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

  • Hi! I finally replied to your comment on “They Died in the Waiting Room”.
    Been on vacation. :)


  • Erik

    The “When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth” reminded me of a funny little story a friend of mine wrote about a month ago. He’s a professor at UT San Antonio, Neurophysiology – we were colleagues at U of I. Imagine that neurophysiologists ruled the world…


    Some time ago I got a very close-cropped haircut (it is getting hotter). A day later when I was at the gym a ROTC student in the locker-room stopped me and inquired “Army? Air-force?” I looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “Neurophysiology!”

    The remark was impromptu but it got me thinking. Suppose, just suppose
    that neurophysiology was one of the fighting arms of the military, then
    imagine! Do read on…

    It is an incredibly hot San Antonio evening with temperatures hovering in the mid 200s. I rub my hands in front of a cold fire, the freezing flames flickering blue and white, trying to keep cold, and write …

    The Battle of the Neural Circuits

    Reported by: Lt. Gen. Physl. R. Ratnam (Retd.) NVIII, fMRI, EEG, SNRP.

    Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, Normandy, March 1944. A concrete bunker. A naked bulb at the end of a grimy wire glowed fitfully over a large table, around which stood three figures poring over a map. General Eisenhower stood in the middle, on either side stood General Sir Bernard Montgomery commander of the British Army Group, and General Omar Bradley commander of the American Army Group. The allies had finally established a bridgehead over Normandy, and the two Army groups were poised to slice through Germany executing a precise pincer movement as they raced towards Berlin. But all was not well. Silence hung heavily in the air until General Eisenhower sucked his breath in sharply, “won’t do!” he said, “ask General Physiologist Sir Dalgliesh to come in, will you?” he said to his aide.

    General Physiologist Sir Adam Dalgliesh, recently knighted for his
    heroic efforts at cutting off the German advance through the median
    eminence, walked in. Even General Eisenhower, battle-hardened though he
    was, was in awe of Sir Dalgliesh. By holding on to the median eminence,
    Sir Dalgliesh prevented the transection of the hypothalamus-pituitary
    axis, frustrating the German effort to cut off the vital gonadal hormone
    circulation. He was given the affectionate, albeit informal, title, Sir
    Dalgliesh, GnRH.

    Sir Dalgliesh walked in, hair radiating in all directions and eyes
    gleaming maniacally. He looked at his adjutant and said curtly “A
    Rooibos, strong and hot please!” His adjutant saluted crisply and left
    the tent. General Eisenhower smiled, “Ah! Adam! So pleased to see! Do come!” He looked at Sir Dalgliesh keenly, trying to discern signs of fatigue, or defeatism perhaps. But in this he was defeated. Gen. Physl. Dalgliesh was alert and vigorous, his eyes gleamed even more maniacally than usual. Gen. E was comforted, “Ah! Adam!” he said, “we are in a conundrum, of sorts…” he looked appealingly at Gen. D, “we have the Germans, sort of, but not quite… you see… its all brains from now on” At the word “brains” Gen Physl. D brightened, and his hair radiated wildly, twisting and curling, looping back, like coronal arcs in a solar flare. The surface temperature of his brain was over a million degrees Kelvin.

    Quickly, Gen. E highlighted the problem. The army groups of Montgomery and Bradley were poised to move with massed infantry, artillery and armour, but what they were lacking was “brain power!” thundered Gen. E, striking his fist with force on the table. “By God! We have the square-heads where we want them! We have the troops, the artillery, the armour… but what we need most is neurophysiology!” He looked at Gen. D appealingly, “without neurophysiology, especially the tract-transection units, the GABA inhibitors, the Na+ channel blockers, we are doomed!” He struck his fist forcefully on the table “we need the neuroanatomy! We MUST know how the Nazi units are tracing their way along the internal capsule!”

    Gen Dalgliesh was poised and cool, the Rooibos was refreshing, calming, and all future action was clear. He knew that Gen E was over-excited and so he said coolly, “The GABA inhibitory units are ready to go and we have ample supplies of Bicuculline; the tract-transection units are straining at the leash and are waiting orders; and the channel blockers … well! What can I say! Their pico-spritzers have been tested and tried, we have huge reserves of TTX, and they are in position!” He contained his excitement and said, “they are awaiting orders!”

    “Excellent!” boomed Gen. E, “how many units of the GABA inhibitors?” “Twenty!” said Gen D, “the tract-transection units?” asked Gen. E, “Fifteen, with precision surgical lasers!” said Gen D, and so on. At the end, Gen Eisenhower turned around to Montgomery and Bradley and said, “by God! Thanks to neurophysiology, we can defeat the Hun!”

    He turned to Gen. Pysl. Dalgliesh and took his hand in both hands and said “Adam! By heck! Future generations will owe their freedom to neurophysiology, neuropharmacolgy, and neuroanatomy!” Gen. D, his hair radiating maniacally in all directions, inclined his head with modesty, and said softly “let us do battle General! I am sure that your confidence in neurophysiology will not be misplaced. We serve the cause of freedom with honour!”

    [With this tacky and horribly maudlin ending, which I am sure is making you cringe, I conclude the first part of this epic encounter – Lt. Gen (Retd.) Ratnam.]

    [Future episodes will focus on the battle of the circumventricular organs, the tragic losses in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the heroic efforts of the allies in the basal ganglia, and finally, how the battle of the inferior colliculus set the stage for the capture of Berlin. In this final episode, we will recount how Gen. Physl. Dalgleish succumbed to grievous wounds in the battle of the auditory efferents].