Even without a nitpicker’s corner, I have to worry about nitpickers

Even without a nitpicker's corner, I have to worry about nitpickers. I just have to do it in a more subtle way.

Here are some examples of changes I've made to upcoming entries in order to forestall nitpicking:

Original text Revised text Reason
... entries in our list... ... entries in our table... The entries are kept in an array, but writing "list" may cause some people to nitpick that an array is not a list.
... this function returns X... ... this function can be asked to return X... The function returns different things based on what the caller requests, but the only case we're interested in right now is the case of X.
... X affects only Y. ... X typically affects only Y. Again, I have to add the qualifier to protect against the case where a program intentionally broadens the scope of X.
... X isn't a problem because... ... X isn't usually a problem because... There can be cases where X is a problem because the program explicitly created the problem for itself, so I have to put in a qualifier. Indeed, later in the article I give an example of how a program can cause this problem, so I'd better leave myself some wiggle room at the expense of rhetorical power.
... a holiday.... ... a holiday in the United States... Otherwise somebody would make some smart-alec remark like "It's not a holiday where I live." [Typo fixed: 10am]
... the kernel .... ... the exception dispatch code... To avoid confusion between "the kernel" and "kernel mode".
... 64KB ... ... about 64KB... Because the limit is actually 65280 bytes.

What's scary is that I've noticed that I begun pre-emptively nitpicking my own entries while I'm writing them. In the balance between writing something that reads more naturally and something that is more resiliant to nitpicking, I've unfortunately started preferring the latter.

Observant readers may have noticed that I've slowly introduced a section called "Pre-emptive snarky comment" wherein I try to anticipate drive-by "Hey wouldn't it be hilarious if I ridiculed Microsoft on a Microsoft employee's blog?" comments. It seems to be largely successful, although sometimes people will post the identical snarky comment that I pre-empted. These are probably the people who talk just to enjoy the sound of their own voice.

An extension of this is the "Now that you brought up something that sucks, I'm going to tell you that it sucks" phenomenon. This is pretty much guaranteed whenever I bring up anything that is related to UAC and security, since it appears that everybody agrees that UAC sucks, so any blog entry that talks about elevation invariably leads to comments about how UAC sucks. There are also popular tangents, such as any article that mentions installing software turning into a "post your complaints about setup here" thread.

Some people are more indiscriminate and merely bash Vista whenever they get a chance, such as using a story about the psychology of how people fail to process information that they see to rant about how it's hard to copy text out of the event viewer.

(That article about how people fail to process information that they see was indeed an unmitigated disaster. Everybody got into arguing over how the message should have been presented so the user would be more likely to see it, but that completely misses the point. The user positively confirmed, "I see the yellow warning." The problem wasn't that the user didn't see the message; the response confirmed that the user saw the message just fine. What the user didn't do was process the information. It's my fault for choosing a bad title. Instead of "People can't see things that are right in front of them," I should have titled it "People see things but don't pay attention to them," opting for precision even though it meant I couldn't use the idiomatic phrase can't see what's right in front of you. What made it worse is that I fell for the trap. I responded to the details instead of saying, "Whether your suggestion would have helped the user see the message or not is totally irrelevant to the point of the article.")

I also hadn't predicted that my discussion of how reasonable people can disagree about how a setting should be exposed would turn into a discussion of how to shut down your computer, turning a footnote into the primary topic of discussion. But that's a fairly common occurrence: People focus on a side detail (which I added for color) and ignore the point of the story. Sometimes I think I'd be better off if I didn't give examples. That way nobody could be distracted by them.

Comments (93)
  1. Doug says:

    When the main part of the article is so well constructed as to guard against nitpicking, perhaps only the side details provide an opportunity for dicussion.

  2. CGomez says:

    There is likely a silent majority that reads your articles the way you write them.  

    I understand the extra care you put into them to avoid worthless nitpicker’s, moronic snarky comments, pointless Vista/MSFT bashing, and vandals who read linkdump sites from coming over and destroying a good discussion.

    However, if you stop giving good examples and high quality tips, only the silent majority suffers.  The vandals will just go find some other MSFT blog… or some other blog to vandalize.

    I wish you felt you could just delete comments that are pointless.  That is a very different thing from comments that criticize or disagree.  Meaningful criticism and disagreement can exist when discussing a topic.  But that’s not what you are talking about here.  Again, I also understand why you don’t do it.  You’ve stated all of that reasoning before.

    So… I don’t have a solution to your extra workload.  It would be too bad if your blog felt more like work then the developer community service that it is.

  3. Name required says:

    I was going to write some longish text, but it comes down to two words anyway. Stop whining.

  4. Mike says:

    The only reason people nitpick is to get this kind of reaction out of you, and you consistently oblige.  Granted sometimes the nitpicking points out something important, but that is usually not the case.  I don’t know why you feel contractually obligated to address all the nitpicking, though.  If you’re not an official spokesperson for Microsoft (as you claim you are not), why bother with it at all?

    Do you mumble about nitpickers while walking around the Microsoft campus?

  5. Bill says:

    First just wanted to say, I love your articles, and get a laugh out of the moronic comments. Keep your style your own and ignore the ignorant nitpickers.

