Sometimes we need people to ask dumb questions

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strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,505
I've spent the past week troubleshooting a device which I shouldn't need to troubleshoot. It's an commercial device which we bought (several of) at work. They are not cheap. They have a Beaglebone Black inside, and one of the processes they have running on the Beaglebone consumes more and more memory over time, eventually running out after a few days, when it crashes and stops responding to my system, at which point, to the unitiated (which is everyone at work) it looks like my stuff is failing. I don't like that. And I'm not getting much help from the MFG of the devices, so I've been investing my own time trying to fix their code.

My boss called to check in on my progress and I spilled the beans about the whole thing and he started the dumb questions I was afraid of, about swapping out all the devices we have already installed (it would be a nightmare) and I was on the verge of offering to make rounds to all the local facilities every 24 hrs to cycle power to the devices, until the MFG can eventually figure what's wrong and issue a software update. I realized right before the words came out, that I can simply power the devices from a relay, controlled by the existing PLCs at every installation. I can automate the power cycle. It's obviously a kludge but not my fault.

I am glad he called. If he hadn't, I may have spent another week banging my head against the wall. Sometimes we get our heads buried so deep in a problem that we lose peripheral vision, and we need someone to come along and ask dumb questions to slap us out of it. Or at least I do. I suspect I'm not alone. That was my lesson learned from last week.

Maybe my next project should be finding some way to automate the asking of dumb questions. Maybe thermal camera could be linked to an Alexa device and pointed at my head to detect cranial overheating and start blurting out lines from the IT help desk script "is it plugged in?" "have you tried cycling power?" "What were you doing when it happened?" ...
 

killivolt

Joined Jan 10, 2010
796
I've spent the past week troubleshooting a device which I shouldn't need to troubleshoot. It's an commercial device which we bought (several of) at work. They are not cheap. They have a Beaglebone Black inside, and one of the processes they have running on the Beaglebone consumes more and more memory over time, eventually running out after a few days, when it crashes and stops responding to my system, at which point, to the unitiated (which is everyone at work) it looks like my stuff is failing. I don't like that. And I'm not getting much help from the MFG of the devices, so I've been investing my own time trying to fix their code.

My boss called to check in on my progress and I spilled the beans about the whole thing and he started the dumb questions I was afraid of, about swapping out all the devices we have already installed (it would be a nightmare) and I was on the verge of offering to make rounds to all the local facilities every 24 hrs to cycle power to the devices, until the MFG can eventually figure what's wrong and issue a software update. I realized right before the words came out, that I can simply power the devices from a relay, controlled by the existing PLCs at every installation. I can automate the power cycle. It's obviously a kludge but not my fault.

I am glad he called. If he hadn't, I may have spent another week banging my head against the wall. Sometimes we get our heads buried so deep in a problem that we lose peripheral vision, and we need someone to come along and ask dumb questions to slap us out of it. Or at least I do. I suspect I'm not alone. That was my lesson learned from last week.

Maybe my next project should be finding some way to automate the asking of dumb questions. Maybe thermal camera could be linked to an Alexa device and pointed at my head to detect cranial overheating and start blurting out lines from the IT help desk script "is it plugged in?" "have you tried cycling power?" "What were you doing when it happened?" ...
I get that one, worse yet is when you think someone else smarter than you already takes the lead, your trouble shooting skills then kick-in and you begin at the beginning, but they won't stop dogging you, I did that already I did that already, as if they have done it all. Suddenly you get that they did do all that, you reboot and start over clearing the boot loader and now you begin again, and finish in front of them, and they say what did you do? You say, something you didn't lol

Yes dumb questions or stop and walk around the block thinking nothing about it, with a fresh mind you return.

kv
 

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
17,031
Yes dumb questions or stop and walk around the block thinking nothing about it, with a fresh mind you return.
That's one wisdom that comes with age - knowing when persistence is useful and when it's not.

When you work on a car, you inevitably find bolts you can't quite reach, or they're stuck even if you can. It's tempting to escalate to bigger hammers, longer-handled wrenches, whatever. But if things are going badly and you're getting bloody knuckles and mad as hell, it's time for a break. That's when you realize that bolt doesn't need to be removed, or maybe it's reverse threaded, or whatever.

