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Beginning Python: From Novice to Professional 436

Posted by samzenpus
from the from-start-to-finish dept.
nazarijo writes "Python seems to be devouring everything these days, with more and more people using it for serious projects. It's quickly supplanting Perl in some circles, and with good reason. It's a powerful, richly featured language with boatloads of extensions. And, unlike Perl, it's very easy to do complicated things in simple, legible code. Python books are still only a small part of the shelf at your local bookstore when you compare it to the popularity of Perl, but which ones are the gems and which ones are fluff? Having looked at a lot of Python books in the past couple of years, I think that Beginning Python: From Novice to Professional is the one that I'll most recommend to people." Read on for the rest of Jose's review.
Beginning Python: From Novice to Professional
author Magnus Lie Hetland
pages 604
publisher Apress
rating 8/10
reviewer Jose Nazario
ISBN 159059519X
summary Tour the Python language, from basics to advanced modules


Beginning Python is loosely grouped into three main sections. The first deals with Python fundamentals, all the goodies that are inherent to the language and the modules that it ships with. It's surprising to see how rich the language is out of the box, especially when compared to some other scripting languages. The second section would be the chapters covering popular extensions for a variety of services. These include network and web programming, SQL objects, and even GUI programming. And finally the third section is a set of 10 projects in Python, which bring everything together in a concise fashion.

I like this book a lot because it is very clear in its delivery, both the prose and the code examples used, and is consistently Pythonic. The Python language lends itself to a powerful programming style and, unlike Perl, many Python developers I know don't bother with a dozen ways to perform a simple action, they get it done and move on. What you wind up with is clear code that's easily understood by someone new to the language.

Unlike what the title would suggest, Beginning Python isn't only for the first few weeks with the language. The book is large and in depth, and the coverage of material is fantastic in many ways. You get a quick tour of the basics and then you move on to an overview of the language and then its common features. The inclusion of the 10 projects is another benefit to the intermediate user. She can refer back to this book for additional information and pointers from time to time, it wont sit still on her shelf.

That said, there are a few things in the book that I tend to disagree with. For example, the author dissuades you from using destructors in your code, but in my experience they're far more reliable, and a better place to do some cleanup, than he states. A few chapters are also a bit skimpy when they didn't need to be. For example, Chapter 18, which covers packagers like the distutils component from Python, needed to be fleshed out a lot more. This is a powerful feature in Python and sound docs on it should just be there. There's no reason to hold back on something so vital. The section on profiling in Chapter 16 is also a bit thin around the middle when it needn't be. While this seems like a minor point, having a reference to speeding up code (and measuring the improvements) is always nice. And finally, Chapter 17, which covers extending Python, is simply too short for its own good. A more in depth example would have been appreciated.

I have begun recommending this book to people I know that are smart and program in other languages, but aren't very familiar with Python. Many beginners books only take a person so far before they become a useless item on the shelf. This means that he $30 or more that was spent is now gone, so I've grown to be observant of how long I expect a book to be useful. I anticipate the useful shelf life of Beginning Python will be longer than average for most general purpose programming books for a single language. What's more is that it's not a dry reference book. Couple this to a Python cookbook for recipes and you have a two volume "mastering Python" series.

If you've been curious to learn Python and haven't yet found the book that speaks to you clearly, this may be the one. I'm pleased with the quality of the writing, the examples, and the quick pace of the book. While it's nearly 30 chapters in length, most of them are short and focused, making them easily digestible and highly useful. Overall probably the best Python books I've had the good fortune of reading."


You can purchase Beginning Python: From Novice to Professional from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Beginning Python: From Novice to Professional

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  • by chriss (26574) * <chriss@memomo.net> on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:26PM (#14447907) Homepage

    Not only is this a good book, it is also one of only few that cover Python 2.4. The author Magnus Lie Hetland has a free python tutorial ("minimal crash course) (Instant python [hetland.org]) on his homepage. He was also involved (as author, editor etc.) in several other book projects:

    So we can assume he has a clue what he is writing about.

    His homepage [hetland.org] uses PHP, btw.

    Chriss

    --
    memomo.net - brush up your German, French, Spanish or Italian - online and free [memomo.net]

  • by joe 155 (937621)
    we are the knights who say Ni!
    Oh, sorry, wrong python
    • Re:being python (Score:3, Informative)

      by masklinn (823351)
      Not by far much, and Monthy Python based jokes are higly valued in Python the community and appreciated in python code/comments.
  • by Nichotin (794369) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:30PM (#14447934)
    I hope this is not modded off topic. Here goes:

    I am probably not the smartest person in the world, and I have no programming experience what so ever. What I am looking for, is some easy language to either script or program. Would python provide a good starting environment? Have any of you been at my level, then learned python?
    I have tried to do as much research as possible myself, but it seems that everyone I ask just woke up one morning, and found themselves to be able to program three or more languages (in other words, they do not remember how they started out). I have also tried to learn several languages by reading some O'Reilly books and similar, but I have been put off by the seemingly academic english that is used (my native language is norwegian, by the way).

