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David Brin Laments Absence of Programming For Kids

Zonk posted about 8 years ago | from the watch-johnny-run-run-johnny-run dept.


An anonymous reader writes "David Brin is an award-winning science fiction writer who has often written on social issues such as privacy and creativity. Now, he's written an essay for titled 'Why Johnny Can't Code'. He discusses his son's years-long effort to find a way to use his math book's BASIC programming examples. All they were ever able to find, however, were either children's versions (on the Mac) or 'advanced' versions which attempted to support modern programming requirements (and which required constant review of the user's manual). Ultimately, they ended-up buying an old Commodore 64 on Ebay — Yes, for those of you under the age of 30, 'personal' computers like the Apple II and C64 used to all include BASIC in their ROMs."

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There are options (3, Interesting)

mkosmo (768069) | about 8 years ago | (#16115969)

How about QBasic on Win95, MS DOS, etc? My first BASIC programming experiences were on one of those kiddy VTech laptops, then moved to QBasic on Win95. Worked great... simple BASIC, didn't require any special knowledge. In fact, I quite enjoyed it.

Re:There are options (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16115998)

...or a c64 emulator :P

Teach them PHP (1)

Shut the fuck up! (572058) | about 8 years ago | (#16116033)

It was built by kiddies for kiddies.

Re:Teach them PHP (1)

creimer (824291) | about 8 years ago | (#16116200)

Except the script kiddies are never happy campers.

Re:There are options (3, Interesting)

tmasssey (546878) | about 8 years ago | (#16116012)

Or a C-64 emulator, or GW-BASIC, or VisualBasic or any of a *bunch* of free or open source BASIC interpreters [] ...

This sounds very much made up to write an article.

Having said that, I have tried to find kid's programming books for my 8-year-old daughter. I started learning computer programming at 8 using my Commodore VIC-20 manual. It had a little cartoon computer character that led you through BASIC programming from the typical 10 PRINT "TIM" 20 GOTO 10 all the way to "advanced" games. As a kid, I absolutely loved it.

However, I have been able to find *nothing* like that for her... Any thoughts out there?

Re:There are options (1)

MindStalker (22827) | about 8 years ago | (#16116079)

Do you happen to know of anything equivelent to LogoWriter. I've found some stuff thats way more complicated than the original and is just simply confusing..

Re:There are options (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16116052)

I'm sure you could get QBASIC working in FreeDOS on a modern computer. Buying a C64 is pretty excessive.

Re:There are options (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16116105)

Liberty Basic motto: "It's too Complicated, It's too Expensive, It's not Approachable [] " is, I think, designed exactly for easy spin up by novices. There are also some teaching languages out there if you search for them.

Re:There are options (2, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | about 8 years ago | (#16116182)

Why basic at all? It's a jumble. How about something clean and elegant? That's right, scheme or lisp.

Actually I really learned to program on an HP calculator. I had previously done some C, but the simple metaphor of the stack was alluring.

Re:There are options (2, Informative)

mkosmo (768069) | about 8 years ago | (#16116209)

I only say that because he explicitly stated the use of BASIC in his son's math book. You really cant use a C compiler to run a few lines of BASIC :)

Re:There are options (2, Insightful)

cp.tar (871488) | about 8 years ago | (#16116281)

Lisp, Scheme, Python, Perl... anything that'll teach the kid to think and to understand.

First Big Tits Dupe (4, Interesting)

goombah99 (560566) | about 8 years ago | (#16116194)

perl -we 'print "Big Tits" until 1==0' Is the epitomy of every first program.

Perl seems to fit the bill, since it can be as simple as you want and doesn't even have the type issues Basic has. Perl is happy to be procedural. When you are ready to step up to objectsperl is ready.

Object oriented perl is a wonderful way to learn objects. Wait don't scream. I said "learn". I'd been object oriented programming for years in Java and other languages. But I truly did not understand how all the pieces worked till I wrote perl objects. In perl it's like one of those "visible man" models. You learn how inheritance works. You learn how binding of an instance to a class works. You understand closures for the first time. You understand how the namespaces are kept separate and how instance memory is allocated. It's not just some voodoo that simply works, like in JAVA. Moreover all of the voodoo is not out of reach but right there for you to mess with. An instance can change it's own inheritance if you want it to. An instance can create a new method and write it into it's own namespace if it wants to. An instance can trap calls to it's own methods and redirect them or intercept calls to methods that don't exist and respond to them.

Those features are not unique to perl (for example pyhton implements objects identically to perl). The difference is that All of that object management occurs in perl itself and is not hidden behind syntactic sugar (like python and java). You quickly appreciate what dereferencing costs, etc...

