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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2009
    Does the n-Forum have any sort of corresponding n-IRC channel? Yes, I performed a search beforehand, but I was unable to find any mention of such a place.
    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2009

    Hi "fpqc",

    No, there's no 'n-IRC' channel. I've never used IRC channels so I have no idea what the benefits or drawbacks of having one would be. Could you elaborate?

    Andrew

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2009
    • (edited Nov 19th 2009)
    Well, it's something like a "chat" room, but much older and much more powerful. Typically, one connects to a server, (irc.freenode.net is a good one, as there are a number of other academically oriented channels on that server), identifies his handle (so people can't steal someone's handle), and then joins a specific channel.

    Unlike other types of "chat" software, typically in IRC, there are channel operators, who run the channel and can kick and/or ban people who are annoying or don't follow the rules. So, for example, to register an n-IRC channel, you would first connect to the server where you'd want to put this channel (somewhere like freenode or synirc. Efnet is popular too, but it uses much more primitive server software and doesn't allow handle or channel registration). Then you'd join the channel #n-irc, at which point you'd be given operator status. Then you'd write /msg chanserv register #n-irc password. This will give you founder status on the channel and the ability to grant access levels on the access list to other users. Typically, the founder gives several people operator access level.

    Anyway, it just seems like it could be useful for minor questions that don't warrant whole threads on the n-forum. Of course, there is the drawback that unlike the n-forum, the messages only persist temporarily, but it seems more natural for short questions. It seems like something that it couldn't really hurt to have, although that's your (collective) decision.
    • CommentRowNumber4.
    • CommentAuthorMike Shulman
    • CommentTimeNov 19th 2009

    Just what we need... a way to spend even more time on n-stuff!

    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorTobyBartels
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2009

    I've never used IRC either, but my understanding is that it only really works when everybody is on it at one time. So it could take the place of a constant back and forth on the Forum, but not conversations that are drawn out over days. Is that correct?

    It was suggested for meetings of the steering committee, but even we've been doing that on the Forum and by email instead.

    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2009
    Your assessment is correct.
    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2009

    'fpqc' - first, thanks for filling in your name on the 'member list'. Second, thanks for clarifying.

    My instinctive reaction to an IRC channel is that it wouldn't be used much. The main reason being that the questions and so forth generally aren't urgent enough to warrant an immediate response. Over on meta.mathoverflow.net, Ilya Nikokoshev put it brilliantly in this parody:

    It's one hour before the head of your department is going to make a highly technical presentation that is going to make or break your next year's funding (this is already strange enough). You're performing the final checks on the whiteboard — when suddenly you realize there is a divergent sum! You could swear the damn thing wasn't diverging yesterday (fun again), yet now the whole department is in danger. The 10-people team of you and your fellow mathematicians immediately drops other work and frantically writes formulas trying to eliminating this divergence. Finally, five minutes before the start you find that the problem was created by a fellow graduate student who wasn't careful in erasing his whiteboard. The happy head is able to announce that an important theorem has been proven.

    One thing I like about the n-lab/n-forum set-up is that it works at a slow pace. Or, perhaps, to be more accurate: it can accommodate people like me who do work at a slow pace. If something faster is needed then I can email someone directly, but even then it's probably better to post something here and merely send an email saying "I particularly want your input on this".

    Add to that the fact that the dedicated core of the n-lab is probably not all that large and is spread out over several timezones, so the times when we would use an IRC would be fairly limited. I think that if I really needed something immediate then I would post simultaneously here, on the n-lab itself, and over at mathoverflow.

    The other argument against is one that you actually bring up: information entered into an IRC is ultimately lost (or at least deeply buried). I think, from other things that Urs has said, that he would feel this the main argument against. Even seemingly minor questions, like how to you typeset a downward-pointing arrow, are worth saving somewhere.

    But I'm curious as to what prompted the question. Do you have a specific instance in mind where it would (have been) useful?

    And in case it's not clear, the n-forum is a bit of dumping ground for any questions. The n-forum is completely subservient to the n-lab. Anything that makes life easier for the users of the n-lab is fair-game on the forum. (Well, I did veto the suggestion for a free bottle of aquavit for every sign-up)

    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2009
    I'm typically reluctant to ask questions here or on mathoverflow (mostly there, since I just joined here) because I fear that the question will end up having some sort of trivial and uninteresting answer, in which case I'll probably be scolded for "not knowing better". I mean, even though this board is somewhat informal, the topics here are usually pretty far above my level, and I don't want to annoy you guys, since you seem to have a good thing going. Maybe the steering committee could approve some sort of "questions about notation/trivial results/not sure if I should be embarrassed to post this question" thread, it would take the place of an IRC channel, mainly because it would be a place to post questions that may not warrant their own threads.
    • CommentRowNumber9.
    • CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2009

    'fpqc': What you've just said is about the only silly thing that it is possible to say here! They put up with me and my silly questions, so their tolerance level is quite high.

    Slightly more seriously, so long as you show a willingness to learn and to understand then feel free to ask questions, both here and at MO. Neither site is a "closed club" nor is either interested in being so.

    One thing that is worth knowing about the forum is that we actually try to avoid having discussions here. As soon as someone says something interesting then we transfer it to the n-lab itself. That's why you'll see that most of the posts in the "latest changes" category are of the form "Question at XYZ" or "Reply at XYZ". This place is really just to keep track of that place (the n-lab). But we'd rather you asked here than not at all - I know that it can seem a bit daunting to go in to the n-lab and put query boxes here, there, and everywhere.

    And as for "threads" here at the forum, database space is cheap. Go ahead and start new discussions as you like. Start off in the "general" category - we can always move them to a more appropriate place later if needed.

    Incidentally, you've signed on as 'fpqc' but have filled in your name in the Member List so anyone logged in can see who you are. Do you have any objection to us using your real name in the forum? The posts are publicly readable but I certainly find that having a real name helps me feel that I'm interacting with a person and not some amorphous blob out in cyberspace!

    • CommentRowNumber10.
    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeNov 20th 2009
    • (edited Nov 20th 2009)
    I didn't realize people were posting with their full names until after I registered.

    Edit: So it doesn't matter to me if my real name is used.
    • CommentRowNumber11.
    • CommentAuthorTobyBartels
    • CommentTimeNov 21st 2009

    I second what Andrew says above. I am thinking in particular of one well-liked regular n-Labber who asks many very basic questions, and I for one am happy to talk with him about them (and I'm not the only one who does either). So ask away!

    • CommentRowNumber12.
    • CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
    • CommentTimeNov 21st 2009

    And, if it's alright by you, sometime next week when we're both online at the same time I'll make it possible for you to change your login to (some approximation of) your name.