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Education Programming

Stephen Wolfram's Free Book Teaches the Wolfram Language To Kids 105

theodp writes: Stephen Wolfram received a PhD in particle physics at age 20 (his thesis committee included Richard Feynman). So it's probably not too surprising that Wolfram's new book, An Elementary Introduction to the Wolfram Language (free on the web), aspires to teach those new to programming how to do much more than just move Minecraft and Star Wars characters around. "The goal of the book," explains Wolfram in a blog post, "is to take people from zero to the point where they know enough about the Wolfram Language that they can routinely use it to create programs for things they want to do. And when I say 'zero', I really mean 'zero'. This is a book for everyone. It doesn't assume any knowledge of programming, or math (beyond basic arithmetic), or anything else. It just starts from scratch and explains things. I've tried to make it appropriate for both adults and kids. I think it'll work for typical kids aged about 12 and up."
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Stephen Wolfram's Free Book Teaches the Wolfram Language To Kids

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    >This is a book for everyone. It doesn't assume any knowledge of programming, or math (beyond basic arithmetic), or anything else. It just starts from scratch and
    >explains things.

    I thought MIT Scratch was programming. I must be really confused.

    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
      No I think Stephen Wolfram is the one who is confused. Mathematica was ok but from there it's all been a downhill mission creep experience. Why be excellent at one thing when you can be mediocre at everything!
    • yeah - this really is "from scratch" I read the first few pages - including some of the Q&A. The detail is amazing. The kinds of questions he anticipates - he is trying to teach all possible knowledge

      Although, I did find the Machine Learning section pretty cool.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 10, 2015 @12:03PM (#51095041)

    The Wolfram Language represents a major advance in programming
    languages that makes leading-edge computation accessible to everyone.
    Unique in its approach of building in vast knowledge and automation,
    the Wolfram Language scales from a single line of easy-to-understand
    interactive code to million-line production systems.

    This guy has serious talent in math, science and computers, but his self-promotion skills rival P.T. Barnum.

    • by Thud457 ( 234763 )

      PhD in particle physics at age 20

      Then he got distracted by some little side project and ended up never making any contribution to the field of particle physics.
      what a failure.

      • Then he got distracted by some little side project and ended up never making any contribution to the field of particle physics.

        what a failure.

        You mean other than the many papers he wrote, had published, and had been extensively cited about particle physics.
        Yeah what a fucking failure. What a disgrace of a man.

  • is it $5 a month? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @12:12PM (#51095071)

    I was trying to figure out where I can use the language. I found something that looked like a portal for about $5 a month. is that the intended way to use this. Is the a free junior version of this somewhere? $5 isn't bad at all if you use it frequently but I'd rather learn it and see if I actually use it for free.

    • Re:is it $5 a month? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 10, 2015 @12:21PM (#51095115)

      You can get it for the Raspberry Pi at no cost, so I assume there's (nonfree) linux packages.

      http://www.wolfram.com/raspberry-pi/?source=nav

      It's free (no cost) for non commercial use and there are packages for noobs and raspbian.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I'm not sure why you call the use of packages 'for noobs'.

        Packages are a nice and clean way to install and remove software from a computer. If you want to compile yourself, sure go ahead but 90% of the users have no reason at all to do so.

        Had you called it 'for the lazy among us' i'd understand it as a joke. But calling those lazy users 'noobs' is a bit far stretched and unfounded.

        • 'noobs' refers to the linux distribution that runs on raspberry pi, not the user.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            Then use the fucking capital letters or tell those idiots to find a less confusing acronym.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I was trying to figure out where I can use the language. I found something that looked like a portal for about $5 a month. is that the intended way to use this. Is the a free junior version of this somewhere? $5 isn't bad at all if you use it frequently but I'd rather learn it and see if I actually use it for free.

      Check out http://www.wolfram.com/programming-lab/ which has several free options.

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Thursday December 10, 2015 @12:15PM (#51095087) Homepage

    ... it helps if you make it fun. Ok, some people will learn anyway because they're really into it, but others - especially kids - won't unless its fun. Which is why Logo did well back in the 80s with moving a virtual or real turtle around.

    Looking at his book it seems to me "fun" wasn't exactly in his top 10 ToDo list when writing it. For most people it will be about as much fun as having a tooth pulled. Lists and barcharts in chapter 4? Seriously? Fine in the MS Excel manual, not so great in a beginners book targeted at people who wouldn't normally think about learning programming.

