Why was this program erroneously rejected by three compilers?

I am new to Stack Overflow, and trying to grok the culture, but so far it has eluded me.

There are many friendly helpful individuals here, and I have learned a lot, but there is also this underlying tone of stern, humorless moderation that I pick up on now and then.

So here is this fun question, and I know it's April 1st, because google tells me that's why there are unicorns on Stack Overflow, and yet, the question was closed by Stack Overflow users with so much reputation that I know they recognize this is a harmless, funny, April fools joke.

So what am I missing? Why the disdain for anything funny in any sort of comment or answer or question, even on April 1st?

And I ask, not just in regards to this question, but because I have seen this weird mean uncalled for behavior addressed to others in comments, in response to their answers, etc.

This is a remarkable and useful site, but did some of us get dropped on our heads?

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    The title is misleading; there was already a round of closing and reopening, which did cause at least one inappropriate comment to appear. Its also not only high rep users here, the post was finally locked by a mod who also threw in the final close vote – Yi Jiang Apr 1 '11 at 7:12
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    Yi, your edit is a great example of the bizarre humorless editing at this site. My title, was "Why was this question erroneously rejected by three stackoverflowers?" It was not misleading, it was my opinion and explained in my question. But more importantly, it was a parallel reference to the question I was linking to. So why, how, in what sense did your anal editing of my opinion, my meta question, make my question better or of more value to the average stackoverflower? In my opinion, what you did was to water the question down, and reduce it's value. Do you find you do this often? – Jerry Asher Apr 1 '11 at 7:23
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    @RebeccaChernoff I'm sorry I missed the humor and reference, I apologise for that. If you think I (or any other editor on this site) made a mistake, you're at perfect liberty to point that out and roll the edit back. Having said that, I dislike your characterization of my edit as anal, and the suggestion that I do this here often. It was an honest mistake, my brain simply did not see the connection between the titles of the two questions – Yi Jiang Apr 1 '11 at 7:45
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    And to clear up the confusion before it arises, @YiJiang is seeing us all as @RebeccaChernoff today. :) – Pekka Apr 1 '11 at 7:47
  • @Pekka I can still tell people apart. At least... I think I can. You are Pekka aren't you? If you're actually Rebecca Chernoff I might get an 'oy' instead – Yi Jiang Apr 1 '11 at 8:02
  • @YiJiang Argh, I could have trolled you a bit posing as @Rebecca, but my :) was a dead giveaway already. – Pekka Apr 1 '11 at 8:03
  • -1 because I like that animation better. – user27414 Apr 1 '11 at 11:13

I don't see any disdain expressed anywhere. The question got 98 upvotes, 3000 views, and 15 Answers. The answers are funny, and we all had a laugh.

Is it that terrible that after some time, normal moderation kicks in? Why? It doesn't keep anybody from enjoying the question.

After feedback from comments:

Why was it closed for such a bizarre, disingenuous reason. It was a joke. To close it by suggesting the question is vague/incomplete/... is to completely miss the point. And I know these guys know the question was a joke. So it seems out of character, bizarre, mean

@Jerry I see what you mean. But there's a long, problematic history with hilarious questions on SO. In short, there have been several of those (not april-fools-related) that completely spiralled out of control in terms of votes and attendance, and stayed on the #1 position in many queries. They were all questions with brilliant content, but they were off-topic by any standard and became precedents for thousands of other people starting non-serious questions and citing those precedents.

Don't forget that SO has 20 millions of unique visitors per month. Everything that happens in a popular question is equivalent to happening on a high street in a big city, and there are dynamics at play that can have consequences for years to come.

So, I think this worked out exactly as needed. Let good April Fools questions run for a while, have a laugh, but in the end apply the same treatment to it as you would on any other day. The question does not get harmed by this, it is still there, got some great input, but does not occupy space on the network-wide "hot" list, the "active" tab, the moderator tools, etc. forever.

And arguably, even in terms of an april fools joke question, any further input beyond 15 answers would make it less productive, as it would sooner or later consist of a plethora of paged answers, and endless comment threads that nobody is going to read.

"Not a real question" is the standard close reason for questions like this; the text is static and can not be changed by those closing the question.

