Bob Young posted <FAEEIJPAOFEMBBLKPMJEAEEJDOAA.BYoung@...>,
excerpted below, on Fri, 09 Dec 2005 13:14:55 -0800:
>>2) For those with content worth reading, the content is /just/ as worth
>>reading in plain text. It doesn't need HTML to fancy it up or obscure
>>it. In fact, those who DO seem to /need/ HTML, don't often seem to have
>>much worth reading -- the spammers, the crackers, and the AOLer types
>>that don't even WANT to know how their computer operates, thus being the
>>ones most likely to be spreading the malware in the /first/ place,
>>therefore the ones anyone who cares about their security is /least/
>>likely to want to have sending them HTML.
> That's waay too general a statement to be valid, and frankly smacks of a
> bit of elitism and snobbery. Not everyone who sends html email is a
> spammer or cracker, and just because someone isn't interested in
> learning what L2 cache is, doesn't mean they are automatically unworthy
> of a response to their request for help.
Excerpts from Eric S Raymond's "How To Ask Questions The Smart Way". Read
the whole thing here, it's worth it! [My comments in brackets as so.]
The first thing to understand is that hackers actually like hard problems
and good, thought-provoking questions about them. If we didn't, we
wouldn't be here. If you give us an interesting question to chew on we'll
be grateful to you; good questions are a stimulus and a gift. Good
questions help us develop our understanding, and often reveal problems we
might not have noticed or thought about otherwise. Among hackers, "Good
question!" is a strong and sincere compliment.
[Absolutely, positively, so! I should mention at this point that "Good
argument" is about equally a compliment, and that's exactly what you are
doing, so don't take anything below as an insult. It's rather the
opposite, or it wouldn't have gotten this far.]
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, they
waste time we could have spent on another question more interesting and
another person more worthy of an answer. We call people like this
"losers" (and for historical reasons we sometimes spell it
We realize that there are many people who just want to use the software we
write, and have no interest in learning technical details.  We
acknowledge that, and don't expect everyone to take an interest in the
technical matters that fascinate us. Nevertheless, our style of answering
questions is tuned for people who do take such an interest and are willing
to be active participants in problem-solving. That's not going to change.
Nor should it; if it did, we would become less effective at the things we
We're (largely) volunteers. We take time out of busy lives to answer
questions, and at times we're overwhelmed with them. So we filter
ruthlessly. In particular, we throw away questions from people who appear
to be losers in order to spend our question-answering time more
efficiently, on winners.
[That's basically it! And filtering on HTML, after a simple request not
to use it, is part of that filtering ruthlessly! However, keep reading.]
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.
[Emphasis. It *IS* OK to be ignorant, that's what the asking nicely and
explaining why is all about. It's *NOT* OK to play stupid... or one just
gets passed by... it's more efficient to spend time more productively
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
[Exactly. Just because we donate our time for free doesn't mean we don't
consider it valuable!]
If you decide to come to us for help, you don't want to be one of the
losers. You don't want to seem like one, either. The best way to get a
rapid and responsive answer is to ask it like a person with smarts,
confidence, and clues who just happens to need help on one particular
[...You don't want to seem like one, either... And the fastest way to
find oneself ignored is to turn down repeated invitations to quit seeming
like one. Again, that's in general, not you, or this wouldn't have been
>>The two factors coupled together, the security issue and the lack of
>>content that really /needs/ html to be valuable (if it /needs/ it, send
>>a link, parsing HTML is what BROWSERS are for!), are persuasive enough
>>for many of us.
> You're certainly entitled to your opinion, it just seems that the
> arguments you're basing it on are rooted in the past, and don't allow
> for the possibility that maybe things are different now, or that your
> perception is colored by prejudices and generalizations that are
I won't argue the point altho I obviously disagree, but it's not just /my/
opinion, and it just so happens that enough folks with enough answers have
the same general opinion, that cutting them out of one's query audience,
or of the audience that finds a reply worth their time, is precisely the
sort of mistake the folks doing most of the querying should be worried
about making, which is what I'm pointing out.
Sure, folks can continue to post HTML if they want. I'll even defend
their right to do so (see below). However, that doesn't alter the fact
that many use that as convenient reason to "ruthlessly filter", so if they
see the question at all, they'll quickly stop paying attention to that
poster if they don't kindly stop -- don't seem cooperative -- when asked
nicely to do so.
> Do you allow html to be rendered when you browse the web? If so, why is
> email more dangerous when your email client can easily be configured to
> render html just as safely as your browser?
Because it's a way of cutting down the noise. There's the security
aspect, but there's noise as well. "Ruthlessly filter..."
As for the browser, that's what it was designed for. That's NOT what mail
was designed for. As I stated, links to a web page are perfectly fine,
where that may be necessary, but let the mail communicate a plain message
in the manner intended, and let the web be for what it was intended for,
and let us folks do our "ruthless filtering" as just one more way of
managing all the signals competing for attention at once.
All that said... a very real observation... it can be a very humbling
experience when one /used/ to being one of the technical elite ends up in
in the company of those equally or better skilled than he is. I've been
in that situation, and it does take a bit to adjust. Personally, I'm of
the opinion that's one of the big reasons behind the big ego clashes
familiar to anyone that has been in FLOSS for long. People used to
playing the roll of /the/ answer guru, used to having folks therefore do
as they are asked with little question because they haven't the
knowledget to question, now finding they know less about something they
none-the-less have formed strong opinions on, than the next guy, with
equally strong opinions. Big egos -- someone gets theirs crushed.
After being in the position myself, thereby knowing what it feels
like, I've seen it happen on the Gentoo-dev list, among other places, a
number of times. It's also the root behind the xorg/xfree fork, and the
dynamic that is continuing to keep reiser4 out of the mainline kernel.
Anyway, I /do/ try to be personally mindful of that, which again is one
reason I try to ask, and explain nicely. Of course, we all are human, and
it doesn't always come out as intended.
One more angle, I've been on the other side of a similar debate, as well,
and as a result know the mail/news/mime RFCs probably rather better than
most. HTML (or the wrapped lines of text-flowed, in my case) doesn't
generally break them (tho some implementations might in some minor detail
or another), but rather, goes beyond them, while being backward
compatible. Great! And, folks are free to use it if they desire. However,
folks are equally free to filter them for doing so! Both freedoms are
considered more or less absolute on lists or newsgroups. That said, the
one group tends to have more power because they are the ones the other
group tends to be asking favors of. Thus, the group asking the favors can
behave as they like, but the one with the ability to grant them is
ultimately calling the shots.
Duncan - List replies preferred. No HTML msgs.
"Every nonfree program has a lord, a master --
and if you use the program, he is your master." Richard Stallman in
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