    • Looking at his book it seems to me "fun" wasn't exactly in his top 10 ToDo list when writing it.

      So... back to Minecraft?

    • Logo did well in that some schools bought it I guess. We used to use it in early primary school, along with playing Lemonade Stand in our weekly 'computer class' on the Microbee's. I enjoyed it because I loved anything computer related (we didn't have one at home) but I don't know if it was really 'fun'...
  • Anything with a title that begins "An Elementary Introduction ..." isn't likely to inspire staying up late with your friends.

    My kids went right after that Scratch / Minecraft skin and Hour of Code stuff because it was Minecraft-related, and also because the examples provided actually DID something ... and did it quickly, and it was Kind of Fun. It also Just Works in the browser. No significant barrier to entry, you don't even need Minecraft ... since it's just a Scratch skin running in the browser ... any b

    • Why, yes, the Really Smart Guy who got his PhD when he was 20 and subsequently created Mathematica and then the Wolfram language ... he made something intended to help people learn stuff.

      I would say the Hermione Grangers of the world is probably fairly apt ... he sure as hell wasn't targeting the morons of the world.

      • by enjar ( 249223 )

        Sure. It's just not going to get legions of run-of-the-mill twelve year olds to lap it up with the same eagerness as the other materials which have been created to appeal to that age group.

        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          Right - he's targeting the other nerds out there. Remember when this site was "News for Nerds"? I would have loved this when I was you. The Scratch-style stuff I would have long outgrown and dismissed as kids stuff by 12, if the tools had been around.

  • Do they have the flag of Switzerland in Swift? No.

    Wolfram: 1
    Swift: 0

  • Attn: Wolfram Usability Testing

    1. I took me 10 minutes to figure out a "Wolfram Notebook", needed for these exercises, is not a product by itself, with an easy-to-find link, but part of lab.wolfram.com.

    2. The first hello world program, solve 2+2: fails with "syntax error". It turns out you don't need the colon. I assume the colon is part of the section header of the text, but it is not obvious to leave it out.

    3. 2+2= similarly gives bad results. Fair enough, but it is more logical than a colon, or nothi

    • Oh, I forgot to add this notebook is almost useless on a cell phone like a Galaxy S6 in either landscape or portrait mode, as the right hand side, the non-notebook side, is too wide and "wins", and the pop up keyboard on the phone covers too much given the non-notebook real estate budget you demand.

      Perhaps this is true notebook or desktop only, ok, but why rely on shift if so?

  • And when I say 'zero', I really mean 'zero'.

    What, like the moment of conception?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Stephen Wolfram - A new kind of science - the kind you have to pay for.

    The language isn't free.
    From what I can tell you must pay $10/mo to $15/mo in order to "save your notebook".

    How nice of him to give out free books that teach about his non-free language.

    • When I was younger, we paid for our compilers and liked it! I spent thousands of dollars in the 70s through 90s on assorted compilers and interpreters, because there were no good free ones for the systems I used. I paid for Pascal, C, C++, and Lisp compilers. Nowadays, of course, I can get gcc and sbcl free for my Linux box.

      Kids these days. Get off my lawn.

  • I suspect very few 12 year olds are going look at this. Wolfram may be genius but a usability expert he is not. The Wolfram Language, his name, looks like something a mathematician would come up... "Let's see I've used all the math symbols already so let's start using all the punctuation symbols to do other actions! And I can combine punctuation symbols for more actions so I don't have to type too much!"

    Where space is expensive, terseness is needed. Everywhere else it's the terseness that is expensive. Stee

    • So,
            two plus three
      is much more readable than
            2+3
      ?

      Maybe if you never learned basic arithmetic.

      For those of us with limited short-term memory - which would be all of us - who have bothered to learn a notation, terseness allows us to hold more complex expressions in our working memory. Clearly you've never progressed beyond very simple thoughts.

  • It's a nice looking book, but I'd like to convert all the code samples to octave, especially the ML.

    Wolfram: Plus[3,7]
    octave: sum([3,7])

    I'll always hate Uppercase functions. Unless that's supposed to be some kind of class constructor.
  • No thanks dear Mr. Wolfram. I'm happy with Python and Sage.

The idle man does not know what it is to enjoy rest.

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