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    Re: Request for computer help.
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2005 Sep 10, 22:17 +0100

    I asked-
    >Some recent postings on Nav-l have included listings of programs. This has
    >prompted me to ask for suggestions from list members about suitable
    >programs for doing simple calculations on a home computer. Not really a
    >navigation question at all, it's true... But I suspect that others have had
    >to face the same problems that face me.
    >Forty-odd years ago, I had some exposure to Fortran on a mainframe. Since
    >then, all my programming has been done using some dialect of Basic, on
    >programmable calculators or computers. I'm not really a "programmer", in
    >any real sense of the word, and writing programs is no more than a means to
    >an end. What I enjoy is solving technical problems, and a computer is a
    >necessary tool for that job.
    >My favourite version of Basic was the old QuickBasic as supplied with PC's,
    >years ago, when even home computers were actually expected to do some
    >computing. You could label the lines when needed, rather than having to
    >number them, and there were no restrictions on "go to" instructions, which
    >seem to be regarded now in many quarters as particularly naughty. What's
    >more, it had a superb manual.
    >On my Mac, I used TrueBasic, which I rather disliked for the converse
    >reasons; it imposed disciplines which irked me.
    >I've recently migrated from an old Mac to a laptop running Windows XP. My
    >new machine appears to offer no built-in programming (unless there's
    >something hidden away that I haven't discovered yet).  This computer can do
    >almost anything, except actually compute! So I need to find something, to
    >do mostly mathematics (all the trig functions), to double precision, some
    >statistics, and ideally with the ability to draw a bit of graphics as well.
    >It doesn't have to be free software (though that's my preference) and there
    >MUST be a decent printed manual available; I detest having to rely on
    >on-line "help". I'd rather pay real money for the manual than for the
    >Exploring around, I've picked up a copy of C++, which I haven't tried; just
    >reading the manual was enough to convince me that all the guff about
    >object-oriented programming was not for me. Was that the right decision?
    >I'm quite prepared to learn a new language, even at my advanced age, if
    >it's worthwhile doing so, but not if it's going to fade out and force me
    >into learning yet another new language later on. More relevant, the manual
    >I picked up, "C++ for Dummies", made no mention at all of any trig functions.
    >My preference would be to find a version of Basic. Visual Basic seems, at a
    >first glance, to be over-complex for my needs, and rather expensive. Is
    >there something simpler out there?
    >It's likely that others on Nav-l have been faced with the same problem, and
    >can give a bit of advice about their own favourite software.
    Returning home after a few days afloat, I've been rather overwhelmed by the
    number, and the depth, of the responses to my request for help in choosing
    a language to use for computing. Many thanks to you all! Nav-l is indeed a
    wonderful source of good advice.  I haven't done anything, yet, to
    implement any of those suggestions; that comes next.
    The question was a bit off-topic for a navigation list, it's true, but I
    will post a response here, because the topic may reflect the interests of
    other Nav-l readers; not just me.
    First, let me deal with using a spreadsheet application for computing, as
    suggested by a number of readers, including Jared Sherman, who wrote-
    >George, the classic killer app for the PC was Lotus, which has been
    >displaced by MS Excel, which is part of the MSOffice suites. It has some
    >pretty poweful math and display functions, although it is not designed as a
    >"mathematics" package per se. Sun's OpenOffice and StarOffice are similar
    >packages designed to replace MSOffice. One is available online for free, the
    >other at reasonable cost and I think with a printed manual too. You'd have
    >to check online, these things change from time to time and Sun makes the
    >free version a bit harder to simply FIND on their web site. But, it is very
    >much still there.
    Those are indeed useful comments. I'm reasonably familiar with the use of a
    spreadsheet for computing purposes, in the spreadsheet component of the
    ClarisWorks suite on my old Mac.
    Loaded on my new PC is a recent version of OpenOffice, with its spreadsheet
    "Calc", but if it allows creation of user-defined functions, or writing
    subroutines, no mention is made in the manual that I have, "Teach yourself
    openoffice.org all in one", by Perry.
    Recently, my friend and near-neighbour,nav-l member Clive Sutherland, has
    acquainted me with many details of Excel, which is now loaded on my PC (in
    its 2000 version), in conjunction with VBA (Visual Basic for Applications,
    which I understand to be somewhat different from Visual Basic itself).
    Clearly, that combination is extremely powerful. However, to implement it
    requires the user to learn familiarity, not only with the detals of Excel,
    but also with VBA as well.
    It seems to me that Excel and VBA have, to some extent, been put together
    by cobble-and-patch, in that each has its own set of built-in functions
    which in some cases conflict. That's a complication that the simple-minded
    user doesn't need.
    In the past my attempts to implement mathematical procedures using a
    spreadsheet have been very error-prone, and I have seen many such errors in
    similar implementations by others. I put much of this down to the "hidden"
    nature of a spreadsheet, in that so much of what it does is dependent on
    how the spreadsheet has been laid out. In contrast, a straight program for
    computing, such as Basic, is unambiguous and self-documenting, and it's
    reasonably clear what goes on under the bonnet (for Americans, under the
    hood), just by reading the listing.
    So those are my reasons for wishing to avoid a spreadsheet. But my
    programming experience is limited, and part of that prejudice may reflect
    this ignorance, and another part may be the result of gaps in my manuals.
    If anyone thinks that this attitude is misguided, I hope they will tell me so.
    A number of readers have recommended Javascript, and Chuck Taylor wrote-
    >For an excellent example of a JavaScript program that
    >is highly relevant to this list, see Dan Allen's
    >"Position of the Sun" at
    >You can see Dan's actual JavaScript code by
    >right-clicking with your mouse anywhere on the page
    >and selecting "View Page Source" from the popup menu.
    I was introduced to Javascript, and that same program, by Dan Allen, who
    was extremely helpful. The only problem I found was that it seemed to be
    difficult to get a set of numbers, shown up on a web page as the result of
    a Javascript procedure, to translate into the "real world" of numbers
    contained in a document which I could save, print out, and use elsewhere
    (that was when I was using my old Mac). Somehow, Javascript seemed to be
    designed to frustrate that operation. More than likely, it was the result
    of "finger trouble" on my part, through lack of understanding. But
    Javascript may indeed be a good way for me to go. Anyone recommend a good text?
    Frank Reed wrote-
    >You liked QuickBasic? Then maybe that's what you  should use. I use it
    >regularly. It runs fine under Win98, WinXP etc., despite a  little warning
    >when you
    >first launch it that says it's totally incompatible.  Actually, I use
    >Microsoft Basic 7 which was a slight improvement over QB
    >but  indistinguishable in
    >most respects so that's the version that I can say  definitely runs.
    That would indeed be tempting, if I were able to get a copy to download
    However, a number of readers shared Chuck Taylor's view, that-
    >Python is an interpreted language as is Basic). You
    >can download it for free from
    >    http://www.python.org/
    >There is documentation on line, but there are also
    >many 3rd-party books on Python programming available
    >through the usual sources.
    >The nice thing about Python is that you can type in an
    >expression and have it evaluated immediately, as you
    >could with Basic.
    he adds-
    >There is documentation on line, but there are also
    >many 3rd-party books on Python programming available
    >through the usual sources.
    It seems that I ought to give Python a try; can anyone recommend a good
    book, from his own experience?
    Contact George at george@huxtable.u-net.com ,or by phone +44 1865 820222,
    or from within UK 01865 820222.
    Or by post- George Huxtable, 1 Sandy Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13
    5HX, UK.

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