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“I have toyota corola” (haxx.se)
1155 points by robin_reala on Nov 14, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 350 comments

Back in the days of shareware, around 1985, I wrote a program called TXT2COM. It was a simple way of turning a text file into an executable. All a user had to do was run the converted com file and the text file appeared on the screen with full scrolling, search and save. I had my name and phone number embedded in the program.

My first problem was when someone converted the Constitution of the United States into a COM file, but made some typos. I got hundreds of calls.

Then someone converted a entire library of gay porn text files which resulted in some uncomfortable phone calls to my wife while I was at work.

I released another version without my name and phone number, but the damage was done. I can still find my name embedded on com files in old archives.

The program was eventually bundled with an edition of "The Art of Computer Programming" by Donald E. Knuth. He used it to wrap some of the text files on the disk that came with the book. He paid me with a signed copy of the book and a very nice letter.


Reminds me of this - https://youtu.be/L8lA1pNvcz4 go to 2:45

Basically this guy is talking about the "first PC virus" called "Brain." 25 years after the virus first appeared (2011) finds a street address in Pakistan in the source code, goes to that address, and the malware authors are still there.

Yep, the authors are brother and owner of one of the first ISPs in Pakistan, Brain-net.

Knuth is such a class act. I don't think I've ever heard a negative story about him. Contrast him to, say, the harsh laguage Linus Torvalds routinely engages in or the many stories pointing out Steve Jobs' unfriendly side. I'm not 100% sure if you have to be a jerk to get ahead in life and lean towards 'yes' on this but when I see guys like Knuth, I wonder if nice guys do win sometimes.


As an 80s BBS kid, I thank you for this. I'm sure I used this many times over and never considered the author. I think this was commonly used to package text files for download back in the day.

You're confusing being a jerk with communication styles and cultural differences. You'd never hire anyone from the American inner city, from parts of Scotland and Ireland, parts of New York, and similar. Some very nice people talk loudly, swear, and use politically incorrect language.

This is part of the reason some URMs can't get ahead in US corporate culture.

Yes, Linus does swear a lot, and uses aggressive language. That's part of his style, his culture, and how he communicates.

No, he is not a jerk. The reason Linux beat the BSDs is because Linus is a very nice guy. He created a community which, despite the harsh language, was very welcoming, and willing to mentor new people. The BSDs created elitist, closed-off communities, which were unwelcoming to newcomers.

If you made a mistake, the BSD communities would write you off. The Linux community would tell you what you did wrong, and how to fix it, even if they used harsh language to do so.

The Linux culture is also quite meritocratic. It doesn't matter how you communicate, or how incompetent you were a year ago. If you're doing good technical work today, you're welcome. More than other cultures, arguments are taken at technical face value, not by who makes them.

> You're confusing being a jerk with communication styles and cultural differences.

I disagree. We always can simply claim 'it's a cultural difference' as an excuse, but that doesn't make it true and it doesn't make the behavior acceptable. Mature people in every culture look to show respect to others. If someone insulted me and said that, I'd think they were irresponsible and a bit slippery.

I've lived in some of the places you mention, and my experiences don't match your descriptions. People, as they are are everywhere, are generally polite and respectful. They may have some different ways of doing it, but those fundamentals are universal in my experience.

People naturally and quickly divine social norms from those around them.When I travel internationally, I learn and respect the social rules of the places I go. On a sports team, perhaps we pat each other on the butt; I don't do that in an office and say 'it's a cultural difference'. I may kiss familiar women on the cheek to greet them in my culture, but I wouldn't presume to do it in others. Travelers who don't learn the local norms are called "ugly", as in 'the Ugly American". Even entering a new work environment, I learn the social norms; those who don't look incompetent and rude.

How long have the people cited in this thread been in the professional IT culture? If they didn't have their positions of authority and instead had a boss in a company, my guess is that they would very quickly find a way to be polite. My guess is that they are polite with their spouses and kids; their in-laws, etc.

I think it's disingenuous to try to appeal to what you see as the norms of "professional IT culture" when Linus founded the Linux community, and with it, its culture. I think invoking the "Ugly American" concept when discussing this is interesting because saying that Linus and the Linux community should conform to "professional IT culture" at large seems emblematic of that mentality. Linus started a community and gets a disproportionate influence in setting its norms as a part of that.

That comment seems to assume that if enough people do it, it therefore is a good idea. Not all behavior is relatively the same; good and bad don't depend on what the majority likes to do. Lots of people in the business world are condescending toward women; that doesn't make it good or acceptable. In a different context, civil rights exist to protect the minority from the majority.

My point in the GP was that the claim of 'cultural differences' isn't valid; we all learn and adjust to new cultural norms easily, and very few cultures, if any, have the norm of disrespect.

Your arguments are internally inconsistent. Up one level, you argue that newcomers should adapt to the norms of different cultures, rather than expecting everybody to conform to their own expectations (fine). rpcastanga points out that Linus is behaving according to the norms of the linux community culture, and by your own argument newcomers should adapt to that culture rather than demanding Linus conform to "professional IT culture". You then turn around and complain about the fallacy of "if enough people do it, it therefore is a good idea". See the contradiction?

As far as I can tell you have not successfully argued that Linus / the linux community have no norm of respect. Other commenters have pointed out that the community does in fact have norms of respect, but that those norms include a clause along the lines of "if you bullshit and command a position where you are expected to know better, you may be bluntly called out on it".


> Up one level, you argue that newcomers should adapt to the norms of different cultures

My point was that newcomers can and do adopt norms quickly and easily. Therefore, bad behavior isn't due to 'cultural differences'; those are easily overcome.

> Your arguments are internally inconsistent

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. I'm afraid I am, myself, internally inconsistent. It's glorious. You should try it.

> A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

Sure, but making sure your defence of your argument doesn't contradict your argument can hardly be considered to be a foolish consistency.

I agree with you in general, but the 'Torvalds swears' thing that sparked the GP's comment, it is such a trope. He actually is a nice guy and has spent a lot of time patiently explaining things to people - it's just that those comments don't get plastered across gossipy tech websites.

Furthermore, if you think that bosses of companies are polite, you really need to work at more companies, because there's quite a lot of variance. There's a lot of bosses out there with very rough manners. And hell, in some places it was (still is?) someone standard to take business meetings at strip bars.

Similarly, I once worked support at an agricultural telemetry start-up, and swearing was part of the job. Our clients were mostly farmers, and swearing (if they were swearing) helped put them at ease and let us get on with the job.

Linus doesn't swear because it's "his culture." He swears to put people down. There's a difference between using harsh language casually to talk about something, and using that kind of language to talk down a person or their work. Linus does the latter. Not only that, but he openly admits it.

I don't understand why there's confusion on that score. He knows what he's doing, he knows it's dickish, he does it anyway because people let him, and legions leap to his defense for it. It flabbergasts me, to be honest.

That's why he's a jerk, and that's why it's unacceptable.

Unacceptable by who? Some universal morality? Come on.

Unacceptable for communication in a professional setting in North America or Europe. I don't buy the argument that it's acceptable to behave as he does in the workplace in Finland any more than it's acceptable in the US or any other such country.

It's also just generally a disrespectful way to treat other human beings, and that is pretty universal, actually.

But to be frank, I think that context was perfectly clear in my post.

I'm an Armenian living in Texas and his communication is completely acceptable to me. If anything the standard American corporate professional speak pisses me off when matters get serious. Why don't we embrace that different things work for different people and there is no communication standard to be imposed per continent or even culture?

I think you're conflating corporatespeak/not being direct with being rude. Compare these three statements:

"There's a problem with the function you wrote. I need you to fix it tonight." "The function you wrote is non-optimal for our goals. Please reconsider and reevaluate when you get a chance." "You fucked up that function. Fix up your shit NOW."

The first is "standard professionalspeak." It's clear, direct, gets the point across. It isn't rude. The second is worthless corporatespeak. The third is rude and dickish. It's also how Linus tends to communicate.

I agree the second is not great, but would you really prefer the third to the first?

My point is that you can be totally direct and clear about what must be done without being nasty to the person doing the work, and that is the ideal. I don't think there are many cultures that would prioritize being mean over being direct, but if yours does, I'd be curious to understand what advantage you think that confers.

Further, if we're going to embrace different communication styles, then I would say the onus is on people to learn to communicate inoffensively, not to learn to accept offensive communication.

The third statement would have been totally acceptable in my last team's slack channel. We all respected each other as both friends and developers so language of that sort was absolutely accepted. Sure, as an outsider it might seem brusque but for someone familiar with the team it was clearly camaraderie.

Talking about language without context is meaningless and so I try not to judge Linus off of a few publicly available emails. My Australian friends will refer to each other with language that is shocking to me as an American, but I acknowledge the context aound it and don't write them off as assholes because of it.

It's not "a few public emails." It's many, many examples over many, many years from a massive, high-volume email list that represents the bulk of the work done on the Linux kernel.

It's clear from the very public, recurrent fallout from Linus's behavior that it is not a matter of camaraderie or simple outsider misunderstanding. I agree, context matters. It's precisely because of the context that this language is not tolerable. The LKML is not a private Slack channel for friends.

Absolutely, among friends, such talk is generally tolerated and isn't a sign of rudeness or disrespect. My friends and I do the same thing in private channels. But in public in a professional setting is not at all the place for that.

Compared to how many emails he sends in total, it is barely even a few. By and large, you will not find a more friendly maintainer. If you keep ignoring him while trying to get something into his project, he will get rude.

And this is the funny thing about it. Even the people he "explodes" on usually get a lot of friendly "stop" messages from him well before any inflammatory message comes out. Only real exceptions I can think of is that he will meet an insult with an insult. Which, ironically, can go a decent way to making everyone else feel safer in the environment.

