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When is OT really OT?

by tachyon (Chancellor)
on Apr 15, 2002 at 09:52 UTC ( #159188=monkdiscuss: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Sometimes monks post questions that on the surface appear Off Topic. Presumably the are one of us to even know about this site. When you first use perl there are often many other things you need to know besides just perl. I keep thinking about posting this tutorial here but it is definitely OT. Or is it? Without knowledge of the shell how can you really learn perl? For many new programmers the GUI is all they have ever know given that M$ Windows is on >90% of all the PCs out there. Even if some of us had a trs80 with 16kB of RAM and a (cassette) tape drive as our first PCs.

So when is Off Topic really On Topic, and should I post that tute or a link to same in Tutorials?

Even gurus like these somewhat randomly selected few were newbies once .....

We will now return you to your usual viewing (gadzooks, foiled again, javascript is disabled in posts ;-)



Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: When is OT really OT?
by footpad (Abbot) on Apr 15, 2002 at 10:39 UTC

    I very much agree with you. While the site's main focus is (and should remain) Perl, the truth is that good effective programming requires more than syntactical mastery of the language you're using.

    We've discussed various things that could be considered off-topic, such as Unix file systems, Apache configuration, database design, and even the Windows API. All of which I've personally found educational, interesting, and (more importantly) useful.

    Now, I know some disagree--and that's fine--however, I personally believe that good programming requires a lot of seemingly random knowledge, not all of which can be found in the POD.

    Personally, I'd like to see people think about sharing more of these fiddly-bits and focus less on "pure" topicality.

    As far as your specific tutorial goes, I think it's useful and would like to see it more broadly available (even if we only link to it). Why? Because it contains a lot of good information useful for those learning to use Perl to write CGI scripts. (I know I could have used such a resource when I was starting.) Perhaps we need a "Related Topics" (or perhaps "Prerequisites") section in the Tutorials?


Re: When is OT really OT?
by Molt (Chaplain) on Apr 15, 2002 at 10:59 UTC

    It's very difficult to decide what is off-topic with Perl. In many uses it's a glue language, it sticks things together. A conversation about glue without discussing what it's sticking is very difficult, and more than a little limiting. I'd personally say off-topic is where it begins to veer violently away from Perl.

    Easy to say this, but harder to handle. I'd say a Unix tutorial on how to use the command-line to use Vi or Emacs* to edit a Perl script, and then get round a few common problems such as file permissions, and the Perl bangpath to actually get a working program would be fine, whilst a Unix tutorial on how to do firewalling on the Linux 2.4 series kernal would be OT.

    An indepth look to internal communications such as sockets, pipes, and signals, their pros and cons, and Perl snippets showing use would be exactly on-target. The same without the Perl examples and how it factors in much less so.

    I'd even like to see an article where it shows when to stop using Perl and go to another tool. When to switch your CPU-heavy code to C and link that with your Perl, when to rely on the Unix command tools, and when the task isn't suitable and maybe you should jump ship altogether. I know that last bit is likely to get me beaten up in dark alleys by stealthy Perlmonks but the truth is every tool has that limit. Of course you can stick Perl to the new tool though..

    Essentially the question I suppose is "Is this Perl, Can I do this with Perl, will this directly aid my Perl?". If the answer is Yes then it's probably not off topic. If the answer is No then try to introduce that bit more Perl content.

    (*- Delete according to religious affiliation)

Re: When is OT really OT?
by gmax (Abbot) on Apr 15, 2002 at 12:12 UTC
    What a thorny issue, tachyon!
    It's hard to define OT properly.
    • On one hand, some questions in the Monastery appear to be OT to the monks who can better discriminate between the subjects. Take database questions, for example. A fair amount of them are just SQL or normalization issues, but the poor guy who is sweating at the problem can only see a stubborn Perl script that refuses to work. When I see the question, I can realize that the mistake is in the SQL syntax (or the Apache configuration, or the OS environment or whatever) and give an answer. However, I am sometimes reluctant when my answer doesn't have any Perl in it. I usually don't mind when I acknowledge that the requesting Monk is not trying to cheat me into answering a database question, but (s)he has really a problem and doesn't see the end of the tunnel.
      Personally, I feel that I should answer the question, if I think it's a honest one and I know the answer.
    • On the other hand, there are questions that include a truckload of Perl but are actually about something else, and what the Monk really wants is only a free evaluation of a secondary aspect, such as the database backend or the web design. Those posts are seldom recognized as OT, and usually find some answers in the Monastery.
    With the above analysis, I declare my ignorance in recognizing all OTs, except perhaps the blatant cases ("How do I set my Apache?", "What is the syntax for the <table> tag?"), and I will continue trusting my guts.

