About Me, Letters to The Man, Technical

Flaming: Thesaurus Style

Systems Administrators can be an uptight bunch. In the past few weeks I have twice spent some time amidst my fellow professionals. Most are nice people, a good many are inoffensively undersocialized, and a noisy minority are just flamingly obnoxious. (I have, at times, been flamingly obnoxious.) Two nights ago one of my fellows recommended Cory Doctorow’s mind-churning post-apocalyptic masterpiece “When SysAdmins Ruled the Earth” . . . I dare you to read it!

Not long ago I joined a professional mailing list, and today I thought I would chime in on the topic of mobile phone reimbursement. I received a polite note from the list moderator: my message had bounced, could I please re-sends the message as plain text only. These days I am using Gmail, which sends messages in the ubiquitous multipart/alternative format, which leads with text that is followed by a potentially-prettier HTML “alternative”.

I dug around in the preferences to see where I could set “text only” but couldn’t find anything, and took that as a sign that in 2007, even Google doesn’t care about supporting this antiquated preference. I have since noticed that you can just click “plain text” right in the tool bar while you are sending a message. But . . . well, I felt inclined to engage in the time-honored tradition of obnoxious computer experts and impose upon the guy my social-technological criticism of the status quo in the form of a well-crafted flame:

I apologize for triggering an unintended exception within your system by my brazen flaunting of the antediluvian cultural mores of the group. I was unaware that there are yet a substantial number of Unix Systems Administrators in the industry who, after more than a decade, have yet to implement a sufficient combination of rudimentary technological support and cultural acceptance of the otherwise ubiquitous technology proposed in RFC 2045.

To my knowledge, my e-mail client (GMail) does not support the transmission of text-only messages, but imposes upon my orthography the ugly stain of multipart/alternative. This is likely due to the software vendor’s avaricious loyalty to the HTML document format, tempered only by a procrustean adherence to the principle of “graceful degradation”.

As my modest submission to the list does not strike me as sufficiently meritorious to bother pasting into the Unix “mail” command, I will content myself to unobtrusively study the rarefied wisdom of the more enlightened members of the group until such a time as I feel that I may possess rhetoric of sufficient gravitas to merit an imposition upon the cognoscenti. Thank you for taking the time to provide me with your polite advice on this solemn matter.

I have no illusion that my missive will cause a change in the list policy–frankly, I don’t care. The truth is, that being hampered by (an arbitrarily dumb) policy triggered my obnoxious indignation. At least I chose to express my angst in an artful manner. (At this point in my career, G3T 1T R1T3 0R D13!! just doesn’t pass muster.) The fact that I failed to see that my software was hiding the requisite option “in plain sight” only serves to make me look like more of an ass. I suppose that makes this a somewhat more entertaining story.

I guess I have had sufficient time off, now. :)

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Categories: About Me, Letters to The Man, Technical