[Volunteers] Undisclosed banned discussion topics (was: yum extender)

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Jul 14 20:52:12 PDT 2005

Quoting William R Ward (bill at svlug.org):

> That's an interesting point.  So, who are the appointed officers,
> then?  I don't think we have an official roster anywhere.

http://www.svlug.org/officers.shtml is about as close as we have.
Since I try never to run the risk of establishing policy, I've been
changing the names on there only when the needed swap-out is completely
uncontroversial and obvious -- to make sure that volunteers get proper
recognition and credit.  E.g., I updated "Installfest Coordinator" a
couple of years ago to Brian Chrisman.  Then, when Peter Neal had done
that a few times and I confirmed that it was a permanent handoff, I 
put Peter's name in place of his.  Ditto with ensuring that Bill
Kendrick gets _some_ recognition for the incredible job he does as
Speaker Coordinator:  I was _really_ glad to make sure he gets at least
that much thanks.  (He deserves that and much more.)

I didn't put my own name in the "Web Content Coordinator" slot for more
than a year, because I have been trying to coax Heather into (once
again) active participation, and personally cared more about the job
getting done right than seeing my name on a Web page.  Eventually, I did
put my name in place of Heather's (there), but still have her's credited
alongside mine on http://www.svlug.org/teams/web-team.shtml, the other
place I'm aware of where volunteers are specifically listed.

I've tried to be very slow to remove people's names (from either of
those pages), even when I'm reasonably sure they haven't done anything
in a long time.  In part, this is because being generous with credit
doesn't cost us much -- and I'd sure hate to remove someone's name in error.
In part, it's my general effort to be really conservative in maintaining
the Web site -- polishing up the implementation but not discarding any
of the design without extremely careful thought.

> If we're going to have "appointed officers" then what are their rights
> and privileges?  

Traditionally, they have had whatever "rights" (which in practice has
meant damned little, because, c'mon, this is a volunteer group with no
real assets -- were necessary to the performance of their roles -- and
serve at the pleasure of the elected officers.   "Privileges"?  The
glory of hard work, generally.  Like, duh.  ;->

> Do they belong on the officers@ list, and why or why not?
> Assuming "no" (which is I believe Paul's position on the matter), is
> the volunteers@ list enough or should there be another tier between
> officers@ and volunteers@?

Traditionally, until you and Paul suddenly decided otherwise without (to
my knowledge) consulting or informing anyone else, most of them were on
officers@, for the simple and obvious reason that they were officers.  
I wasn't (as "Web Content Coordinator" = webmaster), but Heather and all
of my other predecessors were.  I never asked because, frankly, for at
least a decade, SVLUG's internal politics utterly appalled me, and the
less I heard about it, the better.  As webmaster, I basically cared only
about whatever was required to keep the site running and useful to the
members, so I concentrated on that.

As I said, you and Paul (or just Paul if you prefer) suddenly decided in
March that only the two of you are "officers", so what you say is Paul's
"position on the matter" is indeed consistent with that change of

All I was doing was pointing out that you (or just Paul, if you prefer)
_did_ enact a change of policy.  Prior to that, I had informed you,
repeatedly, that I and the other people with functions like Bill
Kendrick's and Peter Neal's _were_ "officers" of the appointive variety, 
when you kept restricting the term to yourself and Paul.

You never acknowledged the point, at that time; in fact, you seemed
_really_ annoyed that I brought it up.  Maybe you though I was making it
up?  I really couldn't tell, but I was just trying to tell you the

> I appreciate that feedback and I will try to handle it more tactfully
> in the future.

I honestly thank you for saying that, and will be delighted to regard
the matter as closed.  

In hopes that you will consider this suggestion to be in a spirit of
helpfulness:  Maybe it is best, if you must terminate a thread, to do
that without at the same time making derogatory public claims about the
participants' doings -- since they would necessarily be deprived of the
opportunity to rebut.

[My explanation of Reply-To mechanics:]

> It's not how it is supposed to work, I'll grant you that.  All I was
> doing was the same thing some mailing lists do when they "munge" the
> reply-to address.

I understand.  My point was that it _doesn't_ actually work as you
intended (given MUAs' compliance with the RFCs).

