This New Coffee Place is Not Going to Make It

5 Oct 2014 /
What do you think?

Trying out a new coffee place by our house . . . I order an iced coffee and pay $4.50 for the only size they have, about the size of a Starbucks grande, which at Starbucks is less than three bucks.

I take the coffee over to the condiment station, taste it and decide to add some sugar.

The proprietor surprises me by walking up and saying “Taste it first before you add sugar.”

“I did taste it,” I assure him.

“Does it need sugar?”

“That probably depends on who’s drinking it. If I’m drinking it, it’s going to need a little sugar.”

I think I’ll stick with Starbucks. The coffee is cheaper and the staff lets me do whatever I want with it, no questions asked.


Teaching Computer Science: Diversity Takes a Hit

24 Sep 2014 /

They told us during teacher training in the summer not to scare off the students. But programming is difficult. There’s a lot of complexity and detail to master. The first couple of programming classes I took, we started off with around 50 people on the first day, and had around 12 left for the final exam. Entry-level programming classes have very high dropout rates.

One of our students dropped the class this week, a girl. So much for promoting diversity in computer science . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Applause

23 Sep 2014 /

Applause

We did an interactive exercise to write a simple program that prints numbers and the squares of the numbers — a for loop, basically. We went around the room with each student providing one element of the loop and me writing them on the whiteboard: for, open paren, int, i, equals, 1, semicolon, etc.

I thought it went very well. The timing was good and it was obvious that most of the class understood what was going on. When we got to a girl who’s usually ahead of everyone and knows all the answers, what we needed from her was “curly bracket” but what she actually said was “semicolon” and there was a collective groan from the rest of the class.

When the last student said “close curly bracket,” there was spontaneous applause, immediately, before I even wrote it on the board. It wasn’t like a concert at the high school auditorium where a piece ends and there’s a gap — “Is it over? Do we clap now?” It was like a classical concert with a high-brow audience that knows exactly when the piece ends and when to clap.


People I Thought Were Dead

19 Sep 2014 /
Close to You (Johnny Mathis album)

I got an email this afternoon notifying me that priority tickets are now available for a Johnny Mathis concert Nov. 8 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. If you’d asked me this morning if Johnny Mathis is still alive, I would have said “I don’t think so.”


Teaching Computer Science: Asking for Help

15 Sep 2014 /

I’m not sure students are asking for help enough despite my repeated admonitions to do so.

On the first day of class, I said, “Ask for help early and often. If you ask for help when you’re in trouble, you waited too long. Ask for help when things are going well. That’s a good heuristic in this class and in other areas of life as well.”

Later I said, “Learn to distinguish between persistence and floundering. Persistence is good. Floundering is bad. Don’t flounder.”

Yesterday I said, “You may think, ‘Well, if I was a better programmer, I wouldn’t have to ask for help.’ That’s incorrect. As you get to be a better programmer, you’re given harder problems to work on. I’ve been programming for 30 years — almost — and I ask for help every day.”

Honestly I feel like a mental case repeating the same thing over and over and yet out of 34 students in the class, 12 didn’t turn in the first assignment, most apparently because even though they finished it, they didn’t know how to turn it in (via an upload link on the class website) and didn’t ask for help or couldn’t figure out how to locate Java files in a project directory and didn’t ask for help . . .


See You in Hell, O Ye of Little Faith

14 Sep 2014 /

Satan

[See You in Hell is a feature by our guest blogger, Satan -- PE]

Greetings from the underworld! I was catching up on Facebook this morning and saw that a woman is going in for brain surgery and her family and friends are asking for prayers for her recovery.

Isn’t that overkill — prayer and brain surgery? Why not just pray for her recovery and if she doesn’t make it, you chalk it up to God’s will?

Some “true believer” religions, e.g., the Christian Science church, do that. They believe more in prayer than in medicine. They decline medical care because they believe that God can heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons, etc. as he did in the Bible. These are the folks you hear about when they come up on criminal charges after refusing medical care for their seriously ill children and the children die.

Either God can cure a brain tumor or he can’t. Why ask a doctor to cure a brain tumor if you’ve already asked God to cure the brain tumor? Because when it comes down to matters of life and death, most people don’t really believe in God and prayer the way they believe in doctors.

Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?

See you in Hell . . .


A Glimpse of Antiquity

10 Sep 2014 /
/

Yes, those are World Books and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. No, this is not an archaeological dig. It’s a furniture store we visited over the weekend.