    Coming to your tutorial, I would be glad to see it in the appropriate section. I agree with your reasoning that it is a relevant topic. We have had some nodes dealing with editor features (I plea guilty of this sin), and somebody feels that they aren't orthodox. My idea is that since we write programs, and we use editors to do that, the topic is relevant and important. Our programming is not in a void environment, but is intermingled with editing, shell, databases, OS, hardware and more. Taken one by one, these subject are OT. When they are related to Perl, however, they can be as important as knowing the syntax of split.

    My conclusion is, Go for the tutorial, and many thanks for writing it!
     _  _ _  _  
    (_|| | |(_|><
Re: When is OT really OT?
by VSarkiss (Monsignor) on Apr 15, 2002 at 11:04 UTC

    Speaking for myself, I'd like to see the article itself in the Tutorials section. My preference is to keep the site focused on Perl and directly related topics (CGI, database programming, etc.), but I see this as more on-topic than off.

    For example, we already have How to RTFM in the Tutorials, and I don't think that's out of place. Your writeup provides background knowledge that's useful to the "average" Perl programmer, so I think it's quite OK.

    Perhaps we can set up a "Related Topics" section in the Tutorials?

    Err, which is what brother footpad said. I need more coffee....

Re: When is OT really OT?
by tjh (Curate) on Apr 15, 2002 at 12:40 UTC
Re: When is OT really OT?
by trs80 (Priest) on Apr 15, 2002 at 10:27 UTC
    Off topic to me is purely personal preference. As for me I like anything that has to do with computing in general, I like to know/learn as much as I can about all aspects of it. It think to become enlightened in the computer field one must remain as open minded as possible, almost anti zealots. I have a love for computing and I have *my* preferences and opinions, but I draw that line at trying to force mine on someone else, that doesn't mean I won't lay it out there though.
Re: When is OT really OT?
by impossiblerobot (Deacon) on Apr 15, 2002 at 16:23 UTC
    I am personally very open to a wide variety of topics (even those only tangentially related to Perl) in Meditations, for example. In fact, I think that sometimes exploring connections, even tenuous ones, is part of the meditative process.

    My only real problem is with non-Perl related posts in SOPW. (I would not, however, exclude posts where the problem is not Perl-related, but may look like a Perl problem to the questioner.)

    Impossible Robot
Re: When is OT really OT?
by shotgunefx (Parson) on Apr 16, 2002 at 08:34 UTC
    Programming Perl is like driving. Sometimes you drive just for the joy of it, but mostly you're trying to reach a destination.

    I give topics a large latitude. I've learned a lot of stuff periphrial to Perl. Perl without pipes,CGI,DBI, etc would be quite boring and limited. Same with Dr. Drobbs, 5-10% might apply to me but I still read the whole thing and usually somewhere down the road I can use some of it to do things I might never thought of before.


    "To be civilized is to deny one's nature."
Re: When is OT really OT?
by Marza (Vicar) on Apr 15, 2002 at 18:42 UTC
    Nice tutorial.

    My answer to when if OffTopic really on OnTopic; when it involves Perl.

    We all started out in the *Blank Look* "What?" arena. We as Monks, should guide the noobs along. If they are complete lacking on say Windows, we should at least offer advice on where to better themselves.

    Part of learning Perl is making our jobs easier. It should go for the noobs as well. Once they dive deeper into something the more they learn.

    But that is just my .02

Re: When is OT really OT?
by nefertari (Chaplain) on Apr 17, 2002 at 05:26 UTC
    I think you should post the tutorial. And the idea with "Related Topics" as a section is good.

    btw. Because of this (not-really-on-topic) node by you i found your tutorial on installing modules, which kept me from asking a very stupid question. (Had trouble installing a module via, there it told me how to call perl Makefile.PM, that did I, but the module wasn't installed after that. (I needed the make parts, too.)

      I'm glad it helped. While some people take the view that you should RTFM before you ask questions Perl has a very big manual and sometimes it is difficult to know where to start.

          There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers
          He who asks a question is a fool for a day
          He who never asks may remain a fool all his life




A needed Tutorial
by ellem (Hermit) on Apr 18, 2002 at 18:16 UTC
    I wish someone had explained a touch of programming to me back in '96 there's still stuff I don't "know/understand"

    ???Bubble sort???
    ???Left side???Right side???Pre/Pro/something-or-other???
    There's more than one way to do it, but only some of them actually work.
      If your question is, 'what is a bubble sort?', check out this site.

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