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croston
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 16, 2012 11:51 am

1aws said:

The reality is that all classes, in my experience, are at least bi-level; in smaller schools most are tri-level. The idea is that the teacher has appropriate materials for each of the levels for each aspect of the course.  This tends to minimise "formal teaching". Group teaching becomes the norm. It is really hard to do with programming.  Pupils' rate of progress varies enormously after the first few communal lessons, at which point the group teaching has to kick in.  This is more troublesome with the tri-level class. Even the inspectorate have stated that tri-level is undesirable.
I think that teaching programming to the top pupils is better suited to an after school club rather than formal lessons.  This way, you are not aiming to pass an exam, but to learn the subject.  You can also tailor the subject to individuals.  They will not require as much motivation.  Everybody should be taught the basics at KS2 (primary) or KS3 (11-14, early secondary) - variables, conditionals, loops etc.  so they can discover if programming is for them or not.  It is no coincidence that music teaching follows the same patterns - the talented ones have private lessons but everyone has basic music lessons at school.

This is why the RPi is so good - it allows all children that want to the chance to learn to have their own computer (musical instrument) designed with programming in mind.  This opportunity disappeared when PCs/Windows became popular.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 16, 2012 12:51 pm

croston said:


I think that teaching programming to the top pupils is better suited to an after school club rather than formal lessons.  This way, you are not aiming to pass an exam, but to learn the subject.  You can also tailor the subject to individuals.  They will not require as much motivation.

This is why the RPi is so good - it allows all children that want to the chance to learn to have their own computer (musical instrument) designed with programming in mind.  This opportunity disappeared when PCs/Windows became popular.


Agree up to a point croston.  The problem with that solution is that you are dependent entirely on the goodwill of a teacher.  What happens when pupils have to go home immediately after school to attend dentist etc. The lack of a formal examination means that no third party will rate the experience.  I believe it is possible within the existing structure. All schools have a learning support department.  Whilst they tend to deal predominantly with the slower learner; that is not their remit.  They are supposed to accommodate the brightest pupils as well.  Learning Support often work through extraction.  For example when maths classes appear they will extract pupils from all of the classes and deal with them.  What if they extracted the keener pupils from ICT classes (assuming enough run at the same time) and gathered them together. But, rather than the LS teacher taking the extracted pupils they would take one of the ICT classes; thereby freeing up one of the enthusiastic computing qualified preferably teachers to teach a programming course. I think that could be made to work. LS teachers are often competent enough with computers to teach ICT. Class numbers could be adjusted to permit the LS teacher to take the smallest of the sections, easing their burdon.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 16, 2012 5:01 pm

1aws said:


The idea is that the teacher has appropriate materials for each of the levels for each aspect of the course.  This tends to minimise "formal teaching". Group teaching becomes the norm. It is really hard to do with programming.


Only "really hard"?  Close to impossible, I would have said. I really don't envy the lot of any teacher who has to work within the confines of a strict curriculum, even less so when they're dealing with a formal subject.  It must be totally soul destroying when what you want to do is encourage all the kids to reach their level of excellence, but the system is seemingly aimed at churning out a homogenous, mediocre, sludge.


Staff training is a major issue.


Hell, staff training was an issue in the '80s (the kids who could program outshone the teachers even then, and at that point the teachers I encountered who were teaching "computing" were at least enthusiastic about the subject), I can't imagine how bad it is now they've had years of ICT ground into their faces.

One of the few things that gives me hope is the number of teachers here who seem to be fired up about actually doing something worthwhile.

Simon

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 16, 2012 7:32 pm

1aws said:

But, rather than the LS teacher taking the extracted pupils they would take one of the ICT classes; thereby freeing up one of the enthusiastic computing qualified preferably teachers to teach a programming course. ... LS teachers are often competent enough with computers to teach ICT. Class numbers could be adjusted to permit the LS teacher to take the smallest of the sections, easing their burdon.
Not possible. They are not qualified teachers and therefore are not alllowed to teach, whether they are capable or not.




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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 16, 2012 7:55 pm

tufty said:


Hell, staff training was an issue in the "80s (the kids who could program outshone the teachers even then, and at that point the teachers I encountered who were teaching "computing" were at least enthusiastic about the subject), I can"t imagine how bad it is now they"ve had years of ICT ground into their faces.

One of the few things that gives me hope is the number of teachers here who seem to be fired up about actually doing something worthwhile.

