Saturday, December 13, 2014

Rant: Web Resources and Bad Behaviors

OK!  I'm hooked!  I used to spend time on political forums, arguing about this and that, now I spend time visiting a number of different websites where there are useful (usually) hints on how to accomplish things using Excel and with VBA. 

Let me start with being clear about something: I appreciate the investment of money, time, and energy people put into these sites.  I also appreciate the value they bring to my work.

Something else:  This is not just Excel/VBA or technical sites.  I've seen this in a lot of fields.  We're special, just not that special.


Now, here are things I don't appreciate.

No feedback opportunity

Ok! Great hint or how-to.  Much appreciated!  

But, of course, you knew that.

Ever hear of "peer review"? Simply because someone is published on the Internet (or in books or articles) doesn't mean their work is the end-all, be-all, "settled science", end-of-discussion.  Let me be Exhibit 1 in the Case of The Author Ain't Always Write!  (...err Isn't Right).  

Honestly, I would appreciate an opportunity (if appropriate) to offer feedback.  Sometimes the readers need some clarification.  Sometimes the readers would like to suggest an improvement or another scenario in which a technique might be applied.  It makes us feel like we've got some skin in the game .

And there are benefits to the authors and web-site hosting organizations.  I'm not talking about learning from someone like me, it's that when people are more involved they are more likely to return.

Before you think I'm a total crank, the rest of this post is a litany about why some sites might not want the headache of allowing others to "contribute".

Initial Snobbery

Most of the people who read these websites are like me, something less than an expert.  Many of the people who author article/tips/how-tos are knowledgeable and work hard to provide what they do. 

Then there are a few in the middle, those with initials after their names, who sometimes come across as if it gives them license to be dismissive, and even rude.

Don't forget, when you wear that college sweatshirt or post with "MVP" or "MBA" or "PMP" after your name, you're showing pride in representing a group.  Don't embarrass other members of your group by your bad behavior.

My way or the highway

Unlike in my days as more of a political forum junkie, no one has threatened to throw me off a site because our opinions differed 

What I have seen are people who are dismissive because someone prefers one method over another.  The VLOOKUP v INDEX(MATCH()) discussions too often devolve into this, as do "real language" people v VBA programmers and promoters of Array functions v. the plebeian rest.

Let me put it this way, I announced this is a rant, and this is a sub-rant. When members of one group take on the attitude that their method is inviolably superior to the "competition", the implication is the others are somehow defective,  it's time for either a flame war (like the political forum days) or to step back and write something constructive.

IOW, JimmyJoe, when you made that comment that we're not using a certain technique because I couldn't explain it well enough, ignoring the facts about who is the audience, you've inspired several posts.

Typo Tyranny

That's a doorway disguised as alliteration.

Yes, sometimes there are misspellings.  Sometimes someone types "Worksheet" when they obviously mean "Worksheets", meaning the collection containing one or more Worksheet.  Sometimes one writes a code snippet, tests it, pastes it into a comment or article, "fixes" some small thing,  and then the code blows up.  Once you hit that post key, some people treat any imperfection as a character flaw.

Site Promotion 

I recently saw a comment on a site, in response to a hint/how-to/article, that basically said, "Come to our site to see how this should be done."

I consider myself a guest at someone's site, just as I do when I am in a restaurant or retail store.  When in those other places it is considered rude to talk loudly about shopping/eating elsewhere as if it were much superior.

On the other hand, my image of these people is they would probably take their McDonald's bag into Burger King.

Off-topic questions

Over the past few weeks, on a site that doesn't have an "Ask Billy Bob...Ask the Universe" feature (they publish hints and how-tos and allow readers to post comments), there have been several instances of this.  

Consider reading an article on manipulating charts then running into reader scurvydog who wants to know how to format fonts in a cell...gaaack!

Do My Work For Me

Some other sites, typically those that have a lively "Ask Billy Bob...Ask the Universe" forum feature, there are posts that come across as "The professor said this is the problem..." or "I'm new to Excel and I'm expected to ...".

The first thing I want to tell these folks is "Learn to research!"  Instead of asking your question as if it is a first-time-anyone-has-done-this-sort-of-thing assignment, use your favorite search engine(s) to see what is out there.  

It's not a matter of I don't want to help, it's a matter of help yourself then ask when you get stuck. Like the guy in the next cube says when I ask for help on a some SQL issue, "Learn to fish!"

No Deed is Good Enough

This is one I've seen mainly from the "Do My Work For Me" crowd.  They post their lament about the problem they are trying to solve.  More experienced contributors recognize it for what it is.  Unless it is an interesting problem, with a quick turn-around, it can sit for days without a response.

What happens when some well-meaning schmuck provides an answer that fulfills all of the requirements?  They get the "it works but there I don't like the way it...."

And then we have one more person who looks askance at these help-me-by-doing-my-job requests, thinking "You got more than you paid for!"

Unreadable code

Dangit! Indent the different levels of a program!  

Stop using variable names that look like they came from a random character generator, Sqilther239847TRE has no meaning and is hard to differentiate from Sqi1ther239847TRE and Sqilther238947TRE!

The letter "i" has been a pseudo-standard loop counter for decades.  Using i1, i2, i3 etc. is OK in my book.  So are i, j, k ... and a, b, c....

HOWEVER! use them in proper order.  This give me a head explosion when I try to decipher it.
Do While i1...
    .....load of code
    For i3 ... 
        .....another load of code
        Do Until i2

This one is pretty minor in my book because I believe a number of the practitioners of the others are uncovering their own character flaws.  Maybe this is all  born of bad education or learning programming by writing with a piece of charcoal on a shovel head by the fireplace, the way Abe Lincoln learned rocket surgery. 

In the end, I'm not certain what is at the root of this malady: rudeness, laziness, ignorance, poor skills, disdain for the reader, apathy about getting help.  Take your pick.  Take a few.

Remember that a large part of presenting information is how it is presented.  If someone sees code that is hard to read, they're more likely to move on to the next post.

/Rant Off

In case I haven't said it clearly enough, these are my opinions about the minority of people I run into on these sites and forums.  Most are courteous, professional, inquisitive, helpful, and personally humble.  

Thanks to the majority.