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CODE4LIB  March 2016

CODE4LIB March 2016

Subject:

Re: reearch project about feeling stupid in professional communication

From:

Cary Gordon <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Code for Libraries <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 21 Mar 2016 13:18:30 -0700

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text/plain

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text/plain (38 lines)

I apologize for not taking this off list quite yet.

The last post had me both laughing and crying, and I believe that you are quite accurate in your characterization of many open-source projects.

It reminded me of my freshman “honors” calculus class, which was taught by by a full professor with the social skills of an anteater. The book was a grad-level calculus review translated word-by-word from French with not even the slightest acknowledgement of the concept of grammar in either language. One day, my friend went to see the prof to ask for an explanation of one of his incomprehensible lectures. He replied by stating that “If you can’t understand it, I can’t see how I can help you!” Not unsurprisingly, everyone who had taken calc in high school got a B in the class, and everyone else from this group who had probably carried close to 4.0 averages in high school got a D.

In that case, I believe the prof was simply trying to get the message to his bosses that he hated teaching. I don’t think that the issues with some open-source projects are far off of this.

While there are certainly folks in the “If you can’t understand it, I can’t see how I can help you!”/“Cary, you ignorant fool" class, my experience is that there are many folks in the open-source community — even ones who work on projects with less-than-helpful documentation — who will go to great lengths to help folks get on track. I know that I have been the recipient of such help on many occasions, and that my asking for help has occasionally led to improvements in their misleading or incomplete documentation.


> On Mar 21, 2016, at 12:33 PM, Julie Swierczek <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> 
> Just to clarify: I wasn't talking about this list only.  I am particularly interested in lists related to libraries/archives/museums and technology, but I am also interested in hearing other examples, and about how we have interpreted those examples.  (Tell me a story about it!)  I think that one of the things I'll present or write about are cases where it is not necessarily obvious that a person is belittled by a response.   That is, in reply to a question, a responder says one thing, but what the original questioner heard was "you are too stupid to play with us". 
> 
> Some obvious flame wars involve accusations of stupidity, but I am especially interested in the much more subtle cases where readers might feel stupid even if that is not the author's intent.
> 
> One example that comes to mind is when a group announces that they are releasing a new open source project for institutions of "all sizes" to make it easier for libraries to do this fabulous thing.  So Person X, who is not completely inept with computers, goes to the project site and the instructions are something like this:
> 
> 1. We are not going to tell you which server architecture this works on because you clearly should be smart enough to figure that out.
> 2. Download this package.
> 3. Compile the package.  
> 4. Obviously there are 300 dependencies, but we are not going to tell you what they are. Any decent institution would have them installed already.
> 5. Change system configurations to serve local needs.  We're not going to tell you what that means or how to do it.
> 6. Use the API from your ILS to feed in this data. If your current API doesn't work, please write one according to the specs on some other project you've never heard of.  Note that the documentation of that other project hasn't been updated in eleven years, but you'll figure it out. What? Your library catalog doesn't have an API?!?!?!  You must be joking.  *Everyone* has an API. 
> 7. Earn a PhD in computer science.
> 8. Change your entire server environment including reinstalling your ILS on some other platform, breaking everything and requiring tens of thousands of dollars in development work to put all the pieces back together again.
> 9. Type the following commands in the command line.  Note that they look like a SHA-256 hash, but they are actually really simple commands that everyone should know.
> 10. Voila!  it works.
> addendum: We did not include any help instructions. You can just read the code if you need to figure something out.
> 
> The group offering the program probably does not intend for their directions to come across this way, but that is what sometimes happens, and Person X now feels like an idiot and doesn't want to participate anymore.   
> 
> So, I am looking for something more subtle here than the obvious mudslinging you can find in most tech forums.  As to the question of whether that happens here or not, I would generally say no, except that I - and most likely all readers here - have not read every single message of the list archives, word for word, so something could have passed our notice.  There have most likely been multiple instances where someone asked a question in a way that would indicate that the person is new at this, and the answer was much more technically sophisticated than the level of the question. I am sure examples abound.
> 
> I don't want to take up more space on the list talking about this, so please feel free to contact me off-list at [log in to unmask]  Thank you. 
> 
> Julie

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