[Edu-sig] How do we tell truths that might hurt

Jason Cunliffe jason.cunliffe at verizon.net
Thu Apr 22 11:34:56 EDT 2004

> The technical/scientific computations are the *LEAST* useful for my life.
> Until I found out that it was reasonably easy in Python to do stuph *I*
> needed done, I had no use for programming. That's after learning pascal
> basic 20+ years ago. The last programming I did before coming to Python
> on my Commodore 64, and then I gave it up because it had no use to me -
> because programming was all about math - unless you're really advanced.

C64 Story:
The first Commodore 64 I saw was used by a guy who taught himself BASIC,
then wrote a program to help his neighbors lookup rent and housing
questions. There was a little bit of arithmetic, but mainly a sequence of
questions which reflected the local housing laws. When he was done he took
it down to the local council housing office [Covent Garden in London] and
asked them if they would like to have a computer system in their office.
They were very excited to have a flashy computer in their office and
thinking they would have less work to do, so they said "Yes, please!."
Over that summer, people came in for various reasons and were guided over to
the C64 "if they had any questions"...
This was of course a true trojan horse application, and soon the housing
office was flooded with legitimate rent rebate applications.  Eventually
they realized where the source of the 'problem' was -- the C64 on loan from
the clever revolutionary and asked him to take it home again.

It seams to me that most programming is *not* actually about math, and that
that's always been pretty true...
While most math is [about] programming.

programming = play, analysis, experimentation, expression and design.

Most programming is about being analytic, being precise, being logical -- 
and then all about smart naming and manipulating symbols of one kind or
another, so they can interact with whatever the job demands.

In graphical user interfaces, most tends to be about negotiating with that
environment, usually by including some interactivity, feedback, status
messaging etc.
In communications, including web programming, its almost entirely about
managing strategies and protocols which [pass though a series of layered
syntaxes which cluster around various context levels.

In Business, it's both the above with usually extensive database i/o.

In Science math is usually required, since it is the base language tool for
so much.
The new Bio-informatics has added to this massive requirements for skilled
database manipulation and 3D visualization pattern recognition

In graphics, at a low tool-building level, programming almost certainly
involves math, but at more removed creative level, it's about sequencing
interactions of tools, content and behaviors.

But in programming quantity is not quality. Thus the bulk of a program code
will likely be concerned with error checking, user interface, etc. The core
routines which express the main purpose constitute small concise algorithms.
I see this as being similar to E=MC^2, where a large amount of human and
scientific 'code' wraps, supports and explains that minimalism.

Programming is a human-machine skill, but also human-human,
human-paper/screen, and increasingly used for machine-machine communication.
I believe the educational value of applying programming perspectives to
litterature or to everyday spoken/written language is not about making
statistical searches in Joyce. Rather about increasing analytic awareness of
what is is we all do with languages. How they program us and how we program
with them?
In speech this amounts first to programming our own expression, and then
using it to communicate with and perhaps influence others. So if
algorithimic thinking is at the heart of computer prgramming skills, then
awareness and expressive analysis lie at the heart of applying a
programmer's perspective to language.

[my 3.141592 cents]

-- Jason

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