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pjf (2464)

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I run Perl Training Australia [].

I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.

I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.

Journal of pjf (2464)

Wednesday November 16, 2005
08:20 PM

Geek education and The Princess Bride

[ #27607 ]

Geek Education and The Princess Bride
I was fortunate enough to spend the first two days of this week attending Damian Conway's Perl Best Practices course. The course was enjoyable, but there were a couple of points that I found perplexing.

At one point during the day, Damian made reference to The Princess Bride, illiciting a chuckle from both Jacinta and myself. However, the rest of the attendees were silent. Perhaps they were just nervous, but perhaps some of them had never actually watched The Princess Bride. Inconceivable!

I've noticed in recent years that more and more IT professionals seem to be lacking the common history and background that I'd normally expect. This includes popular geek culture (Star Wars, The Princess Bride), jargon (grok, kludge, hack), and computer science (order-of, sorting techniques, halting problem, Turing machines, P vs NP, stacks and queues, linked lists, hashes).

Of course, I don't expect such advanced knowledge from people who are new to computer science, or who have simply fallen into IT skills as a by-product of their job. However I encounter people who have studied computer science, who do have it as their life and job, and yet they don't grok sorting algorithms. They think that Roguelike games are a special olympics for a World of Warcraft character class. Help me, Obi-Wan...

Like all things, the culture of computer science is moving on. Much of this is caused by the sheer ubiquity of computers, and the fact that for most people computers are no longer a transparent box filled with tools and bugs from which to craft something wonderful. Computers are instead finished products in their own right. Our new generations are learning how to use brightly coloured operating systems, where a register is where you pay for that operating system, rather than a location in which to store data.

Overall I view these changes as a good thing. People can use computers to get things done, and get on with their life, rather than having to devote their lifetime to study. However it does make me feel a little old. While certainly not in the first generation of computer scientists, I had ample opportunity to interact and learn from them. I still have my friends gather round and ask for the tales of the Internet before spam.

Oddly, I find the most disturbing aspect of this is that some of my humour is becoming stale. A few years ago I could get a round of laughter by mentioning that CPAN is so great, we even have a module that solves the halting problem; whereas these days it's likely to be met with awkward silence. Inconceivable!

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  • Apparently fewer and fewer programmers have seen The Flintstones and Gilligan's Island too. Our next book

    And people don't get the halting problem exercise that shows up in the Alpaca, although I can now point them to Wikipedia.
  • but perhaps some of them had never actually watched The Princess Bride. Inconceivable!
    whereas these days it's likely to be met with awkward silence. Inconceivable!

    You keep using that word... I do not think it means what you think it means...

  • To really appreciate The Princess Bride, you have to read it in the original Klingon.
    • Regarding Princess Bride jokes [], which we hope are generally applicable to both the novel [] and the later movie [] --
      • My name is Luke Skywaker. You killed my father. Prepare to die!
        You Fool, I am your father.
      • Or, perhaps, ...
        My name is Inigo Jones []. You killed my King. Prepare to Die!
        But I don't think he was one of the unruly sort.
      # I had a sig when sigs were cool
      use Sig;