[Smaug] Meeting

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Mon Apr 13 16:38:25 PDT 2009

Quoting Peter Belew (peterbe at sonic.net):

> From now on, detailed announcements for SMAUG
> will only be sent on the 'new' list - hosted
> on sonic.net.

Can I make a few comments about that without people getting their backs
up (I hope)?  ;->  I happen to have been administering quite a lot of
mailing lists for Linux and BSD groups for a long time, so I've learned
a few things along the way.

When you created a "new" mailing list
(http://lists.sonic.net/mailman/listinfo/smaug) in January, it seemed to 
be on the basis of the erroneous assumption that SVLUG's mailing list
server is "overloaded" (which it was not), and that it is "Rick Moen's
server".  (It isn't that, either.)

At the time, I strongly recommended that, if people think it desirable to
migrate (or replicate, or whatever) the mailing list to sonic.net that
you import _this_ mailing list's back-postings archvive from the
cumulative mbox, http://lists.svlug.org/archives/smaug.mbox/smaug.mbox .

I see that that has _not_ been done.  I think I can guess one reason why
-- a point I'll return to, later.

So, we have a situation where a tiny user group has two redundant
and identically named discussion mailing lists, and the back-postings
history hasn't been gathered into either of them.  This accidental
fragmentation is, IMO, a tactical mistake.

Point 1:  It's pretty much always a mistake for a small, low-traffic
mailing list to launch additional mailing lists before there is a real
need.  Existing traffic splits, and all of the resulting lists tend to 

Given that you (Peter) created the "new" mailing list based on erroneous
assumptions, maybe you should consider not doing that.  (Suit yourself,
of course.  I just honestly think it was a bad idea, having seen this 
bad-idea scenario play out many times elsewhere.  This being the
Internet, probably qty n emotionally-labile trolls will immediately 
charge that I'm obviously either making money off the SVLUG-hosted list,
or have my ego invested in being the Evil Overlord of All Smaugdom<tm>,
or some crap like that.  But despite the high likelihood of a dumbass
Internet crapfest resulting from my voicing my view, if I didn't express
my view on the above point, I'd feel guilty for not speaking up.)

The "new" list's listinfo page claims "This is the announcement email
list for SMAUG."

Point 2:  Announce mailing lists require appropriate configuration.
People subscribe to them to get _away_ from general discussion; to 
see only annoucements.  If that's the sort of list you're trying to
launch, you're going about it, um, not very well.  I would be glad to 
help you do that configuration, if you wish.  

(Basically:  If it's supposed to an announce list, make it operate as
one.  However, I seriously don't think Smaug's level of traffic
justifies splitting traffic to two lists, at this time.)

The above-cited listinfo page says "To see the collection of prior
postings to the list, visit the Smaug Archives. (The current archive is
only available to the list members.)"

Point 3:  It's really a bad idea to make the archives of an announce
mailing list be private!  That sort of defeats the purpose of the thing,
as a means of public outreach.

Archiving frequency at http://lists.sonic.net/mailman/private/smaug/ has
been set to monthly.

Point 4:  Monthly archiving is a bad idea for a low-traffic Mailman list.
It makes the archive look choppy and thin.  Quarterly or annually is a
better choice.

Point 5:  A group shouldn't start using a third-party service without 
assessing what level of commitment is being offered.  Just as a guess,
I'm speculating that http://lists.sonic.net/mailman/listinfo/smaug 
was able to be created and persist because of Peter Belew's customer 
relationship with Sonic.net of Santa Rosa.  That's very generous of 
Peter, but what happens if Peter stops being a Sonic.net customer, or 
Sonic.net decides to discontinue this service?  What is that company's
level of commitment to Smaug?  Or even, in that particular, to Peter?

SVLUG may not exactly be Lloyds of London, but its elected officers
and sysadmins are committed to offering Smaug mailing list hosting 
indefinitely into the future.  Furthermore, SVLUG's volunteer sysadmins
are willing and able to give Smaug root-user-level assistance.

Which brings me back to the
http://lists.svlug.org/archives/smaug.mbox/smaug.mbox file.  I strongly
suspect that Peter has no idea how to merge that file into the
http://lists.sonic.net/mailman/listinfo/smaug archive (absolutely 
no offence intended to Peter!) -- _and_ that he'd be unable to carry 
out the required steps even if I listed them in detail, which I could
do, because they require root-authority actions from the system command
line.  Essentially, what you do is, at the bash prompt, prepend the mbox
file to the one on Sonic.net, then run 

  $MAILMANHOME/mailman/bin/arch --wipe smaug \

...to rebuild and reindex the HTML archive.[0]

Point 6:  It _is_ a truly excellent idea for Smaug to have frequent
backups of the mailing list (or lists) and a contingency plan to move it
(or them) if circumstances require.  

As SVLUG sysadmin, I can make sure that a full copy of the membership
roster for _this_ list gets e-mailed via cronjob to core volunteers upon
occasion (daily, weekly, whatever people want).  With that plus a recent
copy of http://lists.svlug.org/archives/smaug.mbox/smaug.mbox [1], this
mailing list can be quickly resurrected anywhere in the world on short
notice, with no loss of subscribers or of back postings, if SVLUG ever
catches on fire and dies, or whatever.

Anyone want to receive that mail from cron?  That and periodic retrival
of the mbox would constitute meaningful backups, something Smaug hasn't
bothered to do over its entire history.

Point 7:  Smaug should really have the ability to do root-level
operations on its mailing lists.  The best way to do this would be _not_
on SVLUG's server, but rather on a machine where Smaug's core volunteers 
(and not just me) can have root, which would enable Smaug to implement
is own antispam and other operational policies, rather than relying on
those of a bureaucratic ISP, or even of a benevolent neighbour LUG 
such as SVLUG.

[0] The admin needs to check the resulting HTML archive for misparses by
the "arch" utility, which inevitably will turn out to be lines
beginning with flush-left "From " inside the body text.  It's necessary
to track down such lines and alter them by, e.g., turning them into
">From ", and then re-running the archiver.

[1] For similar reasons, Peter, I _do_ hope you are frequently backing 
up http://lists.sonic.net/mailman/private/smaug.mbox/smaug.mbox .  You
are, aren't you?  And you should at least periodically screen-scrape the
roster from http://lists.sonic.net/mailman/admin/smaug/members, since
you can't get it by running 
  $MAILMANHOME/mailman/bin/list_members smaug 
as a cronjob to mail that to you, lacking Sonic.net access to do that.

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