[nSLUG] Lock the door...

D G Teed donald.teed at gmail.com
Wed Jan 7 11:46:44 AST 2009


On Wed, Jan 7, 2009 at 1:53 AM, Aaron Spanik <a.spanik at ns.sympatico.ca>wrote:

>
> Wietse Venema of Postfix fame and Alan deKok of FreeRADIUS fame are
> often accused of having "bad attitudes" and being rude.  But subscribe
> to either of those mailing lists and marvel at the things you see come
> up again and again, day after day and week after week.  I would
> completely lose my mind trying to deal with that.  And even sadder is
> that equally as infrequently do you see a message saying, "Thanks for
> all your hard work on a great piece of software."
>
> /a
>

I've watched those few on Postfix answer questions with their
terse and pithy style.  It can sometimes appear to be
European snobbery, but when you consider that they
do answer questions, and the answers are more useful
than it might appear, I have to respect the efforts they
put in.  In fact I wonder how they cope.

However their participation is essential to Postfix's
success.  I don't feel qualified to answer many
questions on that list, but on the other hand I
would find it possible to handle questions on something
like cacti or horde.

The reason people ask questions isn't
always because the documentation isn't being read.
Sometimes it is lacking, although the developer believes
it is complete enough.  You can create all of your
docs with complete BNF notations and still not describe
*how* to use the system for concrete solutions.

I recently found our Postfix was set up to
reject email for non-existent recipients with a "non-standard"
configuration.  What we had worked perfectly, but it
wasn't the documented way to do it.  Postfix is like a
strange soup recipe.  There are many ways to get it wrong,
or almost wrong, or almost right.

There is a general trap developers tend to fall
into, where questions are always slotted into one of
the FAQ they know.  If you try to ask something
more fine grained about the topic, they can absolutely
miss the point.  This is what happened in the thread
mentioned by the original poster.  I've seen it happen
many times.

I feel holistic documentation is missing from
many open source projects.  Having only the granular
developer's readme files does not cover oddities like
the word "domain" or "host" being used to refer
to three different things.  This is where text books come
in to fill the void with practical examples.  Unfortunately,
we are in a period where books are in decline.  Even magazines
are moving to online only.  But how long does something remain
online?  I can get books published 20 years ago, but
trying to find info from a web site from 2003 can
be impossible.

I dabbled with Gentoo a few years ago, and the one
thing I missed from them was the docs.  I could always
find living examples of how to do things, in seconds.  I could
always understand, in seconds, what parts of a command are binary,
variable, flags, filename, etc., in their living examples (there were no
"..." or "{whatever}", which is just as good as using "you know"
repeatedly in conversation).

The other nasty trend is that Google can
be a friend spreading a bad rumour.  Recently with a samba
config question we found dozens of forums and mailing
lists with the same wrong information.  There are too many
users who come to believe that nonsense like chmod 777
is a real solution and spread the garbage around.
Ubuntu forums are terrible for this kind of thing.

--Donald
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