Edit to add: I do want to quickly add that as much praise as I can offer Linus in this regard, Knuth really is on another level. I do not intend to compare them.

> We all respected each other as both friends ...

> My Australian friends will ...

There's a common thread here: if you already know for sure that someone has respect and/or affection for you, harsh language from them just reinforces that, precisely because talking that way to a stranger or acquaintance is hostile.

Someone living in Finland (Europe) I always would take the third comment over the first one. In the first one, someone passive-aggressively orders me to finish fixing my stuff today. What if the fix is complicated and takes a week?

To me "fix up your shit NOW" is more open-ended, and if the fix takes me a week then that's perfectly fine.

Wouldn't be HN without someone taking something far too literally to the detriment of the original point.

How about if we modified the first comment to say "I need you to fix it ASAP"? I can't honestly believe that you'd much rather take someone shouting at you and making you feel bad about yourself, than a direct manager who ALSO speaks his mind, but can do so in a controlled, adult manner.

The way I see it, the whole point of communication is that people use a medium (like speech or writing) to get each other on the same wavelength. If in my head I'm thinking "I fucked up this function. I probably need to fix up my shit NOW", and the next person's reaction matches it, we are on the same wavelength. We can thus be more than the sum of our parts.

If he/she instead goes "There's a problem with the function you wrote", and in my head I need to go through the gymnastics of "I think he/she's basically saying that I fucked this function up and I need to fix my shit now", that adds a bit more effort to our communication.

Same is true in the reverse example of course.

Which is why people need to work with the right people, and there's no one-size-fits-all, especially when it comes to something as intricate as inter-person communications. Culture fit is real.

There is a scale of insincerity to rudeness. I've been in cultures where each of those is considered respectful and reasonable.

The onus is very much on corporate America to accept diversity. Right now, the only persons of color who are hired are ones who have mastered the culture, for example. That doesn't have much to do with technical skills. That's almost the definition of discrimination.

Respect has to do with how you feel towards a person. People can read through the language used, and as unprofessional as "Fix up your shit NOW" may sound, the details of body language, tone of voice, and facial expression can make that disdainful, angry, respectful, or any of many other things, depending on how you read it.

If I do shit work, I want people to talk me down for it. And I don't think I'm alone in that, either. Just as you don't like being talked down to, I don't like it when people don't put me in my place for the sake of my feelings.

Your argument is shit. (Another Linus quote) And here's why.

"I'm a bastard. I have absolutely no clue why people can ever think otherwise. Yet they do.

People think I'm a nice guy, and the fact is that I'm a scheming, conniving bastard who doesn't care for any hurt feelings or lost hours of work, if it just results in what I consider to be a better system.

And I'm not just saying that. I'm really not a very nice person. I can say "I don't care" with a straight face, and really mean it."

-- Linus Torvalds, 09/06/2000, LKML

"I like offending people, because I think people who get offended should be offended."

-- Linus, 2012.

Linus Torvalds on why he isn't nice: "I don't care about you."


It seems pretty clear to me.

"people who get offended should be offended"

He's saying that if you want to join the team, you should have a thick skin. It's his prerogative as project leader. Maybe in his view there's a correlation between thick skin and the abilities required for a kernel hacker.

"doesn't care for any hurt feelings or lost hours of work, if it just results in what I consider to be a better system."

The objective to make a solid kernel is above your feelings, his feeling and anybody else's feelings.

"I don't care"

Same as above: the kernel is above you.

Maybe the harsh language is a good filter. I'm sure there's less politics in the organization with a direct language vs. euphemisms for everything. Kernel programing is harsh.

You're reading a completely different hidden message in three separate sets of quotes spread out over a decade. At no time did he reference the kernel. Your idea is not clear, it's invented. And this idea you're pushing, that you have to be "tough" to develop for the kernel, is macho bullshit. It's software, not rugby.

Ever heard about irony? Or maybe nordic self-depreciation is not something the SV culture is able to parse.


Although IMO self-deprecation is often also self-depreciation, for some liberal interpretation of that word in this context, but I doubt that's what you meant.

My spellchecker got the better of me...

No worries, I thought the double meaning was at least somewhat amusing :)

Clear evidence of his self-deprecation is in the word that most of us say every day: git. His second major project was named with the philosophy "I named the first one after myself, so why not the second one?"

There's this bizarre thing going on on HN, reddit, and other tech sites. We saw it with Linus and we see it again with Trump. Suddenly, all these people are making excuses for terrible behaviors and outrageous claims. Usually following a "he didn't really mean that" playbook of justifications like "productivity" or "politics" like either excuses acting like a child.

Why are we afraid to call people out on the shit they say? Is this some new level of political correctness? Or do we just see these people as something to project onto and dismiss anything counter to that?

No idea, but it seems we live in strange times where a man's own words are ignored for feel-good conclusions that have no merit or basis in reality.

If you want to join the marines, you'll be screamed at, verbally abused, and generally pushed to your limits. It has to be that way, they are training 18 year olds to run to the sound of gunfire and perform under fire and the threat of death. You must put up with it or you do not belong in that group.

At the other extreme, if you want to join your local flying club, you can expect to be treated courteously. If anyone treats you like an asshole, the problem is with them rather than you. It can be that way, because the group is not trying to achieve anything extreme, its just for enjoyment and largely social.

If you want to join in the white hot stream of activity surrounding one of the world's most important pieces of software, its not going to be like your flying club.

Its not quite the marines either, but it is a place where very complex stuff has to get done, urgently, absolutely correctly, in the face of hundreds or thousands of interjections and "what about" from more or less well-meaning contributors who just don't have or get the big picture in the same way the core of the group does. (Talking about Linus here, not Trump :)

Sometimes, such an environment functions better with a culture of abruptness and "take no shit" is built.

Its very unfortunate for anyone who aspires to join such a group that they have to put up with that. But sometimes we have to acknowledge that that "terrible behaviour" is part of what makes the group work. Not all clubs are suitable for all people.

It's software. Software. Programming. There is no tough mentality required to write good software. You do not have to be a dick to write good software. Ever.

I disagree. Some software projects require a tremendous amount of communication to accomplish any task of any measurable importance. If there are three reasonable people involved in this communication, being a dick is probably not required. If there are tens of thousands of individuals involved, you will either be forced to be less than polite to some of them or you will not accomplish anything.

Politely saying no takes time and effort, especially if communication isn't your strong point. If I'm walking down the street, I'll probably be pretty polite to the first homeless guy that asks me for a dollar. By the time the hundredth flags me down before I'm even halfway to my destination, I'll have boiled that initial polite response down to "Fuck off."

I agree with this, especially since a lot of people will interpret politeness as being a sign that your decision is negotiable.

That polite "No, because of X, Y, and Z" rapidly turns into "I have made up my mind, no" and then into "This is not a fucking debate, so no, and fuck you." very quickly, especially if you're dealing with a constant deluge of stupid requests.

I'm not going to judge Linus for his outbursts, as obviously his method seems to work pretty well.

Has Linus Torvalds ever said anything offensive to you or anyone you know? It seems to me that the people complaining about his behavior basically don't have the standing to do so — they're attempting to police other people's interactions that didn't involve them.

(This is different from Donald Trump, where people have actually complained about being wronged by him, rather than complaining about an interaction between Trump and somebody else where neither party had any complaints. And this is ignoring how offensive it is to equate telling somebody to do their job better with sexual assault and racial discrimination.)

You don't have to get shit flung at you to know it's offensive.

Policing other people's interactions without the consent of any involved party is pure paternalism. What you think is shit being flung might be Tootsie Rolls to them, and it is not our place to tell these people how they have to feel.

Consent is irrellevant. We have a society specifically to police each other. And because we suck at both policing each other and achieving consensus and cooperation, we have government.

In terms of profanity, if someone says "man, I had a really shitty day today", that's not really harmful and doesn't have significant consequences. But when someone says "you are a real piece of shit", that is harmful, and does have consequences. It doesn't even matter how the recipient felt. The giver had an intent of harm that was driven probably by anger.

It's the verbal equivalent to punching someone in the nose. The aggressor got angry and they wanted to inflict pain, in order to try to affect change to a scenario or thing they wanted to be different (that's what anger is). And regardless of whether the recipient was hurt, we as a society say that letting out your anger at someone in this way is not acceptable, that you are not allowed to try to injure someone, whether they felt it or not. Obviously our laws are a lot more lax about speech than about physicality, but it's the exact same concept just in different mediums.

A woman may receive a sexist comment and not be bothered. But we agree not to tolerate it, whether or not she was bothered by it, because the concept, and the intention, are simply not acceptable in our society. The point is not to tell her what to feel, but to enforce our moral values as a society. If you don't like that, fuck you.

The other day, I tried an underhanded trick in a board game and won, and my friend said something along the lines of "You are a real piece of shit." She was really frustrated that I'd managed to trick her like that, but I knew there wasn't any real hatred underneath and I took it as a compliment. Would you harass my friend for our friendly banter, since the fact that we are both 100% OK with the conversation is irrelevant?

Replying to sibling, as nesting level reached:

This is a wonderful example of why human communication isn't only based on the semantic meaning of words. Flirting, sarcasm, irony - all would be lost to someone just parsing words, not being able to understand the finer communication on a subconscious level: Body language, rapport, etc.

I wouldn't be surprised if people who would call someone out on that language have a higher chance on being diagnosed with autism or sociopathy - which in itself isn't bad at all, but it helpts being aware that communication between humans is apparently perceived completely differently by different groups.

Yep. I would like to think I would be respectful in informing her I found her comment impolite, just like I would tell someone who said something sexist that their comment is unacceptable.

