Using Online IDEs

Many readers today want to code anywhere, using any device, and at any time. Obviously, hauling around a desktop system or even a high end laptop is not on the list of things they want to do. I thought it unique when a reader wrote me to say that coding on a smartphone should be included in my books. I have since had several more readers make the same request. So, I’m no longer surprised to hear about the various methods used to produce source code.

Personally, I think squinting while I code would be uncomfortable, but I definitely don’t want to hinder anyone’s learning process, so many (not all) of my introductory books now include a chapter on coding with mobile or online IDEs. For C++ All-In-One for Dummies, 4th Edition the mobile device tool of choice is CppDroid (a mobile IDE for C++). Python books, such as Beginning Programming with Python For Dummies, 3rd EditionPython for Data Science for Dummies, and Machine Learning for Dummies, 2nd Edition, rely on Google Colab (an online IDE). Just out of curiosity, I tried Google Colab using my smart TV and it did work—not that I plan to code using my TV anytime soon. Even though my latest book, Machine Learning Security Principles, doesn’t include any sort of IDE setup chapter, I did test the source code using Google Colab for that book as well.

Any time you change IDEs, you need to test your code to actually ensure that it will work with that IDE. Consequently, during the writing process I carefully tested every example on both my desktop system and the alternative IDE that the book supports. This dual testing process helps ensure you have a great learning experience. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or resources to test every possible IDE out there. To obtain a good learning experience from my books, you need to choose one of the IDEs that I mention. In addition, it’s essential that you choose the correct version of the IDE, the one that matches the book, because vendors tend to introduce breaking changes into IDEs and compilers during the upgrade process.

When you contact me about an IDE issue, the first thing I need to know is which book (and edition of that book) you have, followed by the operating system and IDE version you’re using. Otherwise, it’s very tough for me to try to help you and I do want to help you within reason. No, I’m not going to try to support the alternative IDE that you like that was created for you by your long lost relative. I’ll only support the IDEs specifically mentioned in the book. That said, I do want to hear your input about IDEs at [email protected]. If you’re encountering a problem with the IDE that’s used in the book, I definitely need to know about it and I’ll post some helpful information about it on this blog.

Source Code Placement

This is an update of a post that originally appeared on October 12, 2015.

I always recommend that you download the source code for my books. The Verifying Your Hand Typed Code post discusses some of the issues that readers encounter when typing code by hand. However, I also understand that many people learn best when they type the code by hand and that’s the point of getting my books—to learn something really interesting (see my principles for creating book source code in the Handling Source Code in Books post). Even if you do need to type the source code in order to learn, having the downloadable source code handy will help you locate errors in your code with greater ease. I won’t usually have time to debug your hand typed code for you.

Depending on your platform, you might encounter a situation the IDE chooses an unfortunate place to put the source code you want to save. For example, a Windows System might choose the Program Files folder, which contains a space and doesn’t allow saving of files unless you specifically override the default rights. Fortunately, modern IDEs do manage to avoid many of these problems, but you still need to be aware that they could exist, especially when using an older IDE.

My recommendation for fixing these, and other source code placement problems, is to create a folder that you can access and have full rights to work with to store your source code. My books usually make a recommendation for the source code file path, but you can use any path you want. The point is to create a path that’s:

  • Easy to access
  • Allows full rights
  • Lacks spaces in any of the pathname elements
  • On a local drive, rather than a cloud drive in many cases

As long as you follow these rules, you likely won’t experience problems with your choice of source code location. If you do experience source code placement problems when working with my books, please be sure to let me know at [email protected].

Verifying Your Hand Typed Code

This is an update of a post that originally appeared on January 10, 2014.

I maintain statistics for each of my books that are based on reviews and reader e-mails (so those e-mails you send really are important). These statistics help me write better books in the future and also help me determine the sorts of topics I need to address in my blog. It turns out that one of the most commonly asked questions is why a reader’s hand typed code doesn’t work. Some readers simply ask the question without giving me any details at all, which makes the question impossible to answer. In some cases, the reader sends the hand typed code, expecting that I’ll take time to troubleshoot it. However, this isn’t a realistic request because it defeats the very purpose behind typing the code by hand. If I take the time to diagnose the problems in the code you typed, I’ll be the one to learn an interesting lesson, not you. If you learn better by doing—that is, by typing the code by hand and then running it, then you need to be the one to troubleshoot any problems with the resulting code.

My advice to readers is to use the downloadable source code when working through the book text. If you want to type the code by hand after that as part of your learning experience, at least you’ll know that the example works on your system and you’ll also understand how the example works well enough to troubleshoot any errors in your own code. However, you need to be the one to diagnose the errors. If nothing else, perform a character-by-character comparison of your code to the example code that you downloaded from the publisher’s site. Often, a reader will write back after I suggest this approach and mention that they had no idea that a particular special symbol or method of formatting content was important. These are the sorts of lessons that this kind of exercise provide.

