learning Python and holding off on Swift

I freaking love Apple gear. Seriously. I’m a fanboy, but not on the level of most anyone else. I don’t own an old Macintosh, don’t have a collection of iPods, and there’s not a poster of “Think Different” on my wall (though perhaps…). I love the design of what Apple puts out. I love their boldness and daring to try new things. Creativity seems to flourish there. But I love their elegance in style. There simply is no comparison between Windows and macOS.

But I begin strangely. Let me back up. Over ten years ago I was a student at Portland State University. I recently had come from deployment and was amazed at the changing technology in portable music. I’d grown up with 8-tracks and cassette tapes, then CDs, and then there was the Wild West of mini disks, mini cassettes, and other formats. Napster had come and gone. And on deployment I’d discovered the MP3 player. Back home at college, I had bought a new flip phone, a Sony something or other, and it was able to play MP3s. But the UI was horrendous. All the phones were. There were books on how to enter in a contact! Adding music was a pain.

I was walking down the street and had my phone playing MP3s, and I lamented that someone didn’t build a Walkman and Phone at the same time. Yes, this was a Sony, but it hardly deserved to be called a music player. Within that same week I watched an Apple keynote where Steve Jobs introduces the first iPhone. I loved the idea of it. I loved the user interface of the iPhone. Over the next couple of months I’d be asked by people if I was an Apple employee, so enthusiastic was I about the iPhone. Random strangers would remark about my phone and I’d launch into a session with them, showing tricks and tips and features.

Over the years I’d wander into the computer section of a bookstore, see words like FORTRAN, C+, and others. The codes on the inside were esoteric, occult, secrets. I’d never seen a programmer in real life. The only ones I’d seen were the parodies in movies, who built Johnny Five, or placed a virus into an alien spaceship. It never crossed my mind that I could make a program for the iPhone. But a few years later, in another Apple Keynote, Swift was announced. And several keynotes since, Apple has highlighted programmers and developers, showing images of them with a laptop, late at night, rubbing their eyes in frustration, before having the “aha moment” and solving their code. I’d known this! I’d put in many all night shifts trying to work out the code for a webpage, until finally that moment when it works (but how?!). Could I learn this also?

It’s been said that in order to build an app, one must have an itch to scratch. This may not be law, more like advice, but it’s the same thing for writers… “write what you’d like to read”. I didn’t have an itch. I wasn’t trying to come up with an idea for the next game to take the world by storm. I didn’t have a dream of getting rich by designing the perfect app. So why invest in learning Swift? It wasn’t until I started wishing for an app to do something that nobody else did, that I stated to think seriously about learning Swift. I’ve got an idea for a couple apps that I wish I had. But first…

Deployment time and I’ve spent the better part of a year with a different life. What was normal is gone. My days, concerns, diet, friends, everything, is changed. I’m surrounded by weapons, all at the ready, for the possible attack that may come. I’m comfortable in this. With 23 years military, contingency and readiness become second nature. I have a very slow, limited, and costly internet. On this I am able to sometimes watch YouTube videos of people teaching coding. It took five days to download an update to X-Code, to only work for two months until another 9GB update is needed. I keep trying, but the connection (a paltry 20kbs) is often too slow to register. At least when my connection drops, the download will pick up where it left off. Adobe’s Creative Cloud does not do this, and after two weeks of trying, I gave up trying to download Adobe Photoshop.

I’ve downloaded a lot of books and have been jumping around a lot. I stated reading Swift and Python at the same time. It was seriously messing with my mind. It’s one thing if you already understand coding, but I’d never heard of a tuple before, and was wondering just why in the heck would anyone go through the trouble of declaring a dictionary, only to call out one item? The introductions to concepts didn’t fill me with a lot of understanding. It’s like taking someone from a tropical island, who’s never seen a car before, trying to teach them how to drive, and on lesson 4 showing them how the windshield defrost works. What the hell is frost?

This deployment, like others, has had its unique challenges. But along the way I bought the Break into Tech and Front End Developer tracks from SkillCrush. My work schedule sometimes makes it difficult to do this work quickly. But I’m working on it. I’m currently building the first project, a single page website, using HTML and CSS. Easy enough, though one small bit of CSS is throwing me for a loop as nothing works to move icons over. (Edit, I figured it out. It was my HTML, not CSS).

