What is meta? ×
Meta Stack Exchange is where users like you discuss bugs, features, and support issues that affect the software powering all 131 Stack Exchange communities.

Recently, I voted to close What does the _ in [a-zA-Z0-9_] mean? as "Not a real question".

My reasoning is simple: Anyone who knows what the - in that expression means cannot possibly be ignorant about the meaning of _ (it stands for itself, just like the a). Therefore, this question cannot be genuine.

If enough people agree with me, the question will be closed. If they don't, so be it.

However, as you may notice, there is quite a discussion going on in the comments of that post. Keeping in mind that MSO was created so that these kinds of meta arguments do not bog down the real content, I decided to post this question here, and replace my comments on that question with a link to this post.

Does my argument make sense?

To expand on that argument:

The only thing that gives me pause is that I agree with "Just because you think a questioner knows the answer already does not make the question any less valid on SO."

I do not "assume that one must know all aspects of REs or none". However, think about the difference between /[a-z]/ and /a-z/. That is a huge difference ... one would have needed to read and grasp a lot to be able to get that. And, by the time one understood that, one would have known that _ stands for itself in /[a-z_]/.

That is why I do not think this question can be helpful to a newbie in the future. A newbie will not know the difference between /[a-z]/ and /a-z/.

Summary:

  • pax: Just because you think a questioner knows the answer already does not make the question any less valid on SO.

  • Vinko Vrsalovic: The 'reality' of a question is orthogonal to the intention of the questioner. ... But, as long as he posts questions (coherent and answerable) they are valid.

  • random: Are you saying it's not a "real" question because it's an "easy" question and one that you yourself already know the answer to?

  • Telemachus: you're still taking a kind of all-or-none attitude to learning. ... Maybe you learn in a very linear manner, but I can assure you that many people do not.

I do agree with the statements quoted above. However, I do not think they are applicable in this particular situation. If they were, it would be perfectly OK to post:

  • What does the a in /a/ mean?

  • What does the b in /b/ mean?

  • What does the c in /c/ mean? ...

Hey, maybe I learn in a different way than you do and just because I understand what a means in /a/, that does not mean I can generalize it to other letters in the English alphabet.

Besides, even if I knew the answer to that, it is possible someone, somewhere else might not know and that person would benefit from a clear and concise answer to each and every one of those questions.

And so what if I posted all these questions one after another in an attempt to collect a point here and a point there. After all, by the rest of the criteria, the question is real, and my intent is orthogonal.

Of course, filling up SO with noise is detrimental to both the main purpose of SO and its money making potential. I want SO to make money for Joel and Jeff and all who worked on it and therefore I would never start posting the kind of questions I gave above, but, by your arguments, if someone did post those questions, each and every one of them would be a valid, real question.

Thank you again for all your answers. I have benefited from the points raised on this thread.

share|improve this question
1  
I say we down-vote it so that this answer stackoverflow.com/questions/1604124/… gets the reversal badge, it so deserves. –  Brad Gilbert Oct 22 '09 at 4:20
5  
That user stackoverflow.com/users/82368/kunjaan , is just a question pump. 144 questions, only 28 answers. –  Brad Gilbert Oct 22 '09 at 4:26
    
At least this answer stackoverflow.com/questions/1604124/… got a populist badge. –  Brad Gilbert Oct 22 '09 at 4:31
8  
Shame on you all for closing that question. Seriously. You have all lost sight of what SO.com is about. –  GEOCHET Oct 22 '09 at 11:31
    
@unknown (google) Explain how you tried to close the question when you are short by about 2999 rep. –  belgariontheking Oct 22 '09 at 11:37
2  
-2 For hiding behind the wiki shield. –  random Oct 22 '09 at 12:20
    
Thank you everyone for your answers/comments. I want to assure everyone that I am not going after questions for being too trivial I appreciate the valid points made on this thread. Thank you for your time. –  Sinan Ünür Oct 22 '09 at 12:22
    