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  • Right, maybe I just don't get it. Maybe that's a fine response. But, it was closed as not a real question It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. -- why was it closed "so soon?" Why was it closed for such a bizarre, disingenuous reason. It was a joke. To close it by suggesting the question is vague/incomplete/... is to completely miss the point. And I know these guys know the question was a joke. So it seems out of character, bizarre, mean. – Jerry Asher Apr 1 '11 at 7:09
  • I'm new. In comments, how do I add a line break? "Is it that terrible that after some time, normal moderation kicks in? Why? It doesn't keep anybody from enjoying the question." How long was that question open for? What precious resource was lost by allowing it to be open longer? People did seem to enjoy it, so what was more valuable, allowing people their enjoyment, or saving whatever precious resource this piece of humor was squandering? April Fools jokes are an internet norm. Like unicorns. Are only official stackoverflow april fools jokes allowed? – Jerry Asher Apr 1 '11 at 7:17
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    @Jerry no line breaks in comments, sorry. I updated my answer – Pekka Apr 1 '11 at 7:17
  • Pekka, I appreciate that, and yes, I can tell that stackoverflow seems to be very cautious about letting questions get out of hand, or too popular, so well, thank you for the explanation. – Jerry Asher Apr 1 '11 at 7:26
  • @anyone: well I am new, and clearly without many clues on how this thing works. In the upper right of my browser, I see what appears to be a message in my inbox that starts "@Jerry, that's a fair point, but please refrain from ...." and I have no idea how to read the entire message or respond to it. So if you sent it, my apologies, I am just too dumb to figure out how to use stackoverflow to respond to you. – Jerry Asher Apr 1 '11 at 7:32
  • @Jerry that was a comment from me in response to your response to @YiJiang that I subsequently deleted, because I saw your point. Still, let's keep the discussion civil. (The comment ended in "... please refrain from insulting people") I rolled back the original question title – Pekka Apr 1 '11 at 7:34
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    Thanks, I greatly appreciate it. I'll figure it out at somepoint. WRT YiJiang's editing, I apologize to YiJiang. Regardless, I have also seem this behavior on other questions. User A asks a question important to user A. User C comes along and likes user C's question better it answers a need that User C has. And so User C changes User A's question. Poor user A. But I can see how important it is to properly state every question in accordance with TPS reporting guidelines. And properly restated, we can categorize it, and close it as a duplicate. Any way, thank you for your help tonight. – Jerry Asher Apr 1 '11 at 7:41
  • One solution to the "fun" issue might be to make it possible to allow a user to flag a question as being a "no-points" question when they post it. Meaning, they would be saying "I don't expect upvotes or badges from this, just a shared chuckle." Perhaps users get to post "no-points" questions only once they reach a threshold number of points, just like other earned functionality. – jlarson Apr 1 '11 at 18:28
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    @Joe actually, that very option used to exist until a few months ago (it's the "Community Wiki" mode). It was abolished (I think, among other things) because it didn't limit the "fun" questions the way it was desired – Pekka Apr 1 '11 at 18:30
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    Hi there. I'm just supporting the way SO take care such jokes. It was fun, and we have time to laugh. Thanks Jerry and SO. – Dr Beco Apr 1 '11 at 19:22

You guys had your fun, everyone had a laugh and at the end of the day, moderators need to be able to spot serious issues on the site and a flurry of "April 1" related flags on posts like this actually becomes harmful.

Against my better judgement, I did unlock the question, but only for the remainder of the day. If it continues to get flags from people who just don't understand the humor, it will have to be locked again.

While April 1 is a magical day for Stack Overflow, we still have to go about business as usual. We get over one thousand flags on a normal day.


I have no choice but to lock it again.

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  • Thank you for giving the question a second chance! I certainly understand the need to lock it if it's just going to toggle between open/closed. – James McNellis Apr 1 '11 at 14:27
  • @James - It's done that several times, as well as numerous flags. Incidentally, I almost choked on my coffee once I read it this morning. – Tim Post Apr 1 '11 at 15:14

Because, silly, this is Stack Overflow: Where We Hate Fun.™

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While we don't mind a little bit of fun, we have found that once you let one or two such questions gain traction, suddenly a lot of people decide it's ok, and flood the site with them.

We do NOT want to make the site unusable, and so we come down pretty hard on such questions.