    If anyone have any recommendation, as tho where to start, I would be more than happy.
    • I have tried to do as much research as possible myself, but it seems that everyone I ask just woke up one morning, and found themselves to be able to program three or more languages (in other words, they do not remember how they started out).

      Ha!

      Insightful.

      Yes, yes, true.

      I skilled up when young, by typing in programs from the back of Family Computing.

      I don't know what to tell "kids these days."

      Entering computer programs, by hand, worked well for me.
    • by Colonel Panic (15235) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:37PM (#14447991)
      I would check out How To Program [pragmaticprogrammer.com] by Chris Pine. It's very much for people who have no programming experience.

      Also, for a very different, novel and fun approach you should check out Why's Poignant Guide to Ruby [poignantguide.net]. Did I mention it was fun? It's also a great intro for someone who has never programmed before.
    • Sorry, but I forgot to add the obvious part: Why do I want to program/script? In the first place, I would like to just create some gadgets, like my own ncurses gentoo installer or something (not too fancy, just for my own systems), or some simple webapp, like a poll (can be done with python server pages, right?). Other than that, tools for automating system tasks, perhaps.
    • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:38PM (#14448001) Homepage Journal
      What I am looking for, is some easy language to either script or program. Would python provide a good starting environment?

      Absolutely! I think it's one of (if not the) best languages for new programmers. My main reasons are:

      • It has a very simple syntax.
      • The core language is relatively tiny - there aren't many keywords that you have to learn just to get started.
      • It is strongly, dynamically typed, which means that you can spend more effort on telling your program what to do rather than the nitpicky details of how to do it.

      Opinions will vary, of course, but I think that Python is an excellent choice to start with.

      Have any of you been at my level, then learned python?

      Nope. When I was at your level, I had to learn a lot of really awful languages because the average person didn't have access to the nice ones. I would have loved having something so easy to learn and powerfully expressive at the same time.

      • "It is strongly, dynamically typed, which means that you can spend more effort on telling your program what to do rather than the nitpicky details of how to do it."

        I'm not sure what the first part of this sentence has to do with the second. I like (good) static typing precisely because it saves me effort—I find out about my mistakes at compile time rather than runtime. See Nickle [nickle.org]'s type system for an example of what I like.

        • I like (good) static typing precisely because it saves me effort

          Many of us - both beginners and not-so-beginners - like dynamic typing for the exact opposite reason: things that would be errors in statically typed languages are perfectly acceptable in dynamic language. Implicit, pervasive polymorphism can let you create some very robust code in a relatively short amount of time. Writing "foo_int", "foo_string", "foo_float", etc. gets a little old, even if it does give you some explicit guarantees about

    • Python was the very first language I used to learn to program. I had multiple people telling me to start with python, so I perused over to their site, picked up a few online tutorials to go through, and started building a library of python books.

      It helps because I can write one program for Linux, it works on my Windows PC with minor mods, and even works on my wife's Palm with similiar minor mods.

      Python is a platform independant object-oriented programming language. It's great to learn, and it's grea
    • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:41PM (#14448041) Homepage
      Actually, yes, I would definitely recommend it. I started programming before Python (actually started in Basic because it was the only thing I had in 7th grade, then ran as quickly as I could away from it to a real language). However, python is a very easy language to learn and you don't need to deal with any advanced concepts to "make things work".

        * You don't have to declare variables
        * Code blocks are simply based on how you indent, making it always very legible
        * You can easily see what functions are available in a package using dir(), and you can get brief help information on a function by print function.__doc__, from within any python shell.
        * Very simple to do things that might take a long time to in lower-level languages - reading contents of files, splitting strings, performing regular expression matches, etc.
        * Performance is tolerable for most applications - just don't try to write Quake or physics calculation software in it.
      • * You don't have to declare variables

        IMHO this is a very bad thing for a beginner (or anyone really). I don't know how many hours I've spent diagnosing bugs in non-declarative languages that turned out to be due to the fact the variable != varaible. This can be alleviated by a decent IDE that will warn you, but in general I don't see this "feature" as a plus.

        int itemcount = 0;
        while itemcount

        print itemcount;
        itmcount++;

        end while
        welcome to an endless loop...

