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Re: On Answering Questions

by BrowserUk (Pope)
on Feb 07, 2003 at 21:15 UTC ( #233586=note: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??


in reply to On Answering Questions

In the abstract, I'm afraid I'd have to side with the questioner.

Whilst a man of your in-depth experience and knowledge will often be able to divine more context than supplied, and therefore often be correct in answering, "You asked the wrong question!". Every now and then, your divining rod will give you a false twitch with the result that you end up irritating the questioner as much as he has irritated you.

As a questioner who sometimes explicitly removes the context from my questions deliberately, in order that I may seek answers that move beyond, around or under received wisdom on a particular point or subject, I don't mind receiving the answer. "Wrong question!" if comes with at least a little context of it's own. Ie. Why is it the wrong question. As a quite young man, I got really miffed by parents, teachers etc. that would answer "why?" with "Because I say so!" or "Because that's how it's done!". At 7, I got into trouble for walking 2 miles each way to the local library in order to read books on electricity. (Anyone remember Bibani book?). Of course, it was a good few years before I began to understand them, but I did so hate being told, "You wouldn't understand".

The problem with this medium (web) and email, is that unless you're personally or professionally aquainted with the questioner, you can never be quite sure who you are talking to, or what level of knowledge, expertise or understanding they may have. If James Watt, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison or Einstein hadn't questioned the current thinking of their day, many things we now teach in high school, and take for granted every day, would not be around, including in their case, the computers we are using to communicate. Likewise, Mr. Wall questioned the wisdom of C, shell scripts etc. You, must have said "there must be a better way" to yourself before you came up with the ST? Every new thing comes out of questioning the status quo, and sometimes that means making a mental leap a step beyond current expert opinion.

Of course, I've no way of knowing how much if any of this can be applied to the facts of the particular case you cite, and I have no doubt at all that in 99/100 cases, the questioner really is lagging behind the experts (or even the simply accustomed) in knowledge, but even then, it's sometimes better to learn by making your own mistakes than having to take things as read.

It doesn't usually take that much longer to type "That's the wrong question because <10 words of explaination or pointer to same>". And it's always worth keeping an open mind that, just maybe, this questioner has asked/phrased his question in a particular way because he thinks he sees something new, different, unique. 99/100 times he will be wrong, but it's the 1% that makes life interesting. Engaging in a litte open-minded debate may just lead to something worthwhile.


Examine what is said, not who speaks.

The 7th Rule of perl club is -- pearl clubs are easily damaged. Use a diamond club instead.


Comment on Re: On Answering Questions
•Re: Re: On Answering Questions
by merlyn (Sage) on Feb 07, 2003 at 21:18 UTC
    Well, it would certainly be wrong to just say "wrong question" and move on. But that isn't what happened in the thread from which I extracted my comment. Sorry for snipping too much context.

    -- Randal L. Schwartz, Perl hacker
    Be sure to read my standard disclaimer if this is a reply.

Re: Re: On Answering Questions
by Anonymous Monk on Feb 08, 2003 at 00:07 UTC
    What if someone asks for advice on how to commit suicide? Do you answer that?

    What if the person is asking for advice on how to do something that will be really bad for their code-base, which you know will be bad for their code-base (eg obvious insecurities, sources of major bugs)? What then?

    Read http://perl.plover.com/varvarname.html and follow the links to see one example of a common question that should not be blithely answered as asked. Another example is how to set up some of Matt Wright's scripts.

      Opps! I did it again. Had an opinion that is. I should probably not answer this, but it's simply too provocative.

      In reverse order:

      Another example is how to set up some of Matt Wright's scripts.

      I would tell them that I cannot help them with that, but that I had heard that Matt's script are notoriously difficult and dangerous to use and suggest that they might find it easier to visit NMS instead.

      Read http://perl.plover.com/varvarname.html and follow the links to see one example of a common question that should not be blithely answered as asked.

      First Perl did not have hashes references (*thanks jdporter) for many years, and symbolic references where used a lot. Done properly, it can be an amazingly powerful and useful feature.