Now, it has happened that the downloadable source code doesn’t always work on a particular user’s system. When the error is in the code or something I can determine about the coding environment, you can be certain that I’ll post information about it on my blog. This should be the first place you look for such information. Simply click on the book title in question under the Technical category. You’ll find a list of posts for that book. Always feel free to contact me about a book-specific question. I want to be sure you have a good learning experience.

There are some situations where a reader tries to run application code that won’t work on a particular system. My books provide information on the kind of system you should use, but I can’t always determine exceptions to the rule in advance. When I post system requirements, your system must meet those requirements because the examples are guaranteed to fail on lesser systems. If you encounter a situation where the downloadable code won’t run on your system, but none of the fixes I post for that code work and your system does meet the requirements, then please feel free to contact me. There are times where an example simply won’t run because you can’t use the required software or the system won’t support it for whatever reason.

The point of this post is that you need to work with the downloadable source code whenever possible. The downloadable source code has been tested by a number of people, usually on a range of systems, to ensure it will work on your system too. I understand that typing the code by hand is an important and viable way to learn, but you should reserve this method as the second learning tier—used after you have tried the downloadable source code. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns at [email protected].

Working with Code in e-Books

This is an update of a post that originally appeared on March 16, 2016.

Most of my technical readers now use e-books instead of paper books. Of course, there is a convenience factor to storing your entire library on a Kindle, even if it’s a software version of the Kindle. Of course, there are all sorts of e-book formats for your desktop system as well. The point is that electronic format makes a lot of sense when dealing with technical books.

However, e-books can cause some interesting problems and I’ve encountered a few with a number of readers now. The most important consideration is that you can’t cut and paste code from an e-book directly into your IDE and expect it to work. There are all sorts of reasons for this exclusion. For example, cutting and pasting may insert special characters into the output stream or the resulting paste may not have white space in the right places. A common problem is that publishers often convert regular single and double quotes into curly quote equivalents. The two kinds of quotes (both single and double) are completely different and the second type definitely won’t compile.

The best option when working with an e-book is to view the code in the e-book, but still get the downloadable source code for the book from my website or the publisher’s website as described in the book’s introduction. If you can’t find the downloadable source, always feel free to contact me at [email protected]. I want to be sure you have a great reading experience, which means having source code that actually runs in your development environment.

Another potential problem with e-books is that you may see unfortunate code breaks (despite the efforts of the publisher and myself). When you need to understand how white space works with a programming language, always review the downloadable source. The fact that the downloadable source compiles and runs tells you that all the of white space is in the right place and of the correct type. Typing the source code directly out of your e-book could result in added carriage returns or other white space errors that will cause the code to fail, even though the commands, variables, and other parts of the code are all correct.

As always, I’m open to your questions about my books. If you don’t understand how things work, please contact me—that’s why I’m here.

Mac Gatekeeper Error

This is an update of a post that originally appeared on March 21, 2016.

A number of my books ask readers to download an IDE or other code and install it on their Mac systems. The problem is that the Mac system won’t always cooperate. For example, you might see an error dialog like the one shown for Code::Blocks:

The Gatekeeper error tells you that it won't allow you to install software from unknown publishers.
Your Mac won’t let you install software.

The problem is one of permissions. The default permissions set for newer Mac systems restrict you to getting your apps from the Mac App Store or from vendors who have signed their files. Fortunately, you can overcome this problem either temporarily or permanently, depending on how you want to use your Mac. The blog post What is Gatekeeper & How to Disable Gatekeeper on Monterey? provides you with illustrated, step-by-step directions to perform the task using either method. Let me know if you encounter any other problems getting your Mac to install the software required to use my books at [email protected].

UnZIPping the Downloadable Source

A number of readers have written me to say that they are using the downloadable source and can see the files on their hard drive. However, when they go to access the file using their IDE, the IDE won’t open it. Modern operating systems make things easier for people by displaying the contents of .zip and other archive files as if they’re another directory or folder on the system. However, the IDE doesn’t have the same advantage. You need to remove the files from the .zip archive and place them somewhere on your hard drive that the IDE can locate. You can tell that you’re looking at a .zip file by looking at the path. If you see something like C:\Temp\A4D2E.zip\A4D2E, where A4D2E.zip is the name of the archive, then you know that you’re looking in an archive file. If you still have problems getting the files to open, make sure you remove any spaces from the path that your IDE is using. You can contact me at [email protected] if you have any additional questions about this issue.

