[texhax] Bilbliography problem

Peter Flom flom at ndri.org
Tue Nov 8 14:57:38 CET 2005

>>> "Philip G. Ratcliffe" <philip.ratcliffe at uninsubria.it> 11/8/2005
8:29:29 AM >>> wrote
Well, I've tried to reconstruct the correspondence that led up to the
present situation and, although it's always possible that some postings
escaped me, I think I more-or-less have the picture.

The original poster tried both comp.text.tex and texhax, not
getting two replies from Robin!  The second understandably irked. 
days later Uwe replied, not with any helpful advice, but merely to
Robin for his (slight to my mind) impatience; indeed, Morten tried to
to Robin's aid.  Another four days pass by and Uwe presents us with a
Sherlock Holmes act while niftily slipping in another jibe at Robin. 
it's not clear that he's even helped Zak at all yet.

The requests for minimal examples and/or more info abound in this and
lists, which suggests that many people join only when they have a
take no time to check on how to post and just fire away.  How many
here would seriously walk into their doctor's surgery and sit down with
statement "I don't feel very well.", expecting the doctor to
conjur up a diagnosis?  Now, while nobody's of course obliged to
answers, anyone who wants to help or to even simply learn something
having to wade through pages of "my TeX file doesn't run" and "send a
minimal example" before actually reading something concrete.  A little
cajoling doesn't really hurt and goes some way to avoiding that sort
decline.  And to talk of "bile and choleric" is just way over the top.

Also, just what's the difference that makes Robin's remarks so
offensive and
denigratory while Uwe's are not?  Beats me!

Thanks to Phil for summarizing this thread.

I have also been following this thread with growing dismay. 

On some other lists (SAS-L, STAT-L etc) , I am more frequently an
answerer than an asker, and I know how frustrating it is to get
questions posed in ways that don't admit answers.....

 As  a relatively new user of tex, and as one who has asked novice
questions in the past (and will continue to do so), here's my take:  

1) Ideally, new posters would read the posting guide, spend time trying
to figure out the answer to their question on their own, and post
questions that are well-stated and include minimal examples.  

This is not going to happen, for lots of reasons:
  a) Some people are lazy.
  b) For a novice, it's often hard to get started with tex and its
relations.  I think it is easy for experts to forget how confusing all
this can be.  So, a novice will simply ask a question as best they can.
  c) Some people don't even SEE the posting guide (yes, I know it's
right there, but some people won't look.....it's a shame, but it's a

2) If you are the expert, then if a question seems to you to be stupid,
ignorant, poorly phrased or whatever, I think you have two choices:
   a)  Delete it, or at least, don't answer it.
   b) Give a POLITE response asking for more information.    I am not
going to name ansy names here, but some responses by some experts are
abrupt, bordering on rude.  I know that the expert has written what
seems like the same answer many times.  But the novice has not written
the question many times.  It is hard to remember this.  On statistics
questions, I sometimes think that if I have to once more say "Please
provide some context" I will scream.

Regarding the specific thread, I am not sure, even reading back over
it, how it escalated to the state it did.  I don't want to lose Robin's
expertise, but I also want to encourage new users to ask questions.


Peter L. Flom, PhD
Assistant Director, Statistics and Data Analysis Core
Center for Drug Use and HIV Research
National Development and Research Institutes
71 W. 23rd St
New York, NY 10010
(212) 845-4485 (voice)
(917) 438-0894 (fax)

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