Mail list predators

Tkil tkil at
Mon Jul 22 17:46:55 CDT 2002

>>>>> "Jason" == Jason Annin-White <jasona at> writes:

Jason> some of us are [...] are making an effort to learn perl, but
Jason> don't necesarily have the luxury of taking classes or spending
Jason> hours reading the manuals.

One way to look at "live" help (especially of the free variety, such
as this list, IRC, usenet, etc) is that we can help you reduce those
hours to minutes.  There's a huge difference between:

   "Please tell me how to do X, I'm too hurried to read the manual"


   "Where can I find out more about X?  I've read the Y, Z, and T
   manual pages, and they seem close, but not quite.  Here's what I've
   tried so far ... and it still doesn't work".

If nothing else, the latter shows that you have tried to help yourself
(and just need that last nudge over the crest of the hill) vs.
expecting someone to lift you the whole way.

In this particular case, I belive it was a miscommunication that
sparked the worst of it (see below).

Jason> I don't understand why people who obviouly have the answers to
Jason> my strait-forward questions respond with violence and
Jason> condescention rather than taking an equivalent amount of time
Jason> to be helpful.  

It's a variant on the fish fable:

   Give someone a fish, and they eat for a day;
   Teach someone to fish, and they eat for a lifetime.

In this case, if we just gave you the fish, the odds are that you
would be back tomorrow with another question; or maybe you just had a
one-time use for perl, and would wander off after we did your work for

This can lead to bitterness and burnout on the part of the "perl

Jason> This is not a stomping ground for the perl elite, it is a place
Jason> for people like me to get help when they need it.

It's also a place for the "perl elite" to hang out and visit with each
other and share insights.  There's a reason that FAQ lists are so
common -- the wizards get tired of answering the same thing over and
over again.

Put another way, the "perl elite" ("perlite?") would like to get
something out of most of these exchanges: anything from a simple warm
fuzzy from helping someone out, to reputation building, to learning
new techniques.  Having someone ask for help, then ignore it and ask
again, pretty much kills all of these, and there's no motivation left
(except maybe for people venting, which I agree is poor form).

Would you rather get your hand held by wizards when you're first
getting started (and have them be burned out when you really need
help)?  Or would you prefer to be put off a little at the beginning,
so that they're available for deeper questions?

Jason> If you aren't up to the task of helping others, please don't
Jason> reply to their requests for help.


Jason> My fondness for perl is based largely on the community.  

Odd; I like perl because it thinks the way I do.  Or, I think the way
it does.  Either way, my appreciation for the language and its power
and expressiveness predates my involvement with the community.

Jason> There are times I feel this list is failing that community, 

Please don't try guilt trips.  They're very very annoying.

Jason> not because of a lack in information, but because of the way
Jason> competent coders are treated when they ask for the benefit of
Jason> other's experience.

I've largely dropped out of the active Perl community for this
reason.  Even though I know it's only a very few people, they made the
experience of trying to help others deeply poisonous by their very
presence.  It helps to have thick skin in these parts; mine isn't
thick enough, but at least e-mail is mellow enough to not get my blood
pressure up too high.

In my experience, Tom Phoenix is NOT one of these evil people, and
neither is Randal.  In fact, I think of Tom as a kind, patient, and
courteous person on IRC and UseNet.

I expect that his sharp reply was due to his perception that you were
ignoring Randal and trying to do it your way even after Randal told
you a better way.  You asked for the benefit of others' experience,
and then you seemed to ignore it.  Why should they then treat your
next query with any respect, since you don't respect them?  (I'm not
saying that this is how they feel about it, I'm just conjecturing.)

Finally, remember that even the "perl elite" are human, and can get up
on the wrong side of the bed, and have bad days just like the rest of
us.  If you do get grumpy e-mail, just let it go.


p.s. Sorry for being so long-winded about it.  This isn't the first
     time I've hit this phenomenon; when it was happening on the #perl
     channel, I ended up writing this:


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