opinion: comp lang docs style


X

Xah Lee

a opinion piece.

〈The Idiocy of Computer Language Docs〉
http://xahlee.org/comp/idiocy_of_comp_lang.html

--------------------------------------------------
The Idiocy of Computer Language Docs

Xah Lee, 2011-01-03

Worked with Mathematica for a whole day yesterday, after about 10
years hiatus. Very nice. Mathematica lang and doc, is quite unique.
Most other langs drivel with jargons, pettiness, comp-sci
pretentiousness, while their content is mathematically garbage.
(unixism mumble jumple (perl, unix), or “properâ€-engineering OOP
fantasy (java), or impractical and ivory-tower adacemician idiocy as
in Scheme & Haskell ( currying, tail recursion, closure, call-cc,
lisp1 lisp2, and monad monad monad!)) (See: What are OOP's Jargons and
Complexities â—‡ Language, Purity, Cult, and Deception.)

Mathematica, in its doc, is plain and simple. None of the jargon and
pretention shit. Very easy to understand. Yet, some of its function's
technical aspects are far more scholarly abstruse than any other lang
(dealing with advanced math special functions that typically only a
few thousand people in the world understand.).

------------------------------
A Gander into the Idiocies

Here's a gander into the doc drivel in common langs.

------------------------------
unix

In unix man pages, it starts with this type of garbage:

SYNOPSIS
gzip [ -acdfhlLnNrtvV19 ] [-S suffix] [ name ... ]
gunzip [ -acfhlLnNrtvV ] [-S suffix] [ name ... ]
zcat [ -fhLV ] [ name ... ]

SYNOPSIS
zip [[email protected]$] [--
longoption ...] [-b path] [-n suf
fixes] [-t date] [-tt date] [zipfile [file ...]] [-xi
list]

Here, the mindset of unix idiots, is that somehow this “synopsis†form
is technically precise and superior. They are thinking that it
captures the full range of syntax in the most concise way. In
practice, it's seldomly read. It's actually not accurate as one'd
thought; no program can parse it and agree with the actual behavior.
It's filled with errors, incomprehensible to human. Worse of all, the
semantic of unix software's options are the worst rape to any possible
science in computer science. See: The Nature of the Unix Philosophy â—‡
Unix Pipe As Functional Language â—‡ Unix zip Utility Path Problem.

------------------------------
Python

In Python, you see this kinda garbage:

7.1. The if statement

The if statement is used for conditional execution:
if_stmt ::= "if" expression ":" suite
( "elif" expression ":" suite )*
["else" ":" suite]

(Source docs.python.org)

Here, the mindset of the python idiots is similar to the unix tech
geekers. They think that using the BNF notation makes their doc more
clear and precise. The fact is, there are so many variations of BNF
each trying to fix other's problem. BNF is actually not used as a
computer language for syntax description. It's mostly used to
communicate syntax to humans. Like regex, there are so many
variations. But worse than regex in the sense that there are actually
not many actual implementations of BNF. Real word syntax description
language are usually nothing close to BNF. See: Pattern Matching vs
Lexical Grammar Specification.

This incomprehensible BNF notation is the only thing you get if you
want to know the basic syntax of “ifâ€, “forâ€, “whileâ€, “lambdaâ€, or
other basic constructs of python.

------------------------------
Perl

In perl, you see this type of drivel:

A Perl program consists of a sequence of declarations and
statements which run from the top to the bottom. Loops, subroutines
and other control structures allow you to jump around within the code.

Perl is a free-form language, you can format and indent it however
you like. Whitespace mostly serves to separate tokens, unlike
languages like Python where it is an important part of the syntax.

Many of Perl's syntactic elements are optional. Rather than
requiring you to put parentheses around every function call and
declare every variable, you can often leave such explicit elements off
and Perl will figure out what you meant. This is known as Do What I
Mean, abbreviated DWIM. It allows programmers to be lazy and to code
in a style with which they are comfortable.

Perl borrows syntax and concepts from many languages: awk, sed, C,
Bourne Shell, Smalltalk, Lisp and even English. Other languages have
borrowed syntax from Perl, particularly its regular expression
extensions. So if you have programmed in another language you will see
familiar pieces in Perl. They often work the same, but see perltrap
for information about how they differ.

