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Poll: Unban TempleOS?
100 points by jacquesm on May 29, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 87 comments
Today after reading the article on Emperor Norton a parallel with SF/HN, Emperor Norton and Terry Davis struck me.

More and more HN'ers are re-posting his writings and even if they upset some I suspect that we could survive if we let Terry post as a regular account. Sometimes he has good points to make and he's an interesting fellow, and more of a genuine hacker than many here can lay claim to. All those who wrote an operating system from scratch please raise your hand... He's not always equally easy to follow, sometimes downright offensive but it's all just bits. Since I browse with 'showdead' on it makes little difference to me but I suspect it will make a huge difference for Terry, as far as I can see he means absolutely no harm.

So I propose we re-instate TempleOS as a full member, if that has popular support and dang agrees.

I recognize HN is not a democracy and that the 'management' has every right to ignore this petition if the answer is positive.

If you vote in the poll remember that is not the same as voting for the poll.

yes, please un-dead TempleOS' account
243 points
no, definitely keep things as they are
243 points
42 points

Look: I'm a big fan of freedom-of-speech, but that doesn't mean that I, or anyone else, has any obligation to provide a venue for you to say what you want to say. As it happens, TempleOS manages to be sufficiently offensive and annoying that I don't think we should provide a pulpit for him to rant; I think his normal comments detract far more than the occasional insightful comment adds.

But don't take my word for it; let's look at his four most recent comments. In response to a recent post exploring the details of a Rails vulnerability, he posted

    TempleOS is God's temple. God always gets His way.
On an excellent article about cycle-accurate 6502 emulation, he wrote

    To me abstraction above the hardware is like condoms. Some people say "Use three condoms, its better".
    I don't want a literal C64 -- just the complete open simple access... but 64-bit and 3Ghz and multicored.
    I don't want it to run on a 386, just x86_64.
which is also off-topic, albeit slightly less so, I suppose. In response to the TrueCrypt vulnerability, he wrote

which, to save you the time, has no encryption code in it. Finally, in response to a rational article about (natch) rational ways to respond to the shooting in Santa Barbara, he wrote

    God exists. CIA waging war on me. Stupid fucks.
Note that I'm not cherry-picking these comments. Those are just his four most recent comments. (The fifth and the pile after that are roughly similar; I just don't feel like pasting them here.)

These all simply clutter up the comment stream and provide nothing to move the conversation forward. There may be the occasional bit of insight, but I hardly think that they balance out the random off-topic spamminess of the above.

He's also posted humongous comments which cover more than a page in the browser, spam in its original sense. Like this[0], this[1] or this[2].

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6089186 [1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6047961 [2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6002791

People are pointing out that his signal-noise ratio is bad, but that's why there's a vote system in place. It seems like the n-word argument might be stronger than the 'poor content of posts' argument to me.

But it is cherry picking. You stopped just short of including this one:

"I thought mind reading and clarvoyance, I donno. It just works.

I use VMware. I wrote all 130,000 lines inside the operating system. It has all tools -- editor, profiler, grep, merge, compiler, assembler, unassembler, shitty partial debugger, graphic sprite creator. BMP-movie-maker. BMP support. Boot loader. ISO9660 ISO file creator.

My BMP movie creator is kinda banned. I want no multimedia, but I use it personally. I'm not serious on a ban -- orther prolly want to make movies, but it's a step down the road to hell.

I generate my website natively. I have a html creator. That's kinda just for me and doesn't belong. What if other want to do it?

I'm chagrinned -- I'm not thinking of any uses. Oh! I normally do hymns, but VMware killed music. Hymns are a legitimate thing I do. Video animations with music melodies and bouncy ball words."

and this one:

" TempleOS 4 days ago | link | parent [dead] | on: CSVjs: Basic CSV parsing and encoding in JavaScrip...


At the time of the Commodore 64, it was not used for COBOL applications. There were mainframes that banks and businesses used.

This is not what my operating system is for. I made 100 applications and demos that show what it is for. Does yours have sprites in source code?

