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This assignment is designed to encourage participation in on-line discussions. Each week, I want you to:

Secondary goals might be to:

Here is a quick video about how to create new questions and how to reply to existing questions.

There is no penalty for providing a wrong answer to a question so long as you are trying to help. My goal is promote participation in the discussion area. So long as you are doing so in the proper spirit, then that is all I ask, all I want to see. There are no dumb questions, and no penalty for accidentally providing a wrong answer.

Get it Done

The big difference between an advanced programmer and one who is still learning is that advanced programmers get things done. It doesn't matter how we get things done, only that we get things done. If we have to ask a lot of questions along the way, then that is one thing. Failing to achieve our goal is another. In professional environments in big companies, I've seen successful developers who are just brilliant at getting answers to their questions. As a result, they get things done. Nobody remembers the questions, all they know is that someone gets things done!

A manager will work hard to find a good niche for someone who gets things done. They aren't always looking for genius or for years of experience, they want competence. Hard workers with a controlled ego who get things done. If someone with a soaring IQ comes along, then that is nice, but that is not the only way to be a valued employee.

Don't Quote Code

In general don't quote code in your questions or answers. The worst possible question would be:

Here is the code for my answer to question 3. Is it correct?

var a = 3 * square(5);

A close second might be: What is the answer to question three?

Try to ask questions that can benefit yourself and others; don't become a platform for disseminating the answer to a question.

This means that you often have to describe code rather than quote it. For instance, a student might ask: "I'm stuck on question 3, I keep getting 15 as the answer, and I know that's not right." Then someone might answer: "Have you tried using the square function?" That gives a hint, but does not directly give the answer.

In general, use your best judgment. Ask yourself if you are providing a hint or advice, or if you are actually giving away the answer.

Inspiration

Sometimes I get the sense that students are having a hard time coming up with questions about our work. Here are some ideas that you can use rather than saying things like "thanks" or "me too", or "here is useful link: http://www.google.com".

When a student has everything running perfectly, and there are no problems with their code, I can understand why they have trouble coming up with a question. But if your programming is not working, then usually you receive some kind of error. If nothing else, you can ask about the error you are getting. What causes this error? How can I fix it?

Or perhaps the assignment includes a chunk of code like this:

var objectAsArray = [];
for (var key in obj) {
    if (obj.hasOwnProperty(key)) {
        objectAsArray.push([key, obj[key]]);
    }
}

There are three pieces of syntax you might want to ask about.

  1. The code that initializes the array: var a = [];
  2. The code code for iterating over the fields of an object: var key in obj
  3. The hasOwnProperty or push methods.

I know for certain that students who often seem unable to ask a good question don't understand bits of syntax like that. I understand you having questions, but don't understand why you don't ask them. Rather than get a middling grade on the discussion assignment, why not ask a question about one of those pieces of syntax? Then students who understand can reply, or if necessary I can step in. Most importantly, you will learn something.

There is no shame in not understanding any of the syntactical elements in the bulleted list above. Even if you think you understand one of them, for instance, the first one, I bet there are questions you might have about the statement. Maybe you know what it does, but not exactly how it works. I know I have questions about it, and could stand to do more research on the subject if encouraged by a student.

This is one example from one assignment, but there are similar section in nearly every technical assignment I give. There are probbaly 5 to 10 obvious question to ask in any assignment, and 20, 30 or even 50 in more complex assignments.

Attitude

When asking questions in most online forums, try to be as friendly and polite as possible. Email and text is a deceptively sharp edged tool. I try to go out of my way to keep a positive attitude. As we all start to spend more time communicating online with text, we have to learn new skills. Developing the ability to join an online community, and become a positive and well liked member of that community, is an important skill. Most of us aren't born with that ability. We have to develop it. In general, when I find myself using negative words like "stupid", "dumb", "incompetent", etc, then a little red flag goes up in my brain. Sometimes they are the appropriate words, but those occasions are rare. Perhaps once or twice a year. If they come up repeatedly in my messages, then it is usually best for me to take time off to relax.

