"Python" entries

Learn a C-style language

Improve your odds with the lingua franca of computing.

tools
You have a lot of choices when you’re picking a programming language to learn. If you look around the web development world, you’ll see a lot of JavaScript. At universities and high schools, you’ll often find Python used as a teaching language. If you go to conferences with language theorists, like Strange Loop, you’ll hear a lot about functional languages, such as Haskell, Scala, and Erlang. This level of choice is good: many languages mean that the overall state of the field is continually evolving, and coming up with new solutions. That choice also leads to a certain amount of confusion regarding what you should learn. It’s not possible to learn every language out there, even if you wanted to. Depending on the area you’re in, the choice of language may be made for you. For the overall health of your career, and to provide you the widest range of future opportunities, the single most useful language-related thing you can do is learn a C-style language.

A boring old C-style language just like millions of developers learned before you, going back to the 1980s and earlier. It’s not flashy, it’s usually not cutting edge, but it is smart. Even if you don’t stick with it, or program in it on a daily basis, having a C-style language in your repertoire is a no-brainer if you want to be taken seriously as a developer.
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Enterprising open source

Meg Blanchette interviews Continuum's Peter Wang about the growing role of OSS in the enterprise.

jars

If you attend OSCON this year, you may notice a bit more attention paid to the enterprise side of tech. That is on purpose, as we have been noticing the open source and enterprise worlds edging closer and closer. Companies traditionally nervous about open source are either recognizing the inherent value, or their developers are using it and they don’t even realize. Open source is, in turn, seeing the benefits an established company can bring a project and the various opportunities available.

In that spirit, I spoke with Peter Wang, from Continuum Analytics. Continuum is a good example of this new hybrid — offering open source technology, while also having an enterprise side. Here, we discuss the changing landscape and what that can mean for people who embrace change, and for those who don’t.

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Teaching kids how to code with Minecraft

Maintaining a focus on fun and interactivity keeps students engaged and enthused while learning Java.

I am jealous of kids these days. The sheer breadth and depth of technology and software at their disposal is staggering, everything from Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and Scratch to Minecraft, Python, and iOS app development. What’s even more profound to me is how fluent they are in using and interacting with these technologies. And yet during this process of assimilation, they are mastering fundamental mathematical concepts, like trigonometry, by figuring out how to shoot an arrow in Minecraft, as opposed to the classical way of learning the formulas. Or in learning how to program in Python, they are creating a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Or in understanding basic circuits, they are building a traffic light using Arduino or Squishy Circuits.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be involved with Devoxx4Kids, a Not-for-Profit, 501(c)(3) registered organization in the U.S., whose goal is to deliver Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) workshops to kids at an early age around the world. We delivered over 40 workshops in the U.S. alone last year on topics ranging from Python, Scratch, and Minecraft modding to NAO robots, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and Little Circuits. Globally, we’ve delivered over 350 workshops and connected with approximately 5,000 students, with over 30% girls. Attendees from these workshops often leave with unique and inspirational stories to share. Read more…

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5 reasons why Python is a popular teaching language

Python's simplicity makes it accessible to learners and teachers alike.

Download a free copy of Python in Education. Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from Python in Education, a free report written by Nicholas Tollervey.

I am going to answer a very simple question: which features of the Python language itself make it appropriate for education? This will involve learning a little Python and reading some code. But don’t worry if you’re not a coder! This chapter will hopefully open your eyes to how easy it is to learn Python (and thus, why it is such a popular choice as a teaching language).

Code readability

When I write a to-do list on a piece of paper, it looks something like this:

Shopping
Fix broken gutter
Mow the lawn  

This is an obvious list of items. If I wanted to break down my to-do list a bit further, I might write something like this:

Shopping:
    Eggs
    Bacon
    Tomatoes
Fix broken gutter:
    Borrow ladder from next door
    Find hammer and nails
    Return ladder!
Mow the lawn:
    Check lawn around pond for frogs
    Check mower fuel level 

Intuitively, we understand that the main tasks are broken down into sub-tasks that are indented underneath the main task to which they relate. This makes it easy to see, at a glance, how the tasks relate to each other.

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Four short links: 10 April 2015

Four short links: 10 April 2015

Graph Algorithm, Touchy Robots, Python Bolt-Ons, and Building Data Products

  1. Exact Maximum Clique for Large or Massive Real Graphs — explanation of how BBMCSP works.
  2. Giving Robots and Prostheses the Human Touchthe team, led by mechanical engineer Veronica J. Santos, is constructing a language of touch that both a computer and a human can understand. The researchers are quantifying this with mechanical touch sensors that interact with objects of various shapes, sizes, and textures. Using an array of instrumentation, Santos’ team is able to translate that interaction into data a computer can understand. The data is used to create a formula or algorithm that gives the computer the ability to identify patterns among the items it has in its library of experiences and something it has never felt before. This research will help the team develop artificial haptic intelligence, which is, essentially, giving robots, as well as prostheses, the “human touch.”
  3. boltons — things in Python that should have been builtins.
  4. Everything We Wish We’d Known About Building Data Products (DJ Patil and RusJan Belkin) — Data is super messy, and data cleanup will always be literally 80% of the work. In other words, data is the problem. […] “If you’re not thinking about how to keep your data clean from the very beginning, you’re fucked. I guarantee it.” […] “Every single company I’ve worked at and talked to has the same problem without a single exception so far — poor data quality, especially tracking data,” he says.“Either there’s incomplete data, missing tracking data, duplicative tracking data.” To solve this problem, you must invest a ton of time and energy monitoring data quality. You need to monitor and alert as carefully as you monitor site SLAs. You need to treat data quality bugs as more than a first priority. Don’t be afraid to fail a deploy if you detect data quality issues.
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A software engineer’s role traversal

