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Where do the Zealots lie?

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

Last week (or so) I responded to Carmack about his .plan at <>. I responded not to attack him, nor to deny that he had valid points (as I clearly expressed in the intro and throughout) -- I did it to mellow things before they got ugly.

Let's face it -- it looked like Carmack came to our party (Mac World) and called the baby ugly. I was getting lots of email saying (politely) "off with his head". I tried to defuse the situation, and reduce his mail bombing, by responding quickly, and saying, "He's right -- from his perspective" -- but explaining what his perspective was and how that doesn't apply to everything or everyone -- hopefully calming down both sides, before it got ugly.

It worked for a while -- at least for the Mac users. I got many friendly eMails explaining how my article responded to the issues, addressed the validity of his points (and somewhat myopic view), but didn't attack, and so on. Yet no good deed goes unpunished. DOOM/3D game groups and Slashdot (a high volume Unix website) users went ballistic -- I got a few hundred responses from pissed off advocates from elsewhere. Basically, I had questioned God, and was deserving of a serious talking to.

My point was balance in presentation, and the BIG PICTURE. There are places to say things about the Macs flaws (like in developer forums, or personally where you can gauge the audience). There are ways to do it, like with true but realistic acceptance of both the strengths and weaknesses (fairness) -- only pointing out one side vocally and in extreme ways, while not acknowledging the rest, is not balance (or realistic). When your forum becomes more public, then you have to watch the presentation more, or qualify your statements (for which audience it is intended). What is true to developers may be false (or nearly false) to users. What is true for hard-core gamers may not be true for the other 95% of users. What is allowed in some places (like farting in a restroom), may be completely inappropriate in others (like doing the same thing in a packed elevator). So it wasn't the message that was wrong -- just the lack of balance or any concept of how it was coming across.

Imagine what would happen if I went to a Windows forum and said something like: "Windows sucks because Microsoft doesn't engineer anything (they just hack it on), they have the worst UI, Windows has an evil low-memory 16 bit foundation (Win95/98) and still uses primitive things like shared memory pools for GDI, it doesn't unload DLL's properly, and has more security holes than an open door -- but at least it has crawled from the technological end of the pack, to nearly the middle". I'd have 3,000 rabid Windows advocates pissed off at me -- and it would be at least partly my fault. Not that anything I said was wrong, but the presentation was unbalanced (but true). I would come across arrogant, and the WinAdvocates would defend each design decisions -- and there are some valid reasons for those decisions. Yet, those same advocates get annoyed when Mac users respond in the same way (or nicer), because they think their perception and views are the only valid ones.

I think John Carmack was likely surprised that Mac News Sites picked up his .plan, and it was intended for him just to vent or counterbalance Jobs' hype. It is also somewhat a switch for him to go from being somewhat anti-Mac (because it wasn't "up to it") to deciding that it met the measure (without any serious technical changes) -- so it was a bit of face saving (or seems that way). He never responded to my email, so I don't know for sure. I don't think the general Mac community was his intended audience, and so things sounded worse than he probably meant them.

Of course I was responding to something in a Mac forum (and to Mac users), and to my readers who have some clue as to what I stand for. I got "bit" in the same way -- my comments went more public than intended (to Windows and Unix groups) -- the same comments that were meant to mellow the Mac side, were taken harsh on the other.

So there are some lessons to be learned about social skills, presentation and balance. There are various degrees of right. I got bombed for the response because many were unable to note any other view than their own (or the balance in the situation). Yet many Mac advocates might have done the same to Carmack. At least I learned a few things from the event.

1) Mac Users are not more zealous than other groups

This is not some sort of compliment, nor saying that we (Mac Users) should ignore our over reactions to what is being said. We should mellow out too. But I have first hand experience (and this is not the first time) that there are lots of platform zealots out there -- and many are not on Macs.

Slashdot (sort of a Unix hangout) is infamous for generating hundreds of emails -- many hundreds -- for any article or link. That is understandable, Unix is a tight knit group (like the Mac), and they pay attention. Many were quite reasonable at expressing their views -- yet there are many completely unreasonable trolls in their ranks as well. That is life. I certainly have been bombed as bad as some reporters have claimed to have been by Mac users.