      • * You don't have to declare variables
        * Code blocks are simply based on how you indent, making it always very legible

        These are the two very reasons I dislike python. It is far to easy to have a typo cause problems in the use of a variable. Since you do not have to declare variables if you want striker, but instead fatkey in an increment to strikr then it becomes a problem that can be difficult to find.

        Second, any language that requires indenting to signify code blocks is in my mind a great step b

        • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @06:04PM (#14449375) Homepage
          then it becomes a problem that can be difficult to find

          Only if you already have a variable called 'strikr'. Otherwise, you'll get a runtime exception. Not having to initialize variables is completely different from "all variables come pre-initialized to some value". If you type "a=b", b better be defined. It doesn't have to be *declared* (nor does a), but it must contain a meaningful value (which could be None - python has a concept of null).

          vulnerable to pretty printers

          Who would run some random code formatter on their code when it's not designed for their language? That's just idiocy. Even still, if it treats "4 spaces" in one place as the same as "4 spaces" in another, the code will still work - python just cares that you're *consistant* with your indentation. Meanwhile, with C/C++, you can shove the brackets almost anywhere and do the most bizarre indentation imaginable, and it's perfectly content with you - bad form.
    • Also interesting to note that many universities start students programming in C. The reason they do is because they want computer science students to get a good understand alot of what's going on in the background, not just learning a specific language.

      The kicker: If you understand the principles behind it, you can easily learn any language.

      You probably want to skip alot of the theory behind data structures and whatnot at the beginning though.
    • by gabe824 (772563) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:47PM (#14448093)
      My first language was C, learned in a first year university introductory programming course, but when friends have asked me about learning programming I have recommended they start with python and the book How to Think Like a Computer Scientist: Learning with Python http://www.ibiblio.org/obp/thinkCSpy/ [ibiblio.org]. Its available free online. This is a good introductory book with no expectation of prior experience that teaches the ideas behind programming, not just the syntax of the language.
    • Two years or so ago I made a CS master thesis where I tried to find / create the perfect language and IDE for learning to program. I did a pretty thoroug study of what is available and what is desired in such an environment. And i came to the conclusion that Python is very close to a perfect place to start learning programming.

      I starred to make som tweas in the environment and the language but "Unfortunatley" I got a job right after I finished so I didn't have time to finish the projec. In case someone is i
      • And i came to the conclusion that Python is very close to a perfect place to start learning programming.
        I've used python as a language to teach people programming (in the context of a physics course, to do numerical simulations). It was OK, but the significance of whitespace was a major barrier for them to overcome. If I was doing it over again today, I'd probably use Lua, which has a very standard C-like syntax. Another consideration is that it might be good to use a language that's small enough to run i [hobix.com]
        • the significance of whitespace was a major barrier for them to overcome.

          If they are new to programming that is an absolute non-issue. Don't talk about whitespaces at all, it's totally unnecessary, just tell them to follow the block indenting. AKA everything having the same left margin belongs to the same code block. Use how lots of books displays their table of contents, with chapters and subchapters differently indented as an example.
    • Like some have mentioned, Python is a great place to start learning. It's platform indpendent (point #1), object-oriented (point #2), and not VB or Java (points 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.)

      My hatred of Java and VB aside, however, I would add this: Once you get a good grasp of how to program in Python, it would be time to cut your teeth on a lower-level language. C or C++ would work here. It's going to be a little rough, as you get used to the different requirements, but you'll learn a lot more about Comp Sci.

    • I am probably not the smartest person in the world...

      First lesson: yes, you are. If you want to be a programmer, that's how you will start. You're the smartest, but you just don't know everything.

      What platform are you using? It makes a difference.

      I learned to progam (well, if you call it that) using BASIC on a TRS-80 Model II (with the 16K expansion, thank you very much!). The cassette tape storage would lose half my saves, so my devotion to backups was burned in.

      Just pick a language you ca

    • I am probably not the smartest person in the world, and I have no programming experience what so ever. What I am looking for, is some easy language to either script or program. Would python provide a good starting environment?

      Absolutely. It's been used quite a bit for teaching purposes already, check out the Education special interest group [python.org] for more information.

      Have any of you been at my level, then learned python?

      You won't find many experienced programmers who started out with Python, simply

    • [QUOTE]I am probably not the smartest person in the world, and I have no programming experience what so ever. What I am looking for, is some easy language to either script or program. Would python provide a good starting environment? Have any of you been at my level, then learned python?[/QUOTE]

      For Blender, Python is our embeded scripting language. We have had a number of artists who came from knowing nothing about programming to writing some useful tools and scripts. It is very easy for non programmers t
    • I started learning it to implement a computer game idea and I find that it really is easy to learn, although it's been difficult to find books on it.

