Why I Do This

I started posting on the Net in the 1980s. I remember writing my first post to sci.math and taking hours carefully composing my article -- and learning vi at the same time. When I finally got up the nerve to post it, I had an incredible adrenaline rush of fear and excitement about joining this very public conversation. Then I somehow destroyed my message instead of posting it. That was when I learned the lesson about regularly doing :w tmp4posting while composing in vi! So my first netnews post was lost, but sometime in the 1980s I did join the big public conversation that we now call the Internet. And I was hooked.

When I started working at Microsoft in 1989, one of the first questions I asked was how do I access Usenet -- the answer was "talk to michaelw." Michael got me an account on a Unix (Xenix?) system named wingnut and I continued reading and sometimes posting to Usenet. Mainly, though, I spent a lot of time in Microsoft's internal newsgroups and became a huge advocate of these. I think some people thought I was a nut, perhaps a wingnut, but I never stopped believing that these discussion groups could be a huge benefit to Microsoft. And that world-wide discussion groups (Usenet, mailing lists, forums, blogs, wikis, etc.) could be a huge benefit to the world.

So why do I do this?
  1. Communication. Especially about things that most of my friends are not interested in, for example set theory, logic, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of science, Unix, procmail, Internet messaging, and free/libre open source software (as a philosophical topic).
  2. Learning. A huge percentage of what I know about procmail and other technical topics, I learned in public discussion groups.
  3. Teaching. When I figure something out, I enjoy teaching others about it. Teaching helps me to really understand a topic, especially if I have an audience who asks a lot of good questions and is not afraid to tell me if I get something wrong (this is not a problem on the Net :-)).
  4. Documenting. A lot of the tips and tricks that I've learned, I've posted in public discussion groups or written about on my web sites. When I need to remember the details of some old tip, I search my archives and find the old tip. And it's usually written in a way that makes sense to me!
  5. Making the world a better place. I hope that some of the things I've written, for example my Reverse Spam Filtering system, have helped to make people's lives -- e.g. their email lives -- better.
  6. The thanks. I don't do this for the thanks, but when I get thank-you notes, I really really appreciate it and it makes me feel like all the miscommunication and frustration is worth it. Here is an excerpt from a thank-you note that Patrick McBride recently sent me (which I'm posting with permission):
"I don't know how often readers thank you for your work, but you're a tremendous resource for those of us who'd like to become more advanced in managing our information flow, and your posts concerning the future of 'feeds' have opened my eyes to the possibilities available now as well as what might emerge in the future.

"You've been well ahead of the curve in thinking about the future of information streams. I look forward to keeping up with developments through your site."
So, thank you to everyone who has sent me thanks, to everyone who puts up with my very slow (sometimes infinitely slow) responses to email, and to everyone who participates in the world wide web of discussions.

PS: I agree with Meg Goodrich who said that "none of it was really for money."
Hashtag: #why-i-do-thi [?]

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My son asked his math teacher about the Continuum Hypothesis. I recall this is one of Nancy's many specialties and was pleased to find it has lasted this not-quite-infinite number of years.
 

 

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