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[HDU 5178 ,BC#31 A] Pairs 二分优化时间复杂度

[HDU 5178 ,BC#31 A] Pairs 二分优化时间复杂度

题目中数据个数比较多,10^5个数据,时间复杂度n^2就会超时,因此不能用n^2的算法,因此采用二分的方式

先对数进行排序,进行一轮扫描,每一次扫描的时候找到最后一个与当前数的差的绝对值小于等于k的数(也就是说下一个数据和当前数据的的差的绝对值大于k) 这时,说明从当前数到找到的数这个范围内的所有数都可以任意组成满足条件的pair,不过要注意去掉重复的对。

代码如下

 

[git] git send-email 的使用方法

[git] git send-email 的使用方法

由于要向邮件列表提交patches,而不同的邮箱对邮件的处理不同,有些邮箱会对邮件进行折叠,有些邮箱发送纯文本邮件时,实际上已经被HTML标签处理了,为了避免各种问题导致patches的格式不对 git提供了一个简单实用的功能,git send-email 只要稍微进行设置,就可以使用了

具体方法如下:

1.开启邮箱smtp服务

在邮箱内进行设置,开启smtp服务,然后记录下客户端密码和smtp服务器域名

2.安装git send-email

如果输入这个指令后提示找不到指令,那么你需要进行安装,在Ubuntu上只要进行apt-get install git-email 就可以

了.然后就可以使用这个指令了~

3.在git上配置自己的邮箱服务器

指令为 git config [–global 可选] sendemail.xxx

smtpserver = sdomain
smtpencryption = ssl / tls(根据客户端而定)
smtpuser = yourname@domain
smtppass = PASS

4.发送邮件

git send-email使用和git format-patch类似的读取patch的方式 example如下:

其中 576432…f6a341是commit名 –subject-prefix 设置了发送邮件的标题前缀 –attach表示把patch以附件的形式发送

其它的用处大家就自行探索吧~

[转]mailing_list_etiquette

[转]mailing_list_etiquette

 

宗旨

  • 社区需要每一个人共同维护
  • 你的邮件会发送给社区中每一个人
  • 尊重别人的时间
  • 节省带宽
  • 产生有用的存档
  • Think before you post!

提问的智慧

在这里您可以浏览到我们提供的所有资源,有兴趣的话也欢迎加入我们并使用我们的服务。 您可以订阅我们的邮件列表来关注我们的发展,与我们进行讨论,任何意见都是欢迎的, 但是在提问或者回答之前,我们很感谢您尊重这里的规则,尤其是以礼相待, 并避免谈及关于政治的个人意见等等

仔细选择中文编码

  • UTF-8 (recommended)
  • GB2312
  • GB18030?
  • 不要用EUC-CN
  • 能被正确存档

形成良好的引文风格

  • 裁剪你的引文!
    • 只保留和你回复相关的部分
    • 删除大段代码
  • 不要依赖gmail的引文隐藏功能
  • top-posting vs. bottom-posting
    • Why is Bottom-posting better than Top-posting?
    • 相关话题放在一起,便于理解
    • 阅读时有上下文
    • 方便裁剪引文
    • Top-posting makes it hard for bottom-posters to reply to the relevant parts
    • 不用scroll twice
    • 可以正确处理签名
    • 某些邮件列表是强制bottom-posting的
    • bottom-posting的例子

top-posting的例子

其他

Off Topic

  • 尽量不要谈论与列表主旨无关话题
  • 离题话题应在subject中标注[OT][离题]
  • 在回复信件时引入新话题应修改标题,标注(was: …)

回复你要回复的那封信件

  • 不要通过回复他人信件来开新话题
    • Do not hijack others’ thread
  • 针对你回复的信件发言
  • 不要回复摘要或者汇总

附件和HTML邮件

  • 附件
    • 尽量不使用附件
      • 会阻塞发送通道
      • archive不保存附件
    • 上传至web,信件中给链接即可
  • 使用plain text,不用HTML
    • 节省带宽
    • 某些客户端不支持HTML邮件,会造成困扰
    • 防病毒/垃圾邮件网关过滤HTML邮件
  • 注意你想要reply to sender, reply to all 还是reply to list。
[转载]提问的艺术

[转载]提问的艺术


How To Ask Questions The Smart Way

How To Ask Questions The Smart Way

Eric Steven Raymond

Revision History
Revision 3.10 21 May 2014 esr
New section on Stack Overflow.
Revision 3.9 23 Apr 2013 esr
URL fixes.
Revision 3.8 19 Jun 2012 esr
URL fix.
Revision 3.7 06 Dec 2010 esr
Helpful hints for ESL speakers.
Revision 3.7 02 Nov 2010 esr
Several translations have disappeared.
Revision 3.6 19 Mar 2008 esr
Minor update and new links.
Revision 3.5 2 Jan 2008 esr
Typo fix and some translation links.
Revision 3.4 24 Mar 2007 esr
New section, “When asking about code”.
Revision 3.3 29 Sep 2006 esr
Folded in a good suggestion from Kai Niggemann.
Revision 3.2 10 Jan 2006 esr
Folded in edits from Rick Moen.
Revision 3.1 28 Oct 2004 esr
Document ‘Google is your friend!’
Revision 3.0 2 Feb 2004 esr
Major addition of stuff about proper etiquette on Web forums.

Translations

Translations:
Danish
Bahasa Indonesian
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Bulgarian
Brazilo-Portuguese
Czech
Dutch
French
Georgian
German
Greek
Japanese
Polish
Portuguese
Romanian
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If you want to copy, mirror, translate, or excerpt this document,
please see my copying policy.

Disclaimer

Many project websites link to this document in their sections on
how to get help. That’s fine, it’s the use we intended — but if
you are a webmaster creating such a link for your project page, please
display prominently near the link notice that we are not a
help desk for your project!

We have learned the hard way that without such a notice, we will
repeatedly be pestered by idiots who think having published this
document makes it our job to solve all the world’s technical
problems.

If you’re reading this document because you need help, and you
walk away with the impression you can get it directly from the authors
of this document, you are one of the idiots we
are talking about. Don’t ask us questions. We’ll just
ignore you. We are here to show you how to get help from people who
actually know about the software or hardware you’re dealing with, but
99.9% of the time that will not be us. Unless you know for
certain that one of the authors is an expert on
what you’re dealing with, leave us alone and everybody will be
happier.

Introduction

In the world of hackers, the kind of
answers you get to your technical questions depends as much on the way
you ask the questions as on the difficulty of developing the answer.
This guide will teach you how to ask questions in a way more likely
to get you a satisfactory answer.

