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How long did it take you to learn Python?

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Wait, don’t answer that. It doesn’t matter.

Beginners seem to ask this question when they are feeling daunted by the challenge before them. Maybe they are hoping for a helpful answer, but it seems like most answers will just be a jumping off point for feeling bad about their own progress.

Everyone learns differently. They learn from different sources, at different paces. Suppose you ask this question and someone answers “one month”? Will you feel bad about yourself because you’ve been at it for six weeks? Suppose they say, “ten years”? Now what do you think?

The question doesn’t even make sense in a way. What do we mean by “learn”? If you can write a number guessing game in Python, have you learned Python? Are we talking about basic familiarity, or deep memorization? Does something have to be second nature, or is it OK if you are still looking through the docs for details? “Learned” is not a binary state. There isn’t a moment where you don’t know Python, and then suddenly you do.

And what do we even mean by “Python”? Are we talking about the basic syntax, or do you need to be able to write a metaclass, a descriptor, and a decorator with arguments? Is it just the language, or also the standard library? How many of the 200+ modules in the standard library do you need to be familiar with? What about commonly used third-party libraries? Are we also including the skills needed to write large (10k lines) programs in Python? “Python” is a large and varied landscape, and you will be finding out new things about it for years and years.

Especially since it keeps changing! Python isn’t sitting still, so you will never be done “learning Python.” I have been using Python for more than 20 years, and been deeply involved with it for at least half that time. I thought I knew Python well, then they added “async”. I will have to figure that out one of these days...

Since Python is used in many different domains, the things you need to learn could be completely different from someone else. These days, lots of people are learning Python to get into data science. I don’t do data science. Here are more things I don’t know (taken from a random sampling of “libraries you should know” blog posts): TensorFlow, Scikit-Learn, Numpy, Keras, PyTorch, SciPy, Pandas, Matplotlib, Theano, NLTK, etc. How should I compare my learning to a data scientist’s?

My advice to beginners is: don’t compare your learning to other peoples’. Everyone learns differently, using different materials, at different speeds. Everyone has different definitions of “learn,” and of “Python.” Understand your goals and your learning style. Find materials that work for you. Study, and learn in your own way. You can do it.

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denubis
9 days ago
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Sydney, Australia
luizirber
9 days ago
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Davis, CA
pfctdayelise
9 days ago
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Melbourne, Australia
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jgbishop
13 days ago
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Great advice.
Durham, NC

Documentation as a way to build Community

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As a long time user and participant in open source communities, I've always known that documentation is far from being a solved problem. At least, that's the impression we get from many developers: "writing docs is boring"; "it's a chore, nobody likes to do it". I have come to realize I'm one of those rare people who likes to write both code and documentation.

Nobody will argue against documentation. It is clear that for an open-source software project, documentation is the public face of the project. The docs influence how people interact with the software and with the community. It sets the tone about inclusiveness, how people communicate and what users and contributors can do. Looking at the results of a “NumPy Tutorial” search on any search engine also gives an idea of the demand for this kind of content - it is possible to find documentation about how to read the NumPy documentation!

I've started working at Quansight in January, and I have started doing work related to the NumPy CZI Grant. As a former professor in mathematics, this seemed like an interesting project both because of its potential impact on the NumPy (and larger) community and because of its relevance to me, as I love writing educational material and documentation. Having official high-level documentation written using up-to-date content and techniques will certainly mean more users (and developers/contributors) are involved in the NumPy community.

So, if everybody agrees on its importance, why is it so hard to write good documentation?

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luizirber
11 days ago
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Davis, CA
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Kojima’s GBA experiment—and the sunny island childhood it changed forever

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Promotional image for video game Boktai.

Enlarge / The sun is actually in the sky, not in your hand, which is key to playing Boktai. (credit: Konami)

The 2003 Game Boy Advance exclusive Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hand! is a largely forgotten game, even among Hideo Kojima fans. The concept is as indulgent as a Kojima game could ever be: you play as young vampire hunter Django (named after a famed spaghetti Western hero) who fights immortals with a solar-powered gun. Like your namesake, you drag bosses into a solar pile driver in a coffin.

The game's relative lack of popularity is probably due, in part, to its central conceit: a solar sensor embedded on the cartridge itself that affected in-game events. For players who lived in temperate regions or adults who lived on a strict schedule, this made playing Boktai a challenge. The vital sunlight needed to activate in-game events or defeat bosses meant you could only properly play this game if you had a very flexible schedule—or cheated the sensor with a blacklight.

Unless you were like me and lived on a tropical island.

What first drew me to Boktai wasn't the idea of taking full advantage of my native Puerto Rican sunshine. And it certainly wasn't the Kojima name (although the connection to the man definitely upped the game's reputation in my eyes years later). It was actually a random photo from a stray issue of a long-forgotten gaming magazine I had seen in a now-nonexistent chain of pharmacies in Puerto Rico.

Someone at that magazine had covered a Konami press event where a cut-out of Django was seen in a photo. In my hazy memories, I recalled Django looking tan-skinned, like myself, and I marveled that a game could do such a thing. When I had later read that Django was the star of a game called Boktai, my heart was set on playing it.

