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Helping people on the internet -- was: Re: a simple question

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  • Subject: [mg131741] Helping people on the internet -- was: Re: a simple question
  • From: Richard Fateman <fateman at cs.berkeley.edu>
  • Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2013 03:44:44 -0400 (EDT)
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On 9/24/2013 11:31 PM, Barrie Stokes wrote:
> Hi Murray
>
> A neat and simple answer to a simple question, and as always with
 >yourself and a few other MathGroup regulars, very helpful.
>
...

> As I've said more than once before in a similar MathGroup gripe,
> "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him
> for a lifetime". (Lao Tzu, apparently.)
>
> Best wishes
>
> Barrie
>

As we know, the availability of the internet and search engines has made 
it possible for people to find answers (including incorrect "answers") 
to many questions.

Yet some people, (especially students), have raised the search for 
answers by one level of indirection.  That is, they search not for 
answers, but for email addresses of persons (or whole collections of 
email addresses on mailing lists) where people know the answers. And 
then they ask (or post) their simple question.

How to deal with this?  In general there seems to be no way to change 
"everyone's" behavior.  It is possible to administer a subtle smack-down 
as is done sometimes on comp.lang.lisp where students unwilling to do 
their homework on their own, pose their problems to the newsgroup.  The 
student is offered an actual solution, but of such sophistication that 
it might lead in any of several directions
1. The student, in attempting to learn how this solution works, will 
learn all kinds of things not part of the usual simplistic intro to 
lisp.  (Like the object system, hash tables, functional operators)
2. The student will turn in the solution as homework and be treated as a 
cheater (which he/she is, turning in someone else's solution).
3. Uh, something else.

Another solution:
  The moderator should  (and I heartily recommend that he or they do so)
refuse to post anything with an unsuitable subject line, or perhaps with 
dumb content.
Unsuitable subject lines include:
  "A simple question"
  "Problem"
  "Bug"
  "Help"

... of course these words could be used as part of a more descriptive 
subject line; I'm objecting to ones lacking in any further description.


A few  notes:

The particular joy apparently found by writers of elaborate solutions
to simple Lisp problems may be harder to identify in Mathematica, where 
all the "right" the solutions seem to be elaborate, though some are 
exponentially more efficient than others.

The whole effect is ruined if someone posts "the expected solution" 
which is the simple one-line Lisp code that the instructor expects.

If the problem is not homework at all, but simply a lazy dunce (and/or 
ossibly unable to read the documentation because it is in an unfamiliar 
language?) posting a question, this exercise in obfuscation is 
pointless.  This person will not understand what has happened.

I doubt that there are many students taking courses in which there are
homework problems that read,  "Determine, using Mathematica,  <whatever> 
"  So this might not be so relevant.

.............

Another solution:

  The moderator should  (and I heartily recommend that he or they do so)
refuse to post anything with an unsuitable subject line, or perhaps one 
with dumb content.

Unsuitable subject lines include:
  "A simple question"
  "Problem"
  "Bug"
  "Help"
  "Question about Mathematica"


... of course these words could be used as part of a more descriptive 
subject line; I'm objecting to lines absolutely lacking in any further 
description.

Any other suggestions?

Richard Fateman






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