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Judge (Tech) Advice By Results

samzenpus posted about 4 months ago | from the listen-up dept.

News 162

Bennett Haselton writes "What advice would you give someone who just bought a new laptop? What would you tell someone about how to secure their webserver against attacks? For that matter, how would you tell someone to prepare for their first year at Burning Man? I submit that the metric by which we usually judge tech advice, and advice in general, is fundamentally flawed, and has bred much of the unhelpful tech advice out there." Read below to see what Bennett has to say.

First, take a step back and imagine trying to come up with good advice in an area where results are easy to measure, like weight loss. (For the sake of argument, assume the advice recipients are genuinely medically obese people who can benefit from safe weight loss, not anorexics.) Suppose you were trying to measure the effects of two pieces of weight-loss advice, say, Program 1 and Program 2. You would think the most straightforward way to measure the effectiveness of the programs would be to divide a group of 100 volunteers randomly into two groups of 50, then have Group 1 follow Program 1, and have Group 2 follow Program 2 (with some type of monitoring for compliance). At the end of some time period, you simply measure which group has lost more weight (up to some healthy maximum threshold), and the program they were following, is the better program. What could be simpler than that? Isn't that the best, most obvious way to compare the two programs?

Actually no. I would say that's a terrible way to measure the two programs' effectiveness, under almost any reasonable set of assumptions about how the programs will be applied in the real world.

First of all, it's trivially easy to devise a program that would score really well under this system -- exercise for an hour and a half total every day, while eating nothing but fruits and vegetables and lean meats (or whatever would be considered a "perfect" diet by people who follow fanatically healthy eating habits -- I have no idea, because I don't). On the other hand, this by itself is not a valid reason to reject this measurement, because just because it's easy to score well under a particular measurement system, doesn't mean the measurement is not valid.

The real problem with this metric is that it has no bearing on what good it would do to give this advice to people in the real world, because in the case of the work-out-and-eat-kale gospel, most people are not going to follow it. So consider an alternative metric: Take 100 volunteers, divide them randomly into two groups, tell Group 1 about Program 1, and tell Group 2 about Program 2. That's it -- but you have no power to force them to actually follow the advice. All you know is that they were all drawn from a pool of volunteers who were sincerely interested in losing weight, but if you make the advice too complicated, they'll tune out, or if you make the advice too hard to follow, they'll lose motivation. And then at the end of some time period, you check in and see which group has lost more weight. You could call this "whole-audience based results" (I promise I'm not trying to coin a neologism, but let's call it WABR), because you're looking at the results achieved by everyone who heard the advice, not just the people who were deemed to have "followed" the advice correctly. (The previously rejected metric, looking only at the results of people who are judged to have followed the advice correctly, could be called Compliance-Based Results or CBR).

Consider that if a fitness fanatic gives weight-loss advice to one particular person, who either doesn't follow it perfectly or quits after a short period, the advice-giver can always claim that the advice was great, the recipient just didn't "do it right". But if you're giving your advice to 50 people in Group 1, and someone else is giving different advice to 50 people in Group 2, the samples are large enough that the proportion of unmotivated people is going to be about the same in each group -- so if Group 2 loses more weight, you probably can't use the excuse that you got stuck with all the unmotivated losers in Group 1. The advice that Group 2 must have worked better because it struck some sort of balance between effectiveness and ease of compliance.

Under this metric, it's not as easy to come up with a "program" that would score well. Simply telling people "Just eat less and exercise more," for example, would obviously score terribly under this metric, since (1) "less" and "more" are not defined precisely and (2) most people in the target audience have heard this advice before anyway. You would have to think carefully about what kinds of cooking and diet advice are easy to follow and fairly enjoyable, or what kind of exercise advice would fit into the average person's lifestyle. If someone objects that "No one piece of advice works for everyone" -- fair enough, so you could even design a program that segments your target audience: "If you have lots of time on your hands but not a lot of money for things like fresh produce, do A, B and C. Otherwise, if you have a very busy schedule but you can afford to buy whatever you want, do X, Y, and Z." You could nonetheless combine all that "if-then-else" advice into a single program and call it Program 1 -- as long as the metric for the success of Program 1 is to give it to 50 volunteers who are interested in losing weight, and track how much weight they actually use, without getting into arguments about whether they "really followed" the program or not.

If Michelle Obama made me her anti-obesity czar, that's more or less what I would do:

  • Recruit a large number of test volunteers who are interested in losing weight.
  • Recruit some (much smaller) number of doctors, nutritionists, and general fitness blowhards who are interested in giving people advice about losing weight.
  • Each advice-giver is allowed to submit a set of instructions on how to lose weight.
  • The volunteer pool is randomly divided into groups, and each group is assigned one of the submitted methods (probably after a panel of doctors pre-screened the methods for medical safety; otherwise, the winning method would probably end up being something involving heroin). That method is distributed to everyone in the volunteer group, but nobody will monitor them for compliance.
  • Check back in with each volunteer pool at the end of some time period. Whichever volunteer group has lost the most weight, the person who submitted the advice that was given to that group, gets a million dollars, and the glory that is rained down upon them as their winning advice is promoted all the world.

No, really, seriously. If you want to reduce obesity rates in the country, shouldn't the ideal solution be something WABR-based, very close to this? It does no good to come up with a piece of advice that works well under CBR -- where you can force people to follow the program (or exclude them from the results if they don't) -- because that doesn't predict how the advice will work when distributed to the population at large, where of course you can't force people to follow the program. On the other hand, if the advice works reasonably well for a group of volunteers whose compliance is entirely up to them, then that should be a better predictor of how well it would work on a larger audience.

(Of course, someone might object that the true metric of healthy weight-loss advice is not how much weight you've lost after several months, but whether you've made a permanent lifestyle change that keeps it off even several years later. In that case you would just make that the new prize-winning criterion -- which group has lost and kept the most weight off three years down the road -- but still sticking to the WABR principle.)

Another advantage of WABR is that it avoids squabbling over whether a person "really" followed the advice, if they failed to achieve the desired result. If an advice-giver tells you to "eat less and exercise more", and you eat a little less and exercise a little more but fail to achieve any noticeable changes, it's highly unlikely that the advice-giver is going to concede their advice didn't work, even if you did follow it literally. On the other hand, no matter how much less you eat or how much more you exercise, if it doesn't work, the advice-giver can always say that you didn't reduce your calories or exercise enough -- which makes the advice unfalsifiable, because there's no circumstance under which the advice-giver would have to admit they were wrong. This also applies to advice that's extremely difficult to follow, such as "Eliminate all sugar from your diet" -- if the advice fails, it would be easy for the advice-giver to find ways that the advice recipient deviated from the program (if they ate fruits -- which most doctors recommend doing -- does fructose count?). WABR means that you don't have to adjudicate who actually followed the advice, because the results are collected from everyone who heard the advice.

