Re: Python: An Illustration That Sticks With Me

  • From: "Don Marang" <donald.marang@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <programmingblind@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 29 Oct 2010 23:37:12 -0400

The magazine for Comodore computers was called "Compute!".  

Don Marang

There is just so much stuff in the world that, to me, is devoid of any real 
substance, value, and content that I just try to make sure that I am working on 
things that matter. 
Dean Kamen 

From: Rodney Haynie 
Sent: Friday, October 29, 2010 9:59 PM
To: programmingblind@xxxxxxxxxxxxx 
Subject: RE: Python: An Illustration That Sticks With Me

Ah, the old Commodore 64 and Vic 20 days.  I remember them well.  Typing in 20+ 
pages of code in order to get a game someone wrote and published in the 
magazine.  Man, what was the name of those mags... I think Byte was one of 
them.  That was the beginning of my programming.  Entering the code, and then 
wondering, what would happen if I changed this to...


Anyway, I am old.  (smile)




From: programmingblind-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx 
[mailto:programmingblind-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Jacob Kruger
Sent: Friday, October 29, 2010 5:43 PM
To: programmingblind@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: Python: An Illustration That Sticks With Me


Reminds me of when programming on a commodore 64 back in 80s, where we used 
something like poke to store/set a variable value, and peek to then 
retrieve/read it:


Stay well

Jacob Kruger
Blind Biker
Skype: BlindZA
'...fate had broken his body, but not his spirit...'

  ----- Original Message ----- 

  From: Homme, James 

  To: programmingblind@xxxxxxxxxxxxx 

  Sent: Friday, October 29, 2010 9:47 PM

  Subject: Python: An Illustration That Sticks With Me



  I don't know why, but I feel like posting this. It illustrates how 
non-technical I can be sometimes, but also makes me proud that I finally 
understand this concept, and it's all because of this silly bunch of text 
interspersed with some Python code similar to something from another book that 
I was trying to understand. This is from Python Programming For The Absolute 
Beginner (2003), Chapter 5.


  Understanding Shared References


  In Chapter 2, you learned that a variable - refers to a value. This means 
that, technically, a variable doesn't store a

  copy of a value, but just refers to the place in your computer's memory where

  the value is stored. For example, language = "Python" stores the string

  "Python" in your computer's memory somewhere and then creates the variable

  language, which refers to that place in memory. Take a look at Figure 5.8 for

  a visual representation.


  Figure 5.8: The variable language refers to a place in memory where the string

  value "Python" is stored.

  To say the variable language stores the string "Python", like a piece of

  Tupperware stores a chicken leg, is not accurate. In some programming

  languages, this might be a good analogy, but not in Python. A better way to

  think about it is like this: A variable refers to a value the same way a

  person's name refers to a person. It would be wrong (and silly) to say that a

  person's name "stores" the person. Using a person's name, you can get to a

  person. Using a variable name, you can get to a value.

  So what does all this mean? Well, for immutable values that you've been using,

  like numbers, strings, and tuples, it doesn't mean much. But it does mean

  something for mutable values, like lists. When several variables refer to the

  same mutable value, they share the same reference. They all refer to the one,

  single copy of that value. And a change to the value through one of the

  variables results in a change for all the variables, since there is only one,

  shared copy to begin with.


  Here's an example to show how this works. Suppose that I'm throwing a hip,

  happening party with my friends and dignitaries from around the world. (Hey,

  this is my book. I can make up any example I want.) Different people at the

  party call me by different names, even though I'm only one person. Let's say

  that a friend calls me "Mike," a dignitary calls me "Mr. Dawson," and my

  Pulitzer Prize winning, supermodel girlfriend, just back from her literacy,

  fundraising world-tour (again, my book, my fictional girlfriend) calls me

  "Honey." So, all three people refer to me with different names. This is the

  same way that three variables could all refer to the same list. Here's the

  beginning of an interactive session to show you what I mean:


  >>> mike = ["khakis", "dress shirt", "jacket"]

  >>> mr_dawson = mike

  >>> honey = mike

  >>> print mike

  ['khakis', 'dress shirt', 'jacket']

  >>> print mr_dawson

  ['khakis', 'dress shirt', 'jacket']

  >>> print honey

  ['khakis', 'dress shirt', 'jacket']


  So, all three variables, mike, mr_dawson, and honey, refer to the same, single

  list, representing me (or at least what I'm wearing at this party). Figure 5.9

  helps drive this idea home.


  Figure 5.9: The variables mike, mr_dawson, and honey all refer to the same


  This means that a change to the list using any of these three variables will

  change the list they all refer to. Back at the party, let's say that my

  girlfriend gets my attention by calling "Honey." She asks me to change my

  jacket for a red sweater she knitted (yes, she knits too). I, of course, do

  what she asks. In my interactive session, this could be expressed as follows:


  >>> honey[2] = "red sweater"

  >>> print honey

  ['khakis', 'dress shirt', 'red sweater']


  The results are what you would expect. The element in position number 2 of the

  list referred to by honey is no longer "jacket", but is now "red sweater".

  Now, at the party, if a friend were to get my attention by calling "Mike" or a

  dignitary were to call me over with "Mr. Dawson," both would see me in my red

  sweater, even though neither had anything to do with me changing my clothes.


  The same is true in Python. Even though I changed the value of the element in

  position number 2 by using the variable honey, that change is reflected by any

  variable that refers to this list. So, to continue my interactive session:


  >>> print mike

  ['khakis', 'dress shirt', 'red sweater']

  >>> print mr_dawson

  ['khakis', 'dress shirt', 'red sweater']


  The element in position number 2 of the list referred to by mike and mr_dawson

  is "red sweater". It has to be since there's only one list.

  So, the moral of this story is: be aware of shared references when using

  mutable values. If you change the value through one variable, it will be

  changed for all.


  However, you can avoid this effect if you make a copy of a list, through

  slicing. For example:


  >>> mike = ["khakis", "dress shirt", "jacket"]

  >>> honey = mike[:]

  >>> honey[2] = "red sweater"

  >>> print honey

  ['khakis', 'dress shirt', 'red sweater']

  >>> print mike

  ['khakis', 'dress shirt', 'jacket']


  Here, honey is assigned a copy of mike. honey does not refer to the same list.

  Instead, it refers to a copy. So, a change to honey has no effect on mike.

  It's like I've been cloned. Now, my girlfriend is dressing my clone in a red

  sweater, while the original me is still in a jacket. Okay, this party is

  getting pretty weird with my clone walking around in a red sweater that my

  fictional girlfriend knitted for me, so I think it's time to end this bizarre

  yet useful analogy.


  One last thing to remember is that sometimes you'll want this shared-reference

  effect, while other times you won't. Now that you understand how it works, you

  can control it.



  Jim Homme,

  Usability Services,

  Phone: 412-544-1810. Skype: jim.homme

  Internal recipients,  Read my accessibility blog. Discuss accessibility here. 
Accessibility Wiki: Breaking news and accessibility advice




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