"shouted down", "shot down", apologies

Larry Hall (RFK Partners, Inc) lhall@rfk.com
Thu Jun 28 18:37:00 GMT 2001

At 10:22 AM 6/28/2001, Christopher Faylor wrote:
>I won't comment on the rest of your message except to say that I rarely,
>if ever, say "use the source" when I know the answer to the question.
>I say that when I don't know and when *I* would have to look things up.
>You're welcome to continue to ask "newbie" questions as frequently as
>you like.  That will not stop me (or others, I presume) from pointing
>people to references or suggesting the source when I don't know the
>answer myself.
>I don't work for anyone here.  I am not obligated to look things up to
>make your life easier.  It is that simple.

[long - those uninterested in this thread want to hit delete now! :-) ]

This is exactly my approach as well.  I have to say that I'm a bit 
dismayed that folks contributing to this and the "blunt tools" thread
have mentioned dissatisfaction with what seemed to me to be such a 
straight-forward and logical approach.  When responding to queries on
this list, I've always followed these simple rules:

   1. If I know the question is an FAQ, I point to the entry there (*very*
      rarely do I just point at the FAQ without the exact entry).  
      Generally I feel there's little benefit to restating what's in the 
      FAQ.  It just doesn't seem to be a good use of my time.  If its 
      inadequate in some way, we'll hear about it and make the appropriate 
      change (which seems to me as it should be).

   2. If I kn
ow something specific about the subject, I respond with it.
      Sometimes this means I have to ask a question or two before I'm 
      sure what's been tried already and whether the poster is aware of 
      a previous discussion on the subject.  That all seems like part of
      the process to me and I don't begrudge people for it.

   3. If I know that this subject has come up before and has been 
      discussed but don't remember allot of details, I point to the 
      email archives.  In this case, I don't point to a specific message,
      although I do occasionally offer a search key that I think might
      help find the discussion I recall.  I don't spend my time looking 
      up the exact archive entry or entries that I'm recalling.  I don't
      even promise that the stuff I'm remembering is even helpful (though
      that's my intent and what I'm hoping for!)  I'm just providing 
      potential source of information that may prove useful.  It may not 
      too.  If it doesn't or its too hard to find, I expect the original 
      poster will query the list again with an update of the things tried 
      and the results.  If there's no success at this point, I sometimes
      see if there's something more specific I can find myself and post 
      that if so.

   4. If the question being answered is specific and detailed enough
      that an inspection of the source is likely to be the only path to
      a useful answer (barring someone else who has been in the source,
      knows the answer, and will subsequently offer it), I *suggest* 
      looking at the source.  I do this when its clear someone is a 
      developer or has mentioned they are working with some other source.
      I mention it if I'm not sure whether the person is a developer or 
      not, usually pointing out that it is an option if they're up to 
      it.  I tend not to mention it if the person states that they have
      no experience reading/writing code.  Generally, I don't feel 
gated to go inspect the source to answer someone else's question,
      although there are exceptions or times I do it anyway.

   5. If I know nothing about the subject, I keep my mouth shut.

I've used all five of these modes in the past on this list and seen them
work, at least on some occasions, exactly as I expected them to.  We've
heard back from people who've had a hard time with an FAQ entry.  We've
heard from people who say they've searched the archives but turned up
nothing.  We've heard back from people saying they're not capable of 
looking at the source for one reason or another.  To me, all of this 
seems reasonable dialog in the course of trying to help someone with a 
problem.  I've always felt that providing some information, be it direct
or a pointer to something which could be helpful is better than no answer
at all (indeed, this list has more than once in the past been berated
for *not* responding in some way to a post!)  However, it troubles me 
that some in the recent discussions have pointed to the replies with 
references to previous discussions and the FAQ as "non-answers" (I'm 
using this term generally now although I know it was a specific member 
of the previous discussions that first offered it up and it may have 
applied in that case to a problem with the specific set of tools in use 
at the time.  I think it categorizes a general sentiment I got from 
reading these threads though).  The impression I'm left with is that 
there is at least some people on this list that feel these "non-answers" 
are offered in spite.  I'm not sure how prevalent this view is or where
the feeling comes from.  It's certainly not my intent when I provide such
an answer, as I've clarified above.  I know I don't sit in my chair 
reading email, jealously holding onto all the answers, and responding
with pointers (or worse, some obtuse reference), just to throw someone
off the track or to keep them chasing an answer I know.  I provide the 
best answer I can at the time and I expec
t if it doesn't meet the need,
someone will speak up.  If the poster does follow-up, I or someone else 
may be able to help home in on the it a little more and provide a better 
solution or pointer.  Perhaps others have a different agenda when 
answering, although I've pretty much read every post on this list for the
last 5+ years and I've never been left with that impression.  YMMV.

So I guess what I'd like to say is, let's not throw around accusations 
of this sort.  If you receive a response to your query and its not what
you want, you're free to use it or not.  Query further if you like too.
Don't expect others have all the answers or be willing to look into the
details of all your problems.  I'm not saying that people won't fix your
problems or help you do so.  But they're going to do it their way, in 
their time, and at their option.  If that's not what you need or want, you 
can again query further but keep in mind that you're dealing with 
volunteers here.  Pushing may have the opposite reaction to your intended 
goal.  I actually think its a shame for people to be critical in the
face of someone's sincere intent to help the poster address their issue.
After all, the responder is only trying to provide useful information or
be truthful about their level of personal involvement in any 
implementation of a solution.  That all seems pretty reasonable and 
professional to me, even if the result is not something the poster wants
to hear.  However, the impression I'm getting from the discussion is that
unless someone is willing to provide any and all support for an issue,
in the form the poster wants it, then no response is preferable to some
response.  I guess I can live with that, if that's what the list in 
general wants but I personally feel it would make for a much less helpful
and active community.  Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe its time for me personally
to adjust my level of participation in Cygwin, since I see my way of
contributing could be construed as fitting the pattern of "
as defined by others.  Hm, maybe.  I'll have to think a little more 
about that.  As is always the case, we can all use a little more free 
time! ;-)  Anyway, since we've all been sharing our thoughts on this 
matter I thought I'd offer mine, since its a slightly different than
some of the those posted earlier.  I'm really for the idea of having a 
Cygwin community.  So far, I believe its been a great success.  I hope it 
continues to be in some form! :-)  Actually, this is a good time for me
to say "thanks" to all those who work to provide and improve Cygwin and
its tools.  I don't do this enough.  This is really top-notch stuff! :-)

Larry Hall                              lhall@rfk.com
RFK Partners, Inc.                      http://www.rfk.com
118 Washington Street                   (508) 893-9779 - RFK Office
Holliston, MA 01746                     (508) 893-9889 - FAX

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