Last Update: 4 August 1995
Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995 by saki ( All rights reserved.


First things first:

The *Inter*net connects a large number of electronic bulletin boards together; it's a multi-level bridge. *Use*net existed independently from other electronic media exchange systems years before anyone thought about the Information Superhighway. It was created for academic, scientific, and defense researchers, enabling them to exchange information via electronic mail and newsgroups of mutual interests.

Usenet has grown far beyond that humble beginning. Now it encompasses research as well as recreational and alternative groups, all of which share a somewhat anarchically agreed-upon hierarchy within Usenet. You may be accessing Usenet groups (called "newsgroups", not conferences) via an outside bulletin board, but you will find it to your advantage to learn Usenet protocol and netiquette (net etiquette). It's not hard! It's really very easy...and it allows millions of people to share ideas and opinions from all over the world.

Internet providers (such as Delphi, CompuServe, AOL) now carry Usenet newsgroups as part of their basic service, orgainized in a standard hierarchy of topics (sci, comp, rec, talk, misc, and alt, among others).

The rec* hierarchy includes newsgroups which focus on recreational topics---games, music, TV, movies, etc. is part of this sub-hierarchy. Each newsgroup has its own "personality" and local protocol. Finding out what's expected in this system is part of your initial exploration. Some newsgroups are full of insults; some are very polite. Some rely on hearsay and personal experience; some on more solid reference works. No matter what newsgroup you're considering, read it first for a week or two to get the "flavor" of it. If you have any questions or concerns about what you should post, write an email message to someone who seems to be knowledgeable and a fairly regular contributor.


Many sites are now contructing ftp directories and World Wide Web routes, and each provide ways to get more information about your area of interest.


FTP stands for "file transfer protocol" and allows the reader to travel electronically to a resource site in order to gather information. It provides files to copy and transfer to your own home directory ("downloading"). But because of a need for local security, you can't perform all the usual Unix commands at an FTP site. Common commands are "dir" and "cd" (to see and switch to directories), "get" and "put" (to dowload or upload files). When you "get" a file via FTP, you get a copy of it; the original stays in place.

Some r.m.b. FAQ notes are kept at FTP sites around the world. See the weekly FAQ posting in r.m.b. for details. For instructions on how to use FTP, see your local system operator or check your on-line manual page (from Unix sustems).

World Wide Web

The World Wide Web is like an interactive index card/library system (like Hypertext, if you're familiar with a Mac environment). Depending upon your home system, you can reach and read files consisting of straight text or even graphics and maps. A list of WWW Beatles sites is also included in the weekly FAQ listing. If you have software like Lynx, which permits non-graphically-enhanced use of WWW, you can enjoy WWW information even if you don't operate from a Windows environment.


Gopher is a non-graphical text-reading and downloading system which links numerous informational sites. Gopher may also provide you with newsgroup access (though not posting ability).

Your system operator or computer lab consultant should be able to help you use any of these systems, providing your site supports them.


In, you'll be among friends, but you need to be aware of several points.

People are behind posts

It's easy to forget, but there are real people behind each article posted to r.m.b., as with any newsgroup. Consider the feelings and concerns of the individual to whom you may be responding or following-up before you do so. With electronic communication, it's surprisingly easy to focus on the words alone, instead of the fact than a human wrote them. Thus:

Flame wars are not part of r.m.b.

Other newsgroups may "flame" (i.e. insult) each other to their heart's content, but we don't do that here. Everyone's opinion matters, and everyone should have a fair shake at their say. This doesn't mean that no one will ever disagree with you! Heaven forfend; polite, scholarly disagreement is the heart of good research.

Disagreements which meander beyond the subject matter at hand (to wit, the Fabs) should be carried out via email, not posted to r.m.b. If you're really upset, angry, or disturbed by something someone has posted, contact them at their email address. Don't post your concerns to the newsgroup.

Ignore random flames or trolls

Occasionally, someone new to r.m.b. or someone "who has left their terminal unattended" (a frequently seen excuse) posts a message of a distinctly antagonistic nature to r.m.b. It may not be the poster's fault (if he's been foolish enough to give his password to another!)...or it may be a deliberate attempt to provoke a response (i.e. a "flame war"). Don't play this game.

