Saturday, November 10, 2012

Want To Learn To Program A Computer?

If you have never taken a computer programming course before I'd strongly recommend picking up python as your first programming language. (version 3 if you are starting from scratch)

Take a beginner's course over at Coursera.  I highly recommend the University of Toronto one, Learn to Program: The Fundamentals, which is just wrapping up it's first semester now (and should be starting again soon) Paul and Jen's approach of teaching functions first, starting with defining exactly what the function should do, including examples of inputs and the expected outputs, in the docstring, then moving on to actually coding the function to do that is much easier to get your head around than the way I learned programming back in the early to mid 1990's.

Of course there is also Google's Python Class that is available on-demand, but not as interactive.There is thenewboston's YouTube tutorials, which are really engaging and perfect for new programmers.
Or there's Codecademy: Python or if those methods don't work for you, there's Learn Python the hard way pick what works for you. They are all free.

Pick up a free e-book, or perhaps several of them, from http://pythonbooks.revolunet.com/

I'd recommend starting with Think Python: How to Think Like a Computer Scientist or Dive Into Python 3.

The main thing that holds a lot of us back from learning how to code is not having an idea of what we would like to do with the code. Sometimes all it takes is just sitting back and thinking about problems that you'd like to solve, tasks you do repeatedly every day, every week or every month that could be simplified because you do the same thing every time, again and again. Those are things that computer programs are good for.

I manage a lot of windows computers. Some of them are on the old side, running dangerously close at times to the limits of what their hard disks can hold. Time and again, I found myself going in and deleting uninstall files for updates I knew I would never be uninstalling, just to free up a little space. So, I wrote a program that looks for those files and checks how old they are. If an update was installed more than 90 days ago it deletes the uninstall folder for it. Launching that program saves a bit of precious time each time I find I'm in that position of having to free up some disk space ASAP.

Sit down and think, what tasks like that could you automate? I bet there are at least a few.

Another one was a program that reads a comma separated list of computers (name, ip address, mac address) and uses Wake On LAN to wake the computers in that list up at a specific time. At first I had it call a command line based wake on lan program I downloaded from the net, but later I revised it to create and send the WOL Magic Packets itself ...The possibilities are basically endless.
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