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For people who just started learning circuit theory (electrical & computer engineer newbies), or are experts outside the field (like mechanical, chemical engineers etc..) it's hard to know exactly what to ask.

Take this thread for example trying to do this monitor heads. Aside the fact he's looking for an opinion which he shouldn't have, It's a project-design question...And aside the fact he's too lazy to convey in words rather than video link his goal.

In another case, say someone else wants to build and design led fixtures, should we answer with information and show a block diagram like this TI's Block Diagram of Lighting embedded system

He might not know what a microcontroller and an embedded system is, then what kind is most suitable for this project. You could recommend him rasperry pi (which has hdmi output) + webcam

There is more than one way to skin a cat, but pointing in a direction rather than expecting a newbie to ask the right question might be more helpful

Any thoughts on this?

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    \$\begingroup\$ My problem with that question is that I would have to go elsewhere to undestand even the basics of the question. No thanks. Since I didn't, I can't comment on the rest. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jul 11 '13 at 12:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop You don't need to see that that example to follow the rest. Bottom line would you answer a question with general design information and possibly a block diagram how to design an application? like TI instruments and most manufacturing companies do – \$\endgroup\$ – Iancovici Jul 11 '13 at 13:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I always have reservation about helping somebody crowdsource a high level design. I will be able to justify making free block diagrams (like TI), when I start selling hardware, which goes into these block diagrams. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Alexeev Jul 15 '13 at 19:30
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A question asking about a specific resistor value is no different from one asking about a particular approach to a project, if it demonstrates research and effort. I think that's all anyone here really expects. All technical levels are welcome, and any project level is welcome (macro or micro). The problem with questions like the monitor heads is that it comes across as:

"I just saw this really cool thing on YouTube and I want to build one. How do I do it?"

There's no demonstrated effort, no demonstrated research, just somebody looking for free advice. It's reasonable that any well formed answer would go over their head and be wasted. Someone wording a question like that would read such an answer, and think:

"Oh, I have to do stuff? Like, buy tools and learn how to use them? Nevermind!"

Further, we have no idea what the person asking is capable of. Without specifying a stumbling point, we haven't a clue what to suggest. Is the person an RF genius, but unfamiliar with video encoding? Perhaps his or her electronics knowledge is sound, but has never soldered a single pin... How are we to know?

Questions about projects (no matter how silly the project) are perfectly welcome. They just need to be formed in such a way that shows the person asking cares enough about the project (and the assistance of experts) to show it:

"I found this Widget on Youtube and would really like to build one. I've studied phase-coupled waveforms and borrowed an oscilloscope, and now I'm trying to realign the flux capacitor. It seems to always get stuck at 1.21 GW, despite my careful analysis of the load coils..."

I'm being humorous but the point is that the question shows effort. A project scope question is even okay, so long as the OP makes it clear what help they need:

"For this monitor-heads project, I've been looking at LCD monitors to use for the displays, but I can't find one that seems to be the right size or is light enough. I'm worried also about heat. Is there a suitably lightweight display that could be used as part of a mask like this?"

That's better! Now we know they've actually been reading up on displays and trying to figure out where to go next. It also focuses more on a specific problem, the selection of a display technology. Or this:

"I've selected the Samsung SMD-1000 (shoulder-mounted display) for my "monitor-head" project, but I'm having trouble getting the video signal to be clean. With a long cable going to the performer wearing it, the video is choppy and has lines and static. I'm using a 50 meter composite video cable made from Cat5 cable with soldered RCA jacks on each end. How can I improve the video quality?"

