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Joel's Strawman Arguments

Does anyone notice that Joel often uses strawman arguments to emphasize his points while tearing down others?  I noticed this one in hist latest article.

"And of course, a certain type of programmer will argue that my new child-process architecture is inferior to the original. It's "bloated" (because of all the extra lines of code). It has more potential for bugs, because of all the extra lines of code. It's overkill. It's somehow emblematic of why Windows is an inferior operating system, they will say. What's all this about progress indicators? they sneer. Just hit Ctrl+Z and then "ls -l" repeatedly and watch to see if the file size is growing!"

This would seem to imply that unix developers would find this architecture inferior.  Huh?  Using child processes to do these tasks in unix systems goes back since its earliest days and is the most common way to do such things then and now.  That is why the fork system command and unnamed pipes exist to allow this functionality with just a few lines of code.  It is in fact far easier to do this than to use threads, which were very late coming to *nix for the reason that many didn't really see the need for them.

I've done just as much if not more windows programming that *nix and could care less about promoting one over the other.  Concerning what he is doing here I will say from personal experience it is much easier to do in *nix simply because it is more common and standard in that environment, while threads tend to be easier in windows for the same reason. 

The snide comments just seem unnesessary and ignorant.  Joel, why not just make your case and present why it is good instead of inventing imaginary characters to attack you?  If you want to defend yourself, at least wait to hear what actual people have to say about it.

Oren Miller
Thursday, December 4, 2003

He's been around a while and my guess is he's either heard it or something so similar that the difference is trivial.


Thursday, December 4, 2003

OK I did STFW, and I can't figure out what "BWTFDOK" means.

Care to clue me in?


Joe Grossberg
Thursday, December 4, 2003

But what the fuck do I know

Thursday, December 4, 2003

I think this rises from his occassional (and probably just) experience with negativity associated with religious wars. By making these sort of comments, he tries to get a lead on and quell arguments of a religious nature. I agree that this type of argument does not often add to the stability of his arguments, but neither is it simple or petty. I think we should give him more credit than that.

Joel most definitely has a bias towards object oriented, windows based programming environments and this bias is reflected in his articles.

To be fair, he doesn't comment often and when he does his commentary lacks the venom and severity usually associated with a 'religious' debate. I get the feeling that most of his arguments stem from a reflective view of his own technology choices, with his statements presented as argumentative supporting evidence.

Dustin Alexander
Thursday, December 4, 2003

"By making these sort of comments, he tries to get a lead on and quell arguments of a religious nature."

Quell? Start, you mean.

Breandán Dalton
Thursday, December 4, 2003

Inadvertent. In his attempt to 'head them off at the bend', he inflames them. Its like arguing against an unspoken argument. Not the greatest of debate tactics.

Dustin Alexander
Thursday, December 4, 2003

Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

Thursday, December 4, 2003

BWTFDOK: Not sure what it means... but I read it as But What The F*** Do I Know?

Although that would be BWTFDIK

Thursday, December 4, 2003

The use of humour is one of the things that makes Joel so readable IMHO. Obviously it helps if you have a sense of humour...

John Topley (
Thursday, December 4, 2003

"Just hit Ctrl+Z and then "ls -l" repeatedly and watch to see if the file size is growing!"

I just created a script to automate database dumps and I did this exact thing in order to tell if it was working correctly!  Hehe...

Almost Anonymous
Thursday, December 4, 2003

I think every UNIX programmer has done this at one point or another. Sad. I've written command line Perl to watch FTP  transfers between two external hosts from a third host (don't ask). Also useful for testing backups. I wouldn't suggest this as a production solution, though, unless you have lightbulbs and crack cocaine handy.

Dustin Alexander
Thursday, December 4, 2003


Jeez, got a victim complex much?  I program both UNIX/Linux and Windows systems too and I thought the Ctrl-Z ls -l thing was pretty funny (as in "its funny because on some level its true!").

You're getting all bent out of shape over something that is not only not insulting but pretty funny if you happen to have a sense of humor.

Mr. Fancypants
Thursday, December 4, 2003

I think the OP is being overly sensitive in this particular case. I thought it was funny. I do Windows, Unix, Mac, whatever, it's all the same to me in the sense that none of it is designed right and Gates, Torvalds and  Jobs are all idiots. I didn't see Joel's comment as a slur on Unix in particular at all, he was just making fun of a stereotypical anal nitpicker that picks all thi nits he can find, er, much like the OP, hm, well that's not I was headed with this.

Anyway, it is a time honored and well regarded debate method to do your opponents a favor by making their argument for them and gently pointing out its flaws before or while promoting your own side of the story.

"The honorable gentleman from Ohio will surely protest that not all nits are pickworthy. Although this is true, it is not relevant because I am speaking only of green nits with red spots, all of which are worthy of picking. The yellow nits that are not pickworthy do not even live in this part of the country."

I guess this will have to be anon
Thursday, December 4, 2003

It's his blog and he can poke fun at whatever he wants.

As a Unix developer, I found it pretty funny (and accurate).

Thursday, December 4, 2003

"Obviously it helps if you have a sense of humour..."

It'd also help if the joke was actually funny.

Sum Dum Gai
Thursday, December 4, 2003

I think Oren was just bored.

Thursday, December 4, 2003

I think "BWTFDOK" may have been meant to be "BWTFDIK", which would be equivalent to "But WTF do I know?". Google for WTF if you don't know WTF that stands for; I shan't expand it because I don't know WTF might be reading this and WTF they might think of the words it expands to.

I agree that caricaturing opposing arguments is a sign that something's wrong. I suspect that in this case it may be a (half-conscious?) realization that it would be much simpler and really just as good to work in a single process and simple thread but provide a friendly progress indicator and a way of cancelling the operation cleanly. But that might not provide such a convenient hook for talking about craftsmanship and how Fog Creek takes care above and beyond the call of duty :-).

Gareth McCaughan
Friday, December 5, 2003

(Er, that first paragraph is pretty redundant. I hadn't realized what an old version of the thread I was looking at when I clicked the reply link... Sorry.)

Gareth McCaughan
Friday, December 5, 2003

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