(Source perldoc.perl.org)

Notice they introduced you to their lingo “DWIMâ€. Juvenile humor is a
characteristics of perl's docs. It's a whole cult. They have “perl
republicâ€, “state of the onionâ€, “apocalypseâ€, “perl mongerâ€, “perl
golfâ€, etc.(See: Larry Wall and Cults.) Another trait is irrelevant
rambling. For example, in the above you see: “Perl borrows syntax and
concepts from many languages: awk, sed, C, Bourne Shell, Smalltalk,
Lisp and even English.â€.

However, perl doc overall is more practically usable than Python's.

------------------------------
Haskell

Here's a example of ivory-tower idiocy, from Haskellers:

Haskell uses a traditional Hindley-Milner polymorphic type system
to provide a static type semantics [4, 6], but the type system has
been extended with type classes (or just classes) that provide a
structured way to introduce overloaded functions.

A class declaration (Section 4.3.1) introduces a new type class
and the overloaded operations that must be supported by any type that
is an instance of that class. An instance declaration (Section 4.3.2)
declares that a type is an instance of a class and includes the
definitions of the overloaded operations—called class methods—
instantiated on the named type.

For example, suppose we wish to overload the operations (+) and
negate on types Int and Float. We introduce a new type class called
Num:

class Num a where -- simplified class declaration for
Num
(+) :: a -> a -> a -- (Num is defined in the Prelude)
negate :: a -> a

This declaration may be read “a type a is an instance of the class
Num if there are class methods (+) and negate, of the given types,
defined on it.â€

(Source www.haskell.org)

Note the words “Hindley-Milnerâ€, “polymorphicâ€, “static type
semanticsâ€, “overloaded operationsâ€.

The reason they wrote their doc like that is because they are
academicians. You might think that their writing is really scholarly,
mathematically meaningful, almost provably correct, full of dense
mathematical rigor, and necessarily hard to understand because of the
advanced math ideas. By the look of it it is really daunting. The
irony is that the writing is often imprecise, most use of tech jargons
and terms are absolutely uncessarily to the point of being irrelevant.
And, the writing quality is pretty bad, far below the quality of
standard math journal's articles.
 
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J

Jason Earl

a opinion piece.

〈The Idiocy of Computer Language Docs〉
http://xahlee.org/comp/idiocy_of_comp_lang.html

--------------------------------------------------
The Idiocy of Computer Language Docs

Xah Lee, 2011-01-03

Worked with Mathematica for a whole day yesterday, after about 10
years hiatus. Very nice. Mathematica lang and doc, is quite unique.
Most other langs drivel with jargons, pettiness, comp-sci
pretentiousness, while their content is mathematically garbage.
(unixism mumble jumple (perl, unix), or “properâ€-engineering OOP
fantasy (java), or impractical and ivory-tower adacemician idiocy as
in Scheme & Haskell ( currying, tail recursion, closure, call-cc,
lisp1 lisp2, and monad monad monad!)) (See: What are OOP's Jargons and
Complexities â—‡ Language, Purity, Cult, and Deception.)

Mathematica, in its doc, is plain and simple. None of the jargon and
pretention shit. Very easy to understand. Yet, some of its function's
technical aspects are far more scholarly abstruse than any other lang
(dealing with advanced math special functions that typically only a
few thousand people in the world understand.).

------------------------------
A Gander into the Idiocies

Here's a gander into the doc drivel in common langs.

------------------------------
unix

In unix man pages, it starts with this type of garbage:

SYNOPSIS
gzip [ -acdfhlLnNrtvV19 ] [-S suffix] [ name ... ]
gunzip [ -acfhlLnNrtvV ] [-S suffix] [ name ... ]
zcat [ -fhLV ] [ name ... ]

SYNOPSIS
zip [[email protected]$] [--
longoption ...] [-b path] [-n suf
fixes] [-t date] [-tt date] [zipfile [file ...]] [-xi
list]

Here, the mindset of unix idiots, is that somehow this “synopsis†form
is technically precise and superior. They are thinking that it
captures the full range of syntax in the most concise way.

Actually, it *does* capture the full range of syntax in a concise way.
If you know of man pages where the Synopsis does not match the syntax
then you have found a documentation bug, which should be reported so
that it can be fixed.

In fact, if anything the real problem with the Synopsis is that it is
too concise. Fortunately gzip is a bit of an extreme example. Most man
pages look more like this:

--8<---------------cut here---------------start------------->8---
NAME
tar — The GNU version of the tar archiving utility

SYNOPSIS
tar [-] A --catenate --concatenate | c --create | d --diff --compare |
--delete | r --append | t --list | --test-label | u --update | x
--extract --get [options] [pathname ...]
--8<---------------cut here---------------end--------------->8---

That synopsis is pretty useful. If you have used tar before and just
need a refresher chances are very good that the synopsis will do the
trick.

