[Balug-Admin] List confuguration changes/tweaks

Rick Moen rick@linuxmafia.com
Fri Nov 2 12:00:18 PDT 2007

Quoting Michael Paoli (Michael.Paoli@cal.berkeley.edu):

> Let me know if you have any problems/issues/concerns regarding these
> configuration changes I have in mind to make to BALUG's lists:

Thanks for taking leadership on this, Michael.  Hoping you'll take this
feedback in the spirit intended, since I'm about to say "I recommend
against", in several particulars.  ;->

> I'd like to change the list administrator address(es) from:
> balugadmin@balug.org
> rick@linuxmafia.com
> to:
> balug-list-admin@balug.org
> (you and I are both included in the above alias;
> balugadmin@balug.org apparently hasn't existed for quite a while,
> and just bounces)
> key rationale:
> provide consistent presentation on the Mailman web pages about
> list administrator/owner address(es); we (BALUG sysadmins,
> presently myself and Jim Stockford) can change members of the
> balug-list-admin@balug.org alias at will.

I think there are disadvantages that outweigh that, and would prefer you
not do it.  For a long time, I've thought that it would be better if we
_did_ move to more consistent presentation, but in the exact opposite
fashion, by replacing "balugadmin@balug.org" with whatever address or
addresses lie behind it.

Why, you ask?  Several times, I've wanted to remind myself of who the 
listadmins[1] are of, say, balug-talk.  So, I go to http://www.balug.org/ , 
and follow links to
http://lists.balug.org/listinfo.cgi/balug-talk-balug.org .  I look down
at the bottom, and -- oh frell.  Damn, it says only:

   Balug-Talk list run by balugadmin at balug.org, rick at

Well, I think to myself, that's, as my old boss used to say "almost
useful" (i.e., not useful), and I still, to this day, have really not
idea who's on the listadmin roster for any of our lists -- except

I happen to think it's really useful from any number of perspectives to
have the end-destination addresses be visible, there.  It's a form of
documentation for ourselves and for the membership.  It also means
people can be added and removed from the admin rosters (and remove
themselves) without needing shell access to edit a security-sensitive 
e-mail alias.

The fact that balugadmin@balug.org turns out to be a non-functional
address and go nowhere illustrates, in fact, one reason why aliases
should simply not be used for this purpose:  Being a hidden mechanism,
any breakage will tend not to be apparent.

Anyhow, I have both pragmatic and ethical reasons why I make my
recommendation.  The pragmatic ones are outlined above.  The ethical one
is basically:  I make a point of standing behind what I do, by name.
I've seen several LUGs' Mailman lists where abusive listadmin practices
get hidden behind indirect mail addressing, so that the public cannot 
readily tell who's the backstabber.  So, I've made a particular point of
acting as little like that as possible -- and accountability requires
visibility.  (This is also why I put my name and e-mail address on my
LWN and similar Web-forum postings, even where it's not required or
traditional:  Pseudonymity gets abused much too badly in such places,
and I want to make a particular point of standing behind what I do and

> Also, I'd like to set the presently null list moderator address(es) to:
> balug-list-moderator@balug.org

Again, I'd recommend you didn't.

I've had a lot of experience with the Mailman "moderator" (as opposed to
listadmin) mechanism, and find it not very useful, and to have
problematic characteristics.  I'd frankly urge continuing to ignore it.
The reasons are a bit complex, and are most easily discussed in person.
(I'm not saying there's any secrecy about it:  It's just that it'd be
more efficient to go into those details in person.)

Unless you've used it yourself, it's possible that you might be making
assumptions about how it functions.  (Please don't think I'm being
patronising in saying that.  I've just noticed people often make
assumptions about that feature based on its name and their intuition,
that don't match its actual implementation.)

> Likewise, you and I are included in that alias.

Again, I'd strongly recommend not using aliases for this purpose -- same
reasons as above.

> Also, I'd like to change:
> Discard held messages older than this number of days.
> from 3 to 21

If you like.  However, I strongly doubt that any legitimate mail (e.g.,
sent from a non-subscribed address) isn't going to be noticed within
three days by any of the people getting the listadmin nagmails.  I set
that value because of three-day holiday weekends, to make sure nothing
legitimate gets overlooks.

In my experience, setting it to three weeks is just going to increase
the number of Mailman listadmin nagmails you get for held spam.  I think
you'll soon be changing it back ;-> , but please make up your own mind.

> and change:
> Should the list moderators get immediate notice of new requests, as well as
> daily notices about collected ones?
> from Yes to No
> rationale: stuff snagged for admin/moderator is mostly just spam and
> occasionally non-subscriber post attempt (accidental or intentional),
> it's highly unlikely any such held item would be so time critical as to
> warrant notification to list admin/moderator more than once per 24 hours;
> also, since the bulk of it is notification about spam anyway ... not sure
> about your preferences, but I'd prefer to get notified about such less
> often (once per day I think I'd find rather/quite tolerable, once for every
> e-mail that's held, I've found to be quite annoyingly excessive).
> Also, though I presume we'd fairly regularly dispense with the held
> items, by extending the maximim hold time, we reduce the risk of possibly
> losing an item that might get held and be something we wouldn't
> want to discard.

Yes, good idea.

> I presume also that the admin/moderator functions can be done quite reasonably
> (or even preferably) via the web interface, and needn't be handled via e-mail
> originated with From: address of list admin/moderator.

Realistically, this is going to be just a post from a non-subscribed
address about once every few months on average.  Otherwise, it's just
spam that Dreamhost's lousy anti-spam setup lets sail straight through.

> Let me know if you have any problems/issues/concerns regarding these
> configuration changes I have in mind to make to BALUG's lists.
> to the lists when the policies are actually updated.
> references:
> http://lists.balug.org/pipermail/balug-admin-balug.org/2007-October/000420.html

Your draft was very thoughtful, so at the time I didn't want to say
anything that would seem critical.  Since you're specifically asking my
feedback:  Your text is much too long to actually get read by real-world

There is no good solution, on that matter:  Most people just never will
read any documentation no matter how concise and clear -- or not read it
at the right time, or forget -- or deliberately ignore what they saw, or
not understand it.  However, my experience suggests that really, really
short policy text is what works best.  (This also conveys that you're
serious:  People are much, much less likely to take seriously policy
texts with long explanations.)

Here's is the complete policy text on CABAL's main mailing list's
listinfo page:

   This is a general discussion forum for the San Francisco Bay Area's
   CABAL Linux user group. It is also gated to the cabal.conspire local
   NNTP newsgroup. (Please write to postmaster@linuxmafia.com, specifying
   your fixed IP address, if you want access to our NNTP news server.)

   Per list policy, our (subscriber-accessible) membership roster and
   public message archives display unobscured posting addresses. If you're
   trying to hide your e-mail address from spammers, avoid this list.

   While we appreciate the need for jobs postings, they easily overwhelm
   this small mailing list: So, you must submit them via e-mail to the
   listadmin, who'll decide whether to post them on your behalf. Reasons
   why the answer has been "no" in the past have included their having
   already been posted to other local LUG mailing lists. (We get tired of
   seeing the same posts everywhere.)

I should actually cut the length of that in half, and probably will, now
that I've notice that _it_ also is a bit too wordy.

[1] For completeness:  The Mailman roster in question is not actually
the set of listadmins, per se, but rather is the set of e-mail addresses 
that will receive "something needs your attention" nagmails from the
MLM.  The _actual_ people capable of carrying out administrative actions
are the complete set of all people who know the mailing list's current
listadmin password.  These may be disjoint or overlapping but
non-identical sets, but most often aren't.

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