How not to engage me

Considering the extent to which I’m still a public figure, it is perhaps surprising how seldom I get email that deserves a thorough, up-one-side-and-down-the-other flaming. I got one today which I shall reproduce here as a perfect example of how not to engage me.

I just finished skimming through your guide: “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way“.

I am sorry to say I am alarmed by the kind of immature mentality that runs through it.

I will not begin to analyze how many of the assertions you make are simply illogical and unjust, because it upsets me to think about them.

I would like to ask you to consider the reasons why you are taking this stance. If it’s out of sympathy for the superior caste of ‘hackers’, an idiotic and misapplied term if ever there was one, do you realize that you are describing real people with serious psychological problems, and that you are feeding their pain by your writings?

I hope you can balance the effort you have put behind this document with some social responsibility,

I swear to all of you I did not invent or modify even a word of this. I wouldn’t have been capable; I can’t simulate galloping stupidity that well. Here was my response:

Thank you, this email is easily the most unintentionally risible thing I’ve read in the last week. I could say I’m “alarmed” by your appalling ignorance and more-concerned-than-thou condescension, but I’m laughing too hard to be alarmed.

“Upsets me to think about them”, eh? Poor, poor, fluffy, *precious* you. I’m positively vibrating with sympathy. Not. And, oh look, you used the magic cant phrase “social responsibility” – a sign infallible that the speaker is either a tender-minded idiot or a manipulative thug. In your case my money is definitely on tender-minded idiot.

Actually, if you had labored for weeks with the conscious intention of writing something that would earn my derision and contempt, you could hardly have done better than this.

I might have to post this outpouring of yours on my blog as a perfect example of Not Having A Clue. But I won’t attach your name to it; I’m not cruel enough to expose you to the public mockery that would ensue.

In case the lesson isn’t clear, my automatic response to attempts at moral bullying is “Fuck you and the pretensions you rode in on.” If you want to get my attention in any but the most negative way, don’t even try it.

180 thoughts on “How not to engage me

  1. From what I recall of “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way”, (caution, marketdroid words ahead) it is a manual on how to get buy-in from technical people so they are willing and able to help you, with a minimum of time and frustration for both parties.

    As for his complaints about the term ‘hackers’, a label I probably haven’t earned, he can jam his criticisms where the sun shineth not.

    The guy is probably some poor HR suit who got pointed at the essay by a tech who was asked the question ‘how can we make your job easier?’

  2. Umm, R. Duke, the ranting is one of the great assets of this blog. Of course there is much else, but somehow I don’t think you would whinge something like, “will this blog fall into the pit of informative analysis of networked software architecture?”

    Don’t respond that it upsets you to think about all the ranting that somehow has escaped your notice until now.

  3. >will this blog fall into the pit of ranting?

    What, it hasn’t already? Clearly I must try harder.

  4. The next time you get one of those, hit the reply button and type:

    Dear sir,
    I am sending you this because, as a responsible citizen, you need to know that some imbecile has been sending out bullshit messages using your email account.
    Sincerely,

    (Gary Moore (TV host ca. 1958) used this whenever he got a poison-pen letter.)

  5. They feel the need to send you an email to basically call you an arrogant jerk, and THAT is the example of your writing that they offer up as their evidence?

    Were I inclined to email you and call you an arrogant jerk, I’d be able to come up with MUCH more persuasive examples from out of the depths of your voluminously extensive body of publicly-available text. Not to mention, I wouldn’t sugar-coat it…the literal phrase “arrogant jerk” would most definitely appear at least once, and likely repeatedly.

    ;)

    D-. A profoundly deficient attempt to engage in the fine and noble art of argumentative insult. In declining to attach this person’s identifying details, you are being more kind and charitable than I’d probably be, in your shoes.

  6. …wait. When he talks about “real people with serious psychological problems”, is he referring to hackers, or people who ask poorly worded questions, or some unspecified third group?

  7. The missive isn’t even coherent. Is the writer claiming that hackers are the group with “serious psychological problems”, and what in the essay can possibly be construed as “feeding [someone's] pain”?!

  8. >the literal phrase “arrogant jerk” would most definitely appear at least once, and likely repeatedly.

    I do not think I am an arrogant jerk. Arrogant, yes; jerk, no.

    On the other hand…from the sort of people who usually accuse me of being an arrogant jerk, I take the intended insult as a compliment. It’s like being called an “extremist”, or a “gun nut” – my instinctive reaction is to wonder what kind of pathetic human being doesn’t realize that such accusation reveals more about the accuser’s own inadequacies and sheeplike devotion to socially safe conventional wisdom than anything else.

  9. >…wait. When he talks about “real people with serious psychological problems”, is he referring to hackers, or people who ask poorly worded questions, or some unspecified third group?

    Yes, that question did occur to me. But, given the general idiocy level of that email, I immediately dismissed it as uninteresting.

  10. >Xah Lee! The writer was maybe Xah Lee.

    Probably not. The name given was Greek, not Chinese, and a Google search indicated that it corresponds to a real person.

  11. If it’s out of sympathy for the superior caste of ‘hackers’, an idiotic and misapplied term if ever there was one,

    This makes me wonder, how large would the set of people be who have enough of the requisite cred to be able to lecture esr on what the correct term should be in the place of “hacker”.

    do you realize that you are describing real people with serious psychological problems, and that you are feeding their pain by your writings?

    I’m pretty sure the inability to stop wasting my life reading this train wreck of a message is a problem (if only to my time management skills), but does that count as psychological? Perhaps I should get a professional opinion on that.

  12. >This makes me wonder, how large would the set of people be who have enough of the requisite cred to be able to lecture esr on what the correct term should be in the place of “hacker”.

    I wouldn’t say this set is necessarily nonempty. But I doubt it’s large.

  13. Interesting article, that. Hadn’t run across it before. Odd how much time it takes to say “Hackers act differently than normal people”. Even odder how some people get offended by truth spoken directly.

  14. This seems fun, let me try.

    “I just finished skimming through your guide: “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way”.”
    Okay so you don’t actually take is seriously enough to actually read it.

    “I am sorry to say I am alarmed by the kind of immature mentality that runs through it.”
    I doubt it. Specific example? Being able to discern the type of people you like to interact with is in fact a sign of maturity and wisdom Life is too short to bother to deal with certain things.

    “I will not begin to analyze how many of the assertions you make are simply illogical and unjust, because it upsets me to think about them.”
    Weather something upsets you or excites you is absolutely irrelevant to questions of logic or justice Your argument here is a non-sequiter. Your anger likely has nothing to do with ESR, some people simply don’t want to interact with other people that don’t meet a particular standard. Describing the standard that technical people tend to use in that decision is simply descriptive, rather than judgmental or prescriptive.

    “I would like to ask you to consider the reasons why you are taking this stance. If it’s out of sympathy for the superior caste of ‘hackers’, an idiotic and misapplied term if ever there was one, do you realize that you are describing real people with serious psychological problems, and that you are feeding their pain by your writings?”

    Because people are generally very hard to change. The best way to communicate with people is to meet them at their map of the world. Psychological problems or not if you want their help, you’ve got to understand their viewpoint. You are not some special exception, they wrote the manual to document their program. When you ask a question without reading it first you are really communicating “I don’t really care about the special features or design of your program, I just want it to work for me” There’s nothing wrong with the attitude, but don’t be surprised if this stance results in the cold shoulder treatment. (any more that telling a woman “I don’t care about your relationship with your mother, I just want to prick you with my prick”)

    “I hope you can balance the effort you have put behind this document with some social responsibility,”
    You are not special. Nobody want’s to help you unless you can provide some sort of value in return. This is a hard fact of life, get over it. The only people who ever might love you unconditionally are your parents while you are too young to provide for yourself or to know better. People who have built good open source platform and programs have already provided everyone with a great deal of potential value. Why the f… should a mind like that be bothered to deal with silly and inane questions for which they have already provided resources to answer? The time wasted in such endeavors would decrease the total social value of that person’s work.

    So in summary I would call this a projection a truthful email would have looked like the following ” I am upset because your article has called into question my maturity and social value”

  15. >So in summary I would call this a projection a truthful email would have looked like the following ”I am upset because your article has called into question my maturity and social value”

    Yeah, I get that a lot.

  16. >Odd how much time it takes to say “Hackers act differently than normal people”.

    Yeah, its major flaw is that it’s too long. Seriously editing it for concision is on my to-do list.

  17. Slightly off topic, but no closer to the clue-train, Simon Cowell and Will.i.am are looking for the next tech guru.

    How may you ask? They are working on a “reality tv” project called “X Factor for tech”.

    I would posit you can’t make this stuff up, but apparently you can.

    ref: http://www.news.com.au/technology/simon-cowell-and-william-search-for-the-next-steve-jobs/story-e6frfro0-1226486625126

    Back on topic, It seems that a lot of people don’t get that people drawn to different professions do think differently. The HR/Management class seem to be the worse at this, although the political class seem equally disconnected.

  18. Actually the letter has much deeper implications than just “some asshole is signing your name to stupid letters”.

    I’ve interacted with enough corporate guys to know that they perceive “Thou Shalt Not Offend” principle as something everyone should preach. Always and forever. With no exceptions.

    And of course, “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way” deeply offends such people because it justifies the existence of subculture where this axiom is explicitly and consistently violated.

    Now, the question arises: just *why* everyone should avoid sharp words and just *why* I must “play nice” with other guys? If I’m a member of some corporation then the answer is obvious: I’m a salesperson in this case and “the buyer [even potential] is always right”. But when I’m *not* a salesperson and I *don’t* participate in “everything for sale” culture then… why should I care?

    I think this goes much deeper than it looks: this is about the right to even have any other culture besides the aforementioned “the buyer is always right” culture. That’s why they try to raise “serious psychological problems”, “social responsibility” and other such nonsense: they want to force you to behave like them! And ESR *is* a jerk from this POV: *anyone* who does not try to sugarcoat their words as much as possible is a jerk if you apply “Thou Shalt Not Offend” mantra.

  19. >I think this goes much deeper than it looks: this is about the right to even have any other culture besides the aforementioned “the buyer is always right” culture. That’s why they try to raise “serious psychological problems”, “social responsibility” and other such nonsense: they want to force you to behave like them! And ESR *is* a jerk from this POV: *anyone* who does not try to sugarcoat their words as much as possible is a jerk if you apply “Thou Shalt Not Offend” mantra.

    Forget the corporate setting. Much more generally, a lot of people live in cultures where “Thou shall not question anyone’s specialness and worthiness” is an axiom. I don’t think the idiot is a corporate drone. I think it’s far more likely he’s a non-STEM student at some college somewhere, and that I’ve offended him by pointing out that there are people in the world who have standards – standards other than fashionable political correctness, that is.

    I’ve spent a fair amount in social settings where you can be considered an arrogant jerk for maintaining the existence of, like, reality. And truth. And facts that don’t bend just because they’re inconvenient.