If you look at the man pages from the Linux Programmer's Manual the
Synopsis makes even more sense.

--8<---------------cut here---------------start------------->8---
NAME
open, creat - open and possibly create a file or device

SYNOPSIS
#include <sys/types.h>
#include <sys/stat.h>
#include <fcntl.h>

int open(const char *pathname, int flags);
int open(const char *pathname, int flags, mode_t mode);

int creat(const char *pathname, mode_t mode);
--8<---------------cut here---------------end--------------->8---

Heck, that's basically precisely what I want to know.
In practice, it's seldomly read. It's actually not accurate as one'd
thought; no program can parse it and agree with the actual behavior.
It's filled with errors, incomprehensible to human.

I've been using UNIX man pages for quite some time, and I don't think
that I have ever come across an error. I am sure that there are errors,
but I am also sure that Mathematica's documentation has its share of
errors as well.
Worse of all, the semantic of unix software's options are the worst
rape to any possible science in computer science. See: The Nature of
the Unix Philosophy â—‡ Unix Pipe As Functional Language â—‡ Unix zip
Utility Path Problem.

It seems to me that the problem is not UNIX software in general, but
rather that the zip function does not have an analogue of tar's -C
option (which sets the current directory for the command).
------------------------------
Python

In Python, you see this kinda garbage:

7.1. The if statement

The if statement is used for conditional execution:
if_stmt ::= "if" expression ":" suite
( "elif" expression ":" suite )*
["else" ":" suite]

(Source docs.python.org)

Here, the mindset of the python idiots is similar to the unix tech
geekers. They think that using the BNF notation makes their doc more
clear and precise. The fact is, there are so many variations of BNF
each trying to fix other's problem. BNF is actually not used as a
computer language for syntax description. It's mostly used to
communicate syntax to humans. Like regex, there are so many
variations. But worse than regex in the sense that there are actually
not many actual implementations of BNF. Real word syntax description
language are usually nothing close to BNF. See: Pattern Matching vs
Lexical Grammar Specification.

This example is taken from the Python Language Reference, which is
really only useful if you are looking to re-implement Python (or create
something that parses Python, I suppose). The particular flavor of BNF
is explained in the Introduction.

I am not sure what you expect from a Language Reference, but in the case
of Python the Language Reference seems to have worked quite well. Very
few languages have as many successful implementations as Python. The
Language Reference is clearly a large part of that.
This incomprehensible BNF notation is the only thing you get if you
want to know the basic syntax of “ifâ€, “forâ€, “whileâ€, “lambdaâ€, or
other basic constructs of python.

If you want to *use* the language the Tutorial is probably what you
want.

Perhaps the most well-known statement type is the if statement. Here's
what the Tutorial has to say about the if statement.

.... x = 0
.... print 'Negative changed to zero'
.... elif x == 0:
.... print 'Zero'
.... elif x == 1:
.... print 'Single'
.... else:
.... print 'More'
....
More

There can be zero or more elif parts, and the else part is optional. The
keyword ‘elif‘ is short for ‘else if’, and is useful to avoid excessive
indentation. An if ... elif ... elif ... sequence is a substitute for the
switch or case statements found in other languages.
--8<---------------cut here---------------end--------------->8---

Once again, that looks pretty good to me.
------------------------------
Perl

In perl, you see this type of drivel:

A Perl program consists of a sequence of declarations and
statements which run from the top to the bottom. Loops, subroutines
and other control structures allow you to jump around within the code.

Perl is a free-form language, you can format and indent it however
you like. Whitespace mostly serves to separate tokens, unlike
languages like Python where it is an important part of the syntax.

Many of Perl's syntactic elements are optional. Rather than
requiring you to put parentheses around every function call and
declare every variable, you can often leave such explicit elements off
and Perl will figure out what you meant. This is known as Do What I
Mean, abbreviated DWIM. It allows programmers to be lazy and to code
in a style with which they are comfortable.

Perl borrows syntax and concepts from many languages: awk, sed, C,
Bourne Shell, Smalltalk, Lisp and even English. Other languages have
borrowed syntax from Perl, particularly its regular expression
extensions. So if you have programmed in another language you will see
familiar pieces in Perl. They often work the same, but see perltrap
for information about how they differ.

