Returning a value from code string

Alex Martelli aleax at
Sun Jan 29 17:11:38 EST 2006

Fried Egg <webb.sprague at> wrote:
> Why does anyone care about "why" people do things when they ask a
> specific technical question on a newsgroup?  Maybe op is risking his

Because experienced techies have learned that people (including other
techies) often ask the wrong "specific technical question", having
previously made some badly-founded assumptions and premature preliminary
design decisions; by taking a step back, and getting the "why", it's
therefore quite often possible to help the querant come up with a much
better overall solution.

The classic example is right at the start of Bentley's classic "Writing
Efficient Programs" (or maybe "Programming Pearls" -- been a while since
I read either!-), where another programmer asks him how to invoke the
system sort from within a program, and Bentley at first wastes a lot of
time and energy answering the exact question that was asked -- but
finally steps back, DOES ask the crucial question, "why do you want to
know?", and helps the querant find a solution which runs rings around
anything the querant might have come up with by shelling out to a system
sort.  Many experienced techies are familiar with Bentley's
masterpieces, and the lesson appears to have sunk in -- or it may well
have been rediscovered independently many, many times, of course.

It's unfortunate that you appear not to understand or accept this, but I
hope nobody will change their helpful behavor and motivation as a
consequence of your complaint.  It's only by relentlessly asking "why",
that very experienced developers can *most* help others.


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