Red Rock Eater -- Frequently Asked Questions

What is RRE?

The Red Rock Eater News Service is a mailing list that consists of whatever its editor finds interesting, perhaps five messages a week, usually on the social and political aspects of networking and computing. RRE's editor is usually Phil Agre.
How do I subscribe to the mailing list?
Send a message that looks like this:

Subject: subscribe rre

You mean the "subscribe" goes in the subject line, not in the body of the message?
It actually works either way.
How do I end my subscription?
Send a message that looks like this:

Subject: unsubscribe rre

I am getting your messages even though I never subscribed to your list. Why?
I didn't do it, so please don't flame me. Somebody may have forged a subscription message in your name, either because they don't like you or through random malice. This is common. You should have gotten an initial "welcome" message from the list that explained this possibility and provided instructions for unsubscribing. In any case, those instructions are given above.

Other explanations are possible. Someone may be forwarding the messages to you using a command that creates misleading headers. In this case, you can usually figure out what's going on by asking your mail-reading program to show you the complete headers for the message. Another possibility is that somebody, whether maliciously or accidentally, has set their e-mail to forward to your address. In any case, if sending an "unsubscribe" does not cause the unwanted RRE messages to stop within a couple of days, please send me one of the messages, including (this is very important) the full headers, and I can try to diagnose the problem.

I tried to unsubscribe and it told me that I'm not on the list. What's the problem?
In my experience the most common problem is that your site administrator has changed the domain name that goes out on your e-mail messages, so that you subscribed under one version of your e-mail address and are trying to unsubscribe a different version. The only solution to this problem, I'm afraid, is to send a note to and ask us to take you off the list. As always, when complaining about an error message, please enclose the complete message, including all of the complicated headers.
I thought I unsubscribed but I'm still getting mail. What's the problem?
Outgoing RRE messages are queued for several hours before they go out, so you might get an extra day's messages even though you're no longer on the list. Your address might also have been duplicated on the list, so you might try unsubscribing again. If all else fails, send a note to and ask us to look into it. Include any relevant messages, especially messages from RRE that you shouldn't be getting. Be sure to include all of the complicated headers.
My e-mail address has changed. How do I switch my RRE subscription to the new address?
Simply send an "unsubscribe" message from the old address and then send a "subscribe" message from the new address. Instructions for sending these commands are given above. If it is impossible to send a message from the old address, let me know and I will unsubscribe you by hand.
I am going on vacation. Can you suspend my subscription while I am gone?
I'm afraid not. You should just unsubscribe now and then subscribe again when you get back. I realize that some mailing list programs do include features for suspending subscriptions, but our system isn't that sophisticated.

Important note for vacationers: If you decide to use a "vacation" program that automatically sends a message to everyone who sends you mail, please ask your system maintainer whether the vacation program knows not to send such messages in response to bulk mail (such as RRE). This is a common problem.

You sent out a message on such-and-such the other day but I lost it. Where can I find another copy?
The RRE Web page includes links to some Web archives of the list.
I have a message that I'd like to submit for possible distribution on RRE. Where do I send it?
Just send it to me at I try to acknowledge every message I get in this way, if only with a simple "thanks". Don't worry too much about whether your message is appropriate for RRE distribution. If you think it's important then that's enough; the worst that happens is that I just have a look, say "thanks", delete it, and move along. I would say that I send perhaps a third of the messages I receive to the list. I always trust my guts about whether a message is appropriate, whether or not it fits any official definitions of what belongs on the list.
What does "tx" mean?
It means "thanks". It's part of an old Internet convention of abbreviating common words and phrases. So, for example, "fwiw" means "for what it's worth", "imho" means "in my humble opinion", "afaik" means "as far as I know", and so on. I often use these expressions when I respond to items that people submit to RRE, just because I get a lot of them and need to respond quickly.
Can you explain the format you use when commenting on the URL's you send out?
Okay. I've evolved the format to be as compact as possible, while still being fairly flexible. Here are a few examples.

(1) A capitalized phrase is always the title of the page:

  Most Wanted: Terrorists
I might edit the title for context or length, or sometimes to amplify (what I regard as) the tacit message of the page.

(2) Lower-case phrases are my own summaries or commentaries:

  remarkable directory of French Internet laws
(3) Lower-case phrases in quotation marks are quotes from the page:
  "links the efforts of freedom-of-information advocates around the world"
I often abbreviate or modify these quotes for length or clarity while trying to keep their spirit. Refer to the page itself for the exact phrasing.

(4) When I add a second line in parentheses, it reflects additional commentary of my own:

