Thwapping USENET Users With Flounders

USENET is a global message-board system. I spend a decent amount of time reading and posting to the comp.os.linux.* hierarchy. Enough users make the same simple mistakes that I'm getting tired of seeing them. It's probably time to find those that post without clue and thwap them soundly with a flounder.

Invalid From: Lines

Every posting contains a line that contains its author. In my case, it might look something like

From: David Z. Maze <>

This way, if somebody wants to send me mail in response to my posting, they're free to do so. Unfortunately, there are those who use this information for less than legitimate purposes, and so-called "spam email" abounds. To avoid it, some users change the From: line to something that can't receive mail:

From: No Spam Please <spam@me.not>
From: David Maze <>
From: David Maze <>

These are Just Wrong (TM). The first two puts all of the burden of effective back-channel communication on the responder, who has no idea what address to really send mail to when it bounces. The last two are better, marginally, since there's some clue on where mail should go.

Suitable number of thwaps: 1
Suitable remedy: Reply to every post by email (though see below). Forward the bounce message to the author. Correct the mail address in followup posts.

Getting the Right Group

USENET has lots of groups. Sometimes it's difficult to find just the right group. But people just seem to fail to do the obvious thing and look for other groups. Memory questions don't belong on comp.os.linux.x, for example, but people don't seem to find comp.os.linux.hardware.

Suitable number of thwaps: 1
Suitable remedy: Cross-post and set followups to the correct group.


Sometimes it's difficult to find the right group. I can handle that. Some people decide that, since one group might not be just right, they should post their message to every conceivably relevant group. This means that responses to the message are diluted by the historical flame wars on many newsgroups instead of just one, and that many more people get to be bothered by a content-free posting.

In the general case, a message should be posted to one and exactly one newsgroup. Any more should be justified at the top of the message body.

Suitable number of thwaps: 1 per group
Suitable remedy: Set followups to the single most appropriate group.

Worse are the people who cross-post the wrong way: by posting to one group, then posting an identical message to another group. This is Just Bad; it's impossible to find all the copies of the message, and the same answer will come up in multiple groups. This just wastes space and bandwidth. Don't do it.

Suitable number of thwaps: 2, raised to the power of the number of groups posted to
Suitable remedy: Killfile.

Frequently Asked Questions

Most newsgroups have a list of Frequently Asked Questions, with answers, which is posted periodically to the group. The comp.os.linux.* groups don't seem to have this, though in my experience it doesn't make much of a difference. These questions are asked on a daily basis by people who obviously haven't looked at the group at all before posting and noticed the last dozen answers.

Suitable number of thwaps: 1
Suitable remedy (TRTTD(TM)): Write a FAQ for the newsgroup, and point the clueless towards it.
Suitable remedy #2: Point the clueless towards DejaNews or another service that archives USENET postings.

Some FAQs

I've got 96 MB of memory, but Linux only finds the first 64! What do I do?

My first response was a simple "RTFM", since a file in the development kernel documentation explains this situation exactly. Unfortunately, it's not in the standard kernel documentation. So the best advice on this subject is DejaNews.

I started X from the shell prompt. I can switch to another text virtual console, but when I switch back my X server is gone, there's just it's plain-text output! What do I do?

Okay, look. This is Linux. Unlike certain other commonly installed operating systems, there is no combination of keys such that, when pressed in unison, will cause your system to spontaneously explode. So you tried Ctrl+Alt+F1 through F6 and your X server wasn't there. Did it occur to you to...keep going? No? Sigh.

Suitable thwaps: 1 per untested F-key

(In response to the previous) You can get back to your X server with Ctrl+Alt+F7.

Not on my system, you can't. On a stock Red Hat, Debian, or Slackware install, this is the case, but it completely ignores user customization.

Suitable thwaps: 1. They should know better.

My X server won't start! It gives me some error about "connection refused", I don't remember. Can you help?

Not without more details. What kind of video hardware do you have? How did you configure it? What _is_ the error message? Screens and screens of error messages can be tedious to read, but at least they contain "enough" information to try to diagnose the problem.

I heard that you can start an X program one one machine, and have its output come up on another; how do I do that? I set the DISPLAY environment variable to point to my Linux box. The program gives me some error about not being allowed to connect to the server. What gives?

RTFM, though finding something in the X manual pages can be rather difficult. Finding a good introductory X or Linux book is probably a better bet.

Suitable thwaps: 0, since the documentation is so hard to find and read

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