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Religious Wars

By SIGFPE in Culture
Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 05:25:02 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

One thing I've learnt since working in the software engineering world is that there's always a right way to do things and there's always a wrong way and everyone disagrees over what these are. Windows/Linux. Vi/emacs. Tabs/spaces. Open source/proprietary. Accessors/direct access to member variables. X/Win32. bash/csh. Gui/command line. Standards/prorietary extensions. I'm not talking about disagreements over how to do specific tasks, which of course everyone has, but these interminable arguments that can never be resolved. I'm not talking about philosophical or religious questions either - I mean in the workplace. People seem to feel incredibly strongly about these issues - many of them trivial - and love to tell other people that their own way is better. I don't seem to encounter this kind of behaviour anywhere near as much among people I know outside of the software world.

So is it a uniquely software related phenomenon or do members of other professions like to spend as much time vehemently dictating to each other how they should do things? One might have guessed that software engineers, with the appreciation of logic that is required for the profession, would be above this kind of religious warring - but apparently not. Maybe it's as simple as the fact that techies can hide behind the anonymity and impersonality of email and the internet and so only appear to have stronger feelings. Or maybe doctors, truck drivers and basket weavers all have their own religious wars too - in which case I'd be curious to hear what they are.

>Sigh!< I guess it's better than warring over real religion.


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No warring now. Vi or emacs?
o Vi 47%
o Emacs 31%
o Other 18%
o What are vi and emacs? 2%

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Religious Wars | 25 comments (18 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
Various professions (3.66 / 3) (#3)
by farl on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 01:19:46 PM EST

I would guess that it would be same for all professions. Everyone has their own opinion and version of how something should be done. There are multiple standards for almost anything.

I think what is important to look at is that there are standards, and while some might compete with each other to perform certain tasks (or measure standards, tabulate data, correlate information, or whatever), their is generally a logical basis for a certain professional standard within an industry. It doesn't necessarily mean that everyone might agree or use that standard, but rather it is one documented way of looking at something.

From my perspective and having been the general manager of a few restaurants in my past, try convincing a bunch of waiters/cooks/busboys/etc. about how you want to get something done. There are MANY ways to serve a customer. Generally all of them are successful, but certain ways apply to certain types of employees and certain types of customers. It does not make any other way better or worse (although there is always a worse way to do things), but just different. That is the problem in reastuarants with enforcing standards, or trying to create a set of standards so that the restaurant can run in the event that you are not around, or on vacation (although any manager knows you never quite seem to have the time to go on vacation). Being the boss though really helps settle the religious fervor - it tends to degenerate to "if you dont like the boss's way - go work somewhere else."

In my dad's business of being a General Contractor, I see plenty of religious wars of this kind as people try to build things differently.

Ego's, multiple/competing standards, simple stupidity, innovation and many other factors all help to encourage these wars. What the important thing is IMHO is that people should have a bit of tolerance for the other ways and recognise that there is ALWAYS another way to do something.

Online media are one-dimensional (3.33 / 6) (#4)
by recursive on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 01:25:23 PM EST

One reason why you might find more religious wars among computer people is the medium which is used to communicate opinions. Compared to face-to-face conversation or even phone-calls, newsgroups and web pages are very one-dimensional with respect to what they are able to express. In real word communications you get so many different clues from some one else body language or voice that you stop arguing way before you stop arguing in an online discussion. See also Godwin's Law.

-- My other car is a cdr.

The net is a social medium (3.50 / 2) (#24)
by Beorn on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 07:10:53 AM EST

Compared to face-to-face conversation or even phone-calls, newsgroups and web pages are very one-dimensional with respect to what they are able to express.

I find online communication to be full of nuances and subchannels. The internet has unfairly been labeled as less suitable for social communication than real life. Partly because nerds were the first to use it, and partly because you need some net experience to actually see these nuances, just like we need experience to read real life social signals -- (but everyone's used to that.) Net newcomers usually have net social skills on the level of a teenager.

In my opinion, the net is the perfect social medium, partly overlapping real life (without replacing it of course), partly filling out where real life comes short.

In real word communications you get so many different clues from some one else body language or voice that you stop arguing way before you stop arguing in an online discussion.

Yeah, because it's physically impossible to argue for months in real life. But the underlying conflict can last for years, and the psychological forces and social signals involved are the same as in net wars.

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]
[ Parent ]

Human nature (2.50 / 4) (#6)
by Nickus on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 01:39:29 PM EST

I think it is a very common part of the human nature. People tend to fall in love with their own ideas and habits and strongly defend them. What car is better, which beer tastes more... I suppose dentists argue about which drill causes most pain ;-).

Due to budget cuts, light at end of tunnel will be out. --Unknown
Re: Human nature (4.00 / 1) (#10)
by vinay on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 02:33:18 PM EST

I think a large part of the reason is why we're in our particular field. A lot of techs do what they do because they love the "why" of something. This applies, because we apply it to a variety of areas. Take vi vs. emacs. Why do I like vi? It's got a small memory footprint, and UI/featureset that lends itself well to the way I do things. Now, I 'know' why vi is good for me. It's therefore good for everyone else (this is a vast oversimplification, mind you). I think other professions are also prone to this, particular the various types of scientists (physicists, astronomers, mathematicians, etc.). They too, are primarily concerned with the why's in their lives.

