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Table of Contents
RTFM and STFW: How To Tell You've Seriously Screwed Up
If you don't understand...
Dealing with rudeness
On Not Reacting Like A Loser
Questions Not To Ask
Good and Bad Questions
If You Can't Get an Answer

Copied from the netscape.public.mozilla.general newsgroup on news.mozilla.org

Posted by -=Straxus=- (a.k.a. David Spade)

You may find some of this offensive. I found it pretty funny. And instructive.

Also of note:


On 28/07/2003 15:45, Joaquin Menchaca wrote:

>> I know people are under a lot of pressure, but I sometimes get
>> concerned that after reading snide, rude, hostile, or dismissing
>> remarks in Bugzilla, and fear that this might discourage people.  Much
>> of the information quickly gets outdated, and people shouldn't be
>> afraid to ask questions.
>> Other people feel this?
>> I don't want Mozilla to turn into a closed elitists group like some
>> open project have on the net.  Just thought I would raise the concern
>> for reflection and discussion.

At this point, I feel that I should turn the floor over to a wonderful
section of the Smoothwall Linux FAQ. It is found in its entirety at

Obviously some of the finer details don't apply since it's it is talking
about a Linux distro versus a browser, but the bulk of it is incredibly
applicable to this conversation.


How to Interpret Answers - Table of Contents

RTFM and STFW: How To Tell You've Seriously Screwed Up

There is an ancient and hallowed tradition: if you get a reply that
reads "RTFM", the person who sent it thinks you should have Read The
Fucking Manual. He is almost certainly right. Go read it.

RTFM has a younger relative. If you get a reply that reads "STFW", the
person who sent it thinks you should have Searched The Fucking Web. He
is almost certainly right. Go search it.

Often, the person sending either of these replies has the manual or the
web page with the information you need open, and is looking at it as he
types. These replies mean that he 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, he is showing
you a rough kind of respect simply by not ignoring you. You should
instead thank him for his grandmotherly kindness.

If you don't understand... - Table of Contents

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. If you need to ask for clarification, exhibit
what you have learned.

For example, suppose I tell you: "It sounds like you've got a stuck
zentry; you'll need to clear it." Then: Here's a bad follow-up question:

"What's a zentry?"

Here's a good follow up question:

"OK, I read the man page and zentries are only mentioned under the -z
and -p switches. Neither of them says anything about clearing zentries.
Is it one of these or am I missing something here?"

Dealing with rudeness - Table of Contents

Much of what looks like rudeness in hacker circles is not intended to
give offence. 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 that 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 misbehaviour 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 flame war 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.

(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
if you think of us as brain-damaged. Go ahead. We won't care; we like
being whatever it is we are, and generally have a healthy skepticism
about clinical labels.)

In the next section, we'll talk about a different issue; the kind of
`rudeness' you'll see when you misbehave.

On Not Reacting Like A Loser - Table of Contents

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:

Get over it. It's normal. In fact, it's healthy and appropriate.

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 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.

There have been hacker forums where, out of some misguided sense of
hyper-courtesy, participants are banned from posting any fault-finding
with another's posts, and told "Don't say anything if you're unwilling
to help the user." The resulting departure of clueful participants to
elsewhere causes them to descend into meaningless babble and become
useless as technical forums.

Exaggeratedly "friendly" (in that fashion) or useful: Pick one.

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.

Questions Not To Ask - Table of Contents

Here are some classic stupid questions, and what hackers are
thinking when they don't answer them.

Q: Where can I find program X?

A: The same place I'd find it, fool -- at the other end of a web search.
God, doesn't everybody know how to use Google yet?

Q: My {program, configuration, SQL statement} doesn't work

A: 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:
•do you have anything else to add to that?
•oh, that's too bad, I hope you get it fixed.
•and this has exactly what to do with me?

Q: I'm having problems with my Windows machine. Can you help?

