Blunt Tools (was: cgf does not want private email about cygwin)

Larry Hall (RFK Partners, Inc)
Mon Jun 25 14:29:00 GMT 2001

At 03:47 PM 6/25/2001, Ken Collins wrote:
> > You always want to err on the side of caution when it comes to the 
> > interpretation of the tone.  Doing so helps keep one from reading too 
> > much (negative) into a message being read.
>By the same token, it's advisable to err on the side of friendliness and
>helpfulness when expressing something. I'd like to see more of that. It
>makes for better reading.

OK, I guess we'll agree to disagree here.  I don't interpret short answers
as unfriendly or unhelpful.  I also find a message that gets to the point
quickly to be useful and better reading, considering that there are 
probably a few dozen more (at least! ;-) ) behind it that I need to get
through too.

> > And who would be answering questions on a list full of newbies? ;-)  
>Actually, the newbies would be. As they work through the stupid problems,
>if they're encouraged, they may post back simple howtos from the
>perspective of someone seeing the system for the first time.  If you
>discourage people from joining in early, you lose that stuff. I know I
>could put together a pretty good intro on setting up tcsh, in that regard.
>As people solve individual problems, they gain expertise in specific areas
>without knowing much about the system as a whole. 

Please, put together any howtos or other documentation you're inclined 
to!  That the idea of this Cygwin community.  You contribute what you 
can in the way that you can.

I see a flaw in your notion of newbies answering all the newbie questions.
You're assuming that they are all discouraged by the current list and 
would speak up more and find their own answers otherwise.  If that were
completely true, we'd see diminishing traffic on this list.  Still, I 
do agree that motivated newbies can answer allot of questions for and 
amongst themselves.  I don't see a problem with this.

In any case, I don't see why someone answering a question should inhibit
someone else from doing the same, particularly if it adds something to 
the response already given.  One should not be afraid of the list.  And
as Chris pointed out, we can't protect everyone from responses from the
list, good, bad, or otherwise.  Those who read and participate in the list
have to take the good and the bad with it.  You obviously see more bad in 
this list than good.  Perhaps you want to start a list of your own (maybe
moderated?) that you could manage?  Maybe this would permit you to direct
the discussions where you feel they need to go.  Personally, I think you
could do that here if you wanted to try but maybe I'm wrong.  In any case,
you should do what works for you.

> > understand the resources available to make the most of Cygwin.  I'd be
> > hard-pressed to find allot of negativity in this type of response but,
> > like I said, everyone interprets things differently and you can't please
> > everybody all the time.
>It's not so much a matter of pleasing but discouraging. Do you really want
>to risk discourage people interested in Cygwin?

OK, as far as I can see, this direction of the discussion is getting 
too philosophical.  You claim that the tone of the list discourages
many.  I don't see allot of evidence of that (discouragement or overall
issues with tone).  I guess further discussion along this line is a 
dead end unless you can provide a solution you want to implement.

> > Personally, I think you're reading too much into the "strict"ness of the
> > list.  Given the number of posts and the number of responses containing
> > real information that address the posted queries, I'm not sure what 
> > constitutes this "strict" nature you refer to.  
>The ratio of RTFM replies versus full responses to questions constitutes
>the "strict" nature. I find it high given the unique nature of the system.
>It's like grafting a fourth leg on a three-legged dog. There are bound to
>be a lot of questions, especially if people are used to seeing three-legged

I see.  So you want someone to look up the complete answers to the 
questions and write them down each time they are asked.  OK, that's 
you prerogative.  I know I don't have the time to do this kind of 
research full time.  Do you?  If so, please do so.  If not, well,
I think you've made your point.  We'll leave it to everyone on the list
to determine how they want to incorporate your comment into their 

> > What constitutes a "non-answer" for you?  Is a pointer to the place where
> > the answer is a "non-answer"?  I've seen very few global pointers on this
> > list.  Most point to specific email archive messages, FAQ entries, or
> > user guide chapters.  If you're referring, the "search google" responses,
> > then I am still confused by your comment.  How is it that pointing the 
> > original poster to the method of finding the answer a bad thing?  Are you
> > assuming that the responder has the answer at their finger-tips and is
> > just punishing the original poster for not being in the same boat?  I 
> > think you're assuming too much here.  People direct folks to the search 
> > engine for two very good reasons:
>Okay, imagine if you reply to every entry level message about a given topic
>with a Google search, aside from the first response to the message.
>Ultimately, when you finally do the Google search, half the messages will
>point to the same search you just did. When you find the original message,
>it will be old, and it possibly won't pertain to what you've asked, unless
>you fully trust that the person who directed you there with one line and no
>comment other than "look it up" has followed the link themself. 
>If the reply pointed to a specific message with a specific answer, that
>would be significantly more helpful. If the person replying is going to go
>to that much trouble, why not just cut and paste into the reply, and
>provide the text for everyone else who's curious? Instead of killing the
>discussion, you leave it open for comment, in case the reply isn't exactly
>I would probably have less of a gripe with the Google search approach if
>urlview didn't SEGV on me. It's what I primarily consider a non-answer.