The other thing that is nice about perl for learning is all of those prefixes like $ @, and so forth. They may make perl look like cursing but they force you to think about what a variable is. When I index out an array, I get what? an array? no I get a scalar, so $X[2] is how I index @X. You can look at someones perl program and if it's written well tell what every word is. You cannot look at a bare name in python or java and tell if it's a method, an array, a hash, a scalar or reference. Perl you can. (Oh and by the way let me explode a perl/pyhton myth. python has more special markup characters in use than perl, the main difference is that in python they are suffixes instead of prefixes and are overloaded with multiple meanings--try counting how many modifiers there are some time (e.g. () , [] ** and so on))

Now once you learn perl objects. Well it's time to put down the perl and back away slowly. Python, java are much better languages for writing re-usable, easily read, complex object oriented programs. Perl is still a much more powerful language than either. But it's powerful for efficiently creating compact or single use programs quickly. Not for well designed complex systems.

Perl is good language to start in, plus it's useful enough to work throughout your career. Basic is not.

Re:There are options (1)

porkThreeWays (895269) | about 8 years ago | (#16116265)

I know it's a dupe, but I missed out on the discussion last time =P

The books his son are using were probably published 10-15 years ago. When you factor in the amount of time from when the author actually wrote them, I'd say it's closer to 20. The books being written today probably don't have code examples in them. Even if MS were to include basic in Vista right now, there would be a lag time of when it'd appear in books again.

That being said, I think he has a point that a simple programming language should be included in consumer operating systems. I really don't think basic fits the bill. It doesn't matter anyway because his point was that basic is already in the text books. The lag time of today's books being written would make that point moot. I think it would be more important to create a purely educational language. Nothing pragmatic about it. I don't think anyone will care if it's dog slow. Make it heavily focused on math operations. Create it so high school computer and math teachers get a boner over it. Make it truely open so it can run on their calculators and phones. Bundle it with every general purpose OS. Let them solve problems with it and not have the language get in the way.

I think that's really the solution for the problem. Not basic, not python, but a purely educational language that kids can write fun stuff in that teachers love. The die-hard programmers don't have to love it, it's not for them.

Re:There are options (3, Informative)

Grayputer (618389) | about 8 years ago | (#16116312)

Those are copyright MS. Try freebasic for the 'free' version.

Re:There are options (1)

donweel (304991) | about 8 years ago | (#16116348)

I learned basic from a tutorial on a Hewlett Packard 2000 with a paper terminal. But my first programming experience was the HP 34c calculator, I learned to program it cause my statistics course scared me an I wanted a weapon to use against it. Our math instructor did a demo of random distribution using an Apple II, after which I asked him if programming a computer like the Apple was different than the calculator, he said if I could do that I could program a computer. So I bugged him till he gave me an account on the HP 2000, we had no access to any pc or apples. I later taught myself forth on an apple II and actually wrote a program that controlled an exercise bike. Difficult to get a job as a forth programmer so I later started to teach myself c on a unix cluster at a college but some dick shut down my account. Any how what got me interested was a teacher demonstrating a simple program and it's relevance to the course material as a practical demonstration. There are lots of micro computers in schools now, there is no excuse for teachers to generate interest in programing. If young people discover this on their own they might be more interested.

GG (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16115982)

Dupe from yesterday guys, come on. 9/14/0320238 []

Re:GG (1)

QuantumG (50515) | about 8 years ago | (#16116010) []

Their search doesn't work, what makes you think they could possibly know they are posting a dup? It's nice like they actually read this site.

Re:GG (1)

joshetc (955226) | about 8 years ago | (#16116017)

Why did you tell them?! I was going to find a few +5 funny posts to jack up my karma :(

Re:GG (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16116178)

Funny doesn't affect your karma. If you're gonna karmaho, please read the rules, ffs.

Re:GG (2, Funny)

larry bagina (561269) | about 8 years ago | (#16116191)

Next up: Why Zonk Can't Edit.

Repost.... (1)

BWJones (18351) | about 8 years ago | (#16115983)

Oh, man..... Already posted here [] and I even told "Daddypants".

Re:Repost.... (1)

rk (6314) | about 8 years ago | (#16116044)

And you weren't the only one. I guess a retread from a day ago doesn't constitute a "serious" problem.

Re:Repost.... (1)

grub (11606) | about 8 years ago | (#16116051)

Mailing Daddypants is pointless, I've given up.

