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The question Drawing an excellent cow is pretty strange and yet fun right off the bat:

I'm working in a big farm as a statistician and my master asked me to draw something to remind him his childhood. It was not easy for me to do that, because there was one big restriction: to do everything using only R. That's how I did that. Could You be so kind and help me to draw better cow?

This is followed by a large R code block that, when executed, draws a goofy cow.

I'm a bit conflicted about whether to vote to close. This is certainly an atypical use of StackOverflow: at its core, it's "here's how I drew a cow in R, share your own attempts." It's certainly not a problem with a single correct solution. On the other hand, it's instantly popular (as of this writing, where the question is 20 minutes old, it has 12 upvotes, 1 downvote, 6 favorites, 1 close vote, and a flood of cow puns in the comments). But of course, being fun doesn't make it worth keeping around.

Thus, should it be closed? (And if so, as Not Constructive or Not a Real Question)? Alternatively, would it have been better as a self-answered question (having a complete solution in the question does seem to me to be at least part of the problem)? Is there another SE site that it would be more appropriate on?

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You might want to see this… Such questions are viewed as either NC or NARQ. However, they are very popular, generate traffic and well, um, tend to stay open, irrespective of how much noise is made. – AsheeshR Mar 29 '13 at 15:09
One difference between this and the sock-sorting question is that this is directly related to programming (the question has code, and any answer would necessarily have code). – David Robinson Mar 29 '13 at 15:11
To be fair, that one was asking for algorithms. I was simply pointing it out, not saying its the same scenario. – AsheeshR Mar 29 '13 at 15:17
I actually think the most analogous case is a question like How can we make xkcd style graphs in R – David Robinson Mar 29 '13 at 15:31
What are the odds that somebody is going to post the other valid answer to that question? "No". – Uphill Luge Mar 29 '13 at 15:31
"On the other hand, it's instantly popular" -- that's usually a terrible sign too – Michael Mrozek Mar 29 '13 at 15:34
@DavidRobinson I also think the XKCD questions were fun, but in the long run should be closed. – joran Mar 29 '13 at 15:38
Should I upvote or downvote this question when I want the cow closed (or not)? – Bo Persson Mar 29 '13 at 16:45
@BoPersson: I'm not sure. I was mostly leaning towards closing it when I posted the question (it was partly to draw attention to it, since it had gotten only one close vote). I don't know whether the other downvoters wanted it closed or wanted it left open. – David Robinson Mar 29 '13 at 16:58
@BoPersson Neither, because the meta post isn't a proposal to close the question or leave it open. You should upvote/downvote answers or comments stating they think the question should be closed or open, or if no answer exists that matches your point of view then post one and state your opinion and reasons :) – Rachel Mar 29 '13 at 17:02
up vote 21 down vote accepted

This isn't a real question.

Could You be so kind and help me to draw better cow?

What does this mean? What does "better" imply here? Is there an ideal cow, a representation of which the author is working toward?

As it stands, the question is simply asking for folks to draw cows using R and post the results. That's not a question, that's a... Well, whatever the R+cow equivalent of Photoshop Friday is, I guess. Friesian fRiday? I got nothing.

Beyond that, I strongly suspect it's a joke question: I grew up on a dairy farm, and I've yet to see a male cow.

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Perhaps they were talking about the platonic ideal, the archetypical cow so to speak. – slhck Mar 29 '13 at 16:12
Platonic ideal? Well, that explains the "male" requirement, I guess. – Shog9 Mar 29 '13 at 16:14
You're probably right that it's a joke question. The account was created today right before posting, the cow says "Happy Easter" and today is the Friday before Easter weekend, and the OP refers to his boss as "master", which is a term usually used when joking around. Also the reason behind posting the code seems a little sketchy, almost like someone was trying to figure out a "practical, answerable question based on actual problems they were facing" to justify posting :) – Rachel Mar 29 '13 at 18:00
But why is a cow an Easter thing? Would have been [maybe] funnier if it was a rabbit. – Cody Gray Mar 29 '13 at 21:42
R already has a built-in rabbit drawing function; no point. – Dave Newton Jun 25 '13 at 17:35

Yes, it should be closed. I happened to choose Too Localized, since I don't think that drawing cows in R is really going to help any meaningful number of people with any meaningful problems they face. But apparently the consensus is that Not A Real Question would be more appropriate.

Note that it already attracted an answer with 17 up votes that wasn't even in the correct language, as it's a text drawing of a cow generated by code outside of R, while the OP was asking for help with ggplot2 code.

