Symbolic Symbols and Coding

I’m not going to lie, seeing all those movies, television shows, and the likes when I was younger (and maybe even still if I’m honest) that portrayed hackers and computer geniuses that created and destroyed and created again all in a digital medium were enticing. I could be like Felicity Smoak in the DC Comic Arrow. She’s constantly hacking into traffic cameras and government feeds to save the day. That could be me. I could save the day without having to put myself on the front line, rather just online. I often dreamt of being able to code like that, to create and invent spaces on the internet for fun and for passion. Unfortunately for me, I’m bloody awful at coding, even just understanding it. This week’s reading has taught me that much. I understand the basics, but the most I’ve ever done is copied and pasted coding from one website to another.

I suppose that’s why the idea of learning coding, even in its most basic form, still draws me in. I mean, there’s a ‘metalanguage’ for mark-up languages to be created for different purposes. It makes sense, yes, but the first time I read that premise I’m pretty sure I was blown away that it took enacting a standard for everything to fall into place. People didn’t simply have a standard, one has to be created. It took until 1998 for the metalanguage XML to come about. In perspective, I was four. I was four before there was an effective way to standardize coding.

Granted not many people had computers at this time, but honestly, why wasn’t this happening simultaneously with the invention of computers? Why did we wait to standardize? Why wasn’t that forefront in the process?

It gets me thinking about this though: an ampersand is the start entity reference, but to have an ampersand symbol you have to type out the references, both beginning and end and the code for they symbol you wish to appear: ‘& ‘. We have codes for symbols, because symbols me something else entirely in this context.

What else to we do with symbols?–I ask introspectively as I suddenly begin to contemplate the universe through a series of cyclical thoughts initiated by this question. I’m slowly understanding this whole, ‘mark-up language’ thing we’ve just read about, but I’m also just curious as to why our symbols need symbols. Why can’t we just make things easy? Why can’t our symbols just be symbols? Why is there a double meaning?

Also, why can’t coding be easy? Even the rules have rules. I just want to help vigilantes and be like Justin Long in “Live Free of Die Hard” or Neo from “the Matrix.”

About Olivia Henley

Marine Sciences
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4 Responses to Symbolic Symbols and Coding

  1. Carla Aviles-Jimenez says:

    Ah to be a computer hacker like in Hollywood films truly would be one of the coolest things in the world, no? I absolutely agree that I felt those characters were so intelligent and integral to the stories that were shown, but I also felt that the knowledge they held was too complicated for me to understand. Honestly, I still feel that way after attempting to understand the TEI reading. As I said in my blog post, some of the concepts made sense, and I could connect them to other concepts that we discussed previously, but the actual meat of TEI continues to baffle me. Therefore, I firmly agree that coding should be a part of education for future generations, and we should try to learn coding now if we can. Perhaps the links that Zachary posted in his post will be helpful for us. You raise interesting questions about symbols that point to the real complications associated with coding. Why can symbols not just be symbols? Why the double meaning? If this is really meant to be a simple standard as the reading claims, then why these complicated meanings and combinations? Hopefully, learning more will ease our confusion and bring us closer to those genius computer hackers on television.

  2. Annie Kingman says:

    Hi Livi, I too fantasize about having the brilliance and know-how to hack into computers and save the day like in the movies. I wanted to respond to your question “why cant we just make things easy?” This is such an interesting question because the answer hinges entirely on perspective. First, we have to consider how computers are, in reality, pretty stupid machines. They only understand two things: 1 and 0. Everything they do is commanded by series of billions of 1s and 0s. In a way, this can be considered a measure of simplicity. To the computer it is simplicity. But to us, billions of 1s and 0s are not simple; we cannot understand a language of 1s and 0s. So, instead we work with XML so that we can apply our language. So in many ways, XML is easy, in comparison. However, to us amateurs it still seems a confusing and foreign language. I wonder if we will see an evolution of coding language to something that is even simpler than this.

  3. Hey Olivia, thanks for your post.
    From a person who, in high school, dreamed of going to college and majoring in english and creative writing, I understand your pains in the difficulty of learning how to code. Learning how to code was tough. And the best part is, I learn more and more everyday by practicing and those ideas and topics that were once unclear slowly become familiar. Every single time I start a programming assignment for class or on my own time, it’s never “easy” to figure out the answer. It takes perseverance and concentration for me to make that happen. A process that usually takes about 3 days for my head to understand and be able to produce functioning code.
    But it is well worth it and I hope you take some baby steps to pick up some markup languages on your own like HTML and CSS after becoming familiar with XML during the rest of the semester. Use the free website https://www.codecademy.com/ to start – it is very user-friendly. If you want to understand XML and how it works, check out this link http://www.w3schools.com/xml/ and start moving through the interactive exercises where you’ll be able to write original code yourself.
    The only way to get better at coding is to actually practice it. And if you ever want to understand things more – never hesitate to ask me. I like helping people understand and this software development stuff is my passion.

  4. Hey Olivia, thanks for your post.
    From a person who, in high school, dreamed of going to college to major in english and creative writing, I understand your pains in the difficulty of learning how to code. Learning how to code was tough. And the best part is, I learn more and more everyday by practicing and those ideas and topics that were once unclear slowly become familiar. Every single time I start a programming assignment for class or on my own time, it’s never “easy” to figure out the answer. It takes perseverance and concentration for me to make that happen. A process that usually takes about 3 days for my head to understand and be able to produce functioning code. It is a truly satisfying feeling to “build” stuff using software.
    But it is well worth it and I hope you take some baby steps to pick up some markup languages on your own like HTML and CSS, maybe after becoming familiar with XML during the rest of the semester. Use the free website CodeAcademy to start – it is very user-friendly. If you want to understand XML and how it works, check out this link XML Tutorial and start moving through the interactive exercises where you’ll be able to write original code yourself. Another good one is Learn HTML & CSS (Shay Howe)

    The only way to get better at coding is to actually practice it.

    And if you ever want to understand things more – never hesitate to ask me. I like helping people understand and this software development stuff is my passion. End nerd rant here.

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