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It's been called the boldest experiment in Digital Publishing to date.
"Plonk"


*Plonk*
noun
The sound made when somebody drops into your killfile.

In the early 1980s I worked with Greg Laskin, who, for a hobby, ran gryphon.com, a backwater uucp mail and news site in Los Angeles; our primary job was to write device drivers for things like disk drives and scanners and video cards.

The way this would work was, the hardware guy in the computer company we all worked for, one of the suits, would come in with a small box, put it on our desk and say "here's the new disk controller, when can you have the software ready by?".

You're torn. Beat them senseless or correct their grammar? What's the first instinct?

You do neither of course.

You would then be asking however, if they had a manual for this wonderchip or maybe even a computer that this chip was working in so we could begin to test software we hadn't written yet because of this surprise that disk controller chip salesman had dropped off a half an hour ago. Never mind there were only 7 of these parts in the world and that nobody had made one work yet they wanted to be able to ship working systems with it on Tuesday. It was Monday.

In that kind of environment you do what it takes. One day a drive manufacturer was giving Greg, my boss, a hard time about a manual. Most places, you called, then sent you one. Usually free. You were after all using their product in computer systems you were building and shipping. And they were happy to sell parts. No parts ever came out without manuals. For chips these manuals would sometimes be a dozen volumes.

But this one particular vendor, and I've honestly forgotten who it was, didn't want to give us or even sell us a manual. We just couldn't have one. I think it was a floppy drive we needed the manual for.

"Send us the drive back" they said, "we'll repair whatever's wrong with it".

Greg shot back "Nothings wrong with your drive - yet - the salesman just dropped it off last week for us to evaluate and I'm trying to write a driver for it. We make out own computers here and I'm damn well not gonna have to send out drives for repair we'll fix them in house. But if we can't get a manual to get them working or keep them working then - *PLONK* - there did you hear that? That's the sound of your floppy drive going in my garbage can" at which point Greg hung up the phone.

Greg did better phone than anybody I'd met before. The manual arrived with a sheepish salesman half an hour later. He also brought a spare drive in case we should happen to need one. Of course we did.

Now, Greg being an amateur radio guy by background, had far too much respect for hardware to actually drop a floppy drive, he used a Z-80 processor manual, a fairly hefty soft-cover book almost two inches thick. It did make the right noise though, sort of a hollow "plonk" as it hit the empty vinyl plastic wastepaper basket.

So it was that in mind a few years later when I first typed the word "*plonk*" into the network on a usenet news posting - with two asterisks around it to denote it was a sound, not a spoken word. This was in response to somebody that was just too annoying and irrational to bother to communicate with any further. I explained that that was the sound of his name being dropped into my killfile, a thing that blocked people from ever being heard from again by simply putting their name in it. They could post all they wanted but if they were in your killfile you couldn't see them.

Nobody had called me an idiot for saying this so I kept on saying it, but didn't explain what it meant more than that frist time. This is the net, they can look it up I figured.

About the 12 or 20th time I did it happened to be one of the older Usenet messages - from 1989 - that google (and others) managed to preserve and make available today, namely this one.

I was off the net from about a year and a half or so around late 1990 and when I got back on I noticed that by then a few people were saying it, or rather, typing it. I lamented te lack of the asterisks, I thought they made it.

I was really surprised when in June 1999 I got this on a public mailing list about domain policy from Randy Bush:

> ><plonk>     [ that is net.speak for placing someone in one's mail filter ]
> >
> >randy

Because a) Randy hated my guts and b) somebody else was explaining to me what *plonk* meant? Ok, that's just ironic.

The posting itself was about very early meeting, maybe the first one, for some ICANN "names council" or something, that was advertised as being "open". We double checked and yes it was ok for anybody interested to attend this teleconference. So I dialed in, and within seconds, Javier Sola, the point man for DNS in Spain had me kicked off by telling the operator I was not allowed to be on this call. Michael Sondow taped this, as a journalist he expected it to happen; I had more faith in the "open and transparent process" of ICANN but this was of course to be misplaced faith. Michael sent me the tape and I still have it as a memento. When I relayed what happened in a public mailing list that this had happened the letter above is the result.

There are idiots everywhere, and this is why *plonk* is needed. And in my opinion the asterisks should always be preserved.

Richard Sexton,
Feb 2008