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Musings on the Basics....

by BJ_Covert_Action (Beadle)
on Apr 07, 2009 at 23:17 UTC ( #756181=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

I've been reading perl (and linux) related help forums a bit more actively lately and I have to say I found something that surprised me, even though it probably shouldn't.

It seems to me that a lot of the questions being asked on technical web forums these days are the result of users refusing to learn the basics of a given topic. I am posting this here because I have noticed it more in the perl community than in other communities. Perhaps this is a result of perl being so widespread and diverse as a 'glue' language (amongst other things). Perhaps its just the result of more student/users getting addicted to the 'google it' mindset (not that there is anything wrong with googling it).

Nonetheless, it seems to me that if users would take some time to do some research on the basics of a topic, perhaps by compiling a good set of learning resources, or perhaps by observing a particular tech. community a little bit before diving straight into it, they could save themselves lots of headaches. I have seen numerous posts here on perl monks over the past month or so that are answered very explicitly in Simon Cozens freebook "Beginning Perl." Most of them are even answered (though not always as explicitly) in the camel book.

This isn't supposed to be a gripe, its more just a curious happening I've noticed. Folks these days seem more prone to throw a question into the wild (on whatever forum they can find), looking for a quick answer rather than taking the time to understand the answer and the content of the question. This is sad to me. A good amount of the beauty I find in perl is how elaborate some of the basic data structures and commands can be, yet how simple and intuitive they are to implement and use. Perhaps I just like understanding 'everything' about a subject more than others. Still though, I hope people don't do themselves the injustice of performing a perl hack job that just gets it right without understanding how wonderful that hack job is/can be in the first place.

Of course these musings are not meant to scare anyone away from posting any kind of question. I think the open, welcoming arms of (some)? internet communities are a resource that should be used to the fullest extent. Still, I hope people don't abuse those welcoming arms in such a way that they are cheated out of seeing the depth and wonder that truly is perl (or any other tech. for that matter).

I'd be interested to hear anyone else's thoughts on this.

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Musings on the Basics....
by ww (Archbishop) on Apr 08, 2009 at 01:00 UTC
    "the result of users refusing to learn...."

    or maybe "users never having learned how to learn."

    <rant> (apply "IMO" qualifier to all categorical statements which follow)

    Generally, I lean toward full agreement with your thesis, but even learning about the "beauty" of learning is something lost because of a widespread education_industry practice: teaching to the tests. And even those students who benefit from some glimmering of the notion that "knowledge is beauty" live in a culture heavily freighted toward the "quick answer."

    Worse, the "quick answer" may be the right answer for their occupational futures. As some Brother Monk observed in another context recently, corporate managers would rather hire many cogs for their machinery than a few deeply-and-broadly knowledgeable (and, therefore, high-priced) experts.

    And while I hope we don't "scare some away," I also hope comments like "RTFM" or "This is not the RentaCoder site" or, more helpfully, links (only) to relevant documents (for example, [perldoc://search terms]) persuade at least a few of the lazy or ignorant to learn enough to come back with some actual learning under their belts and better-considered and better-researched questions.


Re: Musings on the Basics....
by gwadej (Chaplain) on Apr 08, 2009 at 01:51 UTC

    Although I can understand your sentiment, I find it hard to complain about this as a new problem. I saw it more than 20 years ago when I was an undergraduate. I've seen it in employees in various companies where I've worked.

    The kind of false laziness seems to be everywhere.

    However, sometimes you see a few who really try. Who really work hard to understand and learn. I've helped to mentor a few like that at different companies. I've also seen several of them here in the Monastery.

    I don't know about other people, but I find these few who are trying to learn (and help others as they learn) make it easier to accept the fact that many will never get it (and don't really want to.)<shrug/>

    G. Wade
      Well I must say that it is only a problem I noted because this kind of revelation/learning has only just started in my own journey/experience/life. Frankly, college turned me into an answer-addicted nutcase hellbent on nothing more than the next best grade and the desire for the world to end so that my suffering, too, would end.

      It wasn't until college was nearing an end, when I happened upon a particular book regarding technology, philosophy, learning, and life in general (and even more than that), that I was reminded to stop and code the roses. Only being a year out of college (and seeing the quick-fix attitude at my current job in full effect), I am just now starting to realize what a rare philosophy this type of appreciation is. It is funny to me that, as technology becomes more embedded in so many people's lives, so few people move to truly understand any of it.

      Ah well, as you did mention, those few that do come along for the love, not the lust, make it so very fulfilling (the love helps with the fulfilling part as well).


        It wasn't until college was nearing an end, when I happened upon a particular book regarding technology, philosophy, learning, and life in general (and even more than that), that I was reminded to stop and code the roses.

        Out of curiosity, the name of this book is ... ?



        I was late to work this morning because two people were apparently unaware of a basic physical principle that two objects can't reside in the same location at the same time.

        I continue to be amazed that people can survive without even a basic understanding of physics, technology, or a number of other subjects. (Then again, my understanding of the humanities is probably sub-par to some.<shrug/>)

        G. Wade

      "False laziness" is what I call "sloth". Laziness is a virtue. Sloth is a sin.


