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Questionable Quality Questions

by jynx (Priest)
on Apr 06, 2001 at 06:42 UTC ( #70386=monkdiscuss: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Perlmonks is a great site. i have learned a lot here. Recently i have been having a problem however, and i would like to ask other monks experiences on question quality.

When i first joined perlmonks i didn't know how to use strict; and had all kinds of problems with my code looking a lot like C++ (no offense to C++). It behooves me to think i've learned a lot since that time. Things such as searching for answers in the docs, writing and testing code, and even looking away for an hour so i can get back to thinking about a problem have all been very helpful tools that i learned here at the monestary. It seems, though, that now that i have more knowledge of perl i'm having problems phrasing the questions i have in any intelligable fashion. This means to me that i have little grasp on what i'm trying to ask, yet i know that i have a question. After finally passing a hump where i can answer most of my own questions this is quite frustrating...

So, after that discourse, i would like to know if any other monks have had this problem. Did other monks reach a plateau where they could answer most of their own questions and had difficulty asqing* new ones? If so, what did you do? What did you try? Is there anyway i can try to think about the question that will ellucidate a proper intelligable question to be asked?

i realize this is an abstract, vague thing, but any opinions would be greatly appreciated (if you can understand what i'm asking)...

nuf evah,

*asq = another stupid question

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Questionable Quality Questions
by stephen (Priest) on Apr 06, 2001 at 10:44 UTC
    Right on... Here's my experience, for what it's worth. I find that one of PerlMonks' best features is the way it forces me to clarify the question. A bunch of times, I've had questions about Perl. As soon as I sat down to write the question, my mind filled with the imagined voices of monks:

    "Um, what do you mean by 'it didn't work'? What did you expect it to do?"
    "Can you isolate the problem to a particular patch of code, and post it?"
    "Use CPAN. CPAN is your friend."

    Frequently, just the act of starting to type the question (and listening to the happy voices in my head :) ) is enough to solve the problem.

    The process can be frustrating. The best way to improve, I've found, is to try to answer other supplicants' questions. Trying to answer other monks' questions sharpens your analytical skills. I've learned, frequently the hard way, to pay attention to every detail of the problem and watch for hidden assumptions.

    Also, read SOPW. There are monks out there that pose questions (and answers) very effectively. Try to emulate them. Some problems are very poorly stated; figure out what the poster did poorly and watch for it in your own posts.

    Best of luck.


Re: Questionable Quality Questions
by extremely (Priest) on Apr 06, 2001 at 09:49 UTC
    Oh lordy yes. I've gotten to the point where if it stumps me, it stumps me from being able to figure out how to ask the right question. If I could ask the right question, as another pointed out, I'd be able to find the answer. I spent 10 minutes or more today trying to remember how to get a hex string from a dang number (31 => 1F, 255 => FF, etc). I beat all over pack and unpack before I finally remembered that it was a piffle to do with sprintf. What a maroon. =)

    The point is, once you are empowered with the resources, stating the search becomes the real problem. Heck you see this in the original design for SQL, in that it was supposed to be strictly parseable yet readable enough to clearly state your needs. They really wanted bosses and business types to use SQL. They were insane but the point is, you solve the search, you solve the problem.

    You're a bright guy jynx. I'd never thought of this till I read your post. My issues these days are with posing the problem, not the solution!

    $you = new YOU;
    honk() if $you->love(perl)

Re: Questionable Quality Questions
by Trimbach (Curate) on Apr 06, 2001 at 07:23 UTC
    Most of the time I can answer my own questions, from any of the numerous resources I have on tap. (The Camel, the docs, the web, etc.) I haven't really felt hindered by my inability to phrase a question that I can already answer. :-D

    However, my perception of my own ignorance is limited by my imagination. I hang around PerlMonks and read lots and lots of posts not because I'm a newbie and don't know any better, but rather because I learn a lot in the questions that are asked by people whose imaginations exceed mine. I've learned reams from people who asked questions about things that it has never occured to me to ask, which eliminates barriers in my own knowledge that I did not even know existed.

