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Re: Just the FAQ, Maam <softwar>



I was lucky that the month before I had saved up enough money to buy my
first computer (1983, an Osborne CP/M) the University of Wisconsin in
Stevens Point offered $100 to any faculty member who agreed to take a
week's crash course in using both IBM and Apple pcs.  I wanted to learn
only word-processing, but to qualify, you had to learn to use a
spreadsheet and how to write a program in Basic so that you created a
Christmas tree with lights.  

Six months later I found myself living in Beijing with lots of time in the
evenings, trained to make that machine do slave labor for me.  I wrote a
program to manage the circulation of my manuscripts and track my
publications; I wrote one to manage addresses, one to manage my financial
records, one to manage my job applications..... and when the last of these
helped me move to Chinese University in Hong Kong, in the following year I
wrote routines to help me learn Cantonese.

My code is spaghetti of the worst sort, but it works.  And I well
understand what you mean about the pleasure of a computer language.  Mother
had been head teller at a bank in Alabama before she married, and she
would not let me go to bed one night in the fifth grade until I had
mastered the multiplication tables to from 1*1 to 12*12 five times running
without error.  I still remember celebrating with hot chocolate and
marshmallows.  I suppose it was quite a logical consequence in 1982, at
age 46, I experienced pure excitement when I learned how  to tie a
mathematical formula control string variables.  

I have not gone on to do Visual basic or to learn any other languages.  I
can do all that I want to do with Turbo Basic. Also, once the integrated
software programs arrived, I really did not need to spend my time
developing routines that they already had invented.  I do take pleasure
that quite a few people continue to use some of my programs, which after
making enough to buy a few computers, I stopped selling and started giving
away long ago.  See http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/software.html
 
When I was at Chinese University, the HK Computer Society awarded me the
"best article of the year" for my piece in their journal in which I talked
about how to use WordStar's mailmerge to teach myself Cantonese.  (That
was before I wrote the version in Basic.)  These are the computer leaders
who at that time were running the computers in the worlds third largest
banking center and the world's second most dangerous airport.  I asked
them why they chose such a blatant amateurish project to honor in this
way.  The judges told me that they were trying to teach their
professionals to be more imaginative in how they applied their superior
technical skills.

As a result of that award, several colleagues in the Computer Science
Department at Chinese University started sending their seniors and
graduate students to discuss their thesis plans with me, especially when
they wanted to apply computers to the worlds of teaching and/or language
study.  I can best explain their standard problems by telling a joke I
heard about that time:

A drunk was stooping and walking around a light in the park.  A policeman
approached to determine what was going on.  "I am looking for my car
keys," the drunk said.  The policeman joined him in looking in the narrow
circle which the drunk had explored.  After several minutes, the policeman
asked, "Are you sure you lost them here."  "No.  I lost them in the dark
over there, but the light is better here."

Most of what the experts wanted to do was technically proficient (such as
fancy grammar checkers) but did not, could not, help where help was really
needed (recognizing subject/verb disagreement, for example).  My
colleagues in English with whom they hoped to collaborate compounded the
problem because most did not know enough about binary thinking to conceive
of ways that the computers could significantly work for them.  

The first question always needs to be what is and is not worth doing?  As
an amateur I still have little trouble answering that.  I look at the
repetition going on in jobs that I am already doing and ask, how can I
make the computer do that work for me.






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