Now, what about other professions? I'll choose medicine, because it's been mentioned, and I know/am related to a lot of doctors. In theory, a doctor's primary motivation is to help someone. Of course, they all have their preferred methods, but I submit that if someone suggests a differing method, they would be more likely to try it. Compare this to trying to get an oldschool unix user to use Gnome/KDE. To them, the command line is perfect, and you don't need anything else (not that they're not right, the point is, there's multiple ways of doing something right).

In summary, people who do what they do because of the why's are more likely to engage in 'religious wars,' while people with other motivations are likely to be a little more accepting.



[ Parent ]
Bad Grammar (1.30 / 10) (#11)
by mattx on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 02:35:36 PM EST

I have the bestest grammer of all you peoples. Why do people have to comment on the grammar, layout and all that crap of a post??? Just vote yes or no! "uh, it needs more whitespace, and the was spelled teh in the 2nd paragraph 3rd line". i guess bad speling isnt tolarated hear on k5.

-- i fear that i am ordinary, just like everyone

Re: Bad Grammar (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by vinay on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 02:49:30 PM EST

That's one of the things I like best about K5. When somebody submits something to the queue, it's nice to know they took the time to spellcheck it and format it correctly. It shows that they've taken the time to properly present their idea and that they care to present their idea as clearly as possible.

Once I get around to submitting an article, I think it would be excellent to get feedback on why people are voting it down or up.



[ Parent ]
Re: Bad Grammar (3.00 / 1) (#16)
by recursive on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 03:21:44 PM EST

We also don't like comments that are editorial but show up as topical :-)

-- My other car is a cdr.

[ Parent ]
Re: Bad Grammar (4.00 / 1) (#21)
by rusty on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 05:13:22 PM EST

I think you're looking at this phenomenon in the wrong light. When people vote against and say "I'd like to see this word spelled right, and some paragraph breaks" and whatnot, they are not saying "This sucks! Let it burn in /dev/null!" They are saying, "Please resubmit with these presentation problems hammered out, and I will vote +1". That is encouraged. No, you don't have to get it perfect the first time, as long as you're keeping tabs on your story and resubmit with fixes if it seems to need them.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
polar (3.50 / 6) (#12)
by Signal 11 on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 02:38:16 PM EST

The reason why holy wars pop up is given in the first sentence of your writing. It's because people tend to be polarized - black and white, right and wrong. Real engineers recognize that there is usually more than one way to solve a problem. Complex problems almost always have varied solutions, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

I suspect holy wars pop up in the computer industry due to the younger age (actually, less experience, age is only related to this) of the people involved. They haven't had enough experience to know that there is more than one way to do something. Programmers are especially guilty of this - they find a way to do something and they keep doing it that one way. Microsoft, despite radical advances in hardware, continues to write its OS' the same way. I truly feel sorry for them, because when computers become massively parallel and distributed, Microsoft will not have the skills to adapt.

In a larger sense, holy wars have more to do with ego than anything else. Computer geeks seemingly have inexhaustible ego sizes and pride themselves on it. When it gets down to it however, they are insecure in their knowledge - the field is so vast that someone, somewhere, knows more than they do and it bugs them. Not everyone, but alot of us do this. This industry is very young, and new things are happening all the time. The idea that I might not be up to date on something does worry me sometimes. Do I know as much about hardware as the 14 year olds out there right now? Maybe. That bothers me alittle.

Wait for the industry to mature alittle more, and these holy wars will decrease both in duration and intensity. We'll never be rid of them, of course. Besides, sometimes we need a good holy war to get to the heart of the matter - "Richard Stallman v. Hillary Rosen: Steel Cage Match!" I'd like to buy a ticket, please.

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

Re: polar (3.00 / 2) (#15)
by Nickus on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 02:55:40 PM EST

I think older age can start even more serious flamewards. Elder people seem to be more stubborn about their ideas and therefore the holy war becomes even more holyier (nah, you don't spell it like that :-)). Especially if a younger person questions their ideas.

Due to budget cuts, light at end of tunnel will be out. --Unknown
[ Parent ]
Change the title (+ other random comments) (2.28 / 7) (#13)
by enthalpyX on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 02:42:09 PM EST

Haha. In looking at this article in the queue, I thought this was going to actually be an argument about how people vehemently hold to RELIGION. It's kind of misleading -- but will generate interesting discussion, none-the-less.

But I digress. It's weird. People get attached to the tools they use to get the job done. But I think some people just get -- more attached -- than others. :) I mean, I love vi to death, and can't imagine going WITHOUT vi, but it's not like I view emacs with contempt.

Some "tool wars" are unfounded -- some are. But I think it takes a substantial amount of maturity to recognize that some tools, although different, can accomplish the same task.

As far as wars are concerned, I believe these wars are somewhat of a past-time. Being able to go through these wars, taking them with a grain of salt, shows maturity. It's only when one starts seeing tools as more than just tools is when stuff gets sticky (blah, that sentence was wordy, but I've got to get to class).

This is everywhere. (3.16 / 6) (#18)
by h0tr0d on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 03:59:38 PM EST

First, this really needs a different title. One that reflects that content a little better.

Second, this does exist in every field. Being an escapee from the automotive industry these wars are all too familiar to me. In that industry it is either Ford/Chevy/Dodge, SnapOn/Mac/Craftsmen, Chicago Pneumatic/Ingersoll Rand, Castrol/Valvoline, etc., etc., etc. The list goes on and on. So to answer your question, yes I believe that this happens in all industries to some extent.

To be honest, if this didn't exist to some extent I would be dissappointed. This is how you can tell that people are passionate about what they do. If they care enough to intelligently engage in these wars then they are probably worth working with.

Beware those that join the war because they perceive it as fashionable.

-- It appears that my spleeing chucker isn't working again.

Wicked problems (2.75 / 4) (#19)
by maketo on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 04:14:24 PM EST

There is an infinite number of vicked problems to be solved and many of us have different experiences with the process/tools. Real engineers are humble and do not engage in holly wars on topics because they know that there is a process and a tool for each and every problem/situation and some are better suited than the others in a particular instance. Dumbasses always have big mouths ;)
agents, bugs, nanites....see the connection?
Holy Wars (2.75 / 4) (#20)
by Matrix on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 05:04:06 PM EST

I think these are just the sign of a healthy community. The more competing viewpoints there are, the more likely there is that we'll get some benefit of some kind out of it. Yes, it means that people waste some time fighting, but they also spend time working on ways to make their way better than the other guys. Competition is generally a good thing.

Of course, in some cases, its just pointless. Like Vi versus Emacs. Everyone knows Vi is better. ;-)

(No, I'm not serious about that. I like Vi, I know people who are nuts about emacs.)

"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

Hacker personality (4.00 / 4) (#22)
by recursive on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 10:55:28 PM EST

Hackers have a tendency towards a control freak personality: once they have found their way to run things smoothly they feel challenged by people who believe in a different way. Since they are also very rational they argue forever about the topic. The same personality that helps to cope with the strict syntax and semantics of a computer is often challenged by the irrational environment.

From the Jargon File 4.2, edited by Eric Raymod, about personality characteristics:

Hackers are `control freaks' in a way that has nothing to do with the usual coercive or authoritarian connotations of the term. In the same way that children delight in making model trains go forward and back by moving a switch, hackers love making complicated things like computers do nifty stuff for them. But it has to be _their_ nifty stuff. They don't like tedium, nondeterminism, or most of the fussy, boring, ill-defined little tasks that go with maintaining a normal existence. Accordingly, they tend to be careful and orderly in their intellectual lives and chaotic elsewhere. Their code will be beautiful, even if their desks are buried in 3 feet of crap. </tt >

-- My other car is a cdr.

No More Flamewars (2.00 / 6) (#23)
by DJBongHit on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 06:32:31 AM EST

I have recently been enlightened, and during my spiritual journey I came into the presence of an ancient Indian goddess. She told me the answers to the following questions and said I must be a prophet and spread her word. So here's the scoop:

  • Windows/Linux? Duh, Linux.
  • Vi/Emacs? Vi.
  • Tabs/Spaces? Tabs.
  • Open Source/Proprietary? Open Source.
  • Accessors/Direct Access to Member Variables? Direct Access.
  • X/Win32? X.
  • bash/csh? tcsh.
  • GUI/command line? Command line.
  • Standards/Proprietary extensions? Standards.

Although this isn't addressed in this story, she also told me that there are 2 true programming languages, and everything else is the work of the devil. Perl and C are the path to enlightenment, while Python, C++, Java, or any other language will lead you down the path of damnation.

There you have it. Any arguments will result in a one-way ticket to a fiery afterlife.

This comment brought to you by a very overtired DJBongHit.


GNU GPL: Free as in herpes.

It's not just computing.. (none / 0) (#25)
by Dop on Tue Oct 17, 2000 at 12:33:25 PM EST

Wherever you go, you'll always find people arguing the toss over something or other.
Man. United or Liverpool.
Britney or Christina.
Ford or Volkswagen.
Mine's bigger than Yours.
My dad can beat Your dad.

It's all a bit childish really. Certainly as long as I've been using computers (20 years) I've always been aware of major flame wars going on between owners of differing systems. Probably used to happen since there were two different types of computer in existence.
I tend to just get on with it and use what suits. Where I work we're mostly NT - but we use Linux for our internet stuff because it works and it saves the company money. And I like using it as it reminds me of the old days when you were closer to the metal and computing was more interesting.

Do not burn the candle at both ends as this leads to the life of a hairdresser!
Religious Wars | 25 comments (18 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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