With all due respect, don't stick your nose unasked in other people's business.

Behavior like that makes me far more angry than rude comments.

"naughty words" are not synonymous with "rudeness". You can easily convey a message of contempt for the recipient with flowery, polite words, just as you can easily convey a message of fraternal love with rough words.

If someone told me to mind my language over a casual board game, I'd tell them to fuck off. A friendly jibe is just a friendly jibe, regardless of whether it had the word 'shit' in it or not. Words matter, but far less than intent does - and the intent of telling someone to clean up their act in a casual setting is that they're patronising you.

We have a society specifically to police each other

Err, no we don't. We have a society specifically to co-exist with each other. Proactively policing each other actually reduces our ability to co-exist.

It's not about political correctness. It's about what these people make you feel, and how you respond to it. People want to believe that somebody whom they like on one score - Linus's technical achievements, Donald Trump's ability to empathize with the working class and the poor - are likable on all scores.

It's much like the classic literary 'harsh father' figure - he may beat you, he may be strict, he may never show love, but he provides for the family and he teaches you to be moral, so everything he did must have been good. The beatings must have had a purpose. It's hard for us to accept that good and bad exist in the same person, and that somebody who does good things may also do very bad things, not just discretely, but often at the same time.

He's very clear in that he doesn't care about how you feel. If you understand that, and also you're ok with the idea that kernel's code quality is above everything, then join the team, else just use the product... or not.

I think your approach is reasonable, but lots of people on HN do not take it, and suggest that people who don't like it are the ones who are wrong. That is, they genuinely think the way he behaves should be aspired to. I agree that I can't change it myself, but that doesn't mean I support it.

There were many people greatly superior to Linus technically in the BSD community when Linux was wiping BSD's chronometers.

What you're talking about are ego defenses. And yes, it is in part projection. But the two cases are different.

When you see one person who is personally or socially powerful, and that person is a champion of one thing you strongly believe in, you will support that person in order to have that thing come to fruition, as long as the other things that person supports aren't too distateful to you. It's then necessary to defend that person so they can continue to be your champion - either out of ego, or purely to achieve your goals.

But when it's Linus, people don't defend him because they need to achieve something. They defend him mainly because of what he represents to them, and also for the work he does.

When it's Trump, people defend him because he's simply the most extreme choice possible. He makes you feel good, and that combined with anger becomes a positive feedback loop. He could murder someone and people would still find reason to cheer for it, not because they like what he does, but because of what he represents to them: extremism. (and now the thread is going to go down a political spiral... oh jeez, this poor thread)

>No, he is not a jerk. The reason Linux beat the BSDs is because Linus is a very nice guy. He created a community which, despite the harsh language, was very welcoming, and willing to mentor new people. The BSDs created elitist, closed-off communities, which were unwelcoming to newcomers.

I would challenge that notion that using an aggressive and diminishing language doesn't imply being a jerk.

Also keep in mind that BSD have legal challenges that GNU/Linux didn't so community is not the only reason why Linux won the popularity contest

> I would challenge that notion that using an aggressive and diminishing language doesn't imply being a jerk.

It's 100% a cultural difference. While you see it as personally aggressive and grating, a lot of people see "overly polite" language as a sign that you don't care about the topic being discussed and/or are trying to address an issue politically rather than by merits of a strong argument. Neither of these perceptions is really right or wrong, it just has to do with the perspective you have based on where you grew up and who you've interacted with the most.

From an engineering perspective it'd be optimal if everyone had the same universal expectations for how a conversation should be held, just like how it'd be optimal if everyone spoke the same language. People don't really work that way, though, and just like with languages we try to accommodate each other as much as possible and find middle grounds, etc.

Had a Program manager once who was the English Gentleman stereotype. No matter how ridiculously behind schedule someone was he could not confront anyone about it. He would just ask the same questions every week.

For six months I knew that we had a hardware driver problem on the target hardware that was causing the drive to be accessed at PATA speeds (3 MB/s max throughput stuck out from my time spent configuring Linux).

Finally, finally I convinced him to let me sit in on a call to the vendor (VxWorks) and in fifteen minutes we identified the problem and a feasible workaround. Old VxWorks, new bridge controller(?) backward compatible with one they DID support.

All because he couldn't say what needed to be said.

We got a nice 35% jump in the app after the next firmware upgrade.

My idea of the stereotypical English Gentleman as a program manager is someone who uses nice language and still makes it perfectly clear, after you have thought about it a little, that he's telling you to fuck off idiot.

Not someone who's not able to communicate.

We Americans are dense and don't always pick up on undertones of disappointment. Half of the program answered his questions as if they weren't loaded. It was painful to listen to after a year.

Here's an article which discusses some difficulty that British communication could be causing in diplomacy right now http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-37799805

When you say "trying to address an issue politically", that sort of implies a context in which you're pushing back against someone else who's already employed a more "Linus-like" approach.

That's not what the parent comment was suggesting. Someone like Knuth isn't accused of valuing politics over technical merit because he simply addresses technical merit in a polite way. I'm not one of the people who cares all that much that Linus is an ass to people on a mailing list, but it's ludicrous to suggest that his being an ass on a mailing list is necessary to convey a technical point.

I love Donald Knuth but let's face it, from a productivity standpoint he's strictly below average.

He's a perfectionist and he seems to get distracted easily.

Like me, he seems to overly inured to the siren song of Force Multipliers (making other people more productive) and really should have spent more time practicing the craft.

If I had it to do over again I probably would have spent a little more time coding and a little less of it thinking in my late 20's to early 30's. It would make a broader group of people understand what I'm about. Especially bosses who don't understand that it would take three people to replace me, even though the majority of the team close more bugs than I do.

> I love Donald Knuth but let's face it, from a productivity standpoint he's strictly below average.

In fact, Donald Knuth is so below average from a productivity standpoint that there is an entire book published about books and papers that Donald Knuth published: http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~knuth/cp.html

Ah, I thought you had me there.

Aside from Art, the Tex books, his earlier work on computational complexity and the one on AI, isn't most of the rest of that his bound lecture notes?

His extremely long side rail into typography was mostly what I was talking about. Art was left unfinished that entire time.

You just posted a critique of the most prolific living computer scientist as not productive and then proceeded to compare yourself to him. Who are you? More to the point, how did you get to be so delusional?

I wouldn't say it's universally necessary, just like it's not universally necessary to speak any given language to convey information. We just all have our own natural ways of doing things and it's not necessarily productive to try to get everyone to force themselves into the same mode of communication. We all have the tendency to view our natural modes as superior in various ways but I don't think we should let that tendency lead us to try to coral others into conforming to our norms.

You think Linux didn't have legal challenges? Where have you been since 2003?

The legal challenges were at very different points in their lifetimes. It's at least arguable that the legal issues associated with AT&T and BSD kept it from becoming as mainstream as it might have. (As did the somewhat splintered community.)

Linux OTOH was already well-established before the SCO suits.

I think BSD's biggest problem was all the fragmentation that they created for themselves, with FreeBSD and NetBSD and OpenBSD (and more).

BSDs legal challenges happened largely before Linux had any popularity, so the narrative that pins the blame for BSD's failure in the marketplace on its legal troubles seems hollow to me. The biggest lawsuit was settled in 1994, when Linux hit version 1.0 and Red Hat released its first version. FreeBSD 1.0 landed the previous year.

I don't really disagree. As you say, the legal issues with BSD had been largely resolved by the time there was a significantly growing market for x86 *nix. (It's also worth remembering that, at the time, a lot of people were assuming that market would just go to Windows anyway.)

I'm also inclined to think that fragmentation was a big part of why BSD didn't win out--not legal issues or licensing.

"You'd never hire anyone from the American inner city, from parts of Scotland and Ireland, parts of New York, and similar. Some very nice people talk loudly, swear, and use politically incorrect language."

Being born in New York (City), still living close and working there, I have to smile at the distinction between "American inner city" and "parts of New York". It just reinforces our attitude that there is New York and then there is everywhere else!

Thank you!

Stop talking nonsense. The first version of Linux came around 1991-1992, with a plethora of GNU programs to be used on it. The oldests of the current open-source BSDs were released 1993. That's why Linux got any success at all.

Knuth is a one man shop. Torvalds is leading the biggest open source project in the world, and Jobs was leading one of America's largest corporations by market cap. Leading is different than writing.

Being a leader does not justify being an asshole.

Nowhere did willhslade say that it does. He said that comparing Knuth's style to Torvalds's isn't very enlightening because they are fundamentally engaged in different activities.

Comparing Knuth to Torvalds and saying "look, you don't have to be an asshole to be a great leader" is like comparing Usain Bolt to Dean Karnazes and saying "look, you don't have to be really muscular to be a great sprinter." The comparison is pointless because Karnazes isn't a sprinter just like Knuth isn't leading major software efforts.

Find a successful leader of a large-scale piece of software who doesn't have a reputation for being an asshole and use them for the comparison.

> Find a successful leader of a large-scale piece of software who doesn't have a reputation for being an asshole and use them for the comparison.

Larry Wall. Tom Lane. Off the top of my head.

To be clear, I'm also not claiming that a leader has to be an asshole. I agree with willhslade that Knuth is not a meaningful counterpoint to Torvalds, though.

>The comparison is pointless because Karnazes isn't a sprinter just like Knuth isn't leading major software efforts.

That makes sense, except that OP said "You don't have to be a jerk to get ahead in life", he didn't mentioned being a leader. The followed commenters brought the leadership point into attention and then subtly implied that there is more correlation between being a jerk and a leader.

I was replying to cesarbs, who literally said "Being a leader does not justify being an asshole."