Now, back to tech. I've deliberately avoided dwelling on technical examples, because after reading through the weight loss example, you can probably generalize this pretty easily. If Bob tells you to keep your new laptop virus-free by ditching Windows and all of your programs and switching to Linux, and Alice tells you to keep your new laptop virus-free by installing a free anti-virus program, then in a WABR test, I'll bet Alice's group would be left with fewer virus infections at the end of the year than Bob's group, for the simple reason that most people can't or won't follow Bob's advice. I'd even concede that the small number of people who do switch to Linux might have fewer viruses to deal with, but I'd say it's irrelevant. By any reasonable definition, Alice's advice is more helpful, or, simply put, better.

When I wrote "4 Tips For Your New Laptop" for Slashdot last Christmas, I think I was subconsciously using WABR as a metric for how well the advice would work for people. Because if you sincerely want the advice to be helpful (and I did), shouldn't the definition of success be the average benefit across all the people who read or attempt to follow the advice? Rather than a piece of advice that has a 100% success rate among readers who can follow it, but only 5% of them can?

One user posted this comment in response to the article:

First, syncing to cloud is not backup. Second, being at the mercy of a provider doesn't strike me as a good idea in long-term.

Better invest in a NAS. A 2-bay Synology would suffice. 2 4TB drives in Mirrored Raid work great. WD has the "red" line of drives specifically made and tested for NAS storage. They are not as fast but run cool, silent, no vibrations.

Most NAS units run on linux so you can easily add syncing, versioning, "personal cloud", maybe use to play movies on smart TVs via DLNA and so on.

Finally, from time to time do proper backups. For home use, proper backup means burning data on DVD/BD - on 2 separate discs.

OK. Let's suppose every word in that comment is correct. Now suppose we gave 50 people the advice from my original article, and 50 other people the advice I just quoted, but we have no power to actually force either group to follow the advice in either case. Which group do you think would have fewer computer catastrophes over the course of the year? (Yes, of course a lot of people would drop out of following the quoted advice because they didn't know what the guy was talking about, but imagine a version that had each sentence fleshed out in more detail explaining the acronyms and describing what the hardware costs. I still think my simpler advice would win.) I don't mean to pick on that guy in particular. Most computing advice out there would not score very well under WABR.

Similarly, when I wrote about how to make your first trip to Burning Man easier, it was partly in response to all the veterans who had given me CBR-based advice, like, "Build a hexayurt to sleep in." Of course, if you look only at a sample of people who actually did build a hexayurt at Burning Man, most of them probably had a great experience there. But if your advice is to tell people to build a hexayurt, only a small proportion of them will try it (and if they try and fail, you can claim that they didn't actually "follow your advice"!). The advice I wrote was to buy a tent and stake it down, because I think that if you tell 50 people to do that, and tell another group of 50 people to build a hexayurt, the people that you tell to buy a tent are on average more likely to have a good experience. (Although it wouldn't be a huge difference, because most people that you tell to build a hexayurt, will eventually figure out that you were fucking with them and will buy a tent anyway.)

Of course, as I said in a previous article about the sorry state of cooking instructions on the Internet (scroll down to the part about jalapeno poppers), the real reason most directions on the Internet suck, is because they were written to grab search engine traffic. That just requires some keywords to appear in the title of the page and in multiple spots in the body content, and has nothing to do with whether the directions work. So nothing I say is going to change the minds of people who are farming "how-to" content for some extra clicks.

I'm more concerned about people who are supposedly trying to be helpful, but revert to advice that sounds as if it would do well under CBR but badly under WABR. Consider -- if your goal in giving the advice is, very generally, to bring the greatest benefit to the average person hearing it, then WABR should be your metric for success, shouldn't it? Obviously I'm not suggesting that it's usually practical to test one piece of advice against another by recruiting 100 volunteers, dividing them into two groups of 50, etc. I'm saying that in cases where it's instinctively very likely that one piece of advice would do much better under WABR than another, then that's the advice you should give to people -- a fact that is lost on the leet hax0rs who think they're being useful by saying things like "Dump Windows and install Linux."

And it's not merely that advice which scores poorly under WABR is unhelpful. WABR is the measurement by which a person's advice is helpful to other people, so if a person is giving advice that they can't possibly sincerely believe would score well by that metric, it comes across as caring more about something other than being helpful. Perhaps the advice-giver wants to sound smart, or simply wants to avoid the possibility of having to admit they were wrong (if you make your advice hard to follow, that reduces the chance of somebody actually climbing that mountain and then pointing out to you if your suggestion didn't work). So it's not just that the advice-giver is being unhelpful, it's that they're being a dick.

For a long time, I would hear pieces of tech advice that I knew would probably give a good result if I followed them to the letter (i.e. would do well under CBR), but something would nag at me, not only making me think that I probably would not end up with a good result, but making me resent the advice-giver for some reason that I couldn't precisely define. Now, I think, I've precisely defined it: I should have told them, "If you gave this advice to 50 people, and some other comparable advice to another similar group of 50 people, and if we measured the results by looking at everybody in each group without getting into arguments over whether they 'properly followed' the advice or not, you must be aware that the advice you just gave me would score worse than any number of alternatives that you could have supplied with just a little more effort." Unfortunately that's not very compact.

So, if someone asks you for general technical guidance, I submit you will be doing them a favor if you keep WABR in mind. I would also advocate for it as a way to settle disputes over which of two pieces of third-party advice is actually "better".

According to my own rule, though, I'm not sure how many people reading this will actually keep this approach in mind next time they're giving technical advice. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine an alternative exhortation that would achieve a better result.

cancel ×

162 comments

Too long, didn't read. (1, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | about 4 months ago | (#46683773)

Too long, didn't read.

TLDR? Exactly. (-1, Troll)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about 4 months ago | (#46683827)

C'mon, with BUILD just behind us, how did this wall of text make it up here? (It's NOT a slow news day.)

Re:TLDR? Exactly. (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 4 months ago | (#46684585)

because bennett has found a way to game the submission stage where articles enter.

it's shit.

it's like original content for slashdot. it's shit, barely on topic and offers really nothing new.