Simon


In the 80's there was money around for staff training, by the turn of the century money was only available for management style courses. I agree with your last sentence, it is very encouraging to read the comments of the "fired up" teachers on here.

scep said:


Not possible. They are not qualified teachers and therefore are not alllowed to teach, whether they are capable or not.


Are you sure about this? I don't mean the Learning Support Assistants, I am referring to the LS departmental teachers.  Do they not exist any more? Are the LS departments run only by the unqualified assistants?

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 16, 2012 8:11 pm

croston said:


I have discovered quite the same thing from going to computing conferences and from the population of software engineers at work – there is a substantial overlap between good musicians and good programmers…
I have also noticed a similar thing with maths and music – I can't explain this though.  It may be something to do with IQ.


I believe the theory that says music develops the part of the brain that is also used for maths.  This is particularly true of classical music like Mozart and Bach.  So if you want to improve maths scores, add to the music program.  I've commented about this elsewhere in this thread or another RasPi thread, and how Pythagoras is an excellent example of an ancient who made great contributions to both.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 16, 2012 8:20 pm

1aws said:

 Are the LS departments run only by the unqualified assistants?
No, by a qualified teacher. And perhaps another teacher in deputy role. In our school the LS department consists of two teachers and 30 Teaching Assistants. This is a pretty standard set up AFAIK (though we have more TAs per pupils than average)

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 16, 2012 8:31 pm

Has anyone thought to use RFO BASIC!  It is written by the author of Atari Basic and Apple DOS 3.1. and it is distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License.

http://laughton.com/basic/

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 16, 2012 8:49 pm

scep said:


1aws said:


Are the LS departments run only by the unqualified assistants?


No, by a qualified teacher. And perhaps another teacher in deputy role. In our school the LS department consists of two teachers and 30 Teaching Assistants. This is a pretty standard set up AFAIK (though we have more TAs per pupils than average)



Glad to hear that scep. I was starting to think I had completely lost the plot. We only has a handful of assistants 10 years ago.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:59 pm

1aws said:


scep said:


1aws said:


Are the LS departments run only by the unqualified assistants?


No, by a qualified teacher. And perhaps another teacher in deputy role. In our school the LS department consists of two teachers and 30 Teaching Assistants. This is a pretty standard set up AFAIK (though we have more TAs per pupils than average)


Glad to hear that scep. I was starting to think I had completely lost the plot. We only has a handful of assistants 10 years ago.


And when I was at school we had no teaching assistants.  The only non-teaching jobs AFAICR were caretaker, secretary, and headmaster plus the cleaning staff and canteen staff (of course).

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 16, 2012 10:38 pm

andyl said:


And when I was at school we had no teaching assistants.  The only non-teaching jobs AFAICR were caretaker, secretary, and headmaster plus the cleaning staff and canteen staff (of course).


They weren't needed: all the "Rems" were shoved in sink classes to do fingerpainting. With their own snot. Average ability did CSE Woodwork in preparation for Secondary modern. The bright kids got taught how to pass the 11 plus and keep the oiks in their place. Job done

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 17, 2012 12:05 am

andyl said:


Chromatix said:


Currently, most universities ask for an A-level qualification in Mathematics and/or a closely related subject (such as Physics) for entry into a Computer Science undergraduate course - much as they do for most engineering subjects.

This is at least partly because there is no decent pre-university qualification which is Computing-specific *and* is a reliable predictor of programming ability.  So they look for mathematical skill as a tolerably good indicator of logical and numerical aptitude.


A CS degree is (or should be - it was in my day) a computer science degree not a programming degree.  Part of that degree course may well involve some more interesting maths in certain modules.  For example understanding lambda calculus (not just its implementation) and other bits in the theory of computation. Some may teach functional analysis, statistics, graph theory and type theory.

It is quite possible to be a good programmer without knowing all of that.


Thank you.  I agree.  A CS degree should include programming not be programming.  For a full CS degree you need Electronic engineering (including an HDL), Algorithms, Boolean Algebra, Number theory, Analytic Geometry, Software Engineering (including programming), and a history of the development of computing.  Though this is all primary school stuff, I ask also what would bring it to a university level.

Though this is yet another good argument to use something simple like BASIC or Pascal.
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 17, 2012 12:11 am

And if people are so apposed to BASIC and Pascal do to there style (pretty much the same for both), then B or BCPL are much better starting points than the 'modern' languages.  Though Modern BASIC and Pascal have the advantage of typed variables, where B and BCPL are 'Typeless Languages'.
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 17, 2012 5:53 pm

I love it when someone starts a religious war by bringing up BASIC. Or FORTRAN.

