Bad Influences

If I had to name the single most influential… influence on my preferred writing style, it would have to be the denizens of the Usenet newsgroup alt.sysadmin.recovery [0].

I was in IT for about ten years, herding Linux boxen and generally trying to make myself useful to people who had no fsking clue what I did, but had a vague idea that it was All Terribly Important. On the one hand, it was a great job being as that you got paid to websurf seven-and-a-half hours a day [1] and about half an hour of actual, productive typing [2]. Eventually, as the remains of the burst tech bubble finally stopped deflating and I was unable to find a permanent paying job that would support me in the lifestyle to which I would like to have become accustomed [3], I made a sideways career move into library science and somehow ended up as a quasi-historian.

Alt.sysadmin.recovery was the online watering hole where bunches of professionally very clever, professionally very geeky people [5] went to bitch about their jobs. All subcultures develop their own ways of doing things— jargons, inside jokes, and unique communications styles— as a way to separate the sheeple from the sacrificial goats [6], and the Scary Devil Monastery formed theirs out of a self-deprecating blend of gallows humor, unbridled cynicism, science fiction and Monty Python references, a love of all things Pratchett, snarky and illustrative footnotes [7], a withering contempt for anyone with an IQ demonstrably below body temperature [8], and a philosophy that there are days when the most productive thing to do is to kick back with a fermented beverage of choice and just watch the lunatic parade pass by [9].

The style is esoteric and harsh for non-initiates. Needless to say, it gets toned down in my professional writing to avoid frightening Those Who Sign The Paychecks. But it does make writing that difficult first draft ever so much more fun.

[0] For a sample of asr back in the day, try <a href=””>here</a>, or <a href=””>here</a>.

[1] Justified as Googling error messages. Whatever your obscure error message was, somebody else on the Internet was already out there bitching about it. And misery does love company.

[2] Because before you fix the syntax error in, you first have to understand

[3] One with such luxuries [4] as rent paid and actual food on the table that didn’t come out of a dumpster.

[4] Needless to say, in those days broadband internet was not a luxury, but life’s blood itself.

[5] Much like myself.

[6] In asr lore, the only way to properly diagnose a misbehaving SCSI chain.

[7] Ahem.

[8] That is to say, just about everybody.

[9] From a high location. While holding a high-powered rifle with an extended magazine and laser sights.

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