books

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I answer that question fairly often. There used to be very few choices. When I was about fourteen, my parents bought me a Sinclair ZX81 with a whopping 1kb of memory. After you turned it on, a prompt appeared, then, nothing… Pretty disappointing at first. You had to learn the Basic programming language to get it to do anything. I’ll be forever grateful to them for spending the equivalent of a thousand dollars on technology that at the time, was just a novelty. Today I make a living sitting in coffee shops sipping frappuccinos and writing code; better than digging trenches…

We have many other choices these days, and deciding which language to learn first can be a difficult decision. I will assume here that your goal is to learn skills you can market to hopefully make a decent living. Otherwise, go ahead and learn anything you’d like.

Most current languages are based on C. There is a lot of hoopla about Object Oriented Programming, and you certainly will need to know OOP, but as a first language, C can’t be beaten. C++ and Objective C are both subsets of C, and if you learn both, you can program on any platform there is, Windows, Linux, Mac, and iOS. Java is also based on C, and platform independent. For web programming, PHP uses a lot of C-like syntax. You simply can’t go wrong with C. Sure, it can be a pain in the ass. Pointers and memory management are, at first, rather annoying. It does however ingrain in you good programming practices an you will appreciate the higher level languages when you get to that point.

So, how do you learn C? Sams Publishing has the best programming books in the business. I suggest “Teach Yourself C in 21 Days,” by Jones Aitken. It provides you with a timeline to follow, reading and working on one chapter per day. Sure, you won’t be selling software after 21 days, but you will have a solid base upon which to build.

Where to go from there? It depends on whether you plan on developing for Windows or Apple OSX. For Windows, C++ is the natural progression. Java is also a good choice, and will allow you to code for Android devices. Objective C is used on all Apple products, Macs and the iPhone, iPod and iPad family of devices. If it was only for Macs, I wouldn’t bother. Not that I have anything against Macs. I just bought a Mac Mini, and OSX is superior to both Linux and Windows (which for the later isn’t very hard). Programming for Linux, well, there isn’t much money there, as you would be competing with hordes of programmers working for free.

I would definitely suggest checking out C++, Objective C and Java for your Post-C learning adventure. Sams Publishing has great books in their 21-days or 24-hours series to learn them. For Objective C, see the O’Reilly book: “Programming in Objective-C” by Stephen G. Kochan.

There are three languages I would like to mention on top of these choices. They are, in my opinion, excellent and worth a good look.

The first one is Python, and excellent platform independent scripting language which can be used to write command line tools, and even full fledged graphical applications, if you ever wanted to take it that far. I use Python almost daily to write database management programs. Perl used to be my first choice for such tasks, but Python is more organized, and has many modules available to do practically anything. And excellent book to learn Python is “Learning Python” by Mark Lutz, from O’Reilly.

A note on O’Reilly books. In my opinion they are of two kinds: The first is great books, even for the beginner, with clear explanations and easy to follow. The second is incomprehensible techno babble that is only readable by autistic savants. There is no middle ground. So, when you buy a book from them, make sure it falls in the first category.

The second is Borland (now Embarcadero) Delphi. The second language I learned after Basic was Turbo Pascal. It is a very good, fast and simple compiled language. For some reason I fail to understand, it has fallen out of favor; same goes for Delphi, which uses Pascal at it’s core. However, Embarcadero released Delphi XE2, which allows you to program for Windows, Mac and iOS at the same time. There is no faster Rapid Application Development tool anywhere, to my knowledge. I have a handful of shareware programs written in Delphi, and plan to use it again, when I can afford the $900 Professional version.

At last, for the web, PHP is the right choice. You can use PHP with Ajax, Javascript and of course HTML. PHP is great to connect to databases like MySQL. I use PHP daily for my customers and myself. Note that Ajax and HTML are not programming languages.

I hope you will find my suggestions useful. Have fun coding and don’t overdose on coffee!

I just stumbled on an excellent article in the New York Times, “Time to Reboot America.” The author couldn’t have said it better: “Landing at Kennedy Airport from Hong Kong was, as I’ve argued before, like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones.” I didn’t have that impression landing in Philadephia sixteen years ago from Charles De Gaulle for my first time in the United States. However, I should have known America was in trouble when I saw my first American household appliances! Twenty years ago, my mother’s washing machine had a microprocessor in it. My credit card had an embedded chip; technology which took ten years to cross the Atlantic. I still need to tell my washing machine how much laundry is in it, and turn and old style knob to turn it on. Then, when the washing is finished, I must take the laundry, stuff it in a no less obsolescent dryer, and turn another 1960s style mechanical knob. Energy efficient? I doubt it.

My first American car was a Ford 1978 LTD. It was great, confortable, the AC worked, and I paid only $750 for it. It had a few little quirks, but all in all, it worked. The fuel consumption was appaling, but why care? Gas was less than a dollar a gallon, almost four times less than in France. We thought gas reserves would last forever, we still do.

Today, I still can’t take a high speed train (look 3:25 to 3:55) from Sarasota to Tampa or Orlando. I must drive on I4 to get to the East coast. I you have driven on I4, you understand.. No amount of money could get me to commute daily from Tampa to Orlando via I4.