Inside, we might feel upset, but we have to learn to hide that when communicating online. And we have to learn to take care of ourselves, so we are not under too much pressure. Be gentle with others, be gentle with yourself.

Scoring

In general, I'm looking for questions and answers. However, just proving that you looked at the discussion area will keep you from getting a failing grade. Here are some loose guidelines that I might use when grading discussions:

Of course, if you ask a good question and say thank you, then you keep the higher of the two scores. In fact, showing a high level of participation in the discussion is generally a good thing. Saying thank you five times rather than once, however, will not likely push your grade for the week above an eighty.

Question Guidelines

Your question must be:

Why Ask Questions

Asking and answering questions in the discussion are can be helpful because it:

Other benefits of asking questions in the discussion area include:

Prefer Modesty

Avoid leading with your ego. If you come across as an expert, then you become a target.

I've had some students who said the equivalent of something like this: "I've figured our how to solve the higgs boson extra credit assignment. I was stumped at first, then I remembered that the sun rises in the west, and from there on, it was easy. If you have questions, just ask and I'll help you catch up with folks like me." After reading this, I am more or less compelled to tell him that he is wrong about where the sun rises, and that therefore much of the rest of his reasoning is likely built on a false premise.

The problem here is the distance the student had to fall. He was the expert, ready to give everyone the secret of the universe. It is a long way from master of the universe to the person who got mixed up about where the sun rises.

A much better approach would be to frame the question in a more modest or matter of fact manner. "I think I'm making progress on the higgs boson assignment, but I'm concerned that one of my premises may be incorrect. I believe that the sun rises in the west, and that this fact can help us solve the problem. Am I on the right track? I wanted to check with others before moving on."

Now its much easier for someone to answer, "Hey, looks like you are making good progress, but don't forget that the sun rises in the east, not in the west."

While it is not always necessary, or even helpful, to be actively modest, it is almost always a mistake to come across as the superior expert. Measure the distance that you will fall if proven wrong, and try to limit the extent of the damage. We all make mistakes. Its fair to say that most of us even make dumb mistakes. That's okay. Just don't be caught trying to play the expert when you really aren't ready to assume guru status quite yet. Just state the facts in plain, simple language. Or if, you are feeling very uncertain, prefer being modest to hiding behind a grandiose pose.

Appropriate Questions

It would be appropriate to ask about:

These are also reasonable questions:

Just be careful that you are not asking a question that has already been asked.

Inappropriate Questions

Subjects that would not be appropriate:

The following questions are okay, and you will get credit for asking them, but there is a sense in which they are second class questions. I would prefer a more technical, more specific, question, but these are much better than nothing, and are sometimes appropriate:

Question Format

Typically your question will have three parts:

Here is a classic example:

QUESTION: I'm trying to create my unit tests for a project. I've created an HTML file that loads requirejs. It sets data-main to MainTest.js. When I launch the HTML file in the browser the screen is completely blank. I have no idea what is wrong or how to go about fixing the problem. How do I get started.

ERROR: I'm not getting any error messages that I can see. I'm just completely stuck.

STEPS: Create an HTML that uses require js. Set MainTest.js as data-main. I'm basing my work on the SimpleQueue program from JsObjects.

PLATFORM: I'm using Eclipse and working in Lubuntu 13.10 running in VirtualBox. My network was down while I was working. My browser was FireFox

The answer to the above question, of course, is that one should run the program in Chrome and press F12 to view any error messages that might be present. (One could also get the errors by pressing F12 in FireFox. Both browsers have good developer tools.)

So let's ask the same question again, but this time include an error message from the Chrome debugger. Everything from above is the same, but this time here is the error section of the question:

ERROR: I loaded the program in Chrome, pressed F12, and saw this in the console window:

GET file:///C:/Src/BridgeReader/apublic/javascripts/Readers/MarkdownReader.js net::ERR_FILE_NOT_FOUND
Uncaught Error: Script error for: MarkdownReader
http://requirejs.org/docs/errors.html#scripterror

It is more difficult to ask questions about the syntax of the JavaScript language. The danger is that you might give away the answer to a question by describing your error. Suppose you had an assignment to print the word Garply to the console. To fulfill the assignment, you came up with a file called Chub.js with the following contents:

// Assignment 01
// by Vari Quigley

function qux {
    console.log("Garply!");
}

You got an error when you tried to run the program by typing:

node Chub.js

You struggled and struggled trying to find out what was wrong, but couldn't solve the problem. Here is how to ask the question:

I have question about an error message I get when I try to run my program with node.