    And I left a Moronic Nitpicking Comment on your article on housing that you can ignore.

  6. Me says:

    I think she actually likes it when we nitpick.

  7. @CGomez:  Count me in as part of the silent majority.  This is my first comment and while I sometimes nitpick Raymond’s articles in my head, I always tell myself "I’m sure he meant …"  Keep up the awesome work Raymond and don’t feel like you need to lower your quality standards to gain the approval of people who will probably never be satisfied.

  8. katre says:

    Raymond, I love reading your posts, but I don’t think I’d miss a thing if you shut down comments.  Seriously, consider it, it’ll help you avoid the coronary.

  9. Eric says:

    > People focus on a side detail (which I added for color) and ignore the point of the story.

    Well that’s what happens when a discussion involves a lot of people. It’s hard to have a lunch-time discussion on the last Best Seller book not to turn out having people talk of sports or last night’s movie.

  10. Mark R. says:

    Shut down the comments? That’s crazy talk. :-)

    There’s something very revealing about how some people respond to Raymond’s blog posts. Plus, it’s all just so darn entertaining.

  11. joel8360 says:

    "Sometimes I think I’d be better off if I didn’t give examples. That way nobody could be distracted by them."

    Excellent insight into human nature! If your progress continues at this rate, you will soon have the social skills of a fission device!

  12. Jim says:

    Also worth mentioning is that we are bored by our work and we have to vent some where, and we should cherish your site but we don’t, we are in some way envy your position to have a blog, that’s why we need nitpicking.

  13. David says:

    I guess I’m also part of the silent majority who just enjoys reading the posts without any urge to complain or comment. The people commenting your blog are only a tiny little fraction of your readers.

    Something most of us learn as a child: If we want attention, we have to cry.

    Raymond: Did you think about renaming the comments section into complaints section? The "comments" would be more focused on the "topic" afterwards :-).

  14. Michael says:

    People like to be opinionated.  They like to feel superior.  They like to be right.  They like to feel like they’re taking to task someone who is viewed as their better, so that they can prove otherwise.  They like showing off.

    I find the comments completely unsurprising.  A small community is specialized and, generally, intelligent.  But one you reach a critical mass, the group takes on the properties of the general public, and you get to whitness this aggregate persona in its full glory.

    Unfortunately, your only option is to either disable comments (which I’m in agreement with for blogs that don’t fall into niche communities, such as yours), or embrace the hideous beast that is the grey, amorphous "everyone".

  15. BobD says:

    @CGomez and Patrick:  I agree wholeheartedly.  I’m a member of this web log’s silent majority and choose to ignore or just laugh at the minority who don’t get it or just complain.  Mr Chen’s writing is some of the most literate in the tech community.

  16. AlmostAlive says:


    I have a solution for you:  Don’t shut down the comments, just stop reading and commenting on them!

    I’ve been reading this blog for a few years now and I remember the time before you replied to every other comment (I believe the blog software didn’t support that at the time).  That was a time before nitpickers corner, preemptive snarky comments, and so on.

    The comments are for “the people” to discuss your blog post.  They might veer off topic, they might bash Microsoft, they might focus on the smallest detail because that’s what they want to discuss.  Why should you concern yourself with that?  You’ve done your bit — you wrote a good blog post — why slog it out in the comments?  You can’t (and shouldn’t) try and control what people post.

    [It would bother me less if the comments appeared on some other Web site instead of on mine. I certainly can’t and shouldn’t try to control what people post on their own Web site, but what about things they post to mine? -Raymond]
  17. J says:

    Raymond, I love the blog.  It’s one of the most entertaining and valuable resources around.  But come on, how long is it going to take you to learn the nature of this medium you’re using?

    "Otherwise somebody would make some smark-alec remark like "It’s not a holiday where I live.""

    I hate those people.  I find them so annoying that I just have to say "me too" on this one.

    "What’s scary is that I’ve noticed that I begun pre-emptively nitpicking my own entries while I’m writing them."

    There’s nothing scary at all about that.  Despite your best efforts, you’re learning your audience and are tailoring your writing toward the intended audience.  It just sounds to me like you’re becoming a better writer despite how you try to fight it because you think your current writing is flawless.

    "… turning a footnote into the primary topic of discussion."

    Give me a break!  In that particular case, your footnote was a response to one of the most controversial posts of another well-known blog author.  Of course people are going to want to comment on it!  What’s the big deal if it wasn’t the primary topic?  Maybe we found it more comment-worthy than the primary topic.  No need to get insulted over that; it happens.

    Meh, whatever.  Embrace the medium, try to understand it, and don’t fight it.

  18. Nicholas says:

    katre wrote "…, but I don’t think I’d miss a thing if you shut down comments."

    I would miss something important.  I would miss Raymond pointing out how people’s proposed solution fails to take into account an important detail.

    One of the things I love about this blog is that Raymond will discuss the rationale behind a decision made at Microsoft.  Someone will write a comment that reads "that seems complex, I would do it in this simple way"  Raymond then replies that the commenter’s solutions fails to take an important detail into account.  That detail could be backwards compatibility, internationalization, the fact that third party software has already been released and can’t be recalled, or the fact that a third party had already burned and released their buggy ROMs that can’t be recalled.

