Posts tagged: Asshole

Don’t Be an Open Source Douchebag

I love open source software. It provides both a neat training ground for programmers, a good place to go scratch that itch. On the other side of things, it provides awesome software for people, including some software that would never come out of a big development house.

Still, there are some issues with free software that don’t really show up to the same degree with commercial software. One such thing is documentation. It’s painfully obvious that documentation is written by people who:

  1. Already know the software in and out.
  2. Don’t like writing documentation.
  3. Know nothing about how people learn.

For instance, when I started a side project a few months back, I was looking for a build system. After settling on CMake, I set about trying to make sense of it. There’s the ever-present getting started example, of course. And then there’s the full reference of everything you could possibly want (almost).

But in between those, there’s nothing. Well, nothing except a book, which just goes to show you that there’s something missing — a professional writer could obviously make some money out of explaining things in a reasonable way.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t match how people learn. Getting started is a good step, but a relatively small one. Most of the time will be spent incrementally expanding the knowledge, moving from beginner to expert. Most time will thus be spend in some kind of zone in between the “getting started” and “reference of everything” levels.

Worse than that, some open source programmers have a tendency to view their full reference documentation as an appropriate resource for everyone. “It’s all in there,” right? But pointing a beginner at a 40-page document detailing all the options of some application when all they want is to run it properly isn’t very helpful. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever used an open source command line tool.

That ends us up with the really dark side of free software culture. The true douchebags out there will not only be extremely smartass in their RTFM comments, they’ll also be incredibly sensitive and defensive about the software they’re working on.

I ran into a problem with cygwin’s SSHD implementation last week. In searching for the solution, I found this mail list answer:

  Wrong.  That is uninformed speculation and guesswork.  Stop
spreading misinformation.

  Cygwin SSHD has had the support for fully logging in as any
user since 1.7, as you have already been told and completely
ignored.  Go and read the manual.  The link was in the previous
email I sent in this thread.

  freesshd works exactly as Cygwin *used* to before it got
subauth support: when you log in with a key, rather than a
password, you just end up as an admin user.

Wow. This kind of answer is wrong on so many levels. First of all, while he makes it seem like the functionality has been there forever, cygwin 1.7 is still not even out of beta. The chance that an end user has it is about 0. So, with the current version (1.5),  supposedly cygwin sshd works just like freesshd. This is clearly false, because the original poster reports one working and the other not (which is, by the way, exactly the same results that I had).

So, a user reporting a problem about logging in gets pointed to a long documentation about security settings in a beta version, doesn’t understand a word from that document (no surprise there), and as a result gets told to “stop spreading misinformation”. Truth is, simply installed like any normal user installs applications, one works and the other doesn’t, something made quite clear by an answer from the original poster in a different place in the thread:

> Are you talking about password or public key authentication?
> If the latter, Have you tried the LSA authentication package
> in Cygwin 1.7?
I don't know. I'll try to deciper that. Sounds complicated. In
the meantime, friend is using freesshd.

The essence of what he’s saying (which has been completely missed by the cygwin developers) is that the effort required to get cygwin to work like one would reasonably expect of it is much higher than the effort required to just google for something that just works out of the box. The fact that you could potentially make it work is irrelevant, because he’s not getting any help actually making it work.

He might as well just have said, “I don’t care about making it work for you. It works for me.”

Software companies usually compensate for their complete lack of useful technical support with a good (or at least reasonably decent) amount of help documentation. Free software usually has neither.

I encourage any programmer to practice their technical skills on an open source project. But while you do so, take the opportunity to practice your people skills a bit as well, or why not your writing skills? Don’t be an open source douchebag — someone reporting your software’s flaws is not attacking you personally.

News Flash: Griefing People Makes Them Angry

I read with some surprise about the professor who joined an MMO only to grief people to no end, and observe how they reacted to it. Fine, cruel way to treat people I guess since they had no choice of opting out of his “experiment”, but I’d accept that if he had some kind of point to make… so that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is the conclusions he comes to from this “work”.

Taste these:

“He believes it proved that, even in a 21st century digital fantasyland, an ugly side of real-world human nature pervades, a side that oppresses strangers whose behavior strays from that of the mainstream.”

“Myers was stunned by the reaction, since he obeyed the game’s rules.”

“It started to not be fun,” said Myers, a video game aficionado. “I became the most hated, most reviled player.”

“He said his experience demonstrated that modern-day social groups making use of modern-day technology can revert to “medieval and crude” methods in trying to manipulate and control others.”


Someone actually grants funds for this nutcase? Hell, I could have told you all of those things at once, without the need to be a total dick to people for two years: There are social systems in any context that go above and beyond that of the rules and laws of the context. Yes, this goes for online communities as well. No, you wouldn’t be stupid enough to do that to someone if you weren’t online and anonymous.

I’d urge Mr. Myers to try it out AFK sometime. A subway train could be a good place, for instance (though I’m certainly open for other suggestions, these things are common). Place yourself in the middle of the doorway. Stand in the way of peolpe trying to enter or exit the train. If they move to sidestep you, follow to block the movement.

This is not illegal or against subway rules, but it will still make people really fucking angry. The social context tells you “don’t do that”, not because it causes people to become “medieval and crude” when they force their way past you violently, but because you’re being a real dick to people if you do.

People started out by asking kindly, but then stepped up their efforts to change his behavior as he ignored them. Like people under threat from abuse AFK, they first tried all the normal, appropriate ways of dealing with normal, reasonably sane people, but then had to go to extremes when this didn’t work.

This has nothing to do with him being a “stranger” (hint: everyone’s a stranger in an MMO), but with the fact that he was making their lives miserable to the best of his abilities.

In any game there will be things that are possible according to game rules, but forbidden due to social context. In Battlefield and other shooters, it’s spawn camping. In golf, it’s crossing another player’s line of putt on the green. In World of Warcraft, it’s ninjaing a target or piece of loot from other players. I could go on for a long time.

In the end, we come down to the simple fact that this guy gets paid for being a twat to people for two years, and tries to interpret it scientifically as some sort of bullying on their behalf.

There are plenty of interesting areas to research when it comes to games… games are still a young medium, and especially the social effects and interactions of MMOs are fascinating. So picking an area with slightly more relevance could be nice. Better teach this guy the basics of human psychology before letting him near another study, though.

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