I thought the same about reply mechanics for a long time:  My former
employee Nick Moffitt and a friend (Sean Neakums) corrected me when I
claimed the same thing you did in 2003 on the Berkeley Unix User Group
mailing list:  I stubbornly stuck to my assertion briefly, but was
indeed in error.  Since Nick delights in other people's errors  ;-> , he
decided to store the thread as some sort of trophy for posterity:

> I feel that netiquette violations should be pointed out by a list
> administrator or moderator, not by J. Random Subscriber.  Perhaps that
> should be one of the "appointed officers"?

That could work.

During Chris di Bona's administration, Chris (and Marc as VP) suddenly
announced that nobody was allowed to deal with (or even point out)
netiquette violations; that listadmins would do so.  That seemed
workable, except that the listadmins did _not_ do anything at all.
(Chris in particular had something of a do-nothing administration.)
So, the hole in the policy, at that time, was that "leave it to us"
turned out to mean "leave it to _nobody_; nothing will be fixed -- but 
you yourself will incur high-level displeasure if you say anything".

Nobody wants long public tussles over people misbehaving (or allegedly
so).  My point, though, is that other places don't need anything like 
(what have been over the past four or so years) SVLUG's heavy-handed
measures -- including a number of LUG mailing lists whose levels of
traffic leave SVLUG's in the dust.

> I think SVLUG is somewhat higher profile than CABAL, and has in the
> past had some of those kinds of "wars" which I think is why we have
> the rules we have.  

Then, look at ilug at linux.ie, which has much more traffic, and (because
of tax policies) is right in the centre of the Silicon Valley of Europe.
They don't have that sort of baggage, either.

And, oddly enough, "we've had some of those kinds of wars" strikes me as
the _worst_ sort of reason for such measures.  I was discussing this
with Heather on the 'phone.

The list-policy.shtml page currently doesn't say "You're not allowed to
post spam, here."  Let's say that, this evening, a professional spammer
joins svlug@, and starts spewing UCE.  You or Paul as listadmin would
likely either eject him/her, ban resubscription, and maybe even put a
regex in to block future attempts (or, if you were an incredibly soft
touch, merely set his/her moderated flag).

But you wouldn't add "You're not allowed to post spam, here" to
list-policy.shtml, would you?  Because spam not being welcome is not a
surprise measure that any halfway sensible person doesn't already expect
to be the accepted norm by default.  It would not serve any real

I'm saying that 80% of the stuff on list-policy.shtml, similarly, serves
no real purpose.  It tediously details things that are obvious and are
true by default everywhere.  Moreover:

o  It lumps together things that are _required_ ("rules") with
   suggestions (things that would be nice), and technical tips on how to
   quote / how to file mail / how to distinguish private replies
   from public ones, and information about other possible media 
   one might use  -- without being very clear about which is
   which.  Hey, it claims to be the "_list policy_":  A reader would
   expect that it would be requirements only.  Yet, there's all
   that other stuff.  And why does the filename say "policy" while
   one of the page headers says "guidelines"?  Which is which, people
   will wonder.

o  It's way too long.  Obviously, the intention was to get people
   to read the whole thing before (as it says) "continuing on to the
   signup information for our lists" via the link at the bottom.
   _But_ a funny thing always happens as such text becomes longer:

   1.  It's read less frequently, and less attentively.
   2.  It's taken less seriously.

   A sign that says "No trespassing" in big letters will get heeded
   more often than one that say that and then attempts to detail 
   all of the ramifications, justifications, and categories of people who
   can under various circumstances enter without being trespassers.
   People's experience is that if it's longwinded, it's probably not 
   serious, might be debatable, and might not apply to them.

   If we want to make the page be clear, be read, and be taken 
   seriously, we should make it a lot shorter.  The obvious way is to
   delete all the stuff that's self-evident to anyone who's been 
   on at least one or two mailing lists before, and make _very_
   clear which parts are requirements, and which are just other

   Further, all of that stuff is _actually_ covered better elsewhere
   anyway, so you could just hyperlink to the canonical documents, 
   improving brevity, readability, and authoritativeness all at once.
   E.g., _netiquette_?  For heaven's sakes, why are we reinventing the
   wheel?  Shouldn't we just link to RFC1855 (and to "son-of-rfc1036"
   about .sig format) for that?

[ILUG list:]

> That's interesting.  Perhaps their members have more tolerance for
> this kind of thing.

No, they don't.   Check for yourself.  Same on luv-main.  Same on PLUG
in the Philippines.