(Source perldoc.perl.org)

Notice they introduced you to their lingo “DWIMâ€. Juvenile humor is a
characteristics of perl's docs. It's a whole cult. They have “perl
republicâ€, “state of the onionâ€, “apocalypseâ€, “perl mongerâ€, “perl
golfâ€, etc.(See: Larry Wall and Cults.) Another trait is irrelevant
rambling. For example, in the above you see: “Perl borrows syntax and
concepts from many languages: awk, sed, C, Bourne Shell, Smalltalk,
Lisp and even English.â€.

However, perl doc overall is more practically usable than Python's.

You might not like Larry Wall's documentation style, but if that is the
case then you are in the minority. IMHO Perl is an example of a
language that prospered almost entirely on the strength of its
documentation. The Camel book is one of the best selling computer
language books of all time.

Much of Perl's "culture" is just plain old marketing, but it is hard to
argue that it has not been successful.
------------------------------
Haskell

Here's a example of ivory-tower idiocy, from Haskellers:

Haskell uses a traditional Hindley-Milner polymorphic type system
to provide a static type semantics [4, 6], but the type system has
been extended with type classes (or just classes) that provide a
structured way to introduce overloaded functions.

A class declaration (Section 4.3.1) introduces a new type class
and the overloaded operations that must be supported by any type that
is an instance of that class. An instance declaration (Section 4.3.2)
declares that a type is an instance of a class and includes the
definitions of the overloaded operations—called class methods—
instantiated on the named type.

For example, suppose we wish to overload the operations (+) and
negate on types Int and Float. We introduce a new type class called
Num:

class Num a where -- simplified class declaration for
Num
(+) :: a -> a -> a -- (Num is defined in the Prelude)
negate :: a -> a

This declaration may be read “a type a is an instance of the class
Num if there are class methods (+) and negate, of the given types,
defined on it.â€

(Source www.haskell.org)

Note the words “Hindley-Milnerâ€, “polymorphicâ€, “static type
semanticsâ€, “overloaded operationsâ€.

The reason they wrote their doc like that is because they are
academicians. You might think that their writing is really scholarly,
mathematically meaningful, almost provably correct, full of dense
mathematical rigor, and necessarily hard to understand because of the
advanced math ideas. By the look of it it is really daunting. The
irony is that the writing is often imprecise, most use of tech jargons
and terms are absolutely uncessarily to the point of being irrelevant.
And, the writing quality is pretty bad, far below the quality of
standard math journal's articles.

I actually agree with you on this example.
uhmm, happy 2011.

You too.

Jason
 
G

Google Poster

a opinion piece.

〈The Idiocy of Computer Language Docs〉http://xahlee.org/comp/idiocy_of_comp_lang.html

--------------------------------------------------
The Idiocy of Computer Language Docs

Xah Lee, 2011-01-03

Worked with Mathematica for a whole day yesterday, after about 10
years hiatus. Very nice. Mathematica lang and doc, is quite unique.
Most other langs drivel with jargons, pettiness, comp-sci
pretentiousness, while their content is mathematically garbage.
(unixism mumble jumple (perl, unix), or “properâ€-engineering OOP
fantasy (java), or impractical and ivory-tower adacemician idiocy as
in Scheme & Haskell ( currying, tail recursion, closure, call-cc,
lisp1 lisp2, and monad monad monad!)) (See: What are OOP's Jargons and
Complexities â—‡ Language, Purity, Cult, and Deception.)

Mathematica, in its doc, is plain and simple. None of the jargon and
pretention shit. Very easy to understand. Yet, some of its function's
technical aspects are far more scholarly abstruse than any other lang
(dealing with advanced math special functions that typically only a
few thousand people in the world understand.).

------------------------------
A Gander into the Idiocies

Here's a gander into the doc drivel in common langs.

------------------------------
unix

In unix man pages, it starts with this type of garbage:

    SYNOPSIS
           gzip [ -acdfhlLnNrtvV19 ] [-S suffix] [ name ...  ]
           gunzip [ -acfhlLnNrtvV ] [-S suffix] [ name ...  ]
           zcat [ -fhLV ] [ name ...  ]

    SYNOPSIS
           zip  [[email protected]$]  [--
longoption  ...]   [-b path] [-n suf
           fixes] [-t date] [-tt date] [zipfile [file ...]]  [-xi
list]

Here, the mindset of unix idiots, is that somehow this “synopsis†form
is technically precise and superior. They are thinking that it
captures the full range of syntax in the most concise way. In
practice, it's seldomly read. It's actually not accurate as one'd
thought; no program can parse it and agree with the actual behavior.
It's filled with errors, incomprehensible to human. Worse of all, the
semantic of unix software's options are the worst rape to any possible
science in computer science. See: The Nature of the Unix Philosophy â—‡
Unix Pipe As Functional Language â—‡ Unix zip Utility Path Problem.

