A new user asked a question, found out the answer, and took the time and effort to inform us about that and even make his solution clear with a diagram: Arduino IR Receiver (Answer).

Now, he used Fritzing, which is clearly just not good enough for some people - sigh -:

Enough with those stupid wiring diagrams already! We do electronics here, which means we communicate circuits with schematics. – Olin Lathrop 8 hours ago

I flagged this comment as rude or offensive. This comment violates all three points in the Be Nice policy. My flag was declined.


Whether you agree with the comment or not, this is not a way to treat other human beings. This comment clearly violates many policies, written and unwritten rules that are on the very base of the StackExchange network. Clearly there are some disagreements about the treatment of new users and other things. But has this lead to the point we can't trust the flagging system anymore?

I've done a small test, and flagged some other comments:

  • A comment on Understanding to isolating sensor input capacitance which was removed (thanks for that).

  • What a mess! What MOSFET? What switch? Which capacitor do you think is the "filter" capacitor? Do you realize that D1 will always be reverse biased and therefore off? What's with the base of the transistor tied to the case of the opto, which also seems to be shorting across both inputs of the LED? link

    Declined, but clearly not in line with Be Nice, as it calls something (the post? The circuit?) a mess, which falls under the category name-calling (amongst others)

  • You've asked a bunch of questions about motors here in a short time. Try to actually understand the answers to the other questions before blurting out new questions. You have already been given a lot of information that it seems you haven't taken the time to absorb and think about. People here want to help, but not if you don't appear to be learning. link

    "actually understand" is border-line, "blurting out new questions" is insulting.

  • Your question makes no sense because there is no standard "up" for a ethernet connector, and you didn't specify one either, yet you expect we know what you mean by "upside down". link

    Could've been much worse, but yes, I think even saying 'your question makes no sense' shouldn't be allowed.

  • -1 for blatant RTFM failure. link

    RTFM = Read The Fucking Manual. How that can be considered OK or even border-line, I really fail to see.

Note: all examples come from one user. I do not mean to pick on that user, which is why I didn't copy his/her name. It was simply because with this I could easily find a great enough comments pool to test with.

Note 2: since I flagged all these comments in a short timeframe, it's likely one mod reviewed all, so this test may very well not be representative.

