Skip to main content

Why learn programming

Why would you set off to study the art of computer programming? Programming certainly seems like the most complex way to interface with today’s increasingly complex machines. Programming, much like knitting, isn't for everybody; you have to have a curious mind and not be afraid of getting into the nitty gritty. Learning to program is also not something to rush into, it will take a significant investment of time. But here are my top few reasons when asked:

Programming is fun! As with all creative outlets you experience the sheer joy of making things. You start with nothing but an idea and only your imagination limits what you can create.

Programming is a useful tool! To better be able to analyse raw data, automate boring repetitive tasks, or create interactive websites.

Programming teaches a new way of thinking. The process of creating programs is quite different from most things we humans do. Gaining a skill that changes how you think about other things.

Gain a deeper understanding of technology
it is necessary for people to have an appreciation for what is possible because of science and technology… an abstract understanding of how things work. – Vint Cerf
A program simply describes the tasks we want a computer to perform. A working computer will run programs precisely, following given instructions to the letter - no more and no less. As a consequence, even the simplest of real world programs must be carefully crafted. A small glitch (or bug) in an important program can have catastrophic consequences.

Software engineers learn to organize and structure their programs to minimize the chance of unintended behaviours occurring. Thoughtfully designed programs handle unforeseen problems, hide layers of complexity by isolating small easy-to-modify components, making it much easier to reason about overall system behaviour. When problems do appear, only the affected component needs to be debugged or replaced.
Computation in isolation can certainly be powerful (and even fun), but just wait until your programs start to manipulate data, interact with humans, and communicate with other systems.

Programming languages are how we communicate tasks to a computer. Much like natural language expresses and frames our thoughts, the programming language frames how you describe tasks to a computer. There are low-level programming languages that do not hide hardware nuances - these are difficult to master but extremely powerful. There are programming languages dedicated to particular domains such as the R langugae for Statistical Computing, particular computers (Objective C for iOS, CUDA for GPU programming), and particular styles of programming. There exists a wide range of general purpose programming languages, and like natural languages they often change over time.

The concepts gained when learning to program for the first time apply to almost all programming languages, although it is important to realize that different languages do different things well.

Popular posts from this blog

My setup for downloading & streaming movies and tv

I recently signed up for Netflix and am retiring my headless home media pc. This blog will have to serve as its obituary. The box spent about half of its life running FreeNAS, and half running Archlinux. I’ll briefly talk about my experience with FreeNAS, the migration, and then I’ll get to the robust setup I ended up with.

The machine itself cost around $1000 in 2014. Powered by an AMD A4-7300 3.8GHz cpu with 8GB of memory. A SilverStone DS380 case is both functional, quiet and looks great. The hard drives have been updated over the last two years until it had a full compliment of 6 WD Green 4TiB drives - all spinning bits of metal though.

Initially I had the BSD based FreeNAS operating system installed. I had a single hard drive in its own ZFS pool for TV and Movies, and a second ZFS pool comprised of 5 hard drives for documents and photos.

FreeNAS is straight forward to use and setup, provided you only want to do things supported out of the box or by plugins. Each plugin is install…

Matplotlib in Django

The official django tutorial is very good, it stops short of displaying
data with matplotlib - which could be very handy for dsp or automated
testing. This is an extension to the tutorial. So first you must do the
official tutorial!
Complete the tutorial (as of writing this up to part 4).

Adding an image to a view

To start with we will take a static image from the hard drive and
display it on the polls index page.
Usually if it really is a static image this would be managed by the
webserver eg apache. For introduction purposes we will get django to
serve the static image. To do this we first need to change the
template.



Change the template
At the moment poll_list.html probably looks something like this:


<h1>Django test app - Polls</h1> {% if object_list %} <ul> {% for object in object_list %} <li><a href="/polls/{{object.id}}">{{ object.question }}</a></li> {% endfor %} </ul> {% else %} <p>No polls are available.</p> …

Python and Gmail with IMAP

Today I had to automatically access my Gmail inbox from Python. I needed the ability to get an unread email count, the subjects of those unread emails and then download them. I found a Gmail.py library on sourceforge, but it actually opened the normal gmail webpage and site scraped the info. I wanted something much faster, luckily gmail can now be accessed with both pop and imap.

After a tiny amount of research I decided imap was the better albiet slightly more difficult protocol. Enabling imap in gmail is straight forward, it was under labs.

The address for gmail's imap server is:

imap.gmail.com:993

Python has a library module called imaplib, we will make heavy use of that to access our emails. I'm going to assume that we have already defined two globals - username and password. To connect and login to the gmail server and select the inbox we can do:

importimaplibimap_server=imaplib.IMAP4_SSL("imap.gmail.com",993)imap_server.login(username,password)imap_server.select(…