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I am interested in working through the exercise from SICP, Accelerated C++ and Numerical Linear Algebra. I was wondering if it would be alright to post my solutions as SO or mathoverflow questions titled something like How to solve Exercise X from Y? where X is the exercise number and Y is the book title.

I thought this was a nice idea for the following reasons:

  1. It's not so easy to find good solutions to exercises in programming/maths books
  2. Many people could offer a variety of solutions
  3. The poster benefits from having evidence of having done book work through the solutions appearing on their StackExchange profile
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8  
"Some exercises are interesting topics for discussion and a Q&A site would be great for that" You must be new here. –  Pops May 10 '12 at 21:02
    
@PopularDemand lol yes, but I guess you know what I mean –  mkm May 10 '12 at 21:13
5  
Er, no, actually I don't.... We really, really don't like getting any discussion on our Q&A sites here. We tend to believe that it's one of the main reasons that the Q&A model is better than the forum model. Even on meta sites, discussions are only grudgingly tolerated. –  Pops May 10 '12 at 21:18
    
@PopularDemand Oh right, in that case I take it back ^^ –  mkm May 10 '12 at 21:29
    
+1 because you had the wherewithal to stop, think, and ask before starting to do this. :) –  Andrew Barber May 10 '12 at 22:18
    
I agree with Andrew and Robert that you rock for coming here and asking instead of just charging ahead and posting to the main site. I won't upvote you, though, because upvotes work differently on meta sites. –  Pops May 10 '12 at 22:34

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Thanks for posting here first, before trying to do this on Stack Overflow. Seriously, we do appreciate that.

What you propose is not a good fit for Stack Overflow, for a number of reasons:

  1. The scope of Stack Overflow is tightly confined to professional software developers getting answers to their programming questions.

  2. The Q&A format does not lend itself well to questions that have more than one answer, discussions, or lists of things.

While we do allow homework questions, they follow a different set of rules.

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+1, I'd add that if someone ran into a problem while working through an exercise it would be Ok to post (regardless of homework status). Provided, of course, the question met the quality standards. –  user7116 May 10 '12 at 21:38

Questions titled “solving exercise X from Y” are definitely not acceptable here. It's ok to post a question that is inspired from an exercise from a book, but keep in mind the following requirements:

  • You must respect the Stack Exchange community. Questions on the site are for everyone, not just for people who are reading the book. Every question must stand on its own. You must give all relevant background, explain notations, etc. Your title should be something like “how do I do X in situation S?”; the book reference belongs as an acknowledgement.
  • You must respect the author of the book. The law demands that you do not copy the exercise text wholesale, because the book is covered by copyright. (Exception: those extremely rare books that have a license that is compatible with Stack Exchange's CC BY-SA license.) Academic standards demand that you acknowledge the author, even if you phrase your question in your own words.
  • Not all exercises in books make good questions. Some are too easy (rote exercises to check that the reader has a basic understanding of the material). Some are too hard (don't post a famous open problem). Some are too long (“implement X” is usually not a good question — but you can ask for your answers to be critiqued on Code Review). Some prod the reader into thinking with no specific answer in mind — these are discussion material, not suitable for a question and answers format.

With this in mind, if you're reading a book and you find an exercise that inspires you a good question that's compatible with the requirements above, go ahead and post it. Feel free to post your own answer, too, if you have one.

Here are a couple of examples that I posted in the Computer Science private beta. Both are inspired (but not identical) to exercises in a textbook. You can see how in the concurrency question I initially inadvertently relied on terminology that relied on the context of the book; I corrected this after someone pointed it out in a comment.

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Okay, great, thanks for the detailed response. I guess I wasn't entirely clear on what constitutes a valid question for SE sites but I see that the guidelines make a lot of sense. I'll look into the Code Review site though, thanks for pointing that out. –  mkm May 10 '12 at 22:19

The problem with asking and answering exercises from a textbook on StackOverflow is the questions themselves are no different than:

To whom this may concern,

My boss asked me to write a calculator in Java. Could you guys send me teh codez?

Thanks in advance.

Questions which simply ask for someone to write code for them are frowned upon, and ultimately unhelpful.

However, if you are working through a problem in a textbook and run into difficulty, it is ok to post what you problem is, what you have tried, and how we can help you fix it. If this is an exercise for a grade, it would be best to mention that and use the homework tag to ensure the answers are not complete solutions.

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