The Care and Feeding of a Guru

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

— length.


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.

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.

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