Thursday, December 15, 2005

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

In a letter to the editor published in the Jamaica Gleaner on December 15, 2005, a parent complains that her son is being taught about ancient computer activities, like how to create a directory via the Disk Operating System(DOS) prompt. I am not sure I can agree. I wonder why doctors still use stethoscopes? Isn't that outdated and been around for while?

In my work with local and remote web servers, I would have to say that my understanding of those "old" DOS commands help me everyday. My understanding and appreciation of those basic and fundamental commands from the DOS days, of the late 80's and early 90's days, helped me grasp & use many of the similar Unix-based operating systems commands. As it turns out many of those DOS commands are actually borrowed from the UNIX operating system that was around from the late 60s, early 70s.

The ability to do so many things with those basic commands is astonishing. This includes writing quick scripts to rename, move, join, FTP and list files, backup and restore huge databases where pretty GUIs often crash and fail. It is just wonderful. I am actually heartened that a youngster would want to hurry home to explore and understand the fundamentals behind what he sees the computer screen.

I find that there are many "IT Professionals" that if they can't point and click they are at loss, if not clueless and web designers who have little understanding of basic HTML code. As soon as there is a problem they do not know what to do because they simply do not understand or appreciate the basics.

Those little things are not outdated or ancient. They are the base on which everything computing is built. When you right click your mouse and then click 'create a new folder' it is that little command mkdir that is being called. When you are installing a program and is ask you which folder to put that folder it is that little command mkdir that will be called.

Today DOS as an operating system is emulated on Windows NT, 2000 and XP so as to support older DOS applications. Despite the death of DOS many of those useful text commands live on via the command line.

If you don't know your past you won't be able to chart a future. To the youngster I would say go ahead and explore, because when you point and click you will appreciate what you have just done. What we need in our education system are better teachers that promote understanding and appreciation of the fundamentals so that students will be able to transfer and utilise then in the wider glitzy world.

NB:
Doctors still use a stethoscope because it still enables them to hear the sounds made by the heart, the lungs, and various other organs. In the hands of a skillful doctor, many diseases can be diagnosed with this simple "old" tool.

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