[TUHS] history of community help for unix users everywhere

Clem Cole clemc at ccc.com
Thu Feb 9 06:02:27 AEST 2023

FYI - UNIX is about 10-12 years old by the time Matt is describing - there
are thousands of sites by then.

I was describing what it was like when it 30-50 sites.


On Wed, Feb 8, 2023 at 2:39 PM segaloco via TUHS <tuhs at tuhs.org> wrote:

> At least as far as I can glean from manuals, there is the "trouble"
> command circa UNIX/TS 4.0 which was "a front end for the Piscataway Change
> Management Tracking System (CMTS)".
> This was used to report issues over uucp to Piscataway where they would
> then be transformed into Modification Requests, examples of which in the
> form of the request form *and* a list of 1980-1983 changes are in Sys V
> literature I've scanned.
> The utility would request:
> - The user name
> - Their location
> - Phone number
> - Type of request: Hardware, software, documentation, enhancement, and
> unknown
> - System: Product in need of support (usually unix)
> - Release (can be N/A)
> - Severity: 1 - highest 4 - lowest
> - Date
> - Abstract/Summary
> - Detailed Description
> There is a note here too that unless stated otherwise, reports may be
> selected for publication in the "Mini-System Newsletter".
> I've never heard of this Mini-System Newsletter. It sounds like among
> other things it had a digest of significant trouble reports to notify the
> network of known issues.
> The UNIX System Error Message Manual refers to two "Support Organizations"
> in the Bell system:
>    - Field service representatives that support the hardware
>    - Local software support and "UNIX System Customer Service"
> The manual goes on to mention the preferred group for many of the errors
> encounterable
> I suppose this means there was usually a local guru pertinent to the type
> of machinery (PDP, VAX, 3B-20) and then maybe some local software folks and
> then the man support group.
> Looks like for BTL-specific extensions, Division 452 was point of contact
> on that one. In the notes for the Release 5.0 manuals (troff comments) Lab
> The System V modification request form lists "UNIX System Support Center"
> in Lisle, Illinois as the point of contact for these forms.
> The 4.0 documentation roadmap mentions getting documentation resources
> from the Computer Information Service Library.
> The 5.0 BTL-specific manual has a second trouble page listing "UNIX
> Computer Center Support" instead of Piscataway as the recipient of trouble
> reports.
> In the same manual is also "wwbmail", an application that would send help
> requests directly to the "Writers Workbench" group. I haven't checked this
> manual exhaustively yet so there could be other nuggets in there.
> Of course, going back in the history of UNIX, in the early days, man pages
> listed the application author/maintainer with the implication they should
> be directly contacted with questions. This changed in V3 I think, which is
> around the time SCCS would've been playing around with what would become
> CB-UNIX. I dunno when USG and the PWB groups first formally start to tinker
> on things, but I recall reading around 1973 being a likely backstop. I
> assume USG handled a lot of this traffic until the 80s and the
> formalization of a bunch of these other groups.
> So all in all from various manuals, this is the picture I can glean from
> early 80s:
> Support Groups:
>    - USG Proper
>    - UNIX System Customer Service
>    - UNIX System Support Center
>    - UNIX Computer Center Support
>    - Piscataway (USG? PWB?)
>    - WWB Direct Mailing List
> Documentation:
>    - Computer Information Service Library
>    - Might be the same group but there is a trifold (I can't find right
>    now) that lists the User's Manual along with the two falling blocks guides
>    circa UNIX/TS 4.0 that could be requested from some doc group
>    - Various labs and divisions that maintained their own manual versions
>    - Mini-System Newsletter
> Granted, this is all based on manuals, doesn't consider any activities of
> USENIX or what BSD folks were doing for their help and support. Hopefully I
> haven't misrepresented anything, happy to illuminate any references that
> may be dubious.
> - Matt G.
> ------- Original Message -------
> On Wednesday, February 8th, 2023 at 10:58 AM, Will Senn <
> will.senn at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi all,
> Today, as I was tooling around on stack overflow, I decided to ask a
> question on meta. For those of you who don't know, stack overflow is
> supposedly a q&a site. There are zillions of answers to quite a few "how to
> do i do x" style questions. Folks upvote and downvote the answers and the
> site is a goto for a lot of developers. I've used it since it came online -
> back in the late 2000's. I have a love hate relationship with the site.
> When there's a good answer to a question that I have, I love it. When they
> downvote fringe cases that I care about to the point where they effectively
> become gray literature that is near on impossible to locate - I hate it.
> Meta is supposedly where you go to ask questions about the stack.
> Yesterday, I asked this question:
> Do you know of any studies that have been done around downvoted content,
> specifically on stack overflow or stack exchange?
> By way of background - I find any questions or answers that are on the
> border (+1, 0, -1) as dubiously helpful, but when the downvotes pile up,
> much like upvotes, the answers become interesting to me again as they give
> me insights I might miss otherwise.
> After a slew of why would you think that was interesting, there's no value
> with upvotes and downvotes, and your question is unclear responses along
> with, as of now, 31 downvotes net, the question was closed for lack of
> clarity. My answer, which was informed by some of the comments was:
> There don't appear to be any papers on downvoting specific to Stack
> Overflow. You can find a good list of known academic papers using Stack
> Exchange data in the list hosted on Stack Exchange Meta (link). It is an
> attempt to keep a current list of works up to date.
> The Stack Exchange Data Explorer (link) is an open API for doing data
> research, if you want to dig into the data yourself.
> Which was quickly downvoted 9 times net.
> To see the entire debacle:
> https://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/423080/are-there-any-serious-studies-on-the-value-of-downvoting
> Anyhow, other than what I perceive to be a decidely hostile environment
> for asking questions, it is still actually a useful resource.
> Wow, have times changed though on the hostility front.
> So, it got me thinking...
> What was it like in the very beginning of things (well, ok, maybe not the
> very beginning, but around and after the advent of v6 and when it was at or
> around 50 sites) for folks needing answers to questions related to unix?
> The questions... and for the love of Pete, don't downvote me anymore
> today, I'm a fragile snowflake, and I might just cry...
> What was the mechanism - phone, email, dropbox of questions, snail mail,
> saint bernardnet, what?
> What was the mood - did folks quickly tire of answering questions and get
> snippy, or was it all roses?
> When did those individual inquiries get too much and what change was made
> to aggregate things?
> I'm thinking there may have been overlap between unix users and usenet...
> Also, I remember using fidonet for some of my early question about linux,
> but that was 1991, many years after the rise of unix.
> Thanks,
> Will
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