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Helping Oneself

Nigel Roebuck is one of my favorite writers. He is a prolific columnist who writes about Formula One's most fascinating aspect: The people involved in the sport. All too often fans of the sport forget that people make this sport happen; the technology and the racing are all incidental and are mere consequences of the contributions of the myriad people who participate.

Why do I mention Mr. Roebuck? I own his Grand Prix Greats, wherein he writes about some of his favorite Formula One drivers and attempts to capture the essence of their personalities. One of the first chapters (the drivers are listed alphabetically) is devoted to Mario Andretti.

The chapter on Mario Andretti seems particularly pertinent to me these days because I remember one of his personal anecdotes. Andretti and Roebuck were in Rio de Janeiro just before the first race of the season one year; they had just had dinner when, upon leaving the restaurant, they came upon one of Rio's innumerable impoverished vagrants. To paraphrase Roebuck, Mario Andretti almost sheepishly gave the poor man a sizable note. Andretti explained later, "It's one thing to give help to someone who really needs it, someone who can't help himself. It's a whole other thing when he just won't."

Andretti's comment always comes to mind whenever I see certain threads on OCN and other PC enthusiast forums that I visit. Quite naturally, whenever there is a new product line that comes out, there is often a deluge of questions regarding it. Sometimes, some of the questions and comments that proliferate in PC enthusiast forums border on the inane.

Take AMD's brand-new Phenom line. It's a week-old product in the retail channel as I write this (actually, it has only been five days since it was released into the channel). Yet it amazes me that some of the early adopters are asking "How do you overclock a Phenom?," or "How well does a Phenom overclock?"

It's impossible to answer these questions; how can anyone (short of the engineers who designed these things) come up with any definitive answers when the market life is so short? Common sense dictates that such questions are senseless; in my mind they are, anyway.

Even more maddening, though, are questions about established products or methods. "Rate this build" threads drive me up the wall; threads that ask about temperature limits affect me the same way. Why? In the first type of case, I think it's stupid to ask for other people's opinions when building a new PC. Building a PC on your own is an exercise in independent judgment and critical thinking skills. What happens in these kinds of threads, though, is that the whole conversation degenerates into either a flame war when people argue about purchase decisions, or it becomes nothing more than a validation of choices calculated to increase the size of e-peen. The really hilarious thing, though, about many of the comments given on such threads is that very few of the people giving comments have actually used the products they recommend. How can one comment so strongly on something they don't even own or use? A builder's independent research is far more reliable, in my opinion, than soliciting the thoughts of myriad people who parrot other people's ideas and nothing more.

Andretti's comments are far more relevant when it comes to component-specific questions. Some questions just have been asked so many times; there's no excuse to not doing any legwork at all in finding these answers on one's own. This is the root of my grudging attitude towards these types of questions. It's not that I don't like helping people; it's just a little disconcerting, I suppose, when you just know that someone hasn't done anything to help himself.

I guess I'm really just venting my spleen, as they say. But this is not to say that such thoughts are invalid.

Experience is perhaps the overclocker's most important tool. The best way to possess this is by doing for oneself what he/she can. Don't cheat yourself by being unwilling to take your bumps and earn your stripes; mistakes might be expensive, but if you're so concerned about the consequences of going too far, just dampen your own enthusiasm until such time that you're certain the consequences won't be disastrous. This is not an elitist argument; rather, it's meant to encourage sensibility and pragmatism.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes, but make sure you can learn from them.

As always, all discussion and comments are welcome. Thanks for reading.

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