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Re: Emacs history, and "Is Emacs difficult to learn?"

From: Barry Margolin
Subject: Re: Emacs history, and "Is Emacs difficult to learn?"
Date: Mon, 29 Jul 2013 15:38:11 -0400
User-agent: MT-NewsWatcher/3.5.3b3 (Intel Mac OS X)

In article <>,
 Jambunathan K <> wrote:

> Emanuel Berg <> writes:
> >> Remember he [RMS] is talking about secretaries in early days of
> >> computing learning Emacs and learning programming in the
> >> process.  I am sure secretaries had no CS degrees and more
> >> importantly they belonged to a period when computers were not
> >> common place and were quite the cutting edge.  I just laugh when
> >> young kids in this day of Google complain that Emacs is
> >> primitive and is difficult to learn.  I consider it a joke.
> Welcome back!  This time let's talk about Emacs!
> We are discussing -
> What fascinates me in that article is this,
>     ,----
>     | They used a manual someone had written which showed how to extend
>     | Emacs, but didn't say it was a programming. So the secretaries,
>     |            ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
>     |            ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
>     | who believed they couldn't do programming, weren't scared
>     |     ^^^^^^^^
>     |     ^^^^^^^^
>     | off. They read the manual, discovered they could do useful things
>     | and they learned to program.
>     `----
> The magic phrases are - "didn't say it was a programming" and
> "believed".
> Belief or No-Belief, learning, stopping short of saying the whole truth
> - all seem interesting to me.  Do they help or hinder learning?

Wasn't a similar phenomenon responsible for the popularity of PC 
spreadsheets? Businessmen were already familiar with doing spreadsheets 
on paper, and adding up rows and columns of data by hand. When 
spreadsheet software came out, no one told them they were "programming" 
when they put "SUM(A)" in a field and it totalled all the values in 
column A, so they didn't know they couldn't do it because they weren't 

However, this type of programming can usually only get you so far. 
Creating an init file that sets personal options (there was no 
"Customize" facility in those days), or puts together a sequence of a 
half dozen commands (like a keyboard macro -- I don't think the early 
versions had a way to save these) are pretty easy for anyone. When you 
start adding complicated conditionals, loops, etc., non-programmers get 

You can see this kind of thing on a daily basis these days at Stack 
Overflow, where there are questions from hundreds of non-programmers 
trying to create web sites and database applications, when all they know 
about programming they learned by copying examples from web sites. You 
get SQL questions from people who don't even know what a JOIN is.

Barry Margolin,
Arlington, MA
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