Vaughan Family    


  Home    Biography    People    Places    Multimedia: Making It Work    On the Water    Writings/Presentations

On Learning a Computer Language

When you learn any language (include French, Russian, and Chinese with Fortran, Basic, PHP, Java, and C), you need to understand the structure of that language as much as you need its vocabulary in order to get things done. If you have ever asked for directions to the train station, and the words came out "Would you have been kind to pointing my feet inward toward the iron coaches, you're welcome?", you will already know that there are certain fundamental things about a language which must be understood before it can be fully employed. Indeed, after such a street corner conversation you may actually have been directed to the station, but the rewarding discourse probably lasted a while and contained great repetition and gesticulation. And you may remember with some fondness the smiling faces of the small crowd of curious citizens that had gathered to help... You got by with a certain limited vocabulary of action words and objects thrown together into a mish-mash of sentence parts from which your listeners were able to extract meaning.

Computer languages are less forgiving, and there is seldom a ready crowd to interpret your words and help shape your desired action. A misplaced semi-colon in some languages may cost you many hours of lonely agony in debug mode. If your verbs and nouns are applied out of context and you ask for a ride to the airport to catch your train, some languages won't bat an eye: when you arrive, you may find a locomotive taking on jet fuel at the gate, and you will realize your code is in deep trouble.