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how to read a blog post that omits explanation

Some people write blog posts. Some people read blog posts. Sometimes readers find that the writers do not explain everything they expected to be explained. I typically prefer to write about things other than my own writing, but occasionally there are exceptions.

Yesterday I wrote a post about backdoors which contained a code snippet which contained an error which was not explained. I’ll also be referring to an HN thread.

Since the post was not really about how one exploits integer overflows, it did not explain the nature of the error. The top HN comment does explain the bug, and it’s as long again as the original post. But it’s not enough, and more explanation is required, and that’s still not enough, necessitating even more explanation, and now the attempted explanation of the bug runs to more than three times the original post length, and even still people are not satisfied.

It should be no wonder I chose not to dig down into such a rabbit hole. That wasn’t the point. It suffices to know there was some code with a warning, and then there was some code with an error, and that’s all plainly stated.

One may choose to imagine that the subtlety of the error was itself a demonstration of the problem (the compiler warning sure as shit doesn’t go into such detail), but I’d rather not get too metasocratic.

Given a blog post that’s apparently missing some explanation, how can we as readers determine if that explanation is necessary for our understanding of the post?

We might look at the structure and layout of the post. How many words are in each section or paragraph? The areas with the most words probably contain the central points. Or try the old grade school trick of reading just the beginning and the end.

Or we might look for phrases such as “This is just a thought experiment” which indicate this is more of a big picture post. It’s about the forest, not the trees, so we shouldn’t spend too much effort drilling core samples to count rings.

Or we might look for phrases such as “what I think is interesting” which may give us a clue as to just what in the hell the author was thinking as they wrote this.

When all else fails, we might search HN for a comment that says “The point is not really about the specific mechanism” to remind us not to stare so closely that we get our eyes crossed. Then again, you probably can’t read that comment because it’s dead because of course it is.

Posted 05 Sep 2019 15:33 by tedu Updated: 05 Sep 2019 15:34
Tagged: rants