The list goes on and on. I do have another list, with all the good things about America; it is longer than the bad one, that’s why I’m still here, for now. We have NASA, a top of the line computer industry, the Internet, medical research as good as in Europe, Universities like MIT. Then, why do I feel like I live in 1975 sometimes? We don’t produce much here anymore, everything is service based. Most of the stuff I owed says “Made in China” or Japan, Taiwan, etc. When I think of American products, I think “rugged,” “old fashion,” “reliable” (except for cars).. Certainly not “high-tech.”

America needs to look East, not at it’s own navel. I am affraid Obama will plunge us into a socialist/protectionist era that will be the last nail in the coffin. At least we might not spend billions in unecessary wars abroad. This is not the time however to close our borders to commerce. We need to produce so that my next cell phone says “Made In USA.” We will be in competition with Europe and Asia, whether we like it or not. We should be the ones selling them goods. American high schools produce students who are two years behind Europeans. When I went to college in Florida, to perfect my English, I thought it was a joke. The college level math was the same as when I was 12. Yes, I agree, time to Reboot America.

School reforms: We need to be more demanding on both students and schools. Schools should be held accountable for their results. The “everyone wins, you’re doing great” bullshit needs to stop. If you suck, someone has to tell you, so that you can correct your attitude. When I was in school, no student would ever dare to talk back to a teacher. Today, teachers get assaulted in class! Why? Simple: No consequences. Being suspended is not a punishment, it’s a gift. Parents don’t care anymore. When you’re 15, you don’t care about your future, you care about right now, maybe tomorrow. There should be immediate consequences to lazyness. Also, why do kids still have to learn how many ounces are in a pound, and a flurry of other stupid measurements when there is a metric system? Want to know how many litres are in a 3x3x3 meter tank? Simple: 3x3x3=27 x 1000 = 27000 litres. And guess what, it weights 27000Kg, 27 metric tons. I don’t need to spend fiften minutes on the problem, I can do it in my head in 5 seconds. Australia went metric in 1970. If they can do it, why not America? NASA uses metric, otherwise we’d probably never go back to the moon in our lifetimes.. As to schools teaching stupid theories like creationism, don’t even get me started on that…

Free markets: Why Ron Paul wasn’t elected is beyond my comprehension. Here is a politician who understands exactly what this country needs, and he doesn’t even make it to the last round. We need businesses, and we need them to be successful. Here is where Europe failed and America can prevail. Europeans have this funny idea that a business has social obligations beyond not causing harm to people. That’s not the purpose of a business. In France, money is seen as somewhat dirty. The European attitude is that the government and businesses must take care of the people who have the right to be fed, clothed, and pampered, given what they need. They just shot themselves in the foot, just not the same foot we shot ourselves in. Businesses are the life blood of the country. Nobody else can produce wealth, except maybe the Federal Reserve when they print money, which compounds the problem. Wee need to compete with Europe and Asia on the same footing, not with artificial tariffs to level the field in our favor. Opening the markets might hurt us for a while, but long term, it is our only salvation.

No bailouts: If a company fails, they ought to go out of business. Taking taxpayer’s money to save a business is stealing, clear and simple. Since when does a Republican government use socialist tactics to redistribute wealth? I think they do it because they want a quick fix, a patch that will hold for a bit before cracking wide open, but that will make them look godd right now, until retirement with a bit of luck..

Better news: American news on television is a dog and pony show. How can a nation be aware of it’s lagging behind if it doesn’t look at the countries that are a decade ahead of them technologically. I once had a flat tire on my old Ford near Alachua County Florida. A pickup truck stopped and a guy offered me help (after yelling to his wife “Get back in the fucking truck!”). Anyway, I guess he was nice to me. Hearing my accent he asked “Where you from?” I said “France.” “What state is that?” he replied. “It’s overseas..” “Ah” he said, “do you have power over there?” I’m not making this up! That’s an extreme of course, and I couldn’t resist mentioning the story. We never hear most of what goes on in the world here on TV, except when it affects us directly, and immediately. Did you know that France launches satellites in orbit for cheaper than NASA, and I think more often with it’s Arianne rocket? Stop watching “Desperate Housewives” go to BBC, and even then, I’m not sure their US programs are the same the rest of the world sees.. I have access to about 300 channels, but I can’t hardly ever find an interesting show. Get your news from foreign agencies on the web.

Promote reading books: In 1982, 60% of young adults engaged in literary reading, while in 2002, only 43% do*. I don’t have recent numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went down even more. Understanding other cultures and philosophy by reading could probably save us a lot of grief with our foreign policies. Even our politicians sometimes lack basic knowledge of geography and foreign ideology. When was the last time you bought a book or went to the library?

Maybe next time we can also talk about getting rid of the Federal Reserve…

I have heard about the demise of America for decades, never paid too much attention to those predictions. The signs were there, it’s easy to see them now in retrospect. How low it will go is hard to tell, the depression is here. We just don’t want to see it. We refuse to imagine the consequences, and we don’t want to see the solutions. Americans need to get educated and take their heads out of the sand. The United States was a great nation, not so long ago. We have great minds, visionaries, we can do it again.

* US Census 2002.