I have long since been fascinated and frustrated by computers. I’m not ashamed to say it, i don’t understand them. All i know safely is that they are some sort of glorified abacus. But I’ve been given to understand that even this definition might be somewhat of an oversimplification.
Time was when I used to need to call a friend to even install a desktop computer. A laughable matter to me now. After a following a short course in the rudiments of computer hardware i can now safely identify the physical makeup of a ‘machine’ (as the computer is known among us connoisseurs) for instance, from the stomach contents of a dead, man eating crocodile. A vast improvement. But the inner workings of the soul of the machine, the mind they call ‘the software’ has always been about as clear to me as a brick wall.
Recently to try and break that wall down a bit, and to ward off disturbing visions of me becoming a bitter old man removed by degrees from understanding technology completely, i started a course at MIT. Not the MIT in Maradana, the one in Massachusetts. It’s a free online course and is very insightful. For one thing, I discovered that ‘computing’ or ‘programming’ is actually a deeply philosophical pursuit, tackling fundamental questions about how we look at learning and solving problems. Most startlingly ‘Computing’ they tell me, has about as much to do with computers as geometry has to do with your average compass.
Now there’s a thought to mull over..Computers have nothing to do with computing? Surely you are joking, professor.
But the science is so new that the association it has with its tools are still too strong in our minds. Its like looking at a microscope and saying ‘ah, biology!’ and refusing to acknowledge that it applies to our bodies and virtually the whole of nature. Computing is the science of processes.
These processes function like ‘recipes’ to find solutions, powerful recipes capable of taking over the solving of complex human problems. Automated recipes that just need the ingredients of basic facts in the form of ‘primitives’ to arrive at the delectable dish at the end. The program is the recipe; the computer is the pot, spoon and kitchen infrastructure. And, just like the recipe is written down before it can be used to cook, the program is first written in a ‘language’ which requires proper sentence structure (syntax) and good sense (semantics). I suppose then a programmer is some form of chef. And at the end of the day, food is all about the cooking, not the pot.
Anyway, I’m still trying to get Python to run on my Windows 7 computer. They are cumbersome creatures these primitive tools. I tried everything, and command prompt is refusing to run my little “hello, world” program. The first program I ever wrote and I can’t run it. Some programmer I’m turning out to be. If anyone out there can help, I installed Python 2.5.4 (old but that’s what the course wants) and created a folder to put my little program file in. After looking online, I added both the Python folder and the folder I put my program file into the PATH variable.
When I type ‘python’ in command prompt the Python console shows. But whenever i type the path to the folders e.g. c\python25 or c\Pythonpractice i keep getting a ‘syntax error’ saying that there is an ‘unexpected character after line continuation character’.