I was curious about something I saw in an article about a historical computer, and while the problem has mathematical aspects, it seemed at the time that Retrocomputing SE was a better choice than Math SE or SO, so I asked here.

What I've received so far includes what I'd call a "what's wrong with the OP" (the part that suggested I should start "thinking" was edited from a comment within the five minute window, but added to a later comment instead), as well as what's wrong with the BBC.

Then it was suggested I consider paying for two hours of the users time!

@uhoh Sure it's an expression - the same way as 123 is an expression. Somehow I get the feeling you just want to troll. Keep in mind, you are requesting other to spend their time on your issue. For free and fun. Giving a tude isn't exacly helpful. I just spend about two hours of my time giving you a somewhat detailed look at your question, so it might be fair if you may want to spend at least a few seconds to think about you comments - don't you think so? (Ofc, if you'd be willing to pay my rate, I'll take anything you want to dump during the time payed) – Raffzahn 7 mins ago

screenshot of all comments.

My understanding is that posting an answer is completely voluntary.

I would not call this "welcoming" and instead more like the old Stack Overflow as was eluded to in

I wonder how this whole page would fare being passed through the "snark detector", would my comments register as well? I'm asking because it would be fun to ask more questions here if I felt welcome.

Built an “Unwelcoming or snarky” comments classification app

Our users have always been really great at flagging and removing outright abusive comments, but we’ve long struggled to deal with (or even define clearly) lower-key unpleasantness: condescension, snark, dismissiveness. We just finished our first step to change that: 57 employees provided 13,742 ratings of “fine,” “unwelcoming or snarky,” or “abusive,” on random comments on SO, and we’ll be sharing the initial results and our next steps in a separate post.

2 Answers 2


TL;DR: I think the comment was justified, though not a great idea to post.

You've taken that comment out of context. The very first comment that you posted on Raffzahn's answer was this:

"...equations like this" is shown in the screen shot I've included, I can adjust the wording of the question to reflect that if you'd like. Also, which Wiki are you proposing one should look at? – uhoh

This seems like needless pedantry. The abbreviation "Wiki" for "Wikipedia" is often used colloquially and "the Wiki" even more so. (Raffzahn has posted hundreds of useful answers on this site, and the use of abbreviation helps him with this. If other people have the time and inclination to edit those answers to fix some typos and conflation then that's up to them; often somebody does.) If you'd asked which Wikipedia page was being referred to, that might have been more easily disregarded as purely a request for clarification. The link was the main problem with this, as it is quite antagonistic to do so. (Not sure why; something about questioning somebody's knowledge of the language, maybe?)

Raffzahn [assumed that you had good intentions][be-nice], and did not immediately treat you like you were trolling. You then posted this:

The BBC has a bit of history with computers itself, so I wouldn't reflexively assume the video clip is poorly researched or thoughtlessly edited just because it doesn't mirror a Wikipedia article. Let's see what others have to say. – uhoh

Your use of the word "Wikipedia" shows that you knew exactly what Raffzahn was referring to here (or were at least confident). Also, this comment implies that you know which article Raffzahn is talking about, so there was in fact no need for clarification of any sort.

Your use of the word "reflexively" to describe Raffzahn's motivations suggests (regardless of your intent) a lack of thought on his part, and the phrase "just because it doesn't mirror a Wikipedia article" puts forward a rationale that is commonly considered a sign of poor research (the old adage "Wikipedia is not a primary source, and you should not use it" pushed by school teachers interested in teaching the ability to perform research) that Raffzahn didn't even have... for a claim he didn't even make. In short, an eloquent straw man: something that should not exist outside of polemic debates.

You could have genuinely misinterpreted what Raffzahn was saying, but that's stretching a bit thin now.

Even despite that final sentence ("Let's see what others have to say.") being easily interpretable as "you don't know much about this, and I am dismissing what you are saying", Raffzahn did not (openly) interpret it as this. His reply was:

To start with, what's shown is not an equation but a number and a questionmark in two lines with no visible relation. So much for 'BBC' has knowledge. Beside, THE BBC has no knowledge, it got employees like any other company, in this case journalists doing their work like anywhere else. They are selected for their ability to tell stories, handle their equipment and finish in time. This hasn't anything to do with 'poor' research. Especially when considering, that you assume something of this clip that has not been said that way. Not the editors fault. – Raffzahn

That was followed by your reply:

You used the word "equation" I called it an expression. – uhoh

Raffzahn replied again:

@uhoh mind to read the first comment you made again and then think again - especiallyy before writing? It was you who cited equation first, and I respond to the point you made. Please try to be resonable. – Raffzahn

And you replied:

Oh, indeed the caption is in error. Thanks for the personal dig as well, it flags the tone of this site, helpful for future reference. https://stackoverflow.blog/2018/06/21/rolling-out-the-welcome-wagon-june-update/ – uhoh

This seems a little sarcastic.

numbers don't have operators; it's an expression. It can be evaluated which may yield a number, but with both exponentiation and subtraction, it's not a number. And yet I don't give much importance to that, or think that it calls the rest of what you've written into question. – uhoh

This is what lead to Raffzahn's reply:

@uhoh Sure it's an expression - the same way as 123 is an expression. Somehow I get the feeling you just want to troll. Keep in mind, you are requesting other to spend their time on your issue. For free and fun. Giving a tude isn't exacly helpful. I just spend about two hours of my time giving you a somewhat detailed look at your question, so it might be fair if you may want to spend at least a few seconds to think about you comments - don't you think so? (Ofc, if you'd be willing to pay my rate, I'll take anything you want to dump during the time payed) – Raffzahn

Personally, I think that Raffzahn was justified in saying this. Though it was still not the right thing to do; a custom flag for moderator attention explaining what was happening would have been a better action.

