The Venus Network Authority

Ok, so I'm a gweep. I spend too much time online, even without including working hours. I also use a Dvorak keyboard layout; I was tempted to switch for years, and in the summer of 1996 finally did. Because of my gweepery, I try to find tools to make my online time more productive, which leads us to:

Mail and News Reading Tools

The mail and news reader of the gods is Gnus, written primarily by Lars Ingebrigtsen (though originally created by Umeda Masanobu), with occasional help from a team of interested users, including yours truly. In the spring of 1994 I, a veteran vi user, started learning emacs in large part because of its highly configurable newsreader, GNUS 4. Half a year later, Lars decided to take over its development, it became Gnus (eventually released as version 5), and it has been bundled with recent versions of both Emacs and XEmacs. I use the XEmacs version myself, as it has superior support for fonts and images. Lots of good info in the Gnus FAQ.

I was active in the design of new features in the early days, but my main contribution is the supplemental BBDB interfacing package, gnus-bbdb.el. It's primary feature is auto-filing of messages based on data in your BBDB. Other great features of Gnus are scoring (also available in strn and slrn), and adaptive scoring, whereby your scores automatically change over time based on what you read; integrated mail handling, with support for many different mailbox formats; integrated NoCeM support.

Other emacs packages which are a great help are the PGP interface mailcrypt, and the emacs web browser w3. I'm one of the wierder emacs ``converts'' however, as I use a vi emulation package, viper, which I recommend highly. It gives you the best of both worlds: vi keybindings without all the meta-shift-control-smoog key combinations, and the rich emacs environment under it.

It was a good day when I found the picons project. It's essentially a huge database of little pictures of corporate logos, university crests, photos of people, country flags, and so on, which can be used to quickly identify people. When the XEmacs version of Gnus displays a message, it will also display any picons available for the author of the article, so for example, mail from me would display with a Canadian flag, the UBC crest, and a tiny version of the picture from my homepage. Another really nice tool that works with the picons database is xfaces, which is an enhanced xbiff, but instead of just telling you you have mail, it shows you the most specific picon it can find for each piece of mail in your mailbox. If you're on a lot of mailing lists like me, you've always got new mail, and it's nice to see easily if it's stuff you want to read right away.

Mailing Lists

I run a number of mailing lists from my home Linux machine using both Majordomo and Mailman list server software (I started out with some perl scripts I wrote, but eventually decided why duplicate work already done better by others). The mainstay of the lists are those for Japanese animation series:

I also run a couple music related lists dedicated to Matthew Sweet and Steve Taylor, as well as one for the comedian Denis Leary, though that one's been pretty dead.

My very first public mailing list was the Dirty Pair list, and I should thank Gordon Waters for suggesting the idea that started me on this path to destruction. One concrete side effect of running all these lists is that I've also written a Mailing List Etiquette FAQ which I'm told is very good, and is also being used by other list admins. If you run a list, feel free to point your subscribers at it. If you subscribe to a list, mine or otherwise, read it.

Newsgroup Creation and Moderation

I've been involved in both alt.config and news.groups since late in 1994. Up until August 1996 I was heavily involved in the alt group creation process, the most visible results of that being the frequently referenced How to Write a Good Newgroup FAQ and the newsgroup alt.brian.edmonds.lucky.day, created by a disgruntled rmgroupee, back when I was more into that end of things. I don't actually carry the group on any system I run, and I doubt much but spam has ever been posted there.

During my alt.config days I also wrote up a guide to locating music resources on the net, and one on how to contact your news admin to get access to a new alt group at your site, as well as attempting to put together a list of the active newsgroups in the alt.music hierarchy. Finally, I also started maintaining a list of mailing list providers to help people looking to start lists of their own. I've not kept these up to date, so no guarantees as to how useful they are.

In August 1996 I took over the moderation of rec.arts.anime.creative from Megazone (along with the archive), and with the help of a team of moderators (and a perl script I whipped up), it's been running smoothly since. For more information on the group, consult the submission guidelines.

In November 1996 I took on the moderation of rec.music.info, which had lain dormant for over a year. At present it's pretty much manually moderated, with a bit of help from a rehacked version of the RAAC script, but I plan to play around with adding automation to help make the moderation job easier. For more information on RMI, see the submission guidelines.

News Transport Software

I got into news server management when I worked at Prodigy Technologies (now Big Server Software) as a part-time sysadmin. There I installed and managed an INN system, receiving a fairly large feed over a measly 14.4 dialup line. It kept the link saturated much of the time.

I've had my own UUCP node, lios, at home since late 1991 or early 1992 (I don't recall for sure), and have been receiving a small private news feed via that route since early 1995. In earlier days I ran C News, but in recent years it's been all INN. You can access a number of the groups publicly at news.gweep.ca.



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The Venus Network Authority
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Brian Edmonds <brian@gweep.ca> February 21, 1998
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