Book Review: Coding Unlocked: Scratch and Python: the basics (Hywel Carver)


Goodreads Link

“Oh man this is fun! I made squid-Pong!!” ~Me post-book

TL;DR – A great little introduction to coding with Scratch and Python. Everyone buy this for your kids!

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I was well and truly bored out of my skull since finishing university – then I saw on the news that the world needs more folk with coding skills. We happened to have this book lying around for some reason, so I thought I’d work through it.

This was added to the “A book that will make you smarter” section of my reading challenge.

The Book…

This book gives you an absolute bare-bones introduction to computer coding. It teaches the absolute beginnings of Scratch and Python.

Scratch is a visual coding language; you drag and drop different elements into sequences and build your code that way. It is a very clever tool for developing the kind of structured, critical thinking required in order to use the other parts of the book – Python.

Python is your more traditional coding language. Typing in symbols and words that might as well be an alien language if you don’t know how to use it.

The book starts by introducing you to what coding means, and what it is for. Then it moves on to introducing some basic concepts. Each section has a series of tasks for the reader to complete and understand before moving on which consolidate all that has been covered so far in the book, gradually building and building.

By the end of the book, readers have created a couple of little games using Scratch and several little programs using python.

What I liked…

The book is written in a really easy-to-follow style. It gives you some code, explains what it does and then tests you to see if you can apply what you’ve just learned. It does this through a series of little tests. In Scratch, you are guided gently into creating an extremely simple animation, which makes a cat speak, and gradually you build up to making a fully functional game of Pong. In Python, you are told to solve a series of puzzles, by writing a program and inputting data.

Probably the best thing about this book is the way it uses Scratch to teach you the way to think about using python. Every concept is introduced in Scratch and you are taught how to piece your code sequences together with a drag-and-drop interface, and a cartoon cat that does what you tell it to. This teaches you the way the code operates, and how to split down a big instruction such as “Answer this number puzzle” into the simplest set of instructions possible – then you are shown how to use these ideas and turn them into python code. The transfer from one language to the other feels very natural, and and very simple.

Finally, it is really good fun. I felt an immense sense of accomplishment as I was working through this book. Completely each chapter feels like a real achievement because you can see it working – everything you learn has a purpose and you can watch it work.

What I disliked…

Code elements are printed in green text on a black background. __Like This which can be a little difficult to read at times, especially if you don’t have good light.

I also would have liked more of it, but it was a book aimed at children so I really can’t complain much that front. However, there could have been a ‘next steps’ or ‘further reading’ section, which it unfortunately didn’t.

Final thoughts…

This is a brilliant little book for learning the absolute basics – a perfect first step into the wonderful world of computer code. It is encouraging and challenging in all the right ways, and gives you a great sense of accomplishment.

If your child (or indeed you yourself) are interested in what makes computers work, then you can’t go wrong with this book. I cannot recommend it strongly enough as a starting point.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Bodhisattva Ideal: Wisdom and Compassion in Buddhism (Sangharakshita)

Goodreads Link | Sangharakshita Website

“To consider the Bodhisttva ideal is to place one’s hand on the very heart of Buddhism, and feel the beating of that hears.” ~Extract from the blurb

TL;DR – A fascinating read. Don’t read this unless you have at least some idea about Buddhism beforehand.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 4.5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of the Bodhisattva from the moment I first heard about it, and this seemed as good a place as any to start.

As it says in my introduction, I am a practising Buddhist. I have started to read a chapter of a book on a Buddhist topic every day before meditating.

Also, it was on my Reading challenge list.

The Book…

This book is an intended as an introduction to the concept of the Bodhisattva – which simply (and completely underwhelming put), is a being who seeks enlightenment for all sentient beings, rather than for themselves.

The first chapter takes you briefly through the origins of this ideal – detailing the differing opinions of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. This history is filled out a little more in the following chapters to provide you with a neat little guide to the origins and reasons for the rise of this ideal.

The remaining chapters are a fascinating account of the qualities of a Bodhisattva, and detailing how one becomes a Bodhisattva.* Chapter 2 introduces and explains the concept of Bodicitta and how it applies to the ideal. Chapter 3 introduces the Bodhisattva vows, and so on and so fourth. Each chapter introduces further qualities and concepts and explains them all.

*NOTE:- when I say ‘how one becomes…’ I do not mean to suggest this book is a sort of spiritual ‘how-to’ guide, nor that it pretends to offer a ‘quick’ guide to enlightenment.

What I liked…

I enjoyed the writing style. It was – for the most part – quite clear, and made use of metaphor, and drew parallels to other things in order to try and make difficult concepts clearer. I found the book mostly easy to read and to digest – the chapters are about 25-30 each, which was perfect for the way I chose to read this book.

Obviously I enjoyed the content. Going in, I was primarily interested in finding some explanations as to how a Bodhisattva functions – unlimited compassion and seeking enlightenment for all sentient beings is a lofty ideal, and something that I find both interesting and inspiring. I found some good information in this area, and the rest of the book was just as interesting. The historical aspects in particular were very enjoyable.

I also liked that the book was well referenced throughout, pointing to Buddhist. It’s usually a good sign to have proper referencing in a factual book.

Finally, there is a neat little Further Reading section at the back, which is something I always like to see.

What I disliked…

I would have liked a glossary of terms at the end – all the non-English terminology is translated and explained within the text, it just would have been nice. That said, there is a fairly big index that appears to contain all the non-English terminology (and a whole lot more) so it would not be difficult to research.

I found it a little difficult at times to grasp some of the concepts, and on occasion I was confused about the point being made – however this almost certainly has more to do with the complexity of the topic, the difficulty of explaining concepts that by their are difficult do understand from what I would term ‘the normal level’, and also inexperience on my part – as such, I would warn that this is not a book for the beginner; some knowledge of Buddhism is (I would think) essential, before reading this book.

Final thoughts…

I really enjoyed this book. I found it a very enjoyable and fairly simple read, and it answered a lot of questions – of course it also raised countless other ones, but that is definitely a good thing. It has inspired me to further reading on the subject of the Bodhisattva ideal, and also Buddhist history.

The book loses half a star, purely because it was not always as beginner friendly as I hoped. However, it will be going on my ‘read again’ list for a time when I will understand it better.

I would definitely recommend this book to anybody interested in the subject – providing they have some prior knowledge of Buddhism or don’t mind a doing a little bit of research.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!