Forums > MaxMSP

Of noobs, hints, docs, homework, etiquette, and those darn kids today…

Oct 19 2011 | 3:40 pm

These are a few of my recent musings upon reading the forum. I’m not interested in engaging in flame wars or arguments; I am, as the kids say today, "Jus’ sayin’."

We were all Max noobs once. The more experienced one becomes, the harder it is to put oneself back in the place of a noob, but it’s worth trying.

Gregory Taylor once pointed out to me (and I think I’m remembering correctly that it was his wife who pointed it out to him) that "kids today" simply have a different way of learning than people of previous generations. Reading lengthy documents (and I dare say these days that means anything longer than a text message or a terse email) is less popular than it once was. Research is often replaced by just asking. On the internet (and especially when there are focused interest groups in online fora) one can easily toss a question into the ether and receive a plethora of responses (albeit of varying correctness). One feels part of a social group, and saves oneself the work of searching, so it has some advantages. It appears to be today’s most popular method of research.

If someone asks an obvious question, especially one for which the answer is well documented, we "clever" people may have the urge to show our cleverness by simply putting that person down with some dig to the effect of RTFM, or these days — because we might as well accept that many (most?) people will never RTFM — some more friendly (but arguably still slightly supercilious) version of that such as GIYF. (I get a chuckle out of the idea of, but never actually use myself, LMGTFY.)

I try to be a bit more "enlightened" than that by pointing that person to one or more specific places where the answer is already well documented. If I have a spare couple of minutes (as this post indicates that I do), I will whip up an example that I hope is instructive of not only the answer to the question but also a generalizable technique or idea. (I come from a family of teachers, who all like to demonstrate how clever we are.)

My philosophy with regard to people who ask for help (including people who want help with their homework) is that I try to give help generously without expecting thanks and without begrudging that person my time and energy. I believe in karma, in the simplified popular urban dictionary-level sense of the word.

As a teacher of Max, it’s pretty easy to tell when a student has cut and pasted someone else’s work. (Tip: At least change the font, for crying out loud!) I try not to abet cheating, but I don’t object to helping someone find the right answer just because it’s for a class. The Max forum is, after all, one of many "research" sources.

FWIW, I hark back to Patcher version 1a, so I remember a 9" 512×342 screen with 1-bit pixels and a patcher window with a palette containing about six objects, no documentation nor help, blah, blah, blah. So I guess I’m truly an old fart in the Max world, and a pretty curmudgeonly one at that. To give you an example of just how curmudgeonly, when someone on the Max Usenet newsgroup (that’s right, I just said that) proposed that a loadmess object would be useful, I wondered, "Why do we need a specialized object for that? Loadbang sends a bang on load, and message sends a message when banged. That’s not good enough for you?" Pfft, loadmess! What a trivial extravagance! I now am not above using loadmess. But I make sure to feel guilty when I do so. :)

If you have years or even decades of patching habits and muscle memory developed, any new patching feature will initially be awkward. When Mac OS X forced Cycling 74 to move the lock icon out of the title bar, I can’t tell you how many times I clicked on the zoom or minimize button thinking I was locking the patcher before I learned to lose that habit. So I’m willing to give the new Max 6 features a try (for more than a day or two!) before I reject them as backward steps.

The Max 6 wheel doesn’t bother me, because I’m usually mousing fairly quickly and I don’t spend much time hovering over the left edge of objects, so the wheel’s brief appearance barely registers in my consciousness. As popup help goes, it seems pretty clever and useful, and I predict that any noob (who bothers to find out what it is) will find it a big help. I would suggest an option or preference that allows the user either to toggle direction of the shift-key-shows/hides-the-wheel feature or to hide the wheel entirely. I always turned off the New Object List in older versions, and would not have liked to go through all those years being forced to see it, even though it did permit the user to continue typing and ignore it. I’ll save my comments about other new patching features (auto-completion, patching from inlet to outlet, Object Explorer, etc.) for separate posts.

I have anger and aggression issues as much as the next person, but I don’t like being in angry aggressive environments, even virtual ones, and am mystified by people for whom that appears to be the default (preferred?) mode of communication. "Smart-*ss" is another mode I try to eschew, although those who know me know that I usually can’t resist the temptation to indulge.

Oct 19 2011 | 4:42 pm

"Reading lengthy documents (and I dare say these days that means anything longer than a text message or a terse email) is less popular than it once was"

i think your post is a prime example :)

(sorry, couldn’t resist(!) and thanks for your help with my patch BTW)

Oct 19 2011 | 4:43 pm

I applaud you Christopher.

You have successfully articulated some of my feelings in this post.

Disagreement and discussion are both great, and often lead to great leaps forward and/or good compromises, but the level of arrogance and plain bad manners in some recent posts makes one a little disappointed with humanity.