    It's very much a Zen thing: To know the answer to a question that is never asked. :-D

    Gary Blackburn
    Trained Killer

Re: Questionable Quality Questions
by rchiav (Deacon) on Apr 06, 2001 at 18:02 UTC
    To offer some suggestions, here's some things you can try to better word your questions. From having been asked my fair share of vague questions by customers, here's something I *wish* everyone did before they asked the question.

    1) Come up with your basic question

    2) Then look at it and determine what you'd need to know if you were going to answer it. Would you need to know what OS it's on? Would a code example be helpful? Would you want to know what modules they were using? The purpose? Example from my RL.. "Is the network down?"

    3) Come with a question, not a potential answer. Instead of saying "XYZ isn't doing what I want it to, what's wrong?", say "I'm trying to do ABC.. and here's what I attempted. It's not working." RL example - saying "My mail keeps getting bounced back to me" instead of "Is the network down?".. or "This server keeps Blue Screening, can you take a look at it" instead of "Can you rebuild this server?"

    4) There are stupid questions, contrairy to popular belief, but it's not because they're simple. And your question isn't stupid. The stupid questions are the ones that never ask the question or the questionier wants you to somehow infuse them with all your vast knowledge. To me, a stupid question is "Plz tell me in detail about perl. And how to make a web page." WTF?

    Hope this is helpful.. Rich

      I'd add a fifth one (or zeroth) ... "Don't Panic".

      Relax. Perl is fun. Granted, if your boss is breathing down your neck and the mental train is well of it's tracks, it can be most difficult to find balance, see the path, and walk it.

      I like digging through the holy texts, foating through PerlMonks & some mail lists, etc. I can run off on so many tangents while looking for a solution that eventually I tend to stumble onto my answer.

      But when I don't, I relax and post as much information relevent to the situation (w/ real life code). I try to keep the post concise. If I make a foolish error, I know the monks will give me a kindly paddling. If more information is needed, usually a monk will ask.

      Then refill your Karmic cup by looking to help someone else.


Re (tilly) 1: Questionable Quality Questions
by tilly (Archbishop) on Apr 07, 2001 at 01:06 UTC

    This is a good problem to have.

    When you have reached the point that you can effectively use existing resources to solve questions that you can, formulate, and if you find yourself actively doing so (so it isn't just a question of thinking you can find answers, but not actually doing it), you are probably making pretty effective use of them. That is what they are for.

    However your continued awareness that there are things you are missing is probably accurate as well.

    At this point there are a few things which I find helpful.

    1. Stretch your boundaries. While you don't have and obvious questions, there are things you probably would find useful to know about that you don't. Make a habit of identifying such areas and trying to learn more. This is useful in and of itself for obvious reasons. However it will also give you lots of specific questions, some of the answers to which will give you context for and clarification on things you thought you knew.
    2. Try to answer questions. While trying to answer questions you challenge your own knowledge in a different way that tends to bring out what you only thought you knew.
    3. Find out what others think is important. Every subject accumulates basic facts that experienced people all know, which are not obvious to beginners. You probably would never on your own realize that goto poses a fundamental maintainance problem, and never think of programming styles beyond procedural. If you think that there is more you should know that you don't, there is people out there who are perfectly willing to tell you what they think is important. Some of their suggestions will open your eyes.
    4. Review what you think you know. How would you say it to someone else? How do you wish it had been said to you? Why does it make sense to do it this way and not that? Why did they choose the way that they did it? The answers are often enlightening...
    And remember, questions come in clumps. You might have no real questions for a couple of weeks. Then you rethink something and you have a ton of them until the dust settles.
Re: Questionable Quality Questions
by Anonymous Monk on Apr 07, 2001 at 09:08 UTC
    I find that trying to simplify the problem as much as possible in as few lines of example code as possible accomplishes 3 things:

    (1) I often arrive at the solution before I even have to ask someone else,

    (2) It forces me to find the crux of the problem and identify exactly what it is that I'm analyzing, and

    (3) It boils the problem down into a simple enough scenario that I can post both the question and a very simple snippet of code that others can easily understand.

    Hope this helps!

Re: Questionable Quality Questions
by jeroenes (Priest) on Apr 06, 2001 at 18:42 UTC
    What really, really helps for me is to go and explain the problem to some other programmer, preferably not a perl programmer. Mostly I get the solution halfway my explanation.