  • 16
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm afraid I disagree with that moderator. The comment was indeed unnecessarily rude I believe. \$\endgroup\$
    – clabacchio
    Mar 21, 2015 at 7:08
  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ (sigh) I dismissed the flag. The only "rude" word used is "stupid", and it is being applied to the Fritzing diagram, not to an individual. Olin was not being offensive; he was simply expressing a strong opinion in his usual style. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Mar 21, 2015 at 12:34
  • 26
    \$\begingroup\$ @DaveTweed from the Be Nice policy: "Name-calling. Focus on the post, not the person. That includes terms that feel personal even when they're applied to posts (like "lazy", "ignorant", or "whiny")." - it doesn't matter if 'stupid' was applied to the post or to the person. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17592
    Mar 21, 2015 at 12:40
  • 22
    \$\begingroup\$ @DaveTweed One user is particularly hostile and deserving of flags. \$\endgroup\$
    – W5VO
    Mar 21, 2015 at 19:36
  • 31
    \$\begingroup\$ @DaveTweed Offensive comments and rudeness should not be acceptable just because they come from a valued, prolific contributor, or because it's someone's "usual style". They should never be tolerated. End of. The No Asshole rule. \$\endgroup\$
    – akellyirl
    Mar 21, 2015 at 20:08
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ @CamilStaps: It might be "so obvious" and "most important" to you, but I don't see it that way. To me, the purpose of the site is to provide high-quality reference material to both professional engineers and serious electronics hobbyists. The social aspect of it is secondary to that, which is one of the reasons that we enforce a strict question-and-answer format. But the give-and-take that occurs in the comments is one of the things that keeps the valued contributors engaged, and allowing that to occur -- within limits -- is what ultimately gives the site its value. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Mar 21, 2015 at 22:20
  • 26
    \$\begingroup\$ @DaveTweed As I see it; it is the Mod's role to enforce the site policies, not make up their own. If one Mod feels they know someone too well to be objective, they should just decline to mod that flag because of a conflict of interest. Anything else disrespects the community and brings the site into disrepute. \$\endgroup\$
    – akellyirl
    Mar 21, 2015 at 22:46
  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ Stack Exchange Employee Note - I am cleaning up some of the comments brought up here, hence some links might not work. Some of them are things that I feel represent this community poorly, and need to go. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim Post
    Mar 23, 2015 at 14:05
  • 20
    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW - I've been reading Olin Lathrop's writings for a very long time - he was a member of another list I am a member of. My opinion only: He is blunt. Rudely blunt. I've been on the receiving end of his comments and I didn't like it much. But! He was NEVER rude to me personally. I don't think that I've Ever seen him be rude to anyone directly. Make rude remarks about what someone says: Yep. But not rude comments about the person's character. I have learned much technical information from Mr. Lathrop. One side effect of that is that I have also learned to ask better questions. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 24, 2015 at 22:41
  • 14
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't understand why it's not possible to be both technically informative and genial as well. Isn't that what the site should strive to cultivate? \$\endgroup\$
    – dext0rb
    Mar 25, 2015 at 20:32
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ @dext0rb: exactly. But I also puzzle over why EE.SE is the problem child. Having been around various SE sites for half a dozen years or more, EE.SE stands out as the main one I've participated in that really can't seem to get "technically informative and genial" right. \$\endgroup\$
    – tardate
    Mar 26, 2015 at 18:09
  • 17
    \$\begingroup\$ Using Olin as the obvious example - anyone who considers that Olin's behaviour towards newcomers who he seeks to "get stroppy with" is usually NOT felt as a massive, personal, & perplexing attack is disconnected from the realities of inter-personal human behaviour. While it is often enough possible to analyse such outpourings of rhetorical brilliance, so that it can be "shown" to be mainly non-personal, mainly not too-too-too rude, mainly instructive and mainly directed at things and stuff and not at people - the REALITY is that it combines (possibly as a carefully crafted) .... \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Mar 29, 2015 at 7:10
  • 14
    \$\begingroup\$ ... "vector sum" of all the parts. This has the effect (and possibly the intention) of delivering an extremely strong and intimidating and personal rebuff to newcomers. I'm told that an aim is drive away those who cannot face the challenge and that a group is better off without those who cannot face such an entry "hurdle". From some perspectives that's a reasonable approach. But, only from some. \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Mar 29, 2015 at 7:13
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ I like Olin and I feel his frustration with a lot of questions. I've never read a comment/answer by Olin that I felt was overly rude. In my opinion, getting a decent answer at the risk of upsetting a few overly-sensitive folk is fine. When it comes to Fritzing diagrams - they are baby like and I agree with Olin - they are stupid and the sooner newbies learn to be toilet trained the better. How can you explain that fritzing cartoons are not a pro thing without insulting the newbie? I'm 100% behind Olin and his colourful answers but maybe that's because I'm also guilty of the same thing!! \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy aka
    Mar 29, 2015 at 12:13
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ @andyaka -- FWIW, I consider you an archetype of how to behave on this site. You're nothing like Olin (see, even your comment is kind ;). I think Olin would be happier if he just stopped reading questions from anyone with less than 200 rep! He's, generally only obnoxious with new users, and witty, hilarious, and informative otherwise! Problem solved. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 31, 2015 at 21:42

8 Answers 8


Some of the comments called into question here reminded me of someone that I hadn't thought about in years, my 10th and 11th grade electronics teacher. Hey, Mr. Gibbs - if you're reading this, thanks for putting my feet to the coals so I could get my hands around the process of learning and discovery myself.

Gibbs was sort of comical, somewhat ornery and quite famous for telling you what you needed to hear, which usually wasn't anything close to 'good job'. It wasn't his penchant for occasionally blowing his top and off-the-hip salty witticisms that caused him to gain my respect and the trust that a student puts into his teacher, it was something else that separated him from the rest of my teachers:

He hadn't let himself become cynical, he always listened, and he always taught.

While he was often low on patience, he'd never demean or belittle the student, he'd never make you question the value of learning; he'd just make it clear that you could do better and damn well should on your next try. I've already taught you how to do that, until you can do it, there's no use in teaching you more, it all depends on you learning this.

While plenty disagreed with the style in which he taught, not a single person could call into question the facts that he was teaching, and he was listening to his students while teaching directly and effectively to their weaknesses. Every one of his students loved him.

When the line between teaching and sneering becomes so blurry to consistently warrant clarification and justification, something is wrong.

Not everyone has the patience of a saint.

I can't discount the fact that a large number of new users arrive here unaware that there's an order in which to learn things, and unaware that they've skipped several very important steps in that process. I'll also concede that many would much rather that the order of things not apply to them, because who has time for that? Still ...

If you're going to interact with people on a Stack Exchange site, you must make a conscious effort to not berate or belittle our users. If the sum of this community's culture is the worst that its leaders will tolerate, snark would not bode well for this community.

It's fine to be cynical. It's fine to feel that the effort someone has documented makes them undeserving of your time. How you feel and what you say are two different things. If you don't want to answer these questions, don't answer them. If you don't like someone else's answer to a question and can't engage them in a manner that doesn't antagonize them - down-vote and move on.

No one is forcing you to try to teach every student, doing so is an unnecessary burden that you're placing on yourself, and on this community, because what you say reflects on it as a whole.

