Let us now praise protocol pioneers

4:04 AM Sunday, January 2, 2000

I was sitting in Malay Satay Hut with Eben tonight and he gave me a suggestion for my writing and then I was sitting on the toilet talking long distance to Kevin and he re-enforced Eben's suggestion so tonight I think I'm going to write a little about writing.

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I like talking and I'm fully open to suggestions. That is a thinly veiled suggestion to y'all that I, like everybody I know, love to get e-mail. I am a long ways from most of my friends and the first thing I do every morning, before I wipe the sleep out of my eyes or put on my glasses is this: I dialup my internet service provider and create a secure SSH tunnel to primco.org and download my e-mail. It is usually more important to me than expelling the urine from my strained bladder which was the reason I crawled out of my warm bed in the first place. Like many of you, I'm sure, getting out of bed is the hardest thing I will do all day. It should not be taken lightly and I do not take lightly the thing which immediately follows it: e-mail.

Dear Brian Baba's only complaint about receiving an e-mail narrative of the life of the person living in his apartment was that he could not comment on it to the people who got it. Knowing that it was going to a bunch of other people who probably couldn't gauge the bullshit factor, he wanted to be able to say to them, "Hey, I was there. And blahbeddy blahbeddy blah…." I can understand that. We're all in this thing together folks. Don't think otherwise for a second. All the same, I've been suppressing the recipient list. I didn't do it last time but this time I figured that there should be a certain amount of discretion taken after I'd gone to the trouble of collecting so many e-mail addresses. They're pointers to people who I felt protective of. It is too easy to steal email addresses when they're sitting in the headers of messages.

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The only thing that is bugging me is that people don't feel involved. I have told you before of my love for my community and I consider all those who read this to be my community. Therefore, I've decided to turn it into a moderated e-mail list. It aint totally freeform but it will be an official subscribe/unsubscribe kind of thing.

I hate to do it, but I've decided to let a corporation blatantly redistribute my writing. I mean, many are already secretly doing it, blissfully forwarding my SMTP packets all over the world. But now I'm going to let this thing, which has till now floated on the purely technological marvel of the Blind Carbon Copy, turn into a Onelist (tm) e-mail list. Before I do, however, I just want to say a few things about e-mail and how we got here.

One day we will revere the men, namely Jonathan B. Postel, who wrote the Internet Engineering Task Force's Requests for Comments, namely RFC 821 for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, in the same way we honor the founding fathers. That may seem a little far-fetched but I think they've done as an important and hard job with at least as much elegance. Hopefully we'll remember not just the hype mongers (who will to go rightfully nameless), who do repeated interviews with Wired magazine. People like Jon are important because we've left God and Country behind. As Bob Braden has said, "It was Jon Postel who spun out the final words that define the Internet". When we make decisions about technology, we make protocols that affect people. We have been extremely lucky that the people making decisions have been beneficent, conservative, hippy computer geeks. You have no idea how lucky. They built something that crass commercialism at the height of its powers has not been able to crush. Jon has had many foot soldiers and I watched greed butt its head against his mighty RFC's for years.

I learned about networks when most of the people who used them were personally introduced to the lore and traditions of networked, general computing devices. There were no books or websites and every etiquette or protocol lesson came with the reasons behind it. When I try to explain it to people I invariably try to present it like it's a new culture. But you can't learn about a culture just by hearing anecdotes or reading the top 10 do's and don'ts, you gotta be in it. I don't know if that's possible for most people any more. I think the ideals that the culture is based on are strong enough to appeal to people for the foreseeable future, but I don't see people spending the time to learn. Still, I don't have any fears that it will disappear. It was created and reached stability as a culture long before the press got a hold of it and it doesn't need the press. Find out what Jon Postel was like as a person and you'll see what I mean.

I've been on another Onelist list for about 2 years and it's pretty cool and seems to work and provides a pretty good service in exchange for a tag at the bottom of the mail so we're gonna use it. It will have public archives, a member directory, and in the beginning I'm going to moderate it. That means I'm going to approve all posts. I'm not going to suppress anything. I only want to make sure there aren't any e-mail forwarding mistakes. I'm in control and I know what I'm doing. (That's a joke but it's also kind of true.) That's just a decision. Implementation is forthcoming.

Now, two and a half hours of writing later, let's get on with what Eben suggested. It took me two and a half hours to write the preceding stuff because I am what Kurt Vonnegut likes to call a basher. He describes the two types of writers as bashers and swoopers. Swoopers write a bunch of stuff real fast and freestyle and then go back later and infinitely rearrange it and clean it up. Kurt and I hammer out each sentence one word at a time and when it's done, we go on to the next one. I typically re-read an e-mail 20 or 30 times before I send it out but the changes are just punctuation and grammar.

It's hard to edit stuff you just wrote because you can't really see it for what it is. Sometimes it takes days or weeks of distance to catch a typo. I try to compress the time by changing the editor, typeface and line breaks so it looks immediately unfamiliar. I write in Word, letting the computer capitalize and fix spelling as I type. Then I save it as a text file and open it in Notepad. There, it has a different colored background and mono-spaced Courier typeface. I edit it and then I paste it into a web page where it has a Verdana typeface and I maximize the page so it stretches all the way across my 1024 pixel-wide computer screen. I read it some more and then I paste it into my e-mail program, Outlook 2000, back to Courier, lines breaking where they may, and I give it a few more now-or-never proofreads. At this point, I'm so hopelessly in love with the thing that I can't change a single comma and it must go.

After I send it, I download my own copy, (I'm on the "To:" line after all) and I read it again. I usually find stuff that I don't like and I go back and change the web page and post it up on primco.org. Before I start another entry, I re-read the last few and some of the earlier ones just for old-times-sake. My writing is actually about 90 percent reading. I've read November at least 500 times.

Good night.