02 Jan

kickingbear – Learn to X

Jalkut wrote this piece, Learn to Code. Read it, it’s well worth your time. Simmons linked to Jalkut’s piece adding this, “I’m reminded of Matt Mullenweg saying ‘Scripting is the new literacy.’ Matt’s right.”

I appreciate where they’re coming from. I can, from a certain perspective, agree with the argument. But, let’s not kid ourselves, literacy is the new literacy. The ability to read, comprehend, digest and come to rational conclusions — that’s what we need more of. We don’t, as a society, need more people who have the mechanical knowledge to turn RSS feeds into Twitter spam. We don’t need anything more posted to Facebook, we don’t need anything we photograph to appear on Instagram and Flickr. If “scripting” is the new literacy then we’ve failed. We’ve become Mario drowning on a Water Level.

Scripting isn’t the new literacy, it’s the new tinkering with the engine, the new re-wiring the house. The new DIY for the digital age. These sorts of skills are incredibly valuable, but they’re not now, and certainly won’t be in the future, anything close to being an art form that stirs our souls.

That’s what literature does — it communicates to humans by leveraging our understanding of words and our grasp of narrative. And, sometimes, it mixes them all up but we still get value from it. That’s not how writing code works. Writing code is a craft, we build upon the capabilities of the compiler, the libraries and the hardware. We don’t have the freedom to innovate, as an author would, unless we control the whole stack. And we don’t. We swim upon a shallow surface, we perform what amounts to an act of synchronized swimming. At times it’s beautiful, but we’re in a pool, and we can’t control how wide or deep it is.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably too late. I’ll say to you — don’t Learn To Code, just Learn. Whatever it is you’re good at, whatever it is that calls to you — do that. And do it again and again and again and again.

Learn to X.

via kickingbear – Learn to X. I really enjoy that line “Learn to X”. There’s a problem among programmers it’s the classic when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. Programming/Coding is our hammer, perhaps a really advanced hammer but still just a hammer. I’m not going to predict that programming will never be a part of a basic grade school education, I will however be shocked if it ever occurs. There is a reason the tagline for this site isn’t something like “learning to be a better programmer ever day”, programming is a career choice but not the only thing I want to be skilled at.

28 Dec

The Kernel – The golden age of the developer

There’s never been a better time to be a developer. Thanks to an unprecedented range of open-source software, learning resources and useful web services at our disposal, we can learn new languages, get help, collaborate with others and, if our ideas win traction, there’s now a multitude of investors waiting in the wings to help us build companies around our products.

This is not to say that our work is easy. Standards must remain high. But the resources available offer us the opportunity to move faster and make even more progress. The nature of innovation means that many of our ideas will not succeed, making determination vital for seeing ideas through. But the opportunity is here, my friends. We are the kingmakers.

The good news is that this golden age has made you the developer you are and will continue to help you. The even better news is that you have the chance now to, in the slightly emetic language of the Valley, “pay it forward”.

via The Kernel – The golden age of the developer. I’m trying to do more of this moving forward even in little bits and pieces I think help me stand out as a developer and it’s good to help the community which provides the basis of so much of my daily income (CakePHP, jQuery, etc).

29 Oct

GeekWire – Gates to students: Don’t try to be a billionaire, it’s overrated

Bill Gates made a rare appearance at the University of Washington this afternoon, talking about how qualitative and measurable advances in technology are coming together for major advances in the areas he cares most about these days, including education and efforts to help the poor people of the world.

But the appearance in the UW Computer Science & Engineering Department was most memorable for the question-and-answer session with students at the end — including one student who asked Gates for advice on how she could become rich like him.

“I can understand wanting to have millions of dollars, there’s a certain freedom, meaningful freedom, that comes with that. But once you get much beyond that, I have to tell you, it’s the same hamburger. Dick’s has not raised their prices enough,” he said, referring to the Seattle-area fast-food chain. “But being ambitious is good. You just have to pick what you enjoy doing.”

Here are notes from the presentation and the Q&A session with students, not verbatim quotes but a shorthand summary to convey what was said as accurately as possible on the fly. You’ll find lots of little gems sprinkled throughout, particularly in the Q&A session.

via GeekWire – Gates to students: Don’t try to be a billionaire, it’s overrated. Some really interesting stuff in here.

11 Sep

Fraser Speirs – A Supercomputer in Every Backpack

My youngest daughter, Beth, started school last week. She’s four and a half and has never known a world in which the iPhone did not exist. She has never known a world in which 24×7 connectivity to the Internet was an impossible sci-fi dream. I suppose her starting school led me to reflect on what her school life will be like.

Consider the basic timeline: Beth won’t leave school until the summer of 2025. Assuming we still have universities by then, she’ll be be launched into the world waving her degree from the University of Hyderabad in the summer of 2029.

The question is simple: is there any plausible non-apocalyptic scenario in which technology is less prevalent, less widely distributed and less embedded in our culture in 2029 than it is in 2011? I simply can’t imagine one.

The GSMA predict that there will be 50,000,000,000 connected devices on the planet by the year 2025. Think about that: by the time Beth leaves school, there will be something like seven Internet-connected devices on the planet for every person.

To paraphrase William Gibson, ubiquitous computing is here – it’s just not built into the furniture. We don’t have smart floors or LCD walls, sensor grids in the ceilings or the Internet on our fridge. We are almost all, however, carrying a pocket device that connects at some level to the network. The flood of smartphones only increases their capabilities.

We are already at a point where the ratio of professionals to computers is 1:2. A laptop and a smartphone are standard equipment in our society. With the advent of the tablet, we may be moving towards or beyond three computers per person.

The fact of the matter, though, is that this ubiquity of computing devices is not reflected in most schools.

via Fraser Speirs – A Supercomputer in Every Backpack. Same problem I’ve been thinking about for a long time, our education system is built for the jobs of the past not the jobs of the future.

17 Jul

Wired – How Khan Academy Is Changing the Rules of Education

For years, teachers like Thordarson have complained about the frustrations of teaching to the “middle” of the class. They stand at the whiteboard, trying to get 25 or more students to learn the same stuff at the same pace. And, of course, it never really works: Advanced kids get bored and tune out, lagging ones get lost and tune out, and pretty soon half the class isn’t paying attention. Since the rise of personal computers in the early ’80s, educators have hoped that technology could solve this problem by offering lessons tailored to each kid. Schools have blown millions, maybe billions, of dollars on sophisticated classroom technology, but the effort has been in vain.

Khan’s videos are anything but sophisticated. He recorded many of them in a closet at home, his voice sounding muffled on his $25 Logitech headset. But some of his fans believe that Khan has stumbled onto the secret to solving education’s middle-of-the-class mediocrity. Most notable among them is Bill Gates, whose foundation has invested $1.5 million in Khan’s site. “I’d been looking for something like this—it’s so important,” Gates says. Khan’s approach, he argues, shows that education can truly be customized, with each student getting individualized help when needed.

Not everyone agrees. Critics argue that Khan’s videos and software encourage uncreative, repetitive drilling—and leave kids staring at screens instead of interacting with real live teachers. Even Khan will acknowledge that he’s not an educational professional; he’s just a nerd who improvised a cool way to teach people things. And for better or worse, this means that he doesn’t have a consistent, comprehensive plan for overhauling school curricula.

Whatever Khan’s limits, his site has become extremely popular. More than 2 million users watch his videos every month, and all told they answer about 15 questions per second. Khan is clearly helping students master difficult and vital subjects. And he’s not alone: From TED talks to iTunes U to Bill Hammack the Engineer Guy, new online educational tools are bringing the ethos of Silicon Valley to education. The role these sites can (or should) play in our nation’s schools is unclear. But classes like Thordarson’s are starting to find out.

via Wired – How Khan Academy Is Changing the Rules of Education. Some really impressive work going on here.

19 Apr

Yahoo! News – Armenia makes chess compulsory in schools

Armenia is to make chess a compulsory subject in primary schools in an attempt to turn itself into a global force in the game, the education ministry said on Friday.

"Teaching chess in schools will create a solid basis for the country to become a chess superpower," an official at the ministry, Arman Aivazian, told AFP.

The authorities led by President Serzh Sarkisian, an enthusiastic supporter of the game, have committed around $1.5 million (one million euros) to the scheme — a large sum in the impoverished but chess-mad country.

Children from the age of six will learn chess as a separate subject on the curriculum for two hours a week.

Aivazian said the lessons which start later this year would "foster schoolchildren’s intellectual development" and teach them to "think flexibly and wisely".

via Yahoo! News – Armenia makes chess compulsory in schools. This seems like a cool idea, and I imagine would create students more skilled in critical thinking and logic, all good things.

08 Mar

jacquesmattheij.com – what a programmer does for a living

What a programmer does for a living is best illustrated by writing a program yourself.

So, today, you’ll write your first program!

"But I don’t know how to!"

Don’t worry, you’ll manage, it is not all that hard. The program is going to be in a language called "English".

If you’re reading this, chances are that you already know English, so that will make it a bit easier than if you had to learn a new language for this. It saves us some time and in the end it will not make the program substantially different from what it would have been otherwise.

The program will be for a computer called ‘the human being’, and the goal is to get the program to produce a cup of coffee to be placed at a small table in the doorway between the kitchen and the hallway.

via jacquesmattheij.com – what a programmer does for a living. I did something similar to this when teaching an Intro to Computer Science course. In it I would attempt to do something simple like open a door and do exactly what the student’s told me to do, lots of fun and demostrated how much detail you have to provide and how little differences in language produce huge differences in the outcome.

06 Mar

ZDNet – Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts

Two students have been suspended, and one student has been expelled, over negative Facebook postings they made about a teacher. The individuals are in seventh grade at Chapel Hill Middle School, meaning they are either 12 or 13 years old, according to My Fox Atlanta. The children are accused of violating a portion of the school code that is a “level one” offense, the worst possible: “Falsifying, misrepresenting, omitting, or erroneously reporting” allegations of inappropriate behavior by a school employee toward a student, according to AJC.

via ZDNet – Students suspended, expelled over Facebook posts. The worst part of the whole process is the fact that the students were forced to log onto their Facebook accounts at school. I’m not even sure how the principal could logically dictate that a student be forced to log onto their account. (Side Note: this once again pushes me to argue for using tools like 1Password for storing passwords, unless installed on that computer or your mobile phone no one can ever force you log in, when you don’t know or have access to the password.) The school shouldn’t have a right to dictate what students due in the privacy of their online accounts or in their free time.

27 Feb

NYTimes.com – Texas, Budget Cuts and Children

The really striking thing about all this isn’t the cruelty — at this point you expect that — but the shortsightedness. What’s supposed to happen when today’s neglected children become tomorrow’s work force?

Anyway, the next time some self-proclaimed deficit hawk tells you how much he worries about the debt we’re leaving our children, remember what’s happening in Texas, a state whose slogan right now might as well be “Lose the future.”

via NYTimes.com – Texas, Budget Cuts and Children. Who cares about ensuring the health and education of children, not Texas.

20 Feb

NYTimes.com – China, Twitter and 20-Year-Olds vs. the Pyramids

I look at the young protesters who gathered in downtown Amman today, and the thousands who gathered in Egypt and Tunis, and my heart aches for them. So much human potential, but they have no idea how far behind they are — or maybe they do and that’s why they’re revolting. Egypt’s government has wasted the last 30 years — i.e., their whole lives — plying them with the soft bigotry of low expectations: “Be patient. Egypt moves at its own pace, like the Nile.” Well, great. Singapore also moves at its own pace, like the Internet.

The Arab world has 100 million young people today between the ages of 15 and 29, many of them males who do not have the education to get a good job, buy an apartment and get married. That is trouble. Add in rising food prices, and the diffusion of Twitter, Facebook and texting, which finally gives them a voice to talk back to their leaders and directly to each other, and you have a very powerful change engine.

via NYTimes.com – China, Twitter and 20-Year-Olds vs. the Pyramids. Do you really need a better explanation for why the revolts happened?