The first language I learned was BASIC. It was followed by FORTRAN, PL/1, Plago, APL, Snobol, LISP, PAL-D, Algol, Ada, Forth, Pascal, C, Perl, C++, Python, Java, and Ruby. I may have left one or two languages out, since it's been 43 years since that first foray into BASIC. I mention these so that you'll understand that I'm speaking from a long background in all kinds of computer languages....

I think that BASIC is a fine first language for someone to learn. If you're a "born programmer", and you get bitten by the bug, then you'll quickly exceed it's capabilities. If you're not cut out to be a stone-cold programmer, at least you've gotten some exposure to computer programming, and an inkling of what can be done.

All languages have their uses, in my opinion. It seems to me that BASIC fits in there, somewhere.

However, a famous computer scientist (E. Dijkstra) said something like: "It is practically impossible to teach good programming style to students that have had prior exposure to BASIC. As potential programmers, they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration". Who am I to argue with the likes of Dijkstra? ;-{)}

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 17, 2012 6:07 pm

DavidS said:







Thank you.  I agree.  A CS degree should include programming not be programming.  For a full CS degree you need Electronic engineering (including an HDL), Algorithms, Boolean Algebra, Number theory, Analytic Geometry, Software Engineering (including programming), and a history of the development of computing.  Though this is all primary school stuff, I ask also what would bring it to a university level.

Though this is yet another good argument to use something simple like BASIC or Pascal.


I would agree with all but the Electronic engineering – really don't think that is necessary Interesting, but not necessary. Although none of the above is 'primary school level', so not sure what you are getting at there.
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 17, 2012 6:11 pm

croussi said:



However, a famous computer scientist (E. Dijkstra) said something like: "It is practically impossible to teach good programming style to students that have had prior exposure to BASIC. As potential programmers, they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration". Who am I to argue with the likes of Dijkstra? ;-{)}


And yet Kernigan and Ritchie introduced the K&R style of curly bracket indentation,. which is a crime against humanity. And any aliens as well. Nobody's perfect.
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 17, 2012 6:47 pm

JamesH said:

And yet Kernigan and Ritchie introduced the K&R style of curly bracket indentation,. which is a crime against humanity. And any aliens as well. Nobody's perfect.
Agreed IMO, but at least a C compiler will accept whatever style the programmer decides is appropriate, whereas with Google's Go language the K&R style is largely dictated by the way Go auto-inserts semi-colons

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 17, 2012 8:52 pm

Dijkstra was famous for his "pronouncements". Apparently these were often intended to stir debate rather than be taken seriously. "Use of goto considered harmful" was another one, but probably triggered the (block) structured programming movement.

We also have "The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offence."

Just by chance I was reading an article today suggesting that there is still a lot of COBOL out there, especially on mainframes (remember them ?) and the Banks are getting a bit antsy about the possibility of not having any programmers to maintain their code ...

Shortage of programmers ... Hmm heard about that somewhere !

( And yes, there is a COBOL compiler for Linux, and no I don't advocate its use for a first programming language - not even Object Oriented COBOL )

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 17, 2012 9:46 pm

We've now invoked Turing, Knuth and Dijkstra. Godwin's law for geeks?

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Sun Jan 22, 2012 7:12 pm

JamesH said:


DavidS said:







Thank you.  I agree.  A CS degree should include programming not be programming.  For a full CS degree you need Electronic engineering (including an HDL), Algorithms, Boolean Algebra, Number theory, Analytic Geometry, Software Engineering (including programming), and a history of the development of computing.  Though this is all primary school stuff, I ask also what would bring it to a university level.

Though this is yet another good argument to use something simple like BASIC or Pascal.


I would agree with all but the Electronic engineering – really don"t think that is necessary Interesting, but not necessary. Although none of the above is "primary school level", so not sure what you are getting at there.



Although off topic; my response:

Electronic Engineering is actually very simple (or at least a sub field thereof targeting Digital Electronics with minimal analog), and absolutely needed.  Who will design the next generation of HW with out this?

And my statement of it being Primary School level is based on the fact that I was sufficiently versed in all the above, for CS, by the time that I was 11 years of age.  Though the educational system over here (in the United States) is seriously lacking and was even when I was in school, so this kind of comparison can not be based on the current 'lowest common denominator' curriculum provided by the current educational systems.
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 23, 2012 8:05 am

BASIC aside, the whole attitude of modern computer education is wrong. I never would have learned anything about programming or computers in school, because of opportunity-squandering nonsense like this thread. I got into computers because I had a book on BASIC, a mouse-driven graphics program, and a command prompt to play with: that's the spirit of free form computing I thought RPi was trying to bring back.

