Using the Wisconsin Network - Part 22

by Andy Nemec, KB9ALN

We've all gone through it. Getting Comm-Port settings right, adjusting to the new packet program, and finally, understanding what is truly going on when we communicate by packet radio. It takes time to learn how to navigate through a packet radio network, and still more time to deal with the ins-and-outs of using a BBS. When looked at from a beginner's point of view, it seems like a rather daunting task. As if there wasn't enough complication for new packet operators, there is always the risk of sending out a flood message, only to receive a "flame" message in response.

"Flames" are unkind messages (sometimes downright hostile!) that may alert the originator of some improper or disagreeable content of a message. Ocassionally, they will be misdirected attempts to educate a newer packet radio operator who unknowingly makes a mistake, or violates a regulation. Other times, the sender of the "flame" will misinterpret the content of a message. Ocassionally it will just be an inability to express an opposing opinion in a civil manner. In this part of our series, we will offer some clues as to how to avoid the dreaded "flame" message.

The first step in avoiding a flame message is to try and keep your message simple, legal, and conforming to "good Amateur practice". "Good Amateur practice" is a rather ambiguous term, but perhaps these hints will help you meet this standard, whether you are responding to a message or generating a flood message. Not to mention avoiding the dreaded Flame!

1) Only offer items for sale that have genuine amateur radio use. Avoid CB radios, cars (with or without 2-meter rigs installed in them), or any item that cannot be legally used for Amateur radio. Treat packet radio "For Sale" ads as a big swap net. A net control on a swap net would not allow you to list an automobile on the net, so why would this be permitted on packet radio?

2) Like debating? Keep your contributions civil, thoughtful, and to the point. Don't insult someone for their point of view. Don't say "I think all people who vote for candidate John Q. Politician have holes in their heads!". This is only asking for a flamed response. The surest way to turn your audience off is to insult them! This may sound like common sense (and it really is), but is so easy to forget.

3) Don't inadvertently advertise for anybody, this includes yourself. Although it is perfectly legal and commonplace to have your company name and position on Internet E-Mail, it may be construed as a subtle advertisement when done on packet radio.

4) Keep your signature file short. A long signature file with cute pictures, American flags, and other unnecessary information will only serve to alienate someone. If you do send a signature file, make sure you do not have an excess number of blank lines in it. A good signature file will have useful information in it - such as how to respond via packet or Internet E-Mail. A bad signature file might have a large American Flag with the words "Vote Straight --------" (fill in the party of your choice!) in it.

5) Avoid using Upper-Case lettered words to emphasize a point. THIS is considered SHOUTING and IMPOLITE. (See how easy it is to be irritated by this?)

6) Consider whether your message will be of interest to others. If you are interested in say, astronomy, you may find an interested party or two to converse with. If you are looking to correspond with someone regarding 13th century romance languages, you may have a much tougher time. Consider sending a CQ message first - Don't send a bunch of messages that few are likely to respond to.

7) On the subject of CQ messages, it makes no sense to send a [email protected] message when you want to make a packet contact to Arizona. If you are targeting a particular state, use the @ symbol followed by the two-letter state abbreviation. Most BBS's are set up to forward based on the state abbreviation, and you will be able to target an area rather than needlessly flood the country (or the world) with a message intended for limited distribution.

8) Keep your message content in good taste. Long, graphic descriptions of invasive medical procedures are not only unnecessary, but in poor taste. Remember that you cannot always target your audience - someone may read such a message out of curiousity. And not all messages (or conversation) are suitable for all people.

These are a few hints to help you avoid the dreaded flame. Believe it or not, I have seen messages that are contrary to one or more of these suggestions, and recently.

There is one more that you should take to heart, though. Use the old "tincture of time" prescription to help you avoid flame messages. When you read a message that you disagree with, or find really offensive, save it to a file while you are reading it. Then let it sit for a day. Re-read it and try to determine if the words used actually mean what they seem to mean. Remember, humans make mistakes, hit the wrong keys, and choose the wrong words. Someone may have had a bad day, and may have taken it out on their keyboard.

Once you have saved this message, re-read it, and decided to respond to it, it will be easy to intelligently debate. Simply edit the file with a text editor and remove the lines in the original message. Add your own, and you have a reply. If you need to quote the originator, you can add a > sign in front of each line. Some packet programs include this feature, so this may not be necessary. Once you see the original text, you are not caught trying to remember what was said by the originator. Once you have typed a reply, let it sit for a day or two. Nothing is so important that it can't wait a day. Some packet debates take place over the course of weeks, or even months. Then look at what you have typed to see if it is really what you meant to say. This will pave the way for a civil response. Once you are satisfied with the way it is worded, use the upload feature of your packet program to send it to the BBS.

After all is said and done, you may still get a flame message. Some folks do not always interpret what you say in the same way that you might. Some folks just like to flame others. If this is the case, simply follow the above steps (saving the message to a file, re-reading it, and then editing a response) to try and keep from falling into the same trap. These suggestions will not guarantee a "Zero-Flame-Zone" on your local BBS, but it sure can help to make it a little better. And the fewer flames that are forwarded by the BBS network, the better Amateur Radio is for all of us.

On to Part 23 - The New Age of Packet Radio - Part 1

Back to Part 21  - Handling NTS Traffic via Packet Radio

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