EppsNet Archive: Teaching

Teaching Computer Science: How to Get Top-Notch Teachers in the Classroom

23 Mar 2018 /
Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements.

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid’s Elements.

I read something every day where educators and/or elected officials are talking about the importance for our kids, our country, our future, etc., of teaching computer science, the sticking point being an extreme shortage of qualified teachers.

A person entering the workforce with a computer science degree is unlikely to go into teaching because of the opportunity cost: they can earn a lot more money as a software engineer.

The likelihood of getting a mid-career tech industry professional to switch into teaching is even lower. Teacher salaries are based in large part on years of service. A mid-career person switching into teaching is not going to get a mid-career teacher’s salary, they are going to get a first-year teacher’s salary.

So here’s the idea:

Give CS professionals the opportunity to apply their years in industry to years of service as a teacher.

It’s still a pay cut going from software engineering to teaching but it’s on a scale that people may be willing to take if they’re looking for a new direction in life. It’s not a pay cut to back when you were 22 years old and right out of college.

What’s the alternative? Schools can’t attract qualified CS teachers so they’re taking in-service teachers and sending them to a workshop for a few days to learn to be computer science teachers.

It’s like hiring music teachers who aren’t musicians, or Spanish teachers who don’t speak Spanish.

Are you going to have a good CS program if it’s run by someone whose only connection to the subject is a five-day workshop? No. Are kids going to get excited about computer science? No. How could they? The teacher isn’t even excited about computer science.

How can these teachers know if what they’re teaching is valuable, or how well they’re teaching it?

 

Programming is difficult, there’s no way around that. The first programming class I took in college had a 75 percent drop rate.

The essential difficulty is that we’re used to giving instructions to other humans. If our instructions are less than perfect and we leave out some details, people can still probably figure out what to do. If we send a text or an email with a grammatical error or a typo, the recipient can figure it out.

Computers can’t figure it out. If you’re giving instructions to a computer, everything has to be perfect and you can’t leave anything out. It’s not a natural mindset, operating at that level of detail.

UC Berkeley offers a CS class, intended for non-majors, called The Beauty and Joy of Computing, the idea being that yes, programming is hard, but it also opens up new ways for people to connect, design, research, play, create and express themselves, to translate ideas into code.

You can’t get the beauty and joy and challenge and fun of computing across to students via teachers who just learned programming at a week-long workshop last summer. The only thing that comes across is how difficult it is.

Introducing kids to computer science and programming in this way may be worse than not teaching CS at all. Kids decide pretty quickly that programming is too hard, it’s boring, they’re not smart enough, they don’t have the right aptitude, their efforts are not rewarded and they don’t want to have anything to do with it because it makes them feel bad about themselves.

Computer science is not unique in this respect, but it’s less about presenting “material” and more about conveying a way of thinking. Teachers can’t convey a way of thinking when they don’t genuinely think that way.

If teaching CS is important, provide an incentive to get qualified teachers in the classroom, who can teach what they do, teach something that is part of their life, teach something that is personal and valuable to them, and pass on their own insights and experience.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Teaching Computer Science: The Phones Aren’t Helping You

15 Feb 2018 /

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week at a local high school, helping out with computer science classes.

The way the classes are taught, via an online curriculum, provides a great temptation to kids to get off-task, which they do, usually by entertaining themselves with their phones.

They get off-task in other ways too — web surfing, doing homework for other classes — but the main distractor is the phones . . .

 

“As I mentioned before, I worked with another CS class a couple years ago. No phones allowed in the classroom.

Students with cell phones

“I remember one day the assistant principal was in class observing . . . a student had a phone out, looking at it . . . he was holding it under the table so no one could see it, but this guy, the assistant principal, he did see it.

“Oh man, did he hit the roof! If a student had pulled out a gun, there couldn’t have been any more excitement in the room.

“I thought that was overkill at the time. But I have to tell you that those kids kicked ass on the AP exam. Can I say that? That was the CS A test. Hard test.

“Most of the students got a 5. Most of the students who didn’t get a 5 got a 4. Nobody got a 3, one student got a 2 and, out of about 35 students, 6 of them got a 1, including the guy who spent 47 hours playing video games instead of studying. What did you expect, right?

“Now you guys may crush it on the AP test too. We don’t know yet.

“A lot of programmers have a phone in view when they’re working . . . a lot of programmers listen to music, sometimes through their phone . . . but nobody has the phone in their hand looking at it every minute, you’d never get anything done.

“So it depends what your goals are. If your goal is to get a top score on an AP exam, I don’t think you’re helping yourself with the phones.”


Teaching Computer Science: When You Need Help, Ask For Help

1 Feb 2018 /

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week at a local high school, helping out with computer science classes.

It’s a mixed class . . . most of the students are taking AP Computer Science Principles, and about 10 kids just recently started a second-semester Visual Basic class.

Help

The VB kids were pretty inquisitive at first but started to get discouraged . . . in my opinion because of the way the material is presented to them via an online curriculum.

The current approach to teaching computer science in American schools, because of the shortage of (I almost said “lack of”) qualified teachers is to use packaged courses delivered to students online.

My observation is students assume that because they’ve been put in front of a computer full of lessons, they’re expected to be able to read and understand the material and complete the assignments on their own with no help.

This is a fatal misconception. The material is too difficult for most people who are not already programmers, so the kids decide pretty quickly that they just don’t have what it takes to learn the stuff.

“Tragedy” is probably too strong a word for what is happening in computer science education, but programming is what I do, I think programming and computational thinking are important and valuable skills, and it makes me sad to see them taught in a way that crushes students’ enthusiasm.

 

Brief digression: I take piano lessons. My teacher is a musician, a pianist. Music is part of her life, it’s part of who she is, part of how she thinks. How could someone who’s not a musician teach music?

How can someone who’s not a programmer teach computer science?

 

Because of everything I’ve said above, along with offering technical assistance, I try to encourage kids to stay engaged . . .

UC Santa Barbara

“I’m going to tell you a story,” I said this morning. “First I’ll tell you the moral of the story, then I’ll tell you the story. The moral is: When you need help, ask for help.

“That may seem obvious but I feel like some of you are thinking that you should be working through online lessons with a lot of independence.

“I worked with a class a couple years ago at another school. One of the students there was very quiet but she always asked for help when she needed help. She asked