For those arguing that the question can be re-worked into something productive, I say, sure, maybe! But that's the whole point of closing questions. Questions like this are a honey pot for crazy, stupid, pointless answers that get up voted like crazy. Rushing to re-open it before the question has been modified allows it to attract even more stupid, crazy answers. Patience!

In the meantime, everyone can have their fun in the comments and answers. Nothing wrong with a few minutes of fun, but eventually the question should be closed.

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I don't think that drawing cows in R is really going to help any meaningful number of people with any meaningful problems they face. - Bingo! Let the open-closed-open-closed games begin... – LittleBobbyTables Mar 29 '13 at 15:23
I knew Lance would be first in line to re-open it – LittleBobbyTables Mar 29 '13 at 15:49
Of all the reasons to close this, "too localized" is probably the worst. As the sole answer demonstrates, there's already a fairly popular cow-drawing script floating around - obviously, the asker is not the first person to face the task of drawing captioned cows. I agree with the rest of this answer though. – Shog9 Mar 29 '13 at 16:19
@Shog9 Surely closing it as a duplicate of an unrelated question would be worse than Too Localized. I think my choice was really only the second worst. – joran Mar 29 '13 at 16:23
@joran: who said anything about that? It's not a real question - there's an explicit close reason for that. TL is not a synonym for "I don't like this question but none of the other options make sense". I'm seeing more and more abuse of this close reason on SO, including repeated flags on questions that are in no way localized at all; it's disturbing. – Shog9 Mar 29 '13 at 16:26
@Shog9 My last comment was meant in humor, which apparently failed. I think that both Too Localized and NARQ apply in this case, and I happened to opt for TL. You disagreed, I tried to make a joke. That's all. – joran Mar 29 '13 at 16:29
Yeah, like I said, I'm getting concerned about TL abuse, and frankly I find that part of your answer here dangerously wrong - seeing as (to date) 6 people agreed with your vote, it's the sort of humor that ends up setting a bad example for folks who don't know any better and probably aren't reading Meta. FWIW: the only other vote besides TL and my own was one for Off Topic; that at least I can kinda see if I squint. – Shog9 Mar 29 '13 at 16:31
@Shog9 Not to prolong this too much, but if I'm unaware that drawing cows is a "thing", is it unreasonable for someone to think that the Q is very unlikely to help anyone other than the OP? Or does TL != "unlikely to help anyone but the OP" to you? – joran Mar 29 '13 at 16:35
@joran Technically, a huge percentage of questions on SO would be considered "too localized" by that definition since it is unlikely anyone else will work with the exact same set of code. But the overarching problem and solution are ones that can be reused by other users. – Rachel Mar 29 '13 at 16:37
@Rachel Oh, I know, believe me. But there's a line somewhere, right? And I happened to think this was on the wrong side of it. – joran Mar 29 '13 at 16:39
My take on the meaning of Too Localized is a question that cannot help anyone else ever again - quite possibly including the person who asked it. It definitely does not mean "unlikely to help the person reading it with close-vote in hand". – Shog9 Mar 29 '13 at 16:39
@Shog9 Thank you for clarifying your opinion, but I think that "It definitely does not mean "unlikely to help the person reading it with close-vote in hand"." is a needless presumption about my personal motivations in this particular case, and possibly a bit rude. Please try not to assume the worst about my intentions. – joran Mar 29 '13 at 16:44
Not trying to be rude here, but re-read your last reply: why should it matter what someone without knowledge of the topic assumes the reach of a question is? I don't know anything about R, that doesn't mean I should go through and vote to close every question in that tag as TL! If you're unsure how common a problem is, either take the time to find out or just don't vote to close for that reason! – Shog9 Mar 29 '13 at 16:48
@Shog9 I do know a lot about R, and in my expert opinion, I thought that drawing cows would help literally no one. It's fine if you disagree, I'll opt for NARQ in future similar situations. But there's no need to presume that I'm selfishly closing questions just because they don't help me. – joran Mar 29 '13 at 16:52
NARQ was definitely the best call here. I think the point that Shog9 wanted to get across was, TL was intended for something like .. a missing semicolon .. if a question is valid and doesn't fit one of the other reasons, the fact that the only person that may be helped is the OP isn't a good reason to close a question. This was a clear joke, and we've probably spent too much time not laughing at it now that it's closed in a way we can all agree on :P – Tim Post Mar 29 '13 at 17:08

I would probably see about moving it to CodeGolf.SE or CodeReview.SE

The OP has working code, and is looking for alternative better ways to do the same thing, which I think makes it suitable for one of those sites.