@random I made the change after the fact because I tagged this subjective I don't spend much time on MSO, but I do appreciate on SO if subjective questions are made Wiki. –  Sinan Ünür Oct 22 '09 at 12:24
1  
You're not a newbie, and that is entirely the whole point of you not getting their not getting it. –  random Oct 22 '09 at 12:35
    
@belgarion: That particular unknown (google) is, I believe, the OP of the referenced question. He did, in fact, vote to close his own question. Re the question itself and this "not a real question BS," everything that needs to be said has been: The people who voted to close that question (outside of OP) were dead wrong. Downvote if you like, but don't close real questions because you think the asker is a "question pump" (um, Q and A board, anyone?) or there could be no way he knows one fact and not another. –  John Rudy Oct 22 '09 at 13:36
    
@John: And report the closers of that question to the mods. Those people were not only wrong, but they were abusive. –  GEOCHET Oct 22 '09 at 13:39
    
@Michael: in stackoverflow.com i can. @Brad: i am sorry i ask so many questions. @Brad: again, are you 12? @Sinan: I have not learned Regular expressions as much as you have. For me as long as it was working, it was OK. I dont do much text processing and have always relied on others for those expressions. However I was really confused because _ didnt make a difference in my code and my colleague was not here. Again I really do not care if the post is deleted, downvoted, closed whatever ,as long as I get an answer. But personally it was a valid query and I think people would benifit-kunjaan –  kunj2aaan Oct 22 '09 at 15:33
    
Doesn't the b in /b/ mean that it's a boundary? –  random Oct 22 '09 at 16:09
    
@random: No. It would have to be /\b/. –  Sinan Ünür Oct 22 '09 at 17:12
2  
@Sinan: The point you are missing is that _ might be a special character, which is a plausible thought. In any case, all questions from a to z including 0 to 9 are valid, but once one is answered the rest could be closed as exact duplicates except for special characters. –  John the Seagull Oct 22 '09 at 19:35

8 Answers 8

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The problem is not merely that someone posted an easy question.

Someone posting an occasional easy question is OK, either out of genuine curiosity, or as a social experiment (see LOGO turtle), or as an occasional re-whoring.

Someone genuinely trying to understand stuff and showing they did the work is great, even if they are a newbie - it's not the level of the question that matters, but the level of effort they put in.

However, someone just abusing the "easy Qs are good for SO's overall purpose of being an encyclopedia" is a major problem - they don't ACTUALLY add to the site (heck, if they did, just have some bot written by Jeff Atwood pump easy questions as CW user into the site from some textbook), and they serve to hugely dis-incentivise people who might wish to earn an honest reputation by answering actual technical (and hopefully not-always-trivial) questions who see that a question pumper like the guy mentioned by Sinan can earn enormous rep with no effort b merely pasting one-by-one questions from some Perl etc... textbooks.

share|improve this answer
6  
Nothing you say here shows why such a person would hurt the site. If the hypothetical questioner asks lots of easy questions and people take the time to give them good, detailed answers isn't that a good thing? I think you're forgetting that what makes something useful (or not) depends on the questions and the answers. –  Telemachus Oct 22 '09 at 14:18

My reasoning is simple: Anyone who knows what the - in that expression means cannot possibly be ignorant about the meaning of _ (it stands for itself, just like the a). Therefore, this question cannot be genuine.

Your reasoning may be simple - I decline to comment :-)

However, it is fallacious. You are wrong, in my opinion, on two accounts.

  1. To say someone could not understand what _ is for when they know what - is for is wrong. I, for example, still write my REs with [A-Za-z ...] instead of \w partially because I don't know all the PCRE-type extensions (and partially because I still work on systems that don't support them). To assume that one must know all aspects of REs or none of it is plainly incorrect. Both - and _ are clearly in the "punctuation" class of characters and it is reasonable to think they may both have special meaning in REs.