Are you Pete??? (1)

Churla (936633) | about 8 years ago | (#16115992)

No sir... REpeat.. []

10 Print "This news really sucks!" (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16115994)

20 goto10

Correction (3, Funny)

PFI_Optix (936301) | about 8 years ago | (#16116213)

10 Post news item
20 goto 10


neonprimetime (528653) | about 8 years ago | (#16116287)

If you love Jessica Alba

Repost from yesterday? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16115996)

Didn't this get posted yesterday already?

If Johnny could code... (4, Funny)

psykocrime (61037) | about 8 years ago | (#16115997)

... maybe he'd code up a "dupe detector" for the /. editors to use?

How hard would it be? (1)

RingDev (879105) | about 8 years ago | (#16116117)

On the "preview" submit of a story (editors do have to click "preview" right?) parse out any links from the summary. Check the summaries from all stories in the last three days to see if any of them contain those strings. If any of those strings are contained, toss an error and a link to that story so that the editor can quickly check the other story to tell if it is in-fact a dupe that they were about to post.


Yeah, really. (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16115999)

I mean, if I had kids, the first thing I'd do is program 'em to get up and get me a beer from the fridge. Good fer nothin' brats.

Re:Yeah, really. (2, Informative)

tivoKlr (659818) | about 8 years ago | (#16116054)

Dude, seriously, why the AC. I was going to mod this +1 Funny as Hell, but I don't spend em on AC's...

Oh well.

Re:Yeah, really. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16116086)

Stuck at work. For some reason, I can't persist a login. I know. Weird.

dupe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16116001)

while(true) {;

Get with the vibe, dude (2, Funny)

Space cowboy (13680) | about 8 years ago | (#16116059)

Surely it ought to be:

10 LET ZONK = 1
40 GOTO 30
1010 RETURN ... or something similar, unless you're on BBC BASIC [] of course - just about the only 8-bit BASIC with real structure to it


Re:dupe (1)

Kesch (943326) | about 8 years ago | (#16116074)

I think you mean

20 GOTO 10

Longing for it again, now... (0, Offtopic)

jbdaem (959867) | about 8 years ago | (#16116009)

I really do miss loading from tapes.. So archaic, but was sooooooo cool back then, still is now...

The real question should be... (1)

night_flyer (453866) | about 8 years ago | (#16116011)

Why can't Zonk pay attention?

You know, though this is a dupe (4, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 8 years ago | (#16116014)

It does afford me the option of wondering "aloud" why Brin didn't just download, say, an Apple ][ or C64 emulator. I mean, I always thought the guy was kind of smart, but now I know it's not true. (And don't tell me that non-computer nerds wouldn't know about emulators; if you don't know, ask someone.

Re:You know, though this is a dupe (1)

MSTCrow5429 (642744) | about 8 years ago | (#16116102)

I think he's either dim or feigning ignorane for dramatic effect. There are a plethora of freeware and shareware BASIC compilers available for download, the real problem isn't finding BASIC, it's choosing which version and dialect to use.

Re:You know, though this is a dupe (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 8 years ago | (#16116190)

To be fair, if you're talking about entering programming examples from some magazine, you do need the right kind of BASIC, which is why the same program might appear several different ways in the same magazine. But also, to be fair, that's why we have emulators, and none of those math book programming examples are going to fail even in any halfassed emulator.

Re:You know, though this is a dupe (3, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | about 8 years ago | (#16116104)

I thought the same thing.

The article was interesting, but ultimately the author seemed to be concerned about recreating nostalgia for programming on his 8-bit computer rather than actually wanting kids to know how to program. There's countless examples of programming languages suitable for a kid. Bash, Excel, and Javascript are all pretty simple, don't require complex steps like compiling or memory management, and readily accessible.

Re:You know, though this is a dupe (1)

Danga (307709) | about 8 years ago | (#16116275)

There's countless examples of programming languages suitable for a kid. Bash, Excel, and Javascript are all pretty simple

I don't consider Excel a programming language, BASH is also not a programming language but it allows you to run scripts, javascript is close to a programming language I guess and kids could probably do some fun things with it. But seriously what could a kid do in Excel that would actually hold their interest longer than half a second? "Wow Dad! I just calculated how much money I will make this year in my bank account from interest!". I just don't see Excel appealing to young kids.

Re:You know, though this is a dupe (1)

maynard (3337) | about 8 years ago | (#16116145)

maybe he just wanted to keep his kid's dirty fingers off his PC. Anyway, a C-64 can take one hell of a beating - one of the reasons so many of 'em are still around.

