Saturday, June 25, 2016

Better Questions Get Better Answers

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When it comes to online based support, whether it's a forum, a Facebook group, or whatever else, there is a constant stream of poor questions being posted. To begin, I'll use a specific example of a poor question that was recently posted in the CCNA group on Facebook, and then break down what was wrong with the question, where the original poster kept going wrong as the thread progressed, and what he could have done from the beginning in order to avoid all the back and forth and get a good answer relatively quickly.

The original post is as follows:

hi guy

people help me this is nothing to fault, cisco 2851 router console not break password, displays a message


entire text of login banner omitted for brevity

thank all

I replied back to the post asking for a better description of what exactly the poster is trying to do here. The poster replied back that they cannot get into rommon mode and gave a link to the document from the Cisco website that they are using as a reference. We're off to a good start here, the poster at least put some effort into their problem before consulting the group. However, they don't feel it necessary to share all the relevant information. As we'll see soon enough, this leads anyone attempting to help the poster to only be able to make guesses at this point. And I know I speak for a lot of members of the group when I say that life is too short for that.

Let’s look at where the poster went wrong. I'm going to ignore the horrific grammar as I understand that English is not the first language for a lot of these guys, and the poster is at least trying. The first thing that jumps out at me is that the poster does not tell us anything about the computer that they are sitting at. We don't know what operating system that they are using, and we don't know what program they are using to access the router. This is hugely important here, as anyone knowledgeable with Cisco routers and switches knows, the break key differs by program. And there are numerous other cases where a specific program or even the computer’s operating system has little ways of behaving differently that the majority of other cases, so knowing if any of those cases applies to the current question is important. If you’re still using Windows 98 for whatever reason, and it has a little idiosyncrasy, I’m probably not going to think to ask if you’re using Windows 98. Help us to help you.

Now where could the poster have helped out a bit more with the question in the original post? Here’s a working list of things that should be included with your question, in no particular order.
  • What specifically you are trying to accomplish. Be detailed and specific. Please don’t just assume I know what you’re up to. 
  • What specifically is or isn’t working as expected. 
  • What you have tried so far, and why you have tried that (as in, what how to or guide are you working off of?) 
  • Any error messages displayed along the way. This also includes anything showing up in the system log file, or in the application’s local log. 
  • A description of your environment. What program(s) are you using to accomplish this task, what operating system is your computer running, what router are you doing this on, how is your computer connected to said router, etc.

And conversely, here are some things that you can leave out, also in no particular order.
  • Attitude - Remember who is trying to help who here. If you don’t like a reply, there is nothing saying you have to respond. 
  • Self-deprecating comments – it’s old, tired, and just obnoxious. “He he, I’m so dumb!” Don’t do it. 
  • Irrelevant information – while we want as much information as possible, don’t let the important information get lost in the noise of stuff that doesn’t matter. In the example provided, the multiple lines of the company login banner can be considered irrelevant here.

Now to contrast, I’ll give a couple of examples of a much better post, from other members of the same group. This second user posts:

So I saw this post today. If I understand the question correctly, 172.16.1.X /24 can divided into 64 subnets (/30 subnet mask with 2 usable host addresses). However, people are saying that the answer is 256 because they subnetted 172.16.X.X /16 (Class B) using /24.

I don't see why they need to refer back to the default since the question says "could be created". What am I missing?

The Third user posts:

Hi people,

I am confused in the depth understanding of the four way handshake of the dhcp. The todd lammle book states the following,

DHCP discover - Broadcast
DHCP offer - unicast
DHCP request - Broadcast
DHCP acknowledge - unicast

I labbed up a simple topology in GNS3 and was running Wireshark.

There I noted, only the discover message was with L2 broadcast and the rest with the specific physical address.

The DHCP request was from to which I already knew. I was expecting L2 broadcast address in the destination mac but I saw the mac of the server. This means that the request is unicast right ? or Am i mis-understanding anything ?

I was searching web but couldn't find satisfying information as there were multiple information from site to site and video to video.Any reliable source for the information will also be thankful. Thanks in advance.
Notice the difference? These posts give the question, what they think is the answer, and some of their thinking in arriving at that answer. The group is much more likely to give time and thought to this post than to the first example I mentioned.

A few other things, in no particular order:
  • Don’t type your entire post in capital letters. On the Internet, this is considered shouting, and I for one am not going to help someone who is yelling at me from the start. Being polite will get you a lot in life. 
  • Let us know what finally fixed the problem, even if this thread didn’t lead you to that answer. Help out someone else who may be having the same problem. 
  • Give thanks to who helped you out, and also to those who gave a good effort. 
  • Don’t just take. Contribute back to the group. Even if you’re a beginner and can’t answer questions yourself, try out the answers for yourself and reply back if it worked for you. Ask good follow up questions. On Facebook, give a like to a correct answer. 
  • Do your own homework. People will no doubt do your homework for you if you ask nicely enough, but what’s the point? If you don’t want to do the work, don’t take the class. In the CCNA group, you’ll be banned soon enough for rapid fire posting your homework questions and expecting the group to do it for you. 
  • Don't thread-jack. If your question has nothing to do with the thread you are about to post it on, start a new thread. 
  • Don’t take offense when I tell you this might not be the best place to ask your question. Nobody is an expert in everything. While the CCNA group allows technical discussion in just about any area, we’re networkers and not web developers. So if you’re asking a complex CSS related question, we may refer you to a more relevant forum. This isn’t an insult or an attempt to get rid of you, we are trying to help you out.

And finally, and most importantly, take a minute to read through the rules of the group or forum before posting anything. I can’t even fathom the number of people who have been banned from the CCNA group on their very first post for this very reason. Some rule violations will get you a warning, others aren’t so forgiving. I don’t care if you’re new, if you violate a zero tolerance rule you will be removed from the group immediately. Save yourself the trouble of typing up a post nobody is ever going to see, and save an admin the trouble of having to ban you. Know the rules and stay within them. If I don’t know you’re a cheater, we’re still good. It’s only when you publicly admit to being a cheater, and even ask for assistance in cheating that we have problems.


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