Some Signs You Might Be “Hard of Helping”

Thread Starter

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
3,619
Some folks are hard of hearing, and they can’t carry on conversations at normal volumes. Unfortunately there are some who are hard of helping and can’t carry on forum threads because of this unfortunate disability. Below you will find some signs—definitely a non-exclusive list—that you are suffering from this all too common malady.

The good new is that unlike some other disabilities, this one is easily overcome. The trick is realizing you‘ve got it and simply not doing the things that create the problem.

1. Secret Projects
So you’ve got a great idea, maybe world changing. It could be worth a lot of cash, maybe a patent or two. But you’ve only got the idea, you don’t know how to do it. So, you show up in the forum and carefully avoid revealing your great idea in your question. You provide incomplete and misleading information that just doesn’t add up and the expert members in the forum spot the inconsistencies right from the start. Rather than clarify, you obfuscate, eventually admitting it’s a secret and you can't say, revealing the goldmine idea to the people who are helping you for free. If your idea really is worth so much, spend the money on a consultant.

The real secret is your idea is almost certainly not as brilliant as you imagine it to be. And, even if it is, why do you imagine getting free help from people like this is ethical or even just polite?

2. Arbitrary and Unexplained Constraints
This is a symptom of a general problem. You have a problem and have decided on a solution, part of that solution is a particular part or method and it is presented in your question as the problem. It is unexplained and presented as a given. When the expert members question the constraint you just say something like “I have to use this, just help me”. Meanwhile everyone who knows what they are doing is agreeing that it would be much easier if you’d just chuck that constraint and do something else.

Occasionally, this is just a poorly presented problem and you imagine that it is a waste of time discussing the constraint with your free help. This eventually resolves itself with a bit of friction, but the process moves on. More often, or so it seems, the constraint is a result of the above: the substitution of the problem for its solution, which is now presented as the problem. This is extremely unproductive and after a few posts back and forth you will have lost the more weary expert members and annoyed the stalwarts. When you eventually reveal the real reasons for the constraint, at least 80% of the time it turns out to be caused by your own ignorance and not the problem itself.

If you are not expert enough to implement a solution, you are counting on luck to settle on one. You should be expert in your problem, and presenting that in detail—which would include real starting constraints (e.g.: I have a drawer full of part X and can‘t afford a substitute, or my boss demands I use method Y and I can‘t change it) along with story of what the problem is and what the expected solution will do will actually get you a great deal of useful free help.

3. Stupidly Reduced Problems
This one can actually be caused by good intentions. It is related to the problem substitution issue above in that it comes from replacing presenting the problem with presenting the solution as a problem. The idea is you don’t want to discuss anything about your problem except how to make some choice you’ve made along the way “work”.

Sometimes it is presented as a simple question like “what size resistor do I need to do X?” and the expert members look at it and say “you are going to need a 30W resistor that will cost a fortune, what are your trying to do?”, or something similar to which you reply “where can I get one?”, or something like that. You are given links and suggestions, and you see that the part is very costly and begin to ask how to do it more cheaply. Finally after much head scratching from your free help, you are finally cajoled into revealing the context and the whole thing shifts to a real solution to your problem, not a goofy one.

Similarly, you might present an analogy instead of your actual problem to “save everyone the trouble” of knowing what is actually going on. An inflexible rule of reality is that analogies break down, almost always sooner than later, and, well I think you can see what is coming…

The bottom line is if you come to a forum for help from experts it’s because you lack information, skills, or insight to solve your own problem, and while, yes, it is possible you have everything worked out but few details, even in those cases in order to help people need to know why a solution is being implemented not just what that solution is. Almost always, in the cases above, you need help crafting a solution, not implementing one.

This doesn’t mean you don’t have some good ideas, or you are dumber than the experts, it just means you came here for th expertise, experience, and insight of the expert members and it is basically rude and definitely unproductive to use the forum as free help without respecting the expert members offering it and presenting all the information they need without them pulling the teeth out of it to work it out.

If you really can‘t reveal the problem because it is commercial, maybe this isn’t the right place for help. It might be, if you can provide enough context and you are honest up front—this does happen.

If you have a solution, maybe it is viable or even good, but first present the problem you are trying to solve. Give details, use pictures and diagrams. If you have constraints explain the reasons for them.

Being hard of helping isn’t your fate, it’s just a lack of skill at asking questions. You can learn and when you do, remember the help you got and hang around and pay it forward.

Good luck.
 