Unix fans seem to be fiercely loyal to Carmack because he made his games Open Source (after a while) and ports to a few different Unix variants. It goes beyond that too. Unix, OS/2, Amiga Advocate (as well as Mac and Windows Advocates) have reputation (at least partially deserved) for being unable to admit any flaws in their platform -- just like they claim of Mac users -- but I'm getting off topic.

The 3D Game sites seemed to be worse -- I got plenty of PC advocates attack me, my parentage, my platform and so on. Many were unable to concede any points, or see any balance in any of the arguments, nor comprehend why it was made, despite my stated reasoning prefacing the article. Many went on to create these strawman caricature arguments about what I said (or they claim I said) in various chat groups, and then would argue with me about what I said (or meant). They claimed that Mac Zealots were all close minded, and they couldn't accept a single flaw in our platform (despite me admitting to many) -- and then they wouldn't concede that I had any valid points about their flaws. (I think some people need to look up the word hypocrisy, and would find it enlightening if they could comprehend that better than my article). But I just write all that off to angry teens (whatever their physical age) still trying to discover who they are (and raging at the machine) -- I hope they grow.

Despite all the problems I've had with other "advocates" (or perhaps because of it) I hope the Mac Community stays positive and focuses on the good (helping each other, teaching each other, and so on) -- and not so much on the "attack".

2) People see what they want to

I tried to be balanced and explain that many of Carmack's points are valid -- but engineering is about tradeoffs. There are no absolutes. But people see your arguments how they want to.

For example:

  1. Memory Protection is nice -- and a modern OS should have it -- but that is a programmer issue, not a user issue (if programmers do their jobs of QA and testing). Some want to fight that Protection is stability, despite the fact that we can prove the opposite. Some pretend that one technology is a panacea, instead of just a valuable tool, among many. Other programmers tools can compensate for protection. Java (some languages) has its own memory management/protection as well. Those that whine most about the lack of memory protection on the Mac, are usually those that haven't programmed or even used Macs very much -- they attack from a position of ignorance. Most of the problems with Macs had nothing to do with protection. Again I'll say it, the Mac needs protection -- but it isn't nearly as big a deal as those anti-Mac people make it seem (at least not to most users). And for the record, I was programming Minicomputers and mainframes in the late 70's, I've written "kernels", languages and programmed MMU's, I know all about the advantages of memory protection (again proving some of the trolls assumptions wrong). Some people didn't want to see the balance in what I was trying to say -- they wanted to see me as a Mac zealot saying that memory protection doesn't matter -- so they perceived me as one, and ignored any balancing statements I made. After they read into my comments what they wanted to see, they attacked me for it.
  2. OpenGL is good because it is cross platform and has momentum, Apple should use it (I said that). It is a nice midlevel implementation (mediocre overall). QuickDraw3D is higher level, and better in some ways (it was out before OpenGL was popular and on the Mac, and it does more high level -- and is more valuable to users). RAVE is lower-level and simpler (and lighter) in many ways. Engineering is about tradeoffs. Apple made the right decision for the time, but times change. If you see no flaws in ANY technology then you don't know enough about it! Some people wanted to see my response as bagging on OpenGL (instead of balancing) -- I was just pointing out that its success today doesn't mean it is always the right decision (or that it was the wrong decision to do QD3D when Apple did). I still think QD3D on top of OpenGL would be a good compromise -- and if Apple Open-Sourced the higher levels of QD3D it would be better still. But I have full faith in the angry and immature to read into these comments what they want to attack.
  3. I had one poorly written paragraph was about how configuration matters and how people put too much importance in specifications. For example, stuffing a Voodoo2 card in an iMac would give you better game performance than a PentiumII 450 without a Voodoo2. That wasn't a product comparison -- it was meant to show that despite having sexy numbers (like 100 MHz bus, BX chip set, 450 MHz processor, 2 x AGP and other things) the thing that really mattered was if the system was configured for what you were doing (with something minor like having the right video card). All the specs in the world couldn't compensate for a bottleneck that was somewhere else. But some people wanted to see it as a product comparison, and me as a Mac fanatic saying an iMac was better -- they attacked accordingly. Many said, "You can't put a Voodoo2 in an iMac". Showing that they were ignorant AND angry. They missed the point again, because they didn't want to see it.
  4. I mentioned the anatomy of game programmer to try to balance the hype about them. Many people (often younger) worship them as Gods of programming. My point was not to trash on Game Programmers (nor claim Carmack fits the stereotype), the point was that they (Game Programmers) are people, and are all over the board (good, bad and egomaniacal). I tried to explain that game programmers have a somewhat low-level view of system, and that gives them a bias. I was trying to balance the common perceptions. I said it was an over generalization (not to be applied to every game programmer), and said that I don't know Carmack personally and that I've heard that for a game programmer he has a somewhat higher level view. Still people chose to assume that I was calling John all those things when I was just trying to give people background. <sigh> If people won't read, or only selectively accept what I've written, then I don't know what else I can do. It is a valid point to try to understand where someone is coming from before you make judgments on what they say -- that was my point. Some wanted to see me as trashing Game Programmers (or Carmack) or over-generalizing (despite what I though was me implying that we shouldn't). Again, some see what they want to, and they attacked accordingly.