So, thank you for reinstating the incy wincy little bit of lost faith in humanity that I was feeling!!

Maybe your post should become the default forum entrance page….

Kind regards,

Oct 19 2011 | 4:44 pm

A timely reminder Christopher

Oct 19 2011 | 5:27 pm

Being on the receiving end of some of your help, I’m quite grateful for it.

When possible, I try to chime in with help on the forum when someone noober than me asks a question that I can help with.

I think the hardest part about running into Max walls (although it applies to nearly everything in life) is that there’s always something that’s not in the manual, help, or reference. You just kind of have to ‘know’ it. There’s always an object or two that don’t seem to make sense in terms of what the higher level objects ‘need’ to function, but make all the difference in terms of actual functionality.

Also searching the forum is generally not as useful as it would seem as most people (I always try to avoid doing this myself) never post the finished/fixed version of what they were getting help for. Whatever the last post/comment is that sends them on their way with their working patch…..sends them away with their working patch.
It would be great if every "how do I do xxxx" post ending with a patch that did just that (ideally posted by the person who asked for the help, and implemented the help they got, and posted the working patch).

Oct 19 2011 | 6:34 pm

quote Rodrigo – "It would be great if every "how do I do xxxx" post ending with a patch that did just that (ideally posted by the person who asked for the help, and implemented the help they got, and posted the working patch)."

That’s a great suggestion Rodrigo – it would also serve as a kind of "thanks for helping me out guys, and for anyone else stuck with this, let me now help you"

(action – quickly checking over my posts to see if I have ever done that! lol – there’s room for improvement in all of us!)


Oct 19 2011 | 6:48 pm

Hehe, I’ve made it a point to stick a working version, or at least a ‘question answered’ version of every post I’ve made and/or gotten help in for the same reason.

The worst (most disappointing) ones are where people post a question, then get little to no replies, then they follow it up saying "never mind, I figured it out", and that’s the extent of the thread…. nothing posted!

Oct 19 2011 | 7:52 pm

i want a beer now.

Oct 19 2011 | 10:19 pm

Thank you Christopher for this post!

Regarding the ‘question answered’ forum feature, might it be possible for the maintainer of this forum to implement something like the system at StackOverflow? ( — the OP can accept answers and users can vote for the best answer for the question.)

Oct 19 2011 | 10:43 pm

The idea of Rodrigo about "how do i do xxx" is pretty good. It could be a "sticky" at the top of the forum.

But please no vote !

Oct 19 2011 | 10:49 pm

Yeah a ‘question answered’ designation would be great, though it would require tagging some posts as ‘questions’ as there’s a lot of non question/help related topics.

Oct 19 2011 | 11:48 pm


Huh? was that like telnet but… more useful? :D

"‘Smart-*ss’ is another mode I try to eschew, although those who know me know that I usually can’t resist the temptation to indulge."

Ya, you can’t really eschew that here, everyone’s a goddamned smart-ass. :)

In one thread, I tried to tell people they can just hold down shift while mousing over close objects to avoid the wheel(which i’m perfectly fine with). In another thread, I was certainly a smart-ass about the color choice and look of it all. Neither one is a serious comment on my part(i know people won’t be fine like me with holding down shift, and i know the color choice, while reminding me of the gay-pride rainbow, isn’t that… and even if it was… would actually be kinda nice and soothing to see: the look is innocent and happy overall). Someone told me once: you should preface everything online by saying, "Raja just doesn’t care about his online public forum interactions". Some people, like myself, don’t put much significance to any etiquette because it would seem absolutely ridiculous to knit pick your own expressions in an environment of caricatures anyways:
It’s not too much of an effort to put away the worries of public image or, on the other hand, put away quick reactions to what other people say. Let people run the full gamut of their personality if they feel like it. Speak your mind if you need to in response. There’s no need to take anything here personally overall, though. It’s obvious to see that everyone here is different in real life than the ‘character they play’ online. And I don’t think it’s wise to kid yourself: online, you’re always playing a character(it’s impossible to represent your true and complete personality here). It’s not just about learning. Some parts of communication are simply about expressing oneself, or even parts of oneself, particularly in an artistic community full of eccentricities such as this one. It might be different in a forum where engineering or medicine or interior design in general draws a more technical and general-usage crowd. but this is definitely an artistically-focused community, not just a technical one. idiosyncrasy is an indivisible part of the beauty everyone finds in art. you will find alot of it here, best to get used to it, in my humble, ignorant, and incomplete opinion ;)

"‘kids today’ simply have a different way of learning than people of previous generations"

this is not the full answer, though. ‘old folks’ of yesteryear also had a different set of resources, and out of need for more resources, created a newer way to access resources in general available to kids today. so they aren’t just dealing with kids that belong to today, they are dealing with kids that belong to their very own legacy. if you are an older person, they are YOUR kids. even if not biologically. :) deal with them as though you, yourself, lead them to this point by your own hand. there and then everyone realizes: a game of blame only passes fault into the future, whereas a responsibility of love passes understanding into the now.