Re:You know, though this is a dupe (1)

flooey (695860) | about 8 years ago | (#16116201)

It does afford me the option of wondering "aloud" why Brin didn't just download, say, an Apple ][ or C64 emulator. I mean, I always thought the guy was kind of smart, but now I know it's not true. (And don't tell me that non-computer nerds wouldn't know about emulators; if you don't know, ask someone.

I think the idea was that he was lamenting that there aren't the tools for people to grow into being computer nerds. Your average Counterstrike player doesn't really want to expend some effort to learn how to program, but if the tools were sitting there, he might end up playing with them.

Personally, I think the much bigger reason is that our computers do so much more these days. Back when I got my first computer, it didn't really do a lot. Once I beat Crystal Caves and Secret Agent Man, GWBASIC was about the only interesting thing that was left. Nowadays, you'd be hard pressed to get to the point where you're poking around the random stuff that's included on your computer for lack of anything better to do.

Re:You know, though this is a dupe (2, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 8 years ago | (#16116225)

Personally, I think the much bigger reason is that our computers do so much more these days. Back when I got my first computer, it didn't really do a lot. Once I beat Crystal Caves and Secret Agent Man, GWBASIC was about the only interesting thing that was left.

Yeah, I think you've really hit the nail on the head here. Actually you could get BASIC in ROM for the IBM PC-1... but alas, my machine lacked that option, and I ended up scrapping everything but the motherboard which AFAIK is still hanging on a friend's wall.

Not just that, but those older machines (the 4-bit era) tended to show you BASIC as soon as you booted. It was ready for nothing so much as for letting you write some code.

Re:You know, though this is a dupe (2, Insightful)

LunaticTippy (872397) | about 8 years ago | (#16116207)

My only complaint about my 64 emulator is the keyboard. The c64 keyboard had some weird keys, and it doesn't map prettily to a modern keyboard. I think a " is shift-2, but I always have to poke around a bit to figure it out.

Apple ][ for me. (1)

drewzhrodague (606182) | about 8 years ago | (#16116016)

Yes, for those of you under the age of 30, 'personal' computers like the Apple II and C64 used to all include BASIC in their ROMs.

That must make me... damn, over 30.

yes, the '80s. This is how most of us used to learn. There were still TRS-80s, Amigas, and ancient XT workstations in some of my friends' homes. I was an Apple ][ kid, myself. I guess I still am.

Re:Apple ][ for me. (1)

j-stroy (640921) | about 8 years ago | (#16116167)

Of course the reason we could learn (aside from BASIC available on the command line) was that these computers shipped with a nice slim programmers manual with examples.

There were also many games and apps also written in BASIC. It was easy to see how things worked, and modify them if you wanted to. (remember Carwash?)

Heck, I added Level of Detail to my animations in 1981, and hacked on a keyboard control interface to games.. We hadn't bought a joystick controller.

Johnny will learn to code if he can't play his game without it, believe me!

This experience has let me call BS on lots of professional coders who try to claim that computers wont do . "Well..." they concede you're right we could that, "But we'd have to write some code".. Fer chrissakes why be a programmer if you don't want to write code!

Slashdupe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16116019)

Dupes for nerds, stuff that ran two days ago.

No digg.

One word... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16116024)

One word, and possibly start of a loooong flamewar: PYTHON!

Re:One word... (2, Funny)

kfg (145172) | about 8 years ago | (#16116155)

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, no! This is a dupe story, you're not going to catch me posting again.

Oh, wait, shit!


Flame Baby Flame (4, Funny)

neonprimetime (528653) | about 8 years ago | (#16116264)

Kids that grow up to learn Python are more presentable and well mannered that those that grow up to learn Perl. Flame On!

Come on... (3, Insightful)

naoursla (99850) | about 8 years ago | (#16116031)

I know that /. is famous for dupes, but at some point I start thinking the editors are playing a little joke on us.

Re:Come on... (1)

Bemopolis (698691) | about 8 years ago | (#16116231)

/. has the software for an automated system for detecting dupes. Unfortunately, it's all on punchcards and runs under COBOL-68.


I guess "Slashback" got cancelled early... (0, Offtopic)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about 8 years ago | (#16116036)

I guess "Slashback" got cancelled early, because all we're getting these days is regular dups.

Uh, hello? (2, Insightful)

Dachannien (617929) | about 8 years ago | (#16116037)

Why pay for the cow when you can get the emulator [] for free?

How is it that (2, Interesting)

Travoltus (110240) | about 8 years ago | (#16116040)

Slashdot can post dupe stories about the dearth of programming training opportunities for kids, but they can reject a story I posted about a recent study showing a LACK of programming jobs?

Why should kids learn programming when they'll only be able to compete for a programming job if they take an East Indian's dollar-a-week salary?

