Thursday, October 25, 2007


The Death of sci.astro.amateur

Y’all know about sci.astro.amateur, right? It was the first really active astro group on the Internet. Many of us gravitated there from Fidonet Astronomy and similar groups when the Bulletin Board Age morphed into the Internet Age in the early-mid 1990s. In the beginning, and for at least a decade, until just a couple of years ago in fact, s.a.a. was the most vibrant, friendly, and information-loaded place on the Internet for amateur astronomers.  Alas, all that has changed. Trolls and downright evil folks have finally destroyed this once fine newsgroup.

s.a.a. always had trolls, spammers, and nutcases, but there was such a large, mature, and dedicated population of serious amateur astronomers that the group withstood these attacks easily. That began to change as Internet astronomy matured and there began, inevitably, to be many more good places for amateurs to hang out—Yahoogroups, Astromart, Cloudy Nights, and all the many astro email groups. That diluted the population of “real” amateurs, and made the group often look a lot like its poor, debased parent group, sci.astro: “Newton was wrong,” “Planet X will destroy earth SOON,” "UFOs kidnapped my mama," etc. Even so, the group managed to struggle on, somehow.

Unfortunately, due to almost unrelenting “sporge attacks” (computer-generated faux posts that have clogged up the group for days and weeks on end), and the efforts of one insane person and several others, the group’s usefulness is over.

Sporge can be lived with. These attacks always end, and it’s possible to filter out the posts. Not so easy for the already damaged group to survive was the effort of a group of folks apparently determined to bring s.a.a. down. Foremost was a person, sadistic or merely disturbed, who took it upon himself/herself to drive off one of the group’s long-term members, Dennis Bishop (aka, “Starlord”), by means of cyberstalking.

Dennis, a disabled Vietnam vet, as you may know billed himself as the “Lone Sidewalk Astronomer of Rosamond (California),” and posted endlessly on his adventures bringing astronomy to his small town, his travails with his junk-mobile car, his devotion to his Atari ST computer, his love for his cats, and the realities of life in a trailer park. Now, not all the s.a.a. regulars exactly looked forward to Dennis’ frequent posts, but he was nevertheless a friendly presence and part of a core of amateurs who kept s.a.a. alive. And the normal folks who didn't care for Dennis' posts just scrolled on past them.

To make a long and painful story short, Dennis was subjected to endless obscene replies to his articles and the posting of similarly obscene new articles about him. These articles basically purported to solicit Dennis for homosexual activities in the most obscene and graphic and violent terms. It wasn’t long before Dennis disappeared from the group, and it wasn’t long after that that we learned that he’d apparently suffered a stroke and been moved from his beloved trailer and into a “home.”

Right now? The psychopath, apparently completely consumed by whatever consumes him or her, is still there posting about Dennis, and often posting his screeds under the spoofed names of group regulars and under article titles that look legit. And he’s been joined by at least one person posting under a variety of names who's apparently just as anxious to destroy the group (my guess is he’s a disgruntled former “member”). This person’s M.O./obsession doesn’t focus on Dennis, but on other s.a.a. regulars.

What eventually became of Dennis? It pains me to tell you this, but I want you to know why it is my firm and fondest hope the moron who is in large part responsible burns in freaking Hell. As above, after Dennis' stroke, he was taken to a veteran's facility where he eventually passed away after having been in a vegetative state for some time. His beloved cats were euthanized and his wonderful telescope and computers were thrown into a dumpster.

Bottom line? s.a.a. is no longer useable. Because of the tactics of the current group of trolls, fools,  and nutjobs, there’s no easy way to filter the bad stuff out. I’ll continue to look in occasionally, but I fear this is it. Couple the idiocy with the fact that the amateur community is much more spread out Internet-wise, and that many ISPs are discontinuing their Usenet feeds, and I think this is, if not the end, real close to it. Yes, the current crazies will probably wander off after a while, but I'm guessing there are plenty more on-deck to replace 'em. That seems to be the nature of Usenet in this latter age. Shame.

2021 Update

Believe it or not, s.a.a. still exists, and is accessible on the web as a "Google Group." What is it like? It mostly consists of posts about astronomy news, space/space travel, etc. (like what its parent group was originally intended to be), with only the occasional post an amateur astronomy. The good part? Some of the old-timers are still around, and while I didn't do a lot of looking, it appears the morons who caused all the trouble years ago grew bored and wandered off. I still hope they did or eventually will get their just deserts, though. 

Rod, that sounds like grounds to call the FBI, doesn't it?

Calgary Canada
Yeah, if you ask me. However, in this day of multiple anonymous remailers, etc., I doubt the FBI would do much about the whole thing; I'd assume it would not be "worth the trouble" in their opinion. ;-(
And if the guy is outside the US then the FBI couldn't do anything anyways.

This is very sad though, an age has passed.

Question is, what will they go and destroy next. Seems almost better to keep them occupied so that it limits their damage.
So sorry to hear about Dennis. We shared some star-gazing time together when we both in Hawaii back in the mid-1990's, just prior to his move back to the Mainland. He was quite a character, with character. He will be missed. So will s.a.a. Thanks for the update.


I've been gone awhile from SAA. Sorry to hear about Dennis.. We had the same interests, Astronomy and model rocketry..

Here's to you StarLord...

I left s.a.a. about three months ago. I no longer post there, but occasionally lurk to see how far it has degraded.

I hope that the s.a.a. refugees find other places to post, most notably Cloudy Nights, Astromart, Universe Today, and sci.astro.amateur moderated.
I've never met Starlord, but am sorry to hear that he has been ill. I hope he is recovering. I still pop into saa, but you are right it is dying. I guess I will have to find a new Astronomy hangout.
Starlord was a regular poster on the gardentalk group and we are concerned as to his "stuff" if and when he gets well he will need it. Is anyone able to take care of his cats, flowers and equipment? Has anyone located him? Our group is concerned and would like to hear anything. Please drop me a line if you know something. Thank you. 11-05-07
Dennis/Starlord seems to be a nice guy. His beginner's guide to astronomy website was well thought of. I have no idea who the scum are that are trying to destroy s.a.a., but the pseudonym "Daniel Min" comes to mind.
Rod, April 15, 2008
Last I heard he is back at his trailer (this was back in Dec.'07). It is sad about SAA, too bad about that cyberstalker idiot. I for one enjoyed his posts on SAA and at his Dob Yahoo group.

If the old SAA gang would go to SAA moderated or of we could do SAA at Yahoo, moderated to keep the stalkers out, that might be okay but I'm sure the others and older SAA gang has moved to Cloudy Nights and other groups at Yahoo. If the discussions would get heated now and then that's okay, they did now and then on SAA.
It is sad, not the same anymore.

Rod, your recommending the Simmons Redlines 10x50s at Walmart is something I took you up on. They are more contrastier than the Bushnells, best $25 anyone can spend. They help find comets well, also. One day I'll spring for larger binoculars or binoviewers. If I find out anything about Dennis I'll email you...
s.e. Louisiana
Good for you to write this, Rod, and good to see a few old names on the comments here. I left SAA years ago, also over that devil who attacked Starlord, and that crazy fellow who endlessly ranted about sidereal time. Glad you're well. - Starburst
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