  CEO's Will Have to Swear to Numbers
  (okay, it's a start)
(5) When the parenthesized passage is in quotes, though, it is always a quote from the page:
  How Everyone Missed WorldCom
  ("part of the problem is companies have gotten incredibly large and complex")
Again, the quote may be modified for length or clarity.
Why do you use apostrophes to mark the plural forms of numbers (e.g., the 1960's) and acronyms (URL's, IPO's, MP3's LAN's, ISP's, ICT's, CEO's)? Apostrophes are just for possessives.
The RRE style book dictates apostrophes in that context in order to separate the number or acronym as its own perceptual unit. The "rule" that apostrophes are for possessives has plenty of exceptions if you start looking at real usage. The possessive "its" lacks an apostrophe. Apostrophes are commonly used for contractions, both to reflect spoken usage (can't, they're, let's) and to abbreviate long words (int'l for international, gov't for government). And apostrophes are commonly used for plurals when it's necessary to avoid confusion, as in the name of the late British pop band The La's.
You often send out URL's for Web pages that require cookies. Can't you warn us about the cookies so we can avoid them?
That would require a lot of work on my part, and for very little benefit. I personally don't think that cookies are a big deal. They could *become* a big deal if the Web's architecture changed slightly, for example to allow Web sites to rummage among the cookies left by other sites. But right now there are very few serious abuses associated with cookies, certainly not in comparison to the much more grievous privacy abuses that are associated with other technologies.
Do you want any commercial press releases?
Absolutely not. Commercial press releases are designed for a completely different purpose than being circulated among a general audience on the Internet. I have always found them to be useless, and I will treat anybody who sends them to me as a spammer.
You often send conference announcements and calls for participation to the list. You're probably aware that very few RRE subscribers will be able to attend these conferences, so what's the point?
Some people will be able to attend, or they will forward the message to someone else who will be able to attend. Even if you cannot attend, it's often useful to see the names of the speakers, the issues that are currently considered important, what buzzwords they are using, and so forth. It's part of the general monitoring of the world that RRE is largely useful for, if it is useful at all.
How many people subscribe to the list?
At the moment about 6000 people subscribe directly. Some additional people read it through local redistribution lists or newsgroups, but I have no way to count them.
What software do you use to run the list? In particular, how do you format RRE messages to 70 columns?
My normal set-up is to open a telnet link to a Unix machine from my Powerbook. I read my e-mail using Berkeley mailx, a plain-text mail-reader that is not susceptible to security attacks. I manage my e-mail using keyboard macros that I wrote myself under Emacs (an open-source text editor). I also prepare messages for the list using Emacs. That includes formatting text messages to 70 columns.

When people send me URL's, I filter them in a low-tech manner as well. When I read my mail, I read the messages quickly to perform an initial triage on them. Then I save each remaining message to its own file, edit the files to trim excess junk from the headers, then copy-and-paste each of the URL's into Internet Explorer.

The mailing list itself runs on inadequate Apple-based mailing-list software called LetterRip. We're intending to move to more robust mailing-list software at some point, but we don't know when.

Why do you insist that RRE subscribers not use the Eudora "redirect" command to pass messages along to others?
The Eudora "redirect" command causes me endless headaches, and I do indeed insist that RRE subscribers not redirect my messages. Here is what happens. You redirect an RRE message to person X. Person X then wants to reply to you, thanking you for passing the message along. Their reply, however, goes to me, not you, and I have to respond and explain what the problem is. This happens all the time, and it is a major nuisance.

It is true that, by using "redirect", you are protecting yourself against the risk of misdirected replies -- that is, replies that were intended for me. At the same time, however, you are also exposing me to the symmetric version of the same risk -- the risk that I will get replies that were intended for you. That is why I often say that "redirect" is literally immoral. Many non-Eudora-users do not understand the "From: ... (by way of ...)" header fields that "redirect" creates, and experience shows that no amount of explaining will suffice to get the concept across to them. Indeed, many Eudora users themselves do not understand these From: fields; they use "redirect" because they think it's just like "forward" but without those unsightly ">" intendations.

And that's not all. When people redirect RRE messages to other mailing lists, I frequently get messages saying, "who are you and why are you posting to our mailing list?". I don't like having to respond to these messages, explaining that I had never heard of their mailing list and never sent anything to it, when as far as they can tell they have incontrovertible proof to the contrary sitting right in front of them. I also frequently get error messages that are automatically generated when someone redirects a message of mine to a mailing list that includes some bad addresses.

I have taken these issues up with Qualcomm, which markets Eudora. They were completely unresponsive. Their approach was that it was unthinkable that any functionality should be removed from a program, and they asserted that any misuse of the command was the fault of its users. I disagree. Putting the "redirect" command where beginners can find it is like leaving a loaded handgun lying around, disguised as a coffee mug. It's bad design. "Redirect" should be understood as a type of forgery.

Why do you single out Eudora, given that many other mail programs have functions that are similar to "redirect"?
It is Eudora that causes this problem the most frequently by far in practice.
What happened to the email-based RRE Archive?
We discontinued it when RRE moved to UCLA in July 1998. Almost everything in it is available from the Web-based archives of the list, and the great majority of Internet users now have access to the Web.

Where does the name Red Rock Eater come from?
Bennett Cerf's Book of Riddles.

Question: What is big and red and eats rocks?
Answer: A big red rock eater.

Why such a funny name?
I wanted something as un-computer-like as possible.
Does the word "red" in the list's name have a political meaning?
Absolutely not.
Is RRE a discussion group?
No. I'm the only person who can send mail to it.
Isn't that undemocratic?
No. Besides, if it were a discussion list then seven eighths of the subscribers would disappear by next week.

Also, from time to time I send out rebuttals to items that I have sent to RRE. If you get sufficiently annoyed or inspired by an RRE message to write a thoughtful, informative rebuttal, you're most welcome to put it on a Web page and pass along the URL. I would say that I send about half of these rebuttals to the list.

How do you find the time to read all of the stuff you send to the list?
I don't. I just read everything well enough to be confident that it's valid and important, and beyond that I trust the people who send me things. As a result, perhaps one item in every 200 turns out to be a turkey. Everyone should apply their own critical judgement to everything they see on my list -- and to everything else they read as well.
Do you give the names or addresses of RRE subscribers to marketers or anyone else?
No, never. I do my best to keep the identity of RRE subscribers confidential. But the local system maintainers need access to the list, and it's conceivable that our system security might come under attack, so I cannot absolutely guarantee anybody's anonymity.
I'm interested in starting something analogous to RRE, to send out materials that I find interesting. Do you have any advice for me?
See TNO 3(6).
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