[Edu-sig] Python outside computer science

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Tue Feb 13 07:46:27 CET 2007

On 2/12/07, Rob Malouf <rmalouf at mail.sdsu.edu> wrote:
> To turn things in a more constructive direction, let me start what I
> hope will be a new discussion...

If I might be permitted to riff off your queries re our snake and
computational linguistics, I want to mention that Jason Cunliffe
and I, both contributors to this list, plus we met in New York
that time, were (still are?) enamoured of 'Who Is Fourier?' by the
LEX Institute, a language teaching academy, with an interesting
philosophy we needn't go into too much in this post.

Flash forward:  have you seen O'Reilly's 'Head First' series and
its use of icons, sidebars, jokes, diagrams, different type faces,
more icons?  Way more "right brained" than traditional CS books,
by a long shot, but just as technical and deep (into Java mostly).
We've asked Tim about a "Head First" about Python, but the
word back, at least then, was we had too small a footprint as
a nation (he has these publisher maps he projects at OSCON)
to merit such a sophisticated and expensive undertaking.  We
all still dream of it though.

LEX Institute treats mathematics *as a language* and the
"story" of this book is language students wanting to analyze
the relative frequencies of certain vowel sounds in spoken
Japanese, and needing to gather this information directly
from sound waves if possible.  That led them to Fourier Analysis
and a need to teach themselves about it, using human language
learning principles, applied to learning maths.

In my view, using visuals, including screencasts (OK, so we're
getting beyond print media here), we should be able to communicate
the gist of Python's *grammar* in mere minutes, with no threat of
a follow-up test if such content is non-germane to the course.

Maybe a future Ubuntu distro will simply include some of these
Python teaching clips on the DVD?  Makes sense to me.

*We* will make the OO paradigm seem easy, using trivial-to-get
cartoons.  To me, that's a kind of a minimalist way of explaining
the "everything is an object" slogan, a way to get a sense of
Python's "algebra" (its design).

I have no problem with students not "majoring" in Python, or
any computer language.  But skating through these grammar
sections could be fun, engaging, non-threatening, and take
only minutes.  For example, my 'classes and subclasses'
clip, only 6 minutes 41 seconds, in my Python for Math
Teachers series (a collection of roughly 10 clips so far).

Such clips by others could be projected to a computational
linguistics class for like a total of 20 minutes one random day,
as a token nod, if nothing else, to one of many languages
you're looking at and computing with (Python).

Show 'Warriors of the Net' as well while you're at it (??) to
make sure your students know the basics of TCP/IP?

Even those who live and breath it, probably won't mind an
8 minute cartoon on TCP/IP (OK, maybe it's 15, I forget).
It's a language that computes too, no?  Not properly a


Book highlighted:

Who Is Fourier?:

Jason waxing eloquent thereon:

LEX Institute:

References in my Blogs:

Python for Math Teachers:

Brainstorming about Pedagogy:


Background Reading:

Computational Linguistics:
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