Monday, March 14, 2016

Ask a Stupid Question…

Well, sorta.
You know the rest, I assume.  As a former educator, I know the value in asking questions and seeking knowledge.  However, many tend to perform this task poorly. Like so many things, you get out of it what you put into it, and many folks just can’t form a good question to save themselves.

The reasons I know this and choose to write about it are twofold – it’s the start of our ice cream season (which I’ve written about previously), and Quora.  Let’s discuss Quora first.

I became involved in this question-and-answer “community” after seeing a post from a friend about it.  I was intrigued and he responded to my query about Quora with enough positiveness that I decided to join.  I claimed to be an “expert” in gambling and ice cream, and after a day or two, questions on those topics (sort of) appeared in my in-basket, waiting for my response.  After six weeks of activity, I can assure you that the old “Ask a Stupid Question…” cliché does NOT apply.  Rather, it’s this one:

“There is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid people with questions.”

Had I read the answer to this question in Quora, “How is Quora different from Wikipedia?I might not have been so eager to join.  The first two differences cited (of nine) were:
  • Quora is not an encyclopedia, and does not strive for objectivity.
  • Quora covers emerging knowledge, for which there are no published references yet.

The first part is certainly true.  Many answers are subjective as hell, and I can assure you that I have never seen a full-blown promotional piece on Wikipedia in describing a person, place, or thing.  On Quora, people feel no shame whatsoever to respond to a question and at the same time promote their book, blog, or other profit-making enterprise (especially true in the gambling questions).

The second part is funny, only because many of the answers seem to be culled from other online sources, including Wikipedia.  I must admit that I’veThere are some answers from true experts like Senator Elizabeth Warren and noted professors, teachers, professionals…and some from pseudo-experts (I fall somewhere in-between).  Then…there are the answers from everyday folk who try to be expert and share their knowledge.  But this isn’t Quora’s downfall.

No, the problem is with the questions.  Seriously, how would anyone, expert or not, answer this:

  • How can I become who I really am?
  • Is there a way to get Nigel Slater to come to my house and cook for me? If so, how much does he charge to cook for the evening?
  • What's this book called?
  • Who is the worst person to ever live on this planet?
  • Do you play online casino in your browser or on an app on you (sic) phone?
  • What were moments in life when one couldn't help but think, "I am so f**ked."?
  • What if everyone in the world yelled at the same time?
  • How are bad American Chinese buffet desserts different from regular restaurant desserts?
  • How do you know how much pulled pork to feed 50 people?
  • If I bet $800 on Exacta and won, how much do I actually win?

No, I am not making any of those up.

After a couple of weeks, I started responding to the really bad questions with “Good answers come from good questions.  I need much more information here in order to provide you with a decent answer.  Please try again.”  That worked once.  I also started to get fewer requests and hardly anyone upvoted my answers.  No surprise and little disappointment (from me).

I should have known better, of course.  At the ice cream parlor, this Q&A is all-too typical:

Customer: “How do you make your ice cream?”
Me:  “Well, we use a 20-gallon batch freeze…”
Customer:  “No, I mean, what’s in your ice cream?”
Me: “It’s a typical mix of cream, sugar, milk solids, egg yo…”
Customer:  “No, what I mean is do you have any sugar free ice cream?”

Now, why in the world didn’t they just ask THAT?  I have no idea.  I supposed I should ask someone.  Maybe on Quora.

By the way, there is no such thing as sugar-free ice cream.  If it’s ice cream, it has milk; if it has milk, it has lactose.  Lactose is a milk SUGAR.  There is no sugar added to the mix (which is why they call it “no-sugar-added ice cream”), but it is NOT free of sugar.

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