The Internet

Back around '92 when I first got into contact with the Internet, things were dramatically different compared to the current state. The people on the net were different, for the most part students and staff from universities, and so were the operating systems used for the net (mostly Unix-based). Flame wars had been invented yet, but it rarely came to that (at least in regular newsgroups) because normally when you told someone he was breaking netiquette by misformatting his posts or asking extremely stupid questions that had already been answered exhaustively in the FAQ, most of them either went away qietly or actually tried to improve their ways (shock! horror!); which is in sharp contrast to today where even top-posting scum actually have the nerve to complain about people criticizing them rather than mend their ways. The Black Lord in Redmond had not yet cast his evil eye upon the net, so standards were actually taken seriously and terminally clueless idiots were content with not being able to program a VCR rather than buying a PC with internet access and letting the world know they were terminally clueless idiots. Those were the days...

Messages (email & news)

One of the biggest annoyances on the Internet today is the way people write messages for email and news. The traditional way for either of these was
  1. Plain ASCII text
  2. Writing one's comment immediately below the paragraphs referred to and cutting out the rest.
There are very good reasons for this style: it's simple (ASCII) and compact (parts irrelevant to the answer cut out). It also makes good use of the possibilities an electronic message format offers over paper. Today one can see people breach these conventions left, right and center: some use HTML rather than ASCII, some always quote the whole article and write their comments at the bottom ("Bottom-posters") and some write their comments at the top and append a full quote of the article at the bottom ("Top-posters"). Improvement? No, all of those alternatives are just plain stupid. The idea behind quoting is not to include the entire correspondence leading to the current message but only those parts you're actually referring to; the history of the conversation is easy to get for both mail and news, so including the full history just adds redundancy which is particularily bad for news where this redundancy will propagate to thousands of servers and hundreds of millions of subscribers. The idea is neither to maintain the disadvantages of traditional paper-correspondence ("attached to this letter, please find..."), which is what full-quote messages do. Messages which fail to conform to the correct quoting style waste space and are often harder to read as well. Since you expect other people to read your messages, you should make them easy to read or they will just ignore you; and if you don't want people to read what you wrote: why did you write it, then? So let's have a closer look at these message format abominations:
  1. HTML Messages: mail and news are defined as ASCII text and just because your mail/news reader renders HTML does not mean other people's can. If your answer to that is that other people should upgrade, you've been using Windows for too long. First of all this is a breach of standards and no amount of upgrading will make it standards-compliant. Second, many people want plain ASCII messages because they're more compact, carry no risk of viruses and always look the way the reader wants them to look. Believe it or not, I really don't give a rat's ass whether you think your message will look better with an orange Arial font on a blue background or you feel you have to include some stupid icons in the mail, I want plain text. And if I don't get plain text, I open my trashcan (yes, I have a spam filter installed for text/html messages).
  2. Bottom posters: people who do this are too lazy to even crop the parts they're not referring to but just quote the whole thing and expect people to scroll through all the stuff they already know, typically to find an ingenious essay along the lines of "me too" at the bottom. And they actually expect to be taken seriously? There's one born every minute, apparently...
  3. Top posters: probably the most annoying one of them all, this quoting "style" has spread like pestilence ever since MS started taking an interest in the net. Like Bottom-posters, people who do this always quote the whole thing, but include the full quote below their comments, thereby screwing up the chronological order in addition to being lazy fucks. To add insult to injury, this kind of quoting is often "justified" by saying that was where people's mail/news clients put the caret. IMHO if you're too stupid to even move the cursor around, you shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a computer, especially not one with an internet connection.
Note that the correct quoting style on the internet is not determined by specific software and under no circumstances is the software you use to compose messages an acceptable excuse for utterly broken quoting style. MS' Outlook programs are notorious for breaking just about every convention for message formats (gee, what a surprise), that doesn't mean you can use that as an excuse for producing non standard-conforming messages. If your software is broken, use software that isn't; use broken software and you have no right to complain about people flaming you for your ignorant choice. For more information on the correct quoting on the internet, see for instance the Learn-to-quote page (for german readers, the original version can be found here).

The World Wide Web

Most commonly used synonymously with the term "Internet", the WWW has changed a lot since its humble beginnings towards the start of the 90ies, and as usual the changes haven't been for the better. The WWW used to stand for information, whereas these days it stands for ads, ads, and -- for good measure -- some more ads. Ah yes, it also stands for 101 horrible things to do to the HTML standard and the rise of a new profession: web designers, the shoe salesmen of the internet; there are only two kinds of people with a worse reputation than web designers and that's lawyers and paedophiles (I leave it to the reader to make the ranking for these two, as it's a rather tough call). The reasons for that should be fairly obvious to anyone surfing on the net lately. Why is that, you ask? Here are the official Web Designer's Directives: Oh how the mighty have fallen!