Edit: And yes, the conversation pivoted to being a leader because that is a critical difference between Knuth and Torvalds which seems very relevant to this sort of comparison.

> Find a successful leader of a large-scale piece of software who doesn't have a reputation for being an asshole and use them for the comparison.

So pretty much everyone except for Torvalds and de Raadt? Those guys are the exception and not the rule.

Bezos, Ellison.

I agree, still the exception, but I feel like it's extremely unfair to say "everyone except" and forget the devil himself :)

From what I have read Bezos always had a minimal role in the technical management of Amazon other than yelling at people to work harder and micro-managing how amazon.com looked. I have not read anything about Ellison but cannot imagine he has been involved in managing Oracle the database vs Oracle the corporation since the late 1980s.

Not to mention Jobs. Ballmer. Some would say Eich (on external politics).

So more business managers? Why should the behavior of dysfunctional business managers be acceptable behavior in hobbyist free software projects?

define large-scale?

used in large-scale or has a large-scale developer base? for used in large-scale I know some, but they don't have a large-scale developer base.

It's a survival mechanism. Not everyone has the time or ability to be nice to everyone they have to deal with in a position like Torvalds'.

> It's a survival mechanism. Not everyone has the time or ability to be nice to everyone they have to deal with in a position like Torvalds'.

Flaming someone on a mailing list takes as much time as being nice to them. If it was about time then Linus could just ignore or dismiss things without going out of his way to type up insults.

> Flaming someone on a mailing list takes as much time as being nice to them.

Not if you take into account the time saved by (strongly) discouraging people from wasting your time in the future.

> If it was about time then Linus could just ignore or dismiss things

No, you absolutely cannot do that. If you ignore people on software projects, they do not go away. They just get more convinced that they're right, which means getting more shrill and insistent.

You don't tolerate them but want them to tolerate others. TBH, I'd be totally fine if Linus ranted over my code because that's the way he is and I don't believe in community that tries to isolate an individual because he/she doesn't have a popular mindset.

Edit: typical -> popular

The whole "you're tolerant so you have to tolerate intolerance!!1!" thing is not some clever loophole, it's just a weak attempt to justify why people shouldn't be called out for being unpleasant/bigoted. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Tolerance#Paradox_of_tolerance

The "intolerance" Popper talked of preventing was this:

"In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols."

Cite: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/25998-the-so-called-paradox-...

So his justification for this was founded on a prevention of violence. We already have this in the USA, for example, in that we forbid incitement to violence, fighting words and the like. So unless you can show some strong nexus between these statements and actual, physical violence of some kind, you can't use Karl Popper as a justification.

On the contrary, it's calling out the blatant hypocrisy and utter lack of self-awareness of those who claim to be tolerant and embrace diversity ...except for those people and views they personally happen to disapprove of. Tolerance is not a meaningful concept when it only applies to those you happen to like already.

Thanks, for paradox.

It's not a wild west when you call people out because they are unpleasant. In modern world (as I see it) you create a competition and public follows best one.

That goes both ways, though, right? There are people who are isolated in the community because of the actions of hyper-critical people. The presence of people like Torvalds is isolating to others.

I mean, sure, you may think that Torvalds provides more value than the people he isolates, but either way people are getting isolated.

Thanks, I got your point, and I don't value Torvalds over other people, but I value his kernel engineering skills over other people's kernel engineering skills.

You know, if it has to be our decision whom to isolate, why not create a competitive community and vote for it with commits, instead of destroying the original community by removing Linus out of the office?

It can certainly justify being short with people though.

These days, it seems to be a requirement for getting elected.

Jobs wasn't an asshole.

People confuse directness with being an asshole. If your results suck, saying they suck isn't being an asshole. If you feel that something is horrible, sugar-coating it to make sure you don't hurt someone's feelings is unauthentic.

Here's the difference...

When someone says "your product sucks, throw it away" .. with the INTENT of causing that person to feel bad, thats being an ashhole.

If you tell them that their product sucks because you genuinely feel that way, and you're simply communicating authentically, then you're not being an asshole, you're being authentic.

Here's how you can tell the difference. The former in that example get stuck at best in middle management in low-quality companies... the latter finds themselves at the top.

Guess what: being an asshole is in the eye of the beholder.

If someone says I'm an asshole, I don't get to tell them they're wrong. It's how they feel about me, regardless of whatever I or anyone else feels.

The absolute best I could do is say that they're alone in feeling that way.

Lots of folks thought Steve Jobs was an asshole. You can say "well he was just direct" but that doesn't take away how they felt about him, or what their opinions are.

> Jobs wasn't an asshole.

so the stories about him firing people on a whim weren't true ?

Or that famous email telling everyone not to poach "his" employees. As if he has ownership over then like a feudal lord over serfs. Oh and that email ends with not very veiled patent lawsuit threat for anyone who disagrees? And you guys complain about your wages and working hours?

Maybe don't deify the guy who worked against you and your interests his whole career.

Oh, there's definitely a hermit vs ceo aspect here, but I really doubt it justifies being an anger prone leader with no filter. There are many leaders who aren't like this yet somehow they do okay and on the flipside many academics who are one-man shops who are massive jerks. I suspect tech draws in certain personality types (DIY types, aspies, loners, etc) who really never developed the social skills needed, didn't really do much teamwork when younger as tech is often a hermit's game, and fell into a position of authority and went with the default of bullying, which clearly gets results, but doesn't make for the best work environment.

I find myself dealing with the same struggles at work. I can't believe how slow/stupid/careless so many of my co-workers are, but snapping at them is ultimately counter-productive and more than likely bad for my career. Frankly, I don't considering myself a good team player and I lean towards the hermit approach often. If I was the boss, who knows, I'd probably be a terror.

I interviewed Knuth several years ago [1] and found him to be just as classy in person as his reputation suggests. An article I read in preparation for that interview described him as someone who made you feel smarter by simply interacting with him. I found this to be true as well.

[1] http://www.informit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=1193856

>Remember, though, that my opinion on economic questions is highly suspect, since I’m just an educator and scientist. I understand almost nothing about the marketplace.

Can you imagine guys like Musk, Kurzweil, Hawking, etc saying such a thing. It seems like its very in vogue to be a "man of everything" and "expert in all things" right now. Hawking writes about AI even though he's done zero AI research or any AI software engineering. Kurzweil sees himself as an expert in aging and medicine even though he holds no M.D. Musk is an endless source of 'big ideas' many of which are highly questionable and well outside of his wheelhouse of rocketry and cars.

What a humbling response by Knuth. We can't we have more people like this?

It's important to keep in mind that they live in two opposite contexts.

Knuth lives a more or less "monastic" life; he practically doesn't need to deal with anybody, while Torvalds is strictly entangled with an entire community.

While this of course doesn't entirely justify both behaviors, the two contexts are certainly very influential on them.

Logged in to upvote your comment, hopefully you won't be disuaded by downvotes. Maybe this whole "deal with my being unpleasant" thing stems from people seeking to justify their unwilingness or inability to practice self-control. Whatever the reason it is detrimental and worthy of being opposed to. It's one thing to be unpleasant to people who are obstinate. It's another to be unpleasant to people who are ignorant. And yet another to be rude to people who you simply disagree with.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I WANT Linus to be "rude" to SENIOR devs who should know better, because it's better to be rude than to ship code that results in critical infrastructure getting pwned, or worse, somebody to die.

I actually fear the day, when somebody more polite gets in and lets it known, (unintentionally, of course), that shitty, rookie code is now fine, that being lazy and not treating the trust that has been placed upon you by being a subsystem maintainer for the most important software project of the 21st century - if you don't consider that an important enough responsibility and are willing to embarrass Linus, who put his trust in you, then yeah, I don't mind him being rude.

I would mind if he was rude to first time contributors fixing a typo, that's not who he's rude at.

He can't fire these people as such, many of them work for sponsors who pay his salary and he has no direct control over them, so being rude is one of his last resorts - especially since it's hard to express just how hardly displeased over email WITHOUT being "rude".

It's not a binary choice between being rude or shipping bad code. You can reject patches and give feedback without being an asshole about it.

> You can reject patches and give feedback without being an asshole about it.

He does give feedback, if you take a look at LKML he's only "rude" to the repeating offenders, not those who make a one-time honest mistake, but rather to those who got too comfy to actually review the code they're sending to Linus as "reviewed".

I am not saying Linus is always right, but if you actually follow his reasoning, it makes a great amount of sense.

I think ldfdr made a good point in his sibling comment that deeming something as "unpleasant" is highly tied to your personal perceptions of what civility is, etc, which is generally rooted in your culture and where you grew up. I think we have to work to understand each other as much as possible and understand people come into conversations with different expectations. I think with someone like Linus we also have to realize that as a community founder he has a disproportionate influence in setting community norms, and people who want to get involved will tend to naturally gravitate towards his communication style. You wouldn't go to France and demand that everyone speak English all the time; we have to work to accommodate each other, and part of that is not assigning value judgements to a communication style.

part of that is not assigning value judgements to a communication style.

I disagree with this kind of pluralism. Communication style and skill matter deeply, but styles aren't simply "different but equal". In the current context, it's easy for technical people to dismiss everything but the "content", usually a kind of reductio ad absurdum to "technical content". But communication, by definition, involves the audience's perception. If your communication style inhibits your audience's understanding or even their willingness to listen, then you are simply a bad communicator.

Case study: some years back, I was heavily involved in hand drumming. A really excellent master drummer had recently immigrated and settled in my area. The community was very supportive, but the local students had a serious problem with him: he was an abusive asshat as an instructor. This was definitely a cultural style, one that was the ubiquitous norm in his home culture, particularly with a large body of children as the primary students. But it was absolutely off-putting to enthusiastic, self-motivated Western adults who were there to learn. They weren't making mistakes because they were lazy or dumb or inattentive, but just because they were new. Fortunately, community members realized this, supported him, and he switched his style in record time... to both his own and his students delight. His own skills and his ability to mentor were never in doubt, but his communication style utterly destroyed his ability to actually communicate effectively.