I'll bite (1)

RingDev (879105) | about 8 years ago | (#16116144)

Do you have a link?


Re:How is it that (1)

cerberusss (660701) | about 8 years ago | (#16116150)

Don't get caught up in the lists that circulate on salaries. This year, they're a dollar a week and everyone outsourcing. Next year, they show a golden future since lots of jobs come back.

These things come and go in waves. I'm only five years in the IT and I have already recognized this, why haven't you?

By the way, it's bad form to complain about your story submission being rejected.

There are jobs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16116238)

The local community college trains all kinds of programmers and they seem to get jobs:

A program aimed at business types. Their projects seem mostly to be Visual Basic front ends on various databases. it/it/computerproganalyst.jsp []

A program aimed at writing code for existing devices. It's pretty low level but they don't build their own hardware.

A program where they build and program their own hardware.

The vast majority of the grads in these programs get jobs. A couple of them had 100% placement last year. So, there are jobs out there.

Lego Mindstorm? (3, Informative)

drewzhrodague (606182) | about 8 years ago | (#16116041)

What about the Lego Mindsorm? That has a programming language. I'll bet it is way cooler to use a beginners programming language to build robots, than it was to draw boxes, or calculate your homework.

...and hold on, now! Where's my damn flying car?

Do your kid a favor (1)

TheWoozle (984500) | about 8 years ago | (#16116043)

...and teach him Perl []

Re:Do your kid a favor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16116259)

While I'd agree that Perl would be an improvement over the bad habits taught by BASIC, I'd prefer they learn some other language, preferably one in which a well-formed expression actually IS distinguishable from line noise...

Yes, Perl is good for kids (1)

rduke15 (721841) | about 8 years ago | (#16116317)

I did just that the other day. Wanted a printout of "3x3=9", "3x4=12", etc. (how is that called in English?) for one of the kids. So I showed the other kid how to do it in perl. It allowed me to show the command line ("normal" people don't know what that is anymore!), and a very first step in basic programming: a loop and a print. Then we added more variables, tried giving an argument, and then put the loop into another one, so it printed all tables at once.

The nice thing with perl is that all the syntactic sugar it has makes it really easy for kids.

"foreach $i (1..12) {}" is much more readable for a kid than "for ($i = 0; $i =12; $i++) {}".

And not having to pre-declare stuff is also much better for an introduction, where you want to see only meaningful lines of code to make the logic clear.

The disadvantage is that it has no (easy) GUI. But when the problem is suitable for pure text and shell scripting, Perl is certainly the best introduction because it is so easy and fast to get results.

Re:Yes, Perl is good for kids (1)

jericho4.0 (565125) | about 8 years ago | (#16116379)

That would be a "times table".

Despite the Dupe - I *Hated* BASIC; PASCAL Baby! (4, Insightful)

DG (989) | about 8 years ago | (#16116050)

Personally, having grown up with the C64 and the Apple][ and all the rest... man, I HATED BASIC.

It was way, way, WAY too limiting and tedious, even for my neophyte 13-year-old self.

I really didn't discover the joy of programming until I discovered Turbo Pascal. It was like somebody unshackling me - even with the crappy PC XT CGA graphics.

Pascal is a *great* learning language. It teaches all the good habits that will be needed for a C/C++/Perl hacker later in life, without all the administrivia involved with C, or the sheer horsepower (with all the syntactic complexity) of Perl.

Go with Pascal as a first language, and you can't go wrong.


Re:Despite the Dupe - I *Hated* BASIC; PASCAL Baby (1)

grahamsz (150076) | about 8 years ago | (#16116118)

I'm pretty much the same.

Started Basic at about 5 or 6, Pascal about 12/13, Perl about 15/16, Java about 17 and never really got that into C or assembly except on embedded stuff.

Ironically i'm now maintaining a VB application, and can put my 2 decades of experience to use.

Subject too long.... (1)

Serapth (643581) | about 8 years ago | (#16116168)

They taught Pascal in my high school, which wasnt such a bad idea. Problem is, this was 15+ years ago and the guy teaching didnt know a damned thing about computers. I think computers are getting much more emphasis at the high school level low.

That said, we were taugh Alice Pascal, which was a sandboxed learning addition of Pascal. My vague memmories tell me that the sandbox itself put so many contraints on you, the you as much learned working around alice pascals limits, as you did learning pascal.

Then again, at this time I had already taught myself C and a few languages before that ( Yes, starting with BASIC on an Atari 800 computer ) so the experience was a rather painful one for me.

One Word (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16116062)

Developers! Developers! Developers!