      One thing to look out for though that caught me: class methods, when you define them, must have "self" as their first argument. You never use it when actually calling the method, it's just an invisible parameter that must be there first when you define it. There seems to be some technical reason for it, but I don't know what it is.

      I bring this up because it c
    • I know many others are going to cringe at this, but I would suggest starting with PHP. It's not traditionally taught as a first language, but I think it has some positive qualities that might make it useful.

      First, PHP shares much of its syntax with other popular languages today. It looks a lot like C*, Perl, Java, and JavaScript. The control structures, many of the operators, and other parts of the language are all remarkably similar. In my opinion, this will reduce your learning curve as you tradition
    • I started with Perl (Score:2, Informative)

      by PerlPunk (548551)
      Since the start of the review is basically a flame against Perl, I can't resist making a plug for it--especially since it was the first serious programming language that I learned.

      If a programming language is sufficiently powerful, you won't become proficient in it overnight. For myself, I went through three stages: tutorial, hobby, profession.

      It started with me back in 1999 when I wanted to learn HTML, and so I set out to learn it. But in the mean time, a friend of mine in the business told me that with
  • Devouring? (Score:5, Informative)

    by MosesJones (55544) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:31PM (#14447945) Homepage
    Python seems to be devouring everything these days... even replacing Perl

    From Dice.com

    Python : 545 matches
    Perl: 3809
    C#: 3850

    Ummm over 1/8 of the demand of Perl or C#

    Java: 11856

    Java+BEA: 621

    So Python is smaller than one specific application servers development requirements.

    Python is better than Perl, but in terms of devouring? Its like saying that American Football is devouring other sports around the world.

    • Re:Devouring? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by GigsVT (208848) * on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:36PM (#14447989) Journal
      That's not a good measurement.

      Those are unfilled jobs. Jobs that they couldn't find someone for without resorting to advertising. In other words, the jobs that get listed on job sites are the ones that no one wants.
    • I wouldn't use dice.com as a tool to measure Python usage.

      • I wouldn't use dice.com as a tool to measure Python usage.

        Then what would you use?
        • Re:Devouring? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by belmolis (702863)

          Here are the current Freshmeat [freshmeat.net] statistics. The numbers are the number of projects in the specified programming language. I've omitted those with fewer than 10 projects. They probably give a fairly good idea of the popularity of programming languages if you take into account the bias toward the Free Software world. In the MS Windows world Visual Basic, for example, would no doubt rank much higher. Also note that these are cumulative over the past 6 years or so.

          C 7863
          Java 4567
          C++ 4077
          Perl

    • Re:Devouring? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Reality Master 101 (179095) <.RealityMaster101. .at. .gmail.com.> on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:40PM (#14448598) Homepage Journal
      Just to make another useless-but-interesting experiment, I tried the following: Google for:
      "written in python": 665,000 hits
      "written in perl": 1,140,000 hits
      "written in c": 1,500,000 hits
      "written in c++": 772,000 hits
      "written in c#": 342,000 hits
      "written in java": 1,750,000 hits
      "written in haskell": 33,600 hits
      "written in lisp": 61,400 hits
      "written in pascal": 51,800 hits
      "written in objective c": 26,800 hits
      "written in ruby": 120,000 hits

      I'm not sure what this measures, but it's interesting. :) Python actually did a lot better than I expected.

    • Re:Devouring? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Decaff (42676) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:55PM (#14448745)
      Python is better than Perl, but in terms of devouring? Its like saying that American Football is devouring other sports around the world.

      You are forgetting that this is the Slashdot Universe, where...

      "Java/Intel/Oracle/Sun/Windows is dying..."

      "No-one uses commercial UNIX..."

      "Open Source is GPL and anything else is evil.."

      "PHP scales for everything...."

      and...

      "Favourite open-source language [fill in the blank] is the future and everyone is already using it...."

      When in this Slashdot dimension, you have to understand the rules!
    • Re:Devouring? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by smallpaul (65919)
      Job descriptions trail language popularity because they are driven by the need to replace people who were working on pre-existing projects. If every programmer decided to day to switch to Intercal, that wouldn't seriously show up in the job postings until a few years from now when the code needs to be maintained.
  • On a related note... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:32PM (#14447947) Homepage Journal
    For a quicker introduction to the language, you might look at the article I wrote [freesoftwaremagazine.com] for Free Software Magazine [freesoftwaremagazine.com]. It's not an in-depth analysis by any means, but should get you acquainted with the basics in under 10 minutes.

