You Dont Have To Be Evil To Work Here, But It Helps

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Four and twenty virgins Came down from Inverness, And when the ball was over There were four and twenty less. One page later p. The British proverb this refers to is "it's like painting the Forth bridge". The Forth bridge can be found spanning the Forth river no kidding between the towns of North Queensferry and South Queensferry, just outside Edinburgh, Scotland.

It is so large that when they have finished painting it, it is time to start over again. In reality, I'm told, they simply look for bits of the Forth bridge that need painting and paint them. So it is true that they keep on painting, but they do it discretely, not continuously. One correspondent reports that a similar story is told about the Golden Gate bridge being in a perpetual state of corrosion control painting, and it would not surprise me to find other very large man-made structures will have given rise to their own local versions of the proverb.

For some reason, Rincewind has problems with the word 'aeons'. See p. The original notice according to Dante, in the translation by Rev. Francis Cary would have been the famous: "Through me you pass into the city of woe: Through me you pass into eternal pain: Through me among the people lost for aye. Justice the founder of my fabric moved: To rear me was the task of power divine, Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.

You Don't Have to Be Evil to Work Here, But it Helps

Before me things create were none, save things Eternal, and eternal I endure. All hope abandon, ye who enter here. People like using this particular quip in Usenet conversations or in their. The answer is of course simply that similar quotes occur in both books in Reaper Man it's on p. Since then, Maskerade has been released, which of course takes the concept of insanity-defining exclamation marks to a whole new level. The whole sequence in Hell is based loosely on Dante's Inferno which in turn is based on Vergil's Aeneid in much the same way the book as a whole is based on Faust. The various references to the geographical topology build on how Dante organised Hell in nine concentric circles this of course had to become eight circles for the Discworld version!

The outer circles contained lesser sinners, such as Julius Caesar and Socrates, while the inner circles were reserved for mortal sinners mostly Dante's political enemies; some people down there weren't dead at the time of publication, but got a mention anyway. At the centre, in the 9th circle, Lucifer sits chewing away on Brutus, Crassus and Judas. If you climb over him you get to Purgatory, meeting Cato the younger on the way. Bit of an old favourite, that one. Most people will associate this particular punishment with Prometheus who stole the secret of fire from the Gods and gave it to mankind , but in fact Prometheus underwent his punishment chained to a rock in the Caucasus from which Hercules later freed him.

The chap who had to go through to the same thing in the Underworld was the giant Tityus, who had tried to rape Leto, the mother of Artemis and Apollo. As the demon says: this particular punishment is a bit of an old favourite with Zeus. Got to keep pushing that rock up the hill even though it rolls back all the time--'". Eric is thinking of king Sisyphus of Corinth, who betrayed Zeus to the father of the girl Aegina, whom Zeus had abducted the girl, not the father.

In Greece she was called Persephone, daughter of Ceres, the goddess of agriculture. If you ask a question in a reply, be sure to change the subject line to indicate that you're asking a question. Also, pare quotation of previous messages to the minimum consistent with cluing in new readers. Do not simply hit reply to a list message in order to start an entirely new thread. This will limit your audience. Some mail readers, like mutt, allow the user to sort by thread and then hide messages in a thread by folding the thread.

Folks who do that will never see your message. Changing the subject is not sufficient. Mutt, and probably other mail readers, looks at other information in the e-mail's headers to assign it to a thread, not the subject line. Instead start an entirely new e-mail. On Web forums the rules of good practice are slightly different, because messages are usually much more tightly bound to specific discussion threads and often invisible outside those threads.

Changing the subject when asking a question in reply is not essential. Not all forums even allow separate subject lines on replies, and nearly nobody reads them when they do. However, asking a question in a reply is a dubious practice in itself, because it will only be seen by those who are watching this thread. So, unless you are sure you want to ask only the people currently active in the thread, start a new one.

If you can't be bothered to take even the few seconds required to set up a correct Reply-To header in your mail agent, we can't be bothered to take even a few seconds to think about your problem.

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If your mail program doesn't permit this, get a better mail program. If your operating system doesn't support any e-mail programs that permit this, get a better operating system. In Web forums, asking for a reply by e-mail is outright rude, unless you believe the information may be sensitive and somebody will, for some unknown reason, let you but not the whole forum know it. We've found by experience that people who are careless and sloppy writers are usually also careless and sloppy at thinking and coding often enough to bet on, anyway.