  2. Just because you think a questioner knows the answer already does not make the question any less valid on SO. I suggested in the original question that "What is the difference between i++ and ++i?" would be in a similar situation since you could argue that no-one who knew i++ could fail to know ++i. Yet that question would be a genuine one since SO is supposed to be for all levels of programmers, including those who haven't mastered all the intricacies of C (or REs).

And, as to the sadness of the lemming-like voting, that answer was right and simple. Who's to say it didn't deserve the upvotes? @Ether states that the answer wasn't worth more than a minute of anyone's time but I managed to read and upvote it in about 20 seconds.

Granted, that's 20 seconds I'll never get back, but I waste more time than that each day with booting my work PC :-)

share|improve this answer

I think you are misunderstanding "not a real question"

Examples of "not a real question":

  • Do my homework for me. Now!: That's clearly not a real question, but an order
  • I hate Microsoft's stack: That's clearly not a real question, but a rant
  • You all suck balls here, time wasters: That's clearly not a real question, but a troll
  • You green SQL apple blue cloud?: Incoherent, unanswerable

Examples of a "real question":

  • How does one move the turtle in logo?: Basic, probably useless nowadays, but a question
  • What does the _ mean in [a-zA-Z0-9_]?: Basic, but a question

The 'reality' of a question is orthogonal to the intention of the questioner. We cannot know the intention of the questioner, nor what he really knows or how stupid he is. But, as long as he posts questions (coherent and answerable) they are valid.

I understand the feeling of "this is so basic it must be a joke". But even if it is a joke it will probably help some newbie, sometime, as long as it can be answered. So it just doesn't matter.

share|improve this answer
1  
I'll call something "not a real question" also for being too vague. If I can't be confident of recognizing an answer when I see one (that is, whether or not it's an answer), I vote to close. In this case, "'_' stands for itself" is a perfectly good answer, so I'd leave it open. –  David Thornley Oct 22 '09 at 17:52
    
No questioner is too stupid, since they're seeking knowledge. I reserve the "too stupid" tag for those who don't want to ask out of fear of being perceived as stupid. But I like your orthogonal comment, even though I had to look it up :-) –  paxdiablo Nov 1 '09 at 5:53
    
@paxdiablo: That cliche sucks, stupidity is orthogonal to the ability of asking questions (Although I agree that refraining from asking due to fear of appearing stupid is stupid as well and I also agree that the interest in learning is of merit.) Anyway, what I'm trying to say is related to your cliche: how stupid a person is is not relevant to whether or not their questions should be answered (they all should, as long as they can be answered.) –  John the Seagull Nov 1 '09 at 18:26

Is the dash/hyphen (-) used as a range delimiter or as a character on its own? What is the underscore (_) used for in that expression? Is it a look behind trigger or just a plain old underscore character to match against?

How can you say that it's obvious that the underscore is a character on its own when the dash is used in a different way?

Are you saying it's not a "real" question because it's an "easy" question and one that you yourself already know the answer to?

If they're a rep-whore constantly posting soft/easy questions like this, then that itself would be a problem. One that you could flag for moderator attention.

But the question would still be valid and a real question at that. Stack Overflow aims to be the place to brain up for programmers and even the fresh have to start somewhere. Even if it's not patently obvious how regular expressions work.

It's clear you know so much more than the person asking the question and by that, their question must not be real. Because, seriously? Someone doesn't already know what you know about programming?

By your reckoning, anyone and everyone who wants to learn, has already learnt and can't possibly be confused or need guidance on the intracacies or quirks of a programming language or function.

share|improve this answer
    
- (hyphen) is generally a range operator. It matches its literal self if it is the first or last character in the range (inside [] characters). _ is always only itself; it has no special meaning in regexes. –  Ether Oct 22 '09 at 4:06
    
Did not know that at all. –  random Oct 22 '09 at 4:08
1  
- is a range operator in regex character classes. In the rest of Perl, .. is the range operator. –  Brad Gilbert Oct 22 '09 at 4:22
    
