How to help yourself…

Please do not send me personal emails asking code questions, ask them on the class GOOGLE GROUP! I will answer questions here so that everyone can learn, I also encourage you to respond to your fellow student’s questions. I am happy to answer other questions about logistics, concepts, ideas or concerns.

But before you do this, here are some tried and tested steps from Steve Lambert on how to help yourself. Work through them, they work:

You’re frustrated, angry, and about to quit. It’s time to figure some stuff out.

First, it helps to have a good attitude. Believing things like “I’m just not a computer person” means failure becomes damning evidence, rather than a minor setback. Learning requires being able to make mistakes.

Step 1: Identify the moment.

You might be frustrated, confused, or stymied. It’s ok.

This is a chance to learn.

Take some deep breaths. Look out the window. Maybe walk around. Take a break until you can get to zero.

When you’re done with that, come back and with some perspective.

Check over for obvious errors like:

  • there’s an error in the code
  • something is unplugged
  • forgot to close a tag or a ;
  • didn’t read all the instructions

Can you narrow down the problem?

  • can you test for errors?
  • can you simplify the code or revert to an earlier version?
  • Is there a troubleshooting process?
  • Will breaking it more give you more information?

No luck? Others before you have encountered similar problems and there are solutions. Let’s find them…

Step 2: “RTFM” aka Read the -BLANK- Manual

On the internet there is a saying, “RTFM.” You probably figured out what it means but here’s the RTFM wikipedia entry just for fun. The point is, be sure you read whatever documentation (text, videos, etc) is available. The answer is probably already out there.

Browse tags and use the search field on sites to find what you’re looking for. If it is there, you’ll save yourself and others the trouble.

Take the time to browse around and read, yes actually read through the documentation you can find. You’re not going to learn this by magic after all!

Also, if at first you don’t understand everything, keep going for a bit and let it wash over you. It might become clear as you gather more context.

Are there other books or sources you could get a hold of?

Step 3: Google Skills/Search Skills

Did you do Step 2?

Search Skills are more valuable than your college education. Search your question on Google and someone has likely had the question before and posted the answer.
Here’s some quick tips:

  • Use Quotes If you want to search for an exact phrase, use quotes. [“dumb little man”] will only find that exact phrase. [dumb “little man”] will find pages that contain the word dumb and the exact phrase “little man”.
  • Use Google Verbatim Search
  • Not If you don’t want a term or phrase, use the “-” symbol. [-dumb little man] will return pages that contain “little” and “man” but that don’t contain “dumb”.

Here’s some resources for quickly increasing your Google Skills in just a few minutes.

Check out these search resources as well and learn to use them:

Step 4: Support Forums, and Networks

Did you do steps 2 and 3 yet?

Support Forums are tremendously valuable. This is where thousands of people are posting questions and answers either on a bulletin board or archived email list. Because everyone on the forum is a volunteer, be courteous and search the forums before posting a question as your question has likely already been answered.

Then post your question.

When you post your question:

  • be as clear as possible about your issue
  • mention that you have read the manual (whatever that may be) looking for an answer
  • also mention that you did a google search and were not able to find an answer
  • don’t complain or ramble on about how frustrated you are. Everyone is a volunteer and they don’t care about your frustration, they just want to know how they can help with your problem.
  • Join the forum or network.

Some Forums You Should Know:

  • The Processing Forum
    • WPQuestions is like the [http://wordpress.org/support/](WordPress.org support forums), except it adds capitalism. You can place a bounty on your question and experts will answer it. You pay prize money to the person (or people) who answer your question. Answered questions are public and free, so it’s a valuable resource even if you aren’t posting questions. If you need an answer fast, this is the place.
    • Stack Overflow is a combination of forum, wiki, and digg type voting site.
    • Stack Exchange uses the stackoverflow model but for all kinds of topics. Like:
    • Apple Products
    • Bicycles
    • WordPress
    • Reddit/r/Processing
    • Open Processing

Step 5 – Find a Friend

Someone in your network probably knows about your problem and can help you. Trade dinner or a drink for some help. Trade a skill you have for their skill with these issues. This might be the time to send out a request for help on Twitter or Facebook, or just meet some people face to face and have a little geek session where you work on this stuff.

Note: This is the last step. You should do the other steps before resorting to tapping your friends. Otherwise you’re going to burn out your friends and be a pain.

And here are some more resources for asking for help:

Matt Gemmel, What have you tried?
Clay Shirky, A brief introduction to debugging
How to ask questions the smart way
How to ask for programming help
ITP Residents, 10 Tips for Debugging
How to ask for help on IRC

And if the above does not solve your problem please come and see me in my office hours and we can chat.