Answering questions for careless and sloppy thinkers is not rewarding; we'd rather spend our time elsewhere. So expressing your question clearly and well is important. If you can't be bothered to do that, we can't be bothered to pay attention. Spend the extra effort to polish your language. It doesn't have to be stiff or formal — in fact, hacker culture values informal, slangy and humorous language used with precision. But it has to be precise; there has to be some indication that you're thinking and paying attention.

Spell, punctuate, and capitalize correctly. All-smalls is only slightly less annoying, as it's difficult to read. Alan Cox can get away with it, but you can't. More generally, if you write like a semi-literate boob you will very likely be ignored. So don't use instant-messaging shortcuts. Spelling "you" as "u" makes you look like a semi-literate boob to save two entire keystrokes. Worse: writing like a l33t script kiddie hax0r is the absolute kiss of death and guarantees you will receive nothing but stony silence or, at best, a heaping helping of scorn and sarcasm in return.

If you are asking questions in a forum that does not use your native language, you will get a limited amount of slack for spelling and grammar errors — but no extra slack at all for laziness and yes, we can usually spot that difference. Also, unless you know what your respondent's languages are, write in English. Busy hackers tend to simply flush questions in languages they don't understand, and English is the working language of the Internet. By writing in English you minimize your chances that your question will be discarded unread.

If you are writing in English but it is a second language for you, it is good form to alert potential respondents to potential language difficulties and options for getting around them. I am familiar with the technical terms, but some slang expressions and idioms are difficult for me. I'll be glad to translate responses, if you only use one or the other. If you make your question artificially hard to read, it is more likely to be passed over in favor of one that isn't. Send plain text mail, not HTML.

It's not hard to turn off HTML. MIME attachments are usually OK, but only if they are real content such as an attached source file or patch , and not merely boilerplate generated by your mail client such as another copy of your message. Don't send e-mail in which entire paragraphs are single multiply-wrapped lines.

This makes it too difficult to reply to just part of the message. Assume that your respondents will be reading mail on character-wide text displays and set your line wrap accordingly, to something less than However, do not wrap data such as log file dumps or session transcripts at any fixed column width. Data should be included as-is, so respondents can have confidence that they are seeing what you saw. This encoding can be necessary when you're posting in a language ASCII doesn't cover, but many e-mail agents don't support it.

Never, ever expect hackers to be able to read closed proprietary document formats like Microsoft Word or Excel. Most hackers react to these about as well as you would to having a pile of steaming pig manure dumped on your doorstep.


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Even when they can cope, they resent having to do so. This is so you'll avoid sprinkling garbage characters through your mail. A smiley or two is usually OK, but colored fancy text tends to make people think you are lame. Seriously overusing smileys and color and fonts will make you come off like a giggly teenage girl, which is not generally a good idea unless you are more interested in sex than answers.

If you're using a graphical-user-interface mail client such as Netscape Messenger, MS Outlook, or their ilk, beware that it may violate these rules when used with its default settings. Use this on something in your sent-mail folder, verifying sending of plain text without unnecessary attached crud. Describe the environment in which it occurs machine, OS, application, whatever. Provide your vendor's distribution and release level e. Describe the diagnostic steps you took to try and pin down the problem yourself before you asked the question.

If at all possible, provide a way to reproduce the problem in a controlled environment. Do the best you can to anticipate the questions a hacker will ask, and answer them in advance in your request for help. Giving hackers the ability to reproduce the problem in a controlled environment is especially important if you are reporting something you think is a bug in code. When you do this, your odds of getting a useful answer and the speed with which you are likely to get that answer both improve tremendously.

I strongly recommend that you read it. You need to be precise and informative. This end is not served by simply dumping huge volumes of code or data into a help request. If you have a large, complicated test case that is breaking a program, try to trim it and make it as small as possible. This is useful for at least three reasons. One: being seen to invest effort in simplifying the question makes it more likely you'll get an answer, Two: simplifying the question makes it more likely you'll get a useful answer. Three: In the process of refining your bug report, you may develop a fix or workaround yourself.

When you are having problems with a piece of software, don't claim you have found a bug unless you are very, very sure of your ground. Hint: unless you can provide a source-code patch that fixes the problem, or a regression test against a previous version that demonstrates incorrect behavior, you are probably not sure enough. Remember, there are many other users that are not experiencing your problem. Otherwise you would have learned about it while reading the documentation and searching the Web you did do that before complaining, didn't you?

This means that very probably it is you who are doing something wrong, not the software. The people who wrote the software work very hard to make it work as well as possible. If you claim you have found a bug, you'll be impugning their competence, which may offend some of them even if you are correct. When asking your question, it is best to write as though you assume you are doing something wrong, even if you are privately pretty sure you have found an actual bug. If there really is a bug, you will hear about it in the answer. Play it so the maintainers will want to apologize to you if the bug is real, rather than so that you will owe them an apology if you have messed up.

