[linux-elitists] Don Saklad is neither a troll nor a kook.

Teh Entar-Nick nick at teh.entar.net
Fri Aug 30 02:45:55 PDT 2013

Tony Godshall:
> oh, and by the way, I see "Don Saklad" is in fact a classic troll of
> usenet and Boston Public Library days- there are whole Hall Of Fame
> and Best Of pages about the posts...

I would not characterise him as a "troll".  To me a troll is someone who
feigns innocence in a topic and seems to accidentally provoke a flame
war.  A troll is a picador for energetic posters.  Trolls make fools of
themselves deliberately, to inspire everyone else to make fools of
themselves unintentionally.

I've more often seen Don characterised as a far more interesting
specimen of the old Usenet days: a "kook".  I never really thought this
fit very well; most kooks cling to outlandish theories or ideas, and
their ability to selectively incorporate elements from a larger and more
lucid discussion is partly what makes them so endearing.

But Don is not trying to provoke us, and aside from some dedicated
publication of his perceived problems in the Boston public library
system he has not shown any really kooky fixations.  He doesn't profess
a belief that his brain is a six-dimensional plutonium atom or that
relativity is a farce perpetrated by lizardmen to prevent us from
building starships.  

So neither troll nor kook, then what is he?  Well I say he's just Don
Saklad, and that ought to be enough for anyone.  I've seen Don in
various places over the past decade, and I spoke on the phone with him
once years ago.  I'll give my impression of the man, but I won't
apologise if you don't find this silhouette in your Jane's Guide to
Internet Archetypes.

He never posts anything in the first person, and if I remember our
telephone conversation correctly he consciously avoids putting any of
his identity or personality into his posts.  Rick often gets frustrated
at people who back-channel him with "solve MY special problem" mails,
and by contrast Don seems to try framing his every question in publice,
and in terms of the public good.

He does this in private mails as well.  Instead of "Help, I lost my ssh
private key! How do I get back into my account?" he would mail me with
"How does someone proceed when the private key necessary to log into a
server is lost?"  It can be a bit of an energy drain getting enough
details out of him, because he's always trying to generalize as much as

My parents used to be librarians, and used to get frustrated at patrons
who would ask "Where are the large-format books about India and Africa
shelved?" instead of just admitting "I need a photograph of an elephant
that I can put on a poster."  It's more common than you might think, and
I have to wonder if this sort of communication style made things
difficult for him at the BPL.

If there's an impedance mismatch with the group at large, it's usually
not a problem because the dynamic usually boils down to "Someone's
posting a lot of very vague questions that nobody seems motivated to

As for best-of Don posts, I prefer the page where Kibo archived his own
wild-eyed responses to Don in 1997:


    (Bonus because yes, negabinary really *is* amazing)

And now I shall toss a biscuit to Maxwell's Dæmon for coaxing a Don
quote out of my ~/.signify file.  (I think suspects and elbows are two
cliquish club mailing lists on the MIT campus; but the original
question, stripped of context in classic Don Saklad style, has a bit of
Dada charm.)

How do you get mailings?... from the lists
1. suspects
2. elbows
                -- Don Saklad

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