Bugs along the Python trail

python programmingOne reason my sister gave me the raspberry pi was to help keep my interest in learning Python programming after I hit my first snags. I started with a book called Learn Python the Hard Way.

It is excellent in some ways. First, it focuses on the command line, which is good both for someone who likes knowing why things work the way they do and who hates the limitations inherent in using a   GUI (Graphical User Interface). The emphasis on manually typing in every command, rather than cutting and pasting for speed, helps you learn the commands faster. My favorite feature of the book was the image of what you should see on the screen after running each lesson's program.

I quickly became frustrated, however, with the extent to which the book relied on the "just do it" and "figure it out for yourself" approach in the study drills. Making you think through the logic is one

thing; asking you to do something for which you are not properly prepared is another. For example, at one point the exercise was to search the web for a "list of all Python format characters." During my search, I actually found a message board post where someone asked, in the exact language used in the book, where such a list could be found. One response to the query said the question was unanswerable as it was asked.

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Raspberry picking

Raspberry pi in optional case, shown beside business card for size comparison.Shortly after I embarked on a study of Python, which is my first foray into programming, my sister, the UNIX guru, surprised me with a little raspberry pi. If you have not encountered one already, a raspberry pi is a little self-contained computer the size of a credit card that retails for about $30. Here it is shown in its optional case. The business card beside it provides a size comparison.

It comes with connections for standard peripherals (keyboard, mouse and monitor) and free operating system and software sufficient for learning Python,handling standard word processing, spreadsheets and other tasks, both common and more advanced, such as home theater and robotics.

Designed to provide complete, low-cost tools to teach students programming, it is an impressive little package that has accomplished its goal very well and thereby taken the world by storm. Programmers like it because it lets them test programs without risking damage to the family PC. Parents and students like it for its portability, completeness and low cost. Although its power is more comparable to a cell phone than a standard computer, its design nevertheless allows very complex and sophisticated applications.

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