Now that use of open source has become widespread, you can
often get as good answers from other, more experienced users as from
hackers. This is a Good Thing; users tend to be just a little bit more
tolerant of the kind of failures newbies often have. Still, treating
experienced users like hackers in the ways we recommend here will
generally be the most effective way to get useful answers out of them,
too.

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.

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. We call
people like this losers (and for historical reasons we
sometimes spell it lusers).

We realize that there are many people who just want to use the
software we write, and who have no interest in learning technical
details. For most people, a computer is merely a tool, a means to an
end; they have more important things to do and lives to live. 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 do best.

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.

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.

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 problem.

(Improvements to this guide are welcome. You can mail
suggestions to esr@thyrsus.com or respond-auto@linuxmafia.com.
Note however that this document is not intended to be a general guide
to netiquette, and we
will generally reject suggestions that are not specifically related to
eliciting useful answers in a technical forum.)

Before You Ask

Before asking a technical question by e-mail, or in a newsgroup, or on a
website chat board, do the following:

  1. Try to find an answer by searching the archives of the
    forum or mailing list you plan to post to.

  2. Try to find an answer by searching the Web.

  3. Try to find an answer by reading the manual.

  4. Try to find an answer by reading a FAQ.

  5. Try to find an answer by inspection or experimentation.

  6. Try to find an answer by asking a skilled friend.

  7. If you’re a programmer, try to find an answer by reading
    the source code.

When you ask your question, display the fact that you have done
these things first; this will help establish that you’re not being a
lazy sponge and wasting people’s time. Better yet, display what you have
learned from doing these things. We like answering
questions for people who have demonstrated they can learn from
the answers.

Use tactics like doing a Google search on the text of whatever
error message you get (searching Google groups as well as Web
pages). This might well take you straight to fix documentation or a
mailing list thread answering your question. Even if it doesn’t,
saying I googled on the following phrase but didn’t get
anything that looked promising
is a good thing to do in e-mail
or news postings requesting help, if only because it records what
searches won’t help. It will also help to direct other people with
similar problems to your thread by linking the search terms to what
will hopefully be your problem and resolution thread.

Take your time. Do not expect to be able to solve a complicated
problem with a few seconds of Googling. Read and understand the FAQs,
sit back, relax and give the problem some thought before approaching
experts. Trust us, they will be able to tell from your questions how
much reading and thinking you did, and will be more willing to help
if you come prepared. Don’t instantly fire your whole arsenal of
questions just because your first search turned up no answers (or too
many).

Prepare your question. Think it through. Hasty-sounding
questions get hasty answers, or none at all. The more you do to
demonstrate that having put thought and effort into solving
your problem before seeking help, the more likely you are to
actually get help.

Beware of asking the wrong question. If you ask one that is
based on faulty assumptions, J. Random Hacker is quite likely to reply
with a uselessly literal answer while thinking Stupid
question…
, and hoping the experience of getting what
you asked for rather than what you needed will teach you a
lesson.

Never assume you are entitled to an answer.
You are not; you aren’t, after all, paying for the service. You will
earn an answer, if you earn it, by asking a substantial, interesting,
and thought-provoking question — one that implicitly contributes
to the experience of the community rather than merely passively
demanding knowledge from others.

On the other hand, making it clear that you are able and willing
to help in the process of developing the solution is a very good
start. Would someone provide a pointer?, What is my
example missing?
, and What site should I have
checked?
are more likely to get answered than Please
post the exact procedure I should use.
because you’re making it
clear that you’re truly willing to complete the process if someone can
just point you in the right direction.

When You Ask

Choose your forum carefully

Be sensitive in choosing where you ask your question. You are
likely to be ignored, or written off as a loser, if you:

  • post your question to a forum where it’s off topic

  • post a very elementary question to a forum where
    advanced technical questions are expected, or vice-versa

  • cross-post to too many different newsgroups

  • post a personal e-mail to somebody who is neither
    an acquaintance of yours nor personally responsible for solving your problem

Hackers blow off questions that are inappropriately targeted in
order to try to protect their communications channels from being
drowned in irrelevance. You don’t want this to happen to you.

The first step, therefore, is to find the right forum. Again,
Google and other Web-searching methods are your friend. Use them to
find the project webpage most closely associated with the hardware or
software giving you difficulties. Usually it will have links to a FAQ
(Frequently Asked Questions) list, and to project mailing lists and
their archives. These mailing lists are the final places to go for
help, if your own efforts (including reading
those FAQs you found) do not find you a solution. The project page
may also describe a bug-reporting procedure, or have a link to one; if
so, follow it.

Shooting off an e-mail to a person or forum which you are not
familiar with is risky at best. For example, do not assume that the
author of an informative webpage wants to be your free consultant.
Do not make optimistic guesses about whether your question will be
welcome — if you’re unsure, send it elsewhere, or refrain from
sending it at all.

When selecting a Web forum, newsgroup or mailing list, don’t
trust the name by itself too far; look for a FAQ or charter to verify
your question is on-topic. Read some of the back traffic before
posting so you’ll get a feel for how things are done there. In fact,
it’s a very good idea to do a keyword search for words relating to
your problem on the newsgroup or mailing list archives before you
post. It may find you an answer, and if not it will help you
formulate a better question.

Don’t shotgun-blast all the available help channels at once, that’s
like yelling and irritates people. Step through them softly.

Know what your topic is! One of the classic mistakes is asking
questions about the Unix or Windows programming interface in a forum
devoted to a language or library or tool portable across both.
If you don’t understand why this is a blunder, you’d be best off not
asking any questions at all until you get it.

In general, questions to a well-selected public forum are more
likely to get useful answers than equivalent questions to a private
one. There are multiple reasons for this. One is simply the size of
the pool of potential respondents. Another is the size of the
audience; hackers would rather answer questions that educate many
people than questions serving only a few.

Understandably, skilled hackers and authors of popular software are
already receiving more than their fair share of mis-targeted messages.
By adding to the flood, you could in extreme cases even be the straw
that breaks the camel’s back — quite a few times, contributors to
popular projects have withdrawn their support because collateral
damage in the form of useless e-mail traffic to their personal accounts
became unbearable.

Stack Overflow

Search, then ask on Stack Exchange

In recent years, the Stack Exchange community of sites has emerged as
a major resource for answering technical and other questions and is
even the preferred forum for many open-source projects.

Start with a Google search before looking at Stack Exchange; Google
indexes it in real time. There’s a very good chance someone has
already asked a similar question, and the Stack Exchange sites are
often near the top of the search results. If you didn’t find anything
through Google, search again on the specific site most relevant to
your question (see below). Searching with tags can help narrow down
the results.

