This is an example of a conversation (mostly from PainfulTalkHistory), partly refactored into WikiDrama form. (This mainly means changing the name tags …)

… And to do this, we should optimize receipt by instantiating an automated redundant store of information made available to the packet recipient module.

Um, wtf does that mean ?

Search me. I’m not a programmer. :-P

  • “Does receipt mean something special in this case?”
  • “Is it important to express the goal: optimizing some aspect of “receipt?””
  • “Are there non-automated redundant stores? Is it important to differentiate them?”
  • “Is it criticial here to differentiate a generic store of information from, say, a database?”
  • “Are there perhaps other receipt modules, such that it’s useful to call it a packet receipient module?”

Nah, he’s just trying to sound impressive. It’s enough to just say: “Cache the data in the listener.”

I still don’t understand :-(

That’s because this is ComplexPlainTalk (Er, I think. You’d have to know what he means to be sure).

Most of philosophy is PainfulTalk, and when it is not it is even worse, because things are said in a plain and simple way which tends to hide the fact it is often more profound than what it seems. So, in one sense, it may be a good thing that it is painful.

Some thinkers tried (and sometimes, succeeded) to say the same philosophic things in a rather more poetic manner (e.g. Al-Hallaj, Lao-zi, Gibran, Dogen…) but this too may be an illusion. Indeed, poetry is more easily understood by people who have their mind conformed towards poetic style, but for other people, it may be as painful as classic philosophy.

I suggest you to consider that a philosopher who writes in german, or a poet who writes in english (for instance : Heidegger… or James Joyce…) does not really write in german or in english, but in his own language, which uses very accidentally the same words as the usual german or english language.

Thus, to read and to enjoy the reading of Sein und Zeit or Finnegan’s Wake is nothing but an exercise of translation of some very weird foreign language into your own one.

And furthermore, but maybe we should consider this to be the general case, as if every single individual on Earth were speaking his own private language…

So my conclusion will be : Long life to PainfulTalk !

What is painful about painful talk is to see these people not being able to communicate their ideas to more diverse people, to see them limited to an outdated and ineffective programming language. Painful talk might work for some people who wasted their time on learning this code to be able to talk to others who also wasted their time on learning this code. It’s perfectly ok to try to translate painful talk to plain talk or [PoeticTalk? poetic talk]. But maybe there are more important things to do at the moment? Maybe it should be [IneffectivelyCodedTalk? ineffictevly coded talk] instead of painful talk as it is not painfull for everybody? There are actually people who like it. Dunno.

On the other hand: ideas first come out in your own language only, sure. How much you care to translate them or have them translated is important too.

Precisely. You understood me. The problem is not with PainfulTalk, PoeticTalk?, or WhateverTalk?, but with style. There are people who speak painfully, but have style. Others are only painful (technocratic literature, for instance).

Now we have the possibility to meet from every part of the planet to share common goals, now we have the Internet, the problem of language urges a lot. But this is a very old problem, it is just that its conditions have changed.

It will always be a problem of translation. Somebody thinks of things which may be similar to yours, but using a different language, or the same language but different words (which is identically the same problem).

I see only one solution : everybody assumes his/er responsibility of translating, translating, always translating what the others say. Always. And with pleasure.

But this has a name : discussion, debate, critic mind, maieutics…

You need not promote a particular style to achieve this.

Nah, I don’t buy it.

Here’s what happens:

A Chemistry student starts reading the Chem texts assigned to her. She says, “God, this sucks! This is so poorly written!”

But she has to study, or else she’ll be kicked out of school and can’t practice Chemistry.

After four years of abuse by textbooks, she’s got a piece of paper saying she knows Chemistry.

Now some poor frosh comes in, and has to study the textbooks. He says, “God, this sucks! This is so poorly written!”