Software engineer and author Jason Myers on changing roles in a changing market.

jm_snake

We often hear about how the tech job market is booming and has space for newcomers, but what does that mean for the developers already in the market? In December of 2014, Fortune.com predicted that 2015 would be an excellent year for developers to change jobs. Citing Dice.com, they note that jobs are popping up all over the country. In fact, Dice’s survey also reports 40% of hiring managers seeing voluntary departures, a higher number than was seen just six months earlier.

These are all large, general numbers. What does a job change, and the changing market, look like for individual developers? To get a better sense, I spoke with Jason Myers, who is working on our upcoming Essential SQLAlchemy, 2e title. Jason recently went from working for the email marketing service Emma, Inc., to working for networking giant Cisco. Here, he talks about how a change like that feels, and how the market looks to him.

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Four short links: 23 January 2015

Four short links: 23 January 2015

Investment Themes, Python Web Mining, Code Review, and Sexist Brilliance

  1. 16 Andreessen-Horowitz Investment Areas — I’m struck by how they’re connected: there’s a cluster around cloud development, there are two maybe three on sensors …
  2. Patterna web mining module for the Python programming language. It has tools for data mining (Google, Twitter and Wikipedia API, a web crawler, a HTML DOM parser), natural language processing (part-of-speech taggers, n-gram search, sentiment analysis, WordNet), machine learning (vector space model, clustering, SVM), network analysis and <canvas> visualization.
  3. Code Review — FogCreek’s code review checklist.
  4. Expectations of Brilliance Underlie Gender Distributions Across Academic Disciplines (Science) — Surveys revealed that some fields are believed to require attributes such as brilliance and genius, whereas other fields are believed to require more empathy or hard work. In fields where people thought that raw talent was required, academic departments had lower percentages of women. (via WaPo)
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Four short links: 26 November 2014

Four short links: 26 November 2014

Metastable Failures, Static Python Analysis, Material Desktop, and AWS Scale Numbers

  1. Metastable Failure State (Facebook) — very nice story about working together to discover the cause of one of those persistently weird problems.
  2. Bandit — static security analysis of Python code.
  3. Quantum OS — Linux desktop based on Google’s Material Design. UI guidelines fascinate me: users love consistency, designers and brands hate that everything works the same.
  4. Inside AWSEvery day, AWS installs enough server infrastructure to host the entire Amazon e-tailing business from back in 2004, when Amazon the retailer was one-tenth its current size at $7 billion in annual revenue. “What has changed in the last year,” Hamilton asked rhetorically, and then quipped: “We have done it 365 more times.” That is another way of saying that in the past year AWS has added enough capacity to support a $2.55 trillion online retailing operation, should one ever be allowed to exist.
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Python tuples: immutable but potentially changing

Think labels, not boxes

Python tuples have a surprising trait: they are immutable, but their values may change. This may happen when a tuple holds a reference to any mutable object, such as a list. If you need to explain this to a colleague who is new to Python, a good first step is to debunk the common notion that variables are like boxes where you store data.

In 1997 I took a summer course about Java at MIT. The professor, Lynn Andrea Stein — an award-winning computer science educator — made the point that the usual “variables as boxes” metaphor actually hinders the understanding of reference variables in OO languages. Python variables are like reference variables in Java, so it’s better to think of them as labels attached to objects.

Here is an example inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

Tweedledum-Tweedledee_500x390

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are twins. From the book: “Alice knew which was which in a moment, because one of them had ‘DUM’ embroidered on his collar, and the other ‘DEE’.”

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Python 3: threat or menace?

Prepare for the future of computing with Python.

le_piscivore
I wish I still had my copy of this: a Harvard Lampoon parody of Life magazine from the ’60s, displaying a picture of a flying saucer and the ominous headline: “Flying Saucers: Threat or Menace?”.

I was reminded of this when reading some recent articles worrying about the slow transition from Python 2 to Python 3, such as Python 3 is Killing Python. The authors of such articles, and Python developers in general, really like Python, and for the most part like Python 3. Their main concern is that the protracted 2-3 straddle will hurt Python’s popularity.

About five years ago, I started writing an introductory Python book for O’Reilly. It featured Python 2, which was dominant then. Unfortunately, the tides of business went out and took the book with them. Two years ago, the tides returned and the book was revived. Introducing Python: Modern Computing in Simple Packages is finally in production and early release.

When we rebooted the book, there was now a serious question of whether to feature Python 2 or 3. The other version might merit some sidebars or an appendix, but we really needed to pick just a single base for the code examples. And by now it seemed that Python 3 had become the right choice. If you’re wondering why the editors and I thought Python 3 was best for this book, let me give some of the reasons, more or less in order of importance.

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