> Let me try to explain my concern.  I am very concerned about scaring
> off newbies.

I of course share this concern.  (Not intending to blow my horn, but
just ask around about who in the Bay Area has helped more new Linux users
than any other.  If you say Karsten, I won't quibble, but I'm pretty 
sure we're 1 and 2 in some order.)

> If someone is just starting out with Linux there's a much greater
> chance they won't know our netiquette rules, and might be expecting
> things like reply-to munging, etc.

Yes, and this is why I've had an open offer to SVLUG for something like
seven years to maintain a FAQ.  People could receive a suggestion that
they browse it as part of their Mailman welcome message.  There could be
an auto-post reminding people of its existence every three months, or
like that.

I mean, c'mon:  We're Linux experts, and we can't think of a way to
ensure that newcomers are made aware of the local traditions?  I _know_
we can.

> If people who are regular SVLUG members and not officers jump in with
> corrections then they may feel unwelcome and leave.  For one thing,
> who's to say it's just one person doing it?  If several people do,
> they may feel ganged up on.

You will notice that, on the very rare occasions that I post about such
things, for that very reason I wait a couple of days and then try to
word my post with extreme care to ensure that it doesn't come across as
any sort of personal criticism, e.g., wording like "I notice nobody has
yet responded to your post of a few days ago, requesting help with [foo].
Just in case it will assist, if you continue to get no useful response,
you might consider posting [in some fashion that I detail, in implied 

In the end, when one has done everything reasonable to not jump down
people's throats and no have them take offence, it remains a fact that,
though making newcomers welcome is important, maintenance of our
culture is, too.  SVLUG has (at least in the last few years) been
essentially unique among LUGs in threatening me and other longtime
volunteers with severe sanctions for merely _mentioning_ the standards
of our culture, regardless of in what mellow and friendly a fashion.

FidoNet, for all of its faults, has two overriding rules in its
POLICY4.TXT governing document:

     1) Thou shalt not excessively annoy others.
     2) Thou shalt not be too easily annoyed.

Newcomers should certainly be made to feel welcome and should not be
annoyed (nor given offence) -- but, equally, it seems very little to
expect that they not be too easily annoyed or offended.

> If the person(s) doing it aren't "officers" (for whatever definition
> we end up using), then they may just feel it's just one person's
> opinion and argue the contrary, leading to unpleasantness that can
> drive some people off the list.

You know what I would do on a list I administer, if I saw that sort of
thing even start to happen?  I would post, suggesting that the critics
were being boorish and boring, that they were trigger-happy, and that 
they would be wise to drop it and move on -- and I would stress that I 
was _not_ wearing my listadmin "hat" in saying that, but rather just 
speaking as someone not enjoying the view.

If it persisted, I would offer prototype killfile / filter recipes to
any who, like me, wished to see the back of that thread.

[my list policy mockup]

> This is good too.  It should probably also link to the "considered
> harmful" pages that usually get quoted when this topic comes up.

That essay _is linked_ directly from the referenced LUV FAQ page -- as
is an Internet Archive cache of Simon Hill's otherwise-vanished
attempted rebuttal essay, which people used to hurl back at the people
who referred to Rosenthal's "...Considered Harmful" essay.

I actually felt somewhat honour-bound to dredge up the replacement Simon
Hill URL for LUV, specifically because I (like LUV itself, and like
SVLUG) come down politely on the opposite side of that debate:  That is,
even though I think (as does Marc Merlin) that Hill's argument is
unreasonable and has big logic holes in it, I wanted to help interested
parties find it to see for themselves.  (A position that has merit
should certainly be able to weather critics, including doubletalking
ones like Hill.)

[about making sure that in-force rules get documented on the page]
> That is an entirely reasonable request.

Thank you.

> Please note that all of the above refers to the Marc & Don
> administration, so I don't think it's fair to use that as a criticism
> of the current leadership of SVLUG.

I did not so state.  I recognise that you guys have inherited a lot of
baggage from people who went slightly nuts (Marc) or who passed the buck
and did nothing (Don), and I _do_ empathise.

[a collaborative FAQ:]

> I say some repetition is OK.  Newbies may ask the same questions all
> the time, but they don't like hearing "go read the FAQ."

I do agree that some repetition is OK -- and inevitable, in any event.

More information about the volunteers mailing list