  20. Well, to be fair, readng both emails, yours is not much better in the way it projects maturity than the first one. While the sender managed to put exactly zero substance in his and probably have written it just to vent his frustration as opposed to actually to try to engage you, you on the other side respond by childish name-calling and broad generalizations based on one phrase (which I may agree with to a significant degree when used in political context but that’s not the case here).

    Reading the original email and response in isolation, I’d say that there are two idiots talking ;) But since I know at least one candidate-idiot to greater depth based on his writings, I know he is certainly not an idiot as he writes thoughtful posts otherwise … he’s just acting in idiotic ways in this instance because he is frustrated by the other idiot … who, may not be an idiot at all but is also acting in idiotic ways in reaction to a percieved idiotic writing in “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way” :)

    You see where I’m going, you’re assuming too much and are perpetuating a cycle of idiocy instead of ending it by responding in a mature way and point out the real problem with the original email – namely that it doesn’t contain any substance that you could act upon, that if somebody disagrees with your writing, they need to elaborate on what and why, otherwise it’s just a aimless ranting symptomatic of not having good arguments against.

    Is this kind of childish name-calling response without substance representative of the “hacker way”? I hope not, but if so maybe a little bit of the suggested “social responsibiliy” or “logical and effective communication with fellow humans” in other words, wouldn’t hurt ;)

  21. Maybe the annoyed, or annoying, writer focused in on this paragraph of “How To Ask Questions”:

    > Some people assert that many hackers have a mild form of autism or Asperger’s
    > Syndrome, and are actually missing some of the brain circuitry that lubricates
    > “normal” human social interaction. This may or may not be true. If you are not a
    > hacker yourself, it may help you cope with our eccentricities if you think of us as
    > being brain-damaged.

    It is a safe bet that calling patients with autism/Asperger’s “brain-damaged” will eventually offend some people.

    On the whole, I’ve found this guide useful. Advising an individual seeking free advice to search other avenues first, prepare questions appropriately, respectfully, humble themselves and temper emotional responses, is good advice that has been effective for me in many cases.

    It also drives power hoarding people with dominance/submission issues nuts. Maybe they are brain-damaged and missing the brain circuity that allows them to kneel like a slave and then plan murderous rebellion when the master’s back is turned.

  22. >Is this kind of childish name-calling response without substance representative of the “hacker way”?

    You missed the point entirely, I see. Well, I knew some would.

  23. >It is a safe bet that calling patients with autism/Asperger’s “brain-damaged” will eventually offend some people.

    I guess I was too subtle. I wasn’t calling either hackers or autism/Asperger’s cases “brain damaged” – I was merely averring that it might be helpful to non-hackers if they simply assume we are and thus write off our “rudeness” as a sort of medical condition.

    You left out the last line: “Go right ahead. We won’t care; we like being whatever it is we are, and generally have a healthy skepticism about clinical labels.” Not very well hidden beneath that first layer of meaning is considerable contempt for people who medicalize every kind of deviation from what they ignorantly consider “normal”.

    My goal in that paragraph was simultaneously to offer non-hackers an effective coping strategy, and make them uncomfortable about their own assumptions, and make the point that hackers are going to continue being the sort of people they are regardless of how others label them.

  24. > You left out the last line

    Yes, a bit of trolling on my part I must confess.

    The point of omitting that last line, though, is that people who get up in arms over a choice of wording usually are too angry to either read the whole thing or take the time to grok its meaning.

    Speaking of “grok”, I recall Heinlein wrote about the possibility of a futuristic statistical science of phrases and emotional responses, to allow computers or others to generate desired responses in people. Seems we should have that by now. Then an author could write once, and a slider on the browser UI could scale up or down various attributes of the writing to the taste of the reader.

  25. >I recall Heinlein wrote about the possibility of a futuristic statistical science of phrases and emotional responses, to allow computers or others to generate desired responses in people.

    Not Heinlein. I suspect you are dimly remembering Tom Purdom’s minor classic of a short story “The Barons of Behavior”.

  26. I agree with the commentator up thread that you have many writings in which you appear to be an arrogant jerk. I’m glad to see you are not trying to disclaim the first half of that label, even if you do disclaim the second (it is more debatable, while the first one is not).

    Arrogance is not always, but often, associated with jerks. That is, jerks are often arrogant, and arrogant people are often jerks. In your case, I would say that the response to the letter is a perfect example of you being a jerk.

    Thus, arrogant jerk. It’s not necessarily a problem, it depends if you are always a jerk, or a jerk to some group that doesn’t deserve it, etc. In this case, the original individual, while apparently clueless, doesn’t deserve the response you gave.

    A nicer response could have made the same point, and not showed you off as a jerk. But I guess being an arrogant jerk is part of who you are (or at least your public persona), even if you reject the jerk label.

    Cheers.

  27. >I recall Heinlein wrote about the possibility of a futuristic statistical science of phrases and emotional responses, to allow computers or others to generate desired responses in people.

    Not Heinlein. I suspect you are dimly remembering Tom Purdom’s minor classic of a short story “The Barons of Behavior”.

    Actually Heinlein, speaking of “psychometrics”. E.g., various stories ultimately collected into “The Past Through Tomorrow”. From “Methuselah’s Children” (Lazarus Long and Andy Libby speaking):

        The other man turned to Lazarus.  "Cousin, did we hear what I thought we heard?  That is the first case of asocial group violence in more than twenty years ... yet they report it like a breakdown in a weather integrator."
        "Not quite," Lazarus answered grimly.  "The connotations in the words used to describe us were loaded."
        "Yes, true, but loaded cleverly.  I doubt that there was a word in that dispatch with an emotional index, taken alone, higher than one point five.  The newscasters are allowed two zero, you know."
        "You a psychometrician?"
        "Uh, no.  I should have introduced myself.  I'm Andrew Jackson Libby."
        "Lazarus Long."
        "I know.  I was at the meeting last night."
    
  28. If “hackers” have “serious psychological problems” it’s most likely because they have to explain things to people who are often wilfully ignorant or at least intellectually lazy. I have just lost another technician due to psychological problems caused by, quote “PEBKAC clients”.
    I don’t blame the poor bugger for resigning.

    Anyway, the notion that “the customer is always right” is bullshit, and pandering to the inadequacies of children and intellectually challenged adults is no way for technical people to behave.

    Let them RTFM before they pick up the goddam phone.

  29. > You missed the point entirely, I see. Well, I knew some would.

    And you did it again, a response without any substance … if you want to claim people missed a point, it would be nice of you to substaintiate that claim, otherwise people might (rightly?) assume you’re just obnoxious without any argument on your side.

    Maybe you mean to say I did not address the point YOU want me to address, well … in that case, too bad, I’m perfectly capable of making my own original points and observations without being subserviant to your idea of what I SHOULD be commenting on.

    Well, your avoidance of addressing the point I raised is not unexpected, what should I say … at some point, I knew you would ;)

  30. Seems as if the author of this message is familiar only with commercial software development wherein “the damn thing doesn’t work” is ALWAYS a valid bug report, and it’s the developer’s job to figure out which part is making the damn thing not work and why, and fix it.

  31. >Odd how much time it takes to say “Hackers act differently than normal people”.

    I, uh, don’t get what you’re saying here. Specifically, I don’t see what in the essay isn’t fully general advice about asking _anyone_ (or, at least, anyone who’s not being paid to answer your question) a support question about _anything_.

  32. >…wait. When he talks about “real people with serious psychological problems”, is he referring to hackers, or people who ask poorly worded questions, or some unspecified third group?

    Pretty sure he’s referring to hackers, and their presumed higher incidence of autism/asperger’s. I imagine there’s a subset of people who consider that a crippling horror to be healed and erased, in much the same way that some extroverts think of introverts as broken people who need fixing if possible or pity if not.

    (I’m also pretty sure that ESR has been trolled, unfortunately)

  33. > broken people who need fixing if possible or pity if not.

    Hrm. I want to go a bit off-topic and add something to that. It seems to me that, to a non-hacker, a lot of what passes for hacker social behavior stems from being smarter, more rigorous, less bullshit than most. All positive qualities in that sense, and the How To Ask Questions essay reflects that. Which means that for people who *don’t* think that way, accepting hackers’ (or techies’ in general) aspie-ish behavior as OK and not broken, means accepting that there is no downside; that, in ways that matter, they are genuinely *better than you.*

    Whether that’s true or not, it’s going to be a thought a lot of people shy away from. How many belligerant users or bogus-sympathetic outsiders are really trying to convince themselves that hackers (or other geeks) must be morally wrong or psychologically broken, in an effort to mentally categorize the geek or hacker as a lower person than themselves in spite of apparent evidence otherwise?

    Since I don’t like purely self-serving hypotheses, here’s the converse: How many geeks without aspie social brokenness, adopt it as an ethic so that they can say to themselves “well, this idiot user has [a hotter girlfriend/more money] than me, but he’s still below me because I’m [smarter/more honest/less bullshit].”

  34. Let them RTFM before they pick up the goddam phone.

    If they aren’t paying for the service, certainly. Otherwise, that’s what level one support is for.

    If you get too many idiot calls there’s something seriously wrong with your user interface. It’s not calibrated to your audience.

    “If they understood this stuff, they wouldn’t need you.”

  35. I think I should thank this person for drawing my attention to “How to Ask Questions the Smart Way.”

    Because I was previously unaware of that document.

    Not that the instructions contained therein are new, but they are very useful to have in one place.

  36. Eric, I will say that this is almost as humorous as the job offer from Microsoft.

    How long ago was that?

    (quick search gives: 2005? I hadn’t realized that I’ve known about your blog for that long.)

  37. I think my response would have been: “What the hell are you talking about – woman?”

  38. >>I recall Heinlein wrote about the possibility of a futuristic statistical science of phrases and emotional responses, to allow computers or others to generate desired responses in people.

    >Not Heinlein. I suspect you are dimly remembering Tom Purdom’s minor classic of a short story “The Barons of Behavior”.

    I will have to check out that book, but in the tale “If This Goes On—” in “Revolt in 2100″ the rebels make use of a hard science understanding of psychology to create particularly worded propoganda to win over people’s hearts and minds. One of the characters demonstrates the effectiveness by pissing off the main character even though the content of the message was that he was the child of a legitimate union of honorable and good parents.

  39. People like us often come across as arrogant jerks because we have a well-defined sense of what is *right* and, by the time we reach adulthood, have learned little patience for dealing with those who refuse to see what’s right themselves, wallowing in their delusions. This is not restricted by any means to the technological realm. One need look no farther than the wars over the Second Amendment to see it in action. (“What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ don’t you understand?”)

  40. Calling someone an “arrogant jerk” is a form of ad hominem attack. It basically comes down to “I can’t show that what you say is false, so I’ll settle for disqualifying it as mean, which allows me to stop thinking.”