Traffic on the WWW must have grown by a factor of 100 or so in the past 10 years; information may have grown by a factor of 2, possibly a lot less. Most of the traffic is caused by ads and other perfectly pointless images; many pages have become completely unreadable because even the tiny residue of information is completely buried beneath a legion of blinking banners. Mercifully, there are programs that address this issue and allow you to eliminate the ads by using URL filters. One of the most popular of these programs is the freely available Internet Junkbuster (IJB); a slightly modified version and a good base blocklist file can also be downloaded from this site. I can't praise IJB enough and before Privoxy it was always one of the first things I installed on any machine I intended to use for browsing. The WWW has definitely become a much better place for me through IJB, not just because of improved download times but also because all the blinking, garish crap is gone and the information surfaces; unfortunately, this information is still extremely thin most of the time, but at least you see whether you've got crap or not right away. IJB has been completely overhauled in the past couple of years, leading to Privoxy, which offers far more sophisticated filtering than IJB did. When I first ran it, I was really amazed at how well it filtered out practically all the junk with the default settings and it took a while before I came across the first page where I had to adapt the user.action file. So if you find some things tedious to do with IJB or have stability issues with it (which I did on the Windows box at work), upgrade to Privoxy and say bye-bye to web site garbage.

Worms, Virii, Retards

The amount of idiots on the net these days wouldn't be so bad if they weren't such a nuisance. Unfortunately the complete and utter computer-illiteracy of the average Joe (don't mistake clicking buttons in your browser or being able to find the off button two out of three times for computer-literacy) is seriously compromising the net for everybody. Ignorance of even the most basic fundamentals of computers, networks and security in combination with internet access and Windows (a known security hazard in itself) make a very dangerous combination. While I don't give a damn whether anybody renders his machine unusable because he clicks on "open attachment" faster than his brain can come out of standby mode, these things affect everyone on the net because these retards leave their hacked machines on the net where they can happily broadcast virii and worms to everybody they can find in the various address books.

The situation today can only be compared to people driving stone drunk in business traffic: I couldn't possibly care less whether someone like this kills himself in the process, but unfortunately they tend to take innocent bystanders with them. Same here: people don't have a clue about even the most basic safety regulations regarding computers and MS sell their software with defaults that leave the entire machine wide open to any intruder that comes along; net result: every time another worm or virus appears, huge numbers of machines are infected and start spreading the pests themselves. The amount of network bandwidth and mailbox space wasted on transfering these Windows pests has long since reached numbers that can no longer be ignored and affect everybody on the net, regardless of whether they know how to protect their computers or not. Although I'm running Linux (and formerly) RISC OS, so these pests can't infect my machines even if I were careless, they still annoy me enormously due to their volume. The shit really hit the fan with the 2003 Sobig.F worm where I got more than 5MB of daily worm spam for several days through the VICE developer mailing list because every fucking retard who got his computer infected and had the list in his address file started spamming the list. Whether they did it deliberately or through ignorance makes no difference; if your computer gets infected, it's at least as much your fault as it is the fault of whoever wrote the pest unless you've done everything humanly possible to secure your machine (which -- for Windows users -- means weekly security patches, careful system configuration and not using widely known virus bait like Internet Explorer or Outlook in the first place). Always remember: if your computer got hacked, it isn't just your problem, it's also the problem of every computer connected to yours, so either you take that virus hog off the net immediately or you have no right to complain about anyone calling you a retard or bashing your head in.

Things are really getting from bad to worse when you hear that even big companies' intranets get infected, which is a sure sign that their sysadmins are clueless, too. You better hope the US army has better sysadmins than that because the thought of a hacked airplane carrier is not a pleasant one (they recently installed a Windows network on one of these ships, I don't know whether those responsible for that decision were smoking crack or Bill Gates' dollar bills at the time). Of course part of the problem is the people who write these pests in the first place, but no worm or virus could cause remotely as much havoc as they do if people ran halfway secure software (both decent operating systems and internet applications) and knew more about their machines than which one's the on button and how to start their browser. It's rather incredible that apparently many people still don't know that running executable attachments is not just dangerous but downright suicidal, regardless of who it appears to be from. Why is it that you need a driver's license to be allowed to drive a car on public roads, while every blockhead can connect to public networks without having to learn the most basic computer fundamentals? We need something similar for computer networks before bandwidth is eaten up entirely by electronic pests.

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