Re:TLDR? Exactly. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684679)

Bennett seems to be (yet) another Jon Katz...

Re:TLDR? Exactly. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46685361)

Wow, that's incredibly mean.

To Jon Katz.

Fuck Bennett and fuck beta. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46685381)

n/t

Re:Too long, didn't read. (-1, Troll)

Chrisq (894406) | about 4 months ago | (#46683923)

Too long, didn't read.

I could do with a "+1 same here" rating

Re:Too long, didn't read. (5, Informative)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 4 months ago | (#46683975)

Too long, didn't read.

quite long, but I read a bit and found it much more interesting than I expected. Money shot:

WABR is the measurement by which a person's advice is helpful to other people, so if a person is giving advice that they can't possibly sincerely believe would score well by that metric, it comes across as caring more about something other than being helpful.

this is for all the people who tell people to install linux rather than windows. it's more of an ideological thing than a desire to help.

Perhaps the best advice you can give is to tell people to install all the software updates and to use a modern browser. this isn't perfect protection by any means, but it is like wearing a condom on your computer.

Re:Too long, didn't read. (4, Insightful)

Chrisq (894406) | about 4 months ago | (#46684173)

this is for all the people who tell people to install linux rather than windows. it's more of an ideological thing than a desire to help.

I think often it is a desire to help by someone who misjudges the ability, desire to learn, and time someone is prepared to put towards solving a problem. I have heard people advise owners of old XP-based laptops to upgrade to linux because its free. The people giving the advice often enjoy tinkering, see time spent getting it working and learning the new interfaces as fun, pick up new tech easily, and assume that the others will be the same. The person receiving the advice may see the time spent as boring, difficult, and wish they'd bought a new copy of windows (or a new laptop) instead.

Re:Too long, didn't read. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46685039)

Perhaps the best advice you can give is to tell people to install all the software updates and to use a modern browser. this isn't perfect protection by any means, but it is like wearing a condom on your computer.

I would also suggest learning how to avoid shady websites and emails.

We have defensive driving courses, what we need now are "defensive web browsing" courses.

Think of your computer as a vehicle and your personal identity as the passenger. If you don't learn to operate the vehicle defensively, you might total the car and injure the passenger.

Re:Too long, didn't read. (1)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 4 months ago | (#46686865)

We have defensive driving courses, what we need now are "defensive web browsing" courses.

Agreed [gcflearnfree.org] .

Re:Too long, didn't read. (-1, Troll)

luckymutt (996573) | about 4 months ago | (#46683977)

I skimmed it long enough to see it's drivel that sounds like it came from a tenth grader.
Seriously /., why do you keep giving this guy a platform to spout mundane "ideas?"

Re:Too long, didn't read. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46685281)

yawn.

now adding to the buck feta effect, slashdot runs an agony column....

Re:Too long, didn't read. (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 4 months ago | (#46686655)

Well, obviously the sucker needs to install both McAfee and Norton, just to make sure his machine will be pest free for a few days...

Well, that depends (1)

Stéphane V (3594053) | about 4 months ago | (#46683781)

don't go tecky on someone who's doesn't understand what the word computer means. Ask them some basic questions on their knowledge on the subject and go from there. Adapt to their knowledge and understanding. If they learn slow, you need to teach them slow. If they learn like sponges...teach them fast and strong.

Re:Well, that depends (0)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | about 4 months ago | (#46685347)

don't go tecky on someone who's doesn't understand what the word computer means. Ask them some basic questions on their knowledge on the subject and go from there. Adapt to their knowledge and understanding. If they learn slow, you need to teach them slow. If they learn like sponges...teach them fast and strong.

Also - don't take advice from Bennett Haselton. He comes across as quite a douchebag.

How to judge tech advice: (5, Funny)

oneiros27 (46144) | about 4 months ago | (#46683793)

How quickly it gets to the point.

Re:How to judge tech advice: (4, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | about 4 months ago | (#46684169)

Also how much it makes sense.
If you are already a technical person, if the advice makes sense then it probably is good, if not then it is probably BS.

For example:
Don't use IE use Firefox because Firefox is more secure because it is Open Source. Is bad advice because being Open Source doesn't make it secure by magic.

Don't use IE use Firefox because Firefox is more secure because it will get updated regularly with fixes, because it is supported by a large community of developers who are interested in keeping it secure, IE gets a longer interval between updates. This is better advice because it makes sense.

We can explain things without getting overly technical. But you can't assume just because the person isn't technical that they are an idiot either.

 

Re:How to judge tech advice: (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 4 months ago | (#46686423)

Haselton is describing experiments with controls.

This is very far from a new or original idea. Even if he seems to think it is.

Re:How to judge tech advice: (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684463)

Even simpler: If it's written by Bennett it's obviously crap.

Re:How to judge tech advice: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684989)

It appears that people defend this guy like crazy, or he has a sock puppet army modding down corrections to his post for grammar and spelling errors.

Re:How to judge tech advice: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46685063)

It's the admins doing it.

Fuck Bennett (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46683795)

http://soylentnews.org/

Re:Fuck Bennett (-1, Offtopic)

DeathToBill (601486) | about 4 months ago | (#46683921)

Uh huh. Can someone tell Bennett about Wordpress so he can go get a real blog, please?

Re:Fuck Bennett (-1, Offtopic)

DeathToBill (601486) | about 4 months ago | (#46683953)

Of course, I'm sure now I'll be buried in crap telling me either a) how crap Wordpress is and how much better blogging-platform-XYZ is or b) how useless the advice is because Bennett will never follow it and how my metrics for assessing the advice I give out is all wrong.

Seriously, Bennett? You don't think maybe researchers who devote their lives to figuring out good advice on health, diet and exercise know just a teeny bit more about experimental design than you? Sorry, I forgot, teenagers know everything.

advise? (-1, Offtopic)

snoig (535665) | about 4 months ago | (#46683841)

I don't know how much advice I would take from someone who doesn't even know that the past tense of breed is bred, not breeded. Even your spell checker tells you that's wrong.

Re:advise? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46683915)

I don't know how seriously I'd take someone who doesn't understand human language.

I get it -- Bennett is going to Burning Man (-1, Offtopic)

sideslash (1865434) | about 4 months ago | (#46683849)

I am sure it is very important and fulfilling for him. For him it is Stuff that Matters. However, it is not News for Nerds.