    It's licensed under the Creative Commons "Attribution-Share-alike" License, so feel free to pass it around if you want to.

  • O, yeah? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:35PM (#14447975)
    "And, unlike Perl, it's very easy to do complicated things in simple, legible code."

    Perhaps it is time for you to get a perl book or take CS-101 course or something.
    • Re:O, yeah? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:16PM (#14448388) Homepage Journal
      "And, unlike Perl, it's very easy to do complicated things in simple, legible code."

      Perhaps it is time for you to get a perl book or take CS-101 course or something.

      I've got both. So, tell me: what's the syntax for returning multiple complex objects from a function in such a way that they don't have to be dereferenced by the calling code (that is, they can be used directly, just like you were returning a single scalar)?

      Python example from the interactive shell:

      >>> def foo():
      . return {'one': 'ein', 'two': 'zwei'}, lambda x: x + 5, str
      >>> a, b, c = foo()
      >>> a['two']
      'zwei'
      >>> b(5)
      10
      >>> print c.__doc__
      str(object) -> string

      Return a nice string representation of the object.
      If the argument is a string, the return value is the same object.

      I'm not overly stupid, but doing something so relatively easy in Perl put me at my limits. I like Perl, and I've written many large programs in it, but I always had to fight against the syntax. Python got out of the way and let me concentrate on logic instead.

      • Re:O, yeah? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Parity (12797) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:43PM (#14448622)
        That's a really foolish argument. Of course you have to make references and dereference to do the same thing in perl, because perl is a pass by value language; python is a pass by reference language.

        In perl you have to be explicit to dereference.

        In python you have to be explicit to copy.

        Your case happens to be one where references are needed, and in python, implicit. In cases where copying of arrays is need, python needs to be explicit; perl is implicit. So ignoring the ridiculous 'without dereferencing' restriction:

        sub foo {
          return { 'one' => 'ein', 'two' => 'zwei' }, sub { my $x = shift; return $x + 5; }, "string"
        }

        my ($a, $b, $c) = foo();

        print $a->{'one'};
        print $b->(5);
        print $c;

    • Re:O, yeah? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Coryoth (254751)
      "And, unlike Perl, it's very easy to do complicated things in simple, legible code."

      Perhaps it is time for you to get a perl book or take CS-101 course or something.


      It is, I quite agree, entirely possible to write fairly simple clear legible code in perl. It does require a few extra hoops, but in general it isn't that hard, it just requires a fair bit of self-discipline or, if you're working in a team, some very rigid well defined coding standards ... that everyone sticks to. From my point of view, if you'r
      • Re:O, yeah? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by chromatic (9471)
        ... if you're at the point of bothering to have and enforce coding standards, why not just enforce them at the language level?

        Because the language designer probably doesn't know as much about your team and the problems you're trying to solve as you do.

      • Language Discipline (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Tony (765)
        . . . but if you are serious about maintainability then, to my mind, language enforced coding standards and a certain amount of "one right way to do it" has real value.

        Perhaps for you.

        "Maintainability" is undefined for this problem set. I can't maintain Python code because I fucking despise the language, for the same reason I don't like anal uptight bastards in three-piece suits -- it's inflexible. There's only one way of doing things, and often it is not be best way in specific situations.

        For me, it always
  • by Anonymous Coward
    And, unlike Perl, it's very easy to do complicated things in simple, legible code.

    This must mean you aren't able to write legible Perl code. Perl has been making complicated things simple for more than a decade. If you don't know how to write clean code, then your Python will also suck.

    • by Myddrin (54596) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:57PM (#14448202) Homepage

      And, unlike Perl, it's very easy to do complicated things in simple, legible code.

      This must mean you aren't able to write legible Perl code. Perl has been making complicated things simple for more than a decade. If you don't know how to write clean code, then your Python will also suck.

      Not directed at the parent, but at the Perl-snipping in the original post....

      <RANT>

      I'm a professional python programmer, and I've been making my living at it for a number of years now. (It was my embracing of python that allowed me to transition to a 100% MS free workspace.) I started using it a project a few years ago, and it's just stuck for a number of reasons. (meta-classes, extensibility, etc.)

      One thing that drives me buggy about some python evangelists, (and many evangelists, in general) is the need to bash anything that is not their favorite brand (be it Creative vs iPOD, Python vs (insert any language here). And so on. The fact of the matter is that Perl is a perfectly good language. I don't use it on a regular basis personally, but I've seen, read and understood a good deal of Perl code w/o a hassle. (yes, I've seen some scary code, but I've seen scary code in C++, Python, Java, etc., etc., etc.)

