Teaching Computer Science: Combating Procrastination

6 Apr 2015 /

Students had a project due last week and I got a lot of messages and emails asking for help. Of course, when we handed out the assignment two months ago, we advised students not to wait till the last minute to work on it. Teachers and parents saying “Don’t wait till the last minute” is just an understood part of the process. It’s something that gets said but it’s background noise.

A couple of alternatives occur to me:

  1. Reverse psychology. Say “My advice is to start as late as possible. Try to do two months of work in the last week, or better yet, the last night.” This seems too easy to see through and therefore unlikely to work.
  2. Hand out the 20-page spec and tell the students that it’s due tomorrow. WHAT!? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! NOBODY COULD DO THIS IN ONE DAY! “You’re right. It’s actually due in two months. But now that we’ve agreed that it can’t be done in one day, I don’t want to see anyone working on it at the last minute.”

Doing What I Wanted To

5 Apr 2015 /

I’m just doing what I wanted to and what feels right and not settling for bullshit and it worked. How can they be mad at that?

— Janis Joplin

Teaching Computer Science: The Last Minute

1 Apr 2015 /

“Reminder that your projects are due tomorrow so don’t wait till the last minute. Oh wait, this is the last minute.”

Deadlines can be fun when they apply to other people . . .


Happy Birthday, Vincent van Gogh

30 Mar 2015 /
Self-Portrait, Spring 1887, Oil on pasteboard,...

Self-Portrait, Spring 1887, Oil on pasteboard, 42 × 33.7 cm., Art Institute of Chicago

Vincent van Gogh was born on this date in 1853. He was poor and virtually unknown throughout his life and after years of anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, he died at the age of 37 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

According to his brother, his last words were “The sadness will last forever.” Although he would have said it in Dutch.

You can’t say enough great things about this guy. He’s one of the most renowned painters in the history of the world, one of the most recognizable painters, his work is in all the best art museums. If you want to own a van Gogh, get ready to pay $100 million. That’s for one painting.

His life at the time he was living it must have looked quite pointless to everyone including himself, nothing but suffering and failure. And yet, as it turns out, his life has meant a million times more to the world than anyone could have possibly imagined. So you never know.

The van Gogh self-portrait above is at the Art Institute of Chicago. As it happens, I’ve visited the Art Institute of Chicago . . . one of the things I remember about it is seeing a museum guide with a tour group and the painting they were standing in front of was this:

Gaylen Gerber, Untitled

Gaylen Gerber, Untitled, not dated, Oil on canvas, 96.5 x 96.5 cm (38 x 38 in.)

I couldn’t hear what the guide was saying but usually with works like this it’s some nonsense about challenging contemporary perceptions about art and the process of creation.

There’s some crazy stuff in art museums. Here’s another painting by the same person:

Gaylen Gerber, Untitled

Gaylen Gerber, Untitled, not dated, Oil on canvas, 96.5 x 96.5 cm (38 x 38 in.)

In case you’re thinking “Very funny, that’s the same picture,” it’s not. If you look at them very closely, you can see that they’re not the same. I don’t attribute that to any artistic merit or even intention on the part of the painter, just that if you take two canvases and paint them gray, they’re bound to be less than identical in some way.

The man who painted those gray squares will never go insane or cut off his own ear or shoot himself. Why? Because he couldn’t care less. He takes identical canvases and paints them gray. That’s what he does.

If van Gogh saw some of the stuff that’s hanging in art museums today, he wouldn’t be able to stop throwing up.

Happy Birthday, Vincent!


Why Do I Need Clean Pennies?

26 Mar 2015 /

Clean pennies


Three is Enough

25 Mar 2015 /

Dalmatian dog looking at dalmatian fish

One of the neighbor ladies is over talking to my wife while Lightning and I entertain two of her three daughters, ages 3 and 7.

“I want a dog like Lightning,” the 7-year-old says. “We just have boring fish.”

“What does your mom say about that?” I ask.

“She says having a dog is a lot of work.”

“It is a lot of work.”

“She says the three of us are enough work already.”


Why Writers Make Incredible Friends

22 Mar 2015 /
Why Writers Make Incredible Friends infographic
Courtesy of: Global English Editing

Teaching Computer Science: Incentives (or Lack Thereof)

22 Mar 2015 /

According to this article on TechCrunch, “Every California high school must establish computer science courses as part of its core curriculum.” From the same article: “Most California teachers have little or no training to teach computer science.”