Normally I would say Code Review, however due to it's playful nature and impractical use, I would probably check with the Code Golf community first

In contrast, if the question were "My boss has asked me to draw a cow in R. Here's what I have so far, but it's not working. How can I fix my code to accomplish this?", then I would find the question OK for Stack Overflow as it is a code question based on an actual problem being faced (although I wouldn't protest if it got closed as "Too-Localized" after receiving an answer).


As it has been pointed out to me in comments, this question would not be suitable for either of those sites because the exact goal of the question is not clearly defined, so the end result would likely just be a huge list of "here's my cow" answers.

I am leaving my answer here anyways because I think it is the best course of action for "fun" questions that ask for "better" ways to code a specific task, where "better" is clearly defined and the ultimate goal of the question is undisputable.

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I took a look at the Code Golf FAQ, which states All questions on this site, whether a programming puzzle or a code golf, should have ... An objective primary winning criterion, so that it is possible to indisputably decide which entry should win. This question certainly wouldn't qualify on that front, so I doubt it would be welcome there. – David Robinson Mar 29 '13 at 15:41
@DavidRobinson Wouldn't the objective be "the most excellent cow"? :) But yes, the question would benefit from the OP explaining what "better" means in the phrase "help me to draw better cow?", and adding the exact cow requirements (I am under the impression from comments that the cow has to be male?) – Rachel Mar 29 '13 at 15:45
Neither SO, Code Review nor CodeGolf are appropriate places for this question, because it's not a real question, the asker isn't looking for help improving the code he has (rather he wants to improve the output), and (as David states) there's no winning criteria. – Shog9 Mar 29 '13 at 16:00
@Shog9 You make a good point about this question not being suitable to any SE site because it ultimately asks "help me make my output better", and "better" is not defined. But I am leaving my answer because assuming the goal of the question was clearly defined, this would be the course of action I would take with a "fun" question of this nature that asked for a better way of coding something :) – Rachel Mar 29 '13 at 16:34

Nope, it should not be closed. Broken windows add to the site's resale value, just ask anybody from Detroit (who needs A/C when you've got a lovely breeze).

The rationale is simple: horrible, popular questions are beneficial to the site, otherwise we may not figure out how to sort our laundry efficiently. Statistical cows should be treated no different.

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Your sarcasm could be a bit better :-). – ben is uǝq backwards Mar 29 '13 at 15:04
The outrage you have over that socks question really isn't healthy... – Adam Rackis Mar 29 '13 at 15:05
@AdamRackis: I've joined the new folks in their confusion over why their questions get closed by me, because I have trouble referencing any solid reasons anymore. – user7116 Mar 29 '13 at 15:08
The socks question is a theoretical computer science question with over a thousand votes, and a hundred thousand views—and is only 60 days old. Have you considered the possibility that you're simply wrong about that one? – Adam Rackis Mar 29 '13 at 15:10
@AdamRackis: I'm wrong about a lot of things, mostly in reasons for closing a new user's question. That question helped point it out (popularity trumps policy). – user7116 Mar 29 '13 at 15:13
@AdamRackis The socks question was left open because it was considered a real problem… However, the Op later on mentioned that he is looking for only a provably better solution, and not a practically better one. So, its either NC/Offtopic or should be moved to CS (if it was so worth preserving). This is of course, if we apply the same standards as is applied to the remaining thousands of not so popular questions. – AsheeshR Mar 29 '13 at 15:13
@sixlettervariables - It's curious to me that suggesting you might be wrong about a question—a question about a computer science problem—due to its popular reception means that "popularity trumps policy." – Adam Rackis Mar 29 '13 at 15:16
@AshRj - I think Lance Roberts summed it up best in that thread: this is an algorithms question, which are fine for SO. Does the quirky wording really cause such outrage? – Adam Rackis Mar 29 '13 at 15:19
@AdamRackis: mostly because the folks who stood up for it are the same ones who join me in closing other, less popular, questions that amount to the same thing (or worse, real questions with code just poorly asked). Leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you look back at all of the questions which were closed merely because they lacked the same panache. I'm certainly voting to close less now (never thought I'd pity the new guy). – user7116 Mar 29 '13 at 15:23
@AdamRackis The FAQ states software algorithms. If there is a clear analogy wrt software, or a real software problem that can be solved by the exact same techniques, I would love to know it. But if there isnt, then I think it is off-topic. – AsheeshR Mar 29 '13 at 15:26
@AshRj - it's a gray area. It's borderline. You could argue either way, but the question was well worded, and generated great responses. I don't see why that's not sufficient. It's been two months since that was asked, and SO is still holding up quite well, this current meta post notwithstanding -_- – Adam Rackis Mar 29 '13 at 15:28
@AdamRackis To that, I would say that popularity trumps policy, but then we would be starting this debate all over again :) – AsheeshR Mar 29 '13 at 15:31
Popular questions are only beneficial if they set a good example for the multitudes reading them. This question does not. – Shog9 Mar 29 '13 at 17:16
Took me 6 whole minutes to realise you were being sarcastic. Now my downvote's locked in. – Asad Saeeduddin Mar 29 '13 at 17:51
@Asad: points don't matter, and you probably offset 1/5th an accidental upvote :) – user7116 Mar 29 '13 at 18:35