      Sometimes we just have to admit that there are multiple good tools that we could use, but we have a personal (and possibly irrational) preference for one over the other. That's life as a human being (which I'm assuming at least 99% of the readers out there are. :) ). Just because some people use Perl, doesn't make my choice of python (of C++, my other "main" language) any less valid.

      It's real life, not a multiple choice test -- there is no single "correct" answer.

      </RANT>

      Ok, I'm done... back to work.

      • This must mean you aren't able to write legible Perl code.

        Not necessarily. It might mean that he's sick and tired of debugging the avalanche of horrid Perl that's already out there. (I know I am.)

        Perl has been making complicated things simple for more than a decade.

        Perl was definitely an improvement over what came before it. It doesn't follow, though that there aren't languages that are now definitely an improvement over it.

        If you don't know how to write clean code, then your Python will also su

  • My 2 scents (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by Cro Magnon (467622)
    I'm a total n00b in Python, but I like what I see. I'm planning to rewrite a Perl program I have in Python.

    My biggest gripe is that Python lacks a "use strict" to protect me from my own badd speling.
    • Re:My 2 scents (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Run "pychecker" on your python scripts. It catches all sorts of things; certainly almost anything having to do with misspelling.
  • by hashmap (613482) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:48PM (#14448104)

    EXTERIOR: DAGOBAH--DAY

    With Yoda strapped to his back, Luke climbs up one of the many thick vines that grow in the swamp until he reaches the Dagobah statistics lab. Panting heavily, he continues his exercises--grepping, installing new packages, logging in as root, and writing replacements for two-year-old shell scripts in Python.

    YODA: Code! Yes. A programmer's strength flows from code maintainability. But beware of Perl. Terse syntax... more than one way to do it... default variables. The dark side of code maintainability are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you when code you write. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.

    LUKE: Is Perl better than Python?

    YODA: No... no... no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.

    LUKE: But how will I know why Python is better than Perl?

    YODA: You will know. When your code you try to read six months from now.

  • by AthenianGadfly (798721) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:48PM (#14448108)

    And, unlike Perl, it's very easy to do complicated things in simple, legible code

    The issue with Perl isn't that it's particularly hard to do complicated things with simple, legible code (not more so than a lot of other languages, anyway), but that it's very, very easy to do something extremely quickly, which often - but not always - means code that makes sense at the time but isn't necessarily readable, or leads to overly terse code. Yes, Perl makes it easy to do things wrong (and a lot of people out there do use Perl to make unreadable programs), but that doesn't mean that it can't be used to do things correctly as well as any other language.

    • by lawpoop (604919)
      In Perl, it is easy to make legible code, and it is easy to make illegible code.

      In Python, it is easy to make legible code, but it is difficult to make illegible code.

      I would argue that this fact makes it harder to write legible code in perl than in python.
      • by Tony (765) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @06:07PM (#14449395) Journal
        In Perl, it is easy to make legible code, and it is easy to make illegible code.

        In Python, it is easy to make legible code, but it is difficult to make illegible code.


        That's because Perl is versatile, flexible. Python forces you to do things The Python Way(tm). I've tried Python a couple of times, and I keep going back to Perl. Maybe I'm just a rebel, but I don't like a language telling *me* what to do (queue "In Soviet Russia..." joke here).

        And, yes, I mostly just hate the whitespace-as-blocking braindamage. It's like Guido loved LISP, but hated the braces, so he re-invented LISP, poorly. But that's why I love programming-- everybody gets to choose their favorite poison.
  • Dive into Python (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jazzer_Techie (800432) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:48PM (#14448110)
    No discussion of Python literature can be complete without mentioning Mark Pilgrim's Dive into Python [diveintopython.org], which is an excellent way to get to know the Python language. It's free for download in a variety of formats. Two caveats however, being that 1) it hasn't been updated in about a year and a half and 2) it assumes that you already have a pretty good grasp of programming in some other language. But if you've you got some coding experience and want to take a serious look at what Python has to offer, this is a great book full of nice examples (with the code available for download as well).
  • python regexes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by funkelectric (931604)
    After hacking perl for over 10 years, Python sounds very good. The first program I tried to write in Python was the quick-and-dirty thing I need most: Read a file and parse it using regexes. Perhaps I stumbled upon the one area where Perl shines in comparison with Python, for that is the impression I got. The Python regex methods do not seem a natural fit for the problem.
    • Re:python regexes (Score:3, Informative)

      by Just Some Guy (3352)
      What part of Python's regexps did you not like? The main difference I was was that instead of:

      if ($var =~ /some?pattern*/) { foo }

      you'd write something like

      if re.search('some?pattern*', var): foo

      or if you're doing the same match many times:

      pattern = re.compile('some?pattern*')
      if pattern.search(var): foo

      (kind of like Perl's "/o" once-only modifier).