------------------------------
Python

In Python, you see this kinda garbage:

    7.1. The if statement

    The if statement is used for conditional execution:
    if_stmt ::=  "if" expression ":" suite
                 ( "elif" expression ":" suite )*
                 ["else" ":" suite]

(Source docs.python.org)

Here, the mindset of the python idiots is similar to the unix tech
geekers. They think that using the BNF notation makes their doc more
clear and precise. The fact is, there are so many variations of BNF
each trying to fix other's problem. BNF is actually not used as a
computer language for syntax description. It's mostly used to
communicate syntax to humans. Like regex, there are so many
variations. But worse than regex in the sense that there are actually
not many actual implementations of BNF. Real word syntax description
language are usually nothing close to BNF. See: Pattern Matching vs
Lexical Grammar Specification.

This incomprehensible BNF notation is the only thing you get if you
want to know the basic syntax of “ifâ€, “forâ€, “whileâ€, “lambdaâ€, or
other basic constructs of python.

------------------------------
Perl

In perl, you see this type of drivel:

    A Perl program consists of a sequence of declarations and
statements which run from the top to the bottom. Loops, subroutines
and other control structures allow you to jump around within the code.

    Perl is a free-form language, you can format and indent it however
you like. Whitespace mostly serves to separate tokens, unlike
languages like Python where it is an important part of the syntax.

    Many of Perl's syntactic elements are optional. Rather than
requiring you to put parentheses around every function call and
declare every variable, you can often leave such explicit elements off
and Perl will figure out what you meant. This is known as Do What I
Mean, abbreviated DWIM. It allows programmers to be lazy and to code
in a style with which they are comfortable.

    Perl borrows syntax and concepts from many languages: awk, sed, C,
Bourne Shell, Smalltalk, Lisp and even English. Other languages have
borrowed syntax from Perl, particularly its regular expression
extensions. So if you have programmed in another language you will see
familiar pieces in Perl. They often work the same, but see perltrap
for information about how they differ.

(Source perldoc.perl.org)

Notice they introduced you to their lingo “DWIMâ€. Juvenile humor is a
characteristics of perl's docs. It's a whole cult. They have “perl
republicâ€, “state of the onionâ€, “apocalypseâ€, “perl mongerâ€, “perl
golfâ€, etc.(See: Larry Wall and Cults.) Another trait is irrelevant
rambling. For example, in the above you see: “Perl borrows syntax and
concepts from many languages: awk, sed, C, Bourne Shell, Smalltalk,
Lisp and even English.â€.

However, perl doc overall is more practically usable than Python's.

------------------------------
Haskell

Here's a example of ivory-tower idiocy, from Haskellers:

    Haskell uses a traditional Hindley-Milner polymorphic type system
to provide a static type semantics [4, 6], but the type system has
been extended with type classes (or just classes) that provide a
structured way to introduce overloaded functions.

    A class declaration (Section 4.3.1) introduces a new type class
and the overloaded operations that must be supported by any type that
is an instance of that class. An instance declaration (Section 4.3.2)
declares that a type is an instance of a class and includes the
definitions of the overloaded operations—called class methods—
instantiated on the named type.

    For example, suppose we wish to overload the operations (+) and
negate on types Int and Float. We introduce a new type class called
Num:

      class Num a  where          -- simplified class declaration for
Num
        (+)    :: a -> a -> a     -- (Num is defined in the Prelude)
        negate :: a -> a

    This declaration may be read “a type a is an instance of the class
Num if there are class methods (+) and negate, of the given types,
defined on it.â€

(Sourcewww.haskell.org)

Note the words “Hindley-Milnerâ€, “polymorphicâ€, “static type
semanticsâ€, “overloaded operationsâ€.

The reason they wrote their doc like that is because they are
academicians. You might think that their writing is really scholarly,
mathematically meaningful, almost provably correct, full of dense
mathematical rigor, and necessarily hard to understand because of the
advanced math ideas. By the look of it it is really daunting. The
irony is that the writing is often imprecise, most use of tech jargons
and terms are absolutely uncessarily to the point of being irrelevant.
And, the writing quality is pretty bad, far below the quality of
standard math journal's articles.

--------------------------------------------------

uhmm, happy 2011.

 Xah ∑http://xahlee.org/☄


Fell free to rewrite the docs of those programming languages in iambic
pentameter, adding harp octaves in the background.

