raganwald
Monday, August 27, 2007
  Off Topic: Meanies!
This exchange on comp.compression is like one of those depressing movies where you suddenly realize you don’t like any of the characters.

There’s this guy, you think maybe he’s misguided and needs a few pointers to realize he’s trying to create a perpetual motion machine. But no, he turns out to be a complete troll with sock puppets flying in formation.

And his interlocutors? Are they patient, nice people pushed over the edge by his behaviour? No, they come across as just plain mean, like a group of nerds in the high school cafeteria laughing at someone because he isn’t as smart as they think they are. Yes, the guy is a troll, but there’s absolutely no need to be so rude to him. Especially when plonk is a key press away.

My experience is that rude behaviour is never forced upon people by circumstance. Some people are rude by nature, some people aren’t. Don’t tell me you have to be rude to people like him because of such and such. That’s just rationalization.

Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot.
—Paul Graham, What You Can't Say

The moral of the story is this: do not be lured into taunting or insulting someone on the premise that they are wrong, stupid, or rude themselves. They’re an idiot. Fine. Keep that opinion to yourself. Sharing it with the whole world literally drags you into the muck and reflects very poorly on your character.

I am not giving you advice here, I am sharing a painful realization. Looking back on many of my own exchanges, once the heat of the moment passes, I am often dismayed at what I have written, at the tone I have taken, at the sheer meanness of my flames.

Learn from my experience: if there is no intellectual benefit to be had from a discussion, walk away.




p.s. My comment policy on my blog, as always, is that rudeness to me is always tolerated. Well, I prefer that you not be profane, as a courtesy to other readers, but being mean to me is always acceptable.
 

Comments on “Off Topic: Meanies!:
Part of the problem is caused by the medium itself - there's a great post from a few years back called The Tyranny of Email which attempts to explain some of this (in the context of email, but forums are reasonably similar).
 
While you are right, you must admit that he sucked them in masterfully. I mean, the buzzwords, the "theory" and the hook (paraphrase "I encrypted my files with my compressor and then deleted originals").
I understand them to a point. They have this group to discuss real topics and here comes along a brash individual, spewing rhetoric and bucking the conventions. It was amusing to say the least.
 
I understand why people would want to police a group, to maintain a high signal-to-noise ratio and to keep it on-topic.

But I don't think flames have any positive effect on that, especially when dealing with an obvious troll.

And yes, it is amusing, which in itself is part of the problem. It provides an incentive for the group to tolerate or even encourage the flaming, which attracts more trolls!
 
Actually, its unfortunate that a culture of smug jerks has taken over usenet and other forums who will jump on anyone who shows up with an unconventional idea-- *especially* if they aren't a troll. These arrogant assholes think that any mention of an idea outside the mainstream must be attacked, and they have no integrity so they will attack it viciously and dishonestly.

A great example of this is the legion of holocaust deniers who invoke godwins law whenever anyone mentions fascism. Which is, of course, ironic given that it was living in a state of denial that allowed fascism to take hold in germany in the first place.

So, I have my own law: Anyone who calls another person on usenet a troll is actually the troll.

I havent' read the thread here in question- I've read enough. But I've been called a troll more than once and had others who supported me be accused of being sock-puppets... when our only crime was to passionately argue for an unpopular position.

Troll and sock-puppet and godwins law are the words of cowards who cannot actually make an argument- but who will stir up as much shit as they can without actually engaging on the point. And thus, these terms are really about the person using them more than the person they are used to attack.
 
Oh and they are idiots. The people doing the attacking have, like godwins law and occams razor taken something they thought they understood, dropped a critical qualification, and started to apply it in places it doesn't belong, for instance:

"There is no compressor that can compress every single 36-byte file by at least one bit. "

Such a compressor is trivial- take your 36 bit file, strip off the first byte, and store it with a name that is two characters longer where each character represents 4 bits of the byte that was stripped off. The file is now a byte shorter and has been thus "compressed". (And before anyone goes "but, but but", I simply dropped the qualifications that they dropped. they are precisely wrong.)

This may not be what they meant to say, but they aren't giving the other guy a chance either-- they are jumping on him because he said something that they think they know the answer to, and so rather than understand what he/she said, they go to town for their own enjoyment.

As usual, the attackers are trolls, not the alleged "troll".
 
Your response to the problem of people being really angry on Usenet is a false equivalence argument?

If you have unlimited file metadata, it obviously has to count as part of the file size, and the proof that you can't compress every file is quite absolute. There's no point in claiming anyone who thinks they have a perpetual motion machine has a point.
 
> a culture of smug jerks has taken over usenet and other forums who will jump on anyone who shows up with an unconventional idea

This is "an unconventional idea" in the same way 2 + 2 = 5 is "an unconventional idea". It's wrong. It can never be right. No major breakthrough or revolutionary new way of thinking can make it work. How would you expect to be treated if you insisted on telling a mathematician that 2 + 2 = 5 because you know it will wind him up because he's been told the same thing a thousand times before?

> Anyone who calls another person on usenet a troll is actually the troll.

"Troll" isn't a word meaning "person I don't like". It means a person who deliberately pretends to be stupid in order to wind a group of people up.