Last edited:

MrSalts

Joined Apr 2, 2020
656
I disagree. When someone comes along and asks if a simple circuit exists to turn on/off a toy-sized motor at regular intervals, we don't need to know much about what they are doing with the motor. It may be interesting but, turning on/off a motor with a (555 timer OR an Arduino) AND (a Mosfet pass-transistor OR a relay) will be the options for the OP 99% of the time so why make the OP beg for information or type endlessly to get information from us?
 

ericgibbs

Joined Jan 29, 2010
13,889
Hi Yaakov,
How someone can disagree with what we are seeing on a daily basis, in many threads, where the TS drip feeds us project information, is puzzling.??

Then proceeds to give an example which has little or no bearing on what your Thread has said, why.?
E
 

Thread Starter

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
3,619
This one usually pops up on programming forums...
How to ask questions the right way
I am a very longtime member of programming and IT support communities and I certainly saw a lot of this in those but I learned about it in my consulting practice where the clients would present a failed solution as the problem I was supposed to help them solve.

I turned down work where the client refused to abandon a fruitless path but many of my clients listened and became long time customers on many projects having developed the habit of calling me in at the start of a project not when it had already all but failed. It was a win-win-win situation. The client got a much more optimal solution, I got paid, and not to be ignored, the technical staff got to do the sort of work they wanted to do–good professional stuff with the right resources and a good solution.
 

Sensacell

Joined Jun 19, 2012
2,908
Very nice post, right on target.

I would also add that people seeking help might also think carefully about providing a context for the question, we are not inside your head.
Also, avoid using acronyms as much as possible, others might not have the same assumptions as to what a 'MOT' 'LDR' 'UER' etc is.
 

Thread Starter

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
3,619
Very nice post, right on target.

I would also add that people seeking help might also think carefully about providing a context for the question, we are not inside your head.
Also, avoid using acronyms as much as possible, others might not have the same assumptions as to what a 'MOT' 'LDR' 'UER' etc is.
AAG (Acronyms Are Great), the simplify communication but DTOFU (Define Them On First Use) is they are not the most common sort of thing like LCD or MOSFET. Also, in answering a neophyte, always err on the side of spelling out what they mean if they are ever slightly obscure.

But, in general, AAG and we depend on them.

:)
 

schmitt trigger

Joined Jul 12, 2010
469
I have had for some time attempting to post a similar thread, but it always devolves into a rant. Thus I don’t.

Therefore I would like to thank you Yaakov, for succinctly describing the problem.

This is a prevalent problem. As a fact it already has a name:
https://xyproblem.info/

Another perverse downside of these “questions” is since they are so ambiguous, the different grey beards in these forums may provide conflicting solutions. Then the grey beards start arguing amongst themselves, sometimes quite nastily. This is unfortunate.
 

BobTPH

Joined Jun 5, 2013
3,830
Let’s not forget that a “hard of helping” condition strikes the helpers as well. Sometimes, the compulsion to ridicule overcomes us and leads ti counterproductive posts. I myself am guilty if this more times than I would like to admit.

Bob
 

LowQCab

Joined Nov 6, 2012
1,189
AAG (Acronyms Are Great), the simplify communication but DTOFU (Define Them On First Use) is they are not the most common sort of thing like LCD or MOSFET. Also, in answering a neophyte, always err on the side of spelling out what they mean if they are ever slightly obscure.

But, in general, AAG and we depend on them.

:)
This thread is excellent.
However, I think that if every new Thread Starter was required to read this first,
a third of the new Threads would never be started.

And, I think AAG only when the context is clear,
I'm involved in many different fields, each with their own set of Acronyms,
and it can sometimes become tiring to keep track of all of them.
.
.
.
 

Thread Starter

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
3,619
Let’s not forget that a “hard of helping” condition strikes the helpers as well. Sometimes, the compulsion to ridicule overcomes us and leads ti counterproductive posts. I myself am guilty if this more times than I would like to admit.

Bob
This is important. It's easy to dump on someone. It's better just to move on and not help than to taunt and ridicule—though the impulse can be very strong.

We all can make this mistake to varying degrees but some of us, unfortunately, seem to make it a hobby.
 

schmitt trigger

Joined Jul 12, 2010
469
Rob:
Or people who:
-Post a schematic which hasn’t been updated. Or with no schematic at all.
-Or pose a 1000+ word convoluted description of something that would be easily described with a simple truth table.
-Or wants to make a complex digital system “without microcontrollers”.
 

strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,677
Excellent post. I would consider the 3 described categories to be Tier 2 categories, with a distinction being made at Tier 1 of "made any amount of effort at all."