So yes, I'll agree that cultural understanding is really important for both the communicator and their audience. But there's a line to be drawn at outright abuse. Just because it's the norm elsewhere doesn't make it acceptable anywhere. Some approaches to communication are simply more effective than others. Failing to realize the human impact of your communication style on your audience, or worse, realizing that it's negative and doubling down on it, make you an ineffective jerk.

> If your communication style inhibits your audience's understanding or even their willingness to listen, then you are simply a bad communicator.

It's certainly not that simple. This only makes sense if your goal is to communicate in a culturally-agnostic manner, which is not something you can reliably do. It's like flag burning: you can't really communicate the same point better in another way. It at least makes some sense to tromp on people's emotions in a context where you are trying to teach them that their emotions are an obstacle to success.

It is important for the teacher to understand the student, but it is arguably more important for the student to understand the teacher.

I think you're reading too much into what I'm saying. I'm not trying to argue that there's some total ordering on the set of communication styles (whatever that might mean), and/or that there's some kind of "ideal" communication style.

But sometimes an asshat is just an asshat. There are boundaries of negativity past which it's basically never productive to cross, and telling people who've received that kind of behavior that they should just grow a thick skin ... is pointing the finger the wrong direction.

Unless you're teaching philosophy or some sort of self-help seminar, IT'S NOT YOUR JOB to teach people that "their emotions are an obstacle to success"

Don't tell me what my job is.

Linus' rudeness is not culture but an abandonement thereof. For being influential he should only be held to a higher standard. His bad example should certainly not be followed. Sincerely, your friendly non-native English co-speaker.

Has Linus ever been rude to you? Have any of your friends complained about taking the brunt of his rudeness? If so, that would be really interesting. From what I've seen, there is basically nobody who has actually complained, "Linus was rude to me." It seems to be a meme that consists almost entirely of putting words in other people's mouths.


For what it's worth, coworkers have pointed out to me how much of a bully Linus has been. I'm not sure it matters that the bullying wasn't directed at them. Bullying is still bullying.

To put it another way, would you want your manager to speak to you how Linus spoke to Mauro? Even if it was deserved?

Linus also doubles down and insists it's ok: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/07/linus-...

We have civility rules on HN for a reason, for example. I don't think civility is artificial in the ways that Linus is saying. You can be courteous to someone you're in command of.

So the only example we can find is when a senior dev, that should rightfully know the rules of kernel development by heart, is pulling not just one but two rookie mistakes within a short time span? And we do not expect Torvalds to fly of the handle at that?

Sarah Sharp leaving the kernel community comes to mind (although Torvalds is not mentioned by name but more a perspective on the whole community).


I wouldn't want my manager to speak to me the way Linux spoke to Mauro. I also wouldn't want my manager to tell me to program in Java. I also wouldn't want people to do to me a lot of the things they do in the bedroom. But as long as they don't do it to me, and the people who are doing it are freely consenting, I do not consider it my place to tell them what they may or may not do.

At what level are these people freely consenting? They want to change the kernel and there's only one main linux kernel. So they deal with the bullying gatekeeping and abuse. The idea that they all love Linus's antics is ridiculous.

For those that just click the first link and think that it might be a one time tirade. I have a good friend that has had to deal with him extensively and he sounds like a belligerent a-hat all the time.

I'd just like to note that in some interactions I had with Linus, he was very polite, when he had some reasons to be impolite. I think the blunt interactions are almost always to do with things done by people who should know better.

It's much more newsworthy that Linus was rude, than that he wasn't. News is biased. Who knew!

So if things don't happen to me, I should turn a blind eye. What a nice principle for a thriving community!

He did set the norms, but it's not like he's a godlike being with infinite wisdom or something. If people in his community don't agree with the norms he's established, there's nothing wrong with trying to buck those trends. I would not compare that to going to France and insisting that everyone speak English. Rather, if enough people in his community dislike the examples he sets, then in the analogy, Linus is the person who is demanding everyone speaks English. Community norms are heavily influenced by community leaders, but ultimately community norms are whatever the community consensus is, regardless of the leadership.

None of this is assigning rightness or wrongness to anyone, it's just group dynamics. If he drives people away, he may be OK with that. It may even be his desired outcome. There's nothing wrong with him running things the way he sees fit, and there's nothing wrong with other people thinking he's an ahole and going their separate ways. I'm much more sympathetic to the latter than the former though. In my experience, leaders who are too focused on getting people to respect their authority above all else tend to be the "B's" in the "A's hire A's, B's hire C's" management cliche.

May be Linus has to deal with lots of team members. Knuth works in solitude.

Wow soapbox much? We get it, Linus is a big meanie.

Woah! Talk about a blast from the past. I used your program a ton back in the BBS/DOS days to show little stories I wrote and instructions and other silly things a high school geek would do. Thanks for your work!

Reminds me of the SQLite developers who got overwhelmed:


Funnily, the problem with unused temp files persists. However, self-help is improved now, as a search for the new prefix shows: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=etilqs

If it's possible for me to wake up a developer with only a phone call, I think your support system is broken.

Developers have phone numbers like anyone else. And when people aren't paying for support, because this is open source, there isn't exactly going to be a 24/7 support helpline.

Why do people have a publicly listed personal phone number though?

I've gotten texts and calls in the middle of the night from people wanting help on open source stuff I've worked on, and I have no publicly listed personal phone number. No idea how they all get it, although one told me that he got my business card at a conference. I imagine that's happened once or twice and it's been passed around.

I do of course respond by saying it's inappropriate to call me directly in the middle of the night, and they should contact my employer for support or email the appropriate public mailing list and I'd be happy to respond there. Still happens a few times a year, though. Not surprised SQLite folks get overwhelmed, even if they didn't go out of there way to offer. I've worked on lesser-known projects and have never even been the key developer.

I've gotten a couple calls from people that linked my email in a git log to my domain name which lists my cell phone.

I was not polite. Figuring out how to type "git clone" does not entitle you to bother me.

When I was writing some shareware and other PC software, there were basically two ways to reach me: write me a snail mail letter or call me. So it was pretty normal to publish your personal phone number (and address). I wouldn't do it today, but those were pretty much the only ways to contact people.

Been there done that. It was that horrible Windows'95 boot to clean DOS mode, which sometimes got messed up while renaming files and stuck in boot loop. Luckily I knew how to fix it. But it was getting really tiring after helping a few totally n00bs with that issue. The Windows problem wasn't connected to my application in anyway. But Windows recommended using clean DOS for the application, and that's why people often got into that MS trap.

Even if you want to publish a phone number, you can get a voip number for under $1/mo from many providers these days and redirect it as needed, block numbers, send to voicemail, etc. Complete control over it and complete separation. It may have made sense at one point but today it seems crazy.

You're being downvoted because the parent clearly isn't talking about present day, but is talking about writing shareware probably in the 80s or 90s. Not much useful/cheap VoIP going on back then.

People are downvoting you because the guy you are replying to was talking about back in the days of shareware. There was no VOIP back then.

I assume you're raking in downvotes because the context was pretty clearly why someone would have at some point in the past published a personal phone number long before the services you describe were available. Clearly, most people wouldn't do so today.

How'd that work over a 32k modem?

32k? Loooxury! We had to bang magnetic rocks together fast enough in order to induce a current on the phone line and we only got 1200 baud and WE LIKED IT.

Seriously, 32k in the days of shareware? I think the fastest modem I ever saw (in that era, anyway) was 19.2k, and almost nobody had those. Pretty sure I went from 19.2 straight to ADSL.

>Seriously, 32k in the days of shareware?

Yeah, but very latterly. Modems topped out at about 56K (although, in my experience, they rarely connected at that speed). That's the fastest I had before getting broadband in the late 90s.

Before that I had 9600 (maybe something else in between), although as I recall there were competing "standards" in the 9600 space.

> Modems topped out at about 56K (although, in my experience, they rarely connected at that speed).

56k modems were actually limited to 53k download and 34k upload: http://www.10stripe.com/articles/why-is-56k-the-fastest-dial... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modem#Using_digital_lines_and_...

My mistake 32k was the first I'd used and I downloaded a great deal of shareware at that time. I didn't realise it was dead by then.

I started off with a 36k and then a 56k modem and remember shareware being significantly involved in my early uses of it (also napster). I think the problem is that, for us, we arrived in the age of shareware via said modems so that was normal to us ... and then those on here older than us started enough earlier that our entire experience was the tail end of theirs when it already "wasn't like it used to be" for them.

(I'm 33, maybe that fact will shed some light)

Shareware was originally very much part of BBS culture (or at least hobbyist PC culture) and was largely set against expensive retail box software that mostly let you, at best, try out limited demo versions.

As the Internet/Web and open source merged into the PC world from the Unix world--and it became easier to legitimately trial retail software--shareware largely morphed into just another category of retail software that was sold online.

It might not be "publically listed". You'd be suprised at the lengths people will go. To them, it's one weird trick to get past the call centre

If you google my (unique) name my phone number comes up on various sites like whitepages.com and the like. I don't know how it got "out," perhaps it landed on some public record somewhere that's been scraped and then the scrappers are scraped and it ends up all over.

Because they want to help their users as much as possible? </speculation>

Legislative requirements, in most places. In Greece my phone number was unlisted. In Germany, my carrier notified me it was automatically placed on the <whatever-service-they-use>.

