March 30th, 2005



I completely failed to notice that NIN are touring again, with the result that they've instantly sold out without me getting a ticket.

Oh well, I guess I'll have to keep an eye on ebay.

My first Eastercon

I have been advised by one much older more experienced than I that it is a classic mistake to spend the opening 17 pages of one’s con report discussing the various modes of travel one used to get to it. I shall therefore, in the interests of narrative tension, leave this a mystery, and you can fill in the blanks yourself, thus making the whole enterprise sound much more exciting. I shall, in fact, only mention that during my travels I was, at one point, positioned outside a large blue police telephone box…
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I really, really can't be arsed with ettiquette. I manage, generally speaking, because I don't like to upset people, but by and large it means nothing to me.

I do find it interesting, from an intellectual point of view, how much people focus on it, and how much of most people's conversations can be made up of it.

I was, therefore, particularly amused by this discussion in the latest Joel on Software:

Over time I've come to notice the occasional customer who thought we were being rude to him in an email message. On closer examination, we weren't being rude, but the email we sent seemed rude, and it was usually because it was incredibly terse and to-the-point. We decided that instead of sending emails like:

Yep, this is fixed in the latest version.

... we should be sending emails like:

Hi! Thanks for writing to us. I think I know what you're talking about, and it's definitely a bug in our product. The good news is: it's fixed! You can download the latest version by logging onto our online store at with your order ID number and email address, and that should solve this problem once and for all. If you don't have your order ID number just let me know and I'll be happy to look it up for you, or call us here at the Fog Creek office at 866-FOG-CREEK.

Please let me know if there's any other way I can be of assistance!

All the best,

(signature of a real human being)

It's sort of like translating from English to Japanese. I have never been to Japan but my father, a linguist, once told me the story of the train station in Tokyo, where the announcements were made in Japanese and English. You would hear four or five minutes of nonstop Japanese and then the English translation would be "The train to Osaka is on platform 4." It seems that in Japanese there is simply no way to say something that simple without cosseting it heavily in a bunch of formal etiquette-stuff. And it turns out the same thing applies to email messages, even in English. The moral of the story is that given two email messages with the same semantic content, the terse one is more likely to come across sounding rude. But given the amount of email correspondence we have to deal with here, we don't have time to be Emerson on every customer support email.

One answer would be to hire someone to write nice emails. The _geeky_ answer is to write lots of templates that can automatically be sent out with the holes filled in, thus allowing maximum ettiquette for minimum effort.