So somebody asks an innocent question on christmas lights:


It gets snarky responses and is closed.

Somebody asks about designing some RFID checkpoints:

Extremely Cheap Geeky Code System

It gets a snarky response and is closed.

Both examples are uninformed questions- but that is what questions are about! In both examples, the OP could have provided more information and asked things better, however, both examples are at least nominally something electrical.

Then somebody asks about glue:

Strong adhesive to attach part to PCB

It gets 9 upvotes as of this writing and is seen as a great question.

To me, this seems off.

My specific question is: What rewrites would you suggest to the FAQ regarding what are acceptable questions? Your answer may be "none", but my assertion would be the FAQ isn't working if questions that are at least somewhat electrical are being closed and disparaged while questions about glue, which would seem to be entirely unrelated, are welcomed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ In response to your second link: Even the OP knew there was no "correct" answer to this question. Questions without correct answers will tend to generate discussion or other opinion based responses. (About page: "Avoid questions that are primarily opinion-based, or that are likely to generate discussion rather than answers.") \$\endgroup\$ – apnorton Jun 5 '13 at 17:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ In general, however, I agree with the sentiment of this question. \$\endgroup\$ – apnorton Jun 5 '13 at 17:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I missed the adhesive question, but just upvoted it and Russell's answer now that you have pointed them out. The question wasn't strictly about electronics, but clearly relevant to doing electrical engineering. By itself it was perhaps borderline, but with Russell's answer it is worth flagging as a valuable contribution to the store of knowledge here. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jun 5 '13 at 20:39

We love to close! Don't just downvote, vote to close! And better flag it for a moderator, just in case!

The basic rule around here seems to be:

If you don't understand electronics, we don't want you.

This seems a little harsh, but consider the following:

  • Stack Exchange is a terrible format for learning a new field. And a beginner often needs interaction with others to learn, but this site discourages discussion. (Well, there is chat which is worthless for thoughtful discourse.) You would do better to read Wikipedia articles, or look at a forum that is designed for discussion, like http://askelectronics.reddit.com or the eevblog forums.

  • A lot of experienced contributors are possesive of the site and actively discourage any new, uninformed contribution. For an extreme example, see the newsgroup sci.electronics.design, where brilliant technical answers are followed by gratuitous personal insults just to keep it an unfriendly place for newcomers.

  • Despite the name, the community here wants to focus pretty tightly on board-level electronics design. I have seen reasonable programming questions closed, and control theory or signal processing questions don't stand much of a chance. This makes me sad.

  • Even if change was generally desired, the same group of core contributors is closing all the questions. It only takes five close-minded (ha!) contributors to shut a question down. We aren't about to kick these people out, so the closing will continue.

  • Call me cynical but I think asking politely in meta is not going to change anyone's behavior.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your response. I hope you aren't down voted for your opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – mikeY Jun 6 '13 at 7:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ It also only takes 5 people to reopen, or one moderator flag in rare cases. The 5 people can not vote to close again, it would take another 5. I agree on some of the control/signal processing and programming. We have a few key users that often vote because it is outside what they know, not outside what someone here likely knows and does. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jun 6 '13 at 13:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a gripe, not a answer. It also makes assumptions about the motivations behind particular actions, then states those assumptions as facts, when you can't even know the motivations at all. We occasionally do have questions about control algorithms, and they are well received when written well, like electronics.stackexchange.com/q/27677/4512 and other it links to. I put some effort into answering that one, for example. Yes, you are being cynical, but -1 for being misleading and deliberately misrepresenting others' stated positions. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jun 7 '13 at 23:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can't downvote because I don't have 125 rep but SE is exactly for beginner to experts alike. Separate, @mikeY on meta you downvote opinions you don't agree with. That's the point. It's not a negative thing if you get downvoted. \$\endgroup\$ – David Cowden Jan 8 '14 at 3:11

Both examples are uninformed questions- but that is what questions are about!


The idea of a question is not that you are uninformed, haven't put the slightest research effort in finding an answer, or haven't even shared the schematic.

What rewrites would you suggest to the FAQ regarding what are acceptable questions? Your answer may be "none", but my assertion would be the FAQ isn't working if questions that are at least somewhat electrical are being closed and disparaged while questions about glue, which would seem to be entirely unrelated, are welcomed.

These questions were not closed because they would be off topic (okay, the christmas tree was, I don't know about that) but because they were poorly formulated. Not a real question leaves much more room for reopening than off topic.

I disagree that the glue as it's mentioned in the third example is entirely unrelated. It's clear that it's a problem many EEs face.

