If you are a talented computer programmer, there is nothing to stop you from going to learn several computer languages and becoming ‘multilingual,’ encourages Richard Mansfield in Programming: A beginner’s guide (www.tatamcgrawhill.com). “Some people excel at this, just as some find it easy to learn multiple human languages. Clearly, you’ll benefit in the marketplace – at least you’ll qualify for a greater number of jobs – if you know how to program in multiple languages.”

To an extent, different languages suit different tasks, the author explains. He mentions how, for example, VB shines as a teaching language, for general-purpose programming, and when working with databases; and how PERL, being quite flexible, can be particularly good for manipulating strings.

“And, of course, you might also want to explore C#, a gateway into the C languages… Microsoft’s C# is probably the best place to start.”

A common misunderstanding, Mansfield rues, is that computer languages can’t resemble English. The computer isn’t like ‘a Tibetan villager with whom you must learn to communicate in Tibetan if you hope to communicate at all,’ he says.

“Some people think computers have a language built in, as if they were born in Machineland or something. A computer has no native high-level language, merely a simple set of built-in, low-level capabilities such as the capacity to turn memory cells on or off or add numbers together.” The computer is language-neutral like babies, analogises Mansfield. “Raise a Tibetan in Tucson and she will speak English.”

The book concludes on a note of reassurance to amateurs. If you decide to pursue programming alone, as a hobby, you can nonetheless still make good money at it, the author cheers. “A thriving community of independent programmers publish shareware… Take a look at www.download.com or www.majorgeeks.com.” He cites WinZip, Paint Shop, and the McAfee security programs as instances of commercial success, with humble origins as shareware.

Recommended read.

***

Law, technology, and society

If you are looking for an example of a grassroots national movement, check the discussion on the Centre for Technology and Society (CTS) in Implementing the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Development Agenda, edited by Jeremy de Beer (www.idrc.ca).

The CTS was founded in 2003, in the Rio de Janeiro School of Law, and is currently Brazil’s leading academic institution dealing with the interplay of law, technology, and society, informs Pedro Paranaguá in one of the essays included in the book.

“The CTS manages extensive research and educational programmes, employing an inter-disciplinary approach. Its collaborators include anthropologists, journalists, computer scientists, economists, and media executives, as well as law professors and researchers.”

Among the initiatives that the CTS has undertaken, using the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard as a model, is the promotion, for the first time in Latin America, of Harvard’s Internet Law Seminar (I-Law), “which brought to Brazil important IP (intellectual property) legal scholars including Jonathan Zittrain, Lawrence Lessig, Yochai Benkler, Charles Nesson, John Perry Barlow, among others.” The repercussions of the I-Law/ Brazil continue to gain attention in the Brazilian legal-technical community, Paranaguá observes.

With the financial support of the Financiadora de Estudos e Projectos, the CTS has created a group to provide legal support for free and open source software research, he adds. “As a strategy for spreading the free software legal concepts, the CTS has created a national contest for research projects dealing with practical problems connected with free software businesses.”

The contest has been ‘ported’ to Brazil’s nineteen open source licence models, such as the Mozilla and the BSD licences, the author informs. “These licences had no Portuguese language version, and the CTS accredited these Brazilian versions.”

Worth a detailed study.

***

Assemblies of parts

An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he's in, says Charles Kettering. For, “an inventor treats his failures simply as practice shots.” Perhaps, with all the right tools in place, the ‘Inventor’ software reverses the proportion; so much so, you may find it ‘a breeze to work with,’ with only ‘a handful ways to make it difficult,’ as Thom Tremblay assures in Autodesk Inventor 2010: No experience required (www.wileyindia.com).

“One common bad habit is not properly controlling where files are kept. Inventor keeps track of where things are supposed to be, using a project file.” The project file, as he explains, allows one to control where Inventor looks for templates, what styles are available, and where the files are stored, including standard parts like bolts.

“This opens up a lot of possibilities, such as using different project files to switch templates with different title blocks when you work on jobs for multiple customers. Over time, more and more Inventor users establish one project file and sort jobs as folders under that project file.”

Most users don’t create individual parts, Tremblay notes. “They create assemblies of parts. That is why Autodesk Inventor was written with the assembly in mind.” Though the size and complexity of assemblies may vary, at their core they are collections of components that are fastened, welded, or in some other way stuck together, he says.

For the hands-on design professional.

***

Academic publishing

Online publishing of books, unlike journals, is still in its infancy and there remain prejudices about the quality of online material and a reluctance to read large amounts of text online, opines Sarah Caro in How to Publish Your PhD (www.sagepublications.com). An example of success that she mentions is that of Rice University Press, ‘which has completely reinvented itself as an online academic press.’

On the online platform, scholarly works are freed form the restrictions of paper and ink, and can include not just words but unlimited visual material including pictures, computer graphics, video clips and live Internet links and audio material of all kinds, explains Caro. “The possibilities are endless and very exciting for those engaged in serious scholarship in areas such as performing arts, art history and cultural studies.”

A few issues that may yet require attention are the rigour of the review process, and the difficulty in comparisons between the multimedia and text presentations.

“The fact remains, however, that the hardcopy, single-authored monograph does offer all the benefits of traditional academic publishing. It provides an excellent showcase for your talents,” Caro avers.

Useful addition to the researchers’ shelf.

***

Tailpiece

“We could recover our investment in electronic surveillance cameras…”

“Through improvements in workplace productivity?”

“No, by selling critical market intelligence data about human behaviour!”

***

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