Sunday, January 18, 2009

That Empire Has No Clothes

One thing that frustrates me when I see folks ask for layout design help on the Internet is the apparent unwillingness, or inability, for people to give direct, constructive, negative feedback. It's almost as if we've all been so conditioned by the Little League everybody-gets-a-trophy attitude that we are afraid to offer people the "tough love" they need to make their plans better. (Full disclosure: if not for everybody-gets-a-trophy, I would have received darned few in my meager athletic career). Instead, it's "attaboys" all around, even when the plan offered for comment has serious flaws.

Partly it's an unwillingness to ruffle feathers, but part of it may just be a lack of attention or experience on the part of those giving advice. I see this again and again. A plan is posted, unfortunately with serious flaws that will impact reliability, operating enjoyment, or appearance. The comments start rolling in, some of which may even be on topic. But a day or two and twenty comments later and nobody has addressed the obvious lack of concentricity of the double-track curves or the 2-foot long HO staging tracks intended to hold twenty-car trains. Just like the story of the "Emperor's New Clothes", nobody seems willing, or able, to state the obvious.

When someone (like me) finally does mention these issues, our empire-builder is frequently (and understandably) crestfallen. Rather than depend on a forum Geek Chorus, I often encourage these neophyte designers to build their own understanding of layout design through layout tours and study before tackling another CAD revision. Few take that path, unfortunately, instead opting for the ear-tickling pleasantries dispensed by their forum mates.

To use the psycho-babble terms du jour, that's enabling, not empowering. If we are going to offer help to these folks, we owe it to them to invest a little time and focus in our study of their plan – and to have enough integrity to tell the truth respectfully.