Learning The Hard Way Book – As a break from the norm, I thought I’d read Learning Python the Hard Way by Zed Shaw. Many beginners in programming ask me what they should use to learn, and Shaw’s books often come up. I looked at their stuff when it was a free site, but wanted to see what the current published version looked like.
I write about Haskell and mostly use it in my work. I have used Python for about 7 years of my 10 year career, so even though I no longer follow the community, I am quite familiar with Python.
Learning The Hard Way Book
Compare the physical version of Learn Python the Hard Way with the e-book Skip this section if you just want to hear about the content.
Learning, The Hard Way By Dukestewart On Deviantart
I purchased the physical version from Amazon and the e-book directly from Zed Shaw. Below you will see a picture of the physical copy I received.
The design constraints are quite good. The main problem with the paper version is that it is a standard paperback that is perfectly bound. As a result, the book cannot be opened on page 88 as seen in the photo above. Page 88 printed books are not the same as e-books. Page 88 of the printed book is the middle section of exercise 25 called “More Practice”. Page 88 of the e-book is in exercise 17 called “Other files”. Exercise 25 in the book is on page 114. E-books use a slightly less compact layout than print books, so page spacing does not have to be constant.
The content looks the same, but there are some differences in format. Examples of common student questions in Exercise 25:
On the physical version, the typewriter text is single-spaced, bold, and slightly larger than the surrounding bold text.
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In the digital version, it is single-spaced, but not bold. It is also the same size as the surrounding text. As a result, the typewriter text is more visible in the e-book version.
The physical version’s content is organized and clear with a clean design. The structure by chapters/exercises, sections, and passages makes more sense than I’ve seen in some technical books. Often in Manning’s books you see “units” that contain many parts that serve no useful purpose. The physical version of LPTHW fades into the background after Exercise 52 and some comments about learning.
Unfortunately the table of contents format is broken in the e-book version. The physical version’s appendix contains 15 exercises numbered 1 to 15. The eBook version counts up to 55.17 for command line content. The e-book suddenly stops at 55.17 and nothing after that. There is an index at the end of the physical version, which is not present in the e-book. I believe Zed’s indexing is done manually by humans, but is not included in the source text that provides the e-book. For Haskell books, Julie and I always index something in the original LaTeX source. Therefore, the print version of First Principles of Haskell Programming should have the same content as the final e-book version.
Zed is here about the importance of learning and teaching coding. I haven’t said much about this before, but his attempt at learning Python the hard way had a huge impact on my initial approach to pedagogy and the way I thought about Haskell books. As Julie and I learned more about what works with raters, things changed, but the basic principles of guiding students through cumulative practice were critical.
Learning The Hard Way (introduction)
Zed starts by explaining and justifying the process of learning to code by learning how to write code, make it work, and pay attention to details. A minimalist approach to teaching is
, but learning to code would be difficult for me to improve. The Haskell book takes a lot more pages (1000 to LPTHW ~300) because we’re trying to convey the concept of eternal value beyond just teaching people to code in Haskell. Readers should take this section seriously and try to follow Zed’s instructions.
Zed gives a more serious explanation of setting things up than most books written for children. This is of course by no means easy, but it does more than make things smoother. In older versions of the book, Zed recommends this
. The print version recommends TextWrangler for Mac users and Notepad++ for Windows users. This ebook recommends Atom for users of all operating systems, which I think is good advice even as a heavy Emacs user.
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To give you an idea of how detailed Zed is, it tells you a few possible names for your terminal program so you can add it to the dock, run it, and it doesn’t seem like a big deal.
After this section, how to search for answers on the Internet via Google, most working programmers will understand that 80% of what is paid. It also includes screenshots of sample searches and their results.
Zed warns against some common but incorrect developer advice. I agree with him on most things, but I think his reasons for doing this need to be explained.
If the developer asks you to use vim or emacs, say no. This editor is intended to make you a better programmer.
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Do a little philanthropy and ignore the “you’re a good programmer” line. There are two important reasons to take this and other advice seriously.
I don’t mean doing all the exercises. I want to get to bed at a decent hour tonight and plan to take the afternoon to write this review. If only they owed my dogs Papuchon and Jack some couch/TV time.
This exercise begins with a warning not to skip the opening theme and methodological comments. I knew he was focused on how people would use the book.
The first training code opens with a series of print statements. The lines appear in code block format for both versions of the book. The e-book highlights the syntax, while the print version does not. I can’t fault Zed for making the print version monochrome, I priced him out of printing the color version of the Haskell book and it was great.
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The eBook version shows a single screenshot of the code in the Atom text editor. The print version (monochrome, natch) displays coded images in TextWrangler on Mac OS X and Notepad++ on Windows.
After drawing the code in a text editor, both versions of the book indicate that it should be printed on the Mac or Windows terminal running the program. These images appear the same in both versions of the book. The main thing I noticed was that Zed should fix the terminal font and antialiasing, but I chose small and typed.
By anticipating common typos in code, Zed shows where they might occur and what they might look like. It also anticipates and tells readers how to solve possible problems with ASCII encoding.
Exercise 1 consists of study exercises and general questions asked by students. I was able to understand two of the three exercises in Zed’s instructions. I’m not sure what Zed is asking for from practice for the first exam, which is a bit of a concern since beginners are using it. I think I must be missing something.
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Frequently asked questions by students appear at the end of exercises throughout the book. The failure mode is approaching. Zed’s approach here is more modular than the Haskell book. I think this works because the individual workouts are short and usually a few pages long. At HPFFP, we treat this as a linear stream of consciousness and expected problem with media resources.
Zed explores basic syntactic elements such as annotations and expands what readers can do semantically by covering basic arithmetic operations and variables. Progress here seems to be more towards reducing the novelty of the input
. There are important pedagogical differences between Zed’s book and our approach. We organized this book based on relevance and conceptual difficulty, not syntactic elements. Syntax is not useful, but we think it is a more difficult category than semantics. Our experience confirms this, but I don’t think this invalidates the Zed method. To give you an idea of what I mean, here is a code example:
Note: The eBook contains Unicode excerpts in the source code. This means that if a reader tries to copy and paste the code in the e-book, the code will be broken. I’m not sure if this is intentional or like we purposely didn’t fix things to make the copy and paste process easier. This is where LPTHW’s potential problems lie
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