Sunday, March 14, 2010

World Wide Crutch

Three posts within the last few days, on different technical forums, merit a short rant. In the first case, someone posted what was flagrantly a textbook exercise and asked for the solution. The first poster didn't even ask for hints (which the second poster did on what was also clearly a homework problem); he asked for the solution. The question was blocked by the forum moderator. This happens often enough that I've toyed with the idea of posting seemingly plausible but incorrect answers to homework problems in the hope that the "student" will get a poor grade, decide it's not worth infesting the forum, and share that wisdom with other intellectually- and ethically-challenged friends. (Someone, I can't recall who, adopted a policy of responding to questions that looked like homework by promising to post a response in a week or so, the theory being that an answer to a legitimate question will likely still be valuable in a week, whereas the deadline for the homework will likely have passed by then. I like the idea but can't be bothered to keep track of dates. Said laziness also keeps me from following through on my idea of disincentive by dissembling.)

The third poster asked a question on a software forum: will the statement ___ work. Someone posted the first answer that occurred to me: have you tried it? (Well, that's close to the first response that occurred to me, and a bit cleaner.) If you're wondering whether rebooting the autopilot during a landing sequence will cause the airliner problems, it's a really good idea to ask first. If you're just wondering whether a piece of software will accept a certain bit of syntax, or a certain sequence of keystrokes, create a test document/project/whatever and try it. If the software doesn't like what you're doing, it's highly unlike the result will be a total collapse of the space-time continuum.

Apparently it is easier to post a question on a forum that it is to try something simple on the same computer with a piece of software ... or, heaven forfend, actually try to figure things out the way they were figured out before the advent of the World Wide Crutch.

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