Whilst the specific concept of drawing a cow in R is not going to that useful to many people - and the OP already has answered their own question - the general principle of drawing arbitrary graphics by plotting graphics primitives on the plotting device is far more widely beneficial.

Perhaps what is needed is a bit of curation to emphasise the point about plotting primitives to build up a drawing, and to move the existing complete solution to an answer?

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What gets me is the request for a "better cow." Considering that the OP provides working code and a picture and asks for a better picture, it seems more like an art question than a coding question. – Garrett Mar 29 '13 at 16:08
@Garrett right, if it remained phrased like that I agree it is NARQ. But after some revision/curation... – Gavin Simpson Mar 29 '13 at 16:15

I posted as a comment on the actual problem but was encouraged to post as an answer here:

I know it's been closed and the act of drawing the cow is specific but the larger principles gathered from the task are likely to benefit others. Almost no question on SO is going to be used exactly by other users. It's the overarching principles that are used and adapted to meet individual needs. I voted to re-open but see others perspectives as well.

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+1 I was just thinking (& commenting here) the same thing... – Gavin Simpson Mar 29 '13 at 15:41
How would someone 6 months from now who would find the techniques useful find that question while searching for an answer to their problem? – joran Mar 29 '13 at 15:41
I agree that a good answer explaining the principals behind drawing and how to do it "right" could definitely save the question, but if the end result is everyone posting "here's my cow code" with a code dump and picture, then I can definitely see it getting closed for being "not-constructive" – Rachel Mar 29 '13 at 15:43
@joran that is where a bit of curation would come in handy. Get the OP to split the solution into an answer and then rephrase the question. – Gavin Simpson Mar 29 '13 at 15:43
@Rachel "here's my cow" answers would be "me too" and candidates for deletion - we could also protect the question to stop new users doing that. – Gavin Simpson Mar 29 '13 at 15:44
@GavinSimpson Curating to help improve questions is one thing, but what you're talking about is completely re-writing it into an entirely different question altogether. If you're willing to do that (and if the OP agrees) I can see re-opening it, perhaps, but that doesn't mean the community is wrong to choose not to do that. – joran Mar 29 '13 at 15:50
@Joran good point, probably the title should be altered to a less funny How to draw an irregular shape or something like that. This would make it more searchable. – Tyler Rinker Mar 29 '13 at 15:51
Well, I thought I'd allow the OP the time & opportunity to curate this themselves. Otherwise I do agree that as it stands this isn't broadly useful. Here curate == badger. – Gavin Simpson Mar 29 '13 at 15:51
@GavinSimpson And the whole purpose of closing is to allow for those edits to take place, while putting a hold on silly, stupid answers. Note that I never argued for deletion. Because everyone rushed to re-open people are now free to post more silly, stupid answers. – joran Mar 29 '13 at 15:53
So, I guess how to draw a Rhino would be a duplicate.. haan? – Arun Mar 29 '13 at 15:54
@TylerRinker Awww I like the title of asking how to draw an excellent cow, particularly if the question actually is asking how to draw a cow in R. But I guess I do see your point about searchabilitiy. – Rachel Mar 29 '13 at 15:55
@joran there was a discussion hereabouts about closing too quickly and the signal it sends. Will try to find it again unless someone beats me too it. Anyway - I don't see that closing helps that much and there are ways to deal with silly answers. Like downvotes. – Gavin Simpson Mar 29 '13 at 15:56
@GavinSimpson I think you're thinking of deleting too quickly. And I totally disagree. How is the down vote solution working on the current (crap) answer? – joran Mar 29 '13 at 16:00
@joran maybe it was related to the signal closing sends/sounds. Re downvotes - there is no accounting for taste :-) – Gavin Simpson Mar 29 '13 at 16:06
It's possible that a good answer might be useful to others, perhaps even those that aren't actively involved in cow-drawing. But given the complete lack of criteria for desired output, or description of a problem to be solved, there's at best a slim chance that such an answer would arise. You could just as well hope for a good, generally-useful answer to arise on any question in r+ggplot2 - indeed, your odds are probably somewhat better elsewhere. – Shog9 Mar 29 '13 at 16:24

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