November 2012


If you were around for the beginning of the personal computer, this is a site for you. You’ve noticed the illustration, right? Yes that’s a screen shot from the IBM of around the early 1980s…Well, actually it’s an emulation, and what’s more, the emulation is done in JavaScript!

http://jsmachines.net/

Try it yourself.

Once the ancient machine boots, emulated in the speed of the day on a 4.77MHz processor, just tap the Enter Key twice to accept the default date of January 1, 1980 (You want the whole retro experience, no?)

There it is. BASIC and the flashing cursor just waiting for you to type a command.

Try this: (USING CAPS LOCK ISN’T NECESSARY, BUT IT’S REALISTIC.)

ENTER EACH LINE, FINISHING WITH THE ENTER KEY.

10 FOR X = 1 TO 10
20 PRINT X
30 NEXT

RUN

Wow, right?

Have we made progress? Maybe.

Now pat yourself on the back. You are a novice BASIC (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code)  programmer.

If you are even more “adventurous” work on figuring out how to load Adventure and play that. I’m told you can try the original VisiCalc, too.

Update: This thing could take off. Old software running in emulation might make it possible to actually get access to that ancient data that nobody converted. Dave Winer of RSS fame has an old outliner program, ThinkTank, that is now available on the emulator.

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One more reason to promote open formats and eliminate DRM.

TechDirt has a story about the software running electronic textbooks. It isn’t a pretty tale. The software, (not open of course) keeps track of the usage and reading habits of the students reading the text.

If your school is looking at etexts, are you concerned?

DRM = Digital Rights Management – AKA – Digital Restriction Management.

The Oxford Dictionaries US has chosen GIF as word of the year 2012.

Wow!

Now if only people would pronounce it consistently.

I prefer the soft “g” like George. So did the format’s creator.

Added note: The selection process told using GIF animations.

Coding, in K12 schools is, in my opinion, one of the most missed opportunities of the 21st century. In the late 70’s and 80s of the 20th, it was present. BASIC interpreters were the OS shell. LOGO was there for the kids below some arbitrary grade level. Pascal was for the AP courses.  Now it is essentially gone. The computers are there, sometimes even 1 per student.

There are probably a bunch of reasons coding has disappeared, but two of them have bothered me more than others. “Computers as a Tool” was promoted by experts all around, both inside and outside education. The problem with that, of course, is that computers became a shovel (that’s a tool, right?). The computer shovel was relegated to the job of shovelling more content down a kid’s throat. Sure, we all paid homage to getting kids to know a specific word processor’s tricks, but the chance to be creative writers was always missed because the computer skills teachers weren’t there to promote creative writing. We were there to be sure kids could use find-and-replace along with their proper formatting skills.

There were art tools built into many office suites. At most, they were used to create an ad brochure.

There’s much more to my first gripe, but you probably get the picture.

Gripe number two is that almost always, the programming classes were taught by math teachers. Don’t get me wrong, now. I like math teachers and all. However, most of math is taught as a procedure. “To find the area of a square, multiply the height times the width. Now, you can quickly see that every square you measure has equal sides, so you can also express the method as doing a square of any side.”

Since coding is procedures, wasn’t it logical to have kids learn to get the computer to do things like:

  • calculate the area of a square
  • calculate the area of a triangle
  • calculate the circumference of a circle
  • calculate the…

And the administrators meanwhile were “getting back to the basics” scaling up for the MCAS, and now are focused on “aligning with the common core”, steps which reduce elective space in the schedule. Besides the number of students signing up for the math 322 was dropping even as the waiting list for the non-linear editing video class was climbing.

What’s the cure?

Maybe part of it is:

  • becoming a teacher (not necessarily a math teacher) with coding skills.
  • another part is using a programming language that is NOT proprietary.
  • another is using a programming language that can be both tested in a shell (as BASIC was) but efficient in today’s computers.

Let’s fix it, get coding back into school curricula. How can you start?

Become part of the MOOC A Gentle Introduction to Python.

  • There is no cost to participate.
  • You can use any computer (Mac, Windows, Linux).
  • You can work it into a busy schedule — no fixed class meeting time.
  • You can work with others in study groups to support your progress.

The class begins November 26. 2012.

I’m in. Will you join me?

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From the back of the room:

Hey, what’s a MOOC, anyway?

…Massively Open Online Course (see more at: Wikipedia)