You totally can have unlisted phone numbers in Germany.

Yes, legislation in most places specifies your number to be listed, unless you ask it to be removed. Germany was probably a bad example.

> aren't paying for support, because this is open source

Side (probably useless) note: I think majority of people ARE paying for support because it IS open source. You don't pay for support for commercial software, because that is included in the sticker price.

They don't have a support system at all, that's the point. People were just googling "sqlite".

As somebody who has written to companies about bugs in their products (and almost always ignored), I would really appreciate a response even if it was some form letter thing to the effect of "I just make a small component that happens to be used in your car, kind of like the people who make the screws in your car. Please contact your car manufacturer directly."

I personally just like knowing somebody read my letter instead of going into a black hole. And I kind of expect these things to go into black holes, so it's actually kind of heart warming when I receive any kind of response.

And this response would at least tell me to try a different contact. (I know in this case who Daniel Stenberg is and know what curl is so I wouldn't make this specific mistake, but sometimes hunting for support contact information returns things that are vague.)

If the customer gets angry at the response, it's fine because it just means they don't understand, which means they are just getting angrier at the car company. The car company deserves that since they made it so hard to contact them.

It's easy to say that if you don't have experience from the receiving end...

For a very long time I ran publicly accessible NTP servers. Usually this required little to no maintenance, sometimes we'd get hammered (like when a large ISP rebooted all of their customers boxes at the same time). But usually it wasn't a big deal.

Now, when you have hundreds of thousands of people using your services, it doesn't take many people who have decided you are going to fix their problem, as a percentage to get overwhelmed. Mostly users were great, but there were a few...

My company provided Linux support, and our support number included an option users could select that was prefaced with "If you are an existing customer and are having a service impacting emergency, press 1 to receive a call back from a technician within 15 minutes."

This system would allow them to leave a voicemail and then would log a bug in our tracking system and would start calling our senior on-call tech and their backup, 24 hours a day. It was either the second or third time in a week this happened, and I replied with a "You are not a customer, this is not a service impacting outage, and you are reporting our servers replying to your computer's requests for time service."

The level of vitriol I received in return convinced me it was time to stop offering NTP as a public service.

Most people will spend some time understanding what is going on before reaching out to someone they've never heard of before, expecting them to fix the problem. But if you have enough people using something you provide, you will run across people who have huge expectations of you and get pissed off if you don't fix their problem.

>and our support number included an option users could select //

Did you charge callers. I wonder if "you will be billed £20 for this call [or $30 or whatever]; current customers will have this cost refunded" would be enough (even if you never charged) to put people off.

Not the parent, but that actually seems like a pretty solid idea. Is this actually something that can be done?

Alternatively, why not just require the customer to enter their 10+ digit account number to proceed further?

In our case, implementing a pay for call, or even an account number would have been fairly hard, as an 8 person company. MOST people respected it, and on top of it there were a few cases where people used it to our benefit.

So, it was definitely a judgment call about if we should add something requiring a special code for access, charging, etc... In this case, we had to make the judgment call about implementing something like this, or stopping public NTP service.

Part of the equation also included that pool.ntp.org was now available and fairly well populated, when we started offering NTP service it wasn't a thing.

It is what Microsoft does. Even with a support contract, you have to provide them with a credit card number before they will accept a support case. When Microsoft agrees you've found a genuine bug in their software, they won't charge you.

But there are, presumably, tens if not hundreds of millions of cars with curl in them now. While I'm sure you would appreciate a response, imagine the time it would take to reply to these questions? I mean it's not like it's a bug in curl...

As for "if the customer gets angry at the response, it's fine...", well, what if you're taking the time to reply and then getting angry responses? What a waste of emotional energy.

Personally I'd agree that the correct thing to do is not to reply, there's only so many hours in the day, and there's really _nothing_ he can do to fix anything.

The Poindexter in me thinks he needs a mail relay with a whitelist. Everything in the whitelist gets through (plus some keyword), everything else gets a reply with "If you saw my email in $DEVICE, please contact the manufacturer, if you really want to talk to me, place $VERB in the subject of your email.

> If you saw my email in $DEVICE, please contact the manufacturer, if you really want to talk to me, place $VERB in the subject of your email.

Never underestimate desperate people's selective deafness; when you want to solve a problem, you will filter out everything between you and it, and will see only "place $VERB in the subject of your email". The false positives from this method will be the most desperate, and probably the least congenial.

I'm in a roughly similar (if lower in scale) situation. I maintain a popular iOS app that frequently gets emails from people confusing my email address with the official support email from the service my app is a third-party tool for. I get emails on the order of maybe 3-4 a week.

I have a TextExpander snippet auto-reply. Takes me maybe 10 seconds to reply to a given email. It's hard to give advice without knowing the rough volume of the emails the author deals with; I can imagine situations where this would be a perfectly viable strategy, or times when even that would be an unreasonable amount of work.

So what's the point in putting your e-mail address at the end of the license/about/readme ?

If you don't want to receive e-mails, don't put your e-mail.

If you just want to receive some kind of e-mails (like just congrats but not bugs), add that information in the end. Of course some people won't comply, but that's just human behavoir.

Now, just putting your e-mail and letting the black hole eat them without an answer is very disappointing to those who took their time to read the license/about/readme, find your e-mail, put their hope that you're able to help them in some problem, and then... nothing.


Yes, I did read the thread, the original post, and so on. I'm just putting myself in the position of the average costumer, or not-so-average, that took time to read the available documentation and tried to fix something, or to ask for a new feature, or anything else. He isn't receiving spam. I'm not suggesting, either, that he should address the problem or even find out who's the correct person to blame inside the company X that did the GUI of the radio for the company Y that finaly sold it to DENSO that will sell it to Toyota...

One way to fix would be, for example, changing the license in any future version to read "If you're using this software inside any component that will be used in a car, you should display the Copyright_automotive.txt contents instead of this one".

Edit 2

As far as I could find (in https://curl.haxx.se/docs/copyright.html), I would never blame regular car users, not even some tech users, if they couldn't find what Daniel is responsible for. The license just says:



  Copyright (c) 1996 - 2016, Daniel Stenberg, daniel@haxx.se, and many contributors, see the THANKS file.

  All rights reserved.

  Permission to use, copy, modify, and distribute this software for any purpose with or without fee is hereby granted, provided that the above copyright notice and this permission notice appear in all copies.


  Except as contained in this notice, the name of a copyright holder shall not be used in advertising or otherwise to promote the sale, use or other dealings in this Software without prior written authorization of the copyright holder.

If you read that and can find where it says that it's not about the GPS, the mapping of the Electronic Fuel Injection, the windshield wipers, or something else, or even that it's about some specific piece of software, please, just point it out.

> Now, just putting your e-mail and letting the black hole eat them without an answer is very disappointing to those who took their time to read the license/about/readme, find your e-mail, put their hope that you're able to help them in some problem, and then... nothing.

He is not obligated to answer every email he receives.

He is certainly not obligated to play first-tier tech support for anyone who happens to purchase a product that uses curl.

>One way to fix would be ...

Trust me, that wouldn't fix it. As someone who works for a company whose name resembles a popular Microsoft product, putting in disclaimers (in our case on our support contact form) doesn't help one bit. They don't care.

People forever confused the company I work for, Shadowcat, with a london hosting provider called Black Cat and with Sleepycat (i.e. the berkeleydb company). Even once both of those ceased to exist, it was a couple years before the effect trailed off entirely.

I used to work for a defense contractor whose name had the word microwave in it (we made radar components and such). Occasionally someone would contact us to ask about getting their microwave oven fixed. I have no idea where they heard of us.

> putting in disclaimers (in our case on our support contact form) doesn't help one bit.

maybe you would be getting 2x the support calls without the disclaimer, even if this number is unchanged from before the disclaimer

Well, his e-mail wouldn't show up inside a multimedia central in a car.

It does, in the copyright section.

Yes. Exactly. And then I argued (some levels up in this thread) that it isn't easy for some user to know what he e-mails refers to (curl?) in the way that it's displayed. Or that he could have a different copyright notice in future versions, preventing his emails from appearing on Multimedia Car Console...

I understand it's frustrating, but the license is there for an entirely different purpose, same with the email. Not to be heartless, but if they took the time to read the license, I would hope they understand then what the license is actually for any why emailing the person at the end is not a good idea for solving a problem related to a product that is not the licensed product. They're building up hope for themselves and then just getting themselves frustrated when it turns out they made a mistake, and that's not really fair on the licensee's part, especially when service manuals in the car are usually pretty clear on the means for support.

My last job was managing the support for a smaller university, and every so often we'd get people who just searched "Help Desk" and somehow stumbled onto our University Help Desk phone number. They'd get insanely frustrated when, rather often, we were completely unable to help them because the product was too niche or specific for my technicians to even begin to know how to troubleshoot; we had low enough call volume that the free publicity for the school after helping strangers more than offset the time spent solving a problem that wasn't ours to solve. But when the callers would get really upset and disgruntled, I'm not entirely sure what they expected, especially since my technicians would make it perfectly clear that we weren't a generic Help Desk, we were specific to a university. I have plenty of sympathy for them not being able to get good support through the correct channels, but when you know you're not at the right place and just hoping, it doesn't seem fair to peg blame on the people you know are the wrong people to contact.

Edit to reflect your edit:

I would imagine that the part that reads "THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND,..." should give away that this is not for support. Also that it doesn't read like a support document at all, and that it's not included in the car's support manual, and that the email doesn't mention Toyota at all. If they email that address from that page, they're not reading the file, they're just scanning for an email address. I'm not saying people who do this are idiots or anything of the sort - as someone who loves helping with tech issues, I sympathize and even empathize after having crap service from many companies. But the people are creating their own disappointment.

