tough-to-explain Python

kj at
Wed Jul 8 08:23:50 EDT 2009

In <5f0a2722-45eb-468c-b6b2-b7bb80ae5f19 at> Simon Forman <sajmikins at> writes:

>Frankly, I'm of the impression that it's a mistake not to start
>teaching programming with /the bit/ and work your way up from there.
>I'm not kidding. I wrote a (draft) article about this: "Computer

>I really think the only good way to teach computers and programming is
>to start with a bit, and build up from there. "Ontology recapitulates

I happen to be very receptive to this point of view.  I had the
benefit of that sort of training (one of the first computer courses
I took started, believe it or not, with Turing machines, through
coding in machine language, and compiler theory, and all the way
up to dabbling with Unix!), and I suspect that the reason it is
sometimes difficult for me to explain even relatively simple-looking
things to others is that I have this background that I unconsciously,
and incorrectly, take for granted in others...  There is this
persistent idea "out there" that programming is a very accessible
skill, like cooking or gardening, anyone can do it, and even profit
from it, monetarily or otherwise, etc., and to some extent I am
actively contributing to this perception by teaching this course
to non-programmers (experimental biologists to be more precise),
but maybe this idea is not entirely true...  Maybe, to get past
the most amateurish level, one has to, one way or another, come
face-to-face with bits, compilers, algorithms, and all the rest
that real computer scientists learn about in their formal training...


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