If your comment is negative and appears to speak more to the person than the post, it can and should be removed without further consideration. We built comments for you to help people make their posts better, not for you to make them feel bad about writing it in the first place. If you're doing the latter, don't expect what you've written to last long on the site. If you're doing it consistently, you're going to be asked to stop. If you can't seem to stop, we'll help you stop, which probably isn't what you want.

It's that simple.

  • 19
    \$\begingroup\$ Very well said! A few discussions here at EE.SE got me thinking whether SE (the company and the community) tolerated disrespect towards users in exchange for knowledgeable contributions. It's my impression that a few users go along with that, but your post answers my question with a blatant NO, it does't. That's something I wanted to hear for a long time. Thanks for putting it so clearly and eloquently. Your post makes me feel I'm part of something really worthwhile. Thanks for that! \$\endgroup\$
    – Ricardo
    Mar 24, 2015 at 1:00
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much. We now have clear and concise reference for everyone to follow. This is of incredible value to the community. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17592
    Mar 25, 2015 at 23:26

The way I've had the situation described to me by some of the other moderators is the following:

If a user is responsible for perhaps 5% or so of the monthly site "value" (for one arbitrary definition of value), then they might be considered critical for the site's (EE.SE) success. If such a user were to get their jollies from bashing noobs, then that's the cost of doing business.

I strongly disagree with that philosophy.

  • 11
    \$\begingroup\$ You're a moderator. You have the power. If you honestly believe that the "noobs" that Olin bashes add more value to the site than Olin does, then by all means, delete his account. I personally would not support such a move. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Mar 22, 2015 at 4:56
  • 37
    \$\begingroup\$ @Dave Delete such an account? I'm not even sure that's possible but that's hardly an action that I'm advocating. I'm not even wanting to trade one for the other - such a false dichotomy. I'm tired of tolerating (or cleaning up) persistent abuse from people who are certainly old enough to know better. The First Thing under the Stack Exchange model on the help page is "Be Nice." \$\endgroup\$
    – W5VO
    Mar 22, 2015 at 7:53
  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ This is not an appropriate situation for application of a value proposition. The toleration of nasty comments tends to pervade the site's culture, signalling to other users, who look up to high-rep users, that this is how to behave. It is not. I've seen this same argument made in a real-life work situation. It always leads to demotivation and disenfranchisement of the 99.9% to stroke the ego of the 0.1%, \$\endgroup\$
    – akellyirl
    Mar 22, 2015 at 9:29
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I'll say it again: Olin won't change. The choice is yours -- either you have to commit to cleaning up after him (and a few other users who are consistently snarky to new users), or you can choose to accept the fact that he is part of what makes this community what it is. After all, that's what being in a community (or indeed, pretty much any relationship) means -- you have to learn to live with certain things that you may not like. But if you want to commit to doing the cleanup, I'll promise not to dismiss any of the snarky comment flags and leave them for you to deal with. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Mar 22, 2015 at 11:38
  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ @Dave - I suggest another approach: why don't you guys suspend Olin's account for a week to let him cool down. Explain why his account has been suspended. He might change with that. If he doesn't, well, then escalate. I've seen enough good people leave just because of behavior like his and the support it's given to him. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ricardo
    Mar 24, 2015 at 2:08
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @Dave - If SE agrees with what you advocate in your comment above, that it's ok to be a jerk if you are powerful and well established in a community, then SE is running a huge image risk. Until today, before I read Tim Post's answer, I thought that was the case, by the SE's omission (the company). Tim's answer makes me think otherwise. In any case, what would a sponsor think if they were asked why they fund a company that encourages jerks to belittle people? Your comment alone would make me want to leave... again... \$\endgroup\$
    – Ricardo
    Mar 24, 2015 at 2:10
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ How does one gauge the value of this site? Has anyone researched how users actually use this site? Does anyone actually come here and use it for research/reference? Not snark, actually asking. Honestly, I have not found this site that useful. There are some good gems of answers here and there, but on the whole, I don't know if I wouldn't have just picked up that info elsewhere in life. \$\endgroup\$
    – dext0rb
    Mar 24, 2015 at 18:15
  • 17
    \$\begingroup\$ "If you honestly believe that the "noobs" that Olin bashes add more value" <-- this is a horrible false dichotomy. Bad behavior by high-rep users drives off other experts who don't want to be part of a demeaning community. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 31, 2015 at 21:48
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ @DrFriedParts That's exactly why I stopped contributing to Wikipedia and started spending my time on SE instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – endolith
    Apr 3, 2015 at 14:46

Personally, I'D prefer a more liberal removal of snark by our mods, especially toward newbies. I've seen snark comments in our meta removed by SE community, and see that as a guideline.

That said, this example certainly isn't the worst one I've seen.

There's something to be said for calling out rudeness right in the comments thread, just to remind users that non-professionalism just doesn't look good, and certainly reflects on the poster, but there's a fine line between that and a pissing contest.

