[conspire] A sometimes scarily small community, is ours

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Sun Jan 1 01:01:40 PST 2006

I'm aware that this quotes part of someone else's private mail, and more
than the three or four lines of nondescript technical query that I
usually shrug off as unimportant in these forwards -- but Jim had
already CCed quite a number of other people, so I'm not exactly breaking
a confidence.

Jim had written a blog entry reporting what he believed (in error to be
a case of plagiarism, thinking that Eric Raymond, with whom I
co-authored the essay "How to Ask Questions the Smart Way", had
willfully deprived me of author credit -- when in fact Eric had simply
_not_ done what Jim asserted, willfully or not.  The justification for
that claim was a bit weird, but it was an honest mistake.  He wrote an
e-mail to a large number of people including me, confronting Eric on his
supposed misdeed -- and was quite surprised to get a reply from me
telling him he was fundamentally mistaken on both his facts and his

That all got more-or-less straightened out, and, to my knowledge,
nobody's lastingly annoyed at anyone else.  I am forwarding this late
entry in our exchanges for some more-general observations I hope will be
of broader interest.

----- Forwarded message from Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com> -----

Date: Sun, 1 Jan 2006 00:14:47 -0800
From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
To: Jim Thompson <jim at netgate.com>
Subject: Re: More on he Eric S. Raymond Rick-Moen-author-credit-remover-o-matic

Quoting Jim Thompson (jim at netgate.com):

> No, I don't think we've met, though several people enjoy (?) mutual  
> acquaintance.

Well, I'll be glad to buy you a tall frosty one, when we do meet.

> OK, most of what I said was based on Nick's observations, (having been
> there when you were both at linuxcare, and subsequently(?) all at VA)
> and the fact that Don  (Marti) is the guy who originally pointed to
> the google disparity.

OK.  I'm sorry to have (even slightly) jumped down your throat like that
-- and thank you again for your quick action.

> The issue here (for me) is that Eric has been found lacking on other
> fronts.

It being a small community (a point I'm sure I'll come back to), I'm
sure I've heard all the dirt people hurl at Eric as well as at just
about everyone else with a recognisable "name".  

The following may seem to ramble a bit, sorry:  I have one larger point
and several smaller ones to make.

You might (or might not) be interested in the grapevine claim about me:
I'm said to "drive away new users", and there is a small group of
people, some in Silicon Valley, some near San Diego, and a few in west
central Florida, who've mutually vowed to work to get me expelled from
all possible Linux user group mailing lists.  (You can find some of this
discussion via Google on a mailing list called "slug-politics".)

If you question them on instances of this, they either say it's
something "everybody knows" or point to anonymous postings on the Slashdot
thread that followed my being interviewed by an Australian newspaper
(actually two, Sydney Morning Herald and The Age).[1]

If you investigate further, you find that some of the extremely large
number of novice users I've helped over the 13+ years I've written on
the Net about Linux posted to that same Slashdot thread, angrily
refuting the anonymous posts, using their real names.  If you look
further still, you find that the "Rick Moen drives away new users" 
people are -- uniformly -- _experienced_ (but severely
passive-aggressive) Linux users who've been angry at me for correcting
some of their own technically inaccurate postings on the LUG mailing
lists we share.

This is a particularly low and dishonest blow, given that it's difficult
to find people who've spent more time, energy, and care into helping new
Linux users than I have -- or have more people who will vouch for that.
But, if you're passive-aggressive and simply wanting to backstab
someone, that's the sort of tactic you use.

But that's all a sideline to the more serious point I was trying to

Now:  As I was saying, it's a really small community we're in.  I
started to notice some alarming trends during the post-Crackmonkey years
of the tech collapse:  As people had the sense of competing for a
shrinking pool of jobs, a number of them started rather ruthlessly
attempting to demolish one another's professional reputations in the
most amoral sort of ways -- including anonymous smear-campaign Web sites
and forum postings (including, well, the one linked to from your blog
that attempts to go after Eric).

Partly from revulsion at seeing that, and partly from existing
inclination, I've made a point of never, ever succumbing to the
temptation to leave out my full name and address in online discussion,
even in places like LWN where handles are allowed, or Slashdot et alii 
that support anonymous posting.  My name and e-mail address are always
at the bottom.  It's not (I think) egotism:  It's a sign that I'll never
say something I'm not willing to fully stand behind, personally, just as
I say nothing behind someone's back that I won't also say to his/her face.

> I respect your opinion too.  Doc (Searls) said similar things, but  
> he's a bit more ... political?

I'm political; I'm just too paranoid to be very self-revealing, most of
the time.  ;->   

Doc (and Eric, too) will often start out writing about a subject by
writing about himself and his doings.  They implicitly open themselves
up, by doing this, to personal attacks.  

By contrast, I'll generally start talking about something as a subject
of interest without putting myself in the middle of the narrative -- or,
if I'm in it for some reason, I try hard not to make my argument turn on
points involving me personally.

This is just partly how I was trained to write, as an essayist, and
partly my instinct for rhetoric at work:  If you stake an argument even
in part on your personal authority -- or can even be credibly claimed to
have done so -- that gives unscrupulous people who dislike your
conclusion an easy cheap shot:  attacking the basis of your authority,
i.e., attacking your credentials or standing.

When such attacks are, objectively, non-sequitur because your argument
wasn't _based_ on your own personal qualities, then it's called the
fallacy of argumentum ad hominem (argument against the man, as opposed
to against his substantive points).  The objection isn't to the tactic
being unpleasant; rather, it's to it being inherently unresponsive to
what it purports to refute.

But anyhow, to say it yet again, it's a really small community we're in:
You don't know if the person you piss off today might be your boss
tomorrow -- or the prospective co-worker who interviews you.  I'd rather
not avoidably annoy (at least _accidentally_) someone I might have to
occupy close quarters with.[2]

Except, of course, (many) DJBware groupies, who can go hang.  ;->  My
wife interviewed, during the collapse years, at a firm that makes
high-capacity SMTP appliance boxes, which happen to be based on a
locally modified version of Dan Bernstein's proprietary (but famously
high-performance) qmail MTA.  Pretty much their first question was 
"Are you related to _Rick_ Moen?"

Now, the applicant's objective in an interview isn't to tangle with
interviewers, even when they ask questions that probably violate the
employment statutes, which that one probably did.  The aim is to
politely probe each other to find out whether the applicant can work
with the employer, and vice-versa.  So, thinking on her feet, she just
said "Why, yes, I am.  {skipping a beat}  Opinionated, isn't he?"

I'd like to think that she got major points for grace under fire.  Be
that as it may, she did not get the _job_, and their attitude may well
say a great deal more about the firm and its reasonableness at middle
management levels if not elsewhere, than about her.

Because we live in that tight little community, it's also objectively
useful to speak charitably, whether you feel it in your mind or not --
not to mention leaving less of a mess all over the Internet, and letting
us concentrate on things that are much more interesting and important
than personalities.

And last, cheery greetings from 2006 to 2005.  Being halfway done with
the mostly painful Noughties is a good first step, and is improving my
outlook already.

[1] Mirrored at http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/smh.html .
[2] Back when Nick M. was one of my employees during Bubble 1.0 days, I
tried to teach him that "A gentleman tries to never give offence
_accidentally_."  I'm not sure he was paying attention.

Cheers,                   Now, it's time to hack the real world, and let other
Rick Moen                 people write Web sites about it.
rick at linuxmafia.com                                   -- Donald B. Marti

----- End forwarded message -----

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