I’ve also dropped Swift, for the time being. It was just confusing me to try and remember even the basics, such as, do I declare VAR with the variable or not? Do I end with { or (? So i focused only on Python and have been reading books. It may seem so small as to be laughable, but I was happy when I made (what I thought was) a witty retort on Twitter and someone else replied that it was accurate Python syntax.

JOY! I also have some books on JavaScript but haven’t cracked them open yet. I also have some on R and MySQL, and did crack them open at the same time that I was reading Python and Swift.

So I’ve put down Swift until I get a basic grounding in Python. I’ve chosen Python because it goes well with web development (as does others, I know), and also outside of web development. An app that I used to LOVE but seems to have died, is Editorial, which can be greatly enhanced with Python. I’ve been experimenting with Todoist (though I’m still primarily an OmniFocus user) and there’s some neat things done with Python and Todoist. However, OmniGroup has strong ties with JavaScript, Drafts has lots of JavaScript tie-ins, and web development has lots of JavaScript stuff.

So yeah, JavaScript is next on my list.

I’ve signed up for Real Python and love it. So far the method of instruction on both Real Python and SkillCrush is top notch. I love their style. Plus SkillCrush has a Python track I can take as well. This is quality stuff here.

I’m still not sure what I’m going to be doing n the near future when I return home. I fill my mind with images of what could be, but there’s always doubt. One voice of realism, after looking at all the jobs (or lack of jobs) in the southern Oregon region is that perhaps I’ll only find data entry positions for local hospitals. I’d love to find some amazing organization that values its workers, empowers them to be creative, has strong mutual support, is primarily remote work focused, organized around efficiency and productivity, and seeks to do good in the world.

The voice comes back. It’s there, asking me (accusing me) “what do you think you can add to such a team? Imagine if I went to Apple and asked them for a job? How in the world would they not laugh themselves into a fit so bad as to immediately require medical attention? Security would be called in to escort off premises the deranged man that came in, who only knows print(“hello, world”) and dares ask for a job at the leading computer/software company in the world. I must be insane. There’s no other word for it.

But if I could work for anyone I the world, it’d be Apple. Other than that, I’m pretty wide open. I love the model that Doist has, where the company is completely remote-based and yet does good stuff. Perhaps there is another company out there looking to make the world a better place, that doesn’t care if I’m living in Ashland, OR, and encourages me to be better.

For now I don’t know what’s out there. I’m taking “classes” online, reading books, and haven’t come up with any ideas yet. I’m still learning. But it wasn’t that long ago that I had an entire Battalion’s worth of form questionnaire data in a spreadsheet, with answers to what sort of things did the soldier want to see, what their age, rank, APFT score was, how often wouldn’t they give to learning new skills, were they interested in job training, and more. I was using Excel on a government computer, and I was limited by what I knew how to make. I built some crazy heat maps comparing scores of questions with others, finding pairs, and looking for correlations with other factors. I was mining for data. I wish that I had known Python or R at that time, though the questions themselves needed some tuning for better quantifying.

I’m making progress through the videos. Right now I’m an idiot. A noob. A person that can write out “Hello, world”. But I love looking for patterns in data. I love design. I love making something that does the job well.

When I get home, I’ll take my sweetheart on a drive up north. We’ll see some sites, have a good time, and on our way back we’ll stop at the Apple Store where I’ll get a new iMac (mine is old and is dead, and my MBP is starting to act up). With this and some broadband internet, my evenings will be set as I start to learn Swift. Hopefully by then I’ll have a rookie level handle in Python and I won’t be making myself crazy with trying to learn two languages at the same time.

Published by Eddie

I'm a goofball. I like Doctor Who, Star Wars (yes, all of them), and of course Firefly. I think that "Out of Gas" from Firefly is the single greatest episode of any SciFi. Closely followed by "All Great Things..." from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'm an Apple geek. Seriously, I brought a 2013 MBP and two iPads with me on deployment. Every year I watch all the Apple Keynotes. Someday I'd like to learn Swift, as I've got some ideas for some useful apps that I'd like to use. One might find me at a coffee shop, at the LGS getting more Magic: The Gathering cards, on some trail in the mountains of Oregon, on one of my Macs, running a trail, or who knows.

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