Some mailing lists come with a negative service level agreement, but that’s okay, because everybody is in on the joke

As I noted some time ago, there's a mailing list devoted to chatting among people who work in a particular cluster of buildings. It's not a technical support mailing list, but people will often ask a technical question on the off chance that somebody can help, in the same way that you might ask your friends for some help with something.

Of course, one consequence of this is that the quality of the responses is highly variable. While there's a good chance that somebody will help you with your problem, there's also a good chance that a technical question will receive a highly unhelpful response just for fun, in the same way your friend might respond to a question with a funny but unhelpful answer. (And there's also a good chance that a technical question will get both types of replies.) You don't complain about this because, well, that's what you sort of expect when you use this mailing list.

An illustration of this principle comes from the following thread:

When I do ABC, I get XYZ. How do I get DEF?

A short while later, the same person replied to his own question.

Nevermind. I found the right mailing list to ask this question.

That didn't stop somebody from responding:

This mailing list is the correct place to send all questions. You have to use a different mailing list to get answers, though.

Comments (14)
  1. steven says:

    I like how the funny response actually mirrors the form of the original question if you read ABC as "post to this mailing list", XYZ as "a funny response" and DEF as "answers".

  2. metafonzie says:

    I remember on one of the internal mailing lists at MSFT for gamers (is gamrchat still up?), many of the replies would be image macros. So not only were they unhelpful but also confusing to people who didn't follow internet memes.

  3. iHeartMS says:

    "I can't get a signal in any of the underground levels. This is intolerable!"

    Then ditch your iphone.

  4. Ian says:

    On a particular bulletin board during my university days (Groggs if you must know), any question that started "Does anybody know…" would automatically get the simple response "Yes" (or very occasionally, "no"). To avoid this, you had to prefix your question with SWITCH NOBOYDIE (or SNB for short).

  5. Mark says:

    You can still see it on cam.misc.

  6. Are the flags at half-mast today?

  7. Joshua Ganes says:

    Most requests are framed in such a way that a smart alec can intentionally misinterpret them. Many involve a terse reply of "yes" or "no".

    Request: Could you help me with X?

    Response: Yes… would you like me to?

    Request: Do you want to go to the movies or go for a walk?

    Response: Yes

  8. Cheong says:

    Once upon a time, there is someone who post a question "What is the slave of cards?" (rough translation from Chinese "甚麼是卡奴呢?") on a Linux board. This lead to all kinds of funny answers like:

    • That's someone who apply lots of credit card in order to buy Linux books because of his tremendous thirst of Linux knowledge, but later cannot pay the debt?
    • Card collection specialist for "Good guy card" (We call the failure of making some girl agreeing to be your girlfriend "receive good man card" because of a very common response of "You are a good guy, but I'm not your cup of tea")

    • Someone who loves Linux and apply credit cards in order to buy lots of tools in order to write drivers for Linux, but later cannot pay the debt?

    • Program/Application stuck("卡住") so you have to solve the problem like a slave.

    There's more, but just 8 of it marked for the board and it's very funny.

  9. Paul says:


    Epic confusion time ensues:

    A) Would you like a tea or coffee?

    B) No.


    B) Could you grab me a hot drink; either a tea or a coffee, I don't mind which.

    A) I thought you said you didn't want one.

    B) I said I didn't want a tea OR coffee, you didn't ask about tea XOR coffee.

    I would personally like to avoid one of the outputs of tea OR coffee

  10. Boris says:

    I don't get it. If tea XOR coffee is true then by definition tea OR coffee is also true.

  11. Paul is translating "Would you like a tea or coffee" as the following logical query:

    T = the event that I am served tea

    C = the event that I am served coffee

    L = the event that I am happy

    A: (T v C) => L?

    B: False, because (T ^ C) => ~L

    On the other hand, XOR is satisfactory

    A: (T != C) => L?

    B: True. Both (T ^ ~C) => L and (~T ^ C) => L

    Logically XOR is still vulnerable to the problem that A might serve B, say, tea, while at the same time stepping on B's toe… thus disproving B's assertion.

  12. Someone You Know says:


    You just need to redefine L as "the event that I am happy with the state of my beverages". Specificity is good.

  13. Paul says:

    Or in layman's terms, I could get served a cup containing both tea and coffee if I have tea OR coffee. Which would probably be quite vile.

  14. Doug says:

    I keep meaning to throw some tea leaves in with the coffee in my coffee press, but I never seem to remember.  I am not going to dismiss it as vile without giving it a try.

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