But the recent graduate’s attitude has changed. She says, “No, no, this is good for you. Every word, every sentence here, is properly placed. This is absolutely the best way you can learn. There are no books better than this book. There is no better way. Perhaps some small tiny changes can be made, and we’re sure that the new revisions of the book will be better in these ways. But really, these books are going to become your best friends.”

The simple fact is: It’s PainfulTalk. The textbooks are horrendous.

What has changed is that our recent graduate has come to worship these books because she’s invested so much of her life into them. She’s invested into a social pyramid.

If you were to take a really really good Chemistry book, the likes of which doesn’t exist today, and showed it to her, she would find all kinds of myriad faults with it. “It isn’t right, it isn’t right,” she’d repeat over and over.

Even if you had 100 high school kids who learned as much Chemistry through the better books (or perhaps they are hypertexts, or games, or whatever), in 1/4 the time, she would still be saying, “It’s not right, it’s not right; They are getting only the outer concepts; they are not penetrating into the depths of the subject. Such depths can only be gained by hard labor at the grindstone, and by paying your dues.”

Some people just can’t stand the idea that some other people can accomplish some end easier than they did. “I had to pay $100! How can that guy get by with just $10? No way!” They punish the people who got by with $10 by using PainfulTalk. They use PainfulTalk to keep the people who (by PlainTalk) got what they paid so dear for.

The argument that “It’s all translation in the end, so everyone should love translating” is ludicrous. That’s like saying, “Well, everyone has to travel to get to work. So everyone should love traveling. And we should tear up all the roads, and put mountains in our path, so we can enjoy hiking to work. Because it’s all traveling in the end. We should love traveling. We should make travel as difficult as possible, whenever possible, and people will love us more for it. Because they get to do more traveling.”

Fuck no.

Give me teleportation.

If I want to take a road trip, then, then I will take the road trip. But we should win our freedom first.

The world is complicated enough to make us learn learning by learning the most effective way and not by learning in a ritalized and artificially kept complicated way. When watering the flowers in the garden you do not put on diving glasses either, do ya?

But I suspect painful talk won’t go away very easily, partly because of the mechanism SimpleSimon described, partly because it is useful.

Once you are in the knowledge community, once you have grasped the concepts, painful talk isn’t painful any more, and I suspect that’s the case whether you learnt through PlainText, comics, hypertext, games or that old PainfulText?. Which means that those 100 students who learnt quicker may then find it convenient to talk between themselves using PainfulTalk.

The way I see how this could change, is to encourage the creation of simpler material, and translations, and reformulating things your own way. This will not destroy painful talk, since experts will still find it more convenient to express there ideas more acurately and simply with their own jargon, or will leave some things imprecise as they are clear for the initiated. However we may expect this internal jargon to slowly erode and become less painful with time. We can’t kill jargon, we can’t do advanced quantum mechanics research with everyday words, but the jargon can be made easier. Through ceaseless contact with the mundane world and it’s inadequate language, only essential pieces of jargon will remain, and would do so in as simple a form as possible.

I agree strongly with the idea that translating a text is a good learning process. In almost any specific field, it is also very necessary. Thus, we have things like A Very Short Introduction… books, For Beginners comics, and field specific dictionaries (like A Dictionary of Narratology ISBN 0803287763). All of these secondary sources do some translation, summary, and paraphrase of field-specific terms and concepts, as to help the uninitiated feel less disoriented when confronting primary source material. And this is not a bad thing, at least in my mind. Books which employ specific vocabularies which are not part of the average person’s working vocabulary are not necessarily evil or even PainfulTalk. It’s really hard to talk about WikiPedia:Quarks when you have to explain what a quark is every time. However …

Man, that reads like a thesis.

Guys, PlainTalk is Plain Talk. If you need it turned into some scientific equation, it’s not Plain Talk any more.

And look, this is much about attitude and approach to knowledge, as it is about how you string your words together.