Trolling for "newbies" is a game played in some other newsgroups, where someone posts a deliberate mistake in the hopes of seeing a flurry of earnest corrective responses. Use your best judgment in such situations. Sometimes what looks like a troll is actually a well-meaning sincere question by a new user.

Examples of flame provoking topics (called "flame bait"):

You get the idea. Like those awful things kids used to say to each other in childhood, such posts are meant to provoke a response, or flood some unsuspecting soul with unwanted email.

Ignore such posts. Don't even bother to respond. In Usenet, the standard method for dealing with such provocations is to just keep silent. If the perpetrator sees no response, he/she will grow tired of the game. Really. This is the only thing that works. Logic, better humor, and argumentation will not drive away a persistent troublemaker. Utter silence will!


Ignore improperly crossposted articles

Sometimes troublemakers "crosspost" a particular bit of flame-bait or self-admired cleverness to many groups which are clearly inappropriate (look at the header in the "newsgoups" line to see how many newsgroups are receiving the article). Example: a post about religion to alt.aquaria,,, comp.risks, etc. The more crosspostings, the wider the audience, and the greater the possibility of creating a traffic jam of protest in each.

Like flame bait, this should be ignored, even if the subject takes a week or two to die off. Posting a polite response ("Would you please take r.m.b. out of your newsgroups line?") will result in further jeers or unwanted traffic. Pretend it's not there. I know it's tough, but you'll be rewarded in the end.

Stick to the subject!

Funny remarks about politics, society, what a bad day you're having, etc., are not appropriate for r.m.b. unless there's a discernable Beatles content in your post. Use your best judgment on this one, please.


If you're new to Usenet, it can be pretty unsettling to imagine all the things that can go wrong with your first posting. You may not even be familiar with computers, yet your institution has given you a free account! What to do? How do you respond? Or even save articles?

What "news" are you using?

First step: determine who runs your computer system, and what kind it is. Most institutions run a form of Unix, and a system administrator/ operator (sysop) is assigned to keep things running smoothly. Find out who this is at your site, and ask them for any brochures or on-line material about your system. You don't have to understand the system perfectly to know what you're doing. It's pretty simple, even for absolute neophytes.

Internet providers such as AOL or CompuServe may have their own brand of newsreading software, which may differ substantially from standard Unix systems. If you're confused about how to proceed, please check with your Internet help-line for answers. You may be able to email to a "help" account or phone someone for more information.

Some systems offer newsreading via Web systems like Netscape. Use the "help" function if you get lost, or ask your system administrator for assistance.

If you know that your computer system is Unix, then there's an on-line manual for your enjoyment; just type "man [command]" and it will scroll across your screen. If you use a typical newsreading program called "rn" (readnews), type "man rn" to see how to use the program, what commands are available. Other news systems are inews, vnews, rrn, trn. Or type "rn" by itself (presumably you've already learned to do this) to get into the program and use the various functions. When in doubt, ask your local sysop; he or she understands your system better than anyone.

How to wrote and post

To write articles, you can either compose from within the news program (using your default editor---ask your sysop how to set this up), using commands like "F" (follow-up) and "R" (reply---sends a letter to the poster whose article you're reading). You can also compose and article separately, using whatever editor you prefer (vi, ed, emacs, etc.---again, ask your sysop or type "man vi", for instance, to find out how those editors work), then post using "Pnews" (type "man Pnews" to find out how this works, if your site has Pnews, that is!) and add in your article when the prompt asks.

To test your article, post it to misc.test first, and check before it goes out to the world. You can determine how far your post propagates by chosing the right DISTRIBUTION: your state, country, world, etc. Don't post local information (such as about a swap meet) to "world". And don't worry about the warning you get when you're just about to post---you're not really wasting "hundreds if not thousands" of dollars. It's just a reminder that you should choose your words---and spend your time, which is presumably worth something to *you*---carefully.

Where it goes

When your article is posted, it travels through your local account to your news system "spool", where it waits in line with articles written by other users at your site for "queuing" into the main outgoing news feed. If you act quickly and it has not progressed too far, you might be able to cancel a post you're having doubts about. But on the whole the only person who can cancel an article for you is your system administrator. No one else can do this.