These examples are what we're looking for. I doubt it would receive as many (if any) negative votes if the question was worded more like these trivial examples.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Not much i disagree here. Bottom line a, the user must have a good definition of the problem, goal and challenges. But should we punish lack of demonstrated effort? A little preguidance can help avoid waisting time (not speaking about skipping trial and error, because that could be intuitive), I mean like why redesign an impedance measuring circuit, when an impedance sensor exists? Reinventing the wheel is only good if there's nothing on the shelf. but what If the guy is unaware an idea exists already. \$\endgroup\$ – Iancovici Jul 12 '13 at 10:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @echad "Preguidance" is fine, there's nothing wrong with a question asking for a direction to take. The distinction is whether the question asks "How can I do [massive project]?" versus "Should I attempt method A or method B for part Y of [massive project]?" The latter is much more focused and answerable, and while it doesn't demonstrate effort so much, it does show an attempt to narrow the problem to something that the community can actually assist with. \$\endgroup\$ – JYelton Jul 12 '13 at 16:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can concur with that. Now what if one approaches with "should i go with plan X or plan Y?" but neither seem like great ideas, can you answer with Y is better than X but you'll probably want to go with plan Z \$\endgroup\$ – Iancovici Jul 17 '13 at 18:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @echad: "should we punish lack of demonstrated effort?" Absolutely! Lazy ingrates need not apply. If someone isn't willing to put a little work into a question, what chance is there they will put any work into their project and the time people spent trying to help will be put to any use? Actually, putting work into their question is putting work into their project. Think of this as a first pass laziness filter if that helps. \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jul 19 '13 at 13:15
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I would propose that a site such as this one is not well suited for questions such as the one referred to. Here is why:

  • This site is built around the asking and answering of specific questions, preferably around an electronic design problem, and preferably based on a premise that something has been attempted and isn't working, or has been conceived and needs peer wisdom to validate / refute.
  • A question that essentially asks for general direction or a tutorial on the fundamentals, requires respondents to write up a whole lot of foundation material, possibly based on an invalid assumption of the OP's knowledge level
  • Much of the fundamental understanding is better obtained through the journeys of others who have traversed similar paths and described them, in blog posts, YouTube videos, tutorials and (oh my!) books: Not sure there's a book that'll help with this particular question, admittedly
  • A question like the one referred to has about as many different possible approaches as there are contributors, since it isn't so much a technical question as a request for broad strategy consultancy
  • While there is a "Community Wiki" feature in the site, it is more likely to be applied to address a specific problem, or even a design strategy discussion around an individual engineering approach, than a consulting discussion platform for an approach itself

That being said, for questions that sufficiently pique the interest of the respondents, even strategy or approach inputs do show up as answers sometimes. For instance, the "oven door" question, or the "interactive art" one, both got my interest despite not being necessarily squarely on topic or not-broad enough.

Summary: Solving specific problems is what this site thrives on, not providing educational conceptual guidance.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Point 1 taken. Point 2, although the example question could lead to long essay, it could also be answered by defining the block-diagram which wouldn't take long (camera+mcu+monitor) enough to turn him back to the workspace. Point 3, many newbies are not accustomed to reading journeys (full of expert rich vocabulary). 4, you could avoid it by asking what's one way. 5, sounds a bit like point 1 + 4. \$\endgroup\$ – Iancovici Jul 12 '13 at 10:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @echad Frankly, those who "are not accustomed to reading journeys" are even less likely to be able to comprehend the typically technical, even more jargon-filled, terse answers typical to this and other StackExchange sites. You're proposing that we teach people to read, next? \$\endgroup\$ – Anindo Ghosh Jul 12 '13 at 10:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Anino Ghosh, you gotta start somewhere don't you think? That person getting the advice and lacking vocabulary may not comprehend it to its full potential, but that advice may still help him execute the job if not greatly. \$\endgroup\$ – Iancovici Jul 12 '13 at 13:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @echad Yes. You have to start somewhere. Just not here. Start with any of the myriad tutorial sites you get by typing "basic electronics" into Google. If you disagree, then contribute to and upvote more basic questions as you see them. Each member of the community is going to put their effort into topics they find interesting. If that's helping newbies for you, then go for it. It appears at least the more vocal members of the community prefer other types of questions so they don't feel like they're wasting their time. \$\endgroup\$ – Littleman Jul 24 '13 at 15:48

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