      So, the calling convention is slightly different - one is procedural, and one is OO - but Python uses Perl's regexp engine so the patterns themselves sho

  • "While it's nearly 30 chapters in length, most of them are short and focused, making them easily digestible and highly useful."

    It also goes well with a cup of Java, fried Kalamaris and a side of Perl pasta.
  • by chriss (26574) * <chriss@memomo.net> on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @03:53PM (#14448170) Homepage

    Since this is inevitable to pop up, a very simplyfied version (slightly offtopic):

    Why not ditch Python and use Ruby (on Rails)?

    • Ruby is a nice language. It looks more like Java (or C or Perl) than Python, so that may be an advantage for those who dislike Pythons whitespace handling (I think it is genius)
    • Rails is a very nice framework for developing database driven web-apps very fast
    • Someone (David Heinemeier Hansson) really cared to make this user/developer friendly. There is good marketing, nice screencasts (although basically smoke and mirrors), good documentation, a well structured central web site, lots of support. All this may be even more important than the technical differences to other platforms like Python.
    • It's hype, so you could easily sell it to management

    Why better stick with Python?

    • Most of the hyped features Rails are available on Python too, although not yet in such a nice package. The Turbogears [turbogears.org] folks try this, but in a more pythoniac way. I like it better, since they actually bundled already established products like CherryPy and SQLObject instead of simply writing from scratch. This may not result in a smooth package like RoR, but it is more clearly aimed at the integration of other products.
    • There are tons of modules and documentation for Python out there. So if you come to the point where you want to include other features than those already present in your framework, it will be easier to add them from different sources, because a) there are more and b) integration is a more established process.
    • There has been a lot going on in the RoR aftershock to improve the situation, like discussions about merging the different frameworks (Turbogears/Subway) to create a unified and very powerful platform.
    • There is always a way up in Python with Zope (although this is a beast and documentation is bad, 3.X is much better, but lots of products currently still require 2.X) and integration in J2EE.
    • Python is old. There has not only been one generation of developers whos projects failed, but many. RoR is still in the "early adaptors" phase, where everyone sees the revolution and casualties are accepted. Ruby alone has had a strong following in Japan, but for the rest of the world Rails was the first contact. Wait a year until the "RoR sucks" postings appear, than you'll be much wiser.

    Chriss

    --
    memomo.net - brush up your German, French, Spanish or Italian - online and free [memomo.net]

    • For various reasons (more mature stdandard & third party libraries; English docs; real threading support -- this is a big one; etc) Python is a much better general-purpose language than Ruby.

      (It's also about twice as fast, but honestly if Ruby is too slow for your project a factor of 2 probably isn't going to save you. Still, speed is a nice bonus.)
      • yes and no. I use python and ruby at work and I prefer ruby as a language. Python does have better support and more mature libraries and it's a very nice language. We have a mix of linux and windows and python has much better windows support which is why we still use it as much as we do. The docs issue is weird. Ruby doesn't have as many docs, but I feel the docs they do have are often better (this is probably just personal preference). The python docs have left me wanting many many times. They are there fo
  • I like to play with Python occasionally but when I see something like

    hat said, there are a few things in the book that I tend to disagree with. For example, the author dissuades you from using destructors in your code, but in my experience they're far more reliable, and a better place to do some cleanup, than he states.

    I really have to wonder. Does someone have no idea what they are talking about or does a certain language have a very crappy garbage collector.

    Anyone care to offer some insights as
  • What about Dive Into Python by Mark Pilgrim? Like the title says, you dive right in. There is no "Hello World!" stuff to mung through. He uses real world examples right from the start, and explains them in a way that a 4 year old could understand.
  • Learning Python (Score:3, Informative)

    by kevin_conaway (585204) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:09PM (#14448327) Homepage
    I am a Java programmer by profession but I wanted to give Python a shot because it seemed like fun.

    As a programmer experienced with OO programming and some other types of "scripting" languages, all I needed to read was Learning Python [oreilly.com] from O'Reilly. Great book, great language.

    On a shameless side note, if you're a Scrabble fan, come check out my online, multiplayer Scrabble program written in Python. PyScrabble [sf.net]
  • by YA_Python_dev (885173) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:11PM (#14448344) Journal
    On the python.org [python.org] site you can find a big list of Python books [python.org].

    I suggest:

    Good reading.