-Ramon
 
T

Terry Reedy

On 1/4/2011 1:24 PM, an Arrogant Ignoramus wrote:

what he called
a opinion piece.

I normally do not respond to trolls, but while expressing his opinions,
AI made statements that are factually wrong at least as regards Python
and its practitioners.


1. He correctly notes that the Python Language Reference includes
snippets of BNF grammar with the intention of making the doc clear and
precise.
The if statement is used for conditional execution:
if_stmt ::= "if" expression ":" suite
( "elif" expression ":" suite )*
["else" ":" suite]

He incorrectly claims that the inclusion fails in its purpose. This is
based on the irrelevant fact that 'BNF' has many versions (Python only
uses one, explained in 1.2. Notation) and the false claim that "BNF is
actually not used as a computer language for syntax description.".

Actually, the above snippet is a quotation (with initial ':' expanded to
'::=' and newlines added) from the file Grammar/Grammar:
"if_stmt: 'if' test ':' suite ('elif' test ':' suite)* ['else' ':' suite]"

The CPython program Parser/pgen takes Grammar/Grammar as input and
produces the parser tables that CPython uses to parse Python code. In
other words, CPython uses its well-defined version of extended BNF as a
'computer language for syntax description', contrary to AI's claim. I
presume other implementations make either human or machine use of the
same file.

2. AI also claims that this notation is 'incomprehensible'.
Perhaps to him, but not to me or most the the subset of users who care
about it. One way to expand the BNF into English is as follows:

An if-statement starts with an if-clause consisting of the word 'if', an
expression, a colon, and a suite. 'expression' and a 'suite' have
already been defined elsewhere. The if clause can optionally be followed
any count (including 0) of elif-clauses which are the same as if-clauses
but with 'elif' substituted for 'if'. An if-statement can optionally be
terminated with an else-clause consisting of 'else' and a suite.

Even if such long-winded paraphrases were added to the doc (and I do not
think they should be), in addition to the explanations currently given,
the grammar snippet would still be needed to show the exact technical
definition that CPython actually uses, for those who wan precisely that.
(The people who care include those who want to change the grammar or
those who think the behavior might might match the grammar.)


3. AI's complaint is deceptive and deficient in omitting any mention the
part of the docs *intended* to teach beginners: the Tutorial. The main
doc pages list the Tutorial first, as what one should start with. That
is where I started and I cannot remember if I have ever read the formal
if-statement grammar before, as I knew how to write such before I ever
looked at the Language Reference. Guido and other developers do not and
never have expected people to learn about if-statements from the
grammar. The tutorial says:
"
4.1. if Statements
Perhaps the most well-known statement type is the if statement. For example:
... x = 0
... print('Negative changed to zero')
... elif x == 0:
... print('Zero')
... elif x == 1:
... print('Single')
... else:
... print('More')

There can be zero or more elif parts, and the else part is optional. The
keyword ‘elif‘ is short for ‘else if’, and is useful to avoid excessive
indentation. An if ... elif ... elif ... sequence is a substitute for
the switch or case statements found in other languages.
"

I think this says by example and plain English just what a Python
programmer needs to know. It is, of course, followed by many other
examples in the remainder of the tutorial.

If one wants to critique the 'Python Docs', especially as regards to
usefulness to beginners, one must start with the Tutorial; and if one
wants to use if statements as an example, one must start with the above.
 
R

rurpy

On 1/4/2011 1:24 PM, an Arrogant Ignoramus wrote:

what he called

I normally do not respond to trolls, but while expressing his opinions,
AI made statements that are factually wrong at least as regards Python
and its practitioners.

Given that most trolls include factually false statements,
the above is inconsistent. And speaking of arrogant, it
is just that to go around screaming "troll" about a posting
relevant to the newsgroup it was posted in because you don't
happen to agree with its content. In doing so you lower
your own credibility. (Which is also not helped by your
"Arrogant Ignoramus" name-calling.)
[...]
2. AI also claims that this notation is 'incomprehensible'.

Since incomprehensibility is clearly subjective your claim
that it is a factual error is every bit as hyperbolic as his.
[...]
3. AI's complaint is deceptive and deficient in omitting any mention the
part of the docs *intended* to teach beginners: the Tutorial. The main
doc pages list the Tutorial first, as what one should start with. That
[...]
If one wants to critique the 'Python Docs', especially as regards to
usefulness to beginners, one must start with the Tutorial; and if one
wants to use if statements as an example, one must start with the above.