Examples of Tier 1 questions which didn't pass the test to make it to Tier 2:

  • "I require circuit of make pure sine wave inverter of 50kW with BOM"
  • Posts word-for-word (or not, sometimes abbreviated or mis-transposed) question from homework with zero commentary, or if any, "pls answer immediately."
I admit, sometimes I pose questions without showing the effort I've already put into answering them, but when I do it, it's almost always in off-topic and its some pseudo-philosophical question. I may have done it a time or two in the technical forums, but any time I do it, the point is that I intentionally don't show my effort because I don't want to limit the conversation to the thoughts I've already had, or even steer the conversation in that direction, but instead to invite thoughts I may have overlooked early on in my thought process.
 

Thread Starter

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
3,619
Excellent post. I would consider the 3 described categories to be Tier 2 categories, with a distinction being made at Tier 1 of "made any amount of effort at all."

Examples of Tier 1 questions which didn't pass the test to make it to Tier 2:

  • "I require circuit of make pure sine wave inverter of 50kW with BOM"
  • Posts word-for-word (or not, sometimes abbreviated or mis-transposed) question from homework with zero commentary, or if any, "pls answer immediately."
I admit, sometimes I pose questions without showing the effort I've already put into answering them, but when I do it, it's almost always in off-topic and its some pseudo-philosophical question. I may have done it a time or two in the technical forums, but any time I do it, the point is that I intentionally don't show my effort because I don't want to limit the conversation to the thoughts I've already had, or even steer the conversation in that direction, but instead to invite thoughts I may have overlooked early on in my thought process.
Regulars should have some idea about the skill level, experience, and general interests of each other. This can make short circuiting (pun possibly intended, if you liked it) the process for an unknown person. It's not always true, but most people who are regulars here seem to make pretty good judgments about how much information to include, and quickly fill the gaps when someone raises something they missed.

One of my related but tangential peeves is when regulars pretend not to know that others are in fact, skilled, knowledgeable, and generally capable. Even if someone missed something obvious (we all do) ignoring that the person is a peer is rude and seems often to be a kind of petty nerd points exercise.

It's corrosive to community, and it's pretty universal across technical support communities. Only the level of it varies. I am pleased to say it is down to a very dull roar on AAC. You guys are mostly really great and make being here worthwhile.
 

LesJones

Joined Jan 8, 2017
3,523
Any prizes for guessing the thread that was the trigger for this thread ? I think we all probably know the answer.
One problem I have with new members is assessing their level of knowledge. For example asking them to measure the voltage between two points. Do I just ask the question like that or do I tell them in detail telling them what range to set their DMM to and what to touch the probes on. Getting them to measure current is more of a problem as some beginners may just connect the meter across the power supply and destroy their meter.
Well done Yaakov for starting this thread.

Les.
 

Thread Starter

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
3,619
Any prizes for guessing the thread that was the trigger for this thread ? I think we all probably know the answer.
One problem I have with new members is assessing their level of knowledge. For example asking them to measure the voltage between two points. Do I just ask the question like that or do I tell them in detail telling them what range to set their DMM to and what to touch the probes on. Getting them to measure current is more of a problem as some beginners may just connect the meter across the power supply and destroy their meter.
Well done Yaakov for starting this thread.

Les.
Well, there were several forcings that ultimately lead to me emitting this post. Almost certainly what you are thinking of is among them. But you bring up a very good point.

When I spent my professional time writing for magazines, how-to articles were among the most difficult. Knowing which steps to document and which to assume as understood was always more of an art than science. It required help from people of the targeted skill and knowledge level, and maybe even more naive. This is why I loved my editors, who made my writing better even though I got to put my byline on it.

When I was designing my books, I decided on reserved gutters on every page for marginal notes. In the text bolded or colored terms indicated that additional information was available in the margin. This could be either a simple explanation of an idea that might not be familiar or a technical explanation of an idea that most readers didn't want or need.

It allowed my main text to flow for what I calculated to be the average reader. It worked very well for me. I think you can approximate that idea here with something like:

You will need to measure the voltage across R216. Do you know how to safely do that? Once you've measured that we can work out what the value needs to be.
Then, wait for the question of how, or get the answer. It's not great, but it's what I've come up with so far.
 

LesJones

Joined Jan 8, 2017
3,523
Hi Yaakov, That is a good tip. Thank you. It would not insult someone that knew what they were doing but gives someone that doesn't the opportunity to ask. I like the " Do you know how to safely do that? " comment as it worrying if a newcomer wants to something that needs great care such as working on the primary side of a switch mode power supply.

Les.
 
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