If I wanted to take a programming course, I'd take a course. If I want to debate best practices with Dijkstra acolytes, I'd teach a course. But if I want to have fun and learn, you'd better let me do it. Creativity, not flowcharting for flowcharting's sake should be the goal here.

The reason I love Python is that it doesn't take itself as seriously as BASIC does, now that pointless "debates" (all authoritarian, rarely intellectual) like this have ruined my favorite language forever. People spend more time talking about what to remove from/how to restrict BASIC to "force" good practices, and more time trying to bolt on implementations of OOP from the wrong languages for OOP's sake alone, than they do having fun or letting anyone else have fun.

I don't need best practices to have fun, and no one knows what the best practices are, anyway. Google, for example, was originally written in Java but it was too crashy so it got redone in Python. But I know I can find plenty of people to tell me Java is always better, because it is, using criteria that matter to them. Fine way to miss the point.

I don't waste my time doing what other people want me to with Python, I do what I want and it lets me. You think you're making programming better… keep this up and you'll eliminate the one thing RPi was destined to excel at. It's not hyperbole, this Programming-Jock pushing around the kids to go pro or get a life is sucking the fun out of computing. Get over yourselves before you ruin programming for someone. BASIC is dead now, just let people mourn it however they want to and leave them alone. Show the dead some respect, BASIC will never come back and defend itself.

Sorry for the rant, I've been reading crap like this thread for years. I read the whole thing. You can make the same argument you know, that people would be better off learning anything but English. After all, starting with English just makes it harder to learn other languages, learn a Real Language(tm) like Mandarin or Sanskrit. But if someone's learning a language, by all means, discourage it! That's the key to education: do it best, first, or don't bother. You think you're not doing it.

I am looking forward to owning a Raspberry Pi, but I can't wait until people tell me how to use it "properly."I intend to install an operating system on it, and use whatever languages I please, if they support them. Why that's so much to ask, I'll never understand. Maybe it's because I started with BASIC. Maybe there were more important factors behind that than mere "best practices," but at least I still like using computers. No one was around then to take all the fun out of it.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Mon Jan 23, 2012 2:53 pm

Thank you Thank you.

Yes learning should be free form and fun.  You have put the words that have eluded me.   I believe that this is the core problem with schools, that they restrict the means of learning.

I learned BASIC, Assembly, Analytic Geometry, a little Calculus, EE, Software Engineering, etc. because it was fun.  The maths I never directly studied, they were just an accidental side effect of my love of creating programs to tell my computers what I wanted them to do.  And I always got high scores in school (though not so much in English Grammar) because I never paid any attention in school.  While the Professors were ranting on, I was sitting back, writing programs on paper and running them in my head to correct errors (and later typing these into a computer).

While this is the very point that I have been trying to point towards, I was not able to put it so eloquently.  LEARNING MUST BE COMPLETELY FREEFORM TO SUCCEED!
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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:35 pm

DavidS said:


I wish to note that Linux is not a good platform to learn to program on. To illustrate this, Take a minimal Linux system (Kernel + minimum set of modules + init + login + sh + a C shared library + minimal set of needed support libs) and you already have a system with an extraordinarily complex API (and even in BASIC the API will have to be learned at some point).

…The Pi has an ARM CPU at its core, take advantage of this and use Risc OS as the teaching OS. If necessary add a third version that is $50USD and based on the Model B with a commercial Risc OS license from Castle.



When I was learning programming, I wanted to share everything. I'd never even heard of the Free Software movement, I only knew that BASIC source was everywhere, and that was a good thing. I really wanted to make a Free DOS system, which people later did. But although 16-bit programming and BASIC allowed you to get deep into the workings, 16-bit programming is often less friendly for novice-level tasks, and DOS isn't helping. (Brown's interrupt list could.)

I spent a lot of time finding ways to get around the memory limitations using files. Sadly, arrays were just too costly, so I had to implement those. None of that was easier than using a GNU/Linux system. Batch programming was fun, but not as much fun as Bash scripting. GNU/Linux is made for scripting. But more importantly:

"As people reach their teenage years, some of them are going to be fascinated by computers. They are going want to learn everything about what is going on inside that computer. They are going to want to learn how does this program work. If they are using non-free software, the teacher has to tell them, “Sorry, you can't learn that, I can't learn that. It's a secret. Nobody is allowed to learn that.” Non-free software prohibits education. But with free software, the teacher can say, “Go ahead. Here's the source code for this program. Read it. You can learn. And then, now that you have read the source code, try making a change, try making a small change in this program."

If you want to attack the friendliness of GNU/Linux, I can't fight you on that. I know DOS feels easier to use, even if you hit a wall ten times faster. And it takes longer to "get" Bash, but when you learn a proprietary system, it's really good while it's supported. When you learn a free system, it's yours practically forever. Those DOS skills, not much use for them now. Bash/Bourne skills have been useful for decades before, and decades after DOS. And 32-bit programming, though it isolates you from the machine more, makes beginner tasks so much easier. I was never going to code support for extended/expanded memory, I really had to wait.

BASIC, incidentally, really could have taken a page from Python when it comes to libraries. I was bewildered by BASIC libraries, no matter how much extension they offered. In Python, for what it's worth, you get the most BASIC way to do libraries that could possibly be useful. If I'd had that in BASIC I could have done much more, including with hardware. But if the libraries aren't free, you can't share them, and programs that can't be shared really hurt the spirit of BASIC, in my biased opinion. Like with early HTML, you could almost always "View source." Something to consider. But I think teaching dependence on proprietary vendors is impractical, and sells the student short. Other than that, nothing against RISC OS.

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 24, 2012 2:24 pm

libreuniverse said:

When you learn a free system, it's yours practically forever.
...aaaaand that's where you're wrong, right there. More like for 24 hours or a few days, weeks maybe.

Dunno, maybe other folks have it differently, but every single time I have to do the simplest thing in, say, Linux I have to look it up - and the next time, look it up again. And again. And again. Sure, if it would be something I'd be doing day in and day out, all day every day, it would stick - for a while. At some point in the past, I was involved in routinely manipulating stuff with awk - today, I have trouble remembering what exactly it does.

And it's the same with everything else - I can look it up and understand it just fine for the moment, but since it's casual stuff I won't use for a while I forget the details in a week, tops. And no, I'm not old enough to be senile yet, thank you. It's just the exact same thing me and my every single colleague did back at the university too - apart the ones who were flat cheating - "upload" in 72 hours tops, take exam, wipe thoroughly, lather, rinse, repeat.

I have to say, it kinda takes fun / motivation out learning anything casual at all - which is why I'm adamantly against _any_ user interface I can't look at and pick up more or less instantly (like, say, a CLI). I just can't afford to keep heavily investing time in learning lots of arcane, arbitrary and obscure stuff before using it (out of need), knowing full well that the "investment" is actually a throwaway, and the next thing I'm having a problem with I'll be doing it all over again, with something else.

Sorry for the rant, I guess it's not really on topic. Not really worth pursuing. It just pushed a button...

*puts on flame-retardant hat, walks away*

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Re: BASIC - more harmful than useful?

Tue Jan 24, 2012 3:06 pm

Wooloomooloo said:


libreuniverse said:


When you learn a free system, it's yours practically forever.


...aaaaand that's where you're wrong, right there. More like for 24 hours or a few days, weeks maybe.

Dunno, maybe other folks have it differently, but every single time I have to do the simplest thing in, say, Linux I have to look it up - and the next time, look it up again. And again. And again. Sure, if it would be something I'd be doing day in and day out, all day every day, it would stick - for a while. At some point in the past, I was involved in routinely manipulating stuff with awk - today, I have trouble remembering what exactly it does.

And it's the same with everything else - I can look it up and understand it just fine for the moment, but since it's casual stuff I won't use for a while I forget the details in a week, tops. And no, I'm not old enough to be senile yet, thank you. It's just the exact same thing me and my every single colleague did back at the university too - apart the ones who were flat cheating - "upload" in 72 hours tops, take exam, wipe thoroughly, lather, rinse, repeat.

I have to say, it kinda takes fun / motivation out learning anything casual at all - which is why I'm adamantly against _any_ user interface I can't look at and pick up more or less instantly (like, say, a CLI). I just can't afford to keep heavily investing time in learning lots of arcane, arbitrary and obscure stuff before using it (out of need), knowing full well that the "investment" is actually a throwaway, and the next thing I'm having a problem with I'll be doing it all over again, with something else.

Sorry for the rant, I guess it's not really on topic. Not really worth pursuing. It just pushed a button...

*puts on flame-retardant hat, walks away*


Now that is a post I TOTALLY agree with!  :-)  having to learn code to use it for a program, the code is so bland and half the time defies your view of sensible programming, and then you forget it, only to find you need to do the same a few weeks later !

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