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Recently there has been a large heated discussion about the appropiateness of the question File I/O in Every Programming Language. With (as of this post) 127 upvotes and 116 favorites, the community seems to like this question. However the small amount of 3k's keep opening and reopening it, and we have no idea if its appropriate.

Note: For this question I am going to be using the FAQ since its the only official document we have. All the FAQ CW questions here can't be relied on since they are editable by the community. The official FAQ is only editable by site admins, and is therefor considered official.

So, lets look at the one sentance most closes quote

Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered!

Okay, thats pretty clear, and gets rid of the "Which one is best: X or Y?" type questions. But how does the above question even fall under that. Is it argumentative? No, because there is nothing to argue about. Is it subjective? No, because your not judging a thing, your upvoting the one that you like (which is the entire point of voting). Does it require extended discussion? Not really, since the stream of answers can be stopped at any time without breaking a discussion.

Here are what some people say in the comments

The problem with this is that it won't show up in searches for a specific language as it's not, nor can it be, tagged with every language. – ChrisF

And?

@Andreas: Code-golf has a special remit, and it is not based on any claim to provide a encyclopedia on "How to do it". Further, even if people find this "question" the examples supplied are too limited to be of much help without finding a separate discussion or going and reading the documentation...so, what's the point, again? – dmckee

I discuss code golf and CW farther down

I don't understand why this question is closed. Isn't the purpose of this site to help people find information? If someone knows how to do something (like IO) in C, and wants to learn how to do the same thing in Python, this could help them by allowing them to see both side by side. – Slapout

This was upvoted 20 times, and does give a valid point

I also don't understand why this is closed. It seems like it's just because it doesn't include the words "...in the least amount of characters..." which is pretty silly. Code golf is a fun exercise. But is it really useful to make all the rosetta-stone questions have obfuscated, tiny code in all the answers?

Upvoted 18 times, and says one of the major issues: What about all the other rosetta-stone questions (some of which aren't code golf)?

I wasn't trying to be abuse, just a little bit abrasive ;-) It comes from a bit of annoyance with the over zealous moderation here. There is nothing wrong with fun questions, so long as the site doesn't get overrun with them. This is community wiki and better then most, so if you close this you are just being a jerk. – Matt Briggs

I've said this for a long time: There is nothing wrong with a fun question every once and a while. Me and tons of other people are happy that they come along, just as long as they don't flood the site.

SO is primarily for questions that actually have answers. Give me a snippet in every language imaginable doesn't really fit that. That being said, "soft" questions are typically allowed here, for a period of time, and only if they are community wiki. Origionally, the author was pretty much bashing all the answers, that alone is close worthy, but that was removed. What I was saying is that this falls into that category, and if you still voting to close, you are being a jerk. I am sorry if you were offended, that isn't really offensive language where I am from. – Matt Briggs

See above

Folks, the only reason this stayed open as long as it did is because it was asked at the weekend. If this was asked anytime Monday to Friday it wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes. This isn't what SO is for. I encourage you all to read the FAQ, I'm sure for some it won't be for the first time either. – Binary Worrier

See above where I've throughly destroyed that argument about the FAQ. And it would be interesting to see this question during the week, but nobody can predict the future.

I don't understand how this is fits a Q&A site: at least with code golf, there's a somewhat objective standard by which to vote on answers: the shortest or most clever answer gets the most votes. With this: what is it, how many people like Haskell? Questions like this are like trying to shoehorn every possible type of content into a system that's designed for only one. What's wrong with the rest of the internet for handling this? – Mark Trapp

This is a valid counter-point, but a small section was added afterwords stating

Vote up answers which have good naming conventions, and are easy to understand.

With having the rest of the internet take care of this, that defeats the purpose of this site. I believe it was Jeff who said that SO should be a one stop shop for all programming questions. This principle prevented things like LMGTFY, so that when a random user clicks a link to a question on SO, all of the information is contained there. Using this principle, pretty much anything programming related is okay on SO. And you can't argue with the FAQ's on other sites which point programming questions to here

So I figure here we can create a community resource << How do you know the code snippets actually do what was asked? – igouy yesterday

This is the reason it was community wiki and voting exists, so that wrong answers get downvoted and edited by the community.

