That’s fast, daddy

Our son has his own computer. I can’t really believe I’m typing that: He’s in Kindergarten and he has a computer that would have been the envy of anyone on the planet when I was his age. Hell, in the mid 60s, it would have been an instantly classified national asset, with more disk space and memory than every other machine on the planet put together for maybe the next decade. He uses it to play web games, mostly.

We live in the future.

For some reason he likes typing numbers. Like, “1, 2, 3 … 1320”, in Microsoft Write, and he was up to the high 1300s when something happened and he lost his file. I think he saved an empty version of his “numbers.txt” over his earlier efforts.

“What happened, daddy?” No tears, just wondering.

I refrained from asking him if he had made a backup. Then I cranked up Python and in a couple lines of code I regenerated his file.

“Want to see a million numbers?” And in seconds we were paging through the numbersΒ 1 through 1,000,000, and his eyes got a little big.

I think he’s done typing numbers the hard way. I’m hoping I can teach him Python and get him hooked on writing some simple games or something.


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18 Responses to That’s fast, daddy

  1. Matt says:

    Be careful what you wish for. It started with my son having how own computer and playing around with Visual Basic (shudder) and then one night when he was 14 I noticed he hacked in (Keylogger? PWD Generator?) to my Dlink router and subtly changed the schedule names so his internet access would stay on past 10pm. He was playing Runescape until 3am.

  2. brandon says:

    My 6 year old and I put together a skip bo application so we could play when he’s at his mom’s house. I wrote it in Clojure with him over my shoulder watching and telling me what features to add. He was integral in testing that weekend.

  3. frymaster says:

    I was born in 1979. The ZX Spectrum+ user manual helped me learn to read, and it and the Amstrad CPC user manual a few years later helped me learn to program. (albeit in the deaded BASIC πŸ˜› )

    If you can catch them early enough, it’s great. I seem to get results faster out of search engines and documentation that most other people, and I attribute that directly to instinctively knowing the mindset. And I can program, of course πŸ˜‰

  4. Eric says:

    Years ago when my son was 6 or 7 he was working on a story on the computer. “Something” happened and when he came back to it, the file was there, but was empty. His several pages of work were lost. Knowing where I worked, he asked me, “What happened? Can you fix it?”

    How do you tell a 6 year old, “Nope, you’re toast.” I was really bummed that he had to learn that computer lesson so early in life. You can save your kids from a lot, but not that.

    The next day I got the source code for the program he was using and modified it just for him. The “Save” functionality created a history so I could go back and “fix” the problem if it ever happened again.

  5. I don’t have children, so I’ll share a story about myself. When I was in kindergarten I got a fancy ruler as a present. It had a hologram on it of a spaceship or something. I remember the first thing I did was to try to make squares with it like I’d seen someone making. I had the ruler tightly clutched in my left hand while I drew row after row of squares free hand with my right.

  6. Eduardo says:

    My dad decided to teach programming to me at a very early age too, maybe too early. I loved video games and he hated them, so he made up this rule where I could only play a game if I had programmed it myself (meaning I would copy the source from some programming book for beginners). I suppose he thought that was geeky tough love… but it turns out it backfired. All my frustration turned to hatred of programming, and I didn’t go near it again until I was 16.

    Then again, I went on to write my first real own game at 17, and then on to study computer engineering. So who knows…

  7. John H. says:

    I say to anyone who will listen that Python is the BASIC of the 21st century, except much more flexible and powerful.

    • Servrok Sador says:

      That is good. I hope the same that happened with BASIC will happen with Python.

      • landon says:

        A company I worked for had a sizable component of its server product written in Visual Basic. Not the “core engine” that did the high-performance grunt work, but the random logic resonsible for bring-up, administration and backups and so forth.

        It actually worked pretty well. There were a few “Eww, I can’t believe I’m writing VB” moments up front, but on the whole it was the right choice. I would probably do it in Python today.

      • sapphirecat says:

        Visual Python and Python.NET?


      • Erik says:

        He who would hate on Python probably hates ice cream, kittens, boots & skirt season in any major city, and beer too. Not to mention legible apps written by competent people who aren’t afraid to share their code. BASIC? Not a chance.

  8. duke says:

    Perhaps you should have just let your son continue to type numbers in rather than doing a much more amazing job than he ever could.

    I have heard that children lose confidence in their own artistic capabilities when parents “join in” to drawing sessions and draw things far more amazing than the child is able to. The idea being that you should draw simple squiggles like them, play with them at their level and help them to grow confidence in their own abilities.

    Typing in numbers was obviously alot of fun for your little boy until he found out that dad is able to do it a million times better. Maybe you could have tried typing in numbers with him at his own pace.

    • Mark says:

      There is no right answer here. I’m a geek staying at home with twins about to turn four. One would have gone for the programming technique. One would have said “OK, I’ll build my cars now.”

      Biggest problem in parenting is the search for the perfect solution.

  9. niket says:

    I’m most curious in the seeding effect. Does he take the lesson at a high level: understanding the importance versioning and backups etc. or does he enjoy the creation process? (could be both, but I’d argue the latter will lead to more development centric interest)

  10. Justin says:

    I taught myself BASIC on our Apple IIe from the ‘ENTER’ section of each ‘321 Contact’ magazine that we were subscribed to when I was 9 or 10. After a while, I got bored of that and hung out at the library reading BASIC books.

    I found out a few weeks back that my cousin’s son was getting interested in development, so he set his son up with an old computer and QBASIC πŸ™‚

    I think BASIC is fine as a beginner’s language for kids, as it is fairly forgiving in terms of type conversions and such πŸ™‚

    I’m not sure how many would agree with me, but I think C# is a great overall teaching language… Take out about 90% of the .NET functions and you’re left with a decent teachable subset. Instant feedback via intellisense helps you explore the language and gives a good description of the function. I still learn something every once in a while from it, and I’ve been using the language for almost a decade.

  11. wrm says:

    I put most of my memsticks on a keyring and discovered I have 80 gigabytes’ worth.

    My Apple ][ had 140 kilobyte floppies.

    We’ve come a helluva long way in 30 years.

    And BTW, I learned object orientated programming from Visual Basic (2, I think, this was back when the 386 was new). PRINT was so slow, it was easier to make text objects with the ten or twenty things you wanted to print, hide them all, and make the one you wanted visible at the appropriate time.

  12. Conor says:

    Try SmallBasic it is fab!

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