    The same thing is true of branding someone “racist”/”sexist”/”homophobe”/”islamophobe” or any other similar label. My favorite response to this is now: 1: “Do ever drive on an Interstate highway, or purchase goods shipped on them?”
    2: The person in question says “yes” (for how can anyone but a hermit avoid doing one of them)
    3: I point out that Eisenhower was partially inspired to push for the Interstate system by having observed Hitler’s Autobahnen. Since Hitler was an evil racist bastard, any idea of his, including Interstate highways, is therefore evil and racist. “So by your logic, you’ve just admitted to being a racist bastard yourself.”
    4. In order to get out of being a racist, they have to decouple the idea of Interstate highways from a proponent of the idea. Anything that does that decouples my alleged racism from the value of the idea we’re debating.
    (thus demonstrating the absurdity of ad hominem via a sort of indirect proof.)

  41. The writer seems to begin with the assumption that people looking for support of open source software via online fora and mailing lists should be treated to the same type of walk-me-through-every-step hand holding that they might enjoy if they were working with a paid tech support staff. This is simply not the case, and HtAQtSW makes it *quite clear* that the hacker community provides a certain level of support out of a love for community built technology — they don’t *owe* it to anyone.

    The fact that the writer of this missive completely misses this very important point, is indicative of the fact that he didn’t take the time to thoroughly read and understand HtAQtSW, and is the type of person who would be better served by $250-per-incident tech support centers.

    I prominently and proudly link to HtAQtSW on the support page of my project’s web site. It’s very clear who took the time to read it and who didn’t.

  42. >Actually Heinlein, speaking of “psychometrics”

    Oh. Hm. Yes, I see I may have overinterpreted the comment that started this subthread. Heinlein’s “psychometrics” was presented as primarily a descriptive, defensive science – how to avoid brainwashing. I thought the commenter was remembering something designed much more designed for active manipulation, in which case the Purdom story would fit better.

    As it happens, I’m pretty sure I know what Heinlein was thinking about as a basis for this defensive science: General Semantics. It really does work quite like that, though it’s not quantitative and can’t be expressed in algorithms you can put on a computer. I’ve been practising it since my teens, partly due to Heinlein’s influence.

  43. I’m not sure calling someone “arrogant” is necessarily an insult. There’s a difference between “arrogant” and “conceited”. “Arrogant” is when you can back it up. “Conceited” is when you can’t.

  44. That’s gotta be the funniest damned thing I’ve read in ages. Looks like something Scott Adams would write for Dilbert.

    I’d say somebody was punking you, but it’s not 4/1 (or even close) so I’ll assume you really did hit that one percent of the one hundredth percentile of mental deficiency it would take to actually produce such a work.

    Hell, that might even classify as high (low) “art”!

  45. I’d say somebody was punking you, but it’s not 4/1 (or even close) so I’ll assume you really did hit that one percent of the one hundredth percentile of mental deficiency it would take to actually produce such a work.

    Trolling is not just a 4/1 thing anymore. It’s the official sport of the internet. And the higher-profile person or organization you troll, the more kudos you get with your fellow trolls.

  46. P.S. – I need to read the Purdom story as well.

    And I’m now even more sorry I didn’t attend your Heinlein talk at Penguicon this spring.

  47. “Of course you’re an arrogant jerk, Eric, but you’re *our* arrogant jerk.”

    The combination of competence and confidence in expressing that competence is often perceived as arrogance by many people.

    It’s amazing how rare the combination of these two traits really is. I’ve met plenty of competent people who are too timid to speak up, and plenty of highly confident people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

  48. Sad to say, but that email is prima facia evidence of the social devolution that occurs in longstanding and highly affluent societies. Stupidity like that used to get you killed and eaten by a smarter predator.

  49. Sorry, Jeff, I didn’t see that as trolling. I read it as somebody who actually though that Eric would give two fucks about how they “felt”. I thought it was high(low) art because it was almost exactly the opposite of the advice in the quoted piece. It was as if they read that piece and purposely performed exactly the opposite of the process of thought advised there in.

    If it was a troll, it was exquisitely well planned trolling, on a level that I would qualify as semi-pro :^).

    And I’ve never met a troll that bright.

  50. >Stupidity like that used to get you killed and eaten by a smarter predator.

    Indeed. Nowadays the result is more likely to be a career in politics.

  51. >The combination of competence and confidence in expressing that competence is often perceived as arrogance by many people.

    The combination of competence and confidence in expressing that competence is often perceived as arrogance by inferior people.

    There, fixed that for you. :-)

  52. “I will not begin to analyze how many of the assertions you make are simply illogical and unjust, because it upsets me to think about them.” So, he feels competent to declare something illogical without actually considering it logically, and without backing up his assertions in any way. I think that line really jumps out as incompatible with anyone who applies logic for a living. It’s the belief that feelings trump reality. It sums up the whole problem with the letter.

  53. instead of ending it by responding in a mature way and point out the real problem with the original email

    But that’s precisely what ESR did.

  54. Indeed. Nowadays the result is more likely to be a career in politics.

    Speaking of which, how many of you watched the presidential debate with just a bit of concern?

    Mr. Romney is proving to be quite a sophisticated manipulator and liar, certainly far too dangerous to elect to the White House. Yet if the current trend continues he just might be able to rally his base and enough swing voters to threaten Obama.

  55. >Speaking of which, how many of you watched the presidential debate with just a bit of concern?

    Stop that now. Off topic for this thread.

    Others, don’t feed the troll.

  56. Honest question: Eric, what’s the difference between your definitions of “social responsibility” and “being a sheepdog”?

  57. >Honest question: Eric, what’s the difference between your definitions of “social responsibility” and “being a sheepdog”?

    When I hear others invoke “social responsibility”, they’re trying to tell me what they think my duty is – usually, they’re insisting that I should bend over and grease up because here comes another assault on my liberty in the name of “society”, and I’m suppose to be a good little submissive and like it.

    When I describe myself as a sheepdog, I am articulating a duty to defend life and liberty and civil order which I have chosen. Not because anybody rhetorically bullied me into it, but because that choice flows naturally from my highest values.

    The first kind of “social responsibility” is almost always a fraud, a scam, a con game perpetrated by power-seekers and their dupes. The second kind is real.

  58. “Social responsibility” as used in the original missive has no definition. Eric is hypervigilant about “magical cant phrases” such as this, which are code for “stop doing things I don’t like”, and in this particular case he’s probably right. The author of the original missive sounds like an English or gender studies major fishing for a reason to be oppressed, having not actually read HTAQTSM.

    That said, she (sorry, feminists, my spidey sense tells me that it’s very likely a woman) does raise, in her own vague and histrionic way, some uncomfortable points. The perceived brusqueness, and unrespensiveness to end-user needs, of the open source community is probably a big factor of why it keeps losing to Microsoft and Apple.

  59. >(sorry, feminists, my spidey sense tells me that it’s very likely a woman)

    The name was male.

  60. The name was male.

    Oh.

    My bad.

    Well, in that case, he’s a titanic wuss.

  61. >Well, in that case, he’s a titanic wuss.

    I dunno. Seems like a garden-variety fluffy-bunny lefty to me. College campuses are full of these types, dutifully learning to regurgitate Marxist, feminist, and deconstructionist cliches as though they constituted actual thought, then kidding themselves that this makes them intellectuals. Valorizing the working class in theory while sneering at it in practice, contemptuous of trade, and quite likely to show up at an Occupy demonstration. An earlier age would have called them “upper-class twits”.

    But you make me curious, so I’ve done a little digging. The idiot’s name is two long Greek polysyllabisms that together make what I judge to be a pretty reliable search key; given that modern Greek only has a hair over 13 million speakers there probably aren’t two people on the planet with that exact name.

    The idiot was in 2001 a student at the University of Athens. He’s on Google+ and Stack Overflow, though inactive – uses a GNU bison as his avatar. The Stack Overflow profile suggests he knows some programming, which makes his ignorance less excusable rather than more. A Facebook link from G+ goes to a blog the most recent post of which is a long screed full of generic left-anarchist drivel.

    Yeah, I know his type. One of the funniest parts about them is they all think they’re uniques.

  62. >Eric, you scare the hell out of the idiots without even trying.

    I am not entirely unaware of this.

  63. On the “arrogant jerk” point: Being a relative newcomer to this blog, and having expressed skepticism about some things Eric wrote, I would seem to be an obvious target if Eric really is an arrogant jerk. Strangely enough, though, he has always treated me respectfully, always countering my points with evidence, never with invective. I certainly hope he wasn’t afflicted by a seizure of social responsibility when he did that.

  64. The critic could be a professional who works with or is a caregiver to Asperger’s people, and might have been introduced to HtAQtSW by a patient using it as an excuse to avoid therapy. Asperger’s doesn’t make you a hacker, and people who are far enough along the autism scale to need help really do need it. The critic might have a personal negative experience they’re projecting onto everything they read online.

    The critic could be a troll, who spent weeks figuring out exactly how to end up on esr’s front page, quoted in full or close to it. Success! ;)

    HtAWtSW is full of all kinds of offensive concepts and language. That seems to be intentional for the most part–the offense appears to be carefully crafted to be illustrative in places. If it was intended as a document to selectively recruit future hackers by weeding out people that don’t already self-identify as or aspire to be “hacker” before they get to the end of the document, then HtAQtSW is doing its job well.

    If HtAQtSW was intended to inform rational non-hackers, on the other hand, it’s probably not as successful as it could be. Consider how much of the document you have to read to get past a section that can be paraphrased as “welcome to the hacker tent, admission’s free but the staff won’t like you” and start learning useful information.

    HtAQtSW doesn’t get past two paragraphs before it’s divided the world into three kinds of people, ordered them, and placed the reader outside the membership of the better two of those groups (i.e., HtAQtSW has just insulted many of the readers who most need to finish reading it). A reader with no direct hacker community experience might think, after reading the introduction, that their first encounter with a hacker is going to be something like the Monty Python argument sketch–and they’re not going to be John Cleese.

    Imagine what the document would look like if it was titled “How to Get Busy Technical People to Buy Your Free Question,” and talked exclusively about competitive time management, the right markup to get attention, and the economics of free time, without the aggressive tribal posturing noise. The noise is just that–noise, not signal.

  65. @Tom Hunt:
    >…wait. When he talks about “real people with serious psychological problems”, is he referring to hackers, or people who ask poorly worded questions, or some unspecified third group?

    I’m pretty sure he’s referring to hackers. I’m also pretty sure he’s reading “hackers” as “h4xx0rz”, which would explain why he thinks hackers have psychological problems.

    The degree to which the essay is unapologetic about the tendency among hackers not to suffer fools lightly may also have something to do with it, especially in light of the above “hacker/h4xx0r” mixup. I don’t suffer fools lightly myself, and so I’m sympathetic with that tendency, but I think it is good to recognize it as a flaw (without discounting the fact that *being* a fool is as much of a flaw as not suffering them lightly).

    @Christopher Smith:
    >and what in the essay can possibly be construed as “feeding [someone's] pain”?!

    Given that the writer almost certainly is reading “hacker” as “h4xx0r”, the general tendency of ESR’s essays to regard hacker culture as a glowingly positive thing (not to mention the unapologeticness of this particular essay regarding not suffering fools lightly) almost certainly has the author thinking that ESR is glorifying self-destructive behavior stemming from immaturity and psychological issues instead of trying to confront that behavior and deal with the underlying problems.