If you can't get GPS working in your car so your plan to fix it is sending an email to an address you found in a random open source license file, an "I don't have anything to do with your GPS" email is probably not going to satisfy you.

Did you miss the bit that they're emailing him about stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with him?

Why would he know anything about the delay in audio and video when connecting through bluetooth? Or about the GPS?

He's happy to get emails about curl, even bug reports.

It's obviously just people that have no clue what cURL is and when it's appropriate to contact the author of the software. The email is there to report cURL related stuff, not ask for car usage advise.

>"I just make a small component that happens to be used in your car, kind of like the people who make the screws in your car. Please contact your car manufacturer directly."

Have you ever had a customer service or tech support job? This line would just be used as a further launching point for an angry and argumentative person. Expect replies as "Thanks asshole" or "Surely you must know someone there who can help, instead you collect your big six figure salary while us working joes get stiffed," etc.

When I did tech support for $electronics_company, you would not believe the negatively you're on the receiving end of. The author is clearly making the correct move. Why be on the receiving end of negativity when you don't need to be? Yes, maybe there are people like you out there who would appreciate a short response, but you're maybe 1% of the population in regards to this. Argubaly, if you don't know what a FOSS copyright statement is and start emailing any email you find, more than likely you're not going to be the tech wizard who is thankful for a reply. You'll be the pissed off guy with a radio that doesn't work and see any reply as a smug 'piss off.'

I think one of life's tough lessons is that you can't help everyone and that discriminating who you let into your life is very important.

Heh, after a dealership misdiagnosed my car's issue, I emailed their HQ. They said they don't overturn dealership diagnosis decisions. I replied that I won't be overturning my decision to not buy their cars again.

(I already ruled out the spark plugs and coils by swapping them around, and told them of this in writing, but they still told me that was the problem without running a compression test...)

The problem is asymmetry of work involved. Where do you draw the line between somebody who's technically challenged or somebody who's very lazy or entitled and simply spams the first email they see hoping the other person will oblige in helping them?

I mean, a single web search would reveal that the person probably doesn't work for <insert brand>. Would you email somebody about a Toyota car if their address wasn't "bob@toyota.com" or something? Besides, if they had bothered to read the license, it's clear it comes "WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND".

Also, many companies make it intentionally hard to find a contact address. Mr. Stenberg shouldn't be disadvantages because some company which doesn't care about customer relations has decided to use his excellent piece of open source software.

The article says:

> I’ve learned over the years that just trying to explain how I have nothing to do with the product they’re using is often just too time consuming and energy draining to be worth it.

Responding to emails can be way more draining than you'd expect.

> If the customer gets angry at the response, it's fine because it just means they don't understand, which means they are just getting angrier at the car company.

I think it's easy to say that "it's fine" without stepping into Daniel's shoes, but the responder still has to carry some of the emotional weight of that interaction through the rest of his day. I don't blame him one bit for wanting not part of that.

Remember, this is customer service. You and many others may be nice and have reasonable expectations, but it's the outliers that sour the whole experience. I also would not opt-in to wasting my time and energy on these responses.

>I would really appreciate a response even if it was some form letter thing to the effect of "I just make a small component that happens to be used in your car, kind of like the people who make the screws in your car. Please contact your car manufacturer directly."

I work for a small company whose name is reminiscent of a popular Microsoft product. We get a non-trivial amount of tech support-type questions pertaining to it. At first you either help them or politely explain to them that they have the wrong company ... after a while it's just noise.

Sure, but you also (I'm assuming) would not confuse an open source/individual email for a corporate representative email. And would subsequently not email a Toyota related bug to joe@lovesopensource.org.

When someone randomly throws an email in a direction completely irrelevant to their issue, they are just grasping at straws. It would not be unreasonable to assume they've tried 20 other emails before or after this one, where most are likely to be more relevant to their issue.

If that person doesn't know the difference, any response you could send them would be of no help nor comfort, and the risks of continued questioning once you've opened that box is simply not worth it.

But then they know someone is on the other end of that email address. For you, a reasonable person, that is a nice thing to know and you'll move on. For other people, they'll do anything form keep emailing more harassing things and escalating the language, to posting that email address on every spam signup form they can find.

One of my favorite games when I was a kid was Captain Goodnight by Broderbund. Apple II game. I loved the musical score to the intro so much that I wrote a (snail mail) letter to their HQ asking for the musical score to the intro music. Pretty random! I was a random kid.

They wrote me back! Not with the music, but an apology saying they didn't have the music score to send out. As an adult, I get it.. and I also have to say as a kid I was elated to receive a response back from the company. I didn't really expect to hear back from them at all.

I'm conflicted about this but I realize the bigger company has limitations. And a small shop has even more limitations. I get both sides.

It's not that far-fetched to imagine a wacky legal situation where you are exposed to some sort of liability for answering. He's doing the best thing in the circumstance.

Yeah you would, but you're on Hacker News and not stupid, like 99.999999999% of users are.

To them a reply and it doesn't matter what's in the reply as they're not reading it anyway, means they have somebody to vent to. And if Daniel doesn't solve it. T-mobile is a bad company. DO NOT ever understimate the stupidity of people. No reply is best reply in cases like this!

>Yeah you would, but you're on Hacker News and not stupid, like 99.999999999% of users are.

Aren't statements like these frowned upon in HN? It's unfair of you to use a use a fake statistic like that and call people 'stupid'.

So, like 7% of a single person isn't stupid? You might want to check the significant figures on that statistic.

Thinking so low about the entire human population besides yourself, won't get you far in life.

That 99.99...% out of all human population rounds up to leave no-one "not stupid". By simple exaggeration you just included yourself with the rest of us.

No. 99.999999999% of users are not "stupid." They are just not educated or interested in technical arcana like you possibly are. I could say more but that's probably sufficient. Grow up.

Have you ever worked support? Of course the percentage is an exaggeration, but seriously, many people are idiots and won't take no or "that's not our product" for an answer.

Thinking that all human population is stupid except you, means that you probably should look in the mirror..

I have had a similar problem for about two decades now in regards to eCards (virtual greeting cards). I own youknowwhat.com and one of my email addresses is youknowwho@youknowwhat...

Turns out that thousands of people every year think they are being super clever by putting my email address in the "From" field. So of course I get zillions of "receipts" for these eCards.

"Sister, I hope you feel better soon"

...is the most popular by far.

I stopped looking at them years ago but there's often some very personal information included and if I were an evil supervillain it would be trivial for me to use a lot of these eCards to blackmail people!

Fortunately for these people there's a highly ethical person at the helm of that email address that filters them all right into the trash.

I get something similar. I was an early adopter of a popular email service, so I managed to get <firstname><lastname>@<emailservice>.com. Pretty neat, pretty simple, right? Except I have a really common name, and people seem think that if the email address has their name in it, it must be their email address. I get sign-ups for Facebook all the time. I get emails about credit scores that make me panic until I realize I didn't sign up for that service. The other day I got an appointment reminder to take my Vauxhall into the shop for service (I live in the US, we don't have Vauxhall here).

Email is hard and confusing for a lot of people. It's easy for us to forget that.

I'm amazed how many people get their email address wrong. I have <firstname>.<lastname>@gmail.com, which is fine, and hardly gets any mail meant for someone else. <firstletter><lastname>@gmail.com however, is basically unusable. Funny thing is, the latter was the one I created first, but I forgot the password so had to create the other. I managed to recover it later and I'm glad I have the former.

I have a <firstletter><lastname>@gmail.com and I get everything from online shopping receipts to legal notices. You'd be amazed at just how uninterested a law firm is in knowing they just sent a bunch of legal correspondence to someone who isn't their client.

Sort of off topic, but did you know that the '.' gets ignored in gmail addresses, you can remove it or add extras and you will still get the email.

And you can also interchange `gmail` and `googlemail`, append `+anything` to alias.

It's a slippery slope though - forget worrying about remembering or managing passwords, you have to deal with variations of an email address too.

Further, email clients will reply from whatever address you used to setup the client. Maybe you can add aliases, but that will be time-consuming, and even where supported there's usually a single-digit limit. This can cause real headaches - e.g. "reply with `UNSUBSCRIBE` in the subject line to be removed from this list" and being unable to reply from the right email address.

This is true in general, but some of the very early Gmail addresses do differentiate based on the '.'

For instance, my very early-adopter Gmail address has a '.' in the address but it is an entirely different account from the one without. If you send mail to the one without the '.' I do not receive it.

God I love edge cases / grandfathering

I have <lastname>@gmail.com because I'm an early adopter (TM). My mailbox is almost unusable.

I've got my nick doubled as gmail account. Guess how many stray mails in moonspeak I get on a regular basis from China, Brazil and other weirdo locales?

I have a <firstletter><lastname>, my lastname is very uncommon but it turns out that someone in another country has the same first name and last name and you can get my email by googling my name. So, I have received few emails for him and kindly replied that I wasn't him.

I have a very uncommon name (3 of us in the country, as far as I can tell), and this happened to me for the first time this weekend. Someone bought a stereo at Best Buy 500 miles from me and gave them my email (<firstname><lastname>@gmail.com) for the Geek Squad protection plan. I thought someone had stolen my credit card until I realized what happened.

I have something of a young name which is also uncommon, not many people over 30 with it, when I was young I googled my full name and got only one result, today when I google myself I find a ton of people who are usually my age or younger.

There aren't a lot of people who are using my email, one is an older folk who uses it, and I always mean to contact him, and one was a DJ which accidentally used my email address instead of his.