      Many of perl's native abilities can be be dangerous if used incorrectly, or as in the case cited by MJD in your reference, used without proper forethought for the consequences.

      Finally, I never advocated doing anything blithely. I think said,

      • You move on dodgey ground when you assume information that isn't in the question
      • On even dodgier ground and risk offending or being offended when you make judgements on the questioners skill levels, background or motives based on one question.
      • Can soften the blow of the suggestion that the questioner is going in the wrong direction by giving a little context or a link explaining why. MJD's piece makes a fine example of this.

      I would usually say something to the effect of:

      Are you sure that's what you want to do? If your sure, read Perlref and by the time you've done so, you will probably understand how to do it, but more importantly why you almost certainly don't want to. Beyond that, if you'd care to explain a little more about why you want to do this, someone may be able to show you a better way to acheive your goals.

      I realise some would read that as patronising, but if they do, that's their problem not mine.

      What if the person is asking for advice on how to do something that will be really bad for their code-base, which you know will be bad for their code-base (eg obvious insecurities, sources of major bugs)? What then?

      First off, I don't know. I can hazard a good guess, but they know better than I and as you point out, it is their codebase

      What if someone asks for advice on how to commit suicide? Do you answer that?

      After much typing and deleting, I've decided to pretend that pair of questions was not asked. If you want to have a serious and deep debate on a very awkward subject, I'm sure we can find somewhere more suited to that than PerlMonks.

      And I guess that is a lesson in its self. Noone is forcing us to answer either way. Likewise, if I choose to give what I think is 'good advice' and it is rejected, I tried. It's enough. Perl doesn't enforce good practice, hence warnings, and strictures are optional. Personally, I'd probably invert the default, but I'd still make it optional.

      Updated to close UL tag and correct brain fart.


      Examine what is said, not who speaks.

      The 7th Rule of perl club is -- pearl clubs are easily damaged. Use a diamond club instead.

        First Perl did not have hashes for many years, and symbolic references where used a lot.
        No, Perl has had hashes since version 1.
        I think you meant references there.

        jdporter
        The 6th Rule of Perl Club is -- There is no Rule #6.

Re: Re: On Answering Questions
by demerphq (Chancellor) on Feb 08, 2003 at 00:21 UTC
    In many respects I am/was like you. Always asking the annoying questions, sometimes far more advanced than I probably had any business asking. So naturally i'm sympathetic to what you say. But there are some questions that really aught to not be directly answered. For instance a novice comes here with some code that depends on getting symrefs to work right and asks us to tell him how to do it. Well, most people would reply "dont do it that way, do it this other way". The point being that there is almost no chance the questioner would ask the question, the way they asked the question, if they properly understood this other point. So if they then got stroppy and insisted I answer the question directly I would refuse and then quote one of my old signatures (resurrected for this post and coincidentally a subject of private discussion earlier today :-)

    Still, dont you hate it when some say "cause" when they really mean "I have no idea" :-)

    --- demerphq
    You probably shouldn't use symrefs until you can explain why you probably shouldn't use symrefs

Re: Re: On Answering Questions
by tachyon (Chancellor) on Feb 08, 2003 at 12:34 UTC

    Engaging in a litte open-minded debate may just lead to something worthwhile.

    LOL ;-) I seem to remember answering a question that you *hadn't* asked a while back which led to increasing child like indignation (probably more on my part than yours) and as you say with the result that you end up irritating the questioner as much as he has irritated you

    I would have included a link if I was not so embarrased by my childishness - I blame that bottle of red wine. Again.

    cheers

    tachyon

    s&&rsenoyhcatreve&&&s&n.+t&"$'$`$\"$\&"&ee&&y&srve&&d&&print

      As my ol' dad use to say about my sibling squabbles... "six o' one and half a dozen of the other".

      Heck, maybe the women have it right and we never do grow up--just don't let 'em know...:)


      Examine what is said, not who speaks.

      The 7th Rule of perl club is -- pearl clubs are easily damaged. Use a diamond club instead.

        Heck, maybe the women have it right and we never do grow up--just don't let 'em know...:)
        They know for shure. Of course I don't want to generalize but speak of mine only (all kinds of relationships).

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