So I’d like to clarify something about the previous post: When I said the problem was linguistic, I did not mean that the solution to the sample question was linguistic. It’s still a programming question (and, in fact, deeply prejudiced towards a particular language), but the point is people without a certain kind of linguistic framework can’t be taught to solve it.
I found this old Jeff Atwood post (yes, it’s because it was linked from so-called “Hacker News,” okay?) about the apparent intractability of teaching programming, based on an academic paper. The upshot is that 1) some (and perhaps a majority of) people are simply incapable of coming to grips with programming and 2) these people seem to derive almost no benefit of any kind from programming coursework.
An example of a question that can be used to determine if someone will get anything out of studying program is presented:
Read the following statements and tick the box next to the correct answer.
int a = 10; int b = 20; a = b;
The new values of a and b are:
- [ ] a = 20 b = 0
- [ ] a = 20 b = 20
- [ ] a = 0 b = 10
- [ ] a = 10 b = 10
- [ ] a = 30 b = 20
- [ ] a = 30 b = 0
- [ ] a = 10 b = 30
- [ ] a = 0 b = 30
- [ ] a = 10 b = 20
- [ ] a = 20 b = 10
So people throw out a whole lot of explanations for this in comments and inevitably devolves into “teachers suck” because everyone on the internet is such a fucking precious snowflake, but I’m not going to get sidetracked by that, because then I’ll just get depressed and never get to the point.
Which is: the reason this information confuses people is that they think that variable assignment is confusing because it’s a mathematical abstraction, but this isn’t true. Variable assignment, and a number of similar concepts that you need to wrap your head around in programming are confusing because they are linguistic abstractions, and linguistic prejudices are confusing and difficult to override (or, as is apparent here, even identify) because they develop than people tend to think they would, and so much work goes into preserving them. Understanding computers requires one to assume intuitively (although not consciously) that meaning is pretty arbitrary, which is arguably the single most important step to understanding (again, often in a pre/non/sub-conscious way) how to interact with the rules whereby meaning is generated.
So since my recent reference to it, I have been hankering to reread “Motifs.” It’s true that I often find myself thinking this, but I often fail to get around to it, plus it’s a pretty rich vein, as evidenced by the fact that I came away with some new stuff this time around.
In the past I have tended to focus on the stuff that can be traced fairly explicitly to “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” The consciousness divided between perceiving and obscuring, the shattered shield, that sort of thing. This time I was more caught up in the processes of retrieval and ritual. When I was at Hampshire I sort of dismissed Benjamin in favor of Adorno, and I think that even at NYU, where I (along with everyone else) really embraced Benjamin and sort of understood his cultural turn, stayed leery of the stuff that evoked the past too enthusiastically.
Now that I’m an old man I sort of see where some of what he was getting at has to do with the fact that it’s easier to create your own culture in rituals when you have fewer external factors to deal with. Feeling straitjacketed by circumstance, I wonder if there is some sort of madeleine that I might require as well. There’s something to understanding that there was a nature that one was invoking.
Of course, you don’t want to go too far along that path. Just as you’re about to to say “There did I live” about the “breakers, rolling the images of the sky” you get to the stuff about photography and remember that Benjamin was a sentimental Luddite. Still, it’s good to let yourself get to the pretty part and not focus too much on stuff like “Even though chronology places regularity above permanence, it cannot prevent heterogeneous, conspicuous fragments from remaining within it.”
So I decided that my existing side-projects were all too mercenary and that I needed to do something goofy. The goofy thing I decided to do centers around generating random text using Markov Chains. I’m learning Javscript as I go, and when I was ready to have it generate text from the probability table I wasn’t somewhere where I could connect to the internet, so I didn’t know how to generate random numbers. Just to test the generator I arbitrarily set it to retrieve the first word from the list of possible words. For various implementation reasons, this will give you the input text, unless certain kinds of repetition occurs.
As an input text, I used the last two paragraphs here, because I thought it would be funny, and a little meta. After all this explanation, this will probably be a little disappointing, but the point is I got this:
and I thought it was totally hilarious.