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    The real problem is that people think the question was a joke. Here I was, just trying to learn to use my tablet PC for programming, and I get laughed at, my handwriting is made fun of, and the question gets closed and locked. Suffice to say, my feelings are very hurt and I have lost faith in Stack Overflow. :'( – James McNellis Apr 1 '11 at 16:07
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    In fairness, getting one truly excellent joke question (like this) is a good outcome because then no-one else can follow it up because the bar is too high. – Rup Apr 1 '11 at 16:13
  • @James, try FainBruck - it doesn't care much about your handwriting and (the last time I checked) all tablets support it natively! – Tim Post Apr 1 '11 at 18:26

The problem I have with these questions staying open and unlocked (after the first hour or so) is that the Original Poster can get quite a few badges from this question, and that dilutes the quality of the badge system for those that actually ask Notable Questions.

I count no less than 8 badges that can be gained from this one question:

  • Famous Question
  • Favorite Question
  • Good Question
  • Great Question
  • Nice Question
  • Notable Question
  • Popular Question
  • Stellar Question

If these questions are allowed for April 1, then they should be locked and closed after the initial post (within a judicious timeframe) so that doesn't happen; or, the post should be migrated to Meta after April 1, and the badges migrated with it (or removed from the source site).

It goes without saying that they should already be community wiki posts.

Update: The User in Question has gained 7 of the possible 8 badges this question could give today, so my fears aren't unfounded.

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    Most gold badges related to questions are given for stupid questions (since they get more views than normal question) so I don't see why this would be any different. – Thomas Bonini Apr 1 '11 at 14:19
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    @Kop they were, before we made Programmers and got serious about the quality of content on Stack Overflow. There are very few recent (within the last 6 months) bad notable questions. I've been around since the beginning as well, so I know how silly it used to be. I'm glad it's not like that anymore; and I don't want to encourage behavior that could send this community back to that. – George Stocker Apr 1 '11 at 14:20
  • Fair enough I guess you're right.. but regardless, I still believe that to get a gold badge you need to ask a question that is accepted by the current standards, as generic as possible, and as understandable as possible.. This doesn't make it necessarily good :S – Thomas Bonini Apr 1 '11 at 14:26
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    @George - when working with your team in your real job, do you only gain rep with them by being serious 100% of the time? Or do you gain rep by dosing work with fun and enjoyment from time to time? – Metro Smurf Apr 1 '11 at 14:30
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    @Metro Smurf I work at The Motley Fool, so you can only imagine how much fun we have in a day; but your question isn't phrased correctly. The correct phrasing is: "When someone needs help, do I answer their question with a joke or with a serious answer?" The answer is obvious, and that's why Stack Overflow exists: To help people, not to make jokes. I love humor and it has its place, it just so happens that I think that these posts shouldn't interfere with the day-to-day operation of SO. – George Stocker Apr 1 '11 at 14:43
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    There's only a finite number of badges? I wasn't aware of this! Surely we must stop people from getting badges for funny posts on April 1! – CanSpice Apr 1 '11 at 16:44
  • I bet this kind of question makes it trivial to get the Announcer, Booster, and Publicist badges as well. – Gabe Apr 1 '11 at 17:05
  • @Gabe Agreed; I left them out because anyone can get those badges for this question. – George Stocker Apr 1 '11 at 17:19
  • FYI I got Announcer about 30 minutes after tweeting a link to it. Have tweeted many a question that did not get me Announcer - my bet is that after following my link the visitors forwarded my original link around. – Kate Gregory Apr 1 '11 at 17:31
  • Correction: Anyone who knows how to obtain those badges can get those badges for this question. The user who asked the question didn't know how to get those badges when he posted the question on Reddit. – James McNellis Apr 1 '11 at 18:09

It is a shame it was closed, because as well as being funny, it is actually a good question: of course, it's absurd to think that a compiler would accept images as input, but why?

It is vitally important for anyone working with computers to understand that computers have no intelligence, and computer programs are meaningless. If a computer doesn't do something absurd, it's not because it has too much common sense, it's because it's been programmed that way. And if it's been programmed that way, there ought to be a reason for it. Particularly when it comes to compilers, which are living embodiments of sets of rules - if a compiler rejects something, it has to have a reason, based in a language specification, for doing so.

That's why GMan's answer was so good. He got it. He answered the funny question with a straight face, and referred to the section in the standard which essentially requires that source files be text files (rather, lets compilers require that source files be text files). That's a very fundamental point which very few people will know about, but which is surely something every complete programmer should know.

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