In later art, I noticed that Django was much paler than the magazine photo had made him out to be. But I was still obsessed with his red-scarfed, anime-cowboy look (no doubt inspired by Kamen Rider). Years later, when Kojima would explain Old Snake's mustache in Metal Gear Solid V as a tribute to old spaghetti Westerns, I nodded knowingly; the Boktai series was already packed with references to classics like the Sabata series and The Wild Bunch.

Bathed in gallons of sunlight

Living in the rural heartland of Puerto Rico generally made gaming harder; stores were distant, and a good Internet connection was a luxury. With long commutes from my rural home to my school several municipalities away, it was easier for me to enjoy games on my Game Boy Advance instead of a PlayStation 2.

While there were many GBA games I could commiserate with my peers over, I only ever met one other person who even dabbled in the Boktai series (and he only played the sequel). I was so completely alone in my experience with Boktai, it felt like I was the only person on the entire island who ever played the game.

It was just me, gallons of tropical sunlight, and the entire tiny world of Istrakan, all for me to discover.

And Boktai had plenty of hidden depths to discover, not unlike Kojima's Metal Gear Solid. Enemy behavior patterns, upgrade locations, and item combinations were incredibly important to consider. But there was also a wealth of secrets that could only be discovered by experimenting with the peculiarities of this particular cartridge.

Some indoor levels have skylights that let the light in, for instance, a feature you could only discover if sunlight was striking the cartridge's solar sensor. By combining Metal Gear-style espionage and wall-sliding with a well-timed blocking of the solar sensor, you could trick in-game ghouls into unwittingly walking into a skylight, saving you precious ammo.

Some puzzles required you to track your position by the direction of Django's shadow—which could only be seen under real-world sunlight. Others required you to bend the fourth wall by flipping your GBA upside-down to see through illusions. Some sections even required you to block sunlight from hitting the cartridge with your hand in order to deactivate traps or trick bosses.

“This is a great Boktai day”

Even amid competition from other GBA greats like the third-gen Pokémon games, the endlessly addicting Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, or eternal favorite Astro Boy: Omega Factor, Boktai was the game I endeavored to have with me at all times. I was usually the first at my school at 7am, well before the first bell. I would shiver in the cool tropical mornings as I quickly tried traipsing dungeons before my first class. I'd be rewarded with rare Solar Gun accessories or in-game events found only during early hours. I tended to my in-game fruit gardens between classes and found my diligence rewarded by a rain of pink cherry blossoms on the Solar Tree.

Every time I turned on my GBA, Master Otenko's voice would ring out with "This is a great Boktai day!" Barring rain, it almost always was.

The built-in solar sensor required a special translucent casing for the bulbous <em>Boktai</em> cartridge.

The built-in solar sensor required a special translucent casing for the bulbous Boktai cartridge.

I never had to spend much time fretting over whether there would be enough light to play Boktai; I just had to make sure it wasn't nighttime. Being an otherwise lonely child whose only real exposure to the gaming world was through issues of Electronic Gaming Monthly, I only knew of Hideo Kojima's esoteric brand of gaming on a second-hand basis. I'd never played Metal Gear Solid, so it was only through my sister's then-boyfriend that I learned Boktai's focus on tapping and sliding along walls was a Metal Gear holdover.

I was on my own puzzling my way through endless dungeons without any reference points or guides. I was all-too happy to sit outside to both stockpile in-game sunlight and activate events. It got to the point where several of my teachers voiced their concerns to my parents about me sitting so long in full sunlight in 85° weather.

A neglected classic

By the time the sequel to Boktai was announced, I was on pins and needles. I bought a copy several weeks in advance of my birthday—and didn't touch it until that very day.

Still, there were precious few people I could share my love for this series with. Anyone who knew Kojima was focused instead on the upcoming Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater. Kojima's GBA experiment was but a trifle in their eyes.

Surprisingly, long after release, it was fans of Mega Man Battle Network who would join me in their love of the game. That's because MNBN4 featured Boktai-themed chips and even a cameo by Hideo Kojima himself. Battle Network 5 could also link up with Boktai 2.

When I finally made friends in high school and we bonded over Battle Network, I was the only one able to explain these Boktai references, which they had no context for. We could also enjoy a totally bonkers competitive mode in the sequel; I was so excited when I discovered this in my Boktai 2 save that I rushed into my best friend's classroom in the middle of class one day to tell him. My Boktai 2 cartridge still has the old save with all the protectors I unlocked by playing against my friend. I never had the heart to restart the game, especially after the hours spent competing against him.

Much like the Metal Gear series, Boktai was ultimately a victim of Konami's fickle nature. Years before Hideo Kojima's name was scrubbed from The Phantom Pain, the third Boktai title was passed over for release in the United States. Boktai DS, meanwhile, was renamed Lunar Knights for North America, and all of the Boktai-related content was dummied out of Mega Man Battle Network 6. Outside of a Solar Gun appearing in Metal Gear Solid IV, Boktai hasn't even seen a sly reference since.

