warning: a long response to a long post, not directly related to support.

At 06:40 PM 2/17/2002 -0800, JaMi Smith wrote:
>Unfortunately, herein lies what I perceive to be one of the problems, which
>already has been partially acknowledged and addressed,  in that when the
>list, or more precisely the size and content of the posts, as well as the
>number of posts to the list, becomes such that the average subscriber to the
>list cannot keep up with the list due to the overwhelming number of post, or
>the vast amount of extraneous matter in some of the posts, then  the list
>has in fact defeated it's purpose, and the community as a whole can suffer.

It does not directly suffer from the volume of posts, because no user is 
forced to actually read the posts. Some simply let mail accumulate, and 
then search it later when they have questions. Disk space is cheap. But if 
one thinks that one must read everything, then, yes, one will have a 
problem as the list grows.

>If one person unsubscrbes from this list, because he or she doesn't have the
>time to sort thru the extra clutter to find the answers that they need, or
>the pearls of knowledge and wisdom that will make their job easier, then
>those responsible for the content of the list have in fact done a tremendous
>disservice to the community.

I'd say that this is greatly overstated. If one is looking for answers, 
then one asks, one is not forced to go through tons of clutter. One can 
simply watch the thread of one's question. I use Eudora for e-mail, and I 
can press the Subject button, to sort by Subject, and it knows that Re: 
Subject is the same as Subject.

When a question is asked, responses usually come in fairly quickly. One can 
tell from the subject lines if they relate to one's question or not. 
Reading other mail is *voluntary.* I routinely skip over some posts when I 
see that they are off-topic and I'm not particularly interested.

>I for one think that the list is approaching critical mass, and rather than
>try and sort thru all of the content to find what is of value, and what is
>superfluous, or simply ignoring new posts when I don't have the time to look
>at them at all, I chose to address the issue in a manner that I thought
>would be the most productive and  least offensive way that I could.

It would have been better to directly address the issues. There are a 
number of problems with the list as it is constituted. I recount these not 
to blame anyone but simply to examine the issues.

(1) Subject lines are frequently not descriptive.
(2) There is a lot of duplication. Many questions are asked which were 
answered perhaps several days before.
(3) Off-topic posts are intermingled with the rest of the list.

Techserv attempted to solve the third problem by opening the Open Topic 
Forum, without much success; it could have been predicted. Besides the fact 
that an open topic forum already existed, 
[EMAIL PROTECTED], one never knows if the persons with whom 
one might be having a discussion are subscribed to Open Topic. We have no 
idea who subscribes to Open Topic except for the few who have posted there, 
which brings us to a central problem: this list is managed by Techserv 
according to its own lights, and the users are typically not consulted, nor 
are we informed. It is interesting that Mr. Smith brings up issues of 
conflict of interest, below, without seeming to realize that there are 
major issues involving Techserv itself and its management of this list.

They have done well enough that we have not actually moved the 
association's support to another list, but we have found, in the past, that 
we may spend a lot of effort to propose paths for the growth and 
development of the list, and they go nowhere. Techserv is not interested in 
user involvement in the list management, that is clear.

>I have in fact, in recent weeks, written several very long and specific
>replies to several posts , but decided that any one of them might be too
>offensive to post to the list, or even to send directly to any specific
>individual, since I think that the last thing that this user community needs
>is a war of words between any of its contributors.

It takes two to make a war, otherwise one person ends up looking pretty 
foolish, all by himself....

>But I did reach the limit of my tolerance the other night, when, after a
>very long and productive day, I decided to quickly check my email before
>leaving for home. A simple glance in the lower left corner of Outlook to see
>the number of new (unread) posts to this list (which Outlook automatically
>sorts upon receipt into a separate folder), and then simply sorting those by
>sender and doing a little counting, quickly provided the statistics for the
>days posts, all of which took less than a minute. Yes, it did take a few
>more minutes to cut and paste the list together, but I figured that it would
>be a quick and easy way to broach the problem in a manner that would not be
>too offensive, and see what sort of responses I could get from the other
>members of the list.

Yes, compiling those statistics need not be much work. It was a bit of a 
cheap shot for us to point out the possible contradiction to Mr. Smith. I 
mentioned the time taken simply to point out that this thread is itself 
off-topic. There is actually another place to discuss list policy, and it 
is the association list. While the association does not directly control 
this list, it does have the power to move elsewhere if association 
decisions are not respected. But the association has made no decisions that 
would test this, and the sense has been that it would not be productive to 
force a confrontation.

The work which Techserv did to found this list and to run it when that was 
a burden has been acknowledged with gratitude by the association, and would 
continue to be acknowledged.

However, major changes are to take place with this list, it is likely that 
the list will be moved elsewhere, so that the association can directly 
implement decisions without going through a rather opaque process with 
Techserv.