With that said, a Slashdot that didn't post irrelevant junk so we could complain about it would hardly be Slashdot anymore, so there is that.

Re:I get it -- Bennett is going to Burning Man (-1, Offtopic)

sideslash (1865434) | about 4 months ago | (#46683877)

(See also this [slashdot.org] .)

ADD! (-1, Offtopic)

KingOfBLASH (620432) | about 4 months ago | (#46683855)

Slashdot editors should assume all readers have ADD, and make sure in 5 seconds I can tell what the hell it's about.

Stopped reading at... (-1, Offtopic)

liquibyte (1151139) | about 4 months ago | (#46683859)

breeded!

Re:Stopped reading at... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684041)

I second this motion. If you can't even get that right, why should I bother to read yet another 700 paragraphs about your personal obsession with Burning Man?

Captcha: manure

The problem with advice on the internet (4, Insightful)

NotDrWho (3543773) | about 4 months ago | (#46683931)

Someone will ask a question. This will illicit:

10 responses from people who don't know what the fuck they're talking about
3 responses from people trying to sell some solution that probably won't even work
5 joke responses
8 responses along the lines of "You're stupid to be asking this question."
1 response that actually answers the question and provides useful information--this response is buried somewhere under all the responses above.

Re:The problem with advice on the internet (1, Offtopic)

just_another_sean (919159) | about 4 months ago | (#46684035)

You forgot - 2 responses pointing out that the past tense of breed is bred, not breeded.

I propose it go between 8 responses... and 1 response...

In other words some completely off topic response that points out the original person asking the question is either bad at grammar or can't spell.

Re:The problem with advice on the internet (2)

Archangel Michael (180766) | about 4 months ago | (#46684425)

In other words some completely off topic response that points out the original person asking the question is either bad at grammar or can't spell.

See the post underneath this one QED

illicit

"Elicit". Unless you're asking how to break the law.

Re:The problem with advice on the internet (2, Informative)

Qzukk (229616) | about 4 months ago | (#46684047)

illicit

"Elicit". Unless you're asking how to break the law.

Re:The problem with advice on the internet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46686823)

And several responses that completely ignore the substance of the question to critique grammar/spelling.

Re:The problem with advice on the internet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684557)

Don't forget at least a few responses who just want to take a jab at the man despite the forum. (like bitching about /. beta for instance)

Re:The problem with advice on the internet (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684639)

On Slashdot it's more like:
 
10 responses to "just install Linux"
3 responses from people who don't seem to speak english.
5 joke responses (x10 if it's a science article)
4 posts about how the free market has failed.
A post that is modded +5 Insightful for blaming big [industry]/government/religion.
And a reply to the +5 Insightful that explains that there's no way for some concept to work in this universe that is largely ignored or modded as overrated.

If I wanted to read the article (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46683947)

If I wanted to read the article, I wouldn't have come to Slashdot.

Bennett Haselton... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46683963)

...just invented antimatter.

STOP sending me to this stupid interface slashdot! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46683971)

gray text on gray background sucks to read!

if its longer than 140 characters (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46683981)

it isn't worth reading

Advice (-1, Offtopic)

Swampash (1131503) | about 4 months ago | (#46683991)

for someone about to attend his or her first Burning Man: kill yourself

put so much thought into it, and missed something (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46683997)

I must admit, I couldn't make it through the whole thing. I made it about halfway before I started falling asleep, but, I got passed the part that I'm commenting on. TFS goes on about whether people were motivated, or whether they implemented it correctly, etc, etc. and COMPLETELY misses the fact that everyone's chemistry is diverse and will respond differently. That is something that is never accounted for and before you solve that, none of the other stuff he talks about even matters.

restated as 4 tips for writing advice (5, Insightful)

oneiros27 (46144) | about 4 months ago | (#46684163)

1: Don't ramble so much that your audience stops caring about your recommended solution before you get to it.

2: Trim out all of the extraneous parts.

3: Give appropriate responses for your audience, their motivations and capabilities.

and maybe:

4: Use lists instead of long paragraphs so maybe we can identify which parts are important.

(yes, #1 is likely just a specialization of #2 ... but did you see that horrible post?)

Beta needs a BH filter (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684007)

      Why does this simplistic buffoon keeping writing this drivel, and why on earth can't we have a filter for it. This cringe-worthy nonsense belongs on an inaccessible geocities site.

Holy Verbosity!!! (0)

c4t3l (3606237) | about 4 months ago | (#46684033)

Dude you lost me after the 992nd word....

Human nature (2)

rhv (3588421) | about 4 months ago | (#46684079)

You are not going to change human nature, most of us are lazy and will choose convenience over effectiveness. Also, you have a limited number of hours in a day, and only so many years to live. Simple changes, that do not inconvenience too much, and do not take too much time out of your schedule are much more likely to be effective, than more profound but nominally more effective changes.

Re:Human nature (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 4 months ago | (#46684555)

Basically, this guy's advice is "let's all just succumb to inertia and think in the short-term only!!"

If something's too hard, even though it'll produce a better long-term results, it isn't worth doing according to this guy because too many people are stupid and lazy and want quick fixes rather than to do things right, which takes more time. In the short term, this will seem like a winning strategy, but over the long term so much cruft will build up that we'll be in a much worse position.

Re:Human nature (1)

bennetthaselton (1016233) | about 4 months ago | (#46686593)

If one piece of advice produces better long-term results than another piece of advice, you could use this using WABR as well. You just have to check in after three years to see how both groups are doing, while still following the WABR rule of collecting results from everybody and not just from the people that you think "did it right". I mentioned that in the weight-loss example -- what you really want to do is check in to see who's kept the weight off three years down the road.

Re:Human nature (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 4 months ago | (#46686829)

The problem is this depends on your definition of "long term". If choice 1 works out better 3 years down the road, but choice 2 works out much, much better 15 years down the road, we should probably pick choice 2. However, it takes a long time to see these results. So taking a wait-and-see approach really doesn't work that well for very long-term choices. You need to make intelligent decisions, rather than leaving things to evolution.

Think about this problem: you have two choices for how to handle energy usage and pollution at the national and international levels. Choice 1 seems to work out better after 1 year. However, 20 years later, it results in too much greenhouse gases, causing massive global climate change that goes "off a cliff" so to speak, resulting in global cataclysm which can't be reversed, and the end of civilization ensues. Choice 2 averts this catastrophe, however the effects of choice 2 are not obvious only 1 year later, so no one wants to make the larger investment it requires. Scientists studying the problem correctly predicted that Choice 2 would probably be successful and that Choice 1 would result in disaster (because of being "too little too late"), but due to this choosing algorithm their concerns were dismissed.

