Sunday, July 11, 2010


JSH: Mixed feelings about the newsgroup

As much as I rip on Usenet at times and especially sci.math, reality is I've spent a lot of time typing up posts like this one, and have to credit posting here with the worldwide rise of mymath, as in, the mathematics on my math blog, where I get visitors from all over the world. I first saw a world interest doing searches on my ideas and Usenet threads would pop up, which surprised me years ago. Today I take it for granted. And SOME postings like on my prime residue axiom simply take over huge swaths of search results—all to Usenet groups around the world as sci.math has country variants all over the world.

But I guess the reality is that Usenet is a way to communicate, and it's not about getting angry at the forum, or even the format which allows a free-for-all, nor does it appear to be useful to get angry with the hostiles who will work like mad demons to make your life miserable, like the ones who stalk my posts.

And they DO work like mad demons. In years past I'd be amazed at postings that would go 24 hours a day, with posters clearly working overtime trying to figure out what nasty thing to say to me that they expected might hurt my feelings or, their real goal, stop me from posting.

And readers may not realize that these people were confident of their ability to drive posters off of Usenet from EXPERIENCE. Some person would start posting about their math ideas and they would RIP on them, night and day—and that person would be gone.

I've watched them celebrate after in posts.

Free speech can be abused.

But as the years have gone by and I've learned to mostly ignore the worst of them, I've actually found use for negative feedback about my mathematical ideas, which is an odd thing because of its value to me—if someone shoots down an idea that's just it, it's gone. I forget the idea and can forget that person.

The fear I had in years past was that someone might put forward a BETTER IDEA, which was the scary thing which is why what I've done may not be safe for all discoverers who do not wish to be upstaged!!!

Oddly enough, the viciousness of the hostility may have protected me somewhat as posters were too afraid to say ANYTHING positive about my ideas knowing they'd be verbally assaulted if they did. The angry and nasty posters had made group rules that nothing good was to be said about my research, which is a set of rules they enforce to this day—posters know ahead of time they will be punished if they break them.

Hostile posters through the years have made it clear that you will be punished if you break those rules!

Just recently I got an email from someone expressing interest in my ideas but afraid to post.

So you could say the venom was like a protective screen. It annoyed me but did not stop me, but it stopped others cold.

The value of the negative feedback was shown yet again with my k^m = q mod N result, where I just didn't think about discrete logs at first as I'd never really thought about them before, and had this focus on solving for k. An argument with a poster got me to wondering, hmmm…can I find m, with k, q and N known using these equations? The answer was: yes.

Maybe eventually I'd have realized that but in a different situation it's quite possible someone else might have noticed before me, so another benefit to me of the vitriol and the rules against people posting anything positive about me or my research may be that I get to have all the major results!

Talk about making lemonade out of lemons.

History may reflect this saga as one of the most bizarre in human history, where a spate of mathematical discoveries in newly opened up areas were mine not because I hid anything, and not because there weren't smart people possibly able to figure things out before me—often I take months to work through various results—but simply because GROUP RULES on Usenet put the fear of the wrath of angry posters into the minds of people who might try. Or they simply never thought to try trusting the angry idiots.

At this date there's a well-worked system: I can post here without fear of positive responses. I take the negatives to help me kill bad ideas, and put forward draft posts. The best drafts I refine and put on my math blog or on mymathgroup or both. The most stunning results I send to the Annals of Mathematics.

That's the system. It is well established at this point. And I think it works well.

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