The RedSea filesystem will do only whole-file reads and writes of contiguous block chunks (or just let you do raw block access). I demand that Linux and Microsoft and VMWare support RedSea on hard drive and CDROM, so I can remove support for ISO9660 and FAT32. God's temple must be perfect.


With whole-file access, only I can do compression."

If self-promotion is a sin we might as well ban half of the frequent posters here (quite possibly including me).

So first, to pick a knit, if I'd gone to the next comment, I'd have included

    God exists. That pretty-much reverses bad and good.
    The FBI is evil against God. I am good with God.
    Simple as that.
which is responding to Monsegur helping shut down Anonymous.

But you're right, after that, we have the two comments you posted above. Maybe I should've included them.

But then we go at least twelve more comments that are inane, at which point I quit clicking "page next." Are there more insightful ones after that? I know the answer is yes, because TempleOS does occasionally post insightful material, but I don't honestly want to read through all the muck just to get to it.

Fair enough. Have an upvote.

His self-promotion is usually completely irrelevant, though. People here do self-promote a lot, but typically relevant products they happen to have made.

1. This discussion is grotesque. I'm not going to participate in it.

2. Anyone who wants to read dead comments, can. Just turn 'showdead' on in your profile. Therefore this entire "issue" is a contrived drama.

3. Anyone who has questions of this nature should have the good taste to email hn@ycombinator.com instead of creating a spectacle.

4. Obviously, we're burying this thread.

p.s. Why is it grotesque? Because it's an invasion of privacy; it's presumptuous to speak for someone in this way ("I suspect it will make a huge difference for Terry"); and for an internet forum to debate a human being like this—a poll, for fuck's sake?—is degraded.

p.ps. I should add that I don't doubt jacquesm's good intentions for a second. My concern is entirely with the systematic effect (i.e., is it good for the site).

This is an unexpected response. Shadowbanning a person is ok but talking about it is wrong and grotesque? Talking about things is drama and spectacle that needs to be censored? Public opinion doesn't matter at all?

It's not really contrived. The majority of users don't have showdead on or may not even be aware of the issue. And I did suggest a third option; manually approving good comments but not the spam and conspiracy rants.

I don't think he should be unbanned. Most of his writings are rambling and nonsensical. Many of his posts contain randomly generated gibberish - literally; he seems to believe his computer's PRNG is the word of God, and he also includes random Bible verses. Sometimes, he posts incoherent and incredibly offensive conspiratorial rants of no real value. Also, I've never really seen the merit of the few posts he makes that others repost so non-showdeaders can see them.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing personal against him, but the vast, vast majority of his posts do not live up to this community's standards. His case is a sad one, but there's a reason TempleOS (and every single one of his previous accounts) is shadowbanned.

I browse with showdead on and appreciate TempleOS's comments, but I'd prefer to keep things as they are. IIRC Terry is fine with it too.

I too think having his comments readily visible would detract. While people that have been around long enough know not to respond to his less lucid prose, I've seen people post comments about how off-putting his comments can be. This tends to detract from the overall discussion without adding anything.

That being said, I do make a point of reading his comments. Hmm, perhaps there should be a TerryFilterBot that can repost them, although of course it would have to be tailored to each readers comfort level. There's probably an MVP there :-)

> perhaps there should be a TerryFilterBot that can repost them, although of course it would have to be tailored to each readers comfort level.

I think this is an extremely cute idea and a cool hack.

It doesn't need to be complicated or custom-tailored; to start with, just make it not repost things that include racial slurs, which are easy to detect.

I've never heard of an online community having a user that is automatically filtered like this. So it would be an interesting first. Then again, perhaps HN doesn't need any unwanted attention.

If somebody wanted to do it (maybe a student for a course project?), you could feed the bot a bunch of samples and scores, and it would learn which of his posts are high quality and which are low quality. Then once the bot is in place, it could learn further by looking at how many upvotes he (it) is getting on each post. Though I would recommend starting with something simpler and making it open source.

Honestly, the guy's technical work is a real inspiration.

That's a good point.

I would like Terry unbanned but only if he promises not to use the n-word. I believe that is the #1 reason he was banned in the first place.