If you still didn’t find anything, post your question on the
one site where it’s most on-topic. Use the
formatting tools, especially for code, and add tags that are related
to the substance of your question (particularly the name of the
programming language, operating system, or library you’re having
trouble with). If a commenter asks you for more information, edit your
main post to include it. If any answer is helpful, click the up arrow
to upvote it; if an answer gives a solution to your problem, click the
check under the voting arrows to accept it as correct.

Stack Exchange has grown to over 100 sites, but here
are the most likely candidates:

  • Super User is for questions about general-purpose
    computing. If your question isn’t about code or programs that you talk
    to only over a network connection, it probably goes
    here.

  • Stack Overflow is for questions about
    programming.

  • Server Fault is for questions about server and network
    administration.

Several projects have their own specific sites, including Android,
Ubuntu, TeX/LaTeX, and SharePoint. Check the Stack Exchange site for
an up-to-date list.

Web and IRC forums

Your local user group, or your Linux distribution, may advertise
a Web forum or IRC channel where newbies can get help. (In
non-English-speaking countries newbie forums are still more likely to
be mailing lists.) These are good first places to ask, especially if
you think you may have tripped over a relatively simple or common
problem. An advertised IRC channel is an open invitation to ask
questions there and often get answers in real time.

In fact, if you got the program that is giving you problems from
a Linux distribution (as is common today), it may be better to ask in the
distro’s forum/list before trying the program’s project forum/list. The
project’s hackers may just say, use our
build
.

Before posting to any Web forum, check if it has a Search
feature. If it does, try a couple of keyword searches for
something like your problem; it just might help. If you did a general
Web search before (as you should have), search the forum anyway; your
Web-wide search engine might not have all of this forum indexed
recently.

There is an increasing tendency for projects to do user support
over a Web forum or IRC channel, with e-mail reserved more for
development traffic. So look for those channels first when seeking
project-specific help.

As a second step, use project mailing lists

When a project has a development mailing list, write to the
mailing list, not to individual developers, even if you believe
you know who can best answer your question. Check the documentation
of the project and its homepage for the address of a project mailing
list, and use it. There are several good reasons for this
policy:

  • Any question good enough to be asked of one
    developer will also be of value to the whole group. Contrariwise, if
    you suspect your question is too dumb for a mailing list, it’s not
    an excuse to harass individual developers.

  • Asking questions on the list distributes load among
    developers. The individual developer (especially if he’s the project
    leader) may be too busy to answer your questions.

  • Most mailing lists are archived and the archives are
    indexed by search engines. If you ask your question on-list and it is
    answered, a future querent could find your question and the answer on
    the Web instead of asking it again.

  • If certain questions are seen to be asked often,
    developers can use that information to improve the documentation or the
    software itself to be less confusing. But if those questions are
    asked in private, nobody has the complete picture of what questions
    are asked most often.

If a project has both a user and a
developer (or hacker) mailing list or
Web forum, and you are not hacking on the code, ask in the
user list/forum. Do not assume that you will
be welcome on the developer list, where they’re likely to experience
your question as noise disrupting their developer traffic.

However, if you are sure your question is
non-trivial, and you get no answer in the user
list/forum for several days, try the developer one.
You would be well advised to lurk there for a few daysor at least
review the last few days of archived messages, to learn the local
folkways before posting (actually this is good advice on any private or semi-private
list).

If you cannot find a project’s mailing list address, but only
see the address of the maintainer of the project, go ahead and write
to the maintainer. But even in that case, don’t assume that the
mailing list doesn’t exist. Mention in your e-mail that you tried and
could not find the appropriate mailing list. Also mention that you
don’t object to having your message forwarded to other people. (Many
people believe that private e-mail should remain private, even if
there is nothing secret in it. By allowing your message to be
forwarded you give your correspondent a choice about how to handle
your e-mail.)

Use meaningful, specific subject headers

On mailing lists, newsgroups or Web forums, the subject header
is your golden opportunity to attract qualified experts’ attention in
around 50 characters or fewer. Don’t waste it on babble like
Please help me (let alone PLEASE HELP
ME!!!!
; messages with subjects like that get discarded by
reflex). Don’t try to impress us with the depth of your anguish; use
the space for a super-concise problem description instead.

One good convention for subject headers, used by many tech support
organizations, is object – deviation. The
object part specifies what thing or group of things is
having a problem, and the deviation part describes the
deviation from expected behavior.

Stupid:

HELP! Video doesn’t work properly on my laptop!

Smart:

X.org 6.8.1 misshapen mouse cursor, Fooware MV1005 vid. chipset

Smarter:

X.org 6.8.1 mouse cursor on Fooware MV1005 vid. chipset – is misshapen

The process of writing an object-deviation
description will help you organize your thinking about the problem in
more detail. What is affected? Just the mouse cursor or other
graphics too? Is this specific to the X.org version of X? To version
6.8.1? Is this specific to Fooware video chipsets? To model MV1005? A
hacker who sees the result can immediately understand what it is that
you are having a problem with and the problem you
are having, at a glance.

More generally, imagine looking at the index of an archive of
questions, with just the subject lines showing. Make your subject
line reflect your question well enough that the next person searching the
archive with a question similar to yours will be able to follow the
thread to an answer rather than posting the question again.

If you ask a question in a reply, be sure to change the subject
line to indicate that you’re asking a question. A Subject line that
looks like Re: test or Re: new bug is
less likely to attract useful amounts of attention. Also, pare quotation
of previous messages to the minimum consistent with cluing in new
readers.

Do not simply hit reply to a list message in order to start an
entirely new thread. This will limit your audience. Some mail readers,
like mutt, allow the user to sort by thread and then hide messages in
a thread by folding the thread. Folks who do that will never see your
message.

Changing the subject is not sufficient. Mutt, and probably other mail
readers, looks at other information in the e-mail’s headers to assign
it to a thread, not the subject line. Instead start an entirely new
e-mail.

On Web forums the rules of good practice are slightly different,
because messages are usually much more tightly bound to specific
discussion threads and often invisible outside those threads.
Changing the subject when asking a question in reply is not essential.
Not all forums even allow separate subject lines on replies, and
nearly nobody reads them when they do. However, asking a question in a
reply is a dubious practice in itself, because it will only be seen by
those who are watching this thread. So, unless you are sure you
want to ask only the people currently active in the
thread, start a new one.

Make it easy to reply

Finishing your query with Please send your reply
to…
makes it quite unlikely you will get an answer. If you
can’t be bothered to take even the few seconds required to set up a
correct Reply-To header in your mail agent, we can’t be bothered to
take even a few seconds to think about your problem. If your mail
program doesn’t permit this, get a better mail
program
. If your operating system doesn’t support any e-mail
programs that permit this, get a better operating system.