BASIC? (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | about 8 years ago | (#16116073)

Why use that old junk? What's he got against C?
You can simply use an OSX terminal and compile with gcc, no fuss.

But if you want to teach a kid programming: HTML and Javascript is the way to go.
They're universally accessible in new computers, and they're a great way to learn to code and to share the results.

All you need is a browser and a text editor.

Yeh... (2, Funny)

ijakings (982830) | about 8 years ago | (#16116076)

A boy who searches for years to find a program that will let him do some examples from his maths book. He is like the /. King. We must find him and make him our saviour, he will lead us to victory over these so called "norms"

Re:Yeh... (1)

SageMusings (463344) | about 8 years ago | (#16116240)

I can't figure out why he needs to code 15 line programs in BASIC if he is already 200 pages into a C++ book. I mean, why regress?

From what I took away from the article, the child seems to be bright enough not to have any need of an old, 8-bit machine capable of running interpreted BASIC. He needs to take the knowledge he has and RUN(pun?) with it.

My personal take on the whole situation is children with sufficient interest in programming will learn it without the tools of yesteryear. In the end, they'll be better off for it, too. The only thing they need to keep in mind is they should do it for the intellectual stimulation and realize (especially in coming years) there will be few US jobs open to them in that area.

Slashdot really needs a dupe section (1)

szo (7842) | about 8 years ago | (#16116084)

Stories like this could be relocated there after the first comments.

Re:Slashdot really needs a dupe section (1)

neonprimetime (528653) | about 8 years ago | (#16116203)

That would be awesome! Like Pretty Pink Ponies (or unicorns, your preference)! []
I can imagine it would become the largest Slashdot section in about 1 month! (2, Interesting)

neonprimetime (528653) | about 8 years ago | (#16116222)

You know what's even funnier? The link I created in the Parent works! And it takes you to the /. home page! hahahahahahahahahahahaha

followup subject. (1)

borix (913092) | about 8 years ago | (#16116134)

I'm impatiently awaiting a follow up article by mr. Brin titled "Why Zonk can't check the posts archive".

This is a legitimate concern... (1)

Bones3D_mac (324952) | about 8 years ago | (#16116202)

I've been concerned about this issue for some time. Sure there are "options" out there, such as Javascript and the freebie Macintosh developer tools that come with each new system. However, trying to put object-oriented concepts into a form that children can easily adapt to seems a lot more difficult than one might believe. Even something like RealBasic is a bit tricky to follow if you aren't familiar with how object oriented code works.

There needs to be some kind of readily available interpretive programming language that allows people to start out programming in linear fashion, and later eases them into object-oriented coding.

Personally, I started out on the Apple II using the built-in basic programming language, and eventually moved up to working in machine code. However, despite the advances I achieved with the Apple II, it took me nearly five years to grasp how object oriented programs work. If someone with years of programming experience has this kind of difficulty following OOP, how can we expect children to instantly pick up on it without learning the most basic fundamentals of writing executable code?

In my case, it was Macromedia Director 5's "Lingo" programming language that finally made it possible for me to "connect the dots" enough to understand what exactly is going on under the hood. Since then, I've adapted to OOP far enough to use RealBasic, Perl and Javascript with any level of reliability. (Eventually, I'd like to get some variant of C under my belt.)

Perhaps something along the lines of Macromedia's authorware (now defunct) would provide a good starting point, by giving people a visual programming interface (flowcharting with user defined properties), which can eventually be set to an advanced mode, allowing more confident users to modify the code directly, once they understand the basics.

Re:This is a legitimate concern... (1)

Kesch (943326) | about 8 years ago | (#16116255)

There needs to be some kind of readily available interpretive programming language that allows people to start out programming in linear fashion, and later eases them into object-oriented coding.

Umm... *cough*Pyhton*cough*

Get a graphing calculator! (1)

Dwedit (232252) | about 8 years ago | (#16116220)

Really, a TI83 is just like those ancient computers of the 80's. It boots up to BASIC, is powered by a Z80, and has a tiny amount of RAM, yet it enough for what it does.

When I was a script kiddie... (1)

creimer (824291) | about 8 years ago | (#16116224)

Logo was the only thing we had. We whipped that turtle to death on the Apple ][ to draw all those fancy lines, circle and stars.

Re:When I was a script kiddie... (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | about 8 years ago | (#16116321)

Logo was the only thing we had. We whipped that turtle to death on the Apple ][

Ahhhh... memories... Logo was an awesome learning tool.

Its back (1)

lusid1 (759898) | about 8 years ago | (#16116229)

OK, So it's a dupe, and beyond that the poster didn't RTFA.