HN discussions strive to a high standard. That word has no place here, regardless of how talented the person saying it is.

As painful as it may be to acknowledge, Node is clearly here to stay.

That's one of the funniest comments I ever read on HN. Every time I re-read it I sit here chuckling. Thanks :)

I dont know if he can help not using it. I dont even know if he knows he's doing it and that it is wrong. Seriously. He has Schizophrenia. It might control him more often than he would like.

Offense is in the eye of the beholder, if someone has Tourette's would you berate them for profanity? Would you feel insulted anyway?

It's not the profanity. I and I'm sure many other people here are exposed to profanity very regularly and aren't bothered by profanity alone. It's the hateful messages. If anyone posted "N•••••s deserve hell", they would be hellbanned on the spot. You want to give Terry special treatment because he's ill, but being ill doesn't make his comments not awful, it just makes me judge him less severely as a person.

> You want to give Terry special treatment because he's ill,but being ill doesn't make his comments not awful, it just makes me judge him less severely as a person.

Exactly, you got it perfectly.

I think the issue here is that it's easier to forgive understanding who he is; a random passerby (or simply regular visitors who skim) wouldn't know and would see a community that effectively is condoning that behaviour.

FWIW, I voted unban. I think that would reflect positively on the community, but I worry that from the outside it looks negative.

That isn't my issue. My issue is that this isn't about forgiving or not forgiving a person. I don't have a personal grudge against, say, people who post cat memes, but I still believe somebody who persists in doing so should be banned. This isn't because of my hatred of them as a person; it's because they routinely post crap that is not welcome here.

Terry posts stuff that is very much not welcome here and is offensive, but that doesn't mean I hate him or anything. But I still think he should remain hellbanned, because although I may not have anything against Terry himself, his backstory doesn't make the actual racist and otherwise nonsensical content more permissible.

For this reason, I voted to keep the account hellbanned. He can keep posting in his hellbanned state without junking up the site at large, and those who wish to see his dead comments can opt to see them. This is as it should be.

Forgiving works when the other person has expressed regret for their actions and doesn't repeat them. Neither apply in this case. I too voted to keep him banned.

Even if he regrets his comments — which he may sometimes, as people with his condition are given to do, but I don't know him well enough to say — he can't promise not to repeat them. He's not a well man. There's really nothing to be gained from hating this person. He deserves sympathy, not ire.

I don't think the comparison is apt; a person with Tourette's has "spasms" (everyone knows about the verbal, but also has muscular manifestation). Typing in a comment requires some degree if cognizance. I imagine if a Tourette's patient had a "reply" button for their words to come out, they'd choose to never click it.

Let's assume though that TempleOS can't help it. If you had an acquaintance with chronic flatulence that was persistent and horrible smelling, how often would you have them at your dinner table?

> If you had an acquaintance with chronic flatulence that was persistent and horrible smelling, how often would you have them at your dinner table?

How about every day?

Or would you propose they eat in solitary confinement or something?

"chronic flatulence" was an awful analogy and an easy out for you.

what if your acquaintance was verbally and physically abusive? what if they threatened to kill you or, worse, tried to because of schizophrenia? do you bear the abuse because they can't help it?

i'm struggling to understand what point you are trying to make. we should unconditionally forgive the mentally ill when they offend us? that we have the responsibility to provide them a public forum?

agreed. They are still human beings after all!

If you believe this, you have no idea how schizophrenia affects its sufferers.

Feature request:

I wish it would be possible to vote on his posts, even though they are "dead". Maybe individual posts that get enough upvotes can be unbanned, or maybe certain users with enough karma can unban selected posts manually?

Maybe it already does. Somehow this comment isn't dead: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7791436. Not sure what it means, though.

It's probably a bit old-school for you but let me explain.

The RAMDAC in an 'original' old style VGA card only had 6 bits per channel, and 256 LUT positions (also called the 'palette'). This allowed you to select 256 colours out of a maximum of 262144 colours, or 2^18.

So the maximum output value was 252, or hexadecimal FC for each channel.

You can't really output 24 bit ('truecolour') then because every colour channel will miss the lower 2 bits, and what should be 'white' will be slightly grayish and so on (white then becomes hex 0xfcfcfc).

Does that explain it adequately?

That was a very good explanation, but I was actually referring to the state of his comment. Meaning that I was unsure whether it means that it is indeed possible to bring a comment back from the dead or if this comment was somehow an exception to his deadban.

Terry's case is closer to home than I like to admit. I have a loved one who deals with schizophrenia (fortunately, currently better managed than Terry's seems to be, but there are no guarantees). I hate the thought of her being ostracized because of her illness.

However, I still voted 'no', and it's because, while being ostracized is bad, being repeatedly beat over the head with negative responses to his comments feels even worse to me. At best, it could serve to cause him to feel worse about himself; at worst, it could worsen his illness.

Be well, Terry.

You make a very good point. I like the solution offered below with selective re-enabling of the comments.

turned shadowdead posts on for a sec and checked his history. he sounds like a troll of a schizophrenic or generally someone unwell, and WAY out of line with the normal standard of discourse here. Most of it is a junk. And even if there is some value in some of it, it's also not phrased nicely. I politely suggest HN can do with out


He is supposedly schizophrenic.

I think that is is pretty well documented that he is.

Aren't we all... to a degree?

The higher-degree schizos in here are split between downvoting cowardly and cowardly downvoting...

The problem is that he constantly intersperses incoherent ramblings and paranoid delusions with whatever valid and on-topic points he makes.

I think that's the primary reason, not the use of the word "nigger". Actually, his use of it is directly related to the delusional rambling, rather than be a stand-alone point.

In response to this post, TempleOS wrote:

"When you know you're banned, you are very slightly less inhibited than when not banned, LOL."

Which is a fair observation.

I like to see TempleOS's posts but I think the system works quite well as it is.

He posts with the knowledge that he is banned (rather than creating a clean account), so I would take this as a deliberate policy of his choice. I also don't think he would remain un-banned without being treated as an extreme special case.

Poll wording is significantly biased towards the author's preference, i.e. 'please do this' vs 'definitely do this'. I fall on the latter side but not enough to agree with 'definitely'.

Edited to add: I agree that some option to reanimate valuable comments would be good; this applies particularly to TempleOS but also to other banned users.

I don't understand why this is even worth considering.

There is no effective way to ban a person; you can only ban an account. If this fellow wants to post on HN, then all he has to do is make a new account. If he hasn't made a new one, then I would guess he doesn't want to post.

I know nothing about the history of this issue, but apparently he did something Not Good with the old account? Permanently disabling that account, and requiring him to create a new one, strikes me as a very light punishment. I don't think it would be helpful to lighten the punishment even further, by re-enabling the account.

> I know nothing about the history of this issue, but apparently he did something Not Good with the old account?

Unfortunately this is a case where you need to know the history.

The man is, unfortunately, mentally ill, and is not coping very well. His messages are frequently incoherent and unconstructive (and occasionally downright offensive). He has a single agenda - promoting his work - and deviates from it only long enough to remind people that god is speaking through code he wrote. I am not exaggerating.

He's been shadowbanned for quite a while. He's more disruptive than helpful, regardless of his skills as a developer.

I repeat: you cannot ban a person. Does he know his account is shadowbanned? If not, all someone has to do is tell him, and he can create a new account. Re-enabling the old one is a non-issue.

(Right? I really don't understand why the re-enable is an issue at all. Not being sarcastic here.)

I did see a TempleOSv2 account (or something similar) posting on a couple of occasions. Also dead. In the light of that I'd say it's more of a problem with the person than the account.

I think he has had at least four accounts, where he has posted similarly (the others are similar to sparrowos and loseos).

Thanks for the notice, just switched 'undead' on. I hate those censorship filters, I can't stand it when some system decides what's interesting for me to read and what's not.

This is exactly what shadowbanning is for. You can see what Terry posts by opting in to do so.

This is proof that shadowbanning doesn't work. It's supposed to drive him away because he isn't getting any feedback on his posts. Instead, he continues to post, (possibly) aware of his banned status, and because of the fact that he built his own OS, seems to have become something like a mascot around here.

It could be argued that he would simply create another account and continue posting if his account were banned. That's one assumption, but of course, the shadowbanning system seems based entirely on assuming things about people. Creating another account if you discover you've been banned is what you're supposed to do, is it not? For all anyone knows, he would have moved on long ago if not for the way this site seems to act to keep him here.

Meanwhile, every now and then you read a post from someone who discovered they were banned for months, or years, for some slight they weren't even aware of. Apparently someone flipped the switch and decided they needed to go away in the most passive-aggressive way possible.

As much as I enjoy reading Terry's posts, I think he's better left an open secret. He's like a Hacker News Easter egg.

Besides, if he is unbanned, I'm afraid every thread he posts in will have a junk subthread with posters berating him or re-explaining the situation.

This thread is a preview of our potential future and reflection of past conversations on this topic. I support, though, the concept of upvoting any shadowed user's posts into general visibility.

He has apparently been unbanned. I have showdead off but can see his comment here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7816725

I strongly oppose unbanning him. He is severely mentally ill and frequently posts random off-topic rants. Even more worryingly, some of his comments are extremely offensive (I'd say intentionally so, except I'm not sure he has the capacity of intentionality.).

His one redeeming feature is having enough technical ability to write an OS. That is absolutely not a reason to tolerate regularly posting content that would automatically get the poster banned.

No, that's just that comment. And in a way that's a solution too, if his individual on-topic comments are unbanned.

He posted in this thread "When you know you're banned, you are very slightly less inhibited than when not banned, LOL."

So why unban him? He knows that his comments still get viewed, so he continues to comment. He can use the guise of being banned to feel more free to speak his mind, which sounds good.

I am not saying I approve of what he is saying, but we are allowing him to have an outlet to feel free to say anything, without being worried about being banned again.

Isn't that the basis of free speech?

I have a lot of respect for Terry Davis' work, I tend to prefer associating with outcasts and underdogs in general, and I've had family with mental issues so I'm sympathetic. I wish that he wasn't being treated the way he is here.

That said, I also don't think active participation from him would be anything other than a disruption here unfortunately. And, his behavior isn't completely excusable; he is intelligent enough to rationalize, at least somewhat, about his behavior.

There's the additional problem that HN isn't really a "community" anymore, so much as some of you oldtimers might think. There are going to be a lot of people who would see his comments, and not know who he is, and I think that would draw a lot more abuse.

It sucks, it's a bad situation, I wish it weren't this way, but I don't think HN is the right place to host someone with his problems -- and that has as much to do with HN's flaws as Terry's.

I am in favor of having to up/down vote the occasional post, with the benefit of giving someone with mental issues a reasonable outlet to express himself.

In the case of all out trolls, they won't do harmful things to themselves and others if they get hell banned. Mental issues are unpredictable.

Can you provide any reference to his postings? The HN user page doesn't have anything... (and apparently users are case-sensitive?)


That's likely because you have showdead 'off' (see your profile).


Shows plenty for me. And some of it - definitely not all, I wish - on topic and useful.

You have to turn showdead on to see them. But for your convenience: http://pastie.org/9236348

Accounts and people are not the same thing. Here's a suggestion about how HN might handle this:

  - Mods ban TempleOS (offensive, no redeeming value) and similar accounts.
  - We set showdead = true if we do not agree with mods on "no redeeming value."
  - We all try not to pass judgement on the people behind those accounts.
  - We let people with banned accounts make new accounts and try again.
I voted no in the poll. I want to keep TempleOS banned, because it's an account with racist and generally meaningless content. But that's very different from keeping Terry out, which I don't think should be our goal.

He isn't banned, he's hellbanned, and he knows he's hellbanned. I leave on showdead too, and I'm glad it's an option. I don't want to remove the option of people to avoid markov chains of racial slurs and religious manias when they're reading their tech discussions, though.

If you really want more Davis, email him. I'm sure you'll get an interesting response. If you can't ban him, though, you can't have any grounds for banning anything.

edit: Everybody knows who he is, everybody knows he is pretty awesome, and everybody knows how to read his writing if they want to. Isn't that good enough?

Can someone explain the logic behind the 'showdead' feature design to me? When you enable it, it makes it so you see dead comments--but it styles them with the same kind of hard-to-read style that is used for heavily down voted comments.

I first assumed this was a bug and reported it on the issue tracker. It was closed on the grounds that it is working as intended.

Why give me an option to make dead content visible, and then purposefully make it hard for me to actually read the now visible content?

One good workaround is to highlight all the text by selecting it (ctrl-a).

I was around here a good long while with shadowdead visible and saw his comments before I read anyone talk about him. Which is to say that as much of a part of the community and it's history as he is, I would expect most of his posts would derail into repeated arguments by relative newcomers and lurkers about whether the account should be banned or not.

But maybe it's worth the repeated explanations to be able to support him (if he wishes it).

Pardon my ignorance, but who is this guy? And is he schizophrenic or just trolling HN? Why would we even consider unbanning him?

You might mention that he was originally banned for repeated trolling and hate speech. It's unfortunate that he's getting so much press as of late as it will only serve to feed his ego and illness.

Someone not familiar with him might see one of stranger posts and wonder why that kind of post is allowed to be on HN.

Can we leave it to the community to upvote his better posts?

The community can not be trusted. We are children and we need the strong hand of fatherly figures in positions of power.

Can there be a third option? Is it possible we could get someone to manually review his comments and approve the good ones?

Bikeshedding at it's finest.

Obsessive people are worth the effort to maintain a distance away from.

Any link explaining what is all this about?

Terry Davis created LoseThos/SparrowOS/TempleOS which is an operating system designed for recreational programming. He's worked on it nearly full-time for the past 10 years. He has a mental disorder and sometimes thinks there is a conspiracy going on against him and his OS. He believes God speaks through his operating system and has directed him to create it.

He's banned on HN for frequently being aggressive and using offensive language, especially the N-word (which may not mean the same thing to him as its historical meaning). Some on HN feel that banning for this reason effectively discriminates someone due to their mental illness. He sometimes posts good content and has valuable insights.

The argument against un-banning is that you can still read his posts if you have an HN account and turn showdead on. Terry is an esoteric personality, but many of us are aware of his work and enable showdead for this reason. The posts aren't entirely censored.


An interesting idea might be an "revive" feature on dead posts that shows that post and any other dead posts from the same user (with an indication that they are "dead") -- but only to the user that clicked revive. If you allow those posts to also be voted up, it might even work into a community-based method for reversing bans, both on a per-post and perhaps, with enough votes on enough posts, per-user basis.

Obviously, only users browsing with "showdead" on would see and be able to interact with dead posts.

That's a super good idea.

I suspect such a mechanism already exists, it just isn't public because the comment that inspired the poll (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7817137) is now no longer dead.

Now what about this one :) : https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7819070

It's 'on topic', has a sense of humor and no profanity.

> He's banned on HN for frequently being aggressive and using offensive language, especially the N-word (which may not mean the same thing to him as its historical meaning).

Or it may very well mean the same thing to him, which is the most obvious interpretation of his comments. His comments using the word are obviously using it in a negative way and many are clearly racial. He very well may not understand why it's wrong, but the meaning seems to be there.

Agreed. Intent isn't magic; "what you meant to say" needs to be balanced with "what you said."

Well, thank you very much for the explanation. I had seen http://terry.davis.usesthis.com/ the other day and didn't understand anything.

His signal/noise ratio is pretty terrible. The "showdead" is off by default and that is a good thing. I'd rather miss out on a good point every once in a while than see more chaff, especially ranty, incoherent, and often offensive points.

That describes basically 99% of the commenting here

Would suggest instead simply removing the concept of 'dead' entirely. It's always possible to downvote a bad comment, and from experience on other sites, moderation of any sort just tends produce inefficient, subjective and divisive outcomes

Yes, I agree, HN would benefit is more comments were killed. That doesn't mean the solution is to stop killing even the worst of the worst.

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