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Computer Programming in 5 Minutes
Larry Wall is the computer programmer responsible for creating Perl, a powerful general-purpose programming language known for its strengths in text processing. Wall, whose graduate work was in linguistics, designed Perl in 1987 for reports processing and continues to oversee the language's development according to the motto "Larry is always right, even when he was wrong." He also originated the three canonical "virtues" of a good programmer: laziness, impatience, and hubris.
Question: Can you explain the basics of the computer programming in five minutes?
Larry Wall: Well, I can certainly try. Computer programming is really a lot like writing a recipe. If you've read a recipe, you know what the structure of a recipe is, it's got some things up at the top that are your ingredients, and below that, the directions for how to deal with those ingredients.
Well, a very similar thing happens in a computer program. You have, you list out the various things that you're going to be dealing with, typically, and then you have some instructions that say what to do with those ingredients. So, if you can understand a recipe and follow it in, you know, in your kitchen, then you can program on that level. But you can take it a lot farther than that. Many of you, I'm sure, have seen the Iron Chef show, I love to watch that, especially if they are given strange ingredients. I'm not sure I would like trout ice cream either, but one of the things that happens there, if you follow along, is that the Iron Chef, or whoever the chef is, doesn't actually do all the work. They have what are called sous chefs, that they farm out, subdivide the jobs to, and they'll do the kind of busy work. And programming is kind of like that, too.
You are the head chef, but there are bits and pieces of the computer out there that will do things for you. Now, it's not quite like Iron Chef, because Iron Chef, you have some fairly intelligent sous chefs who know how to coddle an egg or chop up a fish. But your computer tends to be more like a bunch of really efficient robots, but they're very stupid robots and very literal minded. So you have to, at some level, you know, tell them exactly what to do. But once you've told them, that you can just point to the robot and it'll do the same thing over and over and over again, and do it exactly the same. And computers are like that, that's how they are valuable, they sort of take over all the boring bits of our thinking.
And then you can kind of take it beyond that, instead of just thinking of yourself as the chef that's in control, sometimes you want to program more like you're thinking about how the food actually goes through the process. And maybe even take it up a notch and say, here's a factory that produces some food item—Twinkies, or whatever—and you have raw ingredients coming in—that's assuming you think Twinkies are food—you have raw ingredients coming in, and they go on various conveyor belts and get chopped up in various ways and get recombined and there's this flow of the materials through the factory. And eventually it comes back out with some sort of a product that we considered to be food.
So there's programming languages that work like that, too, that just talk about how the data runs around in the program. For instance, your Excel spreadsheet: you're putting data into little cells, and you have other cells that say, "Well, just make a little conveyor belt of these cells and add them up in this cell." You're really doing programming, even if you think you're just writing cell macros. So that's like a little factory on your desktop there.
Now going beyond that, there's various ways that you can get into, you know, sort of more highfalutin concepts that you would learn if you were taking a computer science degree. The whole idea of programming on this level is you're saying one thing, some abstract thing, and that controls a bunch of other things. So the next step that happens is that instead of just thinking about data as the pieces of things you're working with—strings, text, your phone numbers, whatever. You start thinking about those bits of recipe, and those recipes can also be considered data and can be sent around on the conveyor belt in your factory. So it's like a little conveyor that you might have in your café, you put little things up there that order things up.
So when you start talking about actions and abstracting them, then you can start talking about doing the multiple times and looping and this action may do this action, which may do that action, which might come back and do the thing, and you get a recursive, sort of fractal pattern. And so these are the basis of the more mathematical views of programming, but you don't have to do all that at the beginning. You can just start off with the simple recipe idea and add things on as you go and learn as you go. And then you'll do fine.
Computer programming is a lot like writing a recipe. If you've read a recipe, you know what the structure of a recipe is and you can copy the format to create your own. But then you can take it a lot further.
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Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
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- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
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- Times of crisis tend to increase self-centered acts.