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    \$\begingroup\$ TIL glue is an important part of being an electrical engineer. \$\endgroup\$ – mikeY Jun 6 '13 at 6:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mikeY I didn't say that. \$\endgroup\$ – user17592 Jun 6 '13 at 6:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ You seem to think gluing things is "a problem many EEs face." Olin Lathrop indicates the discussion on glue was "a valuable contribution to the store of knowledge". I think it is fair to say that glue may be a sticky issue. EDIT: BTW- thanks for responding to my question and contributing to the discussion. I appreciate that. \$\endgroup\$ – mikeY Jun 6 '13 at 7:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mikeY Yeah, glue sure is stickey. I said many EEs face the problem, not that the majority of them needs glue, nor that glue is essential for being an EE. \$\endgroup\$ – user17592 Jun 6 '13 at 7:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Re: glue - Rimshot \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf Jun 6 '13 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ConnorWolf Introducing a little levity was certainly my intent. I'll be here all week- please tip your server. \$\endgroup\$ – mikeY Jun 7 '13 at 16:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ No point writing my own answer. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jun 7 '13 at 23:05

I think you've substantially weakened your argument by bringing in the adhesive angle. By doing so you've effectively said: "This site isn't inclusive enough - and by inclusive I mean what I think is important".

The undercurrent/message/mindset is that your version of EE is the only version. And we've had these discussions before. That probably is a little harsh with regards to your intent. But it is the go-to attitude for some around here.

Which is basically what @markrages said.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for answering. Could you clarify just who is the "you" in your answer above? I don't think it is me (I'm the OP) but maybe I'm wrong so I'm asking for clarification. \$\endgroup\$ – mikeY Jun 6 '13 at 21:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ no no, "you" does refer to "you". For background look on Meta for these discussions. \$\endgroup\$ – placeholder Jun 6 '13 at 22:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Classic hilarity. \$\endgroup\$ – NickHalden Jun 6 '13 at 23:39

Rather than being snarky when closing the message, perhaps the better option is to actually take a stab at guessing what the OP wants to ask, and re-stating the perceived question in a comment, to help the questioner ask better questions the next time? Contrary to popular belief, being able to ask good questions is not an in-born ability. Knowing what's relevant and what's not is not automatic knowledge until you have years of experience. Putting yourself in the mindset of an answerer, and what an answerer will actually need to know, is not second nature to a lot of persons.

It's fine to vote to close because of poor question phrasing, but before doing so, I suggest you should be very constructive in how a question should be phrased better, including taking a guess at what the real question is, and commenting something like "Did you mean to ask, 'if I do X to part Y, and then need result Z when measured at point W, how do I accomplish this?'"

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    \$\begingroup\$ No. We can insist that questions asked here are asked well. This is completely orthagonal to technical level or subject matter, and is something everyone can be expected to know. This is no different than us expecting some basic ability to write English. If you can't do these things, then you don't belong here. It's not for everyone. And no, we don't want to noise up the site with diapering and burping the morons thru this process. That wastes a lot of time, makes the site look mickey-mouse, and defeats the purpose of the well-asked-question barrier to keep the dweebs out. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jun 7 '13 at 23:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop If there's one thing that will make the site look Mickey Mouse, it's calling people names like "morons" and "dweebs". \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Jun 8 '13 at 17:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ >> is something everyone can be expected to know @OlinLathrop I think this is the crux of the matter. I believe it's not uncommon for someone to be an intelligent human being willing to learn and contribute, without yet having the skills to ask a proper EE-specific question. If there is somewhere that such a person can learn that skill, we should loudly declare where that is, and include links in the close messages/votes. Personally, I don't know where that would be, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Jon Watte Jun 10 '13 at 16:55

The problem is that Avoid questions that are primarily opinion-based, or that are likely to generate discussion rather than answers. is very vague and subjective itself.

What is a primarily opinon-based question? Is it What's better, X or y? Or is it "I think X is a good idea, do you agree"? Or is it How can I do X, when X has multiple possible methods of being done?

Anyone can argue that all of these are opinion-based. But lets look at an example. What's better, Linear or Switching regulators? COMPLETELY opinion based question. Except that the common opinion is that linear regulators suck, so there is no discussion. What's better, using 1 large cap, or using multiple caps of different sizes? Also opinion based, and no two engineers will give the same answer.

I want to use this LED matrix. Another opinion based question, since any given led matrix can be used directly, or through passives, or with serial shift registers, or i2c, or spi, etc. And you get that type of responses.

