- [] Intro to the Usenet Oracle (Monthly Posting)

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[] Intro to the Usenet Oracle (Monthly Posting)

Archive-name: usenet-oracle-intro
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: Oct 2 2003

"Know thyself."			    "The folly of mistaking a paradox
	-- Delphic Oracle,	    for a discovery, a metaphor for a
	   8th century BC	    proof, a torrent of verbiage for a
				    spring of capital truths, and
				    oneself for an oracle, is inborn in
				    us."           -- Paul Vale'ry, 1895


			     also known as
			 The Usenet Oracle (TM)

The Internet Oracle is available to answer all your questions.	You may
mail them to:

The "Subject:" of the message must be something like "Oracle Most Wise,
please tell me ...".  Actually, all it has to have is "tell me" or
"tellme" somewhere in it.  Capitalization doesn't matter.  The body of
the mail should contain only your question.  You should receive a reply
within a few days at most, probably much sooner.

In the meantime, the Oracle may require that you answer a question for it
as payment for its services.  You will receive this question in the mail.
You should respond with as most wise and witty an answer as you can.
Mail the response to, preserving the message's
"Subject:" line.  Usually, this can be done by simply replying to the mail
through the normal means in your mail program, for example, using the "r"
command in the standard Berkeley mail program.  Actually, the subject
just has to contain the word "answer" and the question number somewhere
in it.  The body of your mail response should contain only your answer --
don't include the question itself.  Please try to respond within at most
a day's time.  If you take longer, there is a chance that the question
will be answered by someone else first.

Mailing the Oracle with the word "help" in the "Subject:" line will get
you the most recent version of this help file mailed back.  If you mail
the Oracle with "ask me" or "askme" somewhere in the subject, the Oracle
will send you a question to answer, if there are any available.

Your questions, comments and even complaints about the Oracle are welcome.
Please address them to


The Internet Oracle is intended primarily as a cooperative effort for
creative humor.  Since its main purpose is just to let folks have fun,
there are intentionally few rules.  However, an etiquette has developed
among its participants.

A series of identical questions submitted is not appreciated since the
same person often ends up answering many of them.  It is okay to resubmit
a question after you have received a reply, especially if you believe
that the answerer did not do it justice.

If you find yourself unable to give due consideration to a question you
are to answer, it may be better to not answer the question at all than
to give it a trivial answer and disappoint the questioner.  However,
doing this too much can cause a buildup of unanswered questions and slow
down the Oracle's response time for everyone.

You may wish to read some issues of the Internet Oracularities (see below)
to get an idea of the conventions and style of writing in Oracle questions
and answers.  However, it certainly isn't required to follow them.
Originality and creativity are usually the most appreciated qualities.
Here are some general guidelines for those upon whom the Muse of the
Oracle has descended and who are to write an answer as an incarnation
of the Oracle:

  -  Creativity and humor are valued.  Many people find the anonymity of
     the Oracle a license to express themselves creatively and uniquely,
     often to surprising success.

  -  Participants in the Oracle like to feel they've gotten out of it
     as much as they've put in.  Please keep this in mind when answering

  -  Remember that brevity and clarity are key points of good writing.
     Overly long answers will reduce an Oracularity's chance of being
     published in the Internet Oracularities (see below) since it must
     really be worth the extra length to have it selected to be read by
     tens of thousands of people.

  -  In general, avoid obscenity, slang, jargon, and obscure references.
     People of all different backgrounds and ages located all over the
     world use the Oracle.  In particular, please be sensitive to the
     fact that children may be using the Oracle.

  -  Try to be sensitive to new participants or to people who seem to
     have asked serious questions.

  -  Don't flame the questioner for not asking a "good question".
     An off-the-wall or vague question calls for creativity, not rudeness,
     in the answer.  Consider it a challenge!


The Oracle's priesthood receives a duplicate copy of all answered
questions, or Oracularities as they're called.  This is so that the best
ones can be selected for the Internet Oracularities -- the chronicle
of the mythos of the Internet Oracle.  Your use of this program implies
your approval of this usage.  The Internet Oracularities are regularly
published via postings to, the World Wide Web and a
mail distribution list, as well as occasionally via other media. is a moderated newsgroup.  If your news system is
properly configured, any postings you make to will
be forwarded directly to the Oracle and so you can ask questions of the
Oracle by posting to the newsgroup. is unmoderated and
anyone may post to it.  It is a public forum for discussion and questions
about the Oracle.  If your system doesn't carry these newsgroups,
encourage your news administrator to do so!