Spaces in Paths

This is an update of the previous post originally created on April 20, 2016.

A number of readers have recently written me about an error they see when attempting to compile or execute an application or script in books such as, C++ All-In-One for Dummies, 4th EditionBeginning Programming with Python For Dummies, 2nd Edition, Python for Data Science for Dummies, and Machine Learning for Dummies, 2nd Edition. Development environments often handle spaces differently because they’re designed to perform tasks such as compiling applications and running scripts. When you see an error message that tells you that a file or path isn’t found, you need to start looking at the path and determine whether it contains any spaces. The best option is to create a directory to hold your source code and to place that directory off the root directory of your drive if at all possible. Keeping the path small and simple is your best way to avoid potential problems compiling code or running scripts.

The problem for many readers is that the error message is buried inside a whole bunch of nonsensical looking text. The output from your compiler or interpreter can contain all sorts of useful debugging information, such as a complete listing of calls that the compiler, interpreter, or application made. However, unless you know how to read this information, which is often arcane at best, it looks like gobbledygook. Simply keep scanning through the output until you see something that humans can read and understand. More often than not, you see an error message that helps you understand what went wrong, such as not being able to find a file or path. Please let me know if you ever have problems making the code examples in my books work, but also be sure to save yourself some time and effort by reading those error messages. Let me know if you have any thoughts or concerns about spaces in directory paths at [email protected].

Apathy, Sympathy, and Empathy in Books

I’ve written more than a few times about the role that emotion plays in books, even technical books. Technical books such as Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements are tough to write because they’re packed with emotion. The author not only must convey emotion and evoke emotions in the reader, but explore the emotion behind the writing. In this case, the author’s emotions may actually cause problems with the book content. The writing is tiring because the author experiences emotions in the creation of the text. The roller-coaster of emotions tends to take a toll. Three common emotions that authors experience in the writing of a book and that authors convey to the reader as part of communicating the content are apathy, sympathy, and empathy. These three emotions can play a significant role in the suitability of the book’s content in helping readers discover something new about the people they support, themselves, and even the author.

It’s a mistake to feel apathy toward any technical topic. Writers need to consider the ramifications of the content and how it affects both the reader and the people that the reader serve. For example, during the writing of both Python for Data Science for Dummies and Machine Learning for Dummies Luca and I discussed the potential issues that automation creates for the people who use it and those who are replaced by it in the job market. Considering how to approach automation in an ethical manner is essential to creating a positive view of the technology that helps people use it for good. Even though apathy is often associated with no emotion at all, people are emotional creatures and apathy often results in an arrogant or narcissistic attitude. Not caring about a topic isn’t an option.

I once worked with an amazing technical editor who told me more than a few times that people don’t want my sympathy. When you look at sympathy in the dictionary, the result of having sympathy toward someone would seem positive, but after more than a few exercises to demonstrate the effects of sympathy on stakeholders with special needs, I concluded that the technical editor was correct—no one wanted my sympathy. The reason is simple when you think about it. The connotation of sympathy is that you’re on the outside looking in and feel pity for the person struggling to complete a task. Sympathy makes the person who engages in it feel better, but does nothing for the intended recipient except make them feel worse. However, sympathy is still better than apathy because at least you have focused your attention on the person who benefits from the result of your writing efforts.

Empathy is often introduced as a synonym of sympathy, but the connotation and effects of empathy are far different from sympathy. When you feel empathy and convey that emotion in your writing, you are on the inside, with the person you’re writing for, looking out. Putting yourself in the position of the people you want to help is potentially the hardest thing you can do and certainly the most tiring. However, it also does the most good. Empathy helps you understand that someone with special needs isn’t looking for a handout and that they don’t want you to perform the task for them. They may, in fact, not feel as if they have a special need at all. It was the realization that using technology to create a level playing field so that the people I wanted to help could help themselves and feel empowered by their actions that opened new vistas for me. The experience has colored every book I’ve written since that time and my books all try to convey emotion in a manner that empowers, rather than saps, the strength the my reader and the people my reader serves.

Obviously, a good author has more than three emotions. In fact, the toolbox of emotions that an author carries are nearly limitless and its wise to employ them all as needed. However, these three emotions have a particular role to play and are often misunderstood by authors. Let me know your thoughts on these three emotions or about emotions in general at [email protected].

 

Getting a Good Anaconda Install

Some people may have misinterpreted the content at the beginning of Chapter 3 in Python for Data Science for Dummies. It isn’t necessary to install the products listed in the Considering the Off-the-Shelf Cross-Platform Scientific Distributions section starting on Page 39. These products are for those of you who would like to try a development environment other than the one used in the book, which is Anaconda 2.1.0. However, unless you’re an advanced user, it’s far better to install Anaconda 2.1.0 so that you can follow the exercises in the book without problem. Installing all of the products listed in Chapter 3 will result in a setup that won’t work at all because the various products will conflict with each other.

