From: Peter Freddolino (petefred_at_ks.uiuc.edu)
Date: Wed Jun 14 2006 - 09:16:58 CDT
since we're going by Raymond's Rules of Order (which is also linked from
the NAMD-L signup page), please allow me to quote from his section on
"How to Answer Questions in a Helpful Way" (This is not just addressed
to you, Mark, but it is a helpful note to the community on the other
side of what you linked yesterday):
/Be gentle./ Problem-related stress can make people seem rude or stupid
even when they're not.
/Reply to a first offender off-line./ There is no need of public
humiliation for someone who may have made an honest mistake. A real
newbie may not know how to search archives or where the FAQ is stored or
While just muttering RTFM is sometimes justified when replying to
someone who is just a lazy slob, a pointer to documentation (even if
it's just a suggestion to google for a key phrase) is better.
/If you're going to answer the question at all, give good value./ Don't
suggest kludgy workarounds when somebody is using the wrong tool or
approach. Suggest good tools. Reframe the question.
/Help your community learn from the question./ When you field a good
question, ask yourself How would the relevant documentation or FAQ have
to change so that nobody has to answer this again? Then send a patch to
the document maintainer.
Please also allow me to post, for the record, the steps listed on the
NAMD-L signup page that one should follow in the process of writing to
and test NAMD 2.6b1
<http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Research/namd/current/announce.html>, the most
Direct questions regarding the tutorials
<http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Training/Tutorials/> to the Tutorial-L mailing
list <http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Training/Tutorials/mailing_list/>; check
Please check NamdWiki <http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Research/namd/wiki/>
notes <http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Research/namd/current/notes.html>, user's
guide <http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Research/namd/current/ug/>, tutorials
<http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Training/Tutorials/>, and the rest of the NAMD
web site <http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Research/namd/> resources.
Please read How To Ask Questions The Smart Way
<http://www.catb.org/%7Eesr/faqs/smart-questions.html>, but do not
Eric S. Raymond and Rick Moen (the authors of that page) with questions
about NAMD or anything else.
To send a message to NAMD-L, *subscribe to the list* and then send a
message of under 40,000 characters *from your subscribed address* to
I definitely do prefer talking to people who have done their research
first, and don't mind pointing them to the manual if they have not;
however, it is not necessary to publicly rebuke them, particularly when
the second part of the initial post is a perfectly valid question which
can't be found in the manual (arguably it should have been addressed
directly to the NAMD devs, but I don't think the poster was aware of the
distinction). I am aware that you have acknowledged that it may have
been unnecessary to give your reply on list, and I do appreciate that.
Making people afraid to answer questions is just as much of a concern
for a list of this type as having too many bad questions; both of them
eventually drive people away from the list. I hope that we can all agree
to try to be aware of the resources outside of the mailing list and try
using them before asking questions on list, and at the same time try to
be courteous to people who do come to the list in need of help. No one
has the "right" to have their question answered or the obligation to
answer questions, but I think we should all try hard to keep questions
and answers constructive when they do occur.
Mark Abraham wrote:
> Joshua D. Moore wrote:
>> Dear Mark,
>> I (and I hope others) find your remark unacceptable. Many people who
>> just starting out may ask questions that you do not want to answer.
>> Instead of replying in a rude way, DON'T REPLY. Many questions go
>> unanswered in this "user list", some because no one knows the answer and
>> some because the user may find the answer in the user manual.
> People often miscommunicate in written media, and the chief burden of
> effective communication rightly belongs with the person doing the
> writing, who on mailing lists such as this is also asking for free
> advice. There is a widely accepted discussion of protocol for posting
> help requests to mailing lists (and answering them) available here
> http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html. The particular
> context for that protocol is analogous to that which exists here, and
> I am far from alone in wanting people to follow it. I do concede that
> first time requesters may be unaware of these issues, however, and
> should have replied to the requester off-list in this instance.
> I quote from the introduction on that site:
> "Despite this, hackers have a reputation for meeting simple questions
> with what looks like hostility or arrogance. It sometimes looks like
> we're reflexively rude to newbies and the ignorant. But this isn't
> really true.
> What we are, unapologetically, is hostile to people who seem to be
> unwilling to think or to do their own homework before asking
> questions. People like that are time sinks they take without giving
> back, and they waste time we could have spent on another question more
> interesting and another person more worthy of an answer.
> If you find this attitude obnoxious, condescending, or arrogant, check
> your assumptions. We're not asking you to genuflect to us in fact,
> most of us would love nothing more than to deal with you as an equal
> and welcome you into our culture, if you put in the effort required to
> make that possible. But it's simply not efficient for us to try to
> help people who are not willing to help themselves. It's OK to be
> ignorant; it's not OK to play stupid.
> So, while it isn't necessary to already be technically competent to
> get attention from us, it is necessary to demonstrate the kind of
> attitude that leads to competence alert, thoughtful, observant,
> willing to be an active partner in developing a solution. If you can't
> live with this sort of discrimination, we suggest you pay somebody for
> a commercial support contract instead of asking hackers to personally
> donate help to you."
>> My knowledge is that GBSA is not mentioned in the user manual. There
>> many things not mentioned in the user manual, and a simple message to
>> "user list" never hurts.
> The original requester didn't demonstrate that they were capable of
> reading the manual to find their own answer to their first question.
> If it is true that they haven't done that, then their attitude of
> expecting someone else to use their time and expertise to solve their
> problem for no gain to the solver is the first problem here. Expecting
> someone else to do that for them is at least as rude as any reply I
> made. In fact, according to the above link
> http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html#rtfm, pointing out
> to someone they should read the manual "is showing [you] a rough kind
> of respect simply by not ignoring [you]".
> If they have looked in the manual, then they should demonstrate that -
> because people are much more likely to help people who have tried to
> help themselves.
> A request to a mailing list can "hurt". There can be hundreds of
> people on the list, all of whom are indirectly paying for the network
> traffic generated by the email request, and all of whom then have to
> use their time to read the message and filter out the requests they
> want to ignore. Once this reaches a critical mass, most users who are
> willing to help will give up and unsubscribe to avoid drowning in a
> morass of irrelevant noise. People who wish to make requests owe it to
> themselves and others not to abuse the time of others with
> inappropriate requests, lest there be no response to serious requests
>> I have only been using NAMD for approximately 1 year, but I do my
>> best to
>> answer every question that I know the answer to. I hope others continue
>> to do the same.
> I do give constructive help regularly - the traffic on this list is
> low, but I have averaged 47 replies a month in the last three months
> on the GROMACS mailing list. I do this because answering the questions
> teaches me things. I don't have time to help everyone so I will filter
> out people who aren't helping themselves :-)
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