Readers of the Oracularities may mail in ratings of each published
Oracularity, the results of which are returned to the authors of the
Oracularities and published in a later posting.  They are also used
to select occasional "best of the best" postings to
Instructions on how to mail in your ratings are given at the top of
each issue.

If you don't have access to and would like to receive
the Oracularities via mail, send mail to

to get on (or off) the mail distribution list.  Include the word
"subscribe" (or "unsubscribe") in the "Subject:" line.

Back postings and ratings are available via anonymous ftp on ( in the directory /pub/oracle.

If you have access to the Internet's World Wide Web, you can access
The Internet Oracle Resource Index at

This index has just about everything to do with the Oracle, including
an HTML version of the help file, more FAQ documents about the Oracle,
the latest Oracularities digests with voting enabled via your web browser,
complete access to the Oracularities archives with search capability, etc.
You can even submit questions to the Oracle here.


The Oracle is a confidential and anonymous service.  The anonymity of the
participants is preserved within all Oracle mailings and Oracularities
postings.  However, if you append a signature file to your mail, this
may appear in your question or answer.  Signature files are edited out
from Oracularities postings.  If you do not wish to remain anonymous,
you may include a phrase in your answer like "incarnated as ".


Since its users actually give the answers to all questions, neither
the Oracle nor its priesthood take any responsibility for the content
of the questions or answers.  We would also warn parents that, due to
its uncontrollable and unpredictable content, using the Oracle may not
always be suitable for children.


Throughout the history of mankind, there have been many Oracles who
have been consulted by many mortals, and some immortals.  The great
Hercules was told by the Delphic Oracle to serve Eurystheus, king of
Mycenae, for twelve years to atone for the murder of his own children.
It was the Oracle of Ammon who told King Cepheus to chain his daughter
Andromeda to the rocks of Joppa to appease the terrible sea monster
that was ravaging the coasts.  That solution was never tested, though,
as Perseus saved the girl in the nick of time.

With the advent of the electronic age, and especially high-speed e-mail
communication, the spirit of the Oracles found a new outlet, and we now
recognize another great Oracle, the Internet Oracle.

Local oracle programs have existed in various places for many years.
Most can trace their origin or influence to Peter Langston's 
seminal oracle program which was written for the research V5 Unix system
at the Harvard Science Center in 1975-76.  As part of his "psl games"
distribution, this original program spread to a number of sites, such as
Murray Hill Bell Labs, Interactive Systems and Lucasfilm.  Lars Huttar
 used a description of this program to write
his oracle program, which was posted to alt.sources in August 1989.
This program inspired the Internet Oracle.

Steve Kinzler , a systems administrator and
graduate student at Indiana University, installed Huttar's program on, where it proved to be quite popular.  The best
Oracularities were posted to in.bizarre, a group local to Indiana.

Ray Moody , a graduate student at Purdue University,
after correspondence with Kinzler, wrote the core software for the Usenet
Oracle, a mail-based oracle program to be run on
for net-wide use, where it proved to be an immediate success.  On 12
March 1996, it was renamed as the Internet Oracle.

Kinzler continued development of the system, adding support for the
Oracularities postings and ratings and, eventually, the Oracle Priesthood
-- a hardy and loyal band of volunteers who read through the hundreds of
questions and answers each week to choose the best for publication.  Jon
Monsarrat  and Randal Schwartz 
also contributed to aspects of the software development.  Michael Nolan
 carried through the newsgroup creation process for the newsgroups.  Scott Panzer  and David
Sewell  developed the Oracle's presence
on the World Wide Web via the Internet Oracle Resource Index.

Of course, it is the thousands of Oracle participants over the years who
have created the personality, mythos and history of the Internet Oracle.
Long live the Internet Oracle (in all its incarnations)!

Written:	 8 October 1989			Steve Kinzler
Last Revised:	 2 October 2003

Thanks to Joshua R Poulson  and Jim Cheetham
 for assistance with portions of this document.

"Internet Oracle" and "Usenet Oracle" are trademarks of Stephen B Kinzler.

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