Perhaps encouraging flagging is the best way to go, taking the burden off the mods by triggering a delete through multiple flags.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ That isn't how flagging works. Flagging a comment immediately makes it a diamond moderator issue. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Mar 21, 2015 at 15:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ In the comment thread above it mentions that three plus offensive flags trigger a community delete. Is this true? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 21, 2015 at 15:54
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Only if all of the moderators choose to ignore the flag long enough for it to be flagged multiple times. Here in EE.SE, the moderators tend to respond to flags immediately. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Mar 21, 2015 at 15:57
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I see - it's accumulated flags, not total flags \$\endgroup\$ Mar 21, 2015 at 15:58

I think is is partly a cultural issue, and partly a clash of what people perceive as is this sites goal. The following might seem a bit exaggerated, but this is just the result on concentrating on the extremes. All things have happened, just maybe not at once.

There are many cultures on this planet, and a lot of people forget that. They think they are on the same page with the people writing here as they are with those that they meet everyday in their real life. This is not so.

It particularly gets evident for me (and sometimes annoys me as hell) when a lot of people seemingly coming from the US or related areas talk as if everything in the world is the same. Mains is 120V 60Hz, 240V mains is from two phases, degrees are in fahrenheit, wire thickness is in AWG, speed is in miles per hour, you can take a bus ride from new york to paris and so on.

These people seem to have a large crossection with the culture of making sure that new people are welcome at the best way they can. Put a lot of effort in helping them, make sure they receive upvotes for their questions to make them feel welcome, make sure they do not feel in any way offended. If there is the slightest possibility that they are, get out the big words and tools, demand explanations for downvotes, scold those that downvoted that the question is by someone new and scream bloody murder over how people are not handholding.

Now that was one site of the culture. Then there is another, mostly based on facts and experience. They don't jump into conclusions, they need more facts. 178 degrees what? what mosfet? what switch?

Before I go on with these people, let me get to the second main point, what this site is for. The most prominent text we have is:

Electrical Engineering Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for electronics and electrical engineering professionals, students, and enthusiasts. It's built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites. With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about electronics design.

So for whom is this site? Professionals, Students and Enthusiasts.

What are we doing? We build a library of detailed answers to every question about electronics design.

Not because all knowledge isn't already out there in books and wikis, but because the format might be more suited because it usually is focused on single aspects. This also means that it should all be in a nice format. Easy to parse (not necessarily to understand, depending on the topic) questions, all information, no second guessing, no XY problems, no fluff, no unnecessary duplication.

Then there are the other people that see "questions and answers" and nothing more. The extreme cases you can see mistaking this for some kind of discussion forum. When asking questions they have an important (for them) problem to solve, and demand an answer. Searching through existing ones is too much of an effort, also because their exact same problem has not already happened to someone else.

Along with those come a lot of people that like to cater to these. Partly because of the failure margin of this sites gamification, partly because they truly misinterpret (or in the worse case hijack) the sites intentions. They want everyones questions answered to the questioners satisfaction with the least amount of effort spent by the questioner. Sometimes it is even fun for them guessing around and trying several options before getting to some possible answer.

Now let us get back to the experience based people. They are mostly professionals. Sometimes students. Hopefully enthusiasts (and honestly, to a certain degree you must be to stay on the internet for a while). They all have in common that to learn something you must spend some effort. You don't run around and let people feed knowledge into you, they try to acquire it on their own. When they are stuck they resort to asking other people, but they do so in the best way they can. If that doesn't appear to be so, it is not because they are lazy, but because they are confused. They quickly answer questions to their question, revise the question, provide information as good as they can. Some of those were even seen reading the FAQ and Tour before asking their first question here. Those people grow in knowledge and while staying here, inevitably are exposed to the same questions over and over again. They grow tired of them.

Do a cross intersection of all of them, and you end up with extreme groups. On the one site those that want everyones question to be answered and handhold people. On the other end, those that have seen everything and jump only in onto the things that catches their attention. Be it in the positive or negative way. Crappy question? Stupid unusable wiring diagram? They saw it countless times.

Also they might not be from a culture consisting of nipple delays and beeps over offensive words. They see boobs and shit in the news at 1pm. They go into the bar and after 10 minutes ask the barkeeper "Where is my fucking beer?" and no one gets offended. They say to their coworker "Get this fucking shit off my table!" and no one tears up and runs to HR to complain.

That all being said: This is the internet. Cultures clash.

When you are ignorant about the taxi fares to another continent over the ocean, don't complain that you had to blush and hide yourself because you read the word "fuck".

When you demand patience of a saint and indefinite handholding of seemingly lazy posters, you must live with people that spend their free time demanding from posters that those put enough effort to be able to help them.

In the end, people here get what they payed for. What is fair? Is it having the experts spend more and more of their free time to decipher unreadable napkin wiring diagrams? Or is it having those who want something from the experts to spend their time in presenting information in a way that those can be easily and completely interpreted?