  66. “I will not begin to analyze how many of the assertions you make are simply illogical and unjust, because it upsets me to think about them.”

    I am at a loss for words with the sheer amount of stupid in that sentence.

    ‘This makes me wonder, how large would the set of people be who have enough of the requisite cred to be able to lecture esr on what the correct term should be in the place of “hacker”.’

    The set which would compel esr to show up to be lectured would probably be quite small. However, the set of people who would be taken seriously if they had a reasonable proposal or argument which was not inefficiently articulated includes at least the set of regular posters of this forum.

    In the grand scheme of things, there are two ways to better understand the universe: discover stuff from first principles, or read about and learn from the discoveries of others. The latter is far, far more efficient than the first. Anybody who cares a bit about efficiency would usually prefer to learn through the successes and failures of other people rather than having to repeat the failures themselves.

    As for Eric, he’s both arrogant and a jerk. So what? If you don’t enjoy his company and don’t enjoy his writing then pay it no heed. If you do enjoy his company or writing then you have to take into account the costs and down-sides of his objectionable behavior. This is true of everybody else on the planet, too. Like everything else in life, time spent with Eric has its benefits and costs. Assuming that your preferences trump those of everybody else is the height of hubris.

  67. The selective attention behavior described in HtAQtSW is still present even when clients are paying for attention. It’s not just for open source projects or volunteer support over the Internet.

    If you’re doing paid professional technical work well, you will be busy enough that you can’t do all the work that you are offered. Those clients who can’t provide the necessary information for solving their problems waste time that could be more productively spent on clients who can do their homework and provide better questions. All else being equal, a client that asks better questions has a higher chance of a successful project outsome, sees more value in paying for your service, and is more willing to request future work from you, or recommend your work to others.

    The rational behavior is to answer good questions in decreasing quality order until available paid time is exhausted, then go home for the day. Leave the poorest questions to people with more unallocated time.

    The presentation in HtAQtSW seems to suggest (or at least doesn’t clearly deny) that hackers’ selective attention is due to lack of discipline to maintain focus on high-priority problems. Allegedly, hackers focus on “interesting” problems on a whim, like dogs encountering a squirrel on a walk through a forest. Obviously a good hacker takes note of the existence of possibly-important but currently-off-topic information when it lands in their inbox, but that doesn’t imply all hackers have crippling attention-deficit disorder.

  68. Saying “Zygo has a point” would be a meaningless post, and I’m actually not sure if he does or not. (Well, he has one, it’s a question of if it’s a good one.) @ESR, what is the purpose of HTAQTSW?

  69. does raise … some uncomfortable points. The perceived brusqueness, and unrespensiveness to end-user needs, of the open source community is probably a big factor of why it keeps losing to Microsoft and Apple.

    To me this point isn’t uncomfortable at all. Actually it’s basic economics.

    If i pay someone nothing for something, I expect them to spend nothing to help me. Any other cost point is ultimately unsupportable.

    By investing time into helping someone learn something, i am attempting to obtain options in a competent resource that can help me at a later date. The “competent resource options” on someone who isn’t willing to at least attempt to look into what the problem might be (or even spell/grammar check their message) are effectively worthless. At the same time, giving someone ideas that might be worth tracking down is not a high cost, solving the problem for them is a much higher cost.

    While I absolutely agree that the community would be enriched by an influx of “Open source usability fanatics”, i don’t agree that the community would be best served by attempting to force people to work on things they’re not interested in.

  70. I haven’t thought about the “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way” paper in probably close to a decade, mostly because I haven’t had to deal with that sort of thing very frequently in a long time (George just lucky I guess).

    Reminded of its existence, I followed the example of your erstwhile correspondent and skimmed it again, but obviously from a different viewpoint. It’s as good as I remember, but, as your correspondent demonstrated, it’s entirely possible for some not-insignificant portion of the populace to read it and still come nowhere close to understanding it.

    But even if they do get some of it, they may not apply the lessons learned to other areas of their life — the paper is incredibly detailed, but unless the reader is exceptionally good at extrapolation, they may only apply it to a narrow segment of their interactions with geeks, and still come away completely unsatisfied with some of their other interactions.

    A tool that my own anecdotal evidence shows is very good for a broader class of interactions is the tact filter. I have occasionally found that invaluable in getting people to focus on the real issues and not get sidetracked, because (let’s face it) more than half of humanity _will_ get sidetracked on the touchy-feely stuff, and half of that half will get so sidetracked on it that they will piss off half of the other half of humanity so much that no useful communication ensues.

    As inaccurate as the tact filter model is, I have found it to be immensely useful, because it’s so simple, and it works well in a variety of circumstances.

    While your paper is probably more accurate in some ways, and certainly gives a wealth of concrete examples for its focus area, I have found that in many cases the tact filter analogy is the quickest way to help people to develop a mental model that facilitates useful communication. It helps both in explaining the perceived rudeness emanating from the technical person, and also in explaining why (in your words) “grovelling” is unhelpful — the technical person is not necessarily even politically astute enough to recognize that the user is acting like Uriah Heep — all he knows is that there are these extra words he’s trying to puzzle through that don’t seem to be germane to the problem, and that makes life difficult.

  71. The presentation in HtAQtSW seems to suggest (or at least doesn’t clearly deny) that hackers’ selective attention is due to lack of discipline to maintain focus on high-priority problems.

    I think the essay is relatively clear on the reasonings. Applicable quotes :-

    “We’re (largely) volunteers. We take time out of busy lives to answer questions, and at times we’re overwhelmed with them. So we filter ruthlessly. In particular, we throw away questions from people who appear to be losers in order to spend our question-answering time more efficiently, on winners.”

    “Never assume you are entitled to an answer. You are not; you aren’t, after all, paying for the service. You will earn an answer, if you earn it, by asking a substantial, interesting, and thought-provoking question — one that implicitly contributes to the experience of the community rather than merely passively demanding knowledge from others.”

    “By asking the question in the way I did, I gave people something to chew on; I made it easy and attractive for them to get involved. I demonstrated respect for my peers’ ability and invited them to consult with me as a peer. I also demonstrated respect for the value of their time by telling them the blind alleys I had already run down.”

    “Optimally, the reply should be to the thread started by the original question posting, and should have ‘FIXED’, ‘RESOLVED’ or an equally obvious tag in the subject line. On mailing lists with fast turnaround, a potential respondent who sees a thread about “Problem X” ending with “Problem X – FIXED” knows not to waste his/her time even reading the thread (unless (s)he personally finds Problem X interesting) and can therefore use that time solving a different problem.”

  72. Sometimes when I’m deliberately offensive, it’s to get the other person to go away. I have a limited tolerance for blunt stupidity. There are people who are not intelligent, and they simply need our tolerance. There are people who are smart, but who refuse to comprehend certain ideas. E.g. if a lot of people are using guns to kill themselves and other people, you’re not going to change the murder rate by much if you take their guns away. This seems like it should be obvious, and yet I was corresponding with someone today who just didn’t get it. After a couple of go-rounds my conclusion that was they were stupid, and I told them so. After a few rounds of that, they gave up on correcting me. Yay! I win! Not because I convinced them (which was not possible anyway), but because *they* left the conversation.

  73. If HtAQtSW was intended to inform rational non-hackers, on the other hand, it’s probably not as successful as it could be.

    I thought about this a bit Zygo, and I disagree. Eric is not going to be able to change the way a mass of people with a shared culture behave. Ok, he helped mould it in the first place, but even if he wanted to he couldn’t change that now. Rewriting HtAQtSW in fluffy bunny, “how to talk to those poor brain damaged hackers” style will lead to those people fucking up and copping it hard. Then they’ll come back to to the author and complain it didn’t work. HtAQtSW is pretty gentle by the standards of interaction in technical fields in general. People may as well find out what they’re getting into.

    I’m a control systems engineer, not a hacker. In fact, I’m a terrible programmer unless you’re talking about PLCs, where I’m very good but very far from the best. Right now, my title is “Project Engineer” which is nice and vague, just the way I like it. A large, if unstated, part of my role is as the translation layer between management, developers, and the field team (electricians, construction workers, and site engineers in my case), all of whom are completely unable to fucking communicate with each other. So a lot of HtAQtSW, which I never read before today, resonates with my experience.

    There are two specific things I’d like to call out

    1. One of the general tones is “be prepared and do your research”. In the multi-disciplinary environment I work in, I have to deal with others on everything from 22kV electrical issues to pure coding problems to cable pits and conduits to what fibre optic connector to choose. In all cases, they have their own problems and concerns. If you put in a bit of effort and do your research, they are a lot more receptive to queries like ” can you move this a bit because it will make my life easier?” Especially if you show that you know it’s a pain in the ass for them and only ask when you really need it. You won’t become an expert, but it’s no different to learning a few words of the language in a country you’re visiting. People appreciate the effort.

    2. “be very, very, sure of your ground” gets repeated a few times. Yes. It should be in there more. Never flat out tell a domain expert they’re wrong unless you *really* know what you’re doing. The results are rarely pretty. Ask them to explain why “blah” happens instead. When they work it out they’ll slap their heads and say “you’re right”. On the other hand, I have – occasionally – done it, and been right. But then again, I was very sure of my ground.

    I think there are some lessons in HtAQtSW that are worth expanding to technical fields in general. If I can find time to do a “translation” to a wider context, would you be interested in co-authoring Eric?

  74. > Imagine what the document would look like if it was titled “How to Get Busy Technical People to Buy Your Free Question,”

    This would be a great subtitle…

  75. “This seems like it should be obvious”
    “Making an attacker go away by making it more difficult to attack you than someone else” also seems like it should be obvious, and has been used as a security strategy in multiple levels (complex bike locks against thieves, more secure and resistent doors/windows, etc.). What’s the difference? Let’s rephrase:
    “if a lot of people are using guns to kill themselves and other people, you’re not going to change the murder rate by much if you take their guns away”
    against
    “if you take their guns away, you make it more difficult for people to kill other people, and some of them might just stop, guns make it all too easy”.

    Both seem obvious. Perhaps your “by much” is my “some of them”, I don’t know.

  76. >If I can find time to do a “translation” to a wider context, would you be interested in co-authoring Eric?

    Maybe.

    As I mentioned previously, one of the items on my long-term to-do list is editing for brevity.

  77. >Ok, he helped mould it in the first place, but even if he wanted to he couldn’t change that now.

    For the record, I don’t think I “moulded” any of the traits that are basic to how hackers respond to help requests.

  78. The problem with your trolling, male, leftist-anarchic, Greco email is that it provides absolutely nothing upon which ESR could find any purchase at all. Much like trying to find the next attachment point in the long climb up a perfectly smooth walled canyon, if there’s nothing to lay in the next spike, then there is zero chance for any upward progress whatsoever. Thus, the only resort is to head back down. For ESR, the descent must include a healthy outpouring of high brow curses. The result is uncharacteristic, but given the circumstances, entirely understandable and excusable. If only the dimwits would give you just one arguable pair of words. But that in itself shows the weakness in the strategy of the pure analyst in a world full of telephone sanitizers.