That sounds like a bug.  Have you reported it and/or tried to debug it?

>Also, imagine if, instead of replying to your sincere question, I sent one
>line with a long URL linking to a series of complaints I've had about
>mailing lists in the last year? It doesn't promote dialogue, to say the

Seems like here you're just pushing a hypothetical case to the extreme.
I can't see that this represents any realistic case.  But let's explore 
your idea that queries posted should always be answered with a 
comprehensive reply.  You state that this would be good for 2 reasons:

   1. The reply would be archived with all the specifics needed so that
      the next person looking for the same information would find it 
      immediately and not just other references to it.

   2. This kind of response promotes discussion.

(2) implies that further discussion is warranted.  And while I don't buy
that looking stuff up discourages discussion (who says you can only send
email to this list in reply to a thread?), most of the time, the queries
posed here are "This doesn't work.  How do I fix it?"  So there's no 
discussion that's squashed either way since there isn't any required! ;-)
But since that's the weaker of the arguments, we can let that one slide.

(1) sounds great but if we do that, how do we tell people to find the 
previous answer in the mail archives?  I mean, anything sent to the list
ends up in the archives.  If you want the archives to not contain messages
that refer folks to other places or messages, then the email list can't be
used to inform others of this resource.  As we've seen in the past, people
are much more likely to post a query than check any resource.  So your
suggestion, even if taken in moderation, breaks down and taken to the
extreme tends to hide a valuable resource from the majority of those who
frequent this list.  I understand the intent but the reality is, there's
really no way to implement this to achieve what you suggest.

> >    1. They don't recall the specifics of the answer to the poster's 
> >       question but know its in the archives.  Its not the responders
> >       responsibility to look up the actual message for the original 
> >       poster, although that is always an option.
>Why not just ignore the post and wait until someone with the energy to look
>up the actual message chimes in instead of preempting that response?

Oh, I was waiting for this!  I thought long and hard while I was typing
this response about whether or not I'd touch this issue.  I've brought
it up before (since it has come up before) and decided that maybe it
didn't need to be reiterated.  I guess as Chris says, repetition is
good! :-)  Thanks for reminding me of this and for allowing me the 
opportunity to answer this question again.

You've probably noticed there are all kinds of folks on this list, with
all sort of priorities, desires, needs, etc.  You may have even noticed
there are those who post their questions more than once.  There are even 
those who follow-up showing some real irritation that their question has
not been answered!  As I said, you can't please everyone.  You can't even
not discourage everyone.  

I take the following approach.  If I can help answer a question posed, I
post (even if its a one-liner or a URL).  If I can't, I don't.  Posting
some response with some information seems to keep down the number of 
irate follow-up posts to questions that don't get answered.  This has,
IMHO, seemed to work well, not that I haven't heard complaints (directly)
about it too.

> >    2. Getting to know how to use the archives and even of its existence
> >       is a very good thing.  Its a powerful resource which gets real time
> >       responses and provides allot of background.  Its important for 
> >       everyone to know about it and to use it to make the community a
> >       productive one.
>True. I'd like to see the archive contain actual responses, instead of
>links to links. I'd like to read discussions of problems instead of jumping
>out of mutt and into a long list of Re:s in IE. 

That sounds like you're having an issue with the tools you're using. 
Sorry, I don't have any suggestions here, although others on this list

> > These are the reasons that people are pointed to searches.  It's not 
> > some patronizing response meant to make the poster feel stupid.  It's the
> > responders best effort to help the poster find that which has been 
> > requested.
>Perhaps. It hasn't entirely been coming off that way to me, and that's why
>I'm mentioning it. If it's unintended, I'd assume that people would
>appreciate the notice from someone who follows the project and who cares
>about the quality of the dialogue. 

OK.  Feel free to jump in to help soften the edges of response you see.
Maybe you can help others who may feel as you do!

> > Actually, I find preambles like "Sorry for this newbie question but I 
> > looked at the FAQ and mail archives and didn't find the answer" pretty
> > useful.  At least for me, I then know whether the person has made an 
> > attempt to find any existing information on the topic of question.  Even
> > if they've clearly missed an obvious pointer (like in the FAQ), I
> > personally am more likely to prod them more directly to the information
> > they'd find there.  In other words, if I know someone has tried to help
> > themselves and failed for some reason, I can then be more specific with 
> > the suggestions I have, because I know what they've tried and what didn't
> > work for them.  But to each his own...
>It's unfortunate when people have to apologize for asking questions on a
>mailing list. I'll add the preamble to my sig :)

I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I was suggesting people should
apologize on the list for asking a question.  That's not what I meant
(then again, I'm just someone else on the list so nobody needs to pay
attention to what I say! :-) ) I was merely pointing out that its useful 
to preface your query with remarks about what you've tried already.  It helps focus the response.  The fact that folks start their query with an 
apology is something that's completely optional as far as I'm concerned.

Larry Hall                    
RFK Partners, Inc.            
118 Washington Street                   (508) 893-9779 - RFK Office
Holliston, MA 01746                     (508) 893-9889 - FAX

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