Let me repeat: This is the internet. Cultures clash. What you perceive as a personal insult will most likely not be meant as one. Text only accounts for 7% of the communication they say, and there is always so much room for misinterpretation. Just a very classical example:

enter image description here

We can apply that in the same way to comments like "It is a shitty fritzig wiring diagram". Fritzing wiring diagrams are shit. But what does that tell about whoever uses them? At most, that they do not know better. If you are insulted by being told that there is something you don't know, that what you thought you know is wrong or what you thought is good is seen bad by others, then by all means, pull your internet cable (yes, the wifi one too).

Yes, the help center contains wordings like "That includes terms that feel personal even when they're applied to posts" but this is entirely meaningless as it is about a very subjective feeling. Clearly the person stating it does not feel being personal when they say that fritzing wiring diagrams are shit, because well, they are shit.

Does that mean should accept all kinds of swearing and possible insulting? Not at all! But snarky comments spice up the boring world of having the "what is the ohms law" question seen a gazillionth time in disguise. It is what the world lives from, and communities like this too. It is like the patina in your teakettle. The right amount is important. Too much and you have bitter parts in your mouth. Too little and the taste is just dull.

We should always see the amount of such things in context with the good content added. If you add lots of nice and intresting stuff, you should be forgiven the eventual venting. But do not overstep certain borders. Real and clear insults are rarely appropriate on this site.

If you feel insulted, and don't have a thick enough skin to wipe it off, tell it. Say "I feel insulted by that comment of yours". The reply will be most likely something like "Oh, it was not meant as an insult, I just think that fritzing wiring diagrams are utter shit, it has nothing to do with you". Case settled like adults.

Also I think to step up on behalf of someone else who could have felt insulted is as wrong as making lots of guesses to answer a totally underspecified question. My kids go to kindergarten, not the people participating in this community.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Wish I could +10 ... \$\endgroup\$
    – brhans
    Mar 24, 2015 at 15:45
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I would like to have all + votes on my answer moved to this one! \$\endgroup\$ Mar 24, 2015 at 17:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ My snarky, spicy comment was removed! Guess the remover missed the point I was demonstrating. \$\endgroup\$
    – dext0rb
    Mar 24, 2015 at 18:58
  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ The world and this community lives from demeaning comments? How could you be more wrong! It sounds like you should pull that Internet cable. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17592
    Mar 25, 2015 at 8:26

I see that my extended comments on Tim Post's answer are similar to other 'answers' which are comments on the broader subject - so I'm converting them here to an 'answer" with some additions and editing.

I like Tim's "official" answer, and it's consistent with my understanding not only of the "rules" but, more importantly, the ethos of the site.
And, it's consistent with other responses from 'management' that I've seen from time to time.
But, so far, the effects of such statements of intent have had relatively minimal, if any, impact on those who clearly disagree with it, and if all we get are excellent statements of clear intent, without any obvious subsequent input when the guidelines are (yet again) 'trampled into the mud', then it's liable to be 'business as usual'.

In a comment to an answer a moderator says to the OP :

  • "All your flags were on comments by a particular user, which is exactly the sort of hostile behavior pattern that we're supposed to look for. That's why all but one were simply dismissed."

Even knowing past histories of a number of the people involved I find that the "that's why" comment is exceedingly disturbing. Add to that the same moderator's response to W5VO's question and we seem to be in an irremediable situation under the present "rules of engagement".

The moderator response

  • "If you honestly believe that the "noobs" that Olin bashes add more value to the site than Olin does, then by all means, delete his account. I personally would not support such a move."

This does not suggest that Olin does not "bash" newcomers, and in fact essentially agrees that he does or may. BUT more importantly it essentially states that the test IS that value added by a user makes a proportionate amount of antisocial behaviour acceptable to site management. ie ... If one person contributes immensely disproportionately to new-user abuse BUT is also a high rep member that makes them essentially immune to either correction or complaint.

Much of the conversation in comments to W5VO's answer is pertinent.

The whole comment (formatting only added by me)

"I'll say it again: Olin won't change.
The choice is yours -

Either you have to commit to cleaning up after him (and a few other users who are consistently snarky to new users),

or you can choose to accept the fact that he is part of what makes this community what it is. After all, that's what being in a community (or indeed, pretty much any relationship) means -- you have to learn to live with certain things that you may not like.

But if you want to commit to doing the cleanup, I'll promise not to dismiss any of the snarky comment flags and leave them for you to deal with."

is highly relevant, especially coming from a moderator.

It's saying (as far as I can tell) that Olin (as the example, but anyone "important enough") has the right to behave as they choose because of their value, and threatens lss involvement from 'management' if people wish to have their views actively taken account of.