If I were in this situation, I probably (~70% likelihood) would have done the same as Raffzahn did, despite it not being the best way to diffuse the situation. If I had noticed that it was an issue of moderation, however, I'd have flagged and left it to one of my fellow moderators to deal with.

Putting on my paranoid hat, it's much easier to interpret your actions as malevolent than benevolent. You posted messages that seem designed to provoke a reaction, dropped a link to an SO blog post (and in doing so, basically saying "authority figure says don't argue back"), covered your back whilst throwing another punch ("And yet I don't give much importance to that, or think that it calls the rest of what you've written into question."; implying that Raffzahn was criticising your question) and then posted an out-of-context comment on meta to try to get people on your side.

You almost certainly weren't doing this... but other people don't live inside your head. We don't know what your intentions are. So, and this goes for everybody, be nice.

  • I've included all of the comments as a screenshot link, and the originals can be instantly accessed using the other link in the first sentence; the idea was to keep the question of reasonable size but to make the rest of the context quickly accessible. Keeping it this size wasn't intentionally nefarious, but perhaps having a third copy is helpful. I'd appreciate any feedback on the question itself.
    – uhoh
    Jun 22, 2018 at 15:54
  • 1
    @uhoh I've realised what went wrong with that conversation. By the way, I'm going to clean up those comments on the answer.
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Jun 22, 2018 at 15:58
  • I'll give this a thorough read later today, thank you for taking the time to "go deep" here. As far as "pedantic" though, a review of the timing will show that the link to Wikipedia only showed up around 10:20z. There could also be a proper Wiki for this particular computer (i.e. a Wiki site dedicated to this project, unrelated to Wikipedia) written by volunteers involved in getting this computer working again. I was trying to understand if it had it's own Wiki, or if this was short for Wikipedia, and since some (many) people don't know that a Wiki is a general term, I linked to the definition
    – uhoh
    Jun 22, 2018 at 23:54
  • So when you say "...shows that you knew exactly what Raffzahn was referring to here..." you could replace that with "figured out... probably referring to..." Now that the original posts have been deleted, and my screen shot only shows the time rounded to the nearest hour, the details of the timing are out of reach for me, but there's a chance that by this time the link to Wikipedia page had in fact been added to the post. That timing would be helpful to know.
    – uhoh
    Jun 23, 2018 at 0:07
  • 1
    @uhoh I'll correct that. Somebody else will have to add the time information; I'm going to be offline for a few days.
    – wizzwizz4 Mod
    Jun 23, 2018 at 5:44

The question is about being welcoming to new users, so I'll address that.

Is this comment a good or at least representative reflection of this site's collective attitude?


Based on a read of most of the comments and another answer there, people found my question to be interesting and took time to explain several aspects of the subject to me. It was my first question here and overall the experience was quite welcoming!

Talking with strangers over the internet is a new thing and humans are just starting to learn how to do it. While computer gaming has given us the skills and instinct to "shoot at stuff" on the screen, sites like Stack Exchange are helping us to learn to work in a positive and cooperative way with strangers to build things that other strangers will appreciate long afterward.

When a site takes the initiative to ditch the arcade mentality (see "negation-bump" below) and embrace the new "welcoming" ideas discussed in the two linked SO blogs in the question (1, 2), all kinds of positive, constructive transformations can happen.

A good way forward is to stop thinking of new users as "fodder" or a resource for generating maximal score-getting answers, and instead to think of them as customers for whom you'd like to provide the best-possible first encounter experience.

Instead of the insta-close and the drive-by downvoting that used to be the "right way", consider instead a helpful comment and a 24 hour period to see if the OP gets the idea, learns the best practice and self-modifies the post. Or consider just editing/improving the post for the new user if it seems like it's helpful for someone less experienced with SE.

Example in point:

Someone posted what looks like a comment but not an answer. Helpful would be to recommend they self-delete and post instead as a comment. But what happened was that someone commented:

What the.. how on earth does this even come close to answering the question?

The feigned indignation and outrage got the poster two comment up-votes, and made the overall experience just a teeny tiny bit less pleasant for at least several people.

This leads into the

Negation Bump

When some post authors look to maximize their "score" rather than to make the learning experience best for everyone, they often reach for what I call the negation bump. By saying that something is wrong, or especially that the low-rep, new user is wrong in a particularly prominent way, featuring this as the keynote point of the answer, they are often (probably subconsciously) reaching for a bump in score.

The answer (until recently) began with the opening:

First of all, the clip does not state that this problem was used, especially not used as a test for reliability.

I've certainly reached for the negation-bump in the past myself, it's acquired by learning from others and having it done to one's self and finding it unpleasant. It's a small thing in the scheme of things, but it can escalate.

So if you see an error in a question or a way it can be improved, you can point it out in a helpful comment, or even in some cases make an edit to the question yourself. "Saving it" for the basis of a punchline in your answer is is reaching for the negation bump.

Much better to just be positive and minimize the importance of any inaccuracies in a new user's first question, but instead do whatever you can think of to make their experience both learning and enjoyable, and leave them wanting ask more and better questions.

Positive reinforcement is better than negative.

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