Because Continuum has upgraded Anaconda, you need to download the 2.1.0 version from the archive at https://repo.continuum.io/archive/.There are separate downloads for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.  The chapter tells you precisely which file to download.  For example, for Windows you’d download Anaconda-2.1.0-Windows-x86_64.exe. The point is to use the same version of Anaconda as you find in the book. You can find the installation instructions on Page 41 if you have a Windows system, Page 45 if you have a Linux system, or Page 46 if you have a Mac OS X system.  Make sure you download the databases for the book by using the procedures that start on page 47.

Following this process is the best way to ensure you get a good installation for Python for Data Science for Dummies. Luca and I want to make certain that you can use the book to discover the wonders of data science without having to jump through a lot of hoops to do it. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you have any questions about the installation process.

 

Automation and the Future of Human Employment

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote Robotics and Your Job to consider the role that robots will play in human society in the near future. Of course, robots are already doing mundane chores and those list of chores will increase as robot capabilities increase. The question of what sorts of work humans will do in the future has crossed my mind quite a lot as I’ve written Build Your Own PC on a Budget, Python for Data Science for Dummies, and Machine Learning for Dummies. In fact, both Luca and I have discussed the topic at depth. It isn’t just robotics, but the whole issue of automation that is important. Robots actually fill an incredibly small niche in the much larger topic of automation. Although articles like The end of humans working in service industry? seem to say that robots are the main issue, automation comes in all sorts of guises. When writing A Fuller Understanding of the Internet of Things I came to the conclusion that the services provided by technologies such as Smart TVs actually take jobs away from someone. In this case, a Smart TV rids us of the need to visit a video store, such as Blockbuster (assuming you were even around to remember these stores). Imagine all the jobs that were lost when Blockbuster closed its doors.

My vision for the future is that people will be able to work in occupations with lower risks, higher rewards, and greater interest. Unfortunately, not everyone wants a job like that. Some people really do want to go to work, clock in, place a tiny cog in a somewhat large wheel all day, clock out, and go home. They want something mindless that doesn’t require much effort, so losing service and assembly line type jobs to automation is a problem for them. In Robots are coming for your job the author states outright that most Americans think their job will still exist in 50 years, but the reality is that any job that currently pays under $20.00 an hour is likely to become a victim of automation. Many people insist that they’re irreplaceable, but the fact is that automation can easily take their job and employers are looking forward to the change because automation doesn’t require healthcare, pensions, vacation days, sick days, or salaries. Most importantly, automation does as its told. In the story The rise of greedy robots, the author lays out the basis for an increase in automation that maximizes business profit at the expense of workers. Articles such as On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs tell why people are still working a 40 hour work week when it truly isn’t necessary to do so. In short, if you really do insist on performing a task that is essentially pointless, the government and industry is perfectly willing to let you do so until a time when technology is so entrenched that it’s no longer possible to do anything about it (no, I’m not making this up). Even some relatively essential jobs, such as security, have a short life expectancy with the way things are changing (see How much security can you turn over to AI? and The eerie math that could predict terrorist attacks for details).

The question of how automation will affect human employment in the future remains. Theoretically, people could work a 15 hour work week even now, but then we’d have to give up some of our consumerism—the purchase of gadgets we really don’t need. In the previous paragraph, I talked about jobs that are safer, more interesting, and more fulfilling. There are also those pointless jobs that the government will doubtless prop up at some point to keep people from rioting. However, there is another occupation that will likely become a major source of employment, but only for the nit-picky, detail person. In The thin line between good and bad automation the author explores the problem of scripts calling scripts. Even though algorithms will eventually create and maintain other algorithms, which in turn means that automation will eventually build itself, someone will still have to monitor the outcomes of all that automation. In addition, the search for better algorithms continues (as described in The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World and More data or better models?). Of course, these occupations still require someone with a great education and a strong desire to do something significant as part of their occupation.

The point of all this speculation is that it isn’t possible to know precisely how the world will change due to the effects of automation, but it will most definitely change. Even though automation currently has limits, scientists are currently working on methods to extend automation even further so that the world science fiction authors have written about for years will finally come into being (perhaps not quite in the way they had envisioned, however). Your current occupation may not exist 10 years from now, much less 50 years from now. The smart thing to do is to assume your job is going to be gone and that you really do need a Plan B in place—a Plan B that may call for an increase in flexibility, training, and desire to do something interesting, rather than the same mundane task you’ve plodded along doing for the last ten years. Let me know your thoughts on the effects of automation at [email protected].