(cheers to a well-thought-out thread… when i hold my online-interaction mirror up to others’ thoughts in this thread, it reflects infinite wisdom, your infinite wisdom. rather than just infinite knee-jerk reactions, yours and mine. hope that makes sense. :)

Oct 19 2011 | 11:57 pm

"…a game of blame only passes fault into the future, whereas a responsibility of love passes understanding into the now."

^ now THAT is a wonderful sentiment.

Oct 20 2011 | 5:55 am

Thanks to the OP for such a thoughtful post, I truly enjoyed that.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell how much of an answer to give vs. giving hints so that the receiver can discover it on their own…I parallel that with the learning center I work at, we want students to figure things out on their own. If they do, they remember better and have had that "grappling" which is so essential for one’s mind to figure things out via making "mistakes". Yes, they get frustrated by not getting the answer right away, but giving an answer quickly robs them of the most important part of learning. It’s a fine line…sometimes it’s beneficial to model the right answer or approach, but in general, I think we do this too much in education.

I for one have a huge interest in getting people over the hurdles I went through while learning Max, but at the same time, so many of those hurdles seem "necessary" for where I’m at now. It’s hard to say, especially as different people understand things differently, and some folks will pick things up so much more easily than I did, or maybe they get enough of a concept and don’t feel the need to delve into the details as much as I wanted to. That seems like an eternal issue in programming…how far do you need/want to strip things down? How many layers on top of the "basics" do you want to go? If you use tools which hide the basics, what are you gaining and what are you losing? It’s tough!!!

Anyway, just some thoughts…I do love how this thread (and learning Max) parallels so well with education in general, and am very interested to see where it goes!


Jan 23 2012 | 2:23 pm

"I do love how this thread (and learning Max) parallels so well with education in general, and am very interested to see where it goes!"

To the resident spambot, of course! Even he/she/it feels compelled to join in; I wonder if it has some kind of ‘fluffiness’ detection algorithm…?

Jan 23 2012 | 3:17 pm

I am sad about people who do not want to try 6. I am biased, of course, because 5 was never stable on my system, but it’s a free demo. Yes, I know early adoption = evil, but this definitely a case of the exception that proves the rule.

RE noobs, I have no time for people who choose not to read. That’s the way I was trained, and that’s the way I choose to train others. All learning paradigms aside, if you do not want to work why should some strangers in teh interwebz want to work for you?



Jan 23 2012 | 5:45 pm

"how do i moog when not know why cycle~is turned on" type of questions
might be dumb – but answering them with "it is in the manual" is far worse.

i somehow think that i wrote the same about 5 years ago.

Jan 23 2012 | 6:10 pm

hestitated to write more or less the same

Jan 23 2012 | 8:43 pm

Roman: I do not say this is unworthy of an answer, merely that my answer would be a manual reference :)

Jan 23 2012 | 8:56 pm

i could answer to you post now, but i have learned to just ignore things which i dont understand or dislike.
this isnt 4chan, isnt it.

but i must admit that it also needs a good portion of ignorance to overlook the sticky post.
it is true that you get answers about basic max stuff faster when using the search function.
i think the same about asking to do ones homework.

Jan 23 2012 | 9:12 pm

To be clear; by reference I would mean chapter, maybe section, maybe page number.

I do not see how it is offensive/rude/insensitive to want to increase someone’s level of understanding instead of providing a boxed solution.

Jan 25 2012 | 10:43 am

The question can be boiled down to "do you give the guy a fish, or teach him to angle?"

Except some people just want a burger with fries, hold the onions.

Jan 25 2012 | 12:58 pm

Buy a man a fish, he eats for a day;

teach him to fish and – he’s gotta buy a license, report to the local council how he’ll dispose of old bait and fish-heads, register with the IRS so he can sell his fish, get a permit to cook on an open flame…….yada yada yada.

(Doug Stanhope)

Jan 25 2012 | 1:19 pm

some day i asked here "how do i implement phase distortion for my cycle~" and david zicarelly answered my shortly: ""kink~"

5 seconds later i had it going and could continue my work.

there are enough people which would have answered my question by "you should read the manual".

but i dont read manuals. i dont like fish.

and how would i have found "kink~" by searching for "phase distortion" anyway?

Jan 25 2012 | 2:01 pm

Page 193 of the MSP46ReferenceManual.pdf mentions:

The output of kink~ should be fed to the right inlet of cycle~ (at zero frequency) to produce a distorted sine wave (a technique known as phase distortion synthesis).

A pdf reader and a search would have saved you at least 2 seconds.

Who is this David?…

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