Why this doesn't work well. No information about the pros and cons of each approach (what languages support only one way?). No discussion of the trade offs and deep issues in each language. Limited scope which implies that the need for a bajiliion separate "in Every Language" questions. And most of all there is no community moderation of the quality of each answer. Why do I say no moderation when people are voting on them? Because there is supposed to be only one answer for each language, and people wont read enough answers to see multiple alternatives in their field. – dmckee

This is why comments exist, and why Python got multiple answers. Person doing something stupid (IE in java wrapping a BufferedInputStream around a InputStream from a File when the newer Scanner does it better and cleaner)? Make a comment and downvote! Person use a controversial approach? Comment! Person use the best approach? Upvote!

Community moderation? Its CW you know... Getting all the alternatives for their language? Why not use the table of contents, scroll down to your language, and click to go to the answers? Easy!

The answers, along with each contributor, already exists in the text under the question. Duplicating this info is redundant. If you keep editing the question, it is eventually going to be locked. – Marc Gravell♦

More of a general argument against table of contents, a ToC is appropriate when its essential to navigate or highlight answers. Removing such things would be detrimental to the original purpose of being a easy way to get started.

Admittedly, I usually like language-agnostic challenge questions (like code golf), but I'm starting to doubt their appropriateness on SO. And this question illustrates why. It highlights a rather glaring problem: the voting mechanism ends up meaning absolutely nothing. On a normal question that asks how to do something for a specific language the voting helps to move the best approach to the top. But for questions like this, people seem to vote more for what's amusing or what's their favorite language, so it's just a popularity contest. Vetting of an answers correctness is hindered. – gnovice

This is an issue with community wiki in general. Lets look at what the FAQ says (Note: taken from this FAQ question since its not mentioned in the official FAQ. However it last edited by random♦, so its close enough)

One of the goals of the website is to be a continually evolving source of good information. Community Wiki posts help enhance the wiki aspect of the site.

Well, I think this sums that up. This question falls under that broad subject, since it provides a continually evolving (can add in other languages or variations of languages at will, even provide updates due to API changes) source of good information (knowing how to do FileIO is a great thing to know, and this shows how multiple languages do it).


However lets step away from the FAQ and just look at community questions as we know them. They are created when a question does not have a correct answer. Why doesn't it have a correct answer? Because its subjective. There is no other reason. From the code golf, to FAQ questions, to fun questions, thats the reason: There is no correct answer. Since they are subjective, they attract discussion, sometimes extended discussion, as well.

So then WHY are community wiki questions closed as argumentative? This makes no sense since thats the point of a community wiki post. If we are going to continue to close CW questions like this, then maybe we should just get rid of community wiki.


And lastly, 3k's need to listen to the community. That question was upvoted 127 times (probably more since I can't see the split yet), and favorited 116 times, along with comments in favor of staying open being heavily upvoted. The community likes this question, and wants to keep it open. Hell, even some 3k's opened the question. 10-14 people vs close to 200 people means that you are the minority. Listen to the community, or stop closing questions.

Can a moderator make a judgment on this and protect it, along with a stern comment on their judgment? This is getting out of hand

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It is worth noting that the "Me too"s have already started. (Posted by a brand new user nonetheless. Unless that's a sock puppet. Either way not a promising beginning.) –  dmckee Aug 23 '10 at 1:22
    
@dmckee At the moment it's "hehe, is this a parody of that other question?"; in a week it'll be "hidden features" all over again –  Michael Mrozek Aug 23 '10 at 1:24
    
    
@Shog9 I'm more than a little amused that after three pages of "you all should listen to the community" this question ended with "we need a mod to step in and make a decision for us", and said mod ended up closing for exactly the same reason everyone else did –  Michael Mrozek Aug 23 '10 at 1:42
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@Michael: I was actually writing a longer answer when I noticed that the question had been deleted. So I decided just to link to a previous discussion on the topic... At the end of the day, someone's always unhappy with the outcome on this crap: that's why we have moderators, to moderate the two factions. In the grim future of Stack Overflow, there is only war... –  Shog9 Aug 23 '10 at 1:44
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::provides toneless, throbing drumbeat to underline @Shog's ending phrase:: –  dmckee Aug 23 '10 at 1:47
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I noticed the question's been deleted now. Does anyone happen to have a copy of the question and the answers? Even if it's not deemed appropriate for SO, I'd like to have a copy for my own use. –  Slapout Aug 23 '10 at 1:52
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@Slapout: I undeleted the question so people can still read the answers. There are also a lot of similar posts at rosettacode.org/wiki/File_IO –  Bill the Lizard Aug 23 '10 at 2:08
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For what it's worth, I did see that question on Saturday before it had gone too far. But it was closed when I saw it, so I just left it alone. –  mmyers Aug 23 '10 at 15:27
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9 Answers

up vote 23 down vote accepted

The idea of Stack Overflow is that you ask a question and the best answer rises to the top. Does anyone really think that the LOLCode answer to that question was the best way to do file I/O?