> I havent' read the thread here in question- I've read enough. But I've been called a troll more than once and had others who supported me be accused of being sock-puppets... when our only crime was to passionately argue for an unpopular position.

That is not the case here. Read the thread.

> Troll and sock-puppet and godwins law are the words of cowards who cannot actually make an argument

And also the words of people who have to deal with trolls and sock-puppets on a regular basis.

Do you think genuine trolls and sock-puppets don't exist? If you accept that they exist, then you also have to accept that there are people who have to deal with them. Do you think people like being trolled? No? Then you also have to accept that people can call others trolls legitimately.
 
I think the sad part about that Usenet thread is that it took something like 24 replies after the original message for someone to point out the most obvious and elegant argument against the original post - that if you have a technique that can compress any file, you can take a file of any size and compress it, compress the compressed file, compress that compressed file, ad infinitum until your humongous original file is now one bit long. Not only is the argument very simply stated, it's very simple to understand and will instantly show the OP that he is mistaken.

Instead the others first respond with cock-babbling drunken loon or some such. I'm not disappointed by the fact that they were mean so much as the fact that for a discussion group on compression, their response tactic was ironically inefficient.
 
> I think the sad part about that Usenet thread is that it took something like 24 replies after the original message for someone to point out the most obvious and elegant argument against the original post

This topic comes up so often in comp.compression that this explanation is present in the FAQ. The troll specifically mentioned the FAQ entry in his first message and said that it was wrong.

The troll had the explanation as to why he was wrong before he even posted his first message to the group, and everybody saw that. That's why it took so long for somebody to point it out - because he was clearly already aware of it.
 
Doing a poor job of playing devil's advocate, they've probably seen their fair share of people who weren't trolls, merely deluded, and it looked to me like they were trying to tell someone that they thought was equal parts insane and ignorant to put down that glass bottle before they tried pounding nails with it.
I take that back - it's Usenet so the metaphor doesn't fit. They handed the guy a bottle they knew had a hairline fracture and stood at the ready with lemon juice and salt to pour all over the lacerations they knew would ensue.
 
>This topic comes up so often in comp.compression that this explanation is present in the FAQ.

I've only skimmed the FAQ, but unless I've missed a relevant section "universal recursive compressor can't exist because you could compress a 1TB file down to one byte and that's absurd" doesn't appear there. I don't pretend for a moment that that's a bulletproof rigorous argument; however, it is the one that someone proposing a universal recursive compressor will immediately understand. By contrast, it seems to me the counting argument proof present in the FAQ leaves the ignorant with just enough self-delusional wiggle room to think it "just might work."

The troll specifically mentioned the FAQ entry in his first message and said that it was wrong.

Which supports my argument that he couldn't (before they knew he was pretending at least) understand the proof, so the first thing out of somebody's keyboard providing they have benevolent intentions would be "take huge file A, compress A into B, compress B into C....until file ZZ is one bit long. Please test to make sure your program can do this." OK so that last sentence would require a saintly amount of patience, but the rest seems to me quite reasonable. There is, of course, also the option of adding the "Universal Recursive Compressor Debunking for Dummies" argument to the FAQ.

>The troll had the explanation as to why he was wrong before he even posted his first message to the group, and everybody saw that. That's why it took so long for somebody to point it out - because he was clearly already aware of it.

This doesn't seem to me to explain what happened in the thread - rather, it seems to provide an argument that the responders were in the wrong. If the person was genuinely confused, then the simple explanation can be typed in less than a minute or failing that, "RTFFAQ" takes mere seconds. If the person was suspected of lying in order to troll, then responding at all is total folly.

In either case, a few dozen replies accusing the original poster of cock-buffing homogayness or whatever dumb responses they were seem to me to be at worst wildly inappropriate and at best wholly foolish.
 
> I've only skimmed the FAQ, but unless I've missed a relevant section "universal recursive compressor can't exist because you could compress a 1TB file down to one byte and that's absurd" doesn't appear there.

See section 9 of the FAQ. It's a variant of the counting argument. It's easier for people to comprehend that one bit can't hold all the information than it is for them to comprehend that one bit less than the original file size is not enough for all files.

> There is, of course, also the option of adding the "Universal Recursive Compressor Debunking for Dummies" argument to the FAQ.

It's already there. Do you think that "It is mathematically impossible to create a program compressing without loss *all* files by at least one bit" isn't worded strongly enough?

> If the person was genuinely confused, then the simple explanation can be typed in less than a minute or failing that, "RTFFAQ" takes mere seconds.

Have you actually read the thread? It's worthless to tell him to read the FAQ because he already said he read it!
 
Jim: you're just as bad as the people on the thread.

Either take the time to explain the FAQ to the guy (he's obviously not understanding it), or don't say anything. Repeating the FAQ sarcastically isn't going to lead anyone to enlightenment.
 
so well put reg. you're a king among bloggers.

lb .:: secretgeek.net ::.
 
The original poster, the putative troll, was a group of students who couldn't resist pulling compression.comp's leg. What a lot of hokem that was swallowed and rejected with righteous indignation. It's not a good example of flaming; It's a good example of baiting the bears.
 




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