In Web forums, asking for a reply by e-mail is outright rude,
unless you believe the information may be sensitive (and somebody
will, for some unknown reason, let you but not the whole forum know
it). If you want an e-mail copy when somebody replies in the thread,
request that the Web forum send it; this feature is supported
almost everywhere under options like watch this thread,
send e-mail on answers, etc.

Write in clear, grammatical, correctly-spelled language

We’ve found by experience that people who are careless and
sloppy writers are usually also careless and sloppy at thinking and
coding (often enough to bet on, anyway). Answering questions for
careless and sloppy thinkers is not rewarding; we’d rather spend our
time elsewhere.

So expressing your question clearly and well is important. If
you can’t be bothered to do that, we can’t be bothered to pay
attention. Spend the extra effort to polish your language. It
doesn’t have to be stiff or formal — in fact, hacker culture
values informal, slangy and humorous language used with precision.
But it has to be precise; there has to be some
indication that you’re thinking and paying attention.

Spell, punctuate, and capitalize correctly. Don’t confuse
its with it’s, loose with
lose, or discrete with
discreet. Don’t TYPE IN ALL CAPS; this is read as
shouting and considered rude. (All-smalls is only slightly less
annoying, as it’s difficult to read. Alan Cox can get away with it,
but you can’t.)

More generally, if you write like a semi-literate boob you will
very likely be ignored. So don’t use instant-messaging shortcuts.
Spelling “you” as “u” makes you look like a semi-literate boob to save
two entire keystrokes. Worse: writing like a l33t script kiddie hax0r is
the absolute kiss of death and guarantees you will receive nothing but
stony silence (or, at best, a heaping helping of scorn and sarcasm) in
return.

If you are asking questions in a forum that does not use your
native language, you will get a limited amount of slack for spelling
and grammar errors — but no extra slack at all for laziness (and
yes, we can usually spot that difference). Also, unless you know what
your respondent’s languages are, write in English. Busy hackers tend
to simply flush questions in languages they don’t understand, and
English is the working language of the Internet. By writing in
English you minimize your chances that your question will be discarded
unread.

If you are writing in English but it is a second language for
you, it is good form to alert potential respondents to potential
language difficulties and options for getting around them.
Examples:

  • English is not my native language; please excuse typing errors.

  • If you speak $LANGUAGE, please email/PM me; I may need assistance
    translating my question.

  • I am familiar with the technical terms, but some slang expressions and
    idioms are difficult for me.

  • I’ve posted my question in $LANGUAGE and English. I’ll be glad to
    translate responses, if you only use one or the other.

Send questions in accessible, standard formats

If you make your question artificially hard to read, it is more
likely to be passed over in favor of one that isn’t. So:

  • Send plain text mail, not HTML. (It’s not hard
    to turn
    off HTML
    .)

  • MIME attachments are usually OK, but only if they are
    real content (such as an attached source file or patch), and not
    merely boilerplate generated by your mail client (such as another copy
    of your message).

  • Don’t send e-mail in which entire paragraphs are single
    multiply-wrapped lines. (This makes it too difficult to reply to
    just part of the message.) Assume that your respondents will be
    reading mail on 80-character-wide text displays and set your
    line wrap accordingly, to something less than 80.

  • However, do not wrap data (such
    as log file dumps or session transcripts) at any fixed column width.
    Data should be included as-is, so respondents can have confidence
    that they are seeing what you saw.

  • Don’t send MIME Quoted-Printable encoding to an
    English-language forum. This encoding can be necessary when you’re
    posting in a language ASCII doesn’t cover, but many e-mail agents
    don’t support it. When they break, all those =20 glyphs scattered
    through the text are ugly and distracting — or may actively
    sabotage the semantics of your text.

  • Never, ever expect hackers to be
    able to read closed proprietary document formats like Microsoft Word
    or Excel. Most hackers react to these about as well as you would to
    having a pile of steaming pig manure dumped on your doorstep. Even
    when they can cope, they resent having to do so.

  • If you’re sending e-mail from a Windows machine, turn
    off Microsoft’s problematic Smart Quotes feature (From
    Tools > AutoCorrect Options, clear the smart quotes checkbox under
    AutoFormat As You Type.). This is so you’ll avoid sprinkling garbage
    characters through your mail.

  • In Web forums, do not abuse smiley and
    HTML features (when they are present). A smiley or two
    is usually OK, but colored fancy text tends to make people think you
    are lame. Seriously overusing smileys and color and fonts will make
    you come off like a giggly teenage girl, which is not generally a good
    idea unless you are more interested in sex than answers.

If you’re using a graphical-user-interface mail client such as
Netscape Messenger, MS Outlook, or their ilk, beware that it may
violate these rules when used with its default settings. Most such
clients have a menu-based View Source command. Use
this on something in your sent-mail folder, verifying sending of plain
text without unnecessary attached crud.

Be precise and informative about your problem

  • Describe the symptoms of your problem or bug carefully and clearly.

  • Describe the environment in which it occurs (machine, OS, application,
    whatever). Provide your vendor’s distribution and release level
    (e.g.: Fedora Core 7, Slackware 9.1, etc.).

  • Describe the research you did to try and understand the problem
    before you asked the question.

  • Describe the diagnostic steps you took to try and pin down the problem
    yourself before you asked the question.

  • Describe any possibly relevant recent changes in your computer or
    software configuration.

  • If at all possible, provide a way to reproduce the
    problem in a controlled environment
    .

Do the best you can to anticipate the questions a hacker will
ask, and answer them in advance in your request for help.

Giving hackers the ability to reproduce the problem in a
controlled environment is especially important if you are reporting
something you think is a bug in code. When you do this, your odds of
getting a useful answer and the speed with which you are likely to get
that answer both improve tremendously.

Simon Tatham has written an excellent essay entitled How to
Report Bugs Effectively
. I strongly recommend that
you read it.

Volume is not precision

You need to be precise and informative. This end is not served
by simply dumping huge volumes of code or data into a help request.
If you have a large, complicated test case that is breaking a program,
try to trim it and make it as small as possible.

This is useful for at least three reasons. One: being seen to
invest effort in simplifying the question makes it more likely
you’ll get an answer, Two: simplifying the question makes it more
likely you’ll get a useful answer. Three:
In the process of refining your bug report, you may develop a fix
or workaround yourself.

Don’t rush to claim that you have found a bug

When you are having problems with a piece of software, don’t
claim you have found a bug unless you are very,
very sure of your ground. Hint: unless you can
provide a source-code patch that fixes the problem, or a regression
test against a previous version that demonstrates incorrect behavior,
you are probably not sure enough. This applies to webpages and
documentation, too; if you have found a documentation
bug, you should supply replacement text and which pages
it should go on.

Remember, there are many other users that are not
experiencing your problem. Otherwise you would have learned about it
while reading the documentation and searching the Web (you did do that
before complaining, didn’t you?). This
means that very probably it is you who are doing something wrong, not
the software.