Then again, maybe that question asker is a pest. Who knows. –  random Oct 22 '09 at 4:22
1  
That questioner isn't, but there has been a couple over the last week or so causing a fair degree of exasperation amongst the [perl] folks. So perhaps patience and magnanamosity is a bin more thin than it could be... –  Ether Oct 22 '09 at 4:33
    
@Ether: that is why I complained originally back on SO. The [perl] section of SO is very short on understanding and magnanimity (though +1 for magnanamosity - it should be a word, but it ain't) right now. –  Telemachus Oct 22 '09 at 14:19
    
@Telemachus: I think you're looking for "magnaminity" (if I've got that spelled right). –  David Thornley Oct 22 '09 at 17:53
1  
@David: All due respect, but I was looking for what I typed (and you didn't have it spelled right): "magnanimity" - magnanamosity was a joke about Ether's comment. –  Telemachus Oct 22 '09 at 19:02

It's depressing as hell to me that the question is currently closed. (And now it's open again, so never mind that...)

To respond to Sinan, my reasoning is also simple: the question was perfectly clear and nobody is born knowing the answer. Yes, a textbook or perldoc or would answer the question, but the purpose of SO is to answer questions, and it says right in the FAQ that all levels of questions are welcome.

What part of any of that is hard to understand?

My other concern was that the Perl section of SO seems way too quick to vote to close lately. I understand if people prefer to answer and read more challenging or unusual questions, but they can always simply ignore the questions they find trivial or boring.

Edit: Further response to Sinan:

I do not "assume that one must know all aspects of REs or none". However, think about the difference between /[a-z]/ and /a-z/. That is a huge difference ... one would have needed to read and grasp a lot to be able to get that. And, by the time one understood that, one would have known that _ stands for itself in /[a-z_]/.

That is why I do not think this question can be helpful to a newbie in the future. A newbie will not know the difference between /[a-z]/ and /a-z/.

I think you're still taking a kind of all-or-none attitude to learning. In my experience of programming (and learning more generally), it just ain't so. A person might easily understand /[a-z]/ because the idea of a range of letters is fairly natural, but at the same time freeze when seeing /[a-z_]/ because - oh, crap, _ is punctuation, and punctuation is all kinds of weird in regular expressions. Maybe you learn in a very linear manner, but I can assure you that many people do not (note: I'm a teacher, so I have buckets of anecdotal evidence to back that up).

As to your second point (that it won't help a newbie), that depends on the kinds of answers it gets. If you think that a key point to grasp is the difference between /[a-z]/ and /a-z/ (I agree with that, by the way), why not post a detailed, clear answer explaining that?

For what it's worth, you might take a look at the posts of John W. Krahn and Chas. Owens to the Perl Beginners mail list. Each of them has posted hundreds of patient, clear, detailed answers to a never-ending slew of questions, ranging from the very, very simple to the very complex. I've probably learned 1/4 of what I know about Perl just from making sure to read their answers. It's nobody's duty to answer simple questions, but it is definitely useful when knowledgeable people take the time to do so.

share|improve this answer
    
@Telemachus How would you feel about the many similar questions I could ask: What does a stand for in /a/? What does b stand for in /b/? What does c stand for in /c/? etc –  Sinan Ünür Oct 22 '09 at 12:27
1  
@Sinan: you don't get what I'm saying. To someone new to regular expressions, it simply isn't obvious what is a metacharacter and what isn't. It also isn't clear when metachars become unmeta. –  Telemachus Oct 22 '09 at 12:34
    
I wish I could upvote this again for the edit explaining understanding /[a-z]/ vs /[a-z_]/ ... –  John Rudy Oct 22 '09 at 14:17
    
