Ruby and Language

Languages are a weird thing. You’re born with one, work very hard to become proficient in it – regardless of the dialect – and then utterly forget the hard work that you put into learning it. In high school and college, you’ll start learning a foreign language and, inevitably, complain that it’s too hard. Why? Because you’ve forgotten how hard it was to learn English.

Now, consider programming languages. Even one of the most organic – Ruby – takes a lot of hard work to get down. Even the basics. Let’s assume that you, like me, are trying to learn it as your first programming language. (This is ignoring the fact that I used to work with ActionScript in high school. That was nine years ago and I was never able to use it outside of the one programming class I took.) You’ll go through exercises, and you’ll work very hard at them. You’ll work on problems posited by the exercises and, eventually, after working out that yes- it can be that simple, you’ll work on another tutorial. Because that’s how you – like me – learn: Beat it into your head over and over until it sticks.

So, I’m on – what – tutorial number four now? It’s called Ruby in 100 Minutes. So, I’m going through classes and methods – again – and decide that the program they’re asking me to write is too simple. Why? Because it doesn’t take into account the fact that, in English, if you have the article “a” preceding a word beginning with vowel, it becomes “an.” So, easy peasy, work in a quick check in the class to fix the program so that the does just that and move on.

Nope. What I found was that, for whatever reason, I could not figure out what to do. I knew there was a method that did exactly what I needed, and I knew I could check the first letter of the string (by using [0] and appending it to the argument), but something wasn’t clicking.

It was driving me nuts. Surely I could at least do this. Didn’t matter if I was doing it in a circuitous way, but after minute thirty, I was doing separate if/elsif/else checks for each vowel.

And then I stumbled across the problem at StackOverflow: Ruby does not have a “starts_with?” command. It does, however, have “start_with?” This boggled my mind. Why would they do this? Where was the logic? What madness was this?!

Well, the creator of Ruby had been asked that before and gave some answer that made it seem that he thought having the command be “starts_with?” would imply the second-person, third-perspective, or some such nonsense. I thought about how crazy that was, because in what world does that make sense? (Yes, I know. Recursive argument.) Then I thought about two things: 1) Rails has “starts_with?” (I think), so the point is moot if you’re developing in Rails; 2) This isn’t English. This is Ruby. This is a different language altogether, albeit one that happens to share the same characters as English and, in some instances, similarities with English. It is, to use an analogy, like you’re writing in another Romance language. (Albeit one that doesn’t do that whole ‘artistic thought’ thing and instead opts for pure logic.)

Now, has that helped me learn the language? Kinda. I mean, I don’t suddenly know everything about Ruby, and I acknowledge that it’s going to take a lot more work until I’m proficient in it, but I think knowing that – providing myself with a frame of mind, in other words – is helpful.

Anyway, other than having minor freakouts about still being unemployed after a month of being in Portland, and not getting call backs from temp agencies (ohgodamithatunqualifiedforeverythingohgodohgodohgodohgod), that’s what I’ve been up to.

Oh! Also! The internet works at the house now! I can’t do crap with it on my Mac partition, because the Ralink drivers for my usb dongle are garbage, but still!


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