  • most helpful book (Score:2, Insightful)

    by engagebot (941678)
    I think the book thats most helpful to the novice programmer wouldn't be a book about any language at all.

    It'd be a book about programming and algorithms in general. Its MUCH easier to root around in a 'hello world' program or the like if you understand things like loops, if/then/else statments, function calls, etc. Even the fundamental idea of declaring and using a variable.
  • by toupsie (88295) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:16PM (#14448393) Homepage
    And, unlike Perl, it's very easy to do complicated things in simple, legible code.

    So can Perl.

  • Comparing to two for me is like comparing tree cutting with building houses.

    When you build a house you need an architect and specific design rules so other people in the project can do their part. It takes a long time to build it, and someone has to live in the house a long time.

    When you cut down a tree you're only interested in the fastest way possible to get it down safely. Who cares if it's pretty. If you didn't like the way the first one fell, you can make adjustments on the next.

    A house builder woul
  • Maybe I just missed the appropriate packages but to my knowledge Python lacks things like strict typing that are invaluable helpers when you want to make sure stuff works as it should. Nothing is more annoying than reading "int has no member function ______" and having to track down where that variable got its int contents from. After being introduced to Haskell in university strict typing just becomes something I really want in a language. There's just no real way to be sure all variables are the type you
  • But I found it too constrictive.

    Right now Ruby is my new Perl.
  • Python Riddles (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AlXtreme (223728) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @04:58PM (#14448768) Homepage Journal
    Recently came across pythonchallenge [pythonchallenge.com], it's a notpron/riddle site for learning Python, with each riddle requiring more and more code. Great idea, imho.

    As if python itself wasn't fun enough :)

  • by Hosiah (849792) on Wednesday January 11, 2006 @09:20PM (#14450669)
    And, unlike Perl, it's very easy to do complicated things in simple, legible code.

    I just burned through the flamewall on this issue not three days ago. I use Python instead of Perl, love Python best of all languages currently, and may even like the book reviewed. But it is superstitiously ignorant to declare any language makes it "easier" to program in. Can we just once have a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses and merits and demerits of any language at all, instead of talking about it like it was a laxative? "Makes the code soft and it flows out smoothly!" No, it doesn't: nothing does; hard programs are hard to write, easy programs are easy to write. I'll even save the time and copy my closing argument from last time:

    I know a secret. It's a secret you only find out after programming for a while. It's one you obviously don't know if you ask me which programming language is the "easiest".

    There is this public perception, unanimous in user-land, and even permeating to the very depths of Slashdot, which goes: "Computers are only hard because evil computer programmers deliberately set out to make them hard." And the secret is: that that's a falsehood. Computers are not made artificially difficult. It does no good to tell you this; this is a special kind of secret that you can only learn through experience.

    The experience of struggling to design a usable user interface for your own system. The struggle to overcome the barriers of closed systems, lack of documentation, and misinformation everywhere you turn. The exasperation of dealing with users who come to you with the attitude that your program broke on purpose, you should fix it without knowing what the error was, and it's too hard to learn anyway because you make it difficult, because you're "evil".

    Programming experience erases that mental line drawn between user and programmer. You get experience on both sides of the fence, and eventually you see that there is no such thing as artificial complication. Interfacing with a machine upon which we have taught electricity to think and where we hope to make it sing and dance for us is inherently complicated TO START WITH, and the various tools we use to perform our tasks - why, each and every one was written by average people like you and me who also sat down with a clean file and furrowed their brow and wondered "How can I do this? How can I make it so people will use it?"

    No, you still have that mental mindset that there are programmers who deliberatly design things to be difficult, that it's all in spite, that they're laughing at you. Who, except as a joke, would deliberately make a programming language "hard to learn"? To fail at your task and blame your tool is simply a form of denial so that you don't have to face the fact that you have given up on trying to use something (no matter if it's COBOL or Javascript or Perl or freaking TECO, even!) that hundreds of other people have used successfully.

    There is no "easy". There is no "hard". There is only "Task".

    Now, you want to talk about an "easy" language? Binary, of course! Binary has just two commands (one and zero) so it's the fastest to learn, has cross-platform compatibility built-in (all computers know binary!), is easiest to test (no compiler or interpretter required, just "Rite 'n' Run"!), is readily available everwhere (ALL programs are "open source" in binary!), and needs no extension libraries (Binary can do it all!). If you thought this paragraph was stupid, this is how stupid the rest of you sound to me when you hyperfocus on "easy" and act like there's no other aspect to programming.

Luck, that's when preparation and opportunity meet. -- P.E. Trudeau

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