Sure, but if all we ever got were questions of the type "wow, I've never thought of that, let me hack on it a bit", then Eric would be a lot less exasperated about what he sees on the forums.
My point is, the reason we see so many dumb-ass questions these days (my hypothesis goes) is not because people in general have become dumber, but because reasonably smart people get answers to their reasonably difficult questions by looking them up on the web, so we're left with the lazy-asses who couldn't even bother to Google the damn thing, plus the occasional bright mind with an actually novel question.
1) Find it on Google (with multiple well-worded searches)
2) Ask someone on a programming chatroom.
3) Then move to a forum.
That's my standard anywho. So far all I've needed to stick for public reading over the internet is a request for a bitstack writing/reading formula on cplusplus.com. I'm forever helping people on the chatrooms, generally unstructured questions are easier to receive there.
The only problem is there's no way to optimise your code without someone more experienced looking at it. I've replaced fwrite() with fputs() and malloc() with calloc() thanks to chatroom coders. If you're a regular who helps others, the veterans are happy to help you.
PS: My bitstack question probably was the only Type 1 I've encountered. See it here. I did do a lot of research.
Great idea... though I'd be concerned if I'd still be allowed on the forums Maybe something as simple as the "skill testing" questions that you see on various contents would be enough to weed out the most ridiculous forum questions... what is (6+3)x(10/2)?
With the middle ground all but covered, questions will virtually always come up
from the extremes:
1. Very difficult and/or novel questions from
very smart people, who did look for references but couldn't find
2. Trivial problems from very stupid people, who couldn't
bother to (or didn't realize they could) look it up by themselves.
That however is a matter of perception.
I suspect there are a number of mathematicians that would find any number of problems "trivial", yet which even the most enthusiastic beginning hobbyist would find very difficult.
As an example in programming I now find it trivially easy to understand recursion and even to unroll a recursive methods. But I also remember that when I was first introduced to recursion it took me 18 months to finally understand it.
Further your simplistic scenario ignored the simple statistical fact...people that post here, by definition, must be those that even if they did do research did not find or did not understand the answers they did find. Thus there could be tens or hundreds times the number of people who are successfully learning by themselves.
2. Trivial problems from very stupid people, who couldn't bother to (or didn't realize they could) look it up by themselves.
That however is a matter of perception.
Then let's define a "trivial problem" as "so thoroughly documented, anyone able to articulate the question is also able to find an answer they can understand". I believe this to be fairly close to the spirit of the original complaint. My point also remains the same: smart people will look answers up and we won't hear from them, dumb people will pester the forums instead.
When speaking internally I find it's a matter of balance. If there's a team member who has an unresolved issue there is some benefit in them researching on their own to get a solution. However, this takes time and can impact the project timeline and budget. At some point you want them to speak up and say "hey, I could use some help". On the other hand, if they don't learn to research and solve their own problems they'll never become a decent dev. I don't think there's a simple answer to this - if anyone has one I'd be interested to hear.
On the topic of stupid questions on forums, especially those marked as urgent, I tend to agree with more of the replies I've seen here... people have become lazy and want others to do the work for them. The number of simple questions that I've seen that should be known by anyone that has taken CompSci 101, read an intro book to programming, or is capable of being answered through the most basic of Google searches, deserves to be flamed and ridiculed. My personal favorites are the ones where someone replies with an answer and the original poster asks for more clarification and sample code because they don't understand (ie. will you do my homework for me?). At that point I'm thinking "you've been given the answer - take the time to understand it on your own time or hire someone to do it for you, but don't expect someone to do YOUR work for free". Maybe I'm being cynical? "There's no such thing as stupid questions... only stupid people."
Some of us actually enjoy the process of breaking down a problem and figuring it out, but are told that the manager doesn't care HOW we get the answer as long as we get the answer NOW!!! Solution, turn to teh interwebs, ask the question and continue to work on the answer as you await a reply.
I remember reading through the multi-hundred page MS-DOS 3.3 manual, remembering the commands. I remember reading through the text files on my "teach yourself C" CD with it's Symantec C compiler, and from that made DOS based graphics interface EXE files. I remember learning HTML basics by reading the RFC after downloading them from work ( oh joy, a 2 megabit connection at work in 1998 along with 40 PPM printers ).
All the basics of opening, reading and writing to files, were as valid in C in 1995 as they are today in PHP, but I am continually surprised by the level of some developers I work with. I'm in a PHP house at the moment. They all want to make their own "frameworks", but when it comes to raw language, how to read and write to a file, error handling, bounds checking, loop control (come on now!), the young'uns today seem to have lost the basics. Ok you can build a castle on sand, but don't expect it to last the centures before it falls over. Come on guys. If you are really lost, go bug your local library and borrow somthing written by Donald Knuth along with a language reference. If you cannot solve the problem with that, *then* come here and yell for help!
I don't mind people using the internet to look things up, it's the best reference manual there is today, especially as Einstein is supposed to have said somthing like "the most important is not to know, but to know where to look", but you really have to push this one just a tad further. "Seek and ye shall find", but "understand and ye shall know". This one people tend to forget. I'll help people who help themselves
In the end though, I really get the feeling that I am the last of my species: The self taught geek who relys on his own brain. Oh well. I'll still try to make the most of it while it lasts !!!