No. The language reference (LR) and standard library reference
(SLR) must stand on their own merits. It is nice to have a good
tutorial for those who like that style of learning. But it should
be possible for a programmer with a basic understanding of computers
and some other programming languages to understand how to program
in python without referring to tutorials, explanatory websites,
commercially published books, the source code, etc.

The difficulty of doing that is a measure of the failure of the
python docs to achive a level quality commensurate with the language
itself.

FWIW, I think the BNF in the LR is perfectly reasonable given the
target audience I gave above. The failure of the LR has more to
do with missing or excessively terse material -- it concentrates
too exclusively on syntax and insufficiently on semantics. Much
of the relevant semantics information is currently mislocated in
the SLR.
 
S

Steven D'Aprano

No. The language reference (LR) and standard library reference (SLR)
must stand on their own merits. It is nice to have a good tutorial for
those who like that style of learning. But it should be possible for a
programmer with a basic understanding of computers and some other
programming languages to understand how to program in python without
referring to tutorials, explanatory websites, commercially published
books, the source code, etc.

No it shouldn't. That's what the tutorial is for. The language reference
and standard library reference are there to be reference manuals, not to
teach beginners Python.

In any case, your assumption that any one documentation work should stand
on its own merits is nonsense -- *nothing* stands alone. Everything
builds on something else. Technical documentation is no different: it
*must* assume some level of knowledge of its readers -- should it be
aimed at Python experts, or average Python coders, or beginners, or
beginners to programming, or at the very least is it allowed to assume
that the reader already knows how to read?

You can't satisfy all of these groups with one document, because their
needs are different and in conflict. This is why you have different
documentation -- tutorials and reference manuals and literate source code
and help text are all aimed at different audiences. Expecting one
document to be useful for all readers' needs is like expecting one data
type to be useful for all programming tasks.

Reasonable people might disagree on what a particular documentation work
should target, and the best way to target it, but not on the need for
different documentation for different targets.
 
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A

Alice Bevan–McGregor

In any case, your assumption that any one documentation work should stand
on its own merits is nonsense -- *nothing* stands alone.

+1

How many RFCs still in use today don't start with:
The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
"SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this
document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119

I posted a response on the article itself, rather than pollute a
mailing list with replies to a troll. The name calling was a rather
large hint as to the intention of the "opinion", either that or whoever
translated the article (man or machine) was really angry at the time.
;)

- Alice.
 
R

rurpy

No it shouldn't. That's what the tutorial is for. The language reference
and standard library reference are there to be reference manuals, not to
teach beginners Python.

Yes it should. That's not what the tutorial is for. The
(any) tutorial is for people new to python, often new to
programming, who have the time and a learning style suitable
for sitting down and going through a slow step-by-step
exposition, much as one would get in a classroom. That is
a perfectly valid way for someone in that target audience
to learn python.

Your (and Terry's) mistake is to presume that it is
appropriate for everyone, perhaps because it worked for you
personally. There is a large class of potential python
users for whom a tutorial is highly suboptimal -- people
who have some significant programming experience, who don't
have the time or patience required to go through it getting
information serially bit by bit, or whos learning style is,
"don't spoon feed me, just tell me concisely what python
does", who fill in gaps on a need-to-know basis rather than
linearly. I (and many others) don't need or want an
explanation of how to use lists as a stack!

A language reference manual should completely and accurately
describe the language it documents. (That seems fairly obvious
to me although there will be differing opinions of how precise
one needs to be, etc.) Once it meets that minimum standard,
it's quality is defined by how effectively it transfers that
information to its target audience. A good reference manual
meets the learning needs of the target audience above admirably.

I learned Perl (reputedly more difficult to learn than Python)
from the Perl manpages and used it for many many years before
I ever bought a Perl book. I learned C mostly from Harbison
and Steele's "C: A Reference". Despite several attempts at
python using its reference docs, I never got a handle on
it until I forked out money for Beazley's book. There is
obviously nothing inherently "difficult" about python -- it's
just that python's reference docs are written for people who
already know python. Since limiting their scope that narrowly
is not necessary, as other languages show, it is fair to say
that python's reference docs are poorer.
In any case, your assumption that any one documentation work should stand
on its own merits is nonsense -- *nothing* stands alone. Everything
builds on something else. Technical documentation is no different: it
*must* assume some level of knowledge of its readers -- should it be
aimed at Python experts, or average Python coders, or beginners, or
beginners to programming, or at the very least is it allowed to assume
that the reader already knows how to read?