The problem with trying to say something "in the middle", or balanced, is you have to look at good and bad. When you do, there is enough ammo for both sides to get pissed off -- since you weren't a strongly opinionated towards their view as they wanted. In my years of dealing with the web site, I've learned from many experiences like this, that people see what they want to see. People react how they want to react. How they respond is usually a far bigger reflection on them, than on me or my articles.

3) The messengers will always be shot!

Carmack was "shot". I'm sure he got many far nastier emails than what my article contained (I wasn't nasty). He was attacked because he voiced his opinion. Many of his points were valid, many were overstated or selective views -- but by stating them he became a lightening rod. Every idiot that hates or fears the Mac likely saw his article as vindication. Every oversensitive Mac user will see it as an attack. Many will respond. By standing up, and saying anything he made himself a target. The same thing applied to me -- by not shutting up and staying hidden, I invite volleys of high-velocity rounds. I take plenty. Better to be a shot messenger than someone with their head in the sand, or someone who cowers in the corner, afraid to speak.


Every article I've ever written (to my knowledge) has earned me at least one attack. I've been called more things than I can remember. I get praise as well (of course), but there will always be the attacks. It has gotten so I look forward to the attack with mirth. No matter how many times I preface something, or qualify it, or clarify, I know that someone will read it wrong, and have something to be pissed off about. I humorously look forward to why, each day, I am going to be a "sheep loving cretin". I consider each of those attacks as somewhat a badge of honor, and the price to pay for trying to be a messenger or teacher.

I think of it like being an under appreciated parent, doing what is right knowing that doing that for a few years there will be attacks, resentment and attitude -- but doing it in hope that they will grow through it. And like being an under appreciated parent, the attacks don't change your responsibilities or prevent you from doing what you know you must do.

The only solution for all these "issues" is camouflage. Hide in the background, never say anything, never stand out. That is the way to play it safe. Don't offend, don't challenge and don't communicate. But life is too short for that. I'd rather that people tried to communicate rather than feared it. So I accept the rounds with pride. I try to learn something from even the most vitriolic responses, and I try not to let the praise go to my head. I pity the trolls who have to use stawmen (falsifying what I said) as a way to vindicate their narrow views. Sometimes I respond to vitriol politely, "I'm not limber enough to get my head there", and sometimes I respond in kind, "No that was your Mama, but you won't recognize her since we shaved her back" -- but it won't even slow me down from taking chance, trying to explain things, and trying to give people unique views of the issues.

I'm going to keep writing, and trying to clarify and stand up for what I believe in. Those with maturity will understand what I'm trying to say (or give me a chance to explain), and we can have dialog (even when we don't agree). Those who try to silence me (with hate mail) will fail to do so -- and righteousness wins. Either way, I hope others continue to try to make a difference on their world, and stand up for what they believe in -- even if that means filling my inbox. I just hope that everyone learns to give people the benefit of the doubt, and they try to figure out the context (or motivation) for what is being said before they respond. Both when responding to Mac Advocates -- and when Mac Advocates are responding to others.

Created: 01/16/99
Updated: 11/09/02

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