I remember some time ago there was some huge problem regarding some question that had something to do with a boat, and I think I missed that topic completely. As I see it being mentioned every now and then, I'd just like to know what it was about.
jjnguy's answer captures the part about the history of the meme, but I don't think he captures why it became a meme and what the meme represents.
Basically, the boat-programming question was at the core of what it meant for a question to be programming related. At the time, SO had a lot of questions that were, essentially, "What is as a good such-and-such for programmers?" (e.g. "What is your favourite food, as a programmer?", "What is the best movie for programmers?") After a long debate on the SO blog (since Meta didn't exist at the time) it was eventually decided that all questions like this are not programming related.
The fundamental rule is you can't just stick "for programmers" on a question to make it programming related. The boat-programming question, due to its timing and popularity, is the poster child for this kind of question. Whenever a question is asked today that is not programming related but has "for programmers" tacked on, the boat-programming meme is brought up to indicate this.
- A question about what is needed to be able to program on a boat was asked
- It was closed as non-programming related, or not a real question
- People were up in arms about it
- Lots of edit wars ensued (I believe)
- More arguments arose
- Question was deleted
- We have the boat programming meme!
A reference to boat programming is usually referring to joke questions, or slightly 'off' questions on Stack Overflow.
As Kyle notes, the boat question was featured on the podcast as well. That is how it gained so much popularity/infamy.
I'm surprised no one mentioned this before, but the reason why boat programming got the attention it did was because it was featured on the podcast (episode 50, 2009-04-21, from 1 h 02 min 43 sec). This caused the question, which was performing poorly, to get a number of very good answers. Unfortunately, Jeff later learned that it was a joke question, deleted it, and posted on the blog asking users to refrain from posting questions like these in the future. The boat programming question was also permanently excised from the system (not even 10kers can see it) - the only record of it is hosted here.
Welbog and jjnguy give a good overview of the essential mood of the meme. All I have to add is a link to an archived version of an archived version of the question itself.
I was disappointed to see a perfectly good question and a great answer deleted so I added the boat programming tag to a few of my questions. People got up in arms about it and accused me of trying to destroy SO and ruin the community. Lots of editing on that particular day.
I was politely asked by an SO staff member to stop using that tag. I stopped using it.
Ironic because some of the people who found me using the boat programming tag so terrible were using and creating their own ludicrous tags.
Jeff asked me to post a picture with my boat set up. I will when I have time and remember the camera.
I also posted a question about piracy - it was an unappreciated post that asked both about software piracy for software written on a boat and about real high-seas piracy (that you would encounter as a programmer on a boat). (Note at the time there were lots of news stories about piracy). That one got removed. (I blame lack of humor for that deletion)
Hey, I found another boat-programming question!
(deleted, so you will need 10k rep to see it)
The boat question is back in a new form on Super User:
I am five years or more late to answer, otherwise I would suggest him to buy a Clipper.