You can't satisfy all of these groups with one document, because their
needs are different and in conflict. This is why you have different
documentation -- tutorials and reference manuals and literate source code
and help text are all aimed at different audiences. Expecting one
document to be useful for all readers' needs is like expecting one data
type to be useful for all programming tasks.

I defined (roughly) the target audience I was talking about
when I wrote "for a programmer with a basic understanding of
computers and some other programming languages".

Let's dispense with the 6th-grade arguments about people who
don't know how to read, etc.
Reasonable people might disagree on what a particular documentation work
should target, and the best way to target it, but not on the need for
different documentation for different targets.

As I hope I clarified above, that was exactly my point too.
There is a significant, unsatisfied gap between the audience
that a tutorial aims at, and the audience that the reference
docs as currently written seem to be aimed at. Since other
language manuals incorporate this gap audience more or less
sucessfully in their reference manuals, python's failure to
do so is justification for calling them poor.
(Of course they are poor in lots of other ways too but my
original response was prompted by the erroneous claim that
good (in my sense above) reference manuals were unnecessary
because a tutorial exists.)
 
R

rurpy

I responded more fully in my response to Steven but you like
he is taking "stand on it's own merits" out of context. The
context I gave was someone who wants a complete and accurate
description of python and who understands programming with
other languages but not python.

RFC 2119 is incorporated in the others by reference. It is purely
a matter of technical convenience that those definitions, which are
common to hundreds of RFCs, are factored out to a single common
location. RFC 2119 is not a tutorial.

I can hint to my neighbor that his stereo is too loud by
throwing a brick through his window. Neither that nor calling
people arrogant ignoramus is acceptable in polite society.
I am not naive, nor not shocked that c.l.p is not always polite,
and normally would not have even commented on it except that
1) Terry Reedy is usually more polite and thoughtful,
and 2) Xah Lee's post was not a troll -- it was a legitimate
comment on free software documentation (including specifically
python's) and while I don't agree with some of his particulars,
the Python docs would be improved if some of his comments
were considered rather than dismissed with mindless epithets
like troll and arrogant ignoramus.
 
E

Emile van Sebille

On 1/5/2011 12:10 PM (e-mail address removed) said...

A language reference manual should completely and accurately
describe the language it documents. (That seems fairly obvious
to me although there will be differing opinions of how precise
one needs to be, etc.) Once it meets that minimum standard,
it's quality is defined by how effectively it transfers that
information to its target audience. A good reference manual
meets the learning needs of the target audience above admirably.

I learned Perl (reputedly more difficult to learn than Python)
from the Perl manpages and used it for many many years before
I ever bought a Perl book. I learned C mostly from Harbison
and Steele's "C: A Reference". Despite several attempts at
python using its reference docs, I never got a handle on
it until I forked out money for Beazley's book.

Hmm... I suspect most of us with prior programming experience simply
worked the tutorial and immediately put python into play, digging deeper
as necessary. Further, absolute beginners at programming are not likely
to learn programming from a man page, nor should anyone expect the
tutorial to be sufficient for their needs.

I agree that as far as the specific details around the edges and corner
cases go, it would be nice to have a single reference that provides
those answers at the level you need (ala postscript's redbook imo), but
I find this group serves well to fill the gaps when I can't easily find
what I need.

Emile
 
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X

Xah Lee

Given that most trolls include factually false statements,
the above is inconsistent.  And speaking of arrogant, it
is just that to go around screaming "troll" about a posting
relevant to the newsgroup it was posted in because you don't
happen to agree with its content.  In doing so you lower
your own credibility.  (Which is also not helped by your
"Arrogant Ignoramus" name-calling.)

yeah.

i called them idiots, he calls me Artificial Intelligence ☺. fair
game.
No.  The language reference (LR) and standard library reference
(SLR) must stand on their own merits.  It is nice to have a good
tutorial for those who like that style of learning.  But it should
be possible for a programmer with a basic understanding of computers
and some other programming languages to understand how to program
in python without referring to tutorials, explanatory websites,
commercially published books, the source code, etc.

yes exactly.

the best python reference to me is

Richard Gruet's quick ref:
http://rgruet.free.fr/PQR26/PQR2.6.html

on the python doc, afaik people complains all the time, and i know at
least 3 times in different years people have tried to bring up
projects to fix it, all shot down with spit badly by python priests,
of course.

just 2 days ago, i was pissed due to python doc url disappearance too
http://xahlee.org/perl-python/python_doc_url_disappearance.html

Xah
 
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