The association list is [EMAIL PROTECTED] It was 
founded to be a means of making association decisions, and a number of 
decisions have been made. The association has not been directly active of 
late, but I am sure that anyone coming in with proposals would be answered 
and there is a mechanism for actually making decisions, something that does 
not exist here (other than appeal to the list administrator, who makes all 
decisions according to his own opinion, which might or might not be 
satisfactory to the majority.)

>Well, as I said before, I think that most of what needs to be said has
>already been said, and been said in a much less offensive manner that I
>could have said it myself. I would point out however, for some self
>appointed experts (who according to some of the responses to my post may in
>fact have gained much of their "expertise" by reading this list or
>contributing to the list and waiting to be corrected),

I feel sorry for Mr. Smith.

>  that there are in
>fact people on this list who actually have been in the industry for much
>more than 25 years, and in fact predate MIL STD 275 revision D, Bishop
>Graphics, Red and Blue Tape (and it's proper use), rats nests (both real and
>those contrived here in this list), multilayer boards, plated thru holes,
>and even "Computer Aided Design" in any and all of its forms, and most of
>the systems that any form of CAD runs on.

Such as myself, if I am correct. 275D was issued in April 1978 and I 
designed my first boards in something like 1976.

>There is one specific area that has not been discussed, and which I feel
>needs to be discussed for the overall  good of the user community, and that
>is the issue of personal or economic bias, and the issue of unsolicited and
>unwarranted comments regarding the performance (or lack thereof) or Protel
>Products..
>
>Let me preface this by the fact that this list is supposed to be an
>Association of Protel EDA ***===>>> USERS <<<===*** ("A Virtual User
>  Group"), where: The group functions in two modes:
>1. Use of this web page to learn and inform others.
>2. Use of the email forums for immediate two way communication
>For new members, this web site serves as a starting point to join forums.
>[AND FURTHER] It also provides advertising for Protel related products,
>services, and employment.
>(SEE => http://www.techservinc.com/protelusers/index.html).

That is Techserv's statement of purpose for the list. It was written years 
ago, it was the work of one person who did not consult any association. But 
it is true, to be sure, that this is a list for Protel users. However, we 
would wish that Protel *employees* also participated, though I certainly 
understand why it would be company policy that they do not.

>Respecting the latter; "advertising for Protel related products, services,
>and employment;"  I cannot believe that it was the intent of the list
>moderator that such "advertising" should be done without proper
>identification and notification.

Mr. Smith does seem to be a tad confused here. The statement he quoted is 
from a description of a "virtual user group" and its web site, operated by 
Techserv. Techserv has not encouraged the use of this list for advertising. 
I did once check the advertising policy and get a quote (Techserv sells 
advertising for this list, but only once has an ad actually appeared here, 
as I recall.). The price was not affordable for what I had in mind 
(advertising broker services for used licenses; one insertion would have 
cost almost as much as one sale would yield in commission, and sales of 
used licenses are few and far between).

>To be blunt Abdul, in much of what you say in this forum (consisting of this
>list and other closely related lists), you appear to be a "Shill" for
>Protel., and many of your comments seem to gloss over or at least attempt to
>minimize many severe problems with Protel.

That's an opinion. It's not one which might be held by Protel employees. I 
do, however, have a different style in approaching problems with Protel. I 
wish to *support* Protel in making changes that will benefit itself as well 
as the users. In doing this, I do not treat them as a bunch of 
ill-intentioned, ignorant incompetents, or as evil-minded marketers, as 
seems to be the wont of some critics.

Instead of merely griping about some problem with Protel, I attempt to 
explain -- if possible -- *why* the program has that deficiency, why it may 
not yet have been corrected -- i.e., the etiology of the bug and its 
persistence -- instead of purely blaming Protel, while at the same time I 
often point out that the problem could have been solved years earlier. 
Protel can be improved, and user involvement is crucial in this.

When I joined this list, Protel was somewhat of an embattled company with 
respect to its users; the list was full of outrage. I attempted to change 
that. I have lots of evidence that I was successful, among them Protel 
99SE, long-time readers of this list will know how effective user input was 
in giving direction to the SE release. But I also know what Protel 
employees have told me. (One man, very highly placed in the company, said, 
"You should never have to pay for a Protel license again, at the very least.")

But was I paid for this? No. (And I have received no free software from 
Protel that was not given to others under similar conditions. I.e., CAMtastic.)

>When one goes to www.lomaxdesign.com, we find that "LOMAX DESIGN
>  CONSULTANTS" provides "Protel design consulting, training and support.",
>and also "Protel license resale support".