Olin is the most extreme example of the behavior being discussed, and so a good example.
I need to note that I have VERY considerable respect, not only for Olin's technical capabilities but also for his genuine willingness to spend time helping people and for the "free stuff" he has made available over time - most visibly his superb PC development environment, which is arguably the best in the world.
He and I have been involved in a few online forums for maybe around 15 years. I understand as well as I may what he is trying to achieve, why he behaves as he does, what outcomes hopes for and why he thinks it is the best way*.

I agree with a major part of his aims. That doesn't make his methods acceptable when they are completely contrary to site ethos.

I think I am perhaps of "about as much value" to SE as Olin, looking at all forums.
But in assessing his, (or others') allowable excesses, nobody seems to add up the necessary "cost" or "value" of people (like me) who go out of their way (on and off list) to retain and assist newcomers who are purposefully, if possible, driven from the site if they 'do not measure up'.
FWIW - I'm accustomed to being abused on occasion "by management" for attempting to assist and support newcomers who are bemused by the system and the 'interesting" reception they get.

What should be done? - I don't know.
What can be done? I don't know.

But business as usual is what can be expected if something does not actively change.


I'm active on a few SE sites, and read EE.SE fairly regularly. IMO, most of the example comments are not that bad:

Enough with those stupid wiring diagrams already!

"Stupid" clearly refers to the wiring diagrams. It's clear that Olin doesn't like the type of diagram, so I'd say it's a stretch to say he's calling the person stupid for using a bad tool.

What a mess! What MOSFET? What switch? Which capacitor do you think is the "filter" capacitor?

This one comes across as being more personal because it's about how the question was presented, but it does only refer to the diagram and presentation of the question.

You've asked a bunch of questions about motors here in a short time. Try to actually understand the answers to the other questions before blurting out new questions

This is very blunt advice, but it's not rude. And when you take into account what the reply was, it turns out that this comment is exactly right: the person admits they've asked a ton of questions and hasn't absorbed the answers they've already recieved.

Your question makes no sense because there is no standard "up" for a ethernet connector,

Again, this is perhaps blunt, but it's true: there is no standard for up, so asking "why are they always upside down" doesn't make sense.

-1 for blatant RTFM failure

Ok, this one might be over the line for rudeness, but even this doesn't say anything negative about the person, it's a short, coloquial way of saying "I downvoted because the obvious thing to do is read the manual."

So out of 5 examples, 2 of them might be rude and (again, IMO) 3 of them definitely aren't.

The most common complaint about downvotes I see on SE sites is "why didn't anyone comment to help me improve my question(s)?" Here you have someone who not only answers tons of questions, he consistently tells newbies how to get more out of the site. All 5 of these examples, even the "what a mess" comments contain advice on how to improve either the specific question or the person's use of SE in general.