I stopped at "breeded" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684083)

breeded?

Re:I stopped at "breeded" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684339)

I stopped at "Bennett Haselton writes".

Good advice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684133)

You could do a lot worse than just listening to whatever Bonehead Huffaton says, and doing the opposite.

Further proof! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684147)

Bennett Haselton is a Burning Man shill.
 
And he needs to learn to open a WordPress account.

TLDRWABRRTFA (1, Funny)

jqh1 (212455) | about 4 months ago | (#46684161)

Does advice that crosses the TLDR threshold score well with CBR but poorly with WABR? From TFA, [brackets added]:

> (if you make your advice hard to follow [read], that reduces the chance of somebody actually climbing that mountain [reading it]
>and then pointing out to you if your suggestion didn't work). So it's not just that the advice-giver is being unhelpful, it's that they're being a dick.

what is the TLDR threshold anyway? I'd love to see a quantification of the amount of information that can fit inside it

Re:TLDRWABRRTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684469)

what is the TLDR threshold anyway?

Headline: one coherent sentence
Summary: one coherent paragraph
Article: as long as it needs to be, but no longer
This reply: four lines, and a quote

Re:TLDRWABRRTFA (1)

Pope (17780) | about 4 months ago | (#46684909)

These days on Reddit, it looks like 3 sentences is enough for people to self TL;DR.

There is only one thing you need to know (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684197)

Advice is much easier to give than to follow.

One answer (1)

byteherder (722785) | about 4 months ago | (#46684215)

What happened to the one question per post rule? That should apply to the OP too.

I am only going to answer one of the questions. " ... the metric by which ...(I)... usually judge tech advice"
I judge tech advice (and most advice) by asking if the person giving the advice has done it before. If I am trying to set up a webserver, I will take the advice of someone who sets them up for a living over someone who has just read the manual. There is little substitute for practical hands-on experience.

That goes for a lot of other things in life too, skydiving, race car driving, investing, dating, scuba diving. fire walking.
;-)

Summary from someone who skimmed it: (4, Informative)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 4 months ago | (#46684225)

Give actual advice that mitigates the most serious threats with the least posssible effort, in order to seek the widest possible compliance. Giving "effective but not practical" advice is unlikely to be helpful.

The real answer is that the person giving advice needs to be experienced both with tech and with customer interaction. Advice like "install Chrome, because it keeps your plugins up to date and mitigates the most serious flaws with no user interaction" is helpful. "Abandon windows for linux" is not helpful, nor is it helpful to think that you can give sufficient advice to make the asker an expert in technology.

In the example given, the proper answer of "what to do with new laptop" would have been:
  1) Get Crashplan. It has sane defaults, and a cheap "backup to cloud" that requires no configuration and has encryption built in. Its literally set-it-and-forget-it.
  2) Get Avast AV. Its free, and has been well regarded for many years.
  3) Use Google docs, or Sky Drive. Pick one, and stick with it. It is recommended to pick one "ecosystem" in the cloud, and stick with it. If you go Google, you probably want an android as well. If you go Sky Drive, you probably want WinPhone. If you want iDevices, just get a Mac because iTunes sucks on windows and you dont want "worlds colliding" (Seinfield had it right!).
  4) Use Chrome. It still has the best auto-update scheme out there and is still regarded as one of the most secure browsers; using it generally removes the biggest malware vectors (out of date java / flash / adobe). If you truly care about privacy concerns, they can be addressed in the settings menu: Google it.

Pretty simple stuff, avoids common pitfalls of being a relentless fanboy, and addresses the most pressing concerns users will face.

Re:Summary from someone who skimmed it: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684893)

You keep claiming use "Chrome" as if you are a fooking salesman. Firefox and Opera are better than Chrome at almost everything, Chrome just happens to try and be a IE clone. While I believe you start with a point (specific advice is better than generalized advice) you sure as hell go off the deep end after that.

Re:Summary from someone who skimmed it: (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 4 months ago | (#46685215)

I say to use chrome because the biggest threat to internet users is out-of-date web software--- the browser, and all of its plugins.

I am not familiar with Opera, so I cant comment on its auto-update process. I am familiar with Firefox, and it is better than it was, but it still doesnt natively handle flash updates. AFAIK Chrome is the only browser which handles flash updates on its own. Its also the first browser to have come out with a workable solution for automatically doing browser updates without triggering UAC.

I say this as a tech who has seen malware incidence drop to zero after switching a particular lobbying firm from firefox / IE over to chrome roughly 4 years ago. You can go into "use NoScript / AdBlock", but thats NOT simple advice and comes with about a dozen caveats.

Re:Summary from someone who skimmed it: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46685591)

Give actual advice that mitigates the most serious threats with the least posssible effort, in order to seek the widest possible compliance. Giving "effective but not practical" advice is unlikely to be helpful.

Yes, but if he admitted that, he'd be forced to conclude that his plan for managing Exodus at Burning Man is wrong. He can't have that. So we get this.

Re:Summary from someone who skimmed it: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46685975)

So the more wrong the Hass, the more screeds he'll churn out?

Worst. Feedback Loop. Ever.

Re:Summary from someone who skimmed it: (1)

bennetthaselton (1016233) | about 4 months ago | (#46686625)

I think this sounds like great advice and is better than 90% of the suggested "improvements" that were posted on my "4 tips for your new laptop" article. In particular thanks for the pointer about Chrome. Although can you explain what's the benefit of Crashplan's backup if you're already saving documents to Google docs / Sky Drive / Dropbox?

Metrics (2)

prefec2 (875483) | about 4 months ago | (#46684233)

"WABR" and "CBR" are different metrics and they can support to reason about different questions. While CBR allows you to compare two applied advises by their effectiveness, the WABR metrics answers to ability of people to apply one of the two advises. For example, the given Linux vs. Windows+virus scanner comparison, has two different solutions. As it is easier to apply the virus scanner advice, more people will be able to apply it. So if your goal is to reduce virus infections in general, it might be the solution which provides better results in shorter time. However, the other solution has the higher potential to get rid of problem after all. The second solution is more radical, but in the end (when implemented) the result is better.

In an engineering context you would go for the better implementation advice even if it is more expensive (more learning time, more money etc.) to switch technology. This is especially true in risky environments. However, for average people this might not be the selected route. In the end they use the easier path and end up with more complex solutions, which do not fully achieve what they need, but they are even more unwilling to change because it was so complicated to get there. So if you want to do them a favor, give them the more complicated advice and support them to get there.