Here is the error message I get:

    >node Temp.js

    C:\Temp\Temp.js:4
    function qux {
                 ^
    SyntaxError: Unexpected token {
        at Module._compile (module.js:439:25)
        at Object.Module._extensions..js (module.js:474:10)
        at Module.load (module.js:356:32)
        at Function.Module._load (module.js:312:12)
        at Function.Module.runMain (module.js:497:10)
        at startup (node.js:119:16)
        at node.js:902:3

Here is the command I give to create the error:

node Chub.js

I'm running on Linux and using node version 0.10.26.

The above is fine because you do not quote significant portions of your program. There is one line from your program seen in the error message, but it is not an important line. It is just a plain old function header.

Nevertheless, when asking questions, you must be careful not to give the answer to question. In general, this means don't publish source code. For instance, suppose you are asked to add two variables. For instance, suppose this was the assignment: Given the following declarations, how would you calculate the sum of a and b*:

var a = 3;
var b = 12;

That is the whole question. Suppose you tried to solve the problem by writing this:

// Assignment 01
// by Vari Quigley

function qux() {
    var a = 3;
    var b = 12;
    var result = a + d;
}

console.log(qux());

When you ran the program, you got this error:

    >node Temp.js

    C:\Temp\Temp.js:7
        var result = a + d;
                         ^
    ReferenceError: d is not defined
        at qux (C:\Temp\Temp.js:7:22)
        at Object. (C:\Temp\Temp.js:10:13)
        at Module._compile (module.js:456:26)
        at Object.Module._extensions..js (module.js:474:10)
        at Module.load (module.js:356:32)
        at Function.Module._load (module.js:312:12)
        at Function.Module.runMain (module.js:497:10)
        at startup (node.js:119:16)
        at node.js:902:3

To quote the line var result = a + d; is to give away your attempted solution to the problem. In a case like this, just show the error message. For instance:

I'm trying to use a variable in my program, but I keep getting the following error. What does it mean:

    ReferenceError: d is not defined
        at qux (C:\Temp\Temp.js:7:22)
        at Object. (C:\Temp\Temp.js:10:13)
        at Module._compile (module.js:456:26)
        at Object.Module._extensions..js (module.js:474:10)
        at Module.load (module.js:356:32)
        at Function.Module._load (module.js:312:12)
        at Function.Module.runMain (module.js:497:10)
        at startup (node.js:119:16)
        at node.js:902:3

General Tips

Use the classic advice from StackOverflow on how to ask good questions.

We don't have a meta site, so questions about the course or the direction we are taking in the course can be asked in the discussion area, but they probably will not count as the solution for this assignment.

If English is not your native language, work doubly hard to keep your question short and specific:

Question: I can't run my program because of error. Error: I get this error ... Reproduce: I typed this: npm start Platform: Linux, Geany, node v0.10.26.

Answering Questions

No one has to answer questions, but of course it is great if you can answer someone else's question. It is not exactly that you get extra credit for doing so, but I notice that someone is answering questions and that can help when it comes time to calculate the class participation part of your score for this course.

When answering questions you must continue to avoid quoting code directly. Don't give away answers.

Typical answers might be:

Don't point to third party resources that provide full anwers. For instance, if I asked you to calculate a factorial, you should not provide a list of places on the Internet where others have solved that problem using JavaScript. You can, however, mention that using Google might be a good idea in a case like this.

Try to provide answers or use syntax that we use in class. For instance, we are using express a lot in this class. It would not be appropriate to answer: I suggest dumping Express and using the great RetroQuirks library instead. And don't say something like this: You are using the modular pattern, but I think it would be better if you just created one method called main and put all your code in there. Try to follow the coding conventions we use in class.