    And no this isn't abstract or vague, but a real-world question, actually. Somebody else already hinted to 'Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance' from Robert Pirsig. Great book, worth a read. It touches this thread on 'the state of mind', you could say.<P.Cheers,

    "We are not alone"(FZ)

      jeroenes, that technique you mentioned has saved quite a bit of time.. at least if the solution cannot be found in the discussion with another developer - one usually sees problem or question in a different light.

      This usually helps either on asking the question and understanding it on a deeper level or helps point the developer(i.e. me) in the right direction to find the answer.
Re: Questionable Quality Questions
by busunsl (Vicar) on Apr 06, 2001 at 17:19 UTC
    Well, I don't have problems in phrasing the question, except for the lack of knowledge of the english language.

    My problem is, that I spend hours and hours to find the solution myself,
    because I think I can't waste somebody's time with my problems.
    But I think often asking even simple questions here will get you at least a hint where to look further.

    That is what I have to learn.

    And perhaps somebody will learn even from your question.

Re: Questionable Quality Questions
by cLive ;-) (Prior) on Apr 07, 2001 at 00:11 UTC

    My approach to coding...

    The problem is not 'What is the answer?', but 'What is the question?'. When you know what question to ask, you are indeed on the path to wisdom.

    It's like playing jeopardy every day. Examples:

    • I want to know how to find something and replace it with something else - What are Regular Expressions?
    • I want to write web pages easily from Perl. What is
    • I want to connect to another computer and send/retrieve something. What are sockets? (or what is LWP?)

    About a year ago, I had an epithany of sorts. I realised that the quagmire that I saw as Perl was turning into a mapped landscape. I didn't know where everything was, but I had a damn good idea where to start looking.

    My blinkers are still set on completing the basic training (IMHO). Although I have come far, there is much I still need to know.

    But in your situation, I think your next step is to start exploring the world of CPAN, and playing with modules you have absolutely no use for. Look at the code, play with them (if you can), and I bet that you'll see subs/objects/whatever that will click in your brain and help you formulate your next round of questions :)

    Congratulations, you know enough to know how little you know :)


    cLive ;-)

Re: Questionable Quality Questions
by providencia (Pilgrim) on Apr 07, 2001 at 00:17 UTC
    I think someone mentioned that they don't ask the questions
    they want to because they don't feel right using someone's time.

    One thing to keep in mind is that even if it is a badly formed
    question you can be helping someone who is further
    along by allowing them to help you.

    I believe that just in the asking you are doing some good.
    You are practicing communication to yourself and others.

    I do like the suggestion that someone gave about creating your basic question
    before presenting it and looking at it as if you had to answer it.
    I think I'll adopt that technique. (Private/Scratch Nodes anyone?)

    Improve on the techniques as you go along.
    First in my mind is the actual practice of asking.
Re: Questionable Quality Questions
by C-Keen (Monk) on Apr 09, 2001 at 13:38 UTC
    I think a good way to overcome your dead end of thought is not to ask questions first but to think about what the problem really is about.

    I am doing this by drawing pages full of diagrams and stuff that helps me sorting things out or as already mentioned by other fellow monks discussing the issue with a colleque.

    I get the most helpful thing from people who have nothing to do with programming or even computers at all! By trying to verbalize the problem you will straighten out your thoughts and you will be able to think more clearly. Another attempt could be writing down what you want, things that are given by the problem itself and then the part you want to solve. -> Then you will again have to state the exact problem you have to solve. Bingo!

    I hope this has given some useful ideas to you!



Re: Questionable Quality Questions
by birdbrane (Chaplain) on Apr 10, 2001 at 18:33 UTC

    I certainly agree w/ you that it is difficult being able to ask the right questions. I have found, one of the more fun things about perl, is trying to figure out, on your own, how something works.

    One of the nice things about the Monastery that I enjoy, is just facilitating discussion. Post a snippet of code and see what kind of discussion gets generated by it. Then, as the discussion gets going, you might find bits of info that might spur on your thought train. Certainly, it is nice to have the snippets in the archive as well, for other monks who might be doing something similar.


Re: Questionable Quality Questions
by jynx (Priest) on Apr 07, 2001 at 00:43 UTC

    Thanx and ++ to all. i will try to remember what you have said in posts ahead...


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