BTW: The example with "eat less, exercise more" is flawed, as to be measurable to must specify limits. It is like suggesting to use more virus checkers or update more often. Furthermore, eating and living habits are hard to change as you have to change behavioral patterns. In such cases small steps, reflecting behavior patterns and avoiding situations which cause those pattern to be triggered is more helpful. In technology it is merely to help them to be brave to do the transition to a new system. They do not really have to learn new behavior.

Another story in the never-ending war... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684281)

...between "easy" and "good".

Best Part (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684295)

On the other hand, it's hard to imagine an alternative exhortation that would achieve a better result.

Translation: Because I can't think of a better way, I must be right?!

I read TFA and no, not really (3, Insightful)

raymorris (2726007) | about 4 months ago | (#46684297)

I actually read the whole thing because I'm killing time waiting for something. I think the conclusion is mistaken, though it does have a kernel of a good idea in it. Taken strictly, his sugggestion is dangerous.

It may be that more people will follow the advice of "wear your seatbelt while you text and drive" than "don't text and drive" . Still, the former is bad advice.

Both measures are actually important - what gets the best results (best practice) AND what's most likely to be followed. In the example of avoiding viruses, it would be false to teach that running Avast is the best security from viruses. Running FreeBSD is several orders of magnitude more secure from viruses. The best advice, therefore, acknowledges that fact:

For security-sensitive systems, consider a secure OS such as FreeBSD or Linux. (The national security agency uses Linux for their top-secret systems). If you decide security isn't important enough to leave Windows, then AT LEAST run up-to-date antivirus. For Windows users, we recommend the following anti-virus.

That, I think, is the best advice. In security, I regularly encounter people who have been confused, been taught the "at a minimum, do this" in a way that lead them to believe that minimum is the best that can be done.

To address the weight loss analogy, the best advice would consider both, as follows:
Try to exercise 1-10 hours per week. A morning jog EVERY morning is great. At minimum, park in the back of the parking lot at work and walk two minutes to the door.

Re:I read TFA and no, not really (1)

bennetthaselton (1016233) | about 4 months ago | (#46686817)

Good point, perhaps the best advice is something along the lines of, "If security is a very high priority, switch to Linux, otherwise, install such-and-such." I mentioned in the article that you could segment your advice by different cases -- If your scenario is A, do B, but if your scenario is C, do D -- and still call the whole thing "one piece of advice", as long as it's still judged based on the average results achieved by everybody who hears it, without nit-picking whether they "followed' it or not.

The texting and driving is a tougher question, but I think WABR is still the right approach. I believe the point you're making is that if you tell people "Wear your seat belt while texting and driving", that will encourage people to wear their seat belt who otherwise would not have, but it might also encourage some people to text and drive who otherwise would not have texted while driving at all. However, that will still be reflected in the WABR test -- if your advice has harmful effects, then that will increase the number of car accidents in the group of people who receive the advice. (It's hard to think of something that would work well on people who text and drive, because they must have already heard all the exhortations not to. My suggestion: pull over at the next spot, text everybody you're in a "conversation" with and tell them you're about to be driving and can't talk. Then you won't be tempted to keep texting them because you know that if you do, they'll unload on you for texting and driving next time you see them.)

On Slashdot, really? (1)

enigma32 (128601) | about 4 months ago | (#46684301)

Since when has Slashdot of all places become accepting of general mediocrity over personal excellence?

" Perhaps the advice-giver wants to sound smart, or simply wants to avoid the possiblity of having to admit they were wrong (if you make your advice hard to follow, that reduces the chance of somebody actually climbing that mountain and then pointing out to you if your suggestion didn't work). So it's not just that the advice-giver is being unhelpful, it's that they're being a dick."

Well, I'm glad the author cares about the overall performance of his advice across 'everyone'. Personally, when receiving advice, I prefer searching out and researching all reasonable options and choosing the best one for me rather than taking generic advice applicable to a wide range of people. And when I give advice I try to do it in such a way that leaves the advice-taker able to evaluate the options and take the best option for them, rather than giving them advice that may help "anyone" a little bit but won't help them in particular a whole lot. If the advice-seeker doesn't have the interest to look at the options and make a choice that's their problem.

ha, ha, breeded... ha, ha (0)

oldmac31310 (1845668) | about 4 months ago | (#46684385)

ha, ha, breeded...ha, haha, ha, breeded...

Bad advice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684389)

Some people don't like to be responsible for giving advice that is inadequate, even if it could arguably give better results under WABR.

Personally, I try to give both kinds of advice. Here's how to really do it correctly, and here's what you can do that's easier.

The thing is, if you never tell people the "right way to do it" (even if it's hard), then they're not likely to do it that way even if they have the desire and ability.

I say this as someone who did pick up Linux largely because I read on the Internet that it was a better way to do things. (And back at that point in my life, I had hundreds of hours available to spend picking up the required knowledge.)

And then there are some things that are a matter of principal. For example, I will never tell you that it's OK to use mysql_real_escape_string in your PHP code, even if I think you're more likely to follow that advice than the "real" advice, which is use parameterized queries. Sometimes you need to send a message that lesser standards are just not acceptable.

There is a name for that (3)

feenberg (201582) | about 4 months ago | (#46684409)

Economists and doctors have been using the WABR concept for many years now. They call it judging results by "intention to treat". So if 100 people are offered a training program or medicine, and only 90 complete the course of "treatment", the base for the percentage successes is 100, not 90. This is a pretty important idea when judging any experimental treatment on humans who can decline after enrolling. It wasn't so much a problem when the treatment was fertilizer on a field.

mod parent informative. (1)

stoploss (2842505) | about 4 months ago | (#46686085)

Economists and doctors have been using the WABR concept for many years now. They call it judging results by "intention to treat". So if 100 people are offered a training program or medicine, and only 90 complete the course of "treatment", the base for the percentage successes is 100, not 90. This is a pretty important idea when judging any experimental treatment on humans who can decline after enrolling. It wasn't so much a problem when the treatment was fertilizer on a field.

Thank you. I was going to post this. His entire premise about the results being skewed by people dropping out of a study is incorrect. If the one program of bland diet and strenuous exercise worked well, but 90% of the participants dropped out because they hated it then that program's standard ITT stats would reflect this (and it would be scored lower than a more moderate program that had fewer dropouts).