Some people who get that they shouldn't behave rudely or arrogantly, demanding an answer, retreat to the opposite extreme of grovelling. This is distracting and unhelpful. It's especially annoying when it's coupled with vagueness about the actual problem. Don't waste your time, or ours, on crude primate politics.

Instead, present the background facts and your question as clearly as you can. That is a better way to position yourself than by grovelling. Sometimes Web forums have separate places for newbie questions. If you feel you do have a newbie question, just go there. But don't grovel there either. It's not useful to tell hackers what you think is causing your problem. If your diagnostic theories were such hot stuff, would you be consulting others for help?

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So, make sure you're telling them the raw symptoms of what goes wrong, rather than your interpretations and theories. Let them do the interpretation and diagnosis. If you feel it's important to state your guess, clearly label it as such and describe why that answer isn't working for you. I'm getting back-to-back SIG11 errors on kernel compiles, and suspect a hairline crack on one of the motherboard traces.

What's the best way to check for those? Rebooting doesn't restart the clock, but powering down overnight does. Swapping out all RAM didn't help. The relevant part of a typical compile session log follows. Since the preceding point seems to be a tough one for many people to grasp, here's a phrase to remind you: "All diagnosticians are from Missouri. Vandiver said "I come from a country that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me.

I'm from Missouri. You've got to show me. Show us. The clues most useful in figuring out something that went wrong often lie in the events immediately prior. So, your account should describe precisely what you did, and what the machine and software did, leading up to the blowup. In the case of command-line processes, having a session log e.

If the program that blew up on you has diagnostic options such as -v for verbose , try to select options that will add useful debugging information to the transcript. Remember that more is not necessarily better; try to choose a debug level that will inform rather than drowning the reader in junk. If your account ends up being long more than about four paragraphs , it might be useful to succinctly state the problem up top, then follow with the chronological tale. That way, hackers will know what to watch for in reading your account.

If you are trying to find out how to do something as opposed to reporting a bug , begin by describing the goal. Only then describe the particular step towards it that you are blocked on. Often, people who need technical help have a high-level goal in mind and get stuck on what they think is one particular path towards the goal. They come for help with the step, but don't realize that the path is wrong.

It can take substantial effort to get past this. I'm trying to replace the color table on an image with values of my choosing. Right now the only way I can see to do this is by editing each table slot, but I can't get FooDraw's color picker to take a hexadecimal RGB value. The second version of the question is smart. It allows an answer that suggests a tool better suited to the task. Hackers believe solving problems should be a public, transparent process during which a first try at an answer can and should be corrected if someone more knowledgeable notices that it is incomplete or incorrect.

Also, helpers get some of their reward for being respondents from being seen to be competent and knowledgeable by their peers. When you ask for a private reply, you are disrupting both the process and the reward. Don't do this. It's the respondent's choice whether to reply privately — and if he or she does, it's usually because he or she thinks the question is too ill-formed or obvious to be interesting to others.

There is one limited exception to this rule. It is courteous to try and save the mailing list or newsgroup a flood of substantially identical postings — but you have to keep the promise to summarize. Open-ended questions tend to be perceived as open-ended time sinks. Those people most likely to be able to give you a useful answer are also the busiest people if only because they take on the most work themselves.

People like that are allergic to open-ended time sinks, thus they tend to be allergic to open-ended questions. You are more likely to get a useful response if you are explicit about what you want respondents to do provide pointers, send code, check your patch, whatever. This will focus their effort and implicitly put an upper bound on the time and energy a respondent must allocate to helping you. This is good. To understand the world the experts live in, think of expertise as an abundant resource and time to respond as a scarce one.

The less of a time commitment you implicitly ask for, the more likely you are to get an answer from someone really good and really busy. So it is useful to frame your question to minimize the time commitment required for an expert to field it — but this is often not the same thing as simplifying the question. If you have some malfunctioning code, it is usually smarter to ask for someone to explain what's wrong with it than it is to ask someone to fix it.

Don't ask others to debug your broken code without giving a hint what sort of problem they should be searching for. Posting a few hundred lines of code, saying "it doesn't work", will get you ignored. The most effective way to be precise about a code problem is to provide a minimal bug-demonstrating test case. What's a minimal test case? It's an illustration of the problem; just enough code to exhibit the undesirable behavior and no more.

How do you make a minimal test case? If you know what line or section of code is producing the problematic behavior, make a copy of it and add just enough supporting code to produce a complete example i. If you can't narrow it down to a particular section, make a copy of the source and start removing chunks that don't affect the problematic behavior.