Someone signed up with my email address on to hotmail and then a couple of months later hit "forgotpassword", attempted changing the password multiple times, then got in and changed the email address. I got so sick and worried that I got hacked. Turns out they selected the wrong email address when signing for hotmail, and then changed the address to the correct one.

it threw me in circles.

I have <firstname>@alum.wellknownuniversity.edu. Apparently I was early on in getting an alumni forwarding address. It hasn't happened in a while but I used to regularly get emails for other people--including, for a time, board meeting notices and info for some company or other. (I did send a reply to the effect that maybe they shouldn't be sending these to me but never got a response.)

Yup :(

My email is <first name><middle initial>@gmail.com (six characters total) and I get about 1-1.5 misdirected emails per day. Receipts, phone bills, homework, meeting minutes, personal messages that someone passed away, angry email from a homeowner to his general contractor (in Botswana), and even a international love letter.

It's quite annoying, but the worst is sites that make it very hard to unsubscribe, or don't understand that it's possible for someone to enter an email address that doesn't belong to them in a form. In one case (a bank), I actually had to call customer service on the phone to get them to disassociate my email address with someone's account.

In the case of the love letter, I thought I should reply to say that the intended recipient didn't get the message, but when I did, the sender got really confused and didn't understand that she had mis-typed the address.

Good thing you're not sucked into the systems of UPS. They refuse to talk to anyone not the sender or receiver.

I've got an annual delivery of an expensive watch in my inbox like clockwork every year.

Relevant xkcd: https://xkcd.com/1279/

I have the same problem with gmail. 90% of the email I get to my gmail account is for someone else.

I'd stop using that account in a second, except I bought ~$100 worth of Android apps over the years using that email address and last time I looked I couldn't transfer them to a new account.

The English NHS has a similar problem.

firstname.lastname AT nhs dot net

Or firstname.lastnameNUMBER if there's more than one person with your name.

Since the NHS is one of the largest employers in the world you'll find things like john.doe58@

It sucks.

Sounds similar to the problems test.com endures.


It's a surprisingly hard task to educate developers and testers to use the designated test domains (example.com and example.org) in automated or manual tests.

A friend and ex co-worker of mine, at our first job, had to write some code to send emails. Not knowing any better, he ran his manual tests using a clearly non existent email address, just a combination of letters. Or, so he thought: he soon received an email from said combination of letters, begging him to please stop spamming.

I thought the TLD test was meant for this, like mydomain.test.

The relevant RFC lists a couple of options. .test as TLD is valid as well

According to RFC 2606:

> ".example" is recommended for use in documentation or as examples.

Using example.[com|org] for testing feels like shoehorning. I wish IANA had reserved test.com, because that's what feels right when testing.

If you prefer .test then by all means do so. The whole TLD is restricted for that use. Some TLD also have dedicated test domains, any of those is perfectly fine - test.com (or test.de) for that matter is not.

.test TLD is reserved for this kind of testing situations.

Surely example.com has these problems too, although to be fair they don't really need to receive any email.

example.com does not receive e-mail. It is specifically set aside (along with example.{net,org} and a few TLDs) for testing:


example.com has an empty MX record, so you can't really send email to it anyway.

I believe SMTP attempts delivery to the A record if there is no MX record.

Indeed, if no MX record is known, but an A record is, mail will be sent to that host. However, example.(com,org) are designated testing domains by RFC and any self-respecting mail server should know not to forward mails there. And on top of that, since the domains are designated testing domains, they do not accept mails.

The right thing to do in this situation is to use RFC 7505[1] (Null MX Records).

[1] https://2rfc.net/7505

Cool, didn't know that. Thanks for teaching me something today.

“Empty”? It does not have an MX record.

You're right; I must have misread the dig output. I thought it showed an MX record with no hostname, but that was probably the question section.

Interesting they don't seem to have SPF/DMARC configured properly. That would probably get rid of most spam, at least at major providers.

After setting up a DMARC reporting address for my own domain I was surprised at the amount of emails supposedly from my addresses that are getting rejected, mostly by gmail and yahoo.

The worst for me, is when I get account creation notifications for a given site, and can't even contact anyone to correct it, etc... For a few months, I was getting student loan account notices for someone else, but not enough PII to actually contact them, and layers of crap and people unable to fix it contacting the company in question.

I'm not getting rid of my gmail address... mine ... though I do have another address I use, and may start using that one more once I move the email hosting (on my todo list for over a year).

I've had that experience tons of times, where companies are happy to unsubscribe me if I just give them the account number that I don't have because I'm not their customer.

On the other hand, I was getting Allstate billing notices for someone else and I was surprised how well they handled it. When I called, they understood that I was a third party and apologized. They were able to look at a record of all the email sent and verify I had not received any sensitive information (only last 4 digits of account number, first name, and bill total). They removed my email address and said they would contact their customer immediately.

The only way they could have handled it better would have been following best practices and sending a verification link as their first email. :)

I started getting DirecTV bills with some random person's name on them that I don't recognize (but with my street address). This weekend I also received an overnight fedex with my address, an apartment number, and someone else's name (I don't live in an apartment).

Turns out people don't know their actual physical addresses either any more.

> Turns out people don't know their actual physical addresses either any more.

Just move countries and cities often enough, and throw some business travel in for good measure, and it's pretty easy for that to happen. I've e.g. had similar sounding zip codes in a variety of cities and countries, and nearly the same street name within a city. After a while you start to very easily make mistakes.

Kind of a pain in the ass to do retroactively, but one approach to prevent this to have your email address be random gibberish.

Whereas "firstname.lastname@example.com" (or more likely gmail.com) can be arrived at by multiple people named "Firstname Lastname", you don't have to worry about it if your email address is generated via:

    echo "$(< /dev/urandom tr -dc a-z0-9 | head -c 12)@example.com"

Yes, then every time I need to give someone my email in person or over the phone I just need to say "it's two zed six bee oh, sorry, zero, you ess eight see why you are at example dot com". And then they're going to read it back to me and pretty much invariably have something incorrect. And then I'll have to read it to them again.

You'd be better off taking an "xkcd" or "gfycat" approach and making your e-mail "correcthorsebattery@example.com" or "ableorganicanchovy@example.com".

How often are you verbally giving your email over the phone that this an issue? Unless you're ordering daily from the Home Shopping Network and want to get an email receipt, what's the big deal? In my experience either I'm entering my email in a web page form or texting it to the other person.

Or you could write a bot that auto-publishes parts of the eCard emails you get to e.g. twitter. Would be interesting for the rest of us :)

I have a very similar problem! I own a very short domain name, with letters that appear exclusively on the home row of the US layout keyboard. It accepts emails at the wildcard address, *@<my domain>, so I get a looooot of email from people signing up to services by hammering the home row of their keyboard randomly, with a dot in the middle.

Those e-card providers should of course do some rudimentary sender e-mail verification.

I get loads of verification emails too. eCard sites don't usually require email validation but that doesn't stop them from trying!

I usually break E-mail addresses into the following categories:

Monolithic. That one email address you put on business cards, hand out at conferences, post in public forums. Basically a catch-all that quickly becomes a firehose for spam and bacn[1] but every now and then you get an actual reachout as described in this post. They are infact gems when you get them, and always remind me how precious E-mail, as a loose social network, is.

Registrations. For creating throwaway accounts on various online social outlets. Got an IMGUR.com meme you must send to a friend over IM? No problem, your trusty registrations e-mail account, or account(s) have you covered.

Commerce. Super secure email address which is on a trusted provider, and is rarely, if ever, given out publicly. You change your password frequently on this, and make sure not to contaminate it with other identities. Typically tied to several accounts where money moves in them. Accounts with credit cards, PayPal, etc.

Others? I am interested to hear other people's single-duty uses for email? I know I could write about other categories, but those three cover a large portion of what I use E-mail for.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacn

I use a catch-all domain, and every site/business gets its own <businessname>@example.com. For business cards and friends I use something like myname@ or contact@

When one businesses address starts getting spam I blackhole it.

Similar to the + suffix trick but works on any site.

Same here. I have a few prefixes that I allow, so that randomly guessing an address doesn't just arrive at my inbox.

As you point out, the ability to blackhole any of these one-off addresses makes the approach a great way to deal with spam and quasi-spam. It's a shame that so few people are set up with the necessary software or infrastructure, so it remains a bit of a fringe approach.

I particularly enjoy the reaction of some retail employees when they think, for a moment, that my e-mail address includes the name of their store. "Your email address is 'abcpeetscoffee'?" "Well, yeah, for this particular transaction it is."

Same here - my 'example.com' was a brand new but very generic domain. I've only used it for email, and never for public email addresses, so it doesn't appear in Google or get any spam. I would recommend this to anyone!

> I use a catch-all domain

Just make sure you renew the domain and maintain ownership. Even if the domain provider says they'll ensure ownership after expiration, I don't trust that they will. Assume the domain is ripe for new ownership by somebody else once it expires.

There are services like Mark Monitor which address this issue, but they are prohibitively expensive and only useful for large enterprise.

I have exim set up to allow `+` or `-` as a localpart separator - I tend to use `name-business@example.com` when registering for domains. Works everywhere and is easily filterable with user-specific SIEVE or system_filter.

What software do you use to manage that?

I do this using Google Apps, but I'm grandfathered into the free plan on my domain. I'm fairly sure most mail servers can do this though.

You can do that with Fastmail easily.

+1, I use fastmail, if you use the domain only for e-mail, you can use fastmail's nameservers, DNS setup takes 2 minutes.

This categorized approach is what my email usage has evolved into over the years. I ended up "demoting" email addresses over time and letting them be used for spam-attractive uses or disuse altogether.

I have another category for family/close personal friends. For money matters, I go a step further and split out general commerce (online shopping) from financial institutions (banking/investment).

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