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I've noticed a surge in 'Binary Bomb' questions on SO. That is, the assignment gives a disassembly (typically x86), and what parameters / inputs are needed to avoid the explode_bomb function call.

I'm assuming this is due to the start of a new semester, and while I don't really care if a question relates to homework, I'm not sure if "explain this assembly program" questions belong on SO.

Many of the accounts are first-timers, probably registered for this one question, so they don't consider, or know about, searching for similar questions. Some of the questions appear to be duplicates, but will change a single function name or a register, and the OP will complain that their 'bomb phase 4' is not a duplicate or another course's 'bomb phase 4'.

I'm not sure slight variations on these questions add much value to SO. What's the right way of dealing with them?

  • "I'm not sure slight variations on these questions add much value to SO." But are you sure that they harm SO, or that the user shouldn't receive an answer? Some people obviously like answering these questions, why not let them? – Adam Davis 'ze-zir-zem' Feb 26 '14 at 13:59
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    Wake me up when September ends? – MikeTheLiar Feb 26 '14 at 14:03
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    Well, at least they have an easily searchable name. Much better than all the "explain this java snippet" or "explain this algorithm" questions that you can't easily find. – Geobits Feb 26 '14 at 14:04
  • @AdamDavis - I'm not sure what you mean by harm. I'm just curious as to whether these sorts of questions should be considered OK. – Brett Hale Feb 26 '14 at 14:12
  • @mikeTheLiar - You weren't there man, you weren't there... – Brett Hale Feb 26 '14 at 14:14
  • @Brett nope. I was 5 in September 1993. I'm practically a whippersnapper. – MikeTheLiar Feb 26 '14 at 14:44
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    recommended reading: Open letter to students with homework problems – gnat Feb 26 '14 at 17:18
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tl;dr: These questions are fine, no there's no action to take on them per the guidelines provided in the FAQ.

Does "explain this assembly program" belong on Stack Overflow?

I'm not sure if "explain this assembly program" questions belong on SO.

Well, let's review the site's FAQ, specifically https://stackoverflow.com/help/on-topic and https://stackoverflow.com/help/dont-ask

Are they on topic?

First, let's find out if they meet the basic requirements of the site:

...if your question generally covers…

  • a specific programming problem
  • a software algorithm
  • software tools commonly used by programmers
  • practical, answerable problems that are unique to software development

… then you’re in the right place to ask your question!

The few I reviewed all fall under the first and fourth items on that list, so they meet the basic minimum standard for inclusion on Stack Overflow.

Are you sure they're on topic?

So let's move on to reasons that might make a question unacceptable for this site. There are two lists I'll be referencing here, the first list is from https://stackoverflow.com/help/on-topic

Some questions are still off-topic, even if they fit into one of the categories listed above:

  1. Questions that lack sufficient information to diagnose the problem. Describe your problem in more detail or include a minimal example in the question itself.

  2. Questions about a problem that can no longer be reproduced or that was caused a simple typographical error. While similar questions may be on-topic here, these are often resolved in a manner unlikely to help future readers. This can often be avoided by identifying and closely inspecting the shortest program necessary to reproduce the problem before posting.

  3. Questions asking for code must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Include attempted solutions, why they didn't work, and the expected results. See also: Stack Overflow question checklist.

  4. Questions asking for homework help must include a summary of the work you've done so far to solve the problem, and a description of the difficulty you are having solving it.

  5. Questions asking us to recommend or find a tool, library or favorite off-site resource are off-topic for Stack Overflow as they tend to attract opinionated answers and spam. Instead, describe the problem and what has been done so far to solve it.

  6. Questions about general computing hardware and software are off-topic for Stack Overflow unless they directly involve tools used primarily for programming.

  7. Questions on professional server, networking, or related infrastructure administration are off-topic for Stack Overflow unless they directly involve programming or programming tools.

The binary bomb questions appear (1) to have sufficient information to diagnose the problem, (2) to be reproducible and aren't the result of a simple typographical error, (3) to have a minimal understanding of the problem, and (4) to have explained how far they got into the problem, and where they're stuck. Additionally, they're not asking about (5) libraries, tools, (6) general hardware and software, or (7) server, networking, or administration.

So it looks like they do pass the bar for being on-topic.

Fair enough, but aren't they bad anyway?

Let's review the list of no-no's at https://stackoverflow.com/help/dont-ask as well:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where …

The questions are practical, answerable, and are a real problem the user faces. They are small enough to answer in this format, and don't require extended discussion or explanation, and they aren't subjective, which means we don't have to review the difference between good subjective and bad subjective questions.

Well, I don't like them, how should I treat them?

Well, assuming you are trusted by the community which means you've gained enough reputation to show you understand the rules, then you can act on questions.

Let's review the reasons to close a question:

  • Duplicate
  • Off-Topic
  • Unclear
  • Too broad
  • Primarily opinion based

If the assembly isn't exactly the same, but the answers would be the same, you can still close a question as a duplicate. We've already gone through the other reasons above, and again - if it fits, close it for one of those reasons.

The downvote button suggests that it be used if the question shows no research effort, or is unclear or not useful.

You've alrready explained you feel these questions aren't useful, so feel free to downvote them.

You have the power and trust from the community to vote to close them as well, so you could abuse that mechanism to share your displeasure, though I expect people will not appreciate your efforts, and it's unlikely to make an impact.

You could flag them for moderator attention, but I expect the flags will be declined, and eventually your flags will be ignored by the moderators if you use them this way enough.

Conclusion

Unless you are proposing a change to Stack Overflow's rules, then these questions are allowed. There is nothing wrong with "binary bomb" questions in general that would make them candidates for action, though certainly individual examples of these, like any other type of question, might not be acceptable, these can be dealt with by following the guidelines posted.

Probably the best action to take is simply to move on to another question.

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    sometimes I just miss the good old "too localised" reason – John Dvorak Feb 26 '14 at 17:17
  • gasp A downvote! I am chastised. – Adam Davis 'ze-zir-zem' Feb 26 '14 at 17:25
  • (not downvoter) I actually agree with most of your post until the end part where you seem to make a conclusion different than the points you make. The best action is to move on? I think the best action would be to answer it if you want, edit it if you can, or deal with it the same as any other question as you state above in great detail. – Travis J Feb 26 '14 at 17:38
  • Near-variants show a lack of (research) effort, e.g., not bothering searching for [near]duplicates. I'd rather vote to close as a duplicate, since I avoid downvoting new users - unless a posting is obnoxious. Moving on is certainly the path of least resistance, though... – Brett Hale Feb 26 '14 at 19:45
  • If you're willing to find a duplicate that will actually solve the person's problem (and not just one that looks "close enough") then that is the ideal path. – Adam Davis 'ze-zir-zem' Feb 26 '14 at 19:50
  • @AdamDavis I have to get Copy Editor somehow. :P – michaelb958 Feb 26 '14 at 22:06
  • @michaelb958 Feel free to go through all my old posts (the oldest ones have (gasp!) signatures!) and edit them! – Adam Davis 'ze-zir-zem' Feb 26 '14 at 22:14
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    Despite the detailed analysis, are these "binary bomb" questions nevertheless still equivalent to "Can you explain to me how this code works?" – Robert Harvey Feb 26 '14 at 22:22

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