And easily the worst part was that
the exact same rubbish could be found cluttering up nearly every
group in question.  It was becoming harder and harder to find
the pearls of wisdom or at least of information amidst what was
increasingly becoming a vast and _uniform_ wasteland.

That's right, all you jaded sophisticates: turn off your
killfiles and have a look sometime, and realise that this
"uncensored, unfiltered" view is what an awful _lot_ of "nusers"
see.  Ever so many of us look at the Usenet through one
"modified browser" or another, on the end of a dial-in PPP
account.  Frightening, isn't it?  Yes, Mr. Boursy, such are
those who, in your words, "will [be] and presently are deciding
what is and is not appropriate" and I can tell you we sure get
tired of spam and fast.

For the newsreader-impaired, a few semi-conscious defence
mechanisms come into play, even when skipping through a thousand
posts with Netscape's newsreader: one soon learns to recognise
the signs and symptoms.  Crossposted to Hell-and-gone, anything
with $, anything with "come" misspelled with a "u", threads
which have simply degenerated into pointless slanging matches:
these will be passed over in favour of something more
informative or at least entertaining, but, yes, it would be more
efficient to automate the process.

And then came the "men from the Council" as it were who came to
police a part of the area.  Not "police" as in walking around in
a blue, green, or gray uniform waving a stick but as in
"policing the compound" i.e. picking up and disposing of litter.

So many analogies have been drawn to explain the problem of
spamming to the uninitiated, so I will add yet another: that of
a parish noticeboard of _finite_ area.  Spammers are like
"flyposters" who cover the whole wall with multiple copies of
the _same_ poster advertising some record, gig, or whatever to
the point that nothing else is visible anymore, that is until
the men from the council (yeah, all right, I know, it's long
since been either privatised or abolished, but there was a
time...) come around and remove the offending clutter.  Once
again, it's _quantity_ not _quality_ or _content_ that's at
issue here.

The flyposters come surreptitiously at night to slap on their
rubbish, the council types in broad daylight to remove it.  The
same thing happens on Usenet (except for that bughead apparently
posting from Winternet), and make no mistake, many if not most
of us "Usenetters of the Future" fully approve, because the
flyposter equivalents are collectively doing their utmost to
abrogate the "free speech" of other users in the groups.  
Purists recoil in horror but many of us nusers have little or no
opinion as to the sacredness or otherwise of header entries.  We
see the example of our "elders" and learn to follow suit, rather
than allowing our e-mail accounts to be used as infinite sinks
for any and all rubbish which is flung in our direction.  Often
many of us learn the "hard" way.

Many, if, alas, not all nusers _do_ check out their
newsreaders/browsers using either local .test groups or
misc.test .  While watching for a while, one begins to wonder
why so many subject lines contain the word "ignore".  A bit like
going to the cinema where the Rocky Horror Picture Show is being
shown and wondering why nearly _everyone_ is carrying a
newspaper...  Ah, sweet innocence!  I, too, have posted in the
"clear" in my time, and have lived to regret my naivete (all
right, naïveté).

That's right _it_ happened.  *Thunk/schlurp!*  A foetid little
excresence coming from some sleazebucket or other...  First, the
denial: This just _can't_ be happening to me!  Then,
self-accusation: How could I have been so irredeemably
_stupid_?!  Later still, "Sukin syn, ubitj malo!!!"  ("It
wouldn't be enough just to kill yon whoreson!")  And later
still, <cue Darth Vader voice effect "You have slimed me for
the last time!" </cue AKA belligerence.  And then it's hie me
hither to the net.abuse hierarchy, looking up relevant Web
pages, kitting up with DNS lookup, finger, and whois, realising
that I already have ping, tracert, and telnet, and learning how
to use them.  And _mean_ it.  And ain't that new SpamHater just
Fluffy's whiskers!

(Yeah, yeah, a self-confessed user of "Petty-Squishy 95
Hatches"... let the bit-bearing continue!)