Like, consider how it could otherwise be written:

“I agree; I think translating things into your own words is a good way to learn. In most fields, you need to learn the jargon of that field, and you do that by translating it into your own language. That’s why we have things like “A Very Short Introduction…” books, “For Beginners” comics, and field-specific dictionaries. These help you get used to the words and models and arguments at work in the field. Then beginners can step up to more advanced texts. I don’t think this is a bad thing. But books which use words that average people don’t use aren’t necessarily evil or PainfulTalk. It’s really hard to talk about WikiPedia:Quarks when you have to explain what a quark is every time.”

See? Same ideas. Same level of abstraction. But it’s easier to follow.

What changed?

  • “I agree strongly with the idea that…” to “I agree; I think…”
  • Took out the “Dictionary of Narratology”, and accompanying ISBN number.
  • Took out the reference to “secondary sources” vs. “primary sources.”
  • “as to help the uninitiated feel less disoriented” turned into “These help you get used to…”
  • “Books which employ specific vocabularies which are not part of the average person’s working vocabulary” turns into “But books which use words that average people don’t use”
  • The last sentence, “It’s really hard to talk about WikiPedia:Quarks..,” was perhaps the most easy to understand sentence on the whole thing, and remains completely unchanged. As it happens though, that one sentence was unblemished PlainTalk.

Look at the second one- the Dictionary of Narratology- (ISBN 0803287763)- like, what was that all about?

Who cares about the ISBN? This is CommunityWiki. We aren’t professors here. If we want the ISBN number, we’ll go look it up on Amazon or something. But I mean- nobody’s going to track down that number here, fish it out,- you know. It’s just us. It’s just CommunityWiki. So, we don’t have to put the ISBN there. None of us are going to go look it up and play academic.

And- number three- the “secondary sources” vs. “primary sources.” I’m wrinkling my forehead here, I’ve got one large eye, and one small eye, and they’re both squinting at those with skepticism. “Secondary sources?” “Primary sources?”

I mean, I may be wrong, but don’t we usually reserve that kind of talk for talking about canon? Like, some Jesuits studying the Pentateuch or whatever. And you’ve got- “This is the primary source,” and then “this is a secondary source,” and stuff like that. Maybe we can call Einstein’s and Feynmann’s papers “primary sources,” or something like that. But we’d never call a Chemistry college text book a “primary source.” And we’d never call a dictionary a “secondary source,” I don’t think.

Talk, talk, talk. What are you babbling on about? I don’t have time for this.

TP could have saved us all a bunch of time by saying

“Yes. Translating into your own words is a good way to learn. Jargon == necessary. Use the “A Very Short Introduction…” books, “For Beginners” comics, and field-specific dictionaries, to learn the words and concepts of a particular field. Jargon != bad ⇒ Books using jargon != bad. The dictionary explains “what is a quark?”. Re-explaining violates Wiki:OnceAndOnlyOnce.”

Compressed writing is obviously superior. Only a Luddite would disagree.

Um, “TP” ? “!=” ? “⇒” ? “Wiki:OnceAndOnlyOnce” ? Could you explain what those mysterious symbols mean?

No. RTFM. Don’t be a Wiki:HostileStudent.

Be a little more polite to the newbies. It wasn’t that long ago that you were wet behind the ears yourself.

Discussion (*real* discussion ;-) )

I copied bits of discussion from PlainTalk and PainfulTalk. I hope I’m not offending anyone by renaming them as a pompous old professor … TheProfessor is a caricature, not just a SockPuppet - which means anybody is encouraged to edit what he writes and make it as painful as possible. (Come to think of it, SimpleSimon is not a very flattering name either, er, sorry Lion :-P)

What is important is what is said, and the way it is said. Who said it is not important at all, as long as the dramatic identities act the way they should. The professor is not supposed to say “ I guess you are right” and switch to talking in plain talk, SimpleSimon should avoid even ComplexPlainTalk, etc. (It’s not my job to define the characters here, I’d be happy if anybody used them, even if it’s not in the way I first intended).