It was at this point I stopped reading the submitter's premise. This counts as irony, right? Giving advice about how to give advice, but the metaadvice is so poorly constructed that it's ineffective...

first year at Burning Man (1)

SethJohnson (112166) | about 4 months ago | (#46684427)

How would you tell someone to prepare for their first year at Burning Man?

It's absolutely identical to the Gathering of the Juggalos, but hugely more pretentious.

Very nice article (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 4 months ago | (#46684429)

Long winded, but nice.

It reminds me of the "coffee is for closers" scene in Glengary, Glen Ross.

There you have Alec Baldwin, yelling and insulting salesmen, telling them they are crap and they should only get paid for results. That companies hire people to do things, not to 'try' and fail, and they should get no 'good' leads' and no coffee because they are incompetent closers.

The problem is he himself is NOT doing a job. Alec Baldwin - despite his claim to be rich and successful - may or may not be telling the truth, but his obnoxious, insulting manner is designed to drive a point home to the movie viewers, NOT to actually do the job he was supposed to be doing - getting the salesmen to be better at their job.

Because both salesmen and motivational speakers (Alec's current job) 'catch more flies with honey'. Being nice AFFECTS how well you sell, and how well you motivate.

The media is the message, and his media sucked.

Re:Very nice article (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 4 months ago | (#46686929)

You completely missed the point of that movie.

It is a fairly accurate representation of pure commissioned sales jobs. They do only get paid when then close. They do sell garbage to suckers. The higher the commission the worse of a deal they are selling. e.g. timeshares, funeral plots, whole life insurance, over the counter stocks.

The point of that movie is that _everybody_ doing that job was a scumbag. Jack Lemon was just as much a douche as Alec Baldwin, just an unsuccessful douche. They were all thieves. And they treated each other equally badly. Yet Jack Lemon somehow expected to be treated better then he was trying to treat the suckers. That movie is about Jack Lemon's character getting justice and how he's completely blind to it.

You should watch that movie before dealing with any commissioned sales people. Buying a car, talking to marketing at work etc. It will prepare you to deal with them. Whenever dealing with a marketer, just imagine you are dealing with Alec Baldwins character.

This is how they develop CPR training (4, Interesting)

robot256 (1635039) | about 4 months ago | (#46684449)

In recent years at least, this is precisely the method they have used to develop CPR training for the general public. Even if a more complicated routine would result in a better chance of survival in any given case, they have to make the rules simple enough that people can remember and apply them years later and under stress. This increases the statistical survival rate overall, which is exactly the point.

But agree with everyone else, you could have explained this to a mildly intelligent person in about 1/4 of the words.

Re:This is how they develop CPR training (1)

Zalbik (308903) | about 4 months ago | (#46686207)

you could have explained this to a mildly intelligent person in about 1/4 of the words.

This

I find it ironic that a post describing the benefits of "whole-audience based results" so completely and utterly fails its own success criteria....

His concept idea also works for dating advice (3, Interesting)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 4 months ago | (#46684523)

Time and time again, people give crappy dating advice. not because their advice is wrong perse, but because it is worded in a way so as to ensure that the person is LEAST likely to actually do it correctly.

Prime example is 'be yourself'. Most people who are still dating don't know who they are. Saying be yourself is not in any way helpful. The proper way to word that bit of advice is do not try to be something you are not. The advice is at hear the same, but the second way is fundamentally better advice because it is far more likely to be understood and used.

Another example from the dating world is "Be confident". That is about the worst possible advice possible, because 1) confidence, like height, weight, your bank account, etc. is something not under your direct, immediate control. You can't decided to be confident anymore than you can decide to be tall, thin, or wealthy. Yes, with years of hard work, you can become those things (tall requires HGH injections before your bones close - but it still takes years of work). and also 2) Most women are incredibly bad at detecting confidence, often mistaking disinterest, a slight alcohol buzz, practiced smoothness, ignorance or mere blind chance for confidence. Here, the proper advice is not to 'be confident', but instead practice with girls you don't want to date before you ask the girl you want to date out. That method helps a lot with the behaviors that women mistake for a lack of confidence.

not enough info / too difficult (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684563)

To provide a better answer also requires you to know more information about the one who is asking. For instance the ideal answer to "What's the best way to backup my computer?" would be a lot different for grandma than Bill Gates, tech nerd, etc.

Good advice with some obvious flaws (1)

Brewdinar (3544101) | about 4 months ago | (#46684569)

First off, kudos for sharing your codification of a useful and rational approach to evaluating advice, which I think is extensible to plenty of other things (don't buy your parents an extremely complicated DVR, don't buy your kid a Standard Transmission if you're not planning on teaching them how to use it, you probably don't need another infomercial kitchen appliance, etc.). But you missed a very important part of giving advice: don't treat your audience poorly! For example, claiming that your version of good advice is "by definition" the better advice, or that those giving other advice are being both unhelpful and dicks. Clearly, the difference between your idea put forth here and what you're railing against, is the difference between "best effect on average for a random sample" and "best possible effect for an individual," which does not invalidate the "best possible effect" being the best advice, because - and this is the key that other commentators have hit upon already - your advice must be judged based on who it's being given to! In general, a /. audience will be more likely to take more complicated yet ultimately more effective tech advice than the general population, for example. So I put forth that your entry here needs a simple revision as follows; WABR should use a sufficiently-large sample size of people _similar to the one(s) being given the advice_, and when performing mental WABR estimations, remember that you may potentially need some explicit weighting based on how important SOME positive effect for many is, compared to how important THE LARGEST positive effect for a few is. The computer antivirus example is a good one where cutting back on most viruses for most people is probably more important than avoiding almost all the viruses for a few people, while in a real-world virus advice comparison between (A) Avoid crowds and sick people when you can, OK?, or (B) Go get vaccinated for stuff, dummy!, the less-likely-to-be-followed advice may still be the best to give, due to herd immunity effects. Then there are some lesser considerations of encouraging both WABR and CBR advice-sharing, things like 1) being given both a piece of difficult advice and a piece of easier advice, makes the easier advice more likely to be followed because it seems much more achievable than when presented on its own (thus increasing the value of the typical WABR advice by acknowledging CBR advice), 2) the fact that giving CBR advice will be a positive effect for some people whether or not they're already following WABR advice because they will see its value immediately, 3) CBR advice gives people room to grow if they later decide that WABR advicewas not enough. Which makes me wonder if we're discussing strategy for the wrong person here... maybe it's the advice _seeker_ who needs a new strategy: to ask advice of many people until they have a sufficiently-diverse set of options and frequency distributions for those options, before following any advice.

