Online tutorials teach the basics that others seem already to know

August 31, 1998|By Glenn Gamboa | Glenn Gamboa,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

There is no such thing as a dumb question. But we've all felt the heat of being thought of as a dumb questioner.

For one reason or another, many of us just don't know things that others would consider basic common sense.

That's where ( comes in.

Much of it you could have learned from your parents - how to darn a sock, change your oil or set a table.

Other "2torials" are just helpful things to know - how to buy sunglasses, choose a wine or juggle. Each explanation takes you through the process step by step, often with helpful diagrams. And none of the explanations is judgmental or preachy.

One of my favorite features on the Learn2 site is the weekly Top 10 list of the most-requested tutorials. A recent list included everything from how to make a compost pile to how to whistle and check out a used car.

The Top 3 were (in order): how to tie a necktie, pack for a business trip and repair a scratched compact disc.

Health questions tend to be another subject that people shy away from. That's why Columbia University developed Go Ask Alice (www.

They run the gamut from "If he likes me, why won't he call?" to "Should I smash my cyst with a hammer?" (In case you were wondering, the answer is "no.")

The Y? National Forum on People's Differences (www.yforum. com) tackles the thorny issue of race relations by letting people "ask people from other ethnic or cultural backgrounds the questions you've always been too embarrassed or uncomfortable to ask them."

Most of the questioners on the site seem genuinely curious, although it is also conceivable to understand how asking the question could make some people uncomfortable or even angry.

Many were asked like this: "I was in a grocery store and noticed several people in the checkout lanes with thick gold jewelry and expensive Nike apparel. The thing that got me was that they were paying with food stamps. Even their small children were wearing expensive clothes. Why is this?"

The answer: "The food stamps could have come at any time. The expensive clothing and jewelry could have been theirs before they had the need for the food stamps. Or, they could have received these things as gifts. They may not have been as expensive as you think. Knockoffs, cheap imitations."

Nearly all the questions were answered rationally and calmly, even when there was an obvious disagreement.

The Y? Forum shows that most people in this country aren't like those on "The Jerry Springer Show," eager to start yelling and punching and shoving.

The anonymity of the Internet has been criticized for promoting dishonesty and wild accusations. That may be true.

But it's also true that several sites are now taking advantage of this anonymity and the sense of security it gives people to ask questions they probably wouldn't have asked because they were worried about asking a "dumb question."

Pub Date: 8/31/98

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