(OK, I’m not convinced either that just copying a dialogue and changing the name tags is very useful :-P I guess the main advantage is that this page can be refactored mercilessly …)

I love it! I think it’s a great idea, and it’s fun, too. ;)

Thank you. This is great fun. I think I will look for other places that dramatic identities would fit in.

(This is going off on a little tangent here. The above text discusses various styles of “natural language”. Now we move to discussing “programming languages”. Is there a more appropriate place for this little rant?)

"The Perils of JavaSchools" by Joel Spolsky, to his credit, at least recognizes the 2 sides to the issue.

  • The student thinks that the schoolbook is horribly difficult to read, and thinks that surely it could be better written.
  • The graduate, now that he is used to it, thinks the book is pretty good, and is suspicious that any changes will make it worse. Especially changes that “simplify” the book – isn’t that equivalent to deleting the parts of the book where the most learning took place? “My God, I thought, they’re trying to dumb down the curriculum even further! … Let’s have the TAs take their tests for them, too …”

So there seem to be at least 4 different goals of a programming class, some of them contradictory:

  • Some kids at least have the potential to be great programmers. Others don’t. The sooner a student discovers he’s not cut out for programming and drops out, the less frustration there will be all around. A programming class that passes all its students is obviously not doing its job to weed out kids who are never going to be great programmers. (This assumes that there is some kink in the brain that is different between programmers and normal people, and no amount of training will change that).
  • To teach kids some high-level concepts of what programming is, and some terminology they will need to know before any of this other stuff makes any sense, and a few other things they need to know in order to become a good programmer (in any language).
  • To cram into their little heads all the pesky little details they need to know in order to program in some particular language.
  • To let students experience programming, and ponder whether they really want to do this for the rest of their lives.
  • To satisfy their curiosity about the history of the field, to learn why things are the way they are today, and how that might change in the future.
  • To let students practice actually doing programming, in an environment where they can learn to get better and faster at it. (This assumes that everyone can program, and that with a little more training and practice, they can get better at it).

Say there are 2 entry-level classes, one of which is passing practically all their students, while the other one has about half their students drop out or flunk. Two people, with opposite assumptions mentioned above, will draw opposite conclusions about which class is doing things right.

OK, my little rant is running out of steam. What was my point?

I would write about this on a different page (perhaps CsCurriculum?, or QualityEducation?, or ChoiceOfCurriculum?, or …, depending on what context this thought comes up in for you,) because the question is not, “Should we use PlainTalk, or ComplexPlainTalk, or PainfulTalk,” but rather, “What should be the nature of a college CS curriculum?”

It’s confusing the issues to address the one question in place of the other.

The question of ComplexPlainTalk vs. something else should be a differentiation within a single, already determined curriculum. That is, you’ve already chosen what you want to talk about about, and what specific ideas you want to teach (Java, or C, or pointers, or …) Now you need to decide how to phrase it. If the student understands pointers at the end of the day, mission accomplished.

Incidentally, one of the things I’ve always wanted to bring up is the Chinese simplification efforts. There have been many times where characters have simplified in Chinese, often times en masse, even. So it’s clearly possible.

I’m interested in the controversy over what makes a good programming language vs. a less-good :-) programming language. Such as the disagreement between Paul Prescod and Paul Graham mentioned in "On the Relationship Between Python and Lisp" by Paul Prescod.

There seem to be many things in common between using a “easy to read” programming language (versus a “professional” programming language), plaintalk (vs. painfultalk), and VisualLanguage (vs. unformatted text only). In particular, the (incorrect) idea that if it’s “easy to read”, it must therefore not be any good.

Still, “choosing the nature of a CS curriculum” (in particular, choosing an initial programming language) and these other things are different than choosing whether to use plaintalk. So they needs to go on a different page. (I don’t know where).


Define external redirect: WhateverTalk IneffectivelyCodedTalk ChoiceOfCurriculum CsCurriculum PoeticTalk QualityEducation PainfulText

EditNearLinks: SockPuppet