But anyway...
He Could have just run an old computer under an emulator...
or he could have downloaded something like bwbasic, its GPL even.
He could even downloaded the FreeDos 1.0 liveCD and run bwBasic from there

A c64 from eBay? (2, Funny)

Weaselmancer (533834) | about 8 years ago | (#16116230)

Good lord man. Why go through all that trouble? []

The article should be called Why Johnny Can't Freaking Use Google.

Kids are more computer literate than us: too bad. (2, Insightful)

Nijika (525558) | about 8 years ago | (#16116236)

He can lament all he wants, the truth of it is the percentage of kids that have access to computers in the first place is much higher, and the number of computer literate kids that will come out of that expore to completely replace and out-do us will also be much higher.

I don't think the antiquification of DOS, and of all things, BASIC, is going to have some negative effect.

We'll always have to suffer the hand-wringing from a generation getting older, and I'll always roll my eyes about it.

Chipmunk Basic for Apple (OS X) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16116239)

Go here.... Chipmunk Basic ( [] )

Parallax BASIC STAMPS (1)

gemtech (645045) | about 8 years ago | (#16116260)

I'm an old assembly language guy that has hacked around with Pascal, Visual Basic, Q Basic, and sometimes embedded C. I now primarily design the hardware and specify the software.
In the last few months I've been putting together proof of concept systems (motors, switches, lights, RFID modules) and am using PBASIC on a Parallax BASIC STAMPS. It's greatly simplified what I do for dog and pony shows. I highly recommend that as a starting point for beginners. I do know that some colleges (and younger) are using it.

mod dowN (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16116291)

idiotic (1)

bcrowell (177657) | about 8 years ago | (#16116292)

Brin is so full of **** here, it's not even funny. Freshmeat has a whole category [] full of free BASIC interpreters and compilers. A lot of them run on Windows. He also doesn't seem to understand that there are other languages that can be programmed in a procedural style, just like BASIC. For example, there's nothing stopping you from writing python programs in that style. BASIC doesn't suck because it's simple and nonpretentious. BASIC sucks because it's never been standardized. I learned to program in BASIC on a TRS-80, and it was a major pain having to translate programs written into other dialects into the TRS-80 dialect.

Why Johnny can't read Salon Magazine. (1)

Medievalist (16032) | about 8 years ago | (#16116305)

I'm willing to watch their Flash ads in order to read an article, but I've never been able to get past the endless loop of "watch this ad for access!!" despite trying a dozen or more times.

I've even tried turning off adblock, noscript, flashblock and accepting all their cookies. Still just an endless loop of ads.

I'm sort of assuming that the page can't handle mozilla-based browsers at this point.

Too bad for Salon; I might have subscribed, but if their site can't handle my browser and plug-ins of choice I guess I'll have to give my money to somebody else...

Re:Why Johnny can't read Salon Magazine. (1)

Animats (122034) | about 8 years ago | (#16116366)

Me either. Just an endless loop of ads. No wonder nobody reads Salon any more.

Re:Why Johnny can't read Salon Magazine. (1)

Dr. Zowie (109983) | about 8 years ago | (#16116388)

I pay $35/year for my subscription. It works on old-Mozilla, Safari, Camino, Galeon - even IE. Never a hitch for me.

The subscription is well worth it for me since I found I was sitting through a flash ad almost every day. They generally offer a bunch of goodies when you subscribe (mostly free magazine subscriptions), so you're not just getting Salon for that. Their reporting is mostly very good and occasionally excellent - it's refreshing to see a news magazine that actually rakes some muck once in a while, and they tend to source their articles well. Their columnists are engaging.

XLogo For Mac Needs Help (1)

skrysakj (32108) | about 8 years ago | (#16116307)

Speaking of which, does anyone want to help with my attempt to fill the gap that this article talks about? My old XLogo project needs some tender loving care: [] . It's a simple Logo/Turtle app, just like in the old days. It works: runs commands, even complex series of commands. However, it has not been worked on for quite some time and still needs someone to implement other commands into the parser, and make it Intel processor compatible (aka. Universal Binary).

Changing World: Low % Who Grow Their Own Code (5, Insightful)

G4from128k (686170) | about 8 years ago | (#16116311)

I too have lamented the changes in IT. When I first learned to program (1977 on an HP-25), the technical environment was very different. Back then, everyone who wanted to use a computer HAD to know how to program. The scarcity of software meant that everyone wrote their own code or, at least, typed in code from a magazine. Very limited software sharing schemes and the inability to quickly find software meant it was easier to write your own than to find someone else's software. Simple languages, simple hardware, simple interfaces, and simple APIs ruled. When the entire OS plus application suite resided in a few k of RAM, it was easy to both work with the system or create your own. It took very little effort for a novice programmer to produce world-class code because the bar was so low and the functionality so primitive that anyone could make something interesting. In the old days, everyone grew their own code.

