There’s an interesting bit of statistical trivia connected to networking. Generally, a very small number of nodes conduct a very large amount of traffic. This is true whether you’re looking at network switches, backbone activity, or mailing lists. This is a plea from an overworked, high–traffic node, trying to explain what it’s like and why it can be so draining.
Draining… drains… drain cleaner… brains… brain cleaner! Yes! That’s what the lusers need! get your fresh caustic soda lye brain cleaner here! Ask a good question? Your brain’s in good shape, it doesn’t need cleaning. Ask a bad question? Say hello to the Brain–Otm Instant Brain Cleaner. On sale now, at Scary Devil Monastery!
Some people on a couple of mailing lists think I’m well–informed on issues related to those lists. I don’t know if that’s true, really — “wisdom” is one of those things that it seems you get less of the more you accumulate it — but I’m pleased to have that reputation. I cherish it, in fact. It’s important to me. This is why I’m so absolutely adamant about sources, methods, proof. If I’m going to have this reputation I feel I haven’t earned, then it’s up to me to do my best to live up to it. That means giving the absolute best information I can — not just passing on things I’ve heard, smoke that’s been floating around the net, but giving facts which anyone can confirm; and when that’s not possible, to clearly draw demarcations between what I think, what I know, and what I can prove.
Yeah, yeah. “I don’t want to be a jerk.” We get it. Good grief. Stop it, I’m getting misty. You wanna know something? Half of them have already stopped stopped reading! fatal uncaught logorrhea exception, -1 bytes read!
Another aspect of it is that I like a high signal to noise ratio. If you’re talking to me, you should be able to get high–quality, reliable answers to your questions. That much is fair and good. But if someone starts talking about how likely it is that p = np… if I keep my mouth shut, someone will walk away saying “hmm, apparently p = np.” In my really deranged moments, I imagine them saying “Rob didn’t say anything, so it’s probably reliable.” So this, too, drives me to correct the record… sometimes at great —
uncaught logorrhea exception approaching ultra–fatal levels
So. I’m neurotic like that.
I keep telling you, buy a Glock. You’ll be happier. They let OJ get away with two, and he’s a wifebeating ex–football player. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the deceased claimed p = np within earshot of impressionable newbies. I had no choice but to shoot him twice in the face for the good of the internet.” The prosecution would be forced to drop the charges from capital murder to littering. The jury would ultimately find you guilty, order that you be given a fruitbasket, and request that next time you practice good corpse–disposal technique.
I have a love–hate relationship with teaching. Nothing in the world gives quite as much satisfaction as seeing a student finally get it —
Wait, wait. It’s summer. Summer at the University. Coeds and summer clothes are everywhere, and you have the unmitigated gall to talk about the “great adventure of the mind?” Since when did you drink the higher education Kool–Aid? I don’t know you! help! Get me out of this moron’s skull!
— whether I’m teaching a Computer Literacy course or taing a graduate series in software engineering. I live for those moments. Put ten bright minds in front of me, each one eager to tear into new ideas, and I’ll pay you for the privilege of teaching or taing.
But put ten closed minds in front of me, ten minds who just want to be given neat, pat answers to questions they neither understand nor want to understand… do that and suddenly it seems a lot more like work, and a lot more like you’re not paying me enough.
The relevance to mailing lists is this: ninety percent or more of the questions I field come from people who want neat, pat answers to questions they can’t even articulate. That’s okay, honestly — sometimes it takes a lot of education just to be able to ask the precisely right questions — but I hope you can understand that it’s a little soul–draining. I would appreciate if you could think about how to make it a bit easier on me.
And so, this is a quick —
Look there! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… it’s Captain Contradiction, summoned here by Logorrhea Man when he said something would be “quick!”
— guide to the Care and Feeding Of A Guru.
Remember what the word “guru” means. It’s Sanskrit for “teacher”. Teachers are human beings with emotions, frustrations, and everything else. Your guru will sometimes be wrong. Your guru might know more than you, but your guru is not in any way better than you. Sometimes you will even know more than your guru.