The people who wrote the software work very hard to make it work
as well as possible. If you claim you have found a bug, you’ll be
impugning their competence, which may offend some of them even if you
are correct. It’s especially undiplomatic to yell bug
in the Subject line.

When asking your question, it is best to write as though you
assume you are doing something wrong, even if you
are privately pretty sure you have found an actual bug. If there
really is a bug, you will hear about it in the answer. Play it so the
maintainers will want to apologize to you if the bug is real, rather
than so that you will owe them an apology if you have messed up.

Grovelling is not a substitute for doing your homework

Some people who get that they shouldn’t behave rudely or
arrogantly, demanding an answer, retreat to the opposite extreme of
grovelling. I know I’m just a pathetic newbie loser,
but…
. This is distracting and unhelpful. It’s especially
annoying when it’s coupled with vagueness about the actual
problem.

Don’t waste your time, or ours, on crude primate politics.
Instead, present the background facts and your question as clearly as
you can. That is a better way to position yourself than by
grovelling.

Sometimes Web forums have separate places for newbie questions. If you
feel you do have a newbie question, just go there. But don’t grovel there
either.

Describe the problem’s symptoms, not your guesses

It’s not useful to tell hackers what you think is causing your
problem. (If your diagnostic theories were such hot stuff, would you
be consulting others for help?) So, make sure you’re telling them the
raw symptoms of what goes wrong, rather than your interpretations and
theories. Let them do the interpretation and diagnosis. If you feel
it’s important to state your guess, clearly label it as such and
describe why that answer isn’t working for you.

Stupid:

I’m getting back-to-back SIG11 errors on kernel compiles, and suspect a
hairline crack on one of the motherboard traces. What’s the best way to
check for those?

Smart:

My home-built K6/233 on an FIC-PA2007 motherboard (VIA Apollo VP2
chipset) with 256MB Corsair PC133 SDRAM starts getting frequent SIG11
errors about 20 minutes after power-on during the course of kernel
compiles, but never in the first 20 minutes. Rebooting doesn’t restart
the clock, but powering down overnight does. Swapping out all RAM
didn’t help. The relevant part of a typical compile session log
follows.

Since the preceding point seems to be a tough one for many people to
grasp, here’s a phrase to remind you: “All diagnosticians are from
Missouri.” That US state’s official motto is “Show me” (earned in
1899, when Congressman Willard D. Vandiver said “I come from a country
that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy
eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I’m from Missouri.
You’ve got to show me.”) In diagnosticians’ case, it’s not a matter of
skepticism, but rather a literal, functional need to see whatever is
as close as possible to the same raw evidence that you see, rather
than your surmises and summaries. Show us.

Describe your problem’s symptoms in chronological order

The clues most useful in figuring out something that went wrong
often lie in the events immediately prior. So, your account should
describe precisely what you did, and what the machine and software
did, leading up to the blowup. In the case of command-line processes,
having a session log (e.g., using the script utility) and quoting the
relevant twenty or so lines is very useful.

If the program that blew up on you has diagnostic options (such
as -v for verbose), try to select options that will add useful
debugging information to the transcript. Remember that more is not
necessarily better; try to choose a debug level that will inform
rather than drowning the reader in junk.

If your account ends up being long (more than about four paragraphs),
it might be useful to succinctly state the problem up top, then
follow with the chronological tale. That way, hackers will know
what to watch for in reading your account.

Describe the goal, not the step

If you are trying to find out how to do something (as opposed to
reporting a bug), begin by describing the goal. Only then describe
the particular step towards it that you are blocked on.

Often, people who need technical help have a high-level goal in
mind and get stuck on what they think is one particular path towards
the goal. They come for help with the step, but don’t realize that
the path is wrong. It can take substantial effort to get past
this.

Stupid:

How do I get the color-picker on the FooDraw program to take a
hexadecimal RGB value?

Smart:

I’m trying to replace the color table on an image with values
of my choosing. Right now the only way I can see to do this is by
editing each table slot, but I can’t get FooDraw’s color picker
to take a hexadecimal RGB value.

The second version of the question is smart. It allows an
answer that suggests a tool better suited to the task.

Don’t ask people to reply by private e-mail

Hackers believe solving problems should be a public, transparent
process during which a first try at an answer can and should be
corrected if someone more knowledgeable notices that it is incomplete or
incorrect. Also, helpers get some of their reward for being
respondents from being seen to be competent and knowledgeable by
their peers.

When you ask for a private reply, you are disrupting both the
process and the reward. Don’t do this. It’s the
respondent’s choice whether to reply privately
— and if he or she does, it’s usually because he or she thinks
the question is too ill-formed or obvious to be interesting to
others.

There is one limited exception to this rule. If you think
the question is such that you are likely to get many answers that
are all closely similar, then the magic words are e-mail me and I’ll
summarize the answers for the group
. It is courteous to try and save
the mailing list or newsgroup a flood of substantially identical
postings — but you have to keep the promise to summarize.

Be explicit about your question

Open-ended questions tend to be perceived as open-ended time
sinks. Those people most likely to be able to give you a useful answer
are also the busiest people (if only because they take on the most
work themselves). People like that are allergic to open-ended time
sinks, thus they tend to be allergic to open-ended questions.

You are more likely to get a useful response if you are
explicit about what you want respondents to do (provide pointers,
send code, check your patch, whatever). This will focus their
effort and implicitly put an upper bound on the time and energy
a respondent must allocate to helping you. This is good.

To understand the world the experts live in, think of expertise
as an abundant resource and time to respond as a scarce one. The less
of a time commitment you implicitly ask for, the more likely you are
to get an answer from someone really good and really busy.

So it is useful to frame your question to minimize the time
commitment required for an expert to field it — but this is
often not the same thing as simplifying the question. Thus, for
example, Would you give me a pointer to a good explanation of
X?
is usually a smarter question than Would you explain
X, please?
. If you have some malfunctioning code, it is
usually smarter to ask for someone to explain what’s wrong with it
than it is to ask someone to fix it.

When asking about code

Don’t ask others to debug your broken code without giving a hint
what sort of problem they should be searching for. Posting a few
hundred lines of code, saying “it doesn’t work”, will get you ignored.
Posting a dozen lines of code, saying “after line 7 I was expecting to
see <x>, but <y> occurred instead” is much more likely to
get you a response.

The most effective way to be precise about a code problem is to
provide a minimal bug-demonstrating test case. What’s a minimal test
case? It’s an illustration of the problem; just enough code to
exhibit the undesirable behavior and no more. How do you make a
minimal test case? If you know what line or section of code is
producing the problematic behavior, make a copy of it and add just
enough supporting code to produce a complete example (i.e. enough that
the source is acceptable to the compiler/interpreter/whatever
application processes it). If you can’t narrow it down to a
particular section, make a copy of the source and start removing
chunks that don’t affect the problematic behavior. The smaller your
minimal test case is, the better (see the section called “Volume is not precision”).