Right. I wear a number of hats. "Design consulting" is a fancy name for 
printed circuit design. "Training and support" is mostly pie-in-the-sky, 
though two users have hired me by the hour to guide them through their 
first designs. I think they were satisfied. One came back for more, the 
other, *at my encouragement*, found this list and uses it frequently.

Some time back I noticed that Protel users sometimes had licenses to sell, 
and these licenses were going for cheap. That seemed strange to me, since a 
"used" Protel license is every bit as good as a new one. The problem was, 
if I saw it correctly, that resales had a bit of a bad reputation, buyers 
did not trust that they would not get burned. If someone with a good 
reputation would start brokering these licenses, buyers *and* sellers would 
benefit. Ahem.

I have made a few thousand dollars over the last two years or so. It is 
very small potatoes, since few Protel users want to sell their licenses. 
Right now, there is one user who would like to sell, but Protel has mangled 
the used license market with a barrage of "sales" and "specials" and the 
ATS announcement and all the uncertainty over upgrade costs. Used licenses 
were going for about 25% off of full price until all this. But the sale 
meant that one would pay only a tiny bit more for a new license including ATS.

>Further, when we look at one of your responses to another responses to my
>original post, you specifically admit that "Protel support through this
>list, as well as providing other services for Protel users, some of which
>are for compensation, *is* [your] business"

Yes. That is, it is a part of my business. The primary business is printed 
circuit design. By providing support to users, I keep my name present, and 
thus companies needing design support might call me. If a few do, it does 
not take many, the time I have spent here is well worth it.

I should also mention that I have done one small piece of work for Protel, 
I wrote a guide to something or other, and I was paid, as I recall, about 
$300 to $400. I might do more writing for them, there has been talk of it. 
But I would prefer to move toward what I would call "user resource 
facilitator." I think Protel needs such a person. So I *might* become a 
Protel employee or paid consultant. But anyone who thinks that my writing 
here has been influenced by some reluctance to criticize Protel has simply 
not been paying attention. I've said plenty of things on this list that 
might lead some Protel executives to dislike me.

It appears that there may be divisions within the company as to philosophy, 
and I don't know which faction has the upper hand. What goes on internally 
within Protel is not very much visible to me, I have only hints from 
occasional conversations and correspondence.

Let's say that I stand for the concept that a company benefits when it 
makes the benefit of its customers high in its list of priorities, when it 
avoids short-term profit at its customers' expense. Some elements within 
the company might think that ... insufficiently focused on stockholder 
profits. In reality, however, stockholders, in a sound economy, are in 
stock for the long haul, and thus will benefit from a long view. It is more 
officers of the company who might benefit from short-term profit, a kind of 
conflict of interest, the evil effects of which we are now seeing with Enron.

>I believe that this, especially in light of your defensive posture on many
>of Protel problems and issues, gives me the right to ask , on behalf of the
>entire user community represented in this (and related) list, that you fully
>and completely disclose just exactly what your specific relationship to
>Protel and/or Altium in fact is.

I think I've done that. Any questions remaining?

>The bottom line is this: Protel and/or Altium personnel, both from
>management and/or technical support, obviously monitor this (and related)
>list(s), on a regular basis, in an attempt to keep their finger on the
>"pulse" (as it were) of the Protel User Community.

Yes.

>Every time you wax eloquent and philosophize on how Protel is God's gift to
>PCB Design and act as if it is perfect and was "sent down from heaven",

Actually, I think it would be much better if it were sent down. No, Protel 
is the product of human labor and shows the marks of that. I.e., it isn't 
perfect. Together, though, we could make it *much* better, better than 
Altium could manage on its own.

>  and
>further, that we should all appreciate the fact that we are so blessed to be
>able to actually use Protel,

I feel blessed, yes. I have used other CAD systems. I have not used Allegro 
or Mentor, but I have reason to believe that they would not necessarily be 
better for my applications.

Remember, I paid for my Protel license out of my own pocket. It was the 
best money I ever spent.

>  I think you step over the line and actually
>perform a disservice to the community by covering up the real problems and
>giving a false picture to Protel and/or Altium. I believe that this is
>especially true in light of the apparent conflicts of interest.

The conflicts I have, such as they are, are those which any user would have 
if he were (1) a design consultant or contractor using Protel for clients 
and/or (2) helping users to resell licenses (a secondary and very minor 
item for me). All of which has been quite open and visible.

>An example of this would be your advocated position on the limitation of
>support and service to a short duration from the time of the purchase of
>Protel, where in reality, not only ethically, but legally as well, where
>there is a legitimate problem with Protel (as in a legitimate "bug"), Protel
>is obligated to fix the problem (especially when you consider the cost of
>the product),  irregardless of how many new releases or service packs (or
>years) it takes.

Mr. Smith appears to be under some level of delusion regarding the law. He 
may want to see that, but it (1) hasn't been the case for any software and 
(2) isn't going to be the case. The cost of the product is legally irrelevant.