A: Yes. Throw out that Microsoft trash and install Linux.

Q: I'm having problems installing Linux or X. Can you help?

A: No. 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: http://www.linux.org/groups/index.html.

Q: How can I crack root/steal channel-ops privileges/read someone's email?

A: You're a lowlife for wanting to do such things and a moron for asking
a hacker to help you.

Good and Bad Questions - Table of Contents

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.

Stupid: Where can I find out stuff about the Foonly Flurbamatic?

This question just begs for "STFW" as a reply.

Smart: I used Google to try to find "Foonly Flurbamatic 2600" on the
Web, but I got no useful hits. Does anyone know where I can find
programming information on this device?

This one has already SFTWed, and sounds like he might have a real problem.

Stupid: I can't get the code from project foo to compile. Why is it
He assumes that somebody else screwed up. Arrogant of him.

Smart: The code from project foo doesn't compile under Nulix version
6.2. I've read the FAQ, but it doesn't have anything in it about
Nulixrelated problems. Here's a transcript of my compilation attempt; is
it something I did?

He's specified the environment, he's read the FAQ, he's showing the
error, and he's not assuming his problems are someone else's fault. This
guy might be worth some attention.

Stupid: I'm having problems with my motherboard. Can anybody help?

J. Random Hacker's response to this is likely to be "Right. Do you need
burping and diapering, too?" followed by a punch of the delete key.

Smart: I tried X, Y, and Z on the S2464 motherboard. When that didn't
work, I tried A, B, and C. Note the curious symptom when I tried C.
Obviously the florbish is grommicking, but the results aren't what one
might expect. What are the usual causes of grommicking on MP
motherboards? Anybody got ideas for more tests I can run to pin down the

This person, on the other hand, seems worthy of an answer. He has
exhibited problem-solving intelligence rather than waiting for an answer
to drop from on high. In the last question, notice the subtle but
important difference between demanding "Give me an answer" and "Please
help me figure out what additional diagnostics I can run to achieve

In fact, the form of that last question is closely based on a real
incident that happened in August 2001 on the linuxkernel mailing list. I
(Eric) was the one asking the question that time. I was seeing
mysterious lockups on a Tyan S2464 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. I also demonstrated respect for the value of their
time by telling them the blind alleys I had already run down.

Afterwards, when I thanked everyone and remarked how well the process
had worked, an lkml member observed that he thought it had worked not
because I'm a "name" on that list, but because I asked the question in
the proper form.

We hackers are in some ways a very ruthless meritocracy; I'm certain he
was right, and that if I had behaved like a sponge I would have been
flamed or ignored no matter who I was. His suggestion that I write up
the whole incident as an instruction to others led directly to the
composition of this guide.

If You Can't Get an Answer - Table of Contents

If you can't get an answer, please don't take it personally that we
don't feel we can help you. Sometimes the members of the asked group may
simply not know the answer. No response is not the same as being
ignored, though admittedly it's hard to spot the difference from outside.

In general, simply re-posting your question is a bad idea. This will be
seen as pointlessly annoying.

There are other sources of help you can go to, often sources better
adapted to a novice's needs.

There are many online and local user groups who are enthusiasts about
the software, even though they may never have written any software
themselves. These groups often form so that people can help each other
and help new users.

There are also plenty of commercial companies you can contract with for
help, both large and small (Red Hat and LinuxCare are two of the best
known; there are many others). Don't be dismayed at the idea of having
to pay for a bit of help! After all, if your car engine blows a head
gasket, chances are, you will take it to a repair shop and pay to get it
fixed. Even if the software didn't cost you anything, you can't expect
that support will always come for free.

For popular software like Linux, there are at least 10000 users per
developer. It's just not possible for one person to handle the support
calls from over 10000 users. Remember that even if you have to pay for
support, you are still paying much less than if you had to buy the
software as well (and support for closed-source software is usually more
expensive and less competent than support for open-source software).



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