What if I need to write to a file in Cobol? Is that question going to be useful? Am I supposed to search through the answers to find the one that I need? What if that's not even a good way to do it in the language I need, but it was the only answer for that language? That's why questions "in every language" break the utility of the site. You asked a moderator to make a decision so I closed, deleted, and locked the question.

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Well, if you say so. Although why did it have to get deleted? –  TheLQ Aug 23 '10 at 1:44
    
I didn't ask for the best way to do file io. I asked for the most readable. Have you all just not read the question?? –  Brock Woolf Aug 23 '10 at 1:46
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@Brock: And what you got... was LOLCode. –  Bill the Lizard Aug 23 '10 at 1:46
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@Brock: given that there were answers for both C++ and Emacs Lisp, I'm gonna wager that no one read your question. –  Shog9 Aug 23 '10 at 1:49
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@Lord.Quackstar: I decided to undelete the question. Closing and locking should be enough. –  Bill the Lizard Aug 23 '10 at 2:09
    
@Bill Great, thanks. Now to observe how many questions get marked as a duplicate of it. –  TheLQ Aug 23 '10 at 2:14
    
@Bill, +1 from me as your answer does a great job of summing up exactly how I feel about this question. In the words of Comic Shop Guy... Best. Answer. Ever. ;=) –  Rob Aug 23 '10 at 14:02
    
I disagree with the notion of closing/locking useful posts that contribute to the body of programming knowledge. Arguably the LOLCode could be deleted, but, meh. –  Paul Nathan Aug 23 '10 at 18:22
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@Paul: I disagree with closing/locking useful posts too. Building up a repository of programming knowledge is useless if that knowledge can't be extracted. –  Bill the Lizard Aug 23 '10 at 18:34
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@Paul: Why not just search for file i/o in that specific language tag so you can see multiple examples in that language and find out what got voted up among those answers? I only saw one Cobol example on this question, so how do I know if it's really any good or if it just got upvoted because it was the first example given in that language? –  Bill the Lizard Aug 23 '10 at 18:57
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@Bill - For the record - the COBOL example was incomplete. ;-) –  Buggabill Aug 23 '10 at 19:30
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I found the question to be very interesting and informative. We should be asking ourselves "How can we accommodate information like this on Stack Overflow?". –  Gorgapor Aug 23 '10 at 22:44
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@Gorgapor: We already can accommodate information like this on Stack Overflow, just not all in a pile. If you want to know how to do file i/o in a specific language, search or ask how to do it. I'm not judging the question on how interesting it is, but on its utility. –  Bill the Lizard Aug 23 '10 at 23:56
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@thrope: Again, I'm not judging the question on how interesting it is, but how useful. If someone searches SO for how to do file i/o and they find LOLCode, how useful is that? –  Bill the Lizard Aug 24 '10 at 13:40
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Suppose, as an example, I was trying to learn how to do simple I/O in Intercal. I'd probably do a search involving Intercal. Either I'd find a suitable question or I wouldn't, in which case I might ask one. I don't understand why I'd search for a question on file I/O, in the hope that there might be a specific Intercal answer. –  David Thornley Aug 24 '10 at 15:44
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First of all, it's only 3k to close/reopen a question; 10ks can delete questions, but that question hasn't been deleted yet. Second, why is it when people bring this up it's always "the community versus 3k users", as though 3k users aren't part of the community? 3k users can vote to close, and other 3k users can vote to reopen; it's perfectly democratic. Just because 5 more users vote to close after 5 have voted to reopen doesn't mean they're "ignoring the community"; you could equally yell at the 5 who reopened for ignoring the wishes of the 5 who closed in the first place

Furthermore, where did you get the idea that this was closed as subjective? All 4 closes so far have been "not a real question", which is what I would've chosen as well; "let's make a giant list of every conceivable way to do File I/O" is not a question

I pretty violently disagree with this (and it's not even close to the first time someone has made this argument):

There is nothing wrong with a fun question every once and a while. Me and tons of other people are happy that they come along, just as long as they don't flood the site.