Generating a really small minimal test case will not always be
possible, but trying to is good discipline. It may help you learn
what you need to solve the problem on your own — and even when
it doesn’t, hackers like to see that you have tried. It will
make them more cooperative.

If you simply want a code review, say as much up front, and be
sure to mention what areas you think might particularly need review
and why.

Don’t post homework questions

Hackers are good at spotting homework questions; most of us have
done them ourselves. Those questions are for you
to work out, so that you will learn from the experience. It is OK to
ask for hints, but not for entire solutions.

If you suspect you have been passed a homework question, but
can’t solve it anyway, try asking in a user group forum or (as a last
resort) in a user list/forum of a project. While the
hackers will spot it, some of the advanced users
may at least give you a hint.

Prune pointless queries

Resist the temptation to close your request for help with
semantically-null questions like Can anyone help me? or
Is there an answer? First: if you’ve written your
problem description halfway competently, such tacked-on questions are
at best superfluous. Second: because they are superfluous, hackers
find them annoying — and are likely to return logically
impeccable but dismissive answers like Yes, you can be
helped
and No, there is no help for you.

In general, asking yes-or-no questions is a good thing to avoid
unless you want a yes-or-no
answer
.

Don’t flag your question as Urgent, even if it is for you

That’s your problem, not ours. Claiming urgency is very likely
to be counter-productive: most hackers will simply delete such
messages as rude and selfish attempts to elicit immediate and special
attention. Furthermore, the word ‘Urgent’ (and other similar attempts
to grab attention in the subject line) often triggers spam filters –
your intended recipients might never see it at all!

There is one semi-exception. It can be worth mentioning if
you’re using the program in some high-profile place, one that the
hackers will get excited about; in such a case, if you’re under time
pressure, and you say so politely, people may get interested enough to
answer faster.

This is a very risky thing to do, however, because the hackers’
metric for what is exciting probably differs from yours. Posting from
the International Space Station would qualify, for example, but
posting on behalf of a feel-good charitable or political cause would
almost certainly not. In fact, posting Urgent: Help me save
the fuzzy baby seals!
will reliably get you shunned or flamed
even by hackers who think fuzzy baby seals are important.

If you find this mysterious, re-read the rest of this how-to
repeatedly until you understand it before posting anything at
all.

Courtesy never hurts, and sometimes helps

Be courteous. Use Please and Thanks for
your attention
or Thanks for your
consideration
. Make it clear you appreciate the time
people spend helping you for free.

To be honest, this isn’t as important as (and cannot substitute
for) being grammatical, clear, precise and descriptive, avoiding
proprietary formats etc.; hackers in general would rather get somewhat
brusque but technically sharp bug reports than polite vagueness. (If
this puzzles you, remember that we value a question by what it teaches
us.)

However, if you’ve got your technical ducks in a row,
politeness does increase your chances of getting a useful
answer.

(We must note that the only serious objection we’ve received
from veteran hackers to this HOWTO is with respect to our previous
recommendation to use Thanks in advance. Some hackers
feel this connotes an intention not to thank anybody afterwards. Our
recommendation is to either say Thanks in advance first
and thank respondents afterwards, or express
courtesy in a different way, such as by saying Thanks for your
attention
or Thanks for your
consideration
.)

Follow up with a brief note on the solution

Send a note after the problem has been solved to all who helped
you; let them know how it came out and thank them again for their
help. If the problem attracted general interest in a mailing list or
newsgroup, it’s appropriate to post the followup there.

Optimally, the reply should be to the thread started by the
original question posting, and should have ‘FIXED’,
‘RESOLVED’ or an equally obvious tag in the subject line.
On mailing lists with fast turnaround, a potential respondent who sees
a thread about Problem X ending with Problem X –
FIXED
knows not to waste his/her time even reading the thread
(unless (s)he personally finds Problem X interesting) and can
therefore use that time solving a different problem.

Your followup doesn’t have to be long and involved; a simple
Howdy — it was a failed network cable! Thanks, everyone. –
Bill
would be better than nothing. In fact, a short and sweet
summary is better than a long dissertation unless the solution has
real technical depth. Say what action solved the problem, but you
need not replay the whole troubleshooting sequence.

For problems with some depth, it is appropriate to post a
summary of the troubleshooting history. Describe your final problem
statement. Describe what worked as a solution, and indicate avoidable
blind alleys after that. The blind alleys should
come after the correct solution and other summary material, rather
than turning the follow-up into a detective story. Name the names of
people who helped you; you’ll make friends that way.

Besides being courteous and informative, this sort of followup
will help others searching the archive of the mailing-list/newsgroup/forum
to know exactly which solution helped you and thus may also help
them.

Last, and not least, this sort of followup helps everybody who
assisted feel a satisfying sense of closure about the problem. If you
are not a techie or hacker yourself, trust us that this feeling is
very important to the gurus and experts you tapped for help. Problem
narratives that trail off into unresolved nothingness are frustrating
things; hackers itch to see them resolved. The goodwill that
scratching that itch earns you will be very, very helpful to you next
time you need to pose a question.

Consider how you might be able to prevent others from having the
same problem in the future. Ask yourself if a documentation or FAQ
patch would help, and if the answer is yes send that patch to the
maintainer.

Among hackers, this sort of good followup behavior is actually
more important than conventional politeness. It’s how you get a
reputation for playing well with others, which can be a very valuable
asset.

How To Interpret Answers

RTFM and STFW: How To Tell You’ve Seriously Screwed Up

There is an ancient and hallowed tradition: if you get a reply
that reads RTFM, the person who sent it thinks you
should have Read The Fucking Manual. He or she is almost certainly right.
Go read it.

RTFM has a younger relative. If you get a reply that reads
STFW, the person who sent it thinks you should have
Searched The Fucking Web. He or she is almost certainly right. Go search
it. (The milder version of this is when you are told Google is
your friend!
)

In Web forums, you may also be told to search the forum
archives. In fact, someone may even be so kind as to provide a pointer
to the previous thread where this problem was solved. But do not rely
on this consideration; do your archive-searching before asking.

Often, the person telling you to do a search has the manual or
the web page with the information you need open, and is looking at it
as he or she types. These replies mean that the responder thinks (a)
the information you need is easy to find, and (b) you will learn more
if you seek out the information than if you have it spoon-fed to
you.

You shouldn’t be offended by this; by hacker standards, your
respondent is showing you a rough kind of respect simply by not
ignoring you. You should instead be thankful for this grandmotherly
kindness.

If you don’t understand…

If you don’t understand the answer, do not immediately bounce
back a demand for clarification. Use the same tools that you used to
try and answer your original question (manuals, FAQs, the Web, skilled
friends) to understand the answer. Then, if you still need to ask for
clarification, exhibit what you have learned.

For example, suppose I tell you: It sounds like you’ve
got a stuck zentry; you’ll need to clear it.
Then: here’s a
bad followup question: What’s a
zentry?
Here’s a good followup
question: OK, I read the man page and zentries are only
mentioned under the -z and -p switches. Neither of them says anything
about clearing zentries. Is it one of these or am I missing something
here?

Dealing with rudeness

Much of what looks like rudeness in hacker circles is not
intended to give offense. Rather, it’s the product of the direct,
cut-through-the-bullshit communications style that is natural to
people who are more concerned about solving problems than making
others feel warm and fuzzy.

When you perceive rudeness, try to react calmly. If someone
is really acting out, it is very likely a senior person on the
list or newsgroup or forum will call him or her on it. If that
doesn’t happen and you lose your temper, it
is likely that the person you lose it at was behaving within the
hacker community’s norms and you will be
considered at fault. This will hurt your chances of getting the
information or help you want.

On the other hand, you will occasionally run across rudeness and
posturing that is quite gratuitous. The flip-side of the above is
that it is acceptable form to slam real offenders quite hard,
dissecting their misbehavior with a sharp verbal scalpel. Be very,
very sure of your ground before you try this, however. The line
between correcting an incivility and starting a pointless flamewar is thin
enough that hackers themselves not infrequently blunder across it; if
you are a newbie or an outsider, your chances of avoiding such a
blunder are low. If you’re after information rather than entertainment,
it’s better to keep your fingers off the keyboard than to risk this.

(Some people assert that many hackers have a mild form of autism
or Asperger’s Syndrome, and are actually missing some of the brain
circuitry that lubricates normal human social
interaction. This may or may not be true. If you are not a hacker
yourself, it may help you cope with our eccentricities if you think of
us as being brain-damaged. Go right ahead. We won’t care; we
like being whatever it is we are, and generally
have a healthy skepticism about clinical labels.)

In the next section, we’ll talk about a different issue;
the kind of rudeness you’ll see when you
misbehave.

On Not Reacting Like A Loser

Odds are you’ll screw up a few times on hacker community
forums — in ways detailed in this article, or similar. And
you’ll be told exactly how you screwed up, possibly with colourful
asides. In public.

When this happens, the worst thing you can do is whine about the
experience, claim to have been verbally assaulted, demand apologies,
scream, hold your breath, threaten lawsuits, complain to people’s
employers, leave the toilet seat up, etc. Instead, here’s what you
do:

Get over it. It’s normal. In fact, it’s healthy and appropriate.

Community standards do not maintain themselves: They’re
maintained by people actively applying them, visibly, in
public
. Don’t whine that all criticism should have been
conveyed via private e-mail: That’s not how it works. Nor is it useful
to insist you’ve been personally insulted when someone comments that
one of your claims was wrong, or that his views differ. Those are
loser attitudes.

There have been hacker forums where, out of some misguided sense of
hyper-courtesy, participants are banned from posting any fault-finding
with another’s posts, and told Don’t say anything if you’re unwilling
to help the user.
The resulting departure of clueful participants to
elsewhere causes them to descend into meaningless babble and become
useless as technical forums.

Exaggeratedly friendly (in that fashion) or useful: Pick one.

Remember: When that hacker tells you that you’ve screwed up, and (no
matter how gruffly) tells you not to do it again, he’s acting out of
concern for (1) you and (2) his community. It would be much easier for him
to ignore you and filter you out of his life. If you can’t manage to be
grateful, at least have a little dignity, don’t whine, and don’t expect
to be treated like a fragile doll just because you’re a newcomer with
a theatrically hypersensitive soul and delusions of entitlement.

Sometimes people will attack you personally, flame without an
apparent reason, etc., even if you don’t screw up (or have only
screwed up in their imagination). In this case, complaining is the way
to really screw up.

These flamers are either lamers who don’t have a clue but
believe themselves to be experts, or would-be psychologists testing
whether you’ll screw up. The other readers either ignore them, or find
ways to deal with them on their own. The flamers’ behavior creates
problems for themselves, which don’t have to concern you.

Don’t let yourself be drawn into a flamewar, either. Most flames
are best ignored — after you’ve checked whether they are really flames,
not pointers to the ways in which you have screwed up, and not cleverly
ciphered answers to your real question (this happens as well).

Questions Not To Ask

Here are some classic stupid questions, and what hackers are thinking
when they don’t answer them.

Q: Where can I find program or resource X?
Q: How can I use X to do Y?
Q: How can I configure my shell prompt?
Q: Can I convert an AcmeCorp document into a TeX file using
the Bass-o-matic file converter?
Q: My {program, configuration, SQL statement} doesn’t work
Q: I’m having problems with my Windows machine. Can you help?
Q: My program doesn’t work. I think system facility X is broken.
Q: I’m having problems installing Linux or X. Can you help?
Q: How can I crack root/steal channel-ops privileges/read someone’s
e-mail?

Q:

Where can I find program or resource X?

A:

The same place I’d find it, fool — at the other end of a
web search. Ghod, doesn’t everybody know how to use
Google yet?

Q:

How can I use X to do Y?

A:

If what you want is to do Y, you should ask that question
without pre-supposing the use of a method that may not be appropriate.
Questions of this form often indicate a person who is not merely
ignorant about X, but confused about what problem Y they are solving
and too fixated on the details of their particular situation. It is
generally best to ignore such people until they define their problem
better.

Q:

How can I configure my shell prompt?

A:

If you’re smart enough to ask this question, you’re smart enough
to RTFM and find out yourself.

Q:

Can I convert an AcmeCorp document into a TeX file using
the Bass-o-matic file converter?

A:

Try it and see. If you did that, you’d (a) learn the answer,
and (b) stop wasting my time.

Q:

My {program, configuration, SQL statement} doesn’t work

A:

This is not a question, and I’m not interested in playing
Twenty Questions to pry your actual question out of you — I have
better things to do. On seeing something like this, my reaction is
normally of one of the following:

  • do you have anything else to add to that?

  • oh, that’s too bad, I hope you get it fixed.

  • and this has exactly what to do with me?

Q:

I’m having problems with my Windows machine. Can you help?

A:

Yes. Throw out that Microsoft trash and install an open-source
operating system like Linux or BSD.