Note that when you read news, under normal circumstances your articles will be marked as "read" and will be removed from the group of articles you have yet to read. It doesn't disappear from the system, not immediately. Some sites keep "read" article for days, some for weeks; then they're expunged from the system to make room for new articles.

You may have worries that your articles are not being read if you receive no response. Often people *have* read your note but simply have nothing to say. :-) If you want to use misc.test to test responsiveness, post a test article there; autoreplies will be generated as your article reaches various sites throughout the world, and you'll receive them as email. If you receive no replies at all, check with your system administrator. Usenet requires a number of healthy interconnections, and if any one site is down, your feed---and your net presence---could be interrupted.

Editing details

It's also a good idea to review your article before posting it (you can do this either in misc.test or off-line) to make sure your spelling's in order (if you care...there's a Unix program called "spell" which flags common misspellings) and that your lines break in readable order.

Automatic carriage returns on your terminal may be too long for other sites, and your text may appear in fragments. When in doubts, break lines manually at 60 or 70 characters, or ask your sysop how to set up autowrap to *less than* 80 characters.

Using responses ("f"/"F" ) within the news program will automatically print the article you're responding to by "quoting" it---usually with

> a right-caret like this or
% sometimes another symbol.

Then you type your response here.

You do not have to quote the whole article to which you're responding; in fact, that's considered bad form (people have already read it once!) Use your editor to delete any extraneous lines; use your own best judgment, but in general you can delete all but a line or two from the previous article, so people get the idea what you're answering.

If you want a special "signature", with your name, email address, or a quotation, this goes into a file called .signature (in Unix based systems). Ask your sysop for help with this. Once it's set up, it will automatically appear at the end of your articles.

Because computer communications are lacking the typical elements of everyday speech, sometimes attempts at humor or sarcasm can be misunderstood. To make sure your audience knows you're making a joke, use "smiley face" symbols as emphasis, if you feel it would otherwise be unclear. Example: :-) (turn your head to the left to see why it's a smiley face.) But don't over-use! :-) :-) :-)

To emphasize words or phrases, we use *---* before and after the last letters, since underlining and italicising are unavailable on ascii screens. You can also use the asterisk to stand for missing letters (as you will shortly see), but their predominant use is to *emphasize* text.

Other regularly used abbreviations are BTW (by the way), IMHO (in my humble opinion), and YMMV (your mileage may vary). Rarely will you see r.m.b.'ers use RTFM (read the f***ing manual), but you may see it in other newsgroups.

Watch out for your caps lock key, too. On the net, typing something entirely in capitals IS CONSIDERED TO BE EQUIVALENT TO SHOUTING. And it's tough to read, as well. Typing an article entirely in lowercase also disturbs some readers, but you're welcome to do this if it amuses you. Overuse of exclamations (!!!!!!) and extreme colloquialisms or slang are subject to occasional flames from readers; be forewarned.


Propagation is a curious thing. Your article may travel outward from your system instantly, or may take days, depending upon the directness of your newsfeed. Do not assume that if you see no response to your query, you should repost your article. Give the net about a week to propagate your message to other machines; if your question is really urgent, you can try posting again.

One repetition of your message, query, offer, etc., should be sufficient. If no one responds after two such messages, you can assume that no one is interested or has a suitable comment to make.

If you seem to be getting no new articles for a period of days, your news feed may be interrupted or broken. Consult your system operator for advice.

A few reminders before you post:

  1. Check your Subject line and *edit it* if necessary; if you're responding to a previous article but have a slightly different slant, the old Subject may no longer be accurate.
  2. Don't quote the previous article in its entirety. Edit it down to several important sentences (which, as you remember, will be quoted > like this!)
  3. Make sure your .signature file is short and sweet---preferably no more than five or six lines. Some people read via very slow modems and long .sigs take up time and money.

That's basically it. If you're still confused about something technical at your end, ask your sysop. If you're even more confused, consult a book about your computer system. If it's still not clear, write to saki ( and I'll try to help.

Good luck, and welcome to!

saki ( Click here to return to the rmb home page.

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