  79. I’d like to view this event from another point of view.

    IMHO, this text(I hadn’t heard of, & I like a lot, congrats to the french translator also) is a manual. Here is the thing(people in that case, but it’s irrelevant to my reasoning), here is how to properly use the thing.

    That guy, OTOH, understands it as a manifesto. He believes you want to be like that, therefore he wants hackers to change. So that he does not need anymore to follow your manifesto. As I said, it’s not a manifesto(unless I’m mistaken). It’s a method, a manual, adapted to specific conditions. Therefore, in these conditions, and such a misunderstanding of the message, the guy could not make an intelligent answer.

    As if a painting guide would help you to choose your blue for painting the sky, & someone said it’s stupid, green is better(on Mars, maybe; on earth, not so much).

  80. esr>For the record, I don’t think I “moulded” any of the traits that are basic to how hackers respond to help requests.

    Agreed. The patterns described here are common to EVERY technical person of reasonable competence I’ve ever worked with in the last 25+ years.

    Since this is the group that is the genes protos hackerus it would mean that these attitudes are molded more by the environment than by any one person or group’s conscious efforts.

    It’s emergent order. :^)

  81. I’ll take maybe. My intention was to translate it into general engineer experience (without the mailing list detail and so on) while capturing the spirit of the original, which copyright aside I wouldn’t feel morally comfortable with doing without at least a review. Not satire, not original, but in that lovely grey area “derivative”. Some brevity would probably come with that.

    For the record, I don’t think I “moulded” any of the traits that are basic to how hackers respond to help requests.

    Fair. I’ve seen the same traits across many fields, and it’s not restricted to software engineering. The details are different, but the attitudes are the same.

  82. I had never read the document that he (I assume it was a he) complained about, so I skipped over and took a look. It seems pretty helpful, actually. Quite frankly, something I wish I’d read 25 years ago.

    I was struck by the hurt feelings on display and how he seemingly is living his life where the medium is filtering out the message. It seems like that’s a trope ripe for a Dilbert character: 100% context, 0% core.

  83. Both seem obvious. Perhaps your “by much” is my “some of them”, I don’t know.

    As with Jeff’s “Romney” comment, please take this to another thread. I’m as stridently pro-2A as they come, but FFS, enough already.

    Please.

  84. esr,

    Sometimes you are a jerk. The only people I know who are never jerks have shuffled off this mortal coil.

    Yours,
    Tom

  85. ESR,

    One thing I’ve learned wasting too much time on sites like Reddit is that quite often what looks like an intellectual or moral difference is just an age difference, which we are not used to IRL. Quite possibly you have neither an idiot nor a thug on your hand, but just a teenager. Were you any better at 15? I surely wasn’t. (In fact in the first years of me starting to comment here I kinda had to force myself to behave a bit more grown-up way than I usually did, for it was clear that you and your main commenters don’t respect immature antics. I was way too tribal and ad hominem in my normal mode of operation back then. Actually it was a useful practice.)

    The reason it matter is because the way to deal with younglings is to criticise their behaviour, but not themselves – tell them they are wrong, not that they are stupid or immoral, thus encouraging them to change and grow. I think you just did the opposite here… you just made someone hate you and not to reconsider his attitude and try to learn and change, because you just assumed he is one of two rather hard to change types…

  86. I have a gut instinct which I cannot fully rationalize yet, that there is something seriously wrong with saying “this upsets me” in any sort of debate.

    First thing is because I think the general social agreement is both others and we ourselves are jointly responsible for our feelings: it is (almost) impossible not to feel hurt if someone beats you bloody, so it is the other person’s responsibility, if you are in a bad mood in the morning and hate if people greet you, this is your feelings management problem alone to fix – others can be sympathetic but it is not immoral to do so only maybe inconsiderate or impolite, and in a lot of cases there is of course an overlap, so there is some kind generally agreed barrier up to which point are others responsible for our feelings and from which we are, and of course there is an overlap where common sense is to be used. So if I want to tell you what you did made me hurt, it is only an argument if I also indicate that what you did is beyond that level I can be expected to manage my feelings. So such a person is indicating that the management of his feelings is entirely other people’s responsibility alone – that if every time their actions result in him feeling bad, it is their fault? I cannot really rationally explain what I find wrong with this view but I do find it disgusting.

    A second problem is about the term “upset” itself. Although English is not my first language, I hope I have a good enough grasp of it and I think it largely means “I am facing a truth I find hard to stomach, and therefore I won’t”. If I wanted to say instead “I am facing a truth I find hard to stomach, but I will try to”, I would write “I find it disturbing that…” instead. My gut feeling is a bit vague in this regard, but frankly this term sounds to me like purposefully avoiding the question whether something is true or not, and if it is true, then even though I find it hard to stomach, will I actually try to do so or not? So it feels a bit like “you have no right to make me feel bad, regardless of whether it is true or not” to me. But I may be wrong – really this is quite a stretch of my linguistic-stylistic capabilities here. To Redditors: it sounds like an SRS term to me.

  87. @Shenpen:

    I have a gut instinct which I cannot fully rationalize yet, that there is something seriously wrong with saying “this upsets me” in any sort of debate.

    You shouldn’t have to say “this upsets me” in a serious debate. OTOH, it’s incredibly annoying (sometimes to the point of being upsetting) if you are debating people who continually lie and/or twist your words. (Especially when they lie to third parties about what you said.)

    Whether it’s useful to actually articulate “this upsets me” in such a scenario is completely orthogonal to whether the feelings are actually valid or not. If you’re arguing with the touchy-feely type who is trying to use “social responsibility” as an arguing point, it might actually be useful (except that, as Eric pointed out, in this case, you’re more apt to be laughing than truly feeling hurt). But if you’re arguing with a skilled manipulator who is deliberately trying to upset you, it might be more useful, if you can manage it, to feign indifference.

  88. @Tom deGisi:

    > Wow. That tact filter essay is amazing.

    Yeah. Wish I’d thought of it.

  89. Duncan,

    >Anyway, the notion that “the customer is always right” is bullshit, and pandering to the inadequacies of children and intellectually challenged adults is no way for technical people to behave.

    The solution is to have as many levels of support hierarchy between intellectually challenged adults and genius hackers as possible or necessary, with the aim of each level getting delegated upwards problems that are hard enough to be interesting but easy enough to be able to solve it without more frustration than what is normal for one’s natural pace of learning, which is a function of IQ and current knowledge.

    I hate to say it but Microsoft has it right in Exchange support, I think they have 7 or 8 levels of support delegation plus a few uber-level guys running around who are called “rangers”, seriously. Of course the way closed-source works, the level differences are largely about how many bugs you are allowed to know about and the ways to work them around, not to fix them. Still I think they managed to make all levels having a challenging but not frustrating job.

    I know it can’t always be done right. But the solution is not telling dumb people to fuck off, that is market suicide. You need to figure out ways how half-dumb people who find the job interesting can help dumb people. I work at a fairly small company, maybe 100 people in 7 countries, but the dumbest ones need to first ask their manager and if it doesn’t work the locally delegated smart guy before I let them ask me. It is not even hard, for it really nicely matches human nature. People love to ask their boss – they shed responsibility that way. Bosses love to be asked – they look important. Local smart guys love to look smart. It works like a charm. You know what? If you don’t have this, maybe you made the mistake of setting yourself up as the The One True Oracle, whose one true word dispels all uncertainty and prevents all user mistakes. I have learned to embrace uncertainty and let people make mistakes, so this is why it works for me. I let them make mistakes because I refuse to correct them more than once, so they have the right incentives and feeling of ownership and responsibility.

  90. I think there’s a world of difference between the notions of “me offending you” and “you taking offense”.

    I can call you an “asshole” and be said to be intentionally seeking to offend you. I could also call you a “marxist” and you could claim to be offended. Mens rea, of a sort.

    There are (thankfully few) times when I would want to throw a verbal punch at some asshole, but normally I am speaking my mind…which certain people could take offense to. And have. Much hilarity ensues, from my perspective anyway ;)

    Which makes more sense – the entire world attempting to prostrate themselves before the ever shifting subjective standards of “offense” for any given individual, or that the [would-be-offendee] individual seek to mature their intellectual and emotional faculties such that they do not take offense?

    I lean toward the latter, yet I do acknowledge that there are genuinely fragile people in this world, and I do try to accommodate them out of a desire to not be cruel to lesser creatures.

    For all others, however, the fact that they claim offense is *their problem*. If we are equal, thinking human beings, then the notion that they should be able to impose some form of ‘hecklers veto’ upon me is an insult to my freedom of thought and speech. It renders me ‘less equal’ than them, and does me a great disservice. I shall not self-suppress my liberty in deference to their unknown and variable standard…let alone the people that make fraudulent use of the “offense card” – much like others use the “race card” – to attempt to emotionally bully their way forward.

    Similarly, it does them a great disservice. It denies them the benefit of hearing other opinions that may be of value…all because they couldn’t bear to listen. That is a weakness that is a handicap.

    Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining the feeblemindedness of our current Prez.

  91. esr,

    I wish to improve my sometimes you are a jerk comment. Being a jerk is a failure state in a social setting. If you aren’t failing you are aren’t trying to succeed. If you were never a jerk, Eric, it would be because you are not trying. And since you try very hard, I am sure you are a jerk sometimes.

    That’s better, but it needs brevity.

    Yours,
    Tom

  92. “Q: How can I use X to do Y?”
    “A: If what you want is to do Y, you should ask that question without pre-supposing the use of a method that may not be appropriate.”

    “Write this essay” is your X. What is your Y? Is it “Get dumb people to stop asking dumb questions”? Is it “Help people get their problems solved with the least amount of annoyance to hackers”?

    Who is the target audience the essay is written for? Consider that the audience you _have_ (regardless of what audience you _want_) is likely to a significant extent going to be people who are already frustrated by having asked a question the ‘wrong’ way (often on a newbie-directed IRC channel that _should_ be more tolerant of crappy questions, but people link to it anyway out of misguided ‘helpfulness’) and gotten a poor response.

  93. Dan,

    This is simply the problem of the difference between morals and manners which kind of got muddled in the modern world, but I figure it could be brought back.

    Morals are mandatory and it means not doing stuff that is “objectively” harmful for others, and what objectively means can be debated, we can go from abstract Aristotelean natural ends to demonstrable medical, scientific truths to just a general social agreement what feelings are people normally able to supposed to control and not blame others if they are hurt.

    Manners are optional, depending on how much of a tactful, considerate gentleman (or how succesful a businessman!) you want to be, and they mean taking into consideration each individuals sensitivites.

    Amongs men, I mean. It gets a bit complicated with women, I was a foreveralone type before my thirties but now fell in love and married (for life, I think) and chose well, my wife is very rational and practical about a whole lot of matters but sometimes can really be sensitive about some things, effectively reacting to my bad manners as if they were bad morals. Now the important thing is of course that I love her and want her to be happy, so from this point of view it is ganz egal if she is justified in feeling hurt about something or not, I won’t do things that make her feel to and I won’t demand that she control her feelings, because this is what romantic love means. If love means anything, it means doing more we ought to and forgiving more we ought to, it means going that extra mile. (This does not mean she will turn into some kind of entitled, selfish person. More likely it means a TRUST that the feelings she cannot control are either really beyond her control or she is trying, just not yet succeeding, or I am really being a jerk. It happens.)