Extremely Cheap Geeky Code System Is a question where ""opinion based"" does not apply. What does happen is that multiple people would have different ideas on how to go about it, just like any given engineering issue would.


Also, there are many people on this site that just hate new people and anyone that dares ask a question without having ten doctorates.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem with that question to me is that the question solicits a complete design of a complex system, and not some aspect that can be practically addressed. \$\endgroup\$ – Scott Seidman Jun 9 '13 at 1:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ScottSeidman does it really? I'm pretty sure "QR Scanner app on smart phone" or "Arduino clone (10 bucks) + lcd (5 bucks) + rfid reader (15 bucks), with standard arduino libraries" is all that is needed to be said, not a complete design or anything. General ideas. Nothing of that question tells me that they are looking for detailed schematics or customized code for their specific goal. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Jun 9 '13 at 1:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Passerby Actually, I think the linear-vs-switching question should be answered with data. If "best" means "fastest regulation and lowest cost and smallest board area" then linear regulators are likely to win. If "best" means "highest efficiency" then switching regulators have the upper hand. And in some cases, switching+linear is the best of both worlds. The answer depends on the context, so either demand context for the question, or answer by showing how the solution is generally determined based on input data. Same thing for 1-large vs many-smaller -- there are measurable differences. \$\endgroup\$ – Jon Watte Jun 10 '13 at 17:00

I would like to add a point to the discussion that seems to have been missed.

Is this site intended to deal with only electronics questions or questions that EEs may have?

The first two questions are about electronics, even though they cover problems that an EE would not face.

The third question is a problem that some EEs may face, but by itself is not an electronics problem.

An analogy from Reverse Engineering. Debuggers are an important tool, part of every REs' toolkit. However, questions may be of the type :

  • A general problem while using the debugger
  • A specific problem during RE which involves a debugger

The first is something that is relevant to the field, but not something that comes under RE. Hence, they may get migrated or answered, on a case to case basis.

The second is about RE, and is of course, on-topic.

Both types of categories are not mutually exclusive as many a time, simply changing the phrasing, can take a question from one category to the other.

Also, the FAQ on RE :

Reverse Engineering Stack Exchange is for researchers and developers who explore the principles of a system through analysis of its structure, function, and operation.

If you have a question about ...

  • tools commonly used for reverse engineering hardware or software

My personal opinion is that the site should restrict itself to electronics problems, as is stated in the FAQ (until the necessary changes are made).

We ask and answer questions about electrical and electronics engineering topics, which include electronics, physical computing, and those working with microcontrollers, Arduinos and embedded systems.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is a nice take on this. Electronics questions versus questions electrical engineers would have. I think there may be discussion participants in each camp. \$\endgroup\$ – mikeY Jun 10 '13 at 1:08

Actually, the adhesive question is a great demonstration of the accumulated bias of the site. Effectively, if the question is asked by a "real engineer" about something that would be challenging to a "real engineer" then "on-topic" is fairly broad. And that is proper.

The problem is the flip side - if a question is asked by a non-engineer at the intersection of the point where it could be addressed in an engineering manner or by more "pragmatism & pray" means, we tend to push it away - instead of selling the engineering approach to the public, we just turn them around and send them looking elsewhere - often to other sources of information which may be useless, ignorant, or occasionally even dangerously mistaken.

Yes, we "real engineers" survived formal schooling with its "math filter". Yes, we like to state things precisely and can be easily annoyed by ambiguity or wild gaps in reasoning. But it's hopefully not just a love of the formal side of our craft that get us into this; hopefully, way back before the math, we were interested in the idea of making cool stuff and solving fun problems. And that's something we can and should share with those who approach similar problems in a less formal way.

Hopefully, along the way we can gently encourage more sound engineering approaches - not on the argument that they are "proper" but rather by demonstrating that such methods are a more effective way to find reliable solutions.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for answering. I see you are already being down voted. Best of luck. \$\endgroup\$ – mikeY Jun 26 '13 at 15:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Alas, after having myself experimented with providing such an answer to a popular consumer question, an answer which cited maybe a dozen sources, some quite professional, other more hobbyist but still doing actual experiments... I haven't gotten a single vote for my troubles in over a week. So I've deleted my answer and decided not to answer such questions here in the future... because as an academic adviser once told me... such an effort is usually "wasted bullets". \$\endgroup\$ – Fizz Jan 7 '15 at 19:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ This usually has more to do with unremarkable quality of an answer than with the question - and if you are here for points, that is your first mistake. But since you decided to play "take my ball and go home" it's now kind of hard to go check out the quality of your removed answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Jan 7 '15 at 22:51

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