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Comment: Author didn't even explain his own point. (Score 1) 686

by bob (#16103413) Attached to: Why Johnny Can't Code

It is silly to suggest that there are no easily-accessible programming languages shipped with computers today; most come with at least two or three (if you count the command interpreter and Javascript), many come with dozens. Anyone with the littlest initiative could obtain free assemblers, compilers or interpreters for dozens more, just by connecting to the Internet. This would have been an embarrassment of riches when I started tinkering with personal computers in the early 1980s. And these languages range from the trivial (e.g. old-style BASIC) to the inscruitable (ADA anyone?). The motivated individual can get as close to the hardware as (s)he wants, with assembler or Forth, or as abstracted as desired, with for example XSLT. What is missing is not a simple-to-use language, but rather a lingua franca: A language that virtually everyone the least bit interested in computers is familiar with and has a facility for running, and -- importantly -- may be used to implement just about anything that people are currently doing with computers.

Put this way, I think that everyone can see the problem and the reason why the author's goal is mere fantasy. Today, people just do too damned many things with computers, and there just is no single language that is appropriate for all those tasks. Moreover, I suspect that the number of kids, or possibly even the percentage of kids who are coding up useful stuff is comparable to, or likely greater than, the equivalent figures when he was copying BASIC programs out of textbooks. And if all he was doing was copying programs out of textbooks and running them, maybe changing a line here or there, such an activity would today just be a tremendous waste of time. Nobody hand-copies code anymore, they download it from the Internet, and I expect that number of kids doing this is huge compared to twenty years ago. The running it, and tinkering with it, still happens, one just gets to that point a whole lot quicker.

I will also say that, if the author thought that learning BASIC was equivalent to understanding what was under the hood of his computer, then he clearly was not around when people were building Altair kits, programming drum cards for an 029 keypunch, or wire-wrapping backplanes. Certainly his elders looked down on his generation of BASIC-writing dweebs as little more than coddled dilitantes who would never truely understand the technology.

I'm sorry, but you just can't go home again.

Work expands to fill the time available. -- Cyril Northcote Parkinson, "The Economist", 1955

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