When I look back at the game now, as an adult, it has become a symbol of how you really can't go home again. Having a job and living in the Pacific Northwest makes playing a solar-powered game extremely impractical, especially in the fall or winter. But developers also seem less willing to experiment in the ways that could potentially lead to another Boktai. The Switch Joy-Con and its powerful built-in infrared sensor puts Boktai's UV sensor to shame, but outside of Nintendo Labo, precious few titles have used it in any meaningful capacity.

Even if Hideo Kojima continues making bizarro games like Death Stranding for decades more, there will probably never be another game like Boktai. I probably miss Boktai more than I miss living in Puerto Rico. For me, it's a game inextricably tied to fond memories of sun, warmth, and old friends I haven't seen in years. In the most Hideo Kojima-esque twist possible, I probably won't live to experience another game like that.

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luizirber
12 days ago
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Davis, CA
acdha
13 days ago
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Washington, DC
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Understanding Snakemake

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Heraldic snake from Flickr (CC Licensed).

Each day, data scientists, computational biologists, astronomers, and other folks that spend far too much time in front of a computer screen spend hours doing somewhat horrible, monotonous tasks. Scientific programming, when done right, is supposed to prevent us from doing these monotonous tasks, and this is certainly true when we compare what we do today to what the tireless programmers and human computers of the 1950s did: inverting matrices by hand, writing code to calculate the t-statistic and corresponding p-value, and so forth. All of these monotonous tasks, thankfully, are implemented now in modern libraries like BLAS/LAPACK, GNU Scientific Library, numpy, R, eigen, etc. However, the problem has just shifted: today’s …

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luizirber
28 days ago
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a great snakemake intro
Davis, CA
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What Happened to the Company That Raised Minimum Wage to $70k/yr?

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Remember a few years ago when the owner of a credit card payment processing company based in Seattle raised the minimum wage of his employees to $70,000/yr while taking a huge pay-cut himself and capitalists the world over, afraid of their beloved & apparently suuuuper delicate system collapsing from such madness, flipped out?1 The BBC recently checked in with Gravity Payments and its owner Dan Price to see how things were going. Pretty damn well, as it turns out:

The headcount has doubled and the value of payments that the company processes has gone from $3.8bn a year to $10.2bn.

But there are other metrics that Price is more proud of.

“Before the $70,000 minimum wage, we were having between zero and two babies born per year amongst the team,” he says.

“And since the announcement — and it’s been only about four-and-a-half years — we’ve had more than 40 babies.”

More than 10% of the company have been able to buy their own home, in one of the US’s most expensive cities for renters. Before the figure was less than 1%.

“There was a little bit of concern amongst pontificators out there that people would squander any gains that they would have. And we’ve really seen the opposite,” Price says.

The amount of money that employees are voluntarily putting into their own pension funds has more than doubled and 70% of employees say they’ve paid off debt.

When Price made the announcement about raising wages, two senior employees quit because they thought the junior employees would become lazy and the company would suffer. Spolier alert: didn’t happen.

Rosita Barlow, director of sales at Gravity, says that since salaries were raised junior colleagues have been pulling more weight.

“When money is not at the forefront of your mind when you’re doing your job, it allows you to be more passionate about what motivates you,” she says.

Senior staff have found their workload reduced. They’re under less pressure and can do things like take all of the holiday leave to which they are entitled.

The thing about the increased number of babies is astounding. Some of that has to be demographic (employees getting older and entering prime family-starting years) but having a baby in the United States is expensive and that has to factor into many people’s decision on whether to have a child, especially if it’s a second kid or if you’re a single parent.

But the most interesting observation is this one by Price equating the freedom of his employees to their capability:

“We saw, every day, the effects of giving somebody freedom,” Price says.

He thinks it is why Gravity is making more money than ever.

Raising salaries didn’t change people’s motivation — he says staff were already motivated to work hard — but it increased what he calls their capability.

Employees that worry less about debt, healthcare, or where their next meal is coming from are happier, more productive employees. Imagine that.

  1. Have you noticed that when hardcore capitalists talk about plans to raise corporate taxes or re-institute a more progressive income tax scheme or regulate businesses, they seem deathly afraid that these changes are going to completely derail capitalism in America, as if capitalism were this super weak thing instead of one of the most powerfully unstoppable inventions that humans have ever created? Your great engine of change is indeed mighty! Have some confidence in your beliefs, man!

Tags: Dan Price   economics   Gravity Payments   working
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acdha
41 days ago
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I would bet these guys played a role in depressing performance:

“When Price made the announcement about raising wages, two senior employees quit because they thought the junior employees would become lazy and the company would suffer. Spolier alert: didn’t happen.”
Washington, DC
dukeofwulf
40 days ago
Right. I'd imagine their leaving did wonders for morale. People who are over-worried about whether others are carrying their weight are miserable to work with.
vitormazzi
40 days ago
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Brasil
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40 days ago
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luizirber
40 days ago
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Davis, CA
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The Sounds of Covid-19

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Shardcore converts the Coronavirus DNA sequence to MIDI
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luizirber
40 days ago
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Davis, CA
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