Do you see the problem there?

I’ve been a programmer for many years . . . I’d be glad to teach computer science to students, teachers or anyone who wants to learn it if there were even a modest incentive to do so. Which there isn’t.

One way to measure how much people want something is how much they’re willing to pay for it. There’s no shortage of people talking about teaching programming and computer science, which is free (the talking, that is), but without the incentives ($$$) very little is going to actually happen.


Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted. — Ralph Waldo Emerson


Trains 2, Fitness Experts 0

20 Mar 2015 /

Two months after fitness expert and reality TV star Greg Plitt was killed by a Metrolink train in California, another personal trainer was struck and killed Tuesday in Georgia by a freight train.

Achilles Williams, 30, a popular Atlanta-area personal trainer, was skipping rope near the train tracks filming a YouTube workout video when he was sideswiped by a speeding freight train, a spokesperson at the Fulton County coroner’s office confirms to PEOPLE.


Carjacking Diversity

20 Mar 2015 /

Female carjacking suspect

Carjacking is like STEM in that it’s a profession in which women are seriously underrepresented so I celebrate this woman as a champion of diversity and inclusiveness.


This Photo of A Guy Tap Dancing in a Pink Floyd Shirt Explains a Lot

20 Mar 2015 /

A Wall Street Journal article on college students, the weak job market and high debt loads is illustrated by this photo of a guy in a Pink Floyd t-shirt taking a tap dancing class.

The crazy thing is that not only are these kids running up debt and killing their job prospects, they don’t even appear to be having a good time doing it . . .

Tap dancing


EppsNet Book Reviews: Hotel World by Ali Smith

18 Mar 2015 /

Happy is what you realize you are a fraction of a second before it’s too late.

Hotel World takes place in and around a hotel in London, hence the title, but Hotel World is also a metaphor for life: people check in and people check out.

It’s about remembering to live, remembering that you won’t live forever . . . it’s about love, not romantic love, but a mother’s love for her daughter, sisters’ love for each other . . . and it’s about how close people come to really understanding one another, which is not very close at all.

Rating: 5-stars


With a Little Bit of Luck

16 Mar 2015 /

Venn diagram

A colleague shows me a Venn diagram like this one and asks would it be possible to succeed with only two of the three elements.

I say, “I suppose you could have fun dreaming big and get other people to do all the hard work.”


There are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both. — Kierkegaard


We can regard our life as a uselessly disturbing episode in the blissful repose of nothingness. — Schopenhauer


Big Fishes in Small Ponds

14 Mar 2015 /

Big fish, small pond

A colleague and I are discussing an article about too many kids quitting science because they don’t think they’re smart, in which Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, says, among other things:

Being a good parent has become synonymous with giving out ability praise. Parents still think this is the greatest gift they can give to their children, and as a child gets more and more insecure, they give more and more of it. And, by the way, a lot of employers and coaches have said, “My employees cannot get through the day without accolades and validation.” Even professional coaches have said they cannot give feedback without these people feeling that they’ve crushed them. We’ve created several generations now of very fragile individuals because they’ve been praised and hyped. And feel that anything but praise is devastating.

My colleague mentions Malcolm Gladwell‘s book David and Goliath, in which Gladwell claims that while the worst STEM students at, say, Harvard may be as smart as the top third at a lower ranked college, the Harvard kids feel stupid and unsuccessful because they compare themselves to their Harvard peers. Gladwell then goes on to recommend attending non-elite institutions — to be a big fish in a small pond — in order not to have your dreams and confidence crushed.

“Why don’t kids just forget about four-year institutions completely and attend their local community college?” I reply. “They can test their mettle against classmates with no academic qualifications whatsoever. That should provide a much-needed confidence boost.”


Joan of Arc

10 Mar 2015 /

A colleague tells me, apropos of nothing in particular, that she’s sure she can finish a challenging assignment because she’s a descendant of Joan of Arc.

“Yes, I thought I saw a resemblance.”

Joan of Arc


Bonified?

9 Mar 2015 /

From LinkedIn:

Decision Engineering is emerging as a new profession. | LinkedIn


Overheard

6 Mar 2015 /

“Why is that old guy wheeling a golf bag down the sidewalk? . . . Oh wait, that’s an oxygen tank.”


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