    This gets a bit complicated on a random online forum with that subset of women (or feminized men) around who are not used to or emphathically unwilling to accept men’s distinction between manners and morals. What often happens is a lot of yelling basically treating bad manners as bad morals “You said something so offensive! You should apologize!” I find it difficult how exactly to react. They are not my love. I like to be a gentleman. I dislike being shamed into being a gentleman.

    More importantly, I hate if my manner failures are presented as moral evils. They are not.

  94. >I like to be a gentleman. I dislike being shamed into being a gentleman.

    Ditto, and well put. One reason I react so violently to the moral-bullying gambit is that I receive it as an attempt to yank me around by my virtue.

  95. Which makes more sense – the entire world attempting to prostrate themselves before the ever shifting subjective standards of “offense” for any given individual, or that the [would-be-offendee] individual seek to mature their intellectual and emotional faculties such that they do not take offense?

    The law of the land (in the USA anyway) says that if your actions cause a woman to feel uncomfortably like an object of sexual attention, then you have committed sexual harrassment. Nothing else besides the woman’s feelings are necessary to establish guilt.

    Generalizing it a bit, in public discourse if someone reading your writings feels offended, then you have committed offense. It doesn’t make sense, and I do indeed suspect that the need for political correctness and being prissy little Victorians who always use the right euphemisms when discussing group classes like race and gender (but, oddly enough, much less so sex itself which the real Victorians were neurotic about) arose from the standard of “the feelings of the offended are all that matter” established in the wake of the Anita Hill hearings. Nevertheless it is a hard and fast rule with real social consequences, and we can’t all afford to be honey badgers like Eric.

    We brain-damaged Aspergians know quite a lot about arbitrary, illogical, unstated, but strictly enforced social rules.

    Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining the feeblemindedness of our current Prez.

    Don’t get me started.

  96. Two rules I’ve found useful — not strongly connected, but relevant to this thread.
    1) Try hard not to take offence unless you are pretty sure the other guy intended to give offence.
    (If that guy wasn’t trying, I’d like to see what he could do if he was. He does have to take some responsibility for what he writes/says after all.)

    2) No two people speak exactly the same language. I try to remain aware of this, and when I notice a disconnect between what I’m trying to say and what you seem to be hearing — or vice versa — I should make an attempt to improve communication.
    (After trying, if you don’t seem to be trying as well, I’ll probably give up and go do something less painful unless it’s important to me, then I’ll try to make it work anyway.)

  97. >No two people speak exactly the same language.

    Wittgenstein, ahoy! (Sorry…)

  98. If you’re updating How to Ask Questions, it might be good to mention the usefulness of site-specific Google searches (search for “site:example.org flux capacitor segftaults.”) This is usually better than using a forum’s builtin search feature.

  99. The solution is to have as many levels of support hierarchy between intellectually challenged adults and genius hackers as possible or necessary

    Shenpen, my ex got hired for first level tech support at a small (50ish employees) software company on precisely that premise. She’s a bit older than me (mid-forties), first job was typing (yes, on a typewriter) in a law office, for various reasons never touched a computer till a couple of years ago. But she has people skills you wouldn’t believe. The owners of the company met her when she was working in a coffee shop nearby, and decided a) we’ve already got a heap of people with technical skills b) trying to teach hackers people skills isn’t working, let’s get someone in who has that in spades and see if we can give them enough technical info to deal with 90% of the calls.

    And it’s worked perfectly. She takes the support calls, does the sympathetic touchy feely stuff, escalates if necessary. If she has time of course, because her role has evolved into informal resident tester. She’s insanely thorough and disciplined and approximates their average user well – who better? I’m so proud of her.

  100. “What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ don’t you understand?”

    Some of them are confused by “well regulated”, I think you’ll find. It apparently means “well trained”, but some wonder if all the Founders meant was that folks should put in a lot of range time. Or it means “well disciplined”, but does that mean “self-disciplined”? All potentially confusing questions to the uninitiated.

  101. I understand how whaling on Innate Geek Superiority To All Those Infected With The Pathologies Of Left-Wing Thinking has its attractions, and you wouldn’t be doing it if you didn’t feel you were teasing out new insights and stuff, but jeez.

  102. I like to be a gentleman. I dislike being shamed into being a gentleman.

    Right on, brother :)

  103. Nothing else besides the woman’s feelings are necessary to establish guilt.

    Jeff…if you believe this to be true and just, then I simply cannot express my horror sufficiently through this medium.

  104. we can’t all afford to be honey badgers like Eric

    …sadly true (for you and your ilk)….yet I will not be a Judas, and will proudly continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with such kin.

  105. I understand how whaling on Innate Geek Superiority To All Those Infected With The Pathologies Of Left-Wing Thinking has its attractions, and you wouldn’t be doing it if you didn’t feel you were teasing out new insights and stuff, but jeez.

    I’ll take “amateur lefty comebacks” for 500, please

  106. He does say it doesn’t make sense in the next paragraph (referring to a generalisation of the sexual harassment thing, but still).

  107. Re-reading that essay, I get the idea that the point is outreach, so that people wondering why project maintainers and coders won’t give them the time of day. (As a data point, here’s Neil Brown of mdadm fame putting in a tremendous amount of work answering well-asked questions and politely requesting more details when needed.)

    But, I wonder, is it reaching the audience? If it’s written for non-hackers, then it comes off as, well, brusque–like hackers are superior people, not burdened with “sheeplike devotion to socially safe conventional wisdom”, and other, lesser (“non-STEM”) professions should show you more respect. Which I’m sure you believe! But since the whole point is that “hackers act differently than normal people”, why wasn’t it written with “normal people act differently from hackers” in mind?

    (Note that I don’t have some kind of issue with the advice–it’s an excellent distillation of the norms used on fora, bugtrackers and mailing lists, and I shudder to think of how they’d collapse under the weight of people not just being straightforward.)

  108. Adrian Smith,

    Whatever “well-regulated” means, the founders viewed “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” as a precondition for the existence of a well-regulated militia, not something that is satisfied by the existence of something called the militia. The well-regulated militia clause of the second amendment is explanatory, not proscriptive. This is pretty clear to anyone who has read the actual sentence that constitutes the second amendment without letting their preconceptions cloud their judgement.

    The word that trips people up is “people”. Nowhere else in the Constitution is “the people” a vague collective; it refers to individuals. (I am speaking especially of the Tenth Amendment, which reserves powers not granted the federal government under the Constitution to the states, or to the people.) If anti-gun activists were honest, they’d be agitating for repeal of the second amendment. But for historical reasons it’ll never be repealed as such, in which case they should settle for moving to Japan or one of the other nice places with strict gun control.

    Now, granted, in post-9/11 Murka, the Supreme Court has a tendency to interpret government powers so broadly, and individual rights so narrowly, that I am forced to consider the Heller decision a fluke.

  109. Jeff…if you believe this to be true and just, then I simply cannot express my horror sufficiently through this medium.

    I’m just saying what the law of the land is. I present as male and have a penis; my opinion on what is fundamentally a women’s issue matters not a whit.

    However, before about the 1980s, such horrible treatment of women in the workplace — ass slaps and diminuitive nicknames from superiors and that sort of thing — was not only tolerated but accepted as the norm, that the post-Anita standard applied after 1991 could rightly be viewed as an understandable backlash against profound workplace inequality so as to create a threatening environment. I’d like a happy medium between the two extremes, but the space of possibilities is so broad and ill-defined — let alone the fact that there’s just no way of telling how any given woman might legitimately react to being asked out for coffee on company time — that the only thing that could be done from a policy standpoint to counterbalance the prior inequality is to regard the slightest hint of an unwanted sexual advance in a workplace setting as deeply suspicious.

  110. iWhatever “well-regulated” means, the founders viewed “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” as a precondition for the existence of a well-regulated militia, not something that is satisfied by the existence of something called the militia. The well-regulated militia clause of the second amendment is explanatory, not proscriptive.

    Sure, but it does kind of imply that the *purpose* of the right of the people to keep and bear arms was so that they could turn up for militia training, no? In the days when they were trying to avoid the whole standing army thing?

    Once you’ve got a standing army the whole thing starts to look irrelevant to me. And I do live in Japan, but I didn’t come here for the gun control.

  111. Please don’t shorten “Smart Way”.

    Ok, I’ll admit, I was going to follow that with a Really Good Reason why I don’t think you should, and I didn’t compose it before starting to type, and now I can’t come up with one. But I recommend it all the time, and have no problems with its length, and I also have no problems with being considered an elitist, and I finally figure that anyone who can’t read all the way through it doesn’t deserve the donation of my time — having read it greatly sharpened my discretion about whom to help for free.

    Was that a hidden goal in your writing it; three layers down?

    (And if you can find the obscure literary reference in “three layers down”, I’ll buy you dinner. :-)

  112. > Once you’ve got a standing army the whole thing starts to look irrelevant to me.

    I’m surprised esr hasn’t jumped on this one already. Having a standing army makes the militia (which in the context of the Second Amendment means “all citizens able to bear arms in defense of their rights”) *more* important, not less.

  113. Oh right. The militia is to defend you *from* the standing army. My bad.

    But good luck with that.

    /me resolves to pick different examples in the future to make derailing less likely.

    Eric can tell me to stop if he wants. And derailing’s kind of a…feminist term, isn’t it?

  114. I’m surprised esr hasn’t jumped on this one already.

    Probably because it’s an obvious thread derail and has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

  115. To quote “Stop that now. Off topic for this thread.” Read up a bit Adrian, it was in relation to something else but you’ve *been* told.

  116. >I’m surprised esr hasn’t jumped on this one already.

    I was off at Friday night strategy gaming.

  117. Read up a bit Adrian, it was in relation to something else but you’ve *been* told.

    Well, Jeff was told, and that was a clear attempt at a detour. I was just riffing off something Jay said, which he now regrets. Feminists and others who complain about derailing would be somewhat unlikely to offer firm and assertive second-amendment-oriented statements (advising women (frex) to arm/defend themselves tends to be interpreted as victim-blaming) to illustrate a point, and if they did they probably wouldn’t term a response a “derail”.

    But hey. The topic at hand. “Shooting fish in a barrel”, was it? I just feel sorry for the poor guy, he needed to read a bit more and write a lot less. Eric deliberately projects a persona which can be perceived as arrogant simply to troll such people, ISTR, and he certainly reeled one in there.

  118. who complain about derailing

    Unlike your link, on A&D i would expect to see “derailing” used in its original technical sense. As in “while your point may be interesting, it is a subject for a different thread, one of the several hundred other ones available on a similar topic”. In this context, a comment about derailing in this context has nothing to do with “dismissing” or “trivialising” your point but everything to do with requesting you take it to a more relevant topic.