They're blunt comments, but they are not insulting to the person who asked, and the site would be worse off without them. I'm sure I've seen some comments that are over the line, but as long as those get flagged and dealt with, I think it's better to let blunt but not rude comments stay.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ This was already discussed in the comments. In the help center it says, emphasis mine: "Name-calling. Focus on the post, not the person. That includes terms that feel personal even when they're applied to posts (like "lazy", "ignorant", or "whiny")." Imagine you're actually talking to someone who makes a wiring diagram instead of a schematic. Will you tell him that's stupid and use an exclamation mark? No, you will tell him politely and patiently that these wiring diagrams are not as clear/whatever as schematics, because blah, blah, blah. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17592
    Mar 22, 2015 at 21:44
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Leave alone the usage of 'fuck'. Even if not applied to a person, you shouldn't use this word. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17592
    Mar 22, 2015 at 21:44
  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ @CamilStaps: You're the only person who has ever used that word in this entire conversation. Olin said "RTFM", which means "Read The Fine Manual". \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Mar 23, 2015 at 1:55
  • 14
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think anyone is debating the intent behind the comments - it's clearly in an effort to communicate a problem with the question, or the manner in which a user could better utilize the site. But when the disconnect between the intent and the reception of such comments is consistently and sufficiently large to require explanation in order to avert hurt feelings, there is in fact a problem. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim Post
    Mar 23, 2015 at 4:01
  • 19
    \$\begingroup\$ @DaveTweed en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/RTFM \$\endgroup\$
    – user17592
    Mar 23, 2015 at 8:12
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ @CamilStaps Perhaps this is a 'lost-in-translation' thing but in my experience, although RTFM almost certainly did originate from and may technically still expand to 'Read The Fucking Manual' I don't believe I have ever seen it used or used it myself in such an explicit way. As a native-English speaker I would not feel as though I had been sworn at if told to RTFM. In my opinion it has long since been 'colloquialised' and is usually even regarded as somewhat humorous (depending on context). \$\endgroup\$
    – brhans
    Mar 23, 2015 at 19:38
  • 13
    \$\begingroup\$ @brhans - Seriously?? To me, a non-native-English speaker, the "F" in RTFM is definitely not fine, and I'd bet my bottom dollar that Olin didn't mean fine, either. But if you live in an environment in which you would say RTFM to a person you just met, to their face, or let the person tell you that, you just lost all respect. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ricardo
    Mar 24, 2015 at 1:42
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ @Ricardo Yes! Seriously!! In my experience of the common usage of the slang term RTFM in colloquial English, is it not expected, or even anticipated, that the individual on the receiving end will or should expand it into its individual words. Whether or not RTFM was ever (over the last 50-60 years) commonly viewed as offensive may be debatable, but it certainly isn't now. Even the meanings and connotations of real words change over time - research the etymology of the word nice for an extreme example. \$\endgroup\$
    – brhans
    Mar 24, 2015 at 13:16
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @Ricardo I think some commenters are being tongue in cheek or disingenuous (not sure which). As a native English speaker I can assure you that colloquially speaking the insertion of an F in an acronym or sentence ("F'ing") where it does not normally belong is always the F-bomb (onlineslangdictionary.com/meaning-definition-of/f-bomb) \$\endgroup\$
    – akellyirl
    Mar 24, 2015 at 16:02
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ This is so stupid! Now you argue about the "F" in RTFM, rather than the overarching issue at hand??? What a world. RTFM == read the fucking manual. If you don't know, now you know. \$\endgroup\$
    – dext0rb
    Mar 24, 2015 at 20:42
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ While @dext0rb seems to be a little overheated, he has a valid point. Only the fact that there can be a discussion about this shows that it should not be used in an international context. I lived for a year closely together with around 20 people from all over the world. Then you learn to be very careful with people from different cultures. In particular you learn to only/mainly use unambiguous terms, and only very explicit forms of sarcasm. Otherwise, communication is impossible in an international context. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17592
    Mar 24, 2015 at 23:00
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @CamilStaps, I can't really understand that the "This is so stupid!" from dextorb is a "litlle overheated (but has a valid point)", while something like "This question doesn't make sense" from Olin is "not a way of treating other human beings". In the other hand, "RTFM" appears in 12 questions and answers by different users at the main site (unfortunately comments are not searchable), and its usage doesn't appear to be associated with any negative behaviour. \$\endgroup\$
    – Roger C.
    Mar 25, 2015 at 0:38
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @RogerC to be honest, I find it extremely annoying that people here point to my consequence, while I have been doing so much reviewing and moderation lately that I hardly have time to read and answer questions. I'm doing as much as I can. If that's not enough for you, maybe you should help yourself. It's very, very easy to only comment here on meta. The argument you're using is 1) not nice and 2) unsound. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17592
    Mar 25, 2015 at 7:35
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @CamilStaps, I'm sorry to hear that I'm not being nice, it might seem so because we have different views on this particular topic, but I really didn't mean to reproach you anything or annoy you in any way. I'm very new in this site but I'd quickly recognized you as a very active and valuable member of this community. I just happen to hold the same opinion about Olin, so I hope you'll quickly arrive to an agreement. \$\endgroup\$
    – Roger C.
    Mar 25, 2015 at 10:29
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ @brhans Even down here on the bottom of the world it's entirely clear what the F means. Most who use the term tend not to care - it goes with the territory. I am astounded that there are apparently at least two of you 'up there' who are unaware of what the term is saying. \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Mar 29, 2015 at 7:17

I'll post this as a related "answer" in its own right. If it gets a life of its own I'll leave it here and delete it from its position as an appendix to my answer. If it gets beaten to a pulp I'll delete it.

PLEASE do not edit the following to "improve" the format and/or remove the per-line
"Encouraged to"'s. If you wish to suggest a format improvement - please contact me.
Feel free to suggest extra Encouraged to ...'s - I'm not finished yet!.
Or add them at the bottom.

Newcomers should be encouraged.

Encouraged to learn.
Encouraged to think.
Encouraged to "do their homework" before they ask a question.
Encouraged to express their requirements clearly.
Encouraged to ask the actual question
and not to start in an oblique and ultimately irrelevant manner.
Encouraged to provide all available details (so that "the death by 1000 updates" is avoided.)
Encouraged to provide clear diagrams (circuits and other) drawn in as "professional way as their situation, experience and skill level allows.
Encouraged to ask what they wish to achieve
rather than tell how they intend to solve a poorly specified requirement.
Encouraged to use as good English as is reasonable given their experience and linguistic skills.
Encouraged to understand and use "normal punctuation" & correct capitalisation.
Encouraged not to use "text speak", not to start queries with "So ...", not ...
Encouraged to make an effort to not waste the time of people trying to assist them.
Encouraged not to take for granted the immense and valuable resource this site represents.
Encouraged to have and show respect * for those of great (or even just greater) capability who make the effort to assist them.
Encouraged by assistance with their homework or coursework which advances the educational aims of the course rather than defeating the aims by serving up 'canned answers'.

