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ASCII – cognitive disconnect

One of the biggest hassles with understanding things technical is making the right mental connections. Text Files Are Mysterious describes a system administrator’s difficulty in this area. He is asking for a log file from a user to be able to diagnose a problem.

Moral of this story is: regular users do not understand plain text. I should keep it in mind when I teach my class and talk about ASCII code. When I say “plain text” some students probably thing “word doc with no formatting”. Lesson learned.

Also, if you didn’t get this, I am not going to explain it.

You’d think, with the popularity of text messaging on cell phones, that the idea of plain ASCII text was better understood. But then, file formats as a general concept seems to be rather difficult to learn.

One of the ‘features’ of Unix type systems is that they are heavily text based. Configuration files and source code are both easily viewable and editable with simple text editing tools. Even the more modern web pages and document file formats are plain text with formatting and meta-data coding that can be deciphered by simple text viewing.

The first step to really being in control is to have a good basic model for how it works. The barriers to gaining that understanding are most often in your approach and not the technology.

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