What gives Brock the right to ask the "once in a while fun question"? He can't say "well, I get to ask one, but nobody else can because we don't want to flood the site"; that seems wholly unfair to the other people that have fun questions but restrained themselves from asking them. If everyone did what he just did, we would flood the site

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How is it democratic when the original closers don't listen to the community? You have 127 people who say "I like this" and upvote, and 10 people who say they don't and close. 3k's are suppose to moderate based on what the community says, not their own definition of the FAQ –  TheLQ Aug 23 '10 at 1:14
    
Oh and the 10k thing was my mistake. Fixing –  TheLQ Aug 23 '10 at 1:14
    
I'm guessing there are just more <3k users. So it ends up being people v. more power, a classic political clash. –  Ocaasi Aug 23 '10 at 1:15
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@Lord I'm going to stop being diplomatic about the constant close whining and just say it. It's not a coincidence that posts with insanely high vote counts tend to also be closed -- they're universally "fun" questions that all the people who don't answer on-topic questions jump all over, because they're "questions" those people can actually answer. There's a huge group of users on SO that focus on solely poll/list questions, and why they can't go to another site is beyond me –  Michael Mrozek Aug 23 '10 at 1:21
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@Michael Its not whining, its inconstancies that exist in the current site. And with that group of people, so what? Until Not Programming Related hits public beta, these questions will still fit the definition of SO –  TheLQ Aug 23 '10 at 1:28
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@Lord You all could commit to the site and help with the beta; Area 51 is entirely community driven, you don't have to passively wait for a site to be defined and launched. And these questions don't fit the definition of SO, that's the argument you're trying to make here –  Michael Mrozek Aug 23 '10 at 1:30
    
"that question hasn't been deleted yet" Now it has. –  Hello71 Aug 23 '10 at 1:38
    
@Michael, I think the "Not programming related" site is a great idea. It's a great place to put questions like these without diluting the main site. That way, people can simply migrate all these questions over there. PS: I was one of the people who voted to reopen that question, since SO is still the best place for that kind of question... –  Chinmay Kanchi Aug 23 '10 at 1:39
    
@Hello It was closed as NaRQ and deleted by a moderator, so I guess that's the "Can a moderator make a judgment on this" the OP asked for –  Michael Mrozek Aug 23 '10 at 1:39
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@Lord.Quack, Actually 3ks are suppose to moderated based on their opinion, and that defines the community. –  Lance Roberts Aug 23 '10 at 16:30
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I think you are inserting intention into the Community Wiki when there is none. Read What are “Community Wiki” posts?: the only distinction is that they are editable by the community to produce the best possible answer which is unlikely to be achieved by any one person.

And I think you're throwing the baby out with the bathwater: either allow every single type of content remotely tangential to programming or Stack Overflow is useless. This is a false dilemma, and Stack Overflow needs to only have single use: to provide a great way for people to ask and answer questions. The question cited does not do this, but merely archives without any regard for quality a bunch of answers.

Finally, you're making an assumption that this is all a 10k+ user cabal dictating how Stack Overflow is run, when it's simply not true. Many of the people voting to close (including myself) are not 10k+ users: you only need 3k rep to close. And we're not dictating anything: as evidenced by the multiple re-opens, other 3k+ users disagree with us. That's what the voting system is for.

By the way, your argument about how voting is useful on a CW like this falls flat when the top-voted answer is LOLCODE. How is that useful to anyone?

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I thought the question was OK until the OP and some other people thought it was a good idea to keep editing it so it kept re-appearing on the front page. Then I cast a close vote.

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I was one of them origioanlly. My reasoning behind it was that searching 80 answers for you language would turn most people off. I was thinking that if there was a list, then you can just scroll down alphabetically, find your language, and click the names. I however stopped once I found out it kept spamming the front page –  TheLQ Aug 25 '10 at 16:47
    
(-1) Appropriate is appropriate. If people are misusing it, it should be flagged for moderator attention, you shouldn't be closing an "appropriate" question because you feel people are vandalizing it. –  devinb Aug 26 '10 at 13:55
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Such a "question", and I use the term loosely, I'm agreeing with the reason it was closed, is basically a bike-shed problem.

There are plenty of things that are common problems between many programming languages and environments:

  • How do I add two numbers
  • How do I read from a text-file, or write for that matter
  • How do I execute SQL
  • How do I use regular expressions with groups
  • ...

Honestly, there is no limit to "common" problems. That's what programming is about. There's a ton of common problems, and an unlimited supply of special cases. It is, however, the special cases that people generally ask about.

So let's make one such question for each such general problem.

Since they're all bikeshed problems, I mean, there should be no shortage of people that knows how to read a text file in any programming language, they will all bump to the front page every time someone answers or edits it.