    I know I found myself saying "can’t it be that simple?"  Reading similar postings with Raymond’s reply showed me that I did indeed missed something.

    OK, want a real example?  Try here:


    People write alternatives, Raymond shows how they don’t work.

  19. Bryan Raynor says:

    Since this post seems to be drawing out the "long time readers, first time commenters," I’ll add my voice to the chorus: I enjoy this blog in general, but the bristly, defensive attitude exhibited in a lot of the posts turns me off to the point where I’ve stopped reading it for periods of time.

    This is the Internet.  There are trolls and people who enjoy making rude remarks under cover of anonymity.  Turn off the commenting feature, or stop reading the comments, or deal with it in another way, but please deal with it.  If you don’t — if you continue to allow the bad apples to affect the way you write and drive away people who enjoy your work — then they’ve won.

  20. Larry Hosken says:

    "…sometimes people will post the identical snarky comment that I pre-empted."

    From a usability standpoint, it’s sad that these nitpickers are forced to copy-and-paste the provided nitpicks.  Wasted time.  Wasted space in the comments area, rendundant ideas…


    Hey, you could present the list of pre-emptive nitpicks as a poll.  That way, the nitpickers wouldn’t need to work so hard–they could just "vote" for the nitpick that best matched their favori… uhm, I mean, uhm, their least favori… uhm, they could just vote for a nitpick.

  21. Joe says:

    Another option that Dave Winer is fond of is to turn comments off alltogether.  If people want to comment on the blog, they can write their own…

    another thing I wish is that the blog software would post the ip address of the computer used to post the comment along with the self described name.

    for extra special bonus, imagine being able to filter out all comments from a particular ip address so we never even have to see them (or being able to ban them for that matter)

  22. Adrian says:

    I enjoy the blog a lot.  Yeah, sometimes the comments do veer off into whackyland with pointless nitpicks.  On the other hand, there are good comments in there, even if they are just to add color.  If you nixed the comments, I’d miss them, but I’d probably still read.

    In a few cases, I think comments you view as nitpicks are actual points of confusion for readers.  Depending on the context, saying "list" for "array" could be confusing to someone struggling through the technical details of an article.

    If you’re finding yourself writing more carefully, I’d think that’s a good thing up to the point where the writing style suffers.  Personally, though, I haven’t seen it suffer.  I wish more blogs, documentation, email, and specs were even one-tenth as clear and readable as your average post.

  23. Random Reader says:

    "I wish you felt you could just delete comments that are pointless."

    I echo that, actually. You’ve deleted some of my comments in the past (for hijacking a post to talk about some other topic), so definitely feel free to apply that logic more widely.

    Heck, you don’t even need to provide rationale. It’s your blog, after all.

  24. Boston Driver says:

    …especially when it is about a non-Windows topic!  I get the sense that one of your areas of "interest" may be driving or traffic or driving skills or lack of driving skills.  I found your blog while researching a piece about driving in India for my blog. (You had posted something about your experineces in Asia, which prompted a lot of "who’s worse" discussion.)

    Our blog, DrivingLikeAss.Com, is an attempt to bring a quasi (well, maybe psuedo) scientific approach to the study of driving in Boston which, most easily concede, is well beyond simply bad. DLA has been posting its groundbreaking (under-appreciated) research for several months now.  

    While we generally try to keep our focus on the inanities of Boston’s driving, we often succumb to the lure of research insights from other societies and, as a result, we have posted a series of pieces comparing driving instruction and the licensing process in Japan, Poland, China, and India with that of Boston.  Needless to say, our conclusion is always the same:  worse in Boston, generally because it lacks any obvious explanation, unlike other countries.

    Anyway, we did cite your blog in our recent post should you wish to check it out (www.drivinglikeass.com)

    Sorry for using the comment function to introduce something different (that’s a bad thing in blogging, isn’t it?)  But I read your  Policies and figured you’d have no compunction  about deleting it or–we hope–moving it somewhere appropriate.

    Enjoyed your work…all the best

    Jonathan Dower


  25. Tyler says:

    I try not to nitpick simply because I enjoy what you’re saying and I understand it. I admit, some of the issue you have pointed out have decressed my interest in the comments, but I do some times post.

    Oh, and let me be the minority and say I LIKE UAC, mostly because I hardly even see it and when I do see it, it makes sense that I see it.

  26. Colin says:

    Member of the silent majority: experienced Win16/Win32 developer, love the blog, enjoy the comments, have a good laugh at the social retards that miss the point.  Your content brings me here, the comments further amuse or educate me.

    I have never met you, but reading your blog makes you seem like an old friend so in that vein: I do think you have become a bit too prickly about nitpickers.  Do yourself and your "friends" a favor and ignore them.

  27. AlmostAlive says:

    Raymond says:

    "It would bother me less if the comments appeared on some other Web site instead of on mine.  I certainly can’t and shouldn’t try to control what people post on their own Web site, but what about things they post to mine?"

    Then turn off comments.  Comments are here to have a discussion on what you’ve written.  It could be about the main subject.  It could about a tiny nitpick.  It could even be about something that only slightly related.  You need to stop with this idea that somehow you can control what other people think and say.  You’ve provided an open forum but you obviously don’t like the idea of an open forum.  It’s disappointing, but it’s true.