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Generating a really small minimal test case will not always be possible, but trying to is good discipline. It may help you learn what you need to solve the problem on your own — and even when it doesn't, hackers like to see that you have tried. It will make them more cooperative. If you simply want a code review, say as much up front, and be sure to mention what areas you think might particularly need review and why.

Hackers are good at spotting homework questions; most of us have done them ourselves. Those questions are for you to work out, so that you will learn from the experience.

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It is OK to ask for hints, but not for entire solutions. While the hackers will spot it, some of the advanced users may at least give you a hint. In general, asking yes-or-no questions is a good thing to avoid unless you want a yes-or-no answer. That's your problem, not ours. Claiming urgency is very likely to be counter-productive: most hackers will simply delete such messages as rude and selfish attempts to elicit immediate and special attention.

Furthermore, the word 'Urgent' and other similar attempts to grab attention in the subject line often triggers spam filters - your intended recipients might never see it at all! There is one semi-exception. It can be worth mentioning if you're using the program in some high-profile place, one that the hackers will get excited about; in such a case, if you're under time pressure, and you say so politely, people may get interested enough to answer faster. This is a very risky thing to do, however, because the hackers' metric for what is exciting probably differs from yours.

Posting from the International Space Station would qualify, for example, but posting on behalf of a feel-good charitable or political cause would almost certainly not. If you find this mysterious, re-read the rest of this how-to repeatedly until you understand it before posting anything at all. Be courteous. Make it clear you appreciate the time people spend helping you for free. To be honest, this isn't as important as and cannot substitute for being grammatical, clear, precise and descriptive, avoiding proprietary formats etc. If this puzzles you, remember that we value a question by what it teaches us.

However, if you've got your technical ducks in a row, politeness does increase your chances of getting a useful answer. Some hackers feel this connotes an intention not to thank anybody afterwards. Send a note after the problem has been solved to all who helped you; let them know how it came out and thank them again for their help. If the problem attracted general interest in a mailing list or newsgroup, it's appropriate to post the followup there. Thanks, everyone. In fact, a short and sweet summary is better than a long dissertation unless the solution has real technical depth.

Say what action solved the problem, but you need not replay the whole troubleshooting sequence. For problems with some depth, it is appropriate to post a summary of the troubleshooting history. Describe your final problem statement. Describe what worked as a solution, and indicate avoidable blind alleys after that. The blind alleys should come after the correct solution and other summary material, rather than turning the follow-up into a detective story. Name the names of people who helped you; you'll make friends that way.

Last, and not least, this sort of followup helps everybody who assisted feel a satisfying sense of closure about the problem. If you are not a techie or hacker yourself, trust us that this feeling is very important to the gurus and experts you tapped for help. Problem narratives that trail off into unresolved nothingness are frustrating things; hackers itch to see them resolved. The goodwill that scratching that itch earns you will be very, very helpful to you next time you need to pose a question. Consider how you might be able to prevent others from having the same problem in the future.

Ask yourself if a documentation or FAQ patch would help, and if the answer is yes send that patch to the maintainer. Among hackers, this sort of good followup behavior is actually more important than conventional politeness. It's how you get a reputation for playing well with others, which can be a very valuable asset. He or she is almost certainly right. Go read it. RTFM has a younger relative.

Go search it. In Web forums, you may also be told to search the forum archives.


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In fact, someone may even be so kind as to provide a pointer to the previous thread where this problem was solved. But do not rely on this consideration; do your archive-searching before asking. Often, the person telling you to do a search has the manual or the web page with the information you need open, and is looking at it as he or she types. These replies mean that the responder thinks a the information you need is easy to find, and b you will learn more if you seek out the information than if you have it spoon-fed to you.

You shouldn't be offended by this; by hacker standards, your respondent is showing you a rough kind of respect simply by not ignoring you. You should instead be thankful for this grandmotherly kindness. If you don't understand the answer, do not immediately bounce back a demand for clarification. Use the same tools that you used to try and answer your original question manuals, FAQs, the Web, skilled friends to understand the answer. Then, if you still need to ask for clarification, exhibit what you have learned. Neither of them says anything about clearing zentries.

Is it one of these or am I missing something here? Much of what looks like rudeness in hacker circles is not intended to give offense. Rather, it's the product of the direct, cut-through-the-bullshit communications style that is natural to people who are more concerned about solving problems than making others feel warm and fuzzy.

