The dreaded circle of blame

October 31, 2011 – 6:23 pm

One time I was having some issues with my shell of choice, zsh, while using it with tmux.

Now, I decided to pop in on zsh’s IRC channel to maybe get some help.

Then I ran into the circle of blame.

Hi, I’m having this issue

Someone replies

What does your configuration look like

Well I’m using this thing called oh-my-zsh

Oh but that one is crap.


The discussion ends with them basically telling me I should stop putting things into my zsh config that I don’t understand, and that the problem is with oh-my-zsh.

I managed to pinpoint what was causing the issue in my oh-my-zsh theme.

The problem is in tmux

Gee, really?

I ask the tmux guys. Wanna guess what they say? That’s right, The problem is in zsh

All I want is a shell which works and has nice features out of the box. Is that too much to ask for?

I don’t want to first spend a week studying zsh’s manual to understand every possible combination of options that produce the results I get by simply installing oh-my-zsh – and I probably still wouldn’t know things well enough to do a good job like oh-my-zsh does.

Maybe fiddling with zsh is your passion and you enjoy it. To me, a shell is just a tool. I just want one that does the job.

So the circle of blame goes on and on, with nobody wanting to take a stand and try to fix this.

And my combination of tmux+zsh+oh-my-zsh is only one of many. Maybe you’re using screen+zsh, or tmux+bash. Or maybe you’re on Windows with Cygwin. How many people are stuck with the problems they have because of the circle of blame?

I am perfectly capable of looking up things from my zsh configs, doing rudimentary debugging of it, etc., and I was able to find out the exact part of the zsh theme causing the issue. However, at that point I am lost. I don’t have the necessary knowledge to say why that part is causing the problem. For that, I need someone else who understands the tool better.

If they will just keep shifting the blame, nothing will ever come of it.

Note: This is not to say zsh/oh my zsh/tmux guys are not doing a good job. This is an issue that seems to arise any time you have two or more different things that work together.

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  1. 4 Responses to “The dreaded circle of blame”

  2. Unfortunately for you, the only way I know out of the circle of blame is to get your hands dirty in all the source code, identify the problematic interaction or the thing that’s not following spec, and inform the guilty party with specific steps-to-reproduce with minimal code besides his own.

    And in non-open world (not in this case) where you don’t have the source, you’re SCREWED! :^)

    By Brendan Kidwell on Oct 31, 2011

  3. That’s like 50% of the closed answers on SO right there.. “You need to be smarter to ask a question about these kind of things.. Closing, so you won’t act so stupidly again”.

    By Carl Helmertz on Nov 8, 2011

  4. Carl I’m not sure if you’re responding to the unhelpful fingerpointing that is the subject of this post or my suggestion to find the problem and complain very specifically.

    Let me put it another way: everyone needs to be patient. I maintain the Windows build for a popular desktop notepad and since I get tired of dealing with it sometimes. It’s easy when someone comes to me with a problem for me to say “oh that’s an issue with the application, not the installer” before I even fully understand the issue. I don’t mean to be dismissive but it happens.

    When the developer community gives you the run around, you either work around the problem, or try to better identify the problem.

    By Brendan Kidwell on Nov 10, 2011

  5. I meant to add: in most cases we who develop open source applications with thousands not millions of users don’t get paid for it. We typically spend a few hours per month on the open source stuff, so it’s easy to get annoyed at ISSUES and take it out on those who report them, or pass the buck.

    By Brendan Kidwell on Nov 10, 2011

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