    Case in point, the original topic has little to nothing to do with politics, the constitution or the gulf between democrats and republicans.

  119. @Jeff Read
    Besides unpleasant and insulting behavior their was a large amount of sexual coersion (including rape) in the workplace. Which too drove away a lot of women.

  120. I think you’ll find the original technical sense of derailing had to do with trains, which tend to make no progress whatsoever once they’ve been derailed. Derailing a discussion means effectively destroying it, by soaking up the limited and valuable energy of the (hard-pressed) participants by diverting the topic onto something strenuous and controversial, and I’m afraid if a small digression about the second amendment like that is carrying many of you towards the edges of your comfort zones then this may not be quite the bastion of manliness that it likes to paint itself as.

    But anyway. The topic! Let me attempt to repair the damage I’ve caused. Eric was contacted by someone who was a bit of a tool. Surely there are some more sweeping generalisations about a wide range of people, we could come up with? Possibly slotting them into Myers-Briggs categories, those are always good.

  121. My comment about derailing was intended as JobCB said: the Second Amendment discussion has been *done* here, and while I’m happy to discuss it, this thread’s discussion is interesting in and of itself and I’d like to see it stay on track.

  122. >Well, in that case, he’s a titanic wuss.

    @esr said:
    I dunno. Seems like a garden-variety fluffy-bunny lefty to me.

    Gee, and here I thought “garden-variety fluffy-bunny lefty” = “titanic wuss”
    Or maybe that’s just my prejudices showing. ;-)

  123. I wonder if including information about StackExchange network of sites (which includes among others Stackoverflow, Unix & Linux SE, Ask Ubuntu and Super User SE, and is meant to be more effective replacement for getting questions answered and having up to date information than web forums) to “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way“ would be worthy…

  124. Adrian: but to make life more interesting, there are devices which are *designed* to derail trains. Sometimes it’s a device that simply screws into the ties, and when you flip it over, a passing car gets a wheel flipped out and over. Sometimes it’s a switch with points but no frog. If the opens are left open (to prevent car movement), any car going through the derail just falls onto the ties. There’s one north of Bridgewater, NY where the ties have multiple gouges in them. As in “The derail did its thing successfully.” Also one in Syracuse, protecting a yard from car movement out of a siding.

  125. @Random832
    > I, uh, don’t get what you’re saying here. Specifically, I don’t see what in the essay isn’t fully general advice about asking _anyone_ (or, at least, anyone who’s not being paid to answer your question) a support question about _anything_.

    The parts about “Try not to impose too much” and the like are fully general. The parts about “We’ll judge you based primarily on how interesting your question is, the form doesn’t matter too much” are not.

  126. How to mix redneck wasp attitude & oss philosophy? Ask ESR, “the nerd”.
    Pitty…
    Btw guns should be forbidden because of ppl like you, agressive sociopats.
    Go study MartialArts, (w)hacker.

  127. > How to mix redneck wasp attitude & oss philosophy?

    This is almost funnier than the original email!

  128. >This is almost funnier than the original email!

    Yes. Yes it is.

    Since there are a significant number of Europeans ignorant of the U.S.’s class structure among my readership, however, some explanation of the humor is required.

    WASP = “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant”. Misapplied on two of three counts because my ancestry is not Anglo-Saxon (but rather German, Swiss, French, Scottish and Irish) and my religion not Protestant – my family was Catholic but I’ve been a neopagan for my entire adult life. “Redneck” connotes an ill-educated rural prole and is not reasonably applied to anyone who, like myself, has lived on three continents, attended an Ivy League college on a merit scholarship, and buys his interior decor from anthropology museums.

    But the funniest mistake in this weak try at a putdown is to conjoin the two categories – because WASP was coined as a sociological term of art to describe the sort of East Coast old-money familes who would let a “redneck” into their mansions only if he were hauling trash or fixing the plumbing.

  129. Eh, finally got round to (re)reading “How to ask smart questions”. It seems to be working on two levels – showing newbies how to to learn to compose their questions appropriately for open source fora, but also (and maybe more importantly) encouraging those among them who might be able to step up and join the open source community. And there’s probably going to be conflict between these – the aspects that could be read as “arrogant” are presumably there to act as a kind of challenge to the latter group, but are likely to be problematic for the former. You’ve put in explicit pointers to this (“If you find this attitude obnoxious, condescending, or arrogant, check your assumptions.”) but there might be something to be gained by trying to separate the two functions a bit more and adopt distinct tones for the two groups, to say “Look, lots of these folks have to suffer fools gladly at work from time to time, and the open source development community is one of the places they come for a break from that, so Don’t Be That Fool”. Followed by a list of examples of fool behavior to avoid, or something.

    Our Greek-named friend still seems to have more serious problems than mere stupidity. “I have issues with your document! But I’m too upset to explain them coherently! You should be socially responsible! But I will leave you to guess what I mean by this!”

    “Tender-minded” doesn’t really cut it as an explanation for me.

  130. I suspect this person’s issue was mainly with the paragraph “””(Some people assert that many hackers have a mild form of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, and are actually missing some of the brain circuitry that lubricates “normal” human social interaction. This may or may not be true. If you are not a hacker yourself, it may help you cope with our eccentricities if you think of us as being brain-damaged. Go right ahead. We won’t care; we like being whatever it is we are, and generally have a healthy skepticism about clinical labels.)”””

    Another part of the problem is the strange relationship between the internet and people who [claim to] have Asperger’s syndrome, something which has evolved significantly since the time the document was written – largely in the form of people who are just jerks, without the redeeming qualities of hackers, “self-diagnosing” in order to have an easy excuse for their behavior, and so on. He might have been frustrated by that and misread HTAQTSW as more of the same.

  131. @ESR: “””I was merely averring that it might be helpful to non-hackers if they simply assume we are and thus write off our “rudeness” as a sort of medical condition.”””

    This provides no explanation of your use of the term “brain-damaged”, so you weren’t _merely_ that; John Doe’s point was that you were that and _also_ using the term “brain-damaged” interchangeably with it. (Like I said above, though, I suspect the issue is more with the substance than the style, and how it interacts with the broader picture of “self-diagnosed” [fake] Aspergers cases)

  132. > This provides no explanation of your use of the term “brain-damaged”

    what if it just refers back to the preceding sentence : “… missing some of the brain circuitry …” ?

  133. Contra monster, I’d like to point out that it’s not ad hominem to call someone names.

    That’s “mere abuse”, as the lawyers call it.

    It’s ad hominem when abuse is combined with “… and that’s why you’re wrong”.

    Calling someone a jerk and then explaining why they’re wrong is not ad hominem; it’s just kind of dickish and counterproductive [in that it's too easy to dismiss as ad hominem by people who are unclear on the difference, which is very common.].

    Calling someone a jerk and pretending that establishes why they’re wrong, that’s ad hominem.

    (“X is a Y, so therefore X is wrong” – fallacious.

    “X is a Y, and is wrong because Z” – valid, if crude.)

  134. (Also, on the value of the How To Ask Questions document…

    A while back, I did volunteer non-organized Linux support on IRC.

    We’d often reference the Document directly or indirectly, and tell people to RTFM for simple questions that were answered in the FM.

    Occasionally someone would say something like “stop being so elitist! You weren’t born knowing everything!” … to which the reply was “Of course I wasn’t – and I learned things by reading the manual, not getting a quick magic incantation from some guy online.”

    Learning is work. It might be fun work, but it’s work. There’s no way to skip the work and get the learning, a least not yet.

    Teaching New Generations the value of actually using the documentation is a Good Thing.)

  135. Are “sociopats” people who live outside their country because they are glib, charming, manipulative, have shallow emotions and lack shame or remorse?

  136. Jack Bowtz wrote: «Xah Lee! The writer was maybe Xah Lee.»

    esr wrote: «Probably not. The name given was Greek, not Chinese, and a Google search indicated that it corresponds to a real person.»

    I heard my name mentioned. Xah Lee here. No it’s not me.

    I hate esr’s online persona, but i respect him as a person. (hi Eric.)

    yes i hate the word hacker (as in MIT hacker), and everything ’bout the hacker culture.

    i’ve briefly scan’d esr’s article ?How To Ask Questions The Smart Way? many years ago. I think it’s like most hacker’s produce: technically sound, but inane. The whole article can be condensed into one single paragraph, and it would be 10 times more effective. But nooooo, hackers love to masturbate among themselves.

    my impression of reading this flame mail is that it’s rather fine, and it can be defended just as hackers drivel a river on these trivial matters. (a la slashdot “News for nerds. Stuff that matters.”)

    esr is full of himself, witness this very blog post and his comments, not unlike, yours truely. I, also, now and then get crazed hate mails, from FSF _OR_ Open Source fanatics to unix-liking fanatics. The OR conjunction there makes it a nihilist joke by itself. We, the human animals, make this world interesting, to ourselves, we think?

    PS i’ve read the “esr’s” Jargon File i think more or less whole around 1998. I loved it, and particularly recall how i painstakingly went thru the intro section that describe hacker, and thinking how much it identifies me. That was when i was much younger, and haven’t become a troll (a term hackers LOVE) yet. But now, “hacker”? I nothing but LOL. Seriously.

    —humbly, for the amusement of greater gods.

  137. The StackExchange sites are particularly relevant to the topic of asking smart questions in that your question may be edited by others in an effort to make it more interesting or answerable. Many violations of the “When You Ask” guidelines (especially choice of forum & clarity of writing) will be corrected.

    On one hand this makes it nicer for motivated folks to answer corrected questions, OTOH it makes it less important for the OPs to ask correctly. Then again, it may be helpful for people to study how their questions are edited in hopes that they will learn to ask better.

  138. Jeff…if you believe this to be true and just, then I simply cannot express my horror sufficiently through this medium.

    I’m going to stop equivocating and say that yes, I believe it’s true and just. This feminist does a great job of explaining why. See also Malcolm X, who said if you’ve stabbed the black man in the back, don’t expect him to thank you when you pull the blade halfway out.

    Yes, white privilege, male privilege, etc. are all real things. Get over your butthurt and realize that the advantages you’ve been conferred as a born member of these groups far outweighs the social constraints now being applied to you to avoid regressing to the earlier status quo.

  139. How can you tell a leftist is spouting drivel? When they speak of “white male privilege”. Hint: It’s an attempt to lay collective guilt on people who have not committed anything themselves to justify it.

  140. Hint: It’s an attempt to lay collective guilt on people who have not committed anything themselves to justify it.

    This reminds me of the cant of certain desert religion practitioners who insist that men cannot control themselves and women deserve the blame for inspiring lust in them.

    That guilt you feel is a good, healthy feeling; it means you’re a decent human being. Learn to use it. And it’s nothing eeeeevil leftists set out to impose on you with their talk of privilege. Inherent in the definition of “privilege” is that the privileged don’t know that they’re privileged, and so can’t be held accountable for the odds being rigged in their favor. It is the job of feminists and other progressives to educate the privileged, to uncover the hidden biases so that we may work together to redress them. Now, in some circumstances that may mean that members of privileged classes may be inconvenienced here and there. They may be passed up for that job because affirmative-action quotas have to be met. They may not be allowed to hang that Britney Spears poster in their office. Tough titty. Some of your fellow human beings have suffered through far worse injustices because of what skin color/gender/gender identity/religion/etc. they are; you can surely put up with having your style cramped a little bit if it means addressing past wrongs so that everyone plays on a truly equal level playing field.