When you perceive rudeness, try to react calmly. If someone is really acting out, it is very likely a senior person on the list or newsgroup or forum will call him or her on it. If that doesn't happen and you lose your temper, it is likely that the person you lose it at was behaving within the hacker community's norms and you will be considered at fault. This will hurt your chances of getting the information or help you want.

On the other hand, you will occasionally run across rudeness and posturing that is quite gratuitous. The flip-side of the above is that it is acceptable form to slam real offenders quite hard, dissecting their misbehavior with a sharp verbal scalpel. Be very, very sure of your ground before you try this, however. The line between correcting an incivility and starting a pointless flamewar is thin enough that hackers themselves not infrequently blunder across it; if you are a newbie or an outsider, your chances of avoiding such a blunder are low.

If you're after information rather than entertainment, it's better to keep your fingers off the keyboard than to risk this. 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. Jeff Bigler's observations about tact filters are also relevant and worth reading. Odds are you'll screw up a few times on hacker community forums — in ways detailed in this article, or similar.

And you'll be told exactly how you screwed up, possibly with colourful asides. In public.

When this happens, the worst thing you can do is whine about the experience, claim to have been verbally assaulted, demand apologies, scream, hold your breath, threaten lawsuits, complain to people's employers, leave the toilet seat up, etc. Instead, here's what you do:. Community standards do not maintain themselves: They're maintained by people actively applying them, visibly, in public.

Don't whine that all criticism should have been conveyed via private e-mail: That's not how it works. Nor is it useful to insist you've been personally insulted when someone comments that one of your claims was wrong, or that his views differ. Those are loser attitudes. Remember: When that hacker tells you that you've screwed up, and no matter how gruffly tells you not to do it again, he's acting out of concern for 1 you and 2 his community.

It would be much easier for him to ignore you and filter you out of his life. If you can't manage to be grateful, at least have a little dignity, don't whine, and don't expect to be treated like a fragile doll just because you're a newcomer with a theatrically hypersensitive soul and delusions of entitlement. Sometimes people will attack you personally, flame without an apparent reason, etc. In this case, complaining is the way to really screw up.

These flamers are either lamers who don't have a clue but believe themselves to be experts, or would-be psychologists testing whether you'll screw up. The other readers either ignore them, or find ways to deal with them on their own. The flamers' behavior creates problems for themselves, which don't have to concern you. Don't let yourself be drawn into a flamewar, either. Most flames are best ignored — after you've checked whether they are really flames, not pointers to the ways in which you have screwed up, and not cleverly ciphered answers to your real question this happens as well.

Here are some classic stupid questions, and what hackers are thinking when they don't answer them. The same place I'd find it, fool — at the other end of a web search. Ghod, doesn't everybody know how to use Google yet? 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.

Questions of this form often indicate a person who is not merely ignorant about X, but confused about what problem Y they are solving and too fixated on the details of their particular situation. It is generally best to ignore such people until they define their problem better. If you're smart enough to ask this question, you're smart enough to RTFM and find out yourself. This is not a question, and I'm not interested in playing Twenty Questions to pry your actual question out of you — I have better things to do. On seeing something like this, my reaction is normally of one of the following:.

Note: you can ask questions related to Windows machines if they are about a program that does have an official Windows build, or interacts with Windows machines i. Just don't be surprised by the reply that the problem is with Windows and not the program, because Windows is so broken in general that this is very often the case.

While it is possible that you are the first person to notice an obvious deficiency in system calls and libraries heavily used by hundreds or thousands of people, it is rather more likely that you are utterly clueless. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; when you make a claim like this one, you must back it up with clear and exhaustive documentation of the failure case.

I'd need hands-on access to your machine to troubleshoot this. Go ask your local Linux user group for hands-on help. You can find a list of user groups here. Note: questions about installing Linux may be appropriate if you're on a forum or mailing list about a particular distribution, and the problem is with that distro; or on local user groups forums. In this case, be sure to describe the exact details of the failure. But do careful searching first, with "linux" and all suspicious pieces of hardware.

Finally, I'm going to illustrate how to ask questions in a smart way by example; pairs of questions about the same problem, one asked in a stupid way and one in a smart way. This question just begs for "STFW" as a reply. The querent has specified the environment, read the FAQ, is showing the error, and is not assuming his problems are someone else's fault. This one might be worth some attention.

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Do you need burping and diapering, too? This person, on the other hand, seems worthy of an answer. In fact, the form of that last question is closely based on a real incident that happened in August on the linux-kernel mailing list lkml. I Eric was the one asking the question that time. I was seeing mysterious lockups on a Tyan S motherboard. The list members supplied the critical information I needed to solve them.

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.



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