A better question: (0, Troll)

argStyopa (232550) | about 4 months ago | (#46684619)

Who the fuck is Bennett Haselton and why should a give a single shit about what he says?

Re:A better question: (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684815)

Because he's right? Or if not, surely you can explain why you think so.

Or do you make all of your decisions based on the authority of the source rather than your evaluation of the content of the advice?

Re:A better question: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46685099)

Sure you are, Bennett.

intent to treat (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684643)

This principle is already understood in the medical clinical trials community. Your WABR neologicism is their "intent to treat" criterion. The name is a bit mysterious but the idea is if you intend to treat them (that is, if they are assigned to the treatment group), then they count as treated regardless of how well they comply with the treatment regimen. Exactly what you are saying.

Agree except for one thing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46684757)

So I totally agree with OP's point about WABR, but I think applying it to the national obesity problem is missing the point. Sure, if you tested a bunch of pieces of advice according to the methodology advocated, you'd find some advice would be better than other. There's a problem in that the obese volunteers who took part as subjects would be a biased sample of the needing-to-lose-weight population, because they would (presumably) be people who had some interest in losing weight. So the results you got in the experiment wouldn't be the same as, and would probably over-estimate the effect. But the BIG problem is that the methodology begs the question: is giving people advice--even the best possible advice--on how to lose weight an effective way to get people to lose weight? Almost certainly not. People's individual behaviour, to they extent they can modify it, is at best a minor cause of the obesity epidemic. The big problems are structural: the way agriculture is subsidized, the built form of our settlements, the education system, the entertainment-advertising complex, etc. The best advice does nothing to address these myriad, complex, deep-rooted causes.

Advice and engineering (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46685045)

I think a lot of this comes down to looking at the engineering aspects of tech advice:
* Is it effective? Will it solve the problem at hand? Does it meet the unstated requirements, which usually include e.g. the continued functioning of my laptop for the tasks which I already use it for?
* Is it economical? Will the cost in money and time be appropriate?
* Is it reliable? Is the advisee likely to be able to perform the installation correctly? Does it require ongoing action on the part of the user? If so, is it a reactive action (e.g. response to nagging), or are they required to take the initiative? How tolerant is it of occasional or frequent missed actions?
If I sold you a car that required flipping a switch under the dash every time you started the car in order for the brakes to work, I'd be a homicidal idiot. If it requires you to flip a switch near your fingers for the wipers to work when you need them, it's a normal car. Under the CBR definition both are reasonable designs; under WABR only the second one is.
We don't attribute moral values to the ability or inability of machines to do something reliably, so why is the inability of people to do certain tasks reliably "laziness", rather than a design parameter?

Pro tips for beginners confuses beginners (1)

taikedz (2782065) | about 4 months ago | (#46685267)

I'd phrase it like this:

If the advice you gave was too difficult to follow, you didn't take your audience into account. / If the advice they need requires extra knowedge/effort, be there to help them implement.

On the whole however I think the idea is spot on. Could do with some <h1> and <h2> lines to help the TL;DR crowd.

Stallman take heed! (1)

taikedz (2782065) | about 4 months ago | (#46685345)

Anybody who has tried to put a bog-standard user on Free Software Only laptops (Yeelong or X60 exclusively) with only Free Software and no proprietary.... knows that the user runs screaming back to the motherly proprietary vendors with reinforced assurance that the FSF are nuts. And we all lose.

Solved problem (2)

njnnja (2833511) | about 4 months ago | (#46685329)

Halfway through the dieting example it became clear that the author is completely unaware of multiple regression techniques, instrumental variables, or bayesian analysis, let alone experiment design. One would expect at least a cursory literature search (or even google) before writing so much about what is effectively a solved problem. He probably invents his own sort methodologies, revolutionizes page ranking algorithms, and rolls his own cryptographic hashes too.

Re:Solved problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46685597)

Yup. Check out OP's submission history:

http://slashdot.org/index2.pl?... [slashdot.org] '

A better result (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46685531)

You've come up with a system of deciding what is "good" advices based on whether people actually follow it rather than whether or not following it is actually "effective." Using your own diet / exercise example, when someone asks for diet and exercise advice, why not tell them to drink a lot of coffee and enjoy the occasional cigarette? The appetite suppressing qualities might actually get the job done for the vast majority of people who aren't actually willing to change their diet and exercise habits. I think you've missed the point of advice.

If someone asks "how can I stay in shape?" the problem with any advice is not the adviser, it's the question. "How / Can I lose 50 lbs in 3 months?" is a very different question from "how can I maintain a healthy body-weight given that I only have a few spare hours a week and don't like the gym." Similarly, "how can I have a secure computer" is not a very useful technical question. "What operating system should I use for my web-server, given the availability of technical talent?" is a good one. So is "how can I make it easier for my mom to avoid viruses without confusing or frustrating her?"

If your goal is to improve the quality of advice you are receiving, especially in technical circles, you'll have a much better time of it by improving the questions you ask with specific details than in trying to convince people to tell you to do what you are already going to do anyway. Especially since the latter usually indicates that your real purpose is to find yet another way to blame other people for the problems you've created for yourself.

Advice for all three? (1)

OhSoLaMeow (2536022) | about 4 months ago | (#46685845)

"What advice would you give someone who just bought a new laptop? What would you tell someone about how to secure their webserver against attacks? For that matter, how would you tell someone to prepare for their first year at Burning Man?

Lotion. Lots of it.

oh god. shut up! (4, Insightful)

iamagloworm (816661) | about 4 months ago | (#46685931)

can we please stop posting this asshole's diarrhea?

fuck off (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46685985)

Bennett; take beta with you.

Terrible Article (1)

alphad0g (1172971) | about 4 months ago | (#46686695)

Writing is terrible as others have mentioned..... I won't rehash, but how could you get anyone to agree when they can't maintain interest.

Also, the premise is poor - at least how I understood it - "Advice is only good if it is followed" ?? People don't do simple things, so the problem is not the advice, it is the inherent laziness or not caring of most people.

Using your example - advice to quit smoking is not good as people still smoke. Sorry, the advice is still valid, but for some reason people feel that it doesn't apply to them. Tech is only different because advice can be simple or overly complex. The overly complex may be valid in some cases - but because people don't do it, doesn't make it bad advice.

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