Further, I have not "advocated" that Protel not fix old bugs. I have merely 
noted that, at some point, they stop supporting a release. Typically this 
has been after a year or perhaps a few years. This is not new, nor is it 
unusual. If Mr. Smith thinks I am incorrect, and that what is absolutely 
common and usual behavior in the software industry, perhaps he could cite 
some law or legal precedent.

[...]
>The bottom line is this, Protel, as a product, still has some very serious
>shortcommings and serious problems,

Serious, yes. Very serious starts to become overstatement. The worst thing 
I know about is blind and buried via display behavior, and technically that 
is not a bug (but the lack of an important feature). The router obviously 
needs improvement, but, again, you get what you pay for.

>  and the only way that any of them are
>going to get addressed is by calling a bug a bug and holding Protel
>accountable to it's users, which I believe is at least one of the primary
>functions of this list.

Not a stated one, to be sure. Techserv's strict rules -- mostly unenforced, 
a problem with rules that are overstrict with a population of engineers -- 
would limit the list to the provision of support, i.e., how do we do this 
or is this a bug and what is a workaround, getting the job done kind of 
stuff. Ragging on Protel/Altium does not fit that. But this brings us back 
to how the list is managed. I'd have sublists, with users subscribed to 
*all* by default, and they can unsubscribe from some of them if they wish. 
Once there is a *place* to do what users want to do, and which will reach 
the majority of users except for those who opt out, it would become 
reasonable to expect users to follow some discipline about where they post. 
Under present circumstances, this list is pretty much *it*.

(There are other ways to accomplish this, such as defined abbreviations in 
the Subject line so that users can filter, but a family of lists would be 
very simple to administer and it requires no special software, etc. 
Actually, we have the family of lists, it is the protel-users family of 
lists on yahoogroups. But because it has been opt-in instead of opt-out, it 
would not work any better than this list, so if we were to move, if we had 
the subscription list, I'd vote to automatically subscribe everyone to all 
the association lists, with a very easy way to opt out of individual lists 
being give to each user. New users, likewise, would be subscribed to all 
the lists by default. Another advantage of this -- like the subject line 
solution -- is that it would become simple to move a discussion to another 
list without losing the participants, assuming that most users would 
subscribe to all the lists. I would, even if I weren't in the position that 
I am in. The accessory lists will always have much less traffic, so there 
is little reason to unsubscribe from them. And if that changes, it is 
simple to fix.)

>In short Abdul, you have contributed immensely to this list, and don't for a
>minute even think that I am trying to sell you short on that issue, because
>I am not. But since I have joined this list, over 1 in every 8 post to this
>list has been made by you, and as you seem to realize and acknowledge
>yourself, much of the extraneous verbiage contributed to this list is also
>from you, and as you yourself have already pointed out in your reply to a
>response to my original post, that is too much.

Perhaps. 1 out of 8? I'd say that is wider participation than I had 
thought. Given that I can afford to make a point to be here for support -- 
which is the large bulk of what I do -- I'm glad to see that the ration is 
that low.

>In conclusion, I apologize to you Abdul if I have offended you. Please do
>continue to contribute to the list, as you are, and I am sure will continue
>to be, an immense help to many, but please at the same time, please disclose
>your actual relationship with Protel and/or Altium, and dispense with the
>unwarranted posturing and commentary [...]

You know, when you have an employee, sometimes you have to take the bad 
with the good. One makes a decision about keeping an employee based on 
overall benefit or harm. But time will tell if my commentary is of benefit 
or harm.

>After all, as you have so conveniently pointed out yourself in your initial
>reply  to a response to my original post, you are not in fact an actual
>"user" of Protel yourself (since you have "arranged for another very
>competent designer to do most of [your] design" for you) , and you really
>are fortunate enough to have a lot of extra free time on your hands.

That is a misunderstanding. I am a user. It is just that the balance has 
shifted, I now spend more time writing than I spend using for actual design 
work (Obviously I use the software when I am writing, which has gotten much 
easier with dual monitors). I don't consider this "free time." Rather, I 
consider it an essential part of my job. I've got lots of other stuff to 
do, which often suffers because I write. Maybe I will write less and do 
some of these other things. But not because of Mr. Smith's critique, though 
perhaps I may thank him for reminding me of certain things. Again, time 
will tell.

>Most importantly, as Bob Jones stated in his post in response to this issue,
>"For all of those who contribute to this forum, please do not stop! It's
>been a huge help". [...]

And I intend to do what I can to make it even better. I do have ideas, some 
of which might involve working more closely with Altium. Again, we'll see.


[EMAIL PROTECTED]
Abdulrahman Lomax
Easthampton, Massachusetts USA

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