Note: you can ask questions related to
Windows machines if they are about a program that does have an
official Windows build, or interacts with Windows machines
(i.e., Samba). Just don’t be surprised by the reply that the problem is
with Windows and not the program, because Windows is so broken in
general that this is very often the case.

Q:

My program doesn’t work. I think system facility X is broken.

A:

While it is possible that you are the first person to notice an
obvious deficiency in system calls and libraries heavily used by
hundreds or thousands of people, it is rather more likely that you are
utterly clueless. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence;
when you make a claim like this one, you must back it up with clear
and exhaustive documentation of the failure case.

Q:

I’m having problems installing Linux or X. Can you help?

A:

No. I’d need hands-on access to your machine to troubleshoot
this. Go ask your local Linux user group for hands-on help. (You can
find a list of user groups here.)

Note: questions about installing Linux may be appropriate if
you’re on a forum or mailing list about a particular distribution, and the
problem is with that distro; or on local user
groups forums. In this case, be sure to describe the exact details of
the failure. But do careful searching first, with “linux” and
all suspicious pieces of hardware.

Q:

How can I crack root/steal channel-ops privileges/read someone’s
e-mail?

A:

You’re a lowlife for wanting to do such things and a moron for asking
a hacker to help you.

Good and Bad Questions

Finally, I’m going to illustrate how to ask questions in a smart way
by example; pairs of questions about the same problem, one asked in
a stupid way and one in a smart way.

Stupid:
Where can I find out stuff about the Foonly Flurbamatic?

This question just begs for “STFW” as a
reply.

Smart:
I used Google to try to find Foonly Flurbamatic 2600 on
the Web, but I got no useful hits. Can I get a pointer to
programming information on this device?

This one has already STFWed, and sounds like there might be a real
problem.

Stupid:
I can’t get the code from project foo to compile. Why is it broken?

The querent assumes that somebody else screwed up. Arrogant git…

Smart:
The code from project foo doesn’t compile under Nulix version 6.2.
I’ve read the FAQ, but it doesn’t have anything in it about
Nulix-related problems. Here’s a transcript of my compilation
attempt; is it something I did?

The querent has specified the environment, read the FAQ, is showing
the error, and is not assuming his problems are someone else’s
fault. This one might be worth some attention.

Stupid:
I’m having problems with my motherboard. Can anybody help?

J. Random Hacker’s response to this is likely to be Right. Do you
need burping and diapering, too?
followed by a punch of the delete
key.

Smart:
I tried X, Y, and Z on the S2464 motherboard. When that didn’t work,
I tried A, B, and C. Note the curious symptom when I tried C.
Obviously the florbish is grommicking, but the results aren’t what one
might expect. What are the usual causes of grommicking on Athlon MP
motherboards? Anybody got ideas for more tests I can run to pin down
the problem?

This person, on the other hand, seems worthy of an
answer. He/she has exhibited problem-solving intelligence rather than
passively waiting for an answer to drop from on high.

In the last question, notice the subtle but important difference
between demanding Give me an answer and Please
help me figure out what additional diagnostics I can run to achieve
enlightenment.

In fact, the form of that last question is closely based on a
real incident that happened in August 2001 on the linux-kernel mailing
list (lkml). I (Eric) was the one asking the question that time. I was
seeing mysterious lockups on a Tyan S2462 motherboard. The
list members supplied the critical information I needed to solve
them.

By asking the question in the way I did, I gave people something
to chew on; I made it easy and attractive for them to get involved. I
demonstrated respect for my peers’ ability and invited them to consult
with me as a peer. I also demonstrated respect for the value of their
time by telling them the blind alleys I had already run down.

Afterwards, when I thanked everyone and remarked how well the
process had worked, an lkml member observed that he thought it had
worked not because I’m a name on that list, but because
I asked the question in the proper form.

Hackers are in some ways a very ruthless meritocracy; I’m
certain he was right, and that if I had behaved
like a sponge I would have been flamed or ignored no matter who I was.
His suggestion that I write up the whole incident as instruction to
others led directly to the composition of this guide.

If You Can’t Get An Answer

If you can’t get an answer, please don’t take it personally that
we don’t feel we can help you. Sometimes the members of the asked
group may simply not know the answer. No response is not the same
as being ignored, though admittedly it’s hard to spot the difference
from outside.

In general, simply re-posting your question is a bad idea. This
will be seen as pointlessly annoying. Have patience: the person with
your answer may be in a different time-zone and asleep. Or it may be
that your question wasn’t well-formed to begin with.

There are other sources of help you can go to, often sources
better adapted to a novice’s needs.

There are many online and local user groups who are enthusiasts
about the software, even though they may never have written any
software themselves. These groups often form so that people can help
each other and help new users.

There are also plenty of commercial companies you can contract
with for help, both large and small. Don’t be dismayed at the idea
of having to pay for a bit of help! After all, if your car engine
blows a head gasket, chances are you would take it to a repair shop
and pay to get it fixed. Even if the software didn’t cost you
anything, you can’t expect that support to always come for
free.

For popular software like Linux, there are at least 10,000 users
per developer. It’s just not possible for one person to handle the
support calls from over 10,000 users. Remember that even if you have to
pay for support, you are still paying much less than if you had to buy
the software as well (and support for closed-source software is usually more
expensive and less competent than support for open-source software).

How To Answer Questions in a Helpful Way

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 posted.

If you don’t know for sure, say so! A wrong
but authoritative-sounding answer is worse than none at all. Don’t
point anyone down a wrong path simply because it’s fun to sound like
an expert. Be humble and honest; set a good example for both the
querent and your peers.

If you can’t help, don’t hinder. Don’t make
jokes about procedures that could trash the user’s setup — the
poor sap might interpret these as instructions.

Ask probing questions to elicit more
details.
If you’re good at this, the querent will learn
something — and so might you. Try to turn the bad question into
a good one; remember we were all newbies once.

While 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.

Answer the actual question! If the querent has been so thorough
as to do his or her research and has included in the query that X, Y,
Z, A, B, and C have already been tried without good result, it is
supremely unhelpful to respond with Try A or B, or with
a link to something that only says, Try X, Y, Z, A, B, or
C.
.

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.

If you did research to answer the question, demonstrate your
skills rather than writing as though you pulled the answer out of your
butt.
Answering one good question is like feeding a hungry person
one meal, but teaching them research skills by example is showing
them how to grow food for a lifetime.

Related Resources

If you need instruction in the basics of how personal computers,
Unix, and the Internet work, see

The Unix and Internet Fundamentals HOWTO
.

When you release software or write patches for software, try to
follow the guidelines in the
Software Release Practice HOWTO
.

Acknowledgements

Evelyn Mitchell contributed some example stupid questions and
inspired the How To Give A Good Answer section. Mikhail
Ramendik contributed some particularly valuable suggestions for
improvements.