Make sure to tell them their guru might be a highly stressed, heavily armed borderline psychotic with an inner evil voice urging him towards an unspeakably profane bloodlust. Not that you have to worry about that from me, of course. Innocent of all but malice, I am…
Remember your guru does not have magic powers. He or she cannot read minds, cannot answer vague questions, and cannot fix your problems automatically. Expecting these things from your guru is a quick way to make your guru break a bottle of Tanqueray over his or her head while whimpering quietly about the bleak existential despair that is Life.
When you ask questions of your guru, your guru is choosing to give you some of his or her time. It might be only a little time for quick factual questions. It might be a lot of time if the question is difficult, obscure, or requires wisdom and discernment. The guru’s time is his or her gift to you. It is nice to give something back. Good ways to give something back include —
A small donation to a charity. Try to keep the charities simple and apolitical: Oxfam, the World Wildlife Fund, or giving books to a local school.
Introduce a friend to whatever project the guru is helping you with.
Issue your guru a virtual beer token, redeemable for real beer if the guru is ever in your area.
Begin to walk on the Path of the Guru yourself. (See below.)
Run interference for your guru. If a newbie, bless their soul —
No! Eat! Eat! Eat their souls! Eat their souls for nourishment and for pleasure! blood and souls for the bofh!
Question your guru. If your guru gives you an answer, consider asking the follow-up question “why?” That’s a great question to ask, and hardly anybody asks it. It makes gurus feel like our wisdom is being asked for, not merely our command of esoteric trivia.
Say “thank you.” Especially say it out of the blue. “I just wanted to say thanks for all the great answers you’ve given, I’ve learned a lot!” is something that can really brighten your guru’s inbox.
If you wish to be a guru yourself, devote yourself to being helpful and patient with everyone. Everyone. Everyone. Even the paperboy who always throws the Sunday paper off in the flowerbed and gets your Dilbert covered in mud… even him. It is a guarantee that somewhere along your Path you will encounter idiocy and self–centeredness of such magnitude that you will want to tear your eyes out with a spork just to stop the horror — how am I doing, inner bofh?
Excellent, young Padawan! Your imagination is showing faint glimmerings of promise. Ah, but your training will not be complete until your natural instinct is to tear their eyes out with a spork. The master classes begin then, in which you will be taught to wash the sockets with nitric acid.
— wait, what about Brain–Otm Instant Brain Cleaner?
— anyway, when that day comes you will be glad that you spent so much time practicing patience and helpfulness.
Pay your respects to other gurus, regardless of whether they’re ahead of you on the Path or behind you on the Path. Distance is relative. When you first start on the Path your gurus seem so far ahead of you; but when you join your gurus and become a peer, you see you have advanced really very little and the road continues infinitely —
uncaught fatal logorrhea exception
uncaught fatal bad imitation of zen master exception
— eh. Who’s a guru? The more I know, the less I understand, as the great philosopher said.
Never. Ever. Ever. Take yourself too seriously. If you can’t laugh at yourself, expect other people to do it for you. If you can laugh at yourself, expect other people to do it with you.
Know when to stop talking. Dropping a shedload of information on someone all at once is disorienting to the person asking the question. Even if you intersperse dialog from your inner bofh. Especially if they didn’t ask a question in the first place.
To anyone whom I may have irritated or offended through the years, most probably through terseness to the point of outright aridity, or arrogance occasionally bordering on outright hubris —
I’m sorry. I’m human. I get stressed. I’ll try to be more patient. I’d appreciate it if you’d try to help me be more patient with you.
For those of you who have read this rant all the way through, I thank you very much for your patience and understanding.
You will find scoring cards placed helpfully under your seat, so that this rant may be scored on points of collegiality, erudition, insight, withering sarcasm, toe–curling invective and the other standard criteria set forth by Scary Devil Monastery.
You will also find I have, for your convenience, pre–filled them with straight 10s. Scary Devil Monastery expects no less of its scary devils.
And? And? Did you grab their wallets while they were seated and distracted?
(Yes. Shut up. You’re going to give away the final surprise!)
Peace to all. Virtual beer tokens to all the mods and everyone who’s helped out a newbie. The Sanctuary in Iowa City has a pretty good selection of beers and lagers, if you’re ever in this neck of the woods.
Thanks for reading. Out.