Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fuck These Idiots

A Microsoft employee named Scott Hanselman recently took up the gauntlet of an issue the Rails community settled in 2006:

I was perusing the Interwebs yesterday and stumbled on a new article from Zach Holman called Don't Give Your Users Shit Work. I was a little taken aback by the swear word in the title. I clicked around Zach's site, and found his Talks area and clicked on A Documentation Talk and the second slide dropped the F-bomb. Wow, really? I said to myself, is this how to connect with someone who is trying to learn about a technology?


There's hundreds of thousands of perfectly cromulent words to use that aren't the Seven Dirty Words. Or even just the two words that evoke scatology or copulation. At least use some colorful metaphors or create a new turn of phrase. Shakespeare managed, thou frothy tickle-brained popinjay. Zounds.

When you hear that a Microsoft employee was telling DHH and a GitHub employee how they should talk, you might laugh it off with a thought like "fuck that shit." But let me expound a little further. Scott Hanselman's employment status with Microsoft doesn't just invalidate his opinion because I fucking hate Microsoft. Scott Hanselman's employment status with Microsoft also invalidates his opinion because that employer of his is very relevant.

The more likely your users are to say "fuck this shit" when confronted with the products of your effort, the less likely you are to want to hear the words "fuck" or "shit." How many Microsoft endeavors can you think of for which "fuck this shit" is the only appropriate response?

For instance, fuck this shit.

Pretty much everything Microsoft has ever done, with the exception of the XBox, has been awful. Even Bill Gates's charitable efforts may be doing more harm than good. Is it really a surprise that a guy objects to hearing words like "horseshit" when he works for the single largest and most productive horseshit factory in the history of the world?

I'm ashamed of myself for spending time on this nonsense, but I just want to point out two things: first, I put this in draft mode with no expectation of ever finishing it, because I figured I would find better things to do. Second, I didn't find anything better to do, but that's because I've got a terrible cold right now, and my brain shuts down when that happens, rendering it useless for anything except the most trivial tasks, such as tying my shoelaces and spotting bullshit on Hacker News -- where Rob Conery came at the same topic with a very, very minor variation.

According to this guy:

Zach's heard a lot about his slides. I've been thinking a lot about writing this post but as with most things, Hanselman beat me to it. It might look like I'm "piling on" - but my take is different than Scott's. I'm not opposed out of principle, I just think Zach is more talented - A whole lot more talented. It's a bit of a shame to resort to Grunting Monkey Tricks when you're clearly a whole lot more clever...

However, his take is not all that different. Scott Hanselman gives Zach Holman plenty of credit for his intelligence, and does it without the cloying, paternalistic tone here.

Conery continues:

I'm not offended at the presence of the F-bomb, I'm offended that someone with his talent takes the easy way out.

Making your point with profanity is what the general population uses as punctuation to emphasize a point. It's conversational punctual shorthand.

Obviously, there is nothing either punctual or tardy about the conversational shorthand here -- that's just garden-variety incoherence -- and you might interpret Conery's use of the term "general population" to indicate an aversion to gutter speech, the unworthy dialect of the unwashed masses and the filthy poors, but the undisguised and unrepentant upper-class bias comes from a throwaway remark. His main point is that profanity offers an "easy way out." He imagines Holman's goal to be shock.

You know you need to hit it within the first 3 slides. But how? This isn't Terminator and there's no dramatic music behind your slides (though yes, I did that once... but it was at the end). How do you pull this off?

Your skill as a presenter and story-teller are now under serious strain. You're prepping your talk - do you take a chance? A Risk? Do you GO BIG? Or play it safe?

I know! I'll make my point, and insert the word "Fuck" somewhere!

Conery continues throughout his post playing the role of Good Dad, assuring Little Baby Zach that he doesn't need to swear at people to impress them.

The problem with his pitiful logic is that only people who are shocked by profanity ever assume that somebody who uses profanity is doing it for shock value.

There are in fact other ways to use profanity. One way in which people use profanity is as an indicator that nothing is going to be censored, which implies that people are going to be up-front and honest. That's actually an excellent tone to establish in a presentation.

This guy is projecting, and he continues with it later on:

A Good Presentation Is Hard

If you've never given one, well you will at some point. Nerves tighten your throat and your voice raises an octave or two, you fight to maintain good posture so your breath comes evenly and you don't hyperventilate. You struggle to make eye-contact and, as you try to remember all of these tips you forget what you're trying to say.

What happens to his argument if Zach wasn't nervous? It disappears. I'm not even saying the guy wasn't nervous. Who knows? But I want to point out that this argument completely collapses without that assumption, and Conery's done nothing to shore it up. I don't mind seeing an argument built around an assumption as long as the assumption is acknowledged, but he should have investigated the assumption, or sought some proof of its accuracy. All we know for a fact here is that he got scared at least once and he thinks everybody else does too, every single time.

The next bit deserves just a moment of rebuttal:

It's flat obvious when watching someone who's thrown, and it's uncomfortable. It moves into "sad" territory when the speaker resorts to gimmicks like inserting cat pictures, LOL-speak, and yes, F-bombs. It's sad because we've seen it before and you're better than that.

Yep, "you're better than that."

Here's an Internet meme pic. Is it here because I'm afraid of what my readers will do unless they see an Internet meme? Or does it serve as ironic juxtaposition against a tone of disappointed authority which would be creepy were it not flat-out silly? Seriously, where does this guy's unexplained and probably undeserved tone of authority come from? How does he know what Zach Holman is or is not capable of? Does he know something about this guy which we don't? Does he have spy cameras in his home or something?

Does this picture distract you from my argument, or hammer it home? That picture isn't distracting. This picture is distracting:

But that Yoda picture is completely legit. And so is Holman's swearing.

The phrase "Don't make your users do shit work" emphasizes the fact that shit work is not work people enjoy. I don't know what Rob Conery does for a living, but I know for a fact that Scott Hanselman works for Microsoft, and nobody who works for Microsoft has heard the words "Don't make your users do shit work" often enough, or had the unpleasantness of that shit work emphasized enough. Zach Holman's swearing was not a shock-factor distraction, but a completely valid emphasis used by a grown man who is old enough to choose his own words and probably doesn't need a fake Internet daddy telling him he can do better. The fact that all these Internet dipshits are trying to tell him what to say is just ridiculous.

He probably doesn't need me to defend him, either, and hell, even if he did, he's not paying me. I want to emphasize again that the only reason I even got into this conversation was because I've got a terrible cold and my brain's running too slowly to be any use for real thought. But destroying Rob Conery's weak logic does not take a great deal of thought, and it's marginally more entertaining than downloading bad spy movies I don't have the attention span for right now anyway.

Anyway, Hanselman's argument amounts to a cost/benefit analysis:

swearing decreases your reach and offers little benefit in return. Swearing is guaranteed to reduce the size of your potential audience.... you take no chances of offending by not swearing, but you guarantee to offend someone if you do.

It's a valid point, but it's only an important point if your aim is quantity over quality. You don't necessarily want everybody in the world to read your blog. Some people are idiots. And Conery's argument, frankly, consists of nothing more than calling Zach Holman a pussy. I would much rather read a guy who swears while delivering a message about not being a dick -- for instance, "don't give your users shit work" -- than one who uses polite language to say something which is not only rude but completely illogical (for instance, "Zach Holman swears in his presentations because he's too pussy to get through stage fright any other way, and this somehow pertains to his use of the word 'shit' in a blog post title somehow even though stage fright is not relevant in that context oh shit that made no sense I better make some condescending noises about Zach being better than this").

These guys are full of shit.