© 1998 Jamie Zawinski <>

I used to run some mailing lists (by hand, since this was back before there was any decent listserv software widely available.) To make that task easier, I had written myself some little programs that worked as a sort of ``shorthand.'' When I was looking at a mail message that was a request to be added or deleted from one of the mailing lists, I would hit one key, and this program would look at the message, try to figure out which was the list in question, what the right thing to do was, and would add or delete the person. Then it would automatically start composing a reply to the person, telling them that they had been added or deleted. I would review it, and hit ``Send.''

But it did some other things as well, in order to save me some typing. For example, if the message I was reading had been sent to the mailing list itself, instead of the mailing list's ``request'' address, then it would insert some text to that effect in the reply that was being composed, chiding them for sending mail to the wrong address. Or, if they had sent in an ``unsubscribe'' request for a different address than the one which was actually subscribed (meaning I would need to clean it up by hand), it would point that out too. All in the interest of saving me some typing, you see. These things happened every day.

So I thought that was a pretty neat hack, and a great time-saver. And one day I was telling Dan about it, and he said,

``You're really into that auto-flaming thing, aren't you? My first flame from you was when Lucid Emacs started up and bitched me out for having a broken xmodmap configuration.''

``I can justify that!'' I retorted. ``That message it prints out used to be a one-line error message, but I got a constant stream of mail from people telling me that I was wrong, that the error message was a mistake. But it's not! So every time I got that mail, I made the error message in Emacs be a little bit longer, a little bit more explanatory and specific, until it was about four paragraphs and the mail complaining about it became pretty rare, because it went into enough detail that people finally believed me.''

He said, ``Yes, it was right, my configuration was in fact broken.'' (Pause.)

``Even though everything else in the world seemed to work just fine.''

``Ah,'' I said, ``but you were off center, unbalanced.''

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