When I was growing up, our family, like many American families at that time, had a set of World Book encyclopedias, so I knew they existed but I haven’t actually seen one in decades.

Reader’s Digest Condensed Books are a relic from a time when many Americans still liked to think of themselves as the kind of people who read books but didn’t want to actually read a whole, entire book. Reader’s Digest stripped out all the boring passages about clouds and such that people don’t read and compressed four or five books into the size of one.

Today, of course, no one reads books at all, with or without the cloud passages, so Reader’s Digest Condensed Books have joined World Book encyclopedias in the dustbin of history.


Would Jesus Tow My Car?

8 Sep 2014 /
Jesus

The lot that I usually park in at the high school was full this morning so I parked across the street at what looked like a large church. I checked in at the school office to make sure that was okay . . .

“I couldn’t find a space in the lot out front so I parked across the street,” I said to the woman at the desk. “Is that okay?”

“Did you park on the street or at the church?” she asked.

“I parked at the church . . . I asked myself, ‘What would Jesus do? Would he tow my car just because it doesn’t belong there?’ No, because he’s all about forgiveness and love.”

“Jesus doesn’t love you when you park in that lot. You need to move your car.”


I Can Still Eat

5 Sep 2014 /

Hi everybody! It’s me, Lightning! My owner bought each of us a chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A. He’s a fast eater but I ate my whole sandwich before he was even half way done with his!

I’m very old now. I can hardly see, hear or walk. But my eating ability has not dropped off AT ALL!

— Lightning paw

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Joan Rivers, 1933-2014

4 Sep 2014 /

I’ll miss her . . . she was funny, she pushed the envelope and she didn’t apologize.

RIP Joan Rivers


Teaching Computer Science: Remembering Names

3 Sep 2014 /

I’m teaching AP Computer Science . . . today was the first real day of instruction. Yesterday was just introductions and housekeeping.

The first kid I called on to answer a question was named Sean. The second kid? Also named Sean.

“Is everyone in the class named Sean?” I asked.

Unfortunately they weren’t. It would have made it a lot easier to remember everyone’s name.


Teaching Computer Science

1 Sep 2014 /
School

Tomorrow is my first day as an AP Computer Science teacher at Corona del Mar High School. It’s a volunteer gig through the TEALS organization.

Only about 10 percent of U.S. high schools offer computer science classes and at most of those schools, it counts as an elective, like Home Ec or Wood Shop, not as a class that can be applied toward graduation like math or science.

The most popular AP exam in 2013 was US History — 439,552 students took the AP US History exam. Only 31,117 students took the AP Computer Science exam. That’s about the same number as the AP Art History exam. I don’t want to denigrate the study of art history, but given the ubiquity of computers and software and programming in daily life, the study of computer science seems more likely to enable a person to be self-supporting and to contribute to the common good.

I’ve heard people say that computer science should be taught in every high school in America. That may be a good idea, but no one ever says where all the qualified computer science teachers are supposed to come from. The TEALS vision is to put high-tech professionals like myself in schools to teach computer science and to teach teachers to teach computer science.

I’m happy to have the opportunity but I’m also scared, I might as well put that out there. What am I scared of? Like everything else, that I won’t perform to expectations and that I’ll be exposed as a phony.


Don Pardo, 1918-2014

18 Aug 2014 /
Don Pardo

Don Pardo

In February 2002, I published a list of people I (incorrectly) thought were dead:

  • Joey Bishop – TV host
  • Ernest Borgnine – actor
  • Red Buttons – actor
  • Kitty Carlisle – game show panelist
  • Alistair Cooke – TV host
  • Buddy Ebsen – actor
  • Glenn Ford – actor
  • Eugene McCarthy – U.S. senator
  • Jack Paar – TV host, “The Tonight Show”
  • Don Pardo – TV announcer
  • Artie Shaw – clarinetist and bandleader
  • Byron White – U.S. supreme court justice
  • Richard Widmark – actor

With the death of Don Pardo this evening, all of those people are actually dead:

  • Joey Bishop – died 10/17/2007, age 89
  • Ernest Borgnine – died 7/8/2012, age 95
  • Red Buttons – died 7/13/2006, age 87
  • Kitty Carlisle – died 4/18/2007, age 96
  • Alistair Cooke – died 3/30/2004, age 95
  • Buddy Ebsen – died 7/6/2003, age 95
  • Glenn Ford – died 8/30/2006, age 90
  • Eugene McCarthy – died 12/10/2005, age 89
  • Jack Paar – died 1/27/2004, age 85
  • Artie Shaw – died 12/30/2004, age 94
  • Byron White – died 4/15/2002, age 84
  • Richard Widmark – died 3/24/2008, age 93

R.I.P. Don Pardo


Last Night at the Beppo

17 Aug 2014 /

The Buca di Beppo restaurant in Irvine is closing tomorrow. We stopped in this evening for a final meal. It was a sad occasion. Buca has been one of our culinary mainstays for over a decade. Here we are laughing to keep from crying:

Last night at the Beppo

We had antipasto salad and baked ziti, a very close call over the spicy chicken rigatoni.

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Programmers Don’t Play Polo

16 Aug 2014 /

On the product page for a book on software development principles, Amazon showed me this:

Customers also viewed ...

The product on the right — is that a bug in the cross-selling algorithm? I’ve worked in software development for about 30 years and have never met one person interested in the game of polo . . .


By Way of Explanation

14 Aug 2014 /

Bed
I was yelling this morning and I scared the dog. I wasn’t angry at him or at anyone in the house, I was angry about a whole life insurance scam we got in the mail. (That’s redundant, isn’t it? “Whole life insurance scam”?)

Anyway, the dog got scared and crawled under the bed. His joints, especially in his back legs, are not too good anymore and once he got under the bed, he couldn’t get back out. I had to crawl under there myself, roll him on his side, which he didn’t like, and then slide him out.

That’s in case you’re wondering why I showed up late for work this morning looking like I just crawled out from under a bed . . .


Did Robin Williams Have a Dog?

13 Aug 2014 /

Hi everybody! It’s me, Lightning!

I’m seeing a person named Robin Williams on TV a lot. He always seems excited and happy, like a puppy! It’s scaring people that he ended his own life.

Dogs never end their own life, no matter what. You might think we couldn’t do that but we could run in front of a car or jump off a balcony, just to name a couple of things.

I wonder if Robin Williams had a dog . . .

My owner and I are getting old together. We can’t run like we used to, or see very well or hear very well. He’s sad about it sometimes but I think it helps people to see dogs trying our best in every situation. Everything is temporary.

— Lightning paw

On the Ottoman


National Scholarship Award

13 Aug 2014 /

Alpha Tau Omega

It would be nice if modesty prevented me from mentioning that my kid’s fraternity, the Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) chapter at UC Berkeley, was awarded the National Scholarship Award at the ATO National Congress for having the highest GPA of any ATO chapter in the nation.

“Yeah, and we actually have hard classes,” he said.


More Words and Phrases I’m Sick Unto Death Of: “He Was Even Better as a Person”

12 Aug 2014 /
Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi greeting supporters from Bago State on 14 August 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A person named Will Arnett was taping the Conan O’Brien show yesterday when they found out about Robin Williams’ untimely demise.

Arnett said this: “As funny as he was — he’s truly one of the all-time greats — he was even better as a person.”

That’s a reliable formulation: As great as he was as a [thing the person was known to be great at], he was even better as a person.

Of course because the person was known to be an outlier at the one thing, he (or she) was almost certainly NOT even better as a person.

How great was Robin Williams as a comedian? Top 10? I don’t know, that’s pretty competitive . . . I’m thinking of Groucho, Cosby, Charlie Chaplin, Steve Martin, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Leno, Letterman . . .

But I’d say Top 20, definitely. So according to Will Arnett, Robin Williams was one of the 20 best people of all time!?

Was he a better person than Buddha? The Dalai Lama? Jesus? Mother Teresa? Abraham Lincoln? Gandhi? Socrates? Albert Schweitzer? Raoul Wallenberg? Nelson Mandela? Aung San Suu Kyi? Mr. Rogers? Your sweet, elderly grandma? Billions of other people doing their best to get along in the world?

I get that you might find yourself on the spot to say something nice about a person and you can’t think of anything to say but this “even better as a person” bullshit cannot be eradicated too soon in my opinion.


Robin Williams, 1951-2014

11 Aug 2014 /
Robin Williams Walk of Fame

Robin Williams dies at 63 in apparent suicide — LA Times

Past a certain point in life, there’s not a great deal to look forward to. I imagine it’s more difficult if the process includes transitioning from fame to anonymity.

Maybe he should have taken up golf . . .


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