        I believe I found the term false laziness in one of the Perl books (possibly the camel). But, sloth works as well.

        G. Wade
Re: Musings on the Basics....
by zby (Vicar) on Apr 08, 2009 at 07:58 UTC
    Just a couple of notes. First you should not be surprised that you see the 'quick answers' people at help sites - where else should they go? Second the quick answers people ask many questions - so it is not surprising that they generate bulk of the question at the help sites. But frankly it is better not to judge anyone and mark them with this 'quick answer' label. If someone needs a quick answer - then let him have it. Perhaps he was reading the manuals but just forgot something, or dug himself into a hole by some misunderstending or perhaps he does not really want to learn Perl but just needs to fix a damned script that he uses for his work. There are many life circumstances - and it is impossible to be just in your judgement with such a incidental and remote contact.

      I completely agree with your thought and would like to extend it to those who repeatedly answer questions with things like "we are not here to solve your homework" or "first show what you have tried", etc... I am not here to judge the motivations of the poster. IMO, when someone asks a question in a forum you have 2 options, try to answer it or don't try, but please, save us from moral lessons.


      I would like to note that I was not attempting to judge anyone. If someone is in need of a quickfix and google is their path, it is not within my realm of experience to tell them to do otherwise. I, myself, have been in need of a hack or quick fix myself many times.

      The original post was simply meant to be something I noticed. Perhaps each post that inspired my view that people don't learn the basics was actually posted by someone who knows all of the basics and simply forgot them, or misplaced his reference sheet, or something. I will be the first to say that my own interpretation of things is/was/will be skewed and filtered in a manner that is pertinent to my own experiences.

      I suppose I was not looking to single anyone out or judge them or say that developing workarounds is a 'bad' practice. I was just interested in hearing if others interpreted things the way I did, and if others also notice the common practice of 'time before beauty.'

      As was so astutely pointed out earlier, </shrug>

        Ah - OK. I have to admit that I rarely read SOPW here - the questions are rarely interesting.
Re: Musings on the Basics....
by Lawliet (Curate) on Apr 08, 2009 at 00:13 UTC

    Why bother researching when these nice forum people will figure everything out for me?

    I think most people are too lazy to take the initiative. They ask here first hoping there is a quick fix. They will then research the problem when given links to look at.

    I don't mind occasionally having to reinvent a wheel; I don't even mind using someone's reinvented wheel occasionally. But it helps a lot if it is symmetric, contains no fewer than ten sides, and has the axle centered. I do tire of trapezoidal wheels with offset axles. --Joseph Newcomer

      "Why bother researching when these nice forum people will figure everything out for me?"

      It's a "Man Thing" or at least that's what my wife tells me.

      You buy flatpack furniture from the likes of Ikea then try to assemble before reading the instructions.

      I do anyway! .....then blame the instructions

      We have a tendency to think that given a level of experience in one area it will give us the same in another discipline. Sometimes it carries over other times it doesn't.

      That's when you have to read the instructions.

Re: Musings on the Basics....
by sundialsvc4 (Abbot) on Apr 09, 2009 at 14:04 UTC


    I'm not afraid to ask, so I'm willing to help.

    About the only “gripe” that I might have is:   please learn about the <readmore> tag! When people post a huge mess of code, especially without that tag, I generally ignore it because “I have plenty of code of my own to debug, thankye very much!” I can't say that I do not sympathize with their frustration, because I certainly do. But I'm also mindful that they are not really approaching this resource in the best way for what they are ultimately trying to achieve.

    Generally, when you post something, you should be mindful that the thread will persist for years to come, and it will be found (using a keyword search) thousands of times. Therefore:

    • You should take the time to do a search, to see if the question has already been answered, so that you do not create yet-another thread ... and of course, you find your answer right away.
    • If you do decide to post another thread, distill it to the shortest amount of material that clearly illustrates the problem.
    • Be mindful of the “XY problem”:   asking about X because you right-now think that it's the way to the solution to your real problem, which is Y. Set your inquiry into proper context. You might be frustrated right now because you've been chasing a red herring. Therefore, we don't need to know where the herring is:   we need to know where you were trying to go.
    • When you find your answer, be sure to close your thread. Briefly describe what the solution turned out to be, in language that someone who is reading only this post will clearly understand. Also, I think it's a good idea to put SOLVED in the subject-line of the first message in the thread, so that anyone who is trolling for solutions will tend to zero-in on this one.
    • With regard to “subject lines,” be sure to make them descriptive, because the most-likely thing that someone who is searching for an answer will do is to do a subject-line search. A search for Help Me! will produce a lot of hits... but no one will take the time to read them.

      Hmmmm, I missed the discussion of the <readmore> tag in the HTML tags section. I'll have to go back through and read up on that. Thanks for the tips, I had never thought about the SOLVED in the subject line. Good advice =)
Re: Musings on the Basics....
by ambrus (Abbot) on Apr 08, 2009 at 09:13 UTC

    I'm lazy to look this up so could someone tell me how to set up rlwrap (that program that plugs gnu readline to the standard input of a program) not to put one character long lines to the history?

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