Encouraged by the welcome they receive.
Encouraged by the guidance and process used to help them to improve substandard questions.
Encouraged by the understanding approach taken to their difficulties with a language that is not their primary one.
Encouraged by the understanding of cultural differences when these affect interactions.

Encouraged to feel part of the community even when they know very little, have great problems understanding the concepts and find electronics as a whole mysterious and very challenging.

Encouraged to become aware of the tools available and in how to learn and use the tools.

Encouraged ....

Encouraged !


To be added to:

Olin's excellent 'how to draw diagrams' post. Schematic editor
Image posting. Image presentation.

  • Being encouraged to show respect is liable to not involve "demanding respect". Respect is often enough something that accrues easily enough as a product of one's behaviours, and is liable to be eroded by demands.

I'm stupid every now and then. I might hold a stupid belief about something or other and someone comes along, calls me stupid and explains why I was being stupid. On the other hand someone comes along and tries to explain my ineptitude without calling me names. Do I bother listening?

Answer: I probably listen to the guy calling me stupid more often than to the guy not attracting my attention with that special word. It's a special word that rings a bell and puts me into "listen mode".

Everyone is stupid now and then and calling them stupid, to my way of thinking, is helping them come to terms with their stupidity as speedily as possible. They learn and then they are not stupid any more about that particular thing.

But they (including me and you) are still stupid because most folk have a few of these wrong beliefs locked-away inside of them but, for now, having just had one of those numerous stupidities removed, the person ought to feel grateful. Showing gratitude is another issue!!!

That's how it works for me - someone calls me stupid, I listen and the stupidity gets fixed and, believe it or not, I'm happier and grateful. Not calling me stupid (or "retarded" because that is also a word that works for me) is likely to lengthen the time I remain stupid/retarded.

Not calling me stupid AND not helping me understand the errors of my ways is downright rude as far as I'm concerned. So please do call me stupid if you think I'm wrong because you'll be doing me a favour and I will be grateful.

"Read the data sheet" does not have the same meaning as "you must always read the data sheet" but, to my way of thinking "RTFD" informs the recipient that he or she should always read the data sheet. It's a golden rule and "RTFD" being so succinct is probably better than "you must always.." etc..

How is calling someone stupid AND helping them understand the error of their ways NOT being nice? It works for me but maybe some folk don't ever regard themselves as being stupid?

I'm with Olin all the way on this and my motivation is to help people and I'm sure his is too. Please don't forget that.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Andy - I know with certainty that your certitude is misplaced, alas. \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Mar 31, 2015 at 13:56
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon Now if you really wanted to make me listen to your ramblings then read what I've put LOL. I am assuming you are being a bit of a tease with your comment BTW. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy aka
    Mar 31, 2015 at 14:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Andy, ignorance can be a fleeting thing, but stupid is forever. \$\endgroup\$
    – EM Fields
    Mar 31, 2015 at 19:34
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @EMFields as I've said we are all stupid but probably not forever. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy aka
    Mar 31, 2015 at 19:39
  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ Andy, ignorance can be a fleeting thing, but stupid is forever. I like your way of curing ignorance since you provide information with no rancor, but I hate Olin's way, which is pejorative and is designed to beat a querent into either submission or flight. \$\endgroup\$
    – EM Fields
    Mar 31, 2015 at 19:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Andy, Just because you've said it doesn't make it so. Stupid is generally not curable, since it involves the inability to learn. Consequently, barring some miracle, stupidity is forever. Ignorance, on the other hand, just means that you don't know something which - if you're not stupid - you can learn. \$\endgroup\$
    – EM Fields
    Mar 31, 2015 at 20:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @emfields everyone now and then are stupid for having some form of belief that is wrong. I am and everyone is not immune and, the good news is that our personal stupidities can be fixed by external help. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy aka
    Mar 31, 2015 at 22:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Andyaka excuse me the necrocommenting here, but chuckles may I quote you (with attribution to you of course) on my FB? You actually made my day, because you summed up things I've been saying for years... I wholeheartedly agree with you; we are all stupid, we all make errors, we all have to learn at some times in our lives. OTOH, I think it actually takes a quite intelligent person to react to the phrase "You're stupid" properly... Most people use adjectives as praises or insults, not objective critique, and I assume they are expecting the very same. \$\endgroup\$
    – user20088
    Nov 29, 2016 at 19:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @vaxquis be my guest and I'm glad you appreciated it!! \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy aka
    Nov 29, 2016 at 21:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @vaxquis please send me a link to your FB page if you can - andy@jamesoakwood.co.uk is my email dude. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy aka
    Nov 30, 2016 at 12:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Andyaka done; it's from vaxquis AT gmail.com, in case your email filter considers it a spam for whatever reason. \$\endgroup\$
    – user20088
    Nov 30, 2016 at 17:21

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