Today it's all different. The OS has become a beast that not even a team of programmers can fully comprehend. IDEs, OOP, and layered architectures try to hide the complexity, but its still there. Moreover, almost any bit of code or application that one might want has a multiple incarnations ready for buying/downloading from commercial/shareware/OSS sources. It's now very easy to find the application you want and much harder to write something that is better than anythign else. In the new days, few grow their own code.

Perhaps its like the change from a subsistence-agrarian world to a world of craftsmen (or industry) where programming is like farming. In the past, everyone grew their own code. Today, no one grows their own food and farming is a very minor part of the global economy. Farmers may lament that most children in the city don't know how to milk a cow or thresh wheat, but perhaps those skills aren't needed in most people. Just as one farmer can now feed some 40 people, one programmer servers the programming needs of a growing number of users. Consider that Microsoft as 60,000 employees whose code runs on at least 600 million operating PCs -- more than 10,000 non-programming users per programmer.

As with farming, we now live in a world where few need to grow their own code. As far as schools are concerned we may be entering a world in which fewer than 1 child per class will ever need to know how to program. That makes me sad at some level, I truly enjoyed learning to program, but it may be an inevitable part of the maturation process for IT and the internet.

Why BASIC? (1)

backwardMechanic (959818) | about 8 years ago | (#16116322)

Why BASIC? It's not such a hot language. One of the main reasons it was in all those early home computers was because it was small enough to jam into the limited memory.

My dad refused to teach me BASIC (he's a pretty serious coder), and it took me a long time to really appreciate what he did for me. When we got an Atari ST, he taught me Logo. There's a lot more to that language than turtle graphics, and it set me up well. While I was learning about recursion, other kids were trying to untie their gotos.

I haven't looked but there must be a whole host of well structured, interpreted languages out there. Just because you're nostalgic about BASIC doesn't make it good.

David Brin is full of crap. (1)

Dr. Zowie (109983) | about 8 years ago | (#16116323)

There're TREMENDOUS amounts of programming opportunities out there -- I leave it to other posters to bicker over which watered-down abstracted programming environment or interactive scripting code or automated-gladiator-codebot game is best, but the point is that there are zillions of them.

The Apple ][ had a nice interactive programming environment (BASIC) and, yes, I remember it fondly. Learning about Woz's Programmer's Aid ROM was like discovering that the Emerald City lurked under the hood of my beige wedge. But the mere fact that you had to use the BASIC/DOS interpreter do get anything done, doesn't mean that most people learned how to program it. Many of my Apple ][ owning friends (and my brother) chose not to learn to program, and learned only enough to play the games. At school we had a set of TRS-80s and we geeks had endless fun hacking the system and inserting patchcodes into the BASIC interpreter and generally exercising our nascent 1337 c0d0r 5ki11z -- but most of the students just played pirated copies of Infocom adventures and space-invader games.

Today's machines are more versatile and practically infinitely more powerful, but the same duality applies: some folks will look for a command interpreter and start coding, most folks will just go for the nice eye candy.

"BASIC" Fundamentals (1)

AcidTag (528338) | about 8 years ago | (#16116350)

I totally agree with the author. When my daughter was born; she's 2 1/2 now; I made the decision that I wanted her to learn about programming and computers like I did. I look back on my childhood and I've never thought of the Commodore64 or Apple][e as lacking, in fact all I ever saw was potential. So I too went on eBay and picked up 3 vic-20's and 2 C-64's for her when she's old enough to want to play.

I don't see how the glitz of windows or osx will help her in anyway other than to confuse her.

All of the classic computers just sat there doing nothing, a blinking cursor. It was up to you to make it do "anything"! I love that! A device that is totally under my control. Look at today's computers: Multi-processor, multi-threaded applications, no one can tell me they know exactly what their modern computer is doing at any point in time, save for the robust *nix user who in all probability had a c64 or apple when they where a kid.

So for my daughter, she will have the same benefit as I did. Total control. Yes it's crude, yes the 'language' has been superseded over and over, but the fundamentals have not. That's what I believe she needs. "BASIC" Fundamentals.

Remember the old Commodore Vic-20 Commercials? [] 25 years have passed, the situation is the same. People don't hire kids who are good at Video Games.

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