October 2nd, 2006


learning from the mistakes of others

I have a friend who has opinions. Not just opinions, of course, but Opinions. Heated ones, that he will defend loudly. Of course, I have no such heated opinions and never argue with people, thereby making me perfect. Let us move on rapidly.

I listen to him because he often comes up with interesting points. He introduces me to new programming languages. He makes arguments about design, or about business, or just about life. They're interesting. They're not always right, but of course nobody is always right, and listening to everything is an important part of gathering information. So I listen, but with skepticism and with a very, very heavy filter.

His problem is that he overstates himself. Badly. He talks about articles he's written that were read by thousands of people and posted on Digg, but it turns out that "on Digg" means "32 diggs" and "read by thousands of people" means "35 comments", both on Digg and on his blog . . . and half of those are him. Okay, it's not bad. It's a good step. But it's not really noteworthy. It's basically the internet celebrity equivalent of the eight-minute mile.

And this particular entry . . . well, first off, I'm occasionally a fan of the point-by-point rebuttal. It's rarely ideal, but sometimes you just need to object to many things. Perhaps so many as five or six issues. Maybe even, in extreme situations, ten! Not eighty-four. Yes, that's right. He has almost twice as many specific rebuttals as he has comments, including his own replies. Oh, and most of these eighty-four individual rebuttals include three paragraphs of reply. On top of that - as if that wasn't enough - it's bizarrely self-contradictory several times, making rebuttals to points that he later agrees with. I think his rebuttal is significantly longer than the original article, and it's a whole lot less interesting.

His argument style on other matters is confusing at best. I tend to be, if anything, too careful with my speech. I'll say "it seems" and "I feel" and "I believe" and "in most cases" and "I suspect that, generally, for most businesses of this type, the common case tends to involve". He does not. He will sit down and say "This programming language is perfect for all problems in this area". Or "Everything this person says about business is wrong". Statements like this are very rarely correct (see what I did there? Qualifiers are important) and he will defend his statements to the point of lunacy.

This all makes him very, very hard to believe, and even when he's right, very very hard to listen to.

I try hard to avoid my own set of problems. When I'm writing a serious entry (like this one) I'll write it, and then I'll read over it and think about it again, and then I'll do it again, and then I'll hit preview and fiddle with paragraphs and then I'll edit it again. And then, invariably, I'll post it, go to bed, and wake up to find an IM from my mom mentioning several typos.

But I learn. And I think I'm getting better.

And now I'm curious. What problems do you have? What issues do you think I should work on? What recurring mistakes do you see in other people's posts?

C'mon, let's see 'em! Let's all get better!