"So why don't you just hit the 'Delete' key?" as those Oedipoid
trollers rhetorically ask.  "I'm working on it. Getting a
'Delete' key labeled something like 'nyck' ('Pusk' AKA
'launch').  Nearby secret rocket base, just ask for Ljuda..."
But you see, one really _ought_ to target the wretched thing
properly.  In the meantime it will have to be enough to chase
these cockroaches from one provider to another until they have
worn out their welcome everywhere.

No, just this once I'll condescend to answer the silly old
question: very simple, really.  Yes, I know that tracing a
really nasty header can chew up some connect time (which even
for a local call to my flat-rate provider is charged at
something like 12 Pfennig for 90 sec) so blowing the "economic"
argument out of the water), but you see we are right now dealing
with the "thin end of the wedge".  You know (or ought to) the
old cliches:- 1:9 for just-in-time stitching, prevention/cure
ratio 1:16, and _that's_ what it's all about, Grasshopper.  We
either nip this spam business in the bud now, or figure on
keeping two mail boxes: one straight to the bit bucket, and the
other's address given out only to _very close_ family and
friends.  Our "elders" can be expected to spend the time they
formerly spent on Usenet sharing with their friends and
colleagues and sparring with their opponents just tuning and
re-tuning their filters to block out an ever-increasing barrage
of UCE.  Usenet will have become so flooded with useless dreck
that the general public will have stopped reading long ago, so
that when the providers finally drop the feeds as a useless
encumbrance hardly anybody will know or care.

A nightmare?  I hope we can keep it that way.  The doubters
should read up on the Prisoner's Dilemma, and consider what
happens when one player _always_ defects and the others (who
play some variant of "tit for tat" with each other) take _no_
effective retaliatory action (AKA "no tat under any
circumstances").  One needn't have a PhD in Game Theory to work
out what eventually happens.  That goes for Usenet, that goes
for e-mail.

As I said, it can be expected that newbies will not get too
excited about the forms of Usenet headers.  A "cancel" message
duly signed (no matter where) would seem to be perfectly
acceptable.  Moral absolutists to whom "Form is no mere
Formality" would be cordially invited to go pound sand.  That's
the rub, isn't it?  Order and freedom are by definition
irreconcilable opposites, which we must somehow reconcile in
order to function as a society and not a rabble.  It is in the
very nature of things that the solution found for a given moment
may not always continue to be adequate as the circumstances
change.

I, for one, am gratified to see that the Usenet gets cleaned up
on the basis of a simple, _objective_ criterion, so that the
articles I want to see, however ornery, perverse, or just
off-topic, don't get aged off the news server every time I get
up to get a (Bavarian or Bohemian) beer or a shot of Samogon.  A
lot more people would be of the same opinion, if they understood
the circumstances.  Just bear in mind that many, if not most,
newbies never leave the Web, except maybe to get into IRC or
some _serious_ bandwidth-gobbling, like sending and receiving
Television.  But even _they_ appreciate having a mailbox free of
extraneous clutter and which contains only communications from
loved ones, friends, business associates, professional
colleagues, etc.: missives which are not "pushed off the shelf"
by ever more incoming refuse unless the box is emptied twice a
day.  (I guess *space* really _is_ the Final Frontier after
all...).

For the rest, I look forward to the day when the "all clear"
sounds and we can crawl out of our respective Tube stations into
the light.  I look forward to that glorious day when Spamford
and his ilk go back to honest work like selling snake oil or
playing the shell game.  I will then with the greatest of
pleasure put the beans back on the menu, but until then...
I have seen Up Close and Personal what happens when a society
goes from "One hand washes the other" to "Sauve qui peut".  It
ain't a pretty sight.

On balance, I have to say I prefer the so-called net.scum to the
net.dregs.  Scum floats on top, while dregs just lies on the
bottom and festers.

Spasibo za vnimanie/Djakuju za uvaghu/Vielen Dank fuer Ihre
Aufmerksamkeit/Thank you for your attention

Pax Vobiscum,
B.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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