@Telemachus By the way, I think I have about 18 years of teaching experience at the university level, so I know a little something about different learning modes as well. You chose to address (very well) a different point than the one I made and turned this argument in to "is there room for simple questions on SO?" I understand enough people disagree with me on the usefulness of this question and that is why it is good that there is a reopen mechanism. –  Sinan Ünür Oct 22 '09 at 14:36
1  
@Sinan: the point you made simply isn't valid. It isn't the case that if a person knows fact 1, then by definition they must know (related) fact 2. By assuming that, you end up believing that the poster was gaming the system or whatever. I keep turning it towards simple questions because some regulars in the [perl] ecosystem keep voting to close simple questions. I think that's a problem (and the real, deeper problem in this case, too). Bottom line: we disagree about the problem, much less the answer. –  Telemachus Oct 22 '09 at 14:54
    
@Telemachus Could you give me examples of unjustifiably closed questions in [perl]? –  Sinan Ünür Oct 22 '09 at 15:03
    
@Sinan: to clarify, my concern is overly eager voting to close. That's not exactly the same thing as "closed questions" since a question can get some close votes without closing. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to go through the [perl] section to find examples. –  Telemachus Oct 22 '09 at 15:23
1  
@Sinan: There's no close reason reading "not a useful question". The question in point is real, although elementary, and I see no close reason that applies. –  David Thornley Oct 22 '09 at 17:56

I think it's a real question, although a dreadfully elementary one. What I found sad was the lemming-like upvoting of the response, which I thought deserved one or two votes at most. Both the question and the answer were worth less than a minute of anyone's time.

share|improve this answer
2  
See, that's what I don't understand. You freely admit that it's a real question yet you want to close. Do you believe that SO is meant only for programmers at your skill level? I don't, but then few could ever hope to attain my skill level :-) –  paxdiablo Oct 22 '09 at 5:34
    
@Ether: The amount of votes an answer gets is proportional to two things: - How simple the question was (more people know the answer is correct) - How many people view the question (greater population). So, an easy popular question always gets votes in the dozens. –  John the Seagull Oct 22 '09 at 7:17
3  
The OP may not understand closing, but you really don't understand voting. –  GEOCHET Oct 22 '09 at 11:29
    
@paxdiablo: closing a question is not the same as deleting it. Once an answer has been given (and it was the only correct one), there is no point in leaving the question open. –  Ether Oct 22 '09 at 17:26
    
@Ether: Not entirely true. Technologies evolve, and better answers may still be provided by others. Questions should generally remain open unless there is a solid reason to close them due to one of the established close reasons. (Personally, I think "no longer relevant" should only be available to the question's OP.) –  John Rudy Oct 22 '09 at 18:39

There's a sheep-like reaction that sets in; if there's one vote to close, others jump on the bandwagon. That's why Perlmonks has countering "keep" and "edit" votes.

share|improve this answer
2  
Actually, I like that idea of duelling votes in realtime (rather than waiting for close/reopen, maybe someone should raise it as an option. –  paxdiablo Oct 22 '09 at 5:18
    
SO votes are more about likes and dislikes .. we tend to like / favor, what others have liked .. a successfull survival strategy, realy –  lexu Oct 22 '09 at 6:13
    
@lexu: that doesn't work so well applied to the close function. –  ysth Oct 22 '09 at 6:25
    
@paxdiablo: I think that someone should be you –  John the Seagull Oct 22 '09 at 7:10
    
@pax: It has been raised about 300 times here. –  GEOCHET Oct 22 '09 at 11:30

I like to think that this is one of the many cases of “not the real question”, rather than “not a real question”. The real question was probably something like “I've been using [a-zA-Z0-9] to match an alphanumerical character, but recently I've came across [a-zA-Z0-9_] in a similar context. What's the difference, and why this additional underscore character?”

share|improve this answer
2  
I completely agree. But those are real questions as well, and can (should) be answered. –  John the Seagull Oct 22 '09 at 10:09
2  
Absolutely, that was my point. But since such ill-formed questions are often very basic and straightforward to answer, it's easy to jump to conclusions and give an unhelpful answer; or decide that the question isn't a real one and dismiss it. –  Arthur Reutenauer Oct 22 '09 at 10:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .