[Tutor] Why I'm learning Python (OT and long)

Rob uselesspython@yahoo.com
Thu, 30 Aug 2001 09:52:06 -0500

Bill Tolbert wrote:

> I spent some time reading Useless Python last night and went to bed
> totally depressed. I feel that even Useless is above my skill level. So,

I can honestly say that you could send in helloworld.py to Useless 
Python and see it posted (probably with some odd form of recognition, 
since I've been waiting for a 'hello world' for months now, albeit 
secretly). Why not try something really odd (like I would do), such as a 
35-line 'hello world' script that checks to make sure that 1 == 1 and 
such before printing the string. I'm one of the worst programmers alive, 
and make sure that Useless Python is an oasis for people nearly as awful 
as I am.

Over the last several months, extra stuff has been added (Python 
Challenges, programming contest problems, etc.) to give people ideas to 
play with. But the core purpose of the whole thing was a collection of 
Python scripts "of dubious applicability" and just for fun.

> what follows is the story of why I'm trying to learn Python. Perhaps some
> will understand; some may be in a similar situation; some may want to send
> me money. Maybe it can become an installment for the soapbox on Useless.
> ======================================================
> So here I sit, pretending that I know a little something about
> Python. I own 5 Python books; I have been attempting to program in Python
> for over a year; my title is something like "systems analyst"; I have a
> wife, many children and a dog. Allow me to explain how this
> all happened...
> I never pretended to be a programmer. I was trained to do public health
> research. But, the tight job market of recent years forced me to take on
> various computer tasks in the course of my research. It started with
> WordPerfect. I was something of a WordPerfect wonder kid. I could somehow
> do anything in WordPerfect. Looking back, I guess this was my first
> programming - WordPerfect macros. I just grokked other macros and read the
> help files. Massively complicated mail merges, text manipulation, complex
> and tedious tasks rendered trivial in the wake of my macros. I began to
> build solutions for the secretaries, co-workers, people on the street.
> Then M$ began pushing that third-rate wannabe word processor of theirs and
> nothing was ever the same.
> So, I sorta learned MS Access the same way. Of course I knew Access was
> just a desktop database. But it was fine around the office. I wrote a few
> simple applications, and that was fine; after all, I'm a researcher not a
> programmer. But guess what? People started coming to be with requests for
> Access applications. And before I knew it, I was writing a very complex
> accounting system for my employer. I was being labeled, and I knew it. I
> tried to resist but it was futile. I thought long and hard about going
> back to school for a PhD in epidemiology; I was trying to escape becoming
> a programmer. All the while there were bills to pay and groceries to buy
> and mouths to feed. I didn't have time go back to school. I couldn't afford
> it. And then one day I was offered a real job as a programmer...
> Some folks in the private research world had decided to build a large
> system in Access. I was doing some part time work for this company because
> as a university employee, I couldn't make ends meet. They knew me as a
> WordPerfect and Access guy, and asked me to join the project full time. I
> was flattered but declined; after all, I'm a researcher not a
> programmer. I told them repeatedly "I'm not a programmer". But they
> were desperate. I knew they were desperate. I was the only person
> they could find. And even though the university didn't pay very
> well, I still loved my job there. So one day they asked, "What
> would it take?". Have you ever been asked that question? I was 29
> years old and driving a worn out car I paid 450 dollars for. Three 
> kids. Working a full time job and a part time job. So, I told them 
> what it would take and they said ok. Of course my wife was
> happy. This meant financial freedom. Perhaps we could have a
> normal life. But I was afraid. The day would come when they would
> learn the truth and I would be thrown out like the pitiful code I
> write. 
> Well, it's been nearly four years and I haven't been thrown out yet. I was
> assigned the title systems analyst by the people who were in charge of
> making up the business cards. I guess I've fooled them so far. But I
> haven't fooled myself. Sure I can get by in Access/VB. But I know
> Access is kid stuff compared to Oracle and MySQL. I want to write
> solutions for non-MS platforms; I want to understand the difference between
> bound and unbound methods; I want to understand other people's code; I
> want to be Danny Yoo!!!

I can feel Danny blush from 3,000 miles away right about now.

> So that's why I'm trying to learn Python. To bring legitimacy to an
> otherwise illegitimate career.
> Some of my Python scripts seem ok. They do useful work on a daily basis.
> And yet, even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. I'm plagued by the
> feeling that I am a blind squirrel. 

I won't add my own tedious story to your own actually interesting one. 
But I'm degreed in Psychology and Philosophy ("Would you like fries with 
that?") and can do amazing things with PC-related hardware that others 
had written off as dead.

I picked up a tiny little bit of Pascal in college when the professor 
literally begged me to sign up for the class in front of 300 people. (I 
wasn't that promising. He just had zero people sign up for it, and he 
knew I would cave in to make him stop humiliating himself.)

I managed to get through college without *utterly* destroying any major 
equipment, and breathed a sigh of relief until the student loan bills 
started piling up. Since then, I've added the occasional trick to my bag 
here and there. But the night I downloaded Python, I discovered some 
magic I'd missed sorely and searched for nearly to the point of giving up.

You, Bill, are the kind of person Useless Python dreams of when it 
sleeps. You have the courage to do this stuff at all, and the 
combination of insight and good luck to have found Python and the Tutor 

> Thanks folks. This has been therapeutic. Python people are the best and
> this list is fantastic. Today I'm going to make one of my useful scripts
> run from a Tk button widget. And I'll stumble through. Perhaps I'll get
> lucky and find a nut.
> Bill

Happy Whatever Day It Is,
A {} is a terrible thing to waste.
Useless Python!