  141. I recommend pinching this; this never ends well.

    As evidence, the defense introduces John Scalzi’s valiant attempt to do it about 4 months ago, and you can see how well that went.

    My opinion is much that of That Other Jay’s, though I *am* a Liberal… and it’s that of Scalzi’s commentator Ian Ironwood, who says it much more eloquently than I can manage, if you can get past the point where he mentioned MGTOW without thinking that movement is too radical for your tastes.

  142. Baylink,

    Again — to torture this analogy a bit — we are not grousing that some people ended up with the Straight White Male character class. What we are doing is calling for the class to be nerfed — not out of spite but in the name of game balance. When the server admins won’t take action to remediate the game balance because “that’s the way it’s always been”, or they have characters in play that they don’t want to see negatively affected, that’s when the griping starts.

    As for MGTOW, I’m all for traveling abroad to see what it’s like in a society where you are a minority. But what I can tell of the movement is that it’s made up of the sort of guy who reasons: “white women are bitches now, so I’m going to Asia where the chicks will fall all over even an unwashed troll like me”. I knew one of those types online. Pure poison, that guy was.

  143. >That guilt you feel is a good, healthy feeling; it means you’re a decent human being.

    I don’t feel any guilt about being a white male. I think men who do are ball-less wonders who have let themselves be bullied into submission by would-be totalitarians.

    I do feel that having been born white, male, upper-middle-class and exceptionally gifted brings with it a responsibility; to use my advantages to leave the world a better place than I found it. That responsibility actually belongs to every human being, but it rests most on those of us who have the most advantages and ability.

    Wallowing in imagined collective guilt is for victims, losers, and idiots; people who demand this behavior are evil and there is nothing I have to say to them that wouldn’t be better conveyed by a fist or a bullet. Accepting one’s individual responsibility to make things better is an entirely different position, which I embrace.

  144. Eric: The aforementioned Ironwood writes a blog, linked from his postings at Scalzi’s blog; you’d probably like it a lot. :-)

    Jeff:

    > we are not grousing that some people ended up with the Straight White Male character class. What we are doing is calling for the class to be nerfed — not out of spite but in the name of game balance. When the server admins won’t take action to remediate the game balance because “that’s the way it’s always been”, or they have characters in play that they don’t want to see negatively affected, that’s when the griping starts.

    That’s as may be, but *life is not a video game*. You can’t just “change the rules”, arbitrarily; there is no GM. And *in fact*, straight white men take a *lot* of shit, generally from feminists of what I would call the Radical Persuasion, for precisely the fact that they are.

    Go read Ironwood’s comment here:

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/#comment-326373

  145. Jeff quoted Malcom X:

    See also Malcolm X, who said if you’ve stabbed the black man in the back, don’t expect him to thank you when you pull the blade halfway out.

    I didn’t stab him. Someone else who looks like me might have, but blaming me for that is like blaming every black man for the occasional black mugger.

  146. The thing I like about you, ESR (and this is not meant to be a gushing fanboy-style praise) is the refreshing honesty and openness of your views. Nobody is left in much doubt which way you stand on issues and this makes you an easy target for the haters/losers than somebody who sits on the fence most of the time.

  147. The fundamental disagreement I have with some feminists: I’m an individualist, not a collectivist. You have to be collectivist on some level to be racists/sexist/etc. therefore I am none of those things. You also have to be a collectivist to believe in collective guilt. Because I don’t believe in collective guilt, I don’t support system changes that favor one class over another, even in response to previous systems which favored the second class instead. Because I don’t support those sorts of things, I occasionally get falsely accused of being racists/sexist/etc. Such accusations offend me. I treat even collectivists as individuals, rather than holding them to their own standard. It would be just, by their standard, to blame feminists as a whole for the misandry of some of their members.

    Jeff, the linked blog post does nothing to convince me that it is good and just that the legal system judges harassment based solely on the woman’s feelings (although I don’t think it’s actually that lopsided). If there are no facts, there is no case, and it can never be just to punish someone when they didn’t actually do anything wrong. In response to the linked post, allowing feelings to 100% determine guilt would be a rule change that would let the previously losing team decide to delete all points the previously winning team made in all stages of the game, and add as many points as they feel they want to themselves. At which point there is no game, and all other rules are meaningless.

  148. Jeff, I refuse to feel, much less accept, guilt for anything for which I do not bear some measure of personal responsibility. I bear no responsibility for whatever other white men have done.

    When people stop assigning blame for everything bad that happens to a member of a minority to some sort of discrimination, then and only then can we get past it. Until then, comments about white male privilege are nothing more than contemptible race baiting.

  149. > They may be passed up for that job because affirmative-action quotas have to be met.

    Jeff, those “affirmative-action quotas” are most stupid,… [censored] feel-good pseudo-solution I have ever seen. All they do is decrease quality of employees.

  150. People who complain about the quality of the free ice cream annoy me. One of the things I love about the ‘net is that I get to read free stuff written by people who are smarter and/or know more stuff than I do. People like that should be, not annoyed by the rest of us, but encouraged, even if our silence is the best encouragement we can offer. I never comment on esr’s technical posts, because I generally don’t know jack about what he’s writing about. Of course each of us has a right to make a fool of himself bitching and complaining about social and political things. I believe I have done so m’self, a time or two…

    On manners, and arbitrary social rules: Professor Grandin has written on both:

    She recommends that all strange people adopt formal manners, not being able sometimes to deal informally with others without giving offense. Works for me; I thank the Lord I was raised Southern. I think the purpose of manners is to help one avoid un-necessary fights.

    Aspies need to specially remember not to commit “sins of the system”, as she calls them. These are Malum Prohibitum violations which might be objectively harmless, but committing them is guaranteed to bring the NTs down on you like a ton of bricks.

  151. I read the asking questions article too and had similar feelings. (Note the word feelings, denoting my over abundant emotional sensitivity.) I did think the the article had several salient points though. While written in an aggressive style that was at least partly venting the frustration I’m sure you’ve felt when dealing with relative morons who society at large typically respects more; you did successfully explain the hacker subculture and how one might enter within, curry favor, and get results.

    What I find more disturbing is your response to his email. I mean, hey you’re allowed to feel, say and think anything you want. But I do hope you realize that while he criticized your sensitivity and compassion (Something I’m sure you realize isn’t very present in the article, likely intentionally), you attacked his intelligence. I thought his email, though pointless in effect, was well thought out and written. If you were going to refute it, you probably should have taken the stance you mentioned in the article. (That social systems are formed by individuals who actively enforce the majority rules within the group, without which the system has a tendency to degrade towards the least common denominator.) You had a point with that, but you never brought it up, instead you chose to insult and inflame rather than educate. Maybe you did it on purpose, and that’s your right. Or maybe he just pissed you off, but hopefully you realize now you could have better stated your case to this guy.

    As an aside, I’m obviously of the fluffy bunny school of thought as well.. Let me tell you why. I feel anger too, maybe even more than you. The world is full of stupid people with no foresight and little consideration seemingly bent on destroying everything for immediate gratification. Furthermore I don’t have much patience for people who don’t try either. However, expressing my anger, typically only serves to entrench the other party more deeply into whatever meme they happen to be stuck in. If an opponent isn’t where you want him to be, you lose all ability to maneuver him when you meet his force directly. Better to align yourself with his objectives and maneuver his momentum in the direction you choose. But sometimes you just want to hit something, and that’s fine, as long as you realize it’s particularly constructive to your goal in the end.

  152. Jeff, those “affirmative-action quotas” are most stupid,… [censored] feel-good pseudo-solution I have ever seen. All they do is decrease quality of employees.

    The quotas seem “stupid” to you because they’re not there to solve the problem you want solved. Making hiring practices race-blind isn’t the point. That would be taking the knife only halfway out of the black man’s back, because blacks would still be disadvantaged, due to centuries of being denied social capital whites have had easy access to.

    No, affirmative action is designed with the intent of reversing past damage. Businesses will get along fine if they hire the occasional decent black candidate over a great white candidate. They didn’t seem to be hurt much by hiring decent white candidates over great black ones way back when.

  153. Oh, Good Lord, Jeff! Maybe it’s because Sub-Saharan Africans, in general, don’t have as many Neanderthal genes as do the rest of us? They really are the only pure Homo sapiens people: the rest of us are hybrids.

    Oh, Jeff? Please cease with the emotional arguments. It makes you seem like a woman (no offense intended to actual rational wimmin, of whom I’ve known a few, starting with my Mom). Jeff, your style of argument is just annoying and irksome, regardless of the merits of what few substantive statements you make.

  154. @ Justthisguy
    aaargh NO!!! Jeff, those “affirmative-action quotas” are most stupid,… [censored] feel-good pseudo-solution I have ever seen. All they do is decrease quality of employees…” But the real problem, which I assumed everyone knew, is that they didn’t act to the advantage of minority applicants. Affirmative action quota’s instead damaged the groups it was supposed to help. Which anyone who gave it just a bit of thought could see would happen because it is a stupid non-solution to a real but probably unsolvable by govt problem. Instead protests grounded in logic/reason were and still are met with cries of bigot. Which again does nothing to help balance the economic/societal differences that exist between different groups of people as a historic hangover from a barbaric age. Will go with blacks but you can insert any minority and any imbalance it works out the same.
    Do gooder: I see that blacks do not make as much money as whites, it must be because whites take all the best jobs by being white. Bigot racist white people claim blacks are inferior and that is why the imbalance occurs. This is racist thinking, if we could get black people to fill some of the jobs currently filled by white people everyone could see how stupid evil white people are by claiming blacks are inferior, get blacks the jobs and they will be just as competent and show the world blah blah blah. Since black people were damaged by the white people, black people do not have the education/skill set the privileged white person has, we should drop the requirements and make business hire black people whether the black applicant is as skilled as the white applicant. And to ensure that the black worker is given the chance to demonstrate they are as competent as the white worker we will also require business to lower the requirements needed for the black worker to keeping the job. If you were designing a system to backfire you couldn’t do much better than this. We are never going to get past the nonsensical idea that skin color or gender matters as much as competence. Black people are people, they deserve to be treated as such. You affirmative action bozos are the real racists, your the ones saying the black can’t do the job of the white. Black people are not inferior!! Stop saying they are!!!

  155. Glad to know my reaction to politically correct moral bullies is not unique. I’m just wondering when did that kind of reaction became something out of norm.

  156. The author of this screed can be classified as a “concern troll.” When we get them on our blog, we delete them, and that’s that.

  157. Ah, 1389? Just which screed were you referring to? Your meaning was not clear to me. I glanced at your blog briefly, and think I concur with the sentiments expressed there, but would you please let us know just whom you’re mad at?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>