The same thing happens in programming projects. It's tempting to believe you're just a line of code or two away from success, but then you find yourself three hours in and going in circles. Walk away. Sleep on it. I've had problems that seemed impossible the night before be solved in just minutes the next morning.

If you have a portfolio of projects, you don't even lose time when you take a break from one, because you can go work on another. Mow the grass instead of hanging some blinds. Plant the garden instead of doing your tax return.
 

ElectricSpidey

Joined Dec 2, 2017
1,532
Personally I don't think that was a dumb question, obviously the boss didn't understand the difficulties in swapping out the devices, and replacing faulty parts that cant be readily fixed is a logical solution.

I think the issue here might be...it's a dumb question because "you" already knew the answer.
 

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
2,381
I had a partner in the recording studio business whose technical role was to ask stupid questions.

Him: Shouldn’t you be adding the blue wire to those jacks?
Me: No you idiot… oh wait, yes.

He couldn’t do what I did but he was very systematic and I am not. He saw patterns and was uncomfortable when they didn’t persist. He didn’t know why they were there, just that they were.

This is a trivial example. His ignorance of technical complexity (it was all equally complex to him) meant he didn’t know the difference between a trivial and impossible request, but he did know that some things look like others and would propose broad solutions to problems which, sometimes, were ingenious without him knowing how they would come about.

He had a relatively low success rate at first but it increased over time. Though he became more technically competent over time, the improvement in “block level” solution proposals was greater than his ability to suggest the details that would accomplish them. He was seeing patterns at a level above that.

By the way, I abused him (“idiot”) half in jest and half in annoyance. I learned to respect his complementary abilities to mine and also learned not to be such a jerk. I can only say I was very young and foolish when we started.
 

atferrari

Joined Jan 6, 2004
4,236
In pre-Internet times I used to ask questions quite frequently, amongst them, many related to electronics because I had access to a group of seasoned technicians. To my regret I realized that most of the times I got just jokes for an answer. (¡¡!!)

As a 1st grader, a bitter experience I still remember, was my teacher putting me in front of the class, face to the wall, near her desk, because, she explained, I was asking too many questions.

Even today I have double feelings prior asking questions in my professional environment. But I am sure that in the initial meetings to discuss operations that no one performed before, the answer to a stupid question by someone would be the eureka information for somebody else.

While I faithfully hate lazy questions (those that could be solved just by reading some commonly available data) I consider that questions should be not objected, much less qualified, quite a common occurrence in this and many other forums.

To @strantor: your idea of automated dumb questions is in use already everywhere and started long ago. Heard of check lists?
 

cmartinez

Joined Jan 17, 2007
7,290
I can only say I was very young and foolish when we started.
To my regret I realized that most of the times I got just jokes for an answer. (¡¡!!)
My experience in life has been very similar. Think of this, I come from a family of 5 other siblings, have 9 aunts and uncles, and more than 50 cousins... and not a single one of them is even remotely related to a STEM profession... I am the only engineer in my direct and indirect family... so it's easy to imagine that I was the family's oddball when I was a kid. I remember my parents once took me to a neurologist performed an EEG on me because they thought that I was too curious and prone to test, study and experiment with everything I found!

Practically everything I know about robotics, programming and electronics I had to learn all by myself. And my main source of knowledge when I was a kid were magazines, such as Popular Electronics and some others that I ordered by mail. This because the sort of magazines that I liked to read could never be found at ordinary local stores. And I had absolutely no one close to me that I could share my interests with.

When I grew up I swore to myself to never ever ever treat anyone with contempt simply because I considered their questions to be too basic. In fact, experience has taught me what classical philosophers have known all along: that the deepest and most profound questions and observations are usually made by children and neophytes.

About ten years ago I bought a kit with parts that a child can use to assemble a toy robot using a soda can... it's the coolest thing, believe me. It's been sitting on one of my shelves all this time, and I intend to give it to the first kid that walks into my workshop and "starts asking too many questions".
 
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