Pretty soon, there would be no use of the front page at all, since it would be filled with topics that everyone can chip in an answer to.

So I agree with the reasoning behind closing it. Such questions are too broad to be of use to anyone but a very minor group of people. Even if you answer the question of "How do I add two numbers" for every conceivable programming language, if someone actually needs to ask that question (or the one about reading the file), they probably have more questions in the same vein (what do I do with the line of text once I've read it), and so they're forced to ask a question anyway. Now what was the point of the original answer?

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See the Stanford Prison Experiment and all will be explained. It's also known as the Zimbardo Experiment.

Wikipedia Article as well.

Enjoy.

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Gee what a surprise. Reality really does hurt some people. –  JustBoo Aug 23 '10 at 21:28
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Heh, was about to up-vote that comment for sagely observing the sour-grapes nature of this answer... When I noticed the author and realized it was just more sour grapes. –  Shog9 Aug 23 '10 at 22:05
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Unfounded "emo" comment about the "author." Proves another old tradition. Kill the Messenger is alive and well. –  JustBoo Aug 23 '10 at 22:22
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@JustBoo: Could you elucidate your thoughts please? I'm obviously missing something because I can't see how the SPE relates to this topic. Thanks. –  Binary Worrier Aug 24 '10 at 13:21
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@JustBoo: Okay, no comment about the author. The answer itself has absolutely no relevance unless we postulate that moderator selection (including 3K+ers) is completely arbitrary and the moderation lacks an overall productive goal. It can't be germane to the discussion without being untruthful and insulting. –  David Thornley Aug 24 '10 at 16:00
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"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." - Eleanor Roosevelt –  JustBoo Aug 24 '10 at 23:47
    
@Binary He's saying that if you give anyone power over others, they will abuse it. –  devinb Aug 26 '10 at 13:56
    
@JustBoo (-1) That simply doesn't match with the behaviour we see on the site. –  devinb Aug 26 '10 at 13:58
    
As a famous blue cat-chick once said, “No one can teach you to see.” –  JustBoo Aug 26 '10 at 19:09
    
@devinb “We” are tracking my activity/behavior on these sites? Well, that is just plain creepy. Damn Creepy Comrade. “We” have come full circle with the experiment, eh? Nice, thanks for that. Just Bootiful. Have a delightful day and a wondrous week-end. –  JustBoo Aug 26 '10 at 19:10
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@devinb: Yes, I kind of got that, but I wanted to see if he'd anything to say other than "You're all Nazis man, NAZIS!" –  Binary Worrier Aug 27 '10 at 15:13
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I'm going to take issue with "And lastly, 3k's need to listen to the community."

For anybody involved with SO, who actually belongs there, 3K rep is a matter of time and participation. This means that there is no difference between 3Kers and the community: anybody involved in the community is or will be a 3Ker.

What the statement seems to mean to me is "The community needs to listen to the drive-bys." SO is very liberal in allowing voting. Anybody who has been voted up two or three times is eligible, and that's really easy to accomplish. This means that a very large number of casual users can drop lots of upvotes on something completely inappropriate.

I've seen no forum survive in any usable form without guidance from the more experienced members, which needs to include, at least potentially, some degree of coercion. I'd really hope to see SO become overrun by mob rule.

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Focusing on the specific "question" that brought up this debate:

  • It wasn't really a question. It was a list-compilation post, and as I mentioned in my comment (both on that question and quoted above) these sorts of things don't play well with the voting mechanism on SO. People vote for their favorites, or what's funny, or what they think is clever or interesting, so votes are totally subjective and useless for organizing the information or vetting correct answers.

  • There is already a place for this sort of thing: Rosetta Code! It is a site dedicated to:

    ...present[ing] solutions to the same task in as many different languages as possible, to demonstrate how languages are similar and different, and to aid a person with a grounding in one approach to a problem in learning another.

    I think it's pretty clear that this kind of "question" is best served by that existing site. Trying to shoehorn this information into the SO format does it a disservice.

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Rosetta Code, eh? Interesting. +1 –  Pops Aug 24 '10 at 16:51
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If we are going to continue to follow what Jeff said origionally where this site should be a one stop location for programming info (thus banning LMGTFY), then such stuff (should of) been included. –  TheLQ Aug 25 '10 at 16:48
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How about all code golf / do x in all languages get moved to programmers

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ITYM codegolf.stackexchange.com –  luser droog Mar 15 '13 at 16:48
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