Why Python is like BASIC (and why this is a good thing)

Roy Smith roy at panix.com
Sun Feb 17 00:08:55 CET 2002


danb_83 at yahoo.com (Dan Bishop) wrote:
> Everyone should learn BASIC.  It's the perfect example of how *not* to
> design a programming language :-)

I learned basic in high school, in 1975 or so.  We had an ASR-33 and a 110 
baud modem connecting us to a time-share system a few towns away.  Compared 
to what else was available at the time (fortran, PL/1, cobol, or assembler, 
most likely on punch cards), it was an excellent system for introducing 
somebody to programming.

Granted, the syntax and data structures aren't up to what we now consider 
modern, 25 years later.  But, again, compare it to its competitors at the 
time, and it looks pretty good.  It certainly got you used to the 
fundamental concepts of programming which are still valid today -- 
variables as containers, looping and conditional flow of control, input and 
output, subroutines and function calls.  And, of course, the instant 
feedback of an interpreted language.

I can remember teaching a 10-week class in basic to a bunch of scientists 
and graduate students in the mid 80's who had no other computer training.  
I used it as a springboard to talk about algorithms.  I had my students 
program a couple of different kinds of simple sorting algorithms and 
compare how long they took to run.  Surely, if the language is simple 
enough to learn that you can go from zero to comparitive experiments in 
algorithmic complexity in just a few weeks, there's something to be said 
for it?

Why people are still teaching or using basic today is beyond me, since 
there are so many better alternatives.  Of course, some of the basic 
variations around today are so different from what I taught myself 25 years 
ago, they might as well be different languages.



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