  28. DavidR says:

    Allow me to join the chorus of people who wouldn’t miss comments if they went away.

  29. In the book "Writing for Computer Science", overqualifying is one of the first points addressed. The recommendation is basically to write naturally and stop overqualifying things (something programmers seem to do while thinking they are adding content by being more precise).

    So, sure, keep the pre-emptive snarky comment and nitpickers corner, just don’t edit your text in that way.

  30. Aaargh! says:

    "What’s scary is that I’ve noticed that I begun pre-emptively nitpicking my own entries while I’m writing them. In the balance between writing something that reads more naturally and something that is more resiliant to nitpicking, I’ve unfortunately started preferring the latter."

    Which is a good thing, programmers should be nitpickers, it’s what you’re paid to do. A computer doesn’t see a difference between a pointer to roughly the correct memory location (give or take a few bytes) and a pointer to some random adress. You have to get stuff exactly right.

    Natural language is really cumbersome when talking about nitpicky technical subjects, hell, it’s even ambiguous and annoying when talking about non-nerdy subjects. I always try to read anything I write and think of how the intended reader will parse the message, while this obviously doesn’t prevent me from saying stupid or ambiguous things, at least it reduces the amount.

  31. Michael Quinlan says:

    If you are bothered by comments, you should turn them off. Ideally you would just ignore comments that annoyed you, but if that isn’t possible then turn off the comments.

  32. Mike says:

    Another of the silent majority

    personally I enjoy the comments, it always makes me feel good to see stupid people and know I am so much smarter than them!

    but this whole nitpickers thing, I must suggest a read of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treatment_of_human_head_lice

    it’s hard to believe your nit problem has lasted this long

  33. Weiguo says:

    another vote for the natural voice, even if imprecise.  If readers can only read your articles mechanically as a compiler would, instead of like thinking humans, there isn’t much you can do for them.

  34. Ulric says:

    I suspect that it’s very stressful to see the rants and the snarky comments.

    One way to look at it though : let’s say you gave a short presentation in an auditorium.  After you’re done, the people in the room are chatting between each other.

    This is what’s happening here.

    It’s no longer really about your post, so you can’t take it personally.

    You could still forbid anonymous posts and band annoying users, however. For example there someone a while back that was on multiple MS blogs comments ranting about obscure windows bugs that no one else has or remembered.

  35. Mikkin says:

    "People focus on a side detail (which I added for color) and ignore the point of the story."

    And here I was expecting a lengthy and disputatious discussion about the color scheme of the blog page.

  36. Sam says:

    Just as a few others already wrote: a lot more people are just reading (and enjoying) your writing without commenting at all.

    Don’t give too much weight to those few who can’t behave. Either shut down comments, or delete useless/nitpicking comments, or just plain ignore them.

    But don’t let those comments rule your writing.

  37. wtroost says:

    Isn’t nitpicking like a compliment?  The nitpicker sees something good and posts about what he doesn’t like about it.

    Like when you deliver a program to a customer.  If their worst complaint is a typo, you can be pretty sure they are happy in general.

    Some people are more indiscriminate and

    merely bash Vista whenever they get a chance

    The linked story ("In steady state…") was about upgrading the OS.  I’m still wondering why the Vista upgrade experience was off-topic there.

  38. Matt says:

    I usually skim the comments to see which you’ve replied to; I know those are either interesting because of technical merit or interesting because of controversy ;-).

    However…. if there weren’t so many crap comments then I would probably read them all.

  39. Tyler says:

    Love the blog.

    Also like UAC. It’s about time people started writing applications for the standard user.

    Let the admin apps tremble at the per-user revolution!

  40. Yuhong Bao says:

    BTW, you know the “fast mode” networking problem you wrote about in a blog article?

    How about solving this problem the same way NX solve problems of appcompat. By default, NX is in OptIn mode, thus only OS components are subject to NX. But that could be changed by adding software to a list, for which to enable NX for. In OptOut mode, the mode my computer is in, all software are subject to NX except those on the list.

    [Huh? NAS boxes are firmware. -Raymond]
  41. Yuhong Bao says:

    It’s about time people started writing applications for the standard user.

    Let the admin apps tremble at the per-user revolution!

    That have been going on for years now, I mean since NT 3.1.

  42. microbe says:

    I enjoy reading your blogs, but less and less so over the years since you started this kind of pre-emptive tactics. I understand your frustration, but what is the purpose of your blog? To me, my blog would be just a way to express myself, and I would not bend my way to please others or to fight them.

    I really think you should stop worrying about so-called nit-pickers, as the way now you are writing your blog is so unnatural that it’s losing its fun and value to a lot of people like me.

    I sincerely hope you’ll get back to where you started and find the original purpose. Unless I misunderstood it.

  43. Phil says:

    I also am speaking up from the silent majority and want to reinforce what CGomez commented.  I love your blog, I read it every day and love the things I learn from it.  I think the examples help demonstrate your point and would hate to see them go away.  Personally, I would just ignore the nitpickers, your posts always seem to get the point across and whether there are incorrect/confusing insignificant details really doesn’t matter to me.  

    I just want to make my voice heard as one of the many readers of your blog that are not nitpicky and truely appreciate your contributions to the blogosphere!

  44. Might I recommend periodically posting a list of the most idiotic nitpicking comments (and who posted them) in that period? Or maybe have an award for best nitpicker of the period, the winners of which get some kind of disclaimer like "This person is a known nitpicker. Please do not take anything they say too seriously, and do not respond to them in any way when they nitpick, lest you encourage them." automatically added to each of their comments.

    If my blog had enough traffic to draw these kinds of nitpickers, I think I would have a lot more fun with the situation than you’re having :P

  45. Michael G says:

    I’d hate to see the comments go away. On the other hand, there will ALWAYS nitpickers–it is the way of the world. If those people bug you that much, I’d rather see the comments die rather than the whole blog.  (Or: try "Serenity now!  SERENITY NOW!!!")

  46. Alan De Smet says:

    Bah, screw the nitpickers.  You write interesting and educational posts.  I look forward to them, and I take them in the spirit they are offered: unofficial, but helpful advice.  You’ll never please everyone.  By trying to say something so carefully tuned as to be as absolutely safe, you suck the interest out of your writing.  I know where to find dry technical manuals if I want them.  Well written technical advice and commentary is much harder to find.

    That said, keep the nitpicker’s corners.  I get a laugh out of them.

  47. Cooney says:

    I think it’s fundamentally wrong, it’s security upside down. You’re asking the user for permission when it’s the user you don’t trust in the first place.

    What are you talking about? You trust the user just fine. It’s the app you don’t trust.

  48. Chris says:

    I can’t **believe** you spelt ‘colour’ wrong!!

    What kind of ignorant American are you! Don’t you even know the rest of the world exists?!?

  49. Mark says:

    Raymond: the difficulty is convincing people it’s your web site, and not Usenet.

    Rich: the original version is the colloquial form, that you’d say to the person sitting next to you (or someone who can imagine themselves there).  It’s a more comfortable form, unlike the laboriously precise second form.  Which is easier to say, "Get up, pick up your mat and walk"?

  50. Mark says:


    I think there are enough readers that an FAQ, stating "yes, app-compat is a curse", and "time machines don’t exist", would be helpful.  Then perhaps we’d get more interesting discussions, as Nicholas descibes.

  51. “Be conservative in what you produce, and liberal in what you accept.”

    Raymond, I have to believe you’ve heard this advice before.  Why aren’t you following it on this blog?

    We come here for your MS-information, and stay for the miscellania…nobody misses your “nitpicker’s corner” except for the nitpickers themselves…who do you really want to attract and serve?

    [Because this is informal writing, not a network protocol. Do you write in your journal with the same level of rigor? -Raymond]
  52. Dave says:

    With blogs, you have no editor to ask questions and critique the writing. So we are your editors, and the clarifications happen after publication.

    Some writers think their prose is perfect, resent editors, and/or argue that the editor is a moron for not understanding the writing; they are the bane of an editor’s existence. Good writers realize that if an editor asks a question, it may reflect inconsistency or inaccuracy that they can’t see because *they* understand exactly what they meant. The editor, lacking the identical knowledge or mind reading abilities, does not.

    I like your pre-emptively edited versions, because they are more accurate. They still read  naturally to me.

  53. Igor Levicki says:

    Raymond, you linked two of my comments in your rant :)

    Does that mean I earned the title "Nitpicker of the month"? Any rewards?

    Can’t you see? If it weren’t for those darned nitpickers you wouldn’t have anything else to post on a slow day like this one. They are doing you a favor, and you are improving your writing skills, and your thermonuclear social skills get toned down a bit because you are forced to constantly evaluate yourself.

  54. chrismcb says:

    I would MUCH MUCH MUCH rather see the text on the left, rather than the text ont he left.

    Just right what feels natural to you. The problem is no matter how preemptive you get, people are going to be nitpicking about something. Look they complain when you misuse a common idiom (that actually fit)

    I’d rather read something that flows nicely, and is simpler than something that reads like code (if I wanted to read code, I’d well read code!)

  55. Rich says:

    Many people, now, are probably nitpicking solely because you make such a big deal about it.

    With regard to your proposed changes above, I personally refer the revised version in almost all cases, because it’s clearer, or more precise.  I’m not sure why the act of editing to make your writing more correct is a *bad* thing, but I’m not you.

    For what it’s worth: you do have a lot to say about various classes of commenters.  What kind of comments *do* you like, then?

  56. Weiguo says:

    wow, according to commentors, not only are you wrong for wanting to use your ‘blog as you see fit, you should be thanking them for abusing it.

  57. Lisa says:

    There many of us lurkers out there who appreciate your work very, very much exactly as it is.

  58. This is a terrific blog. That is, the posts are uniformly terrific, as are a few comments.

    Programmers nitpick. It’s our <i>job</i>. Show me a person who <i>doesn’t</i> get a positive thrill out of picking nits, and I’ll show you a sloppy programmer. However, enjoying nitpicking doesn’t make one a good programmer.

    I see only three possible solutions:

    First: Speak *absolutely* precisely. No actual English, just production-quality source code that compiles, links, handles every possible exception in every possible environment and has been through code review, alpha- and beta-testing. Also, ensure that everyone who reads your code compiles, links and tests it thoroughly before they comment.

    Even then you’ll get people complaining that they just don’t like the way Microsoft does whatever it is you’re talking about, so you’ll probably have to also make sure that every Microsoft programmer does everything in The One True Way of Programming in the One Correct Language (i.e. C), and that there are no plausible alternatives, even in theory.

    You might find this option somewhat impractical.

    Second: just be Zen. If people want to nitpick, nu, let them nitpick. If the discussion gets sidetracked, it gets sidetracked. Ignore the stupid people, and just respond to the intelligent.

    As I myself have learned, this option, while slightly more practical than requiring perfection of everyone, is extremely psychologically difficult. One reads some off-topic brainless rant from some moron who completely missed the obvious point of the post, and one wishes there were an RFC for punching someone in the face over TCP.

    The only way I personally have managed the problem is to disable or moderate comments. If you disable comments, you don’t have to read anything aggravatingly stupid; if you moderate, the visceral satisfaction of pressing *delete* leaving some idiot’s brain-drool unpublished is more than enough psychological compensation for having to read it in the first place.

    You don’t *have* to worry about anything; there’s only what you *choose* to worry about. This is *your* blog. It’s totally, 100% your right to arbitrarily decide what to publish and what not to publish, without any further explanation or justification. Anyone who disputes this right can get their own blog and make their own arbitrary decisions.

  59. Tom says:

    An anecdote for your pleasure.

    As a programmer, I intentionally have difficulty answering questions with boolean logic such as "Did you X or Y?" because if X or y are true, I just say "Yes".  It’s even worse when I’ve done both X /and/ Y, so again I just say "Yes".  A friend of mine got frustrated with me after a while of getting ‘yes’ answers to such questions, so she started breaking the questions down into parts.  Now conversations go something like this: "Did you do X?"  No.  "Did you do Y?".  Yes.

    There will always be nit-pickers, Raymond, and to keep your sanity sometimes you have to make some small changes.  

    For what it’s worth, I’ve liked your blog since the first link I followed from Slashdot.  You’ve really got a good thing going here, and I’ve learned a lot.  I even bought the book.  (A book of a blog?  Now that’s hard core!)  While I’d miss this blog if you shut it down, and while it wouldn’t be the same without comments, I’d have to say you have to do what makes you happy.

  60. Joe Butler says:

    I often wonder if the people that make the nitpicking comments truely cannot see that it is an irrelevant point.  To them, everything must fit correctly into their world-view, and their world-view cannot slacken off if someone is a bit lazy with a point.  If you say, “64kB” and it’s really 64kB minus a small amount not worth worrying about in the context, I think it is as odd to some people as saying for example, 1 GB is about the same as 1 MB and it’s not worth worrying over – it just makes them step back and say, “hang on…”  I worked with someone that was like this and initially thought he did it just to score points, but I believe that he truly was thrown out of kilter when people made slack technical statements.  

    Just ignore them.  Let one of the many other commenters put them right.

    BTW, isn’t it “64 kB” with a lowercase k.  It always annoys me that educated programmers litter source code and tech docs with things like 60S for 60 seconds when they mean 60s.  Or, if I remember rightly, according to SI, it should be 60 s (with a space after the number).

    [I follow the convention that 1kB is “1 thousand bytes” and “1KB” is “1024 bytes”. This convention appears to be widely used and well-understood even though it is technically incorrect. -Raymond]
  61. Ray says:

    UAC doesn’t suck. UAC is *great*. It’s the ridiculous number of things that unnecessarily require elevation that sucks.

    (didn’t think that could be nitpicked further, eh? :-) ;-)

  62. Triangle says:

    "I worked with someone that was like this and initially thought he did it just to score points, but I believe that he truly was thrown out of kilter when people made slack technical statements."

    I’ll tell you why people do that: They’ve been burned in the past by being too slack with their measurements. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Climate_Orbiter#The_metric_mixup is a perfect example of this.

  63. Merus says:

    It’s fairly common for comments to wander off and discuss some other topic – that’s what conversations do, after all, of course assuming that the new conversation is novel and not yet another rehash that some people don’t like Vista. I know it’s not really a blog if it doesn’t have comments, but I reflect that blogging software with the comments turned off makes a really good website for a columnist. You’ve got the same platform to spin a yarn, you can take reader letters and reply to them in the column like a kind of delayed comment feature, and it’s sorted by date so you can do followups fairly easily and they’ll make sense. Sadly, this will not stop nitpickers, as their incessant need to ‘correct’ the world is not something you can change, but at least it gives you the ability to delete them from the inbox without having to worry about it. It would probably be possible to set up a rule to get most of them.

  64. Dylan says:

    To be honest, I never read the comments on your posts. I only read your posts via RSS. Who has time for all the comments?

  65. Aaargh! says:

    "UAC doesn’t suck. UAC is *great*. It’s the ridiculous number of things that unnecessarily require elevation that sucks."

    I think it’s fundamentally wrong, it’s security upside down. You’re asking the user for permission when it’s the user you don’t trust in the first place. Instead of asking the user for permission, ask the user to proof he can be trusted to do some_sensitive_operation.

    Anyways, back on topic.

    If you don’t want comments, don’t give the option. If you do give the option, don’t expect people to agree with you or say nice things all the time.

    Also, about those offtopic comments: sure people use this blog to bash Vista, or complain about UAC. This is one of the very few places that users can actually vent their frustration with Microsofts products.

    Sure, you can go on about how Microsoft listens to it’s users bla, bla, bla. And you probably do. You probably had focus groups and asked people what they wanted in their new OS and what they hated in the old OS. But the simple fact is: you didn’t ask *me*.

    Ik know there are millions of Microsoft victims who have to use Windows every day and that you can only talk to several hundred, maybe a few thousand about their wishes. But that doesn’t make my frustration with windows any less real.

    At least Raymond takes the time to respond, kudos for that. Usually, Microsoft ignores it’s victims. Just look at the last post on IE blog about the new IE8 ‘super-standards’ mode. Everyone and their mother agrees this is a Really Bad Thing. There were even posts on the Mozilla blog about this being a Bad Thing (and you might assume the Mozilla guys know a thing or two about building a render engine). There were hundreds of replies from web developers asking the IE team to please not make their life even more difficult than they already have done in the past.

    Not a SINGLE response from the IE team to this. Sure, Microsoft really cares about it’s users… right.

    *end of rant*

  66. Stephen Jones says:

    —-"Or, if I remember rightly, according to SI, it should be 60 s (with a space after the number)."—–

    The problem with SI is that dictionary writers and usage gurus ignore the rule. More than once I’ve been corrected for following the rule.

  67. Ehtyar says:

    My god, this is absolutely pathetic. I truly feel sorry for you Ramond.

    I would also like to echo the sentiments about the silent majority. This will be my first comment on this blog, though I have been reading it for about 6 months now. I have never before posted simply because I don’t wish to get involved in the crap this very article is about. I envy your patience and tolerance. Keep up the good work.

  68. Thomas says:

    The entries are kept in an array, but

    writing "list" may cause some people to

    nitpick that an array is not a list.

    An array is not an table either… ;-)

  69. Dan says:

    I’m confused by your title (and the perspective it implies).  Why, exactly, do you have to worry about nitpickers?

  70. Just keep writing good articles Raymond, as they are always appreciated.

    Perhaps you could introduce a nitpicking score card so the nitpickers comments increase in their color highlighting as their nitpicking record becomes more established?  It would make it easier to skip over their comments… (;P).

  71. Rhys says:

    Raymond, I’m also part of the silent majority.  I really appreciate your blog just the way it is.  I find the nitpicker’s corner funny, in a "can’t believe he had to write that" kind of way.  I vote for you doing what you want, as it’s your blog, but I like it the way it is.

    I don’t develop Windows software, but I work with Windows every day, and I find what you write really useful.

    I also loved the book, and I recommend the blog and the book to others.  Please please please keep up the good work.

  72. DTaylor says:

    I have been reading your blog for a long time – it is fantastic, but I almost always ignore the comments.

    I vote for you to switch off comments and go back to writing more naturally rather than defensively.

    Or for you to remove/edit any comment that contains something that bugs you, if you think the comments serve a useful purpose.

    The defensive writing often makes the posts more difficult (or unpleasant?) to read, and we all suffer for the sake of a few people with not enough to do.

  73. Vlad says:

    The posts are just a jumping off point for discussion and comment!

    Why not let people investigate side avenues? Cos it’s not a forum? Because they frequently name-check you, and you’re compelled to respond?

    How do we convert your post comments into a threaded forum view? Can that be done with whatever blog engine this is? That way, when someone gets tangential, you can just ignore the branch entirely…

  74. Xavi says:

    When I started reading the blog it was because of the technical content.

    But then I discovered something else here, something subliminal is going on…to see how you react when your well founded articles are commented by cockish folks. For my selfs I noticed that I just began to read your blog to see how bad the world was again upon your last post, and how you deal with it.

    Man, it’s absolutely fascinating how your worries about nitpicking turn out in the articles and responses.

    I’m here because of the social experiment going on – please don’t stop the comments and keep commenting them.

  75. Joe Butler says:

    Triangle: "They’ve been burned in the past by being too slack with their measurements."

    I think the nitpickers are not from the sub-set you are suggesting.  People that have learnt to be more careful would understand the context of a statement and whether it was being used to illustrate an example and the details not that important.  The nitpicker cannot because that is his psychological makeup: it is not a choice, but a way of being.

    Perhaps they can just be gently ignored.  For example when I’m driving my car at night down a country road and have someone come at me on full-beam and not dip their lights, I used to get really angry that they were so inconsiderate.  But now, I assume that it’s because they either can’t work their car, are partially night-blind, just plain thick or have some other important reason that I don’t know about, and it just makes the full-beam incident instantly forgettable and a non-issue.

  76. wm_power says:

    Those nitpickers must have tiny johnsons, anyone with a life just moves on.

  77. Ian Boyd says:

    Turn off comments if it bothers you that much. Your blog will still have a huge following, and will still be useful and interesting enough to a lot of people.

  78. SM says:

    Raymond, I enjoy reading your blog, and I even enjoy the nitpicker’s corner, pre-emptive snarky comments, etc.   I get the impression that the nitpickers don’t really bother you as much as you let on.

    It gives us all an opportunity to hear some of your dry humor and pointed, witty rebuttals.  There’s nothing wrong with that at all.

  79. Aaargh! says:

    > What are you talking about? You trust the user just fine. It’s the app you don’t trust.

    The app is just a tool in the users hands. If I go outside and knock someones skull in with a baseball bat, is it my fault or the baseball bat’s ? According to you, if a user does a deltree c:windows , it’s really deltree.exe’s fault that you windows install is dead ?

    An application running as a certain user IS that user. It’s the user telling the computer what to do through this application. It’s stupid to ask if you want I want to do some_dangerous_operation, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have given it that command would I ? What the computer should ask is if I’m *allowed* to do this, by proving I’m the computers admin.

    [“if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have given it that command would I ?” Lots of people issued the command “Show me that picture of Anna Kournikova” but got something else entirely. -Raymond]
  80. brian says:

    ".. this function returns X…

    … this function can be asked to return X…

    The function returns different things based on what the caller requests, but the only case we’re interested in right now is the case of X."

    Smart people see ".. this function returns X…" and read "… this function can be asked to return X…" .  Most nit picky comments i read i think, "Well if you think he meant that… you’d have to be a tard."

    Please write in your natural format.  Your writing pushes me outside of my normal comfortable space (.net business apps) and into more technical areas.

    I do get a chuckle out of your nitpickers corner though. It also reassures me that some of the programming competition in the workforce is easily overcome.

  81. Yuhong Bao says:

    [Huh? NAS boxes are firmware. -Raymond]

    I know. I am talking about fast mode, not modifying software. I wanted to show you how NX’s OptIn and OptOut mode work, and I wanted you to apply the same ideas to fast mode in networking.

    [The NAS box already opted in. It said “Yes, I support fast mode.” The problem is that when you try to use it, the NAS box returns bogus data or even crashes. -Raymond]
  82. Accel says:

    I am a long reader of your blog and was attracted to it by the amount of technical content. Sadly, year over year you seem to spend less time on technical content and more time on social issues. You are losing it. Turn off the comments already or stop whining.

  83. name says:

    "What’s scary is that I’ve noticed that I begun pre-emptively nitpicking my own entries while I’m writing them."

    Yup, that is definitely a sentence that doesn’t read naturally.

    "I have begun"


    "I began"

    "I begun" makes no sense!

  84. The silent majority says:

    We just lost nine members!

    As you can read above, they choose to leave comment!

    We had to move them to the commenting minorities.

    We will miss them.

  85. a commenting minority says:

    I, for one, welcome the new commenting overlords.

  86. Yuhong Bao says:

    On the matter of SetErrorMode():

    I think you are supposed to use it like this:

    UINT OldErrorMode = SetErrorMode(SEM_NOGPFAULTERRORBOX);





    [I keep deleting your comments because they repeatedly violate two of the ground rules (comment spam, and off topic), but I left this one in just so you can see why I’m deleting them. -Raymond]
  87. Yuhong Bao says:

    Unfortunately, the comments on that blog article is closed.

    [I guess that means you’ll have to post your comment on your own blog. -Raymond]
  88. Yuhong Bao says:

    >comment spam

    Not really.

    [Yes really. Three comments to the same article in ten minutes = spam.]

    >off topic

    Yes but the blog article that this comment would be on topic for is closed.

    [So? It’s still off topic here. -Raymond]
  89. Cathy says:

    I agree with CGomez above.  I enjoy reading what Raymond has to say.  He gives us information and interesting perspectives for free.

    Microsoft is a company.  Raymond is a person who happens to be employed by Microsoft.  We should treat Raymond like a person, not as an employee of Microsoft, and certainly not as a customer service representative for Microsoft.

    I’ve had to deal with customers of an MMORPG on the official forums and the constant hate and nit-picking directed at me was enough to make me swear off ever dealing with the public again.  It’s unbelievable to me that people think the money they pay for a product gives them the right to inappropriately harass any employee they can find.  

    Don’t drive people like Raymond off the ‘net because of your misdirected rage.  Raymond is not a secret back way to get your complaints heard by Microsoft.  All you do is hurt Raymond, the person, without ever being heard by Microsoft, the company.

  90. John Truong says:


    I want to throw my hat in with the ones who say you should shut down the comments completely. There are people who write great comments that give valuable insight into the topic of the posts, but they get lost in the deluge of nitpicks and non-value-added noise. What’s worse is the feeling that a lot of these people are simply trying to show you up and feel superior to you by pointing out useless things.

    If you close the comments, a lot of these nitpickers will bother you by email but they can be put into your killfile. The good comments can become fodder for later postings.

    Honestly, this blog sounds like a massive time-sink and a thankless job for you. I know it’s not so bad as that, but eventually bending over backwards like this will suck the joy out the whole thing and it will show.

  91. raymond=nitpicker says:

    It takes one (nitpicker) to know one.

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