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API/S-Control Introduction - From someone that is very green..

Hey all,
As my subject line might indicate, I am very, very inexperienced when it comes to doing any programming.  I am very comfortable with sf as a whole, but I would like to start extending myself and branching out into the world of writing s-controls and using the API's.

As an example of a project that I would like to do - setup an auto-update that would run via a batch/trigger from a local machine on a nightly basis that would truncate a contact field on a select group of contacts. 

I would also like to start learning how I can setup automated feeds - both into and out of sf.

More or less, I don't know what I don't know.  I just don't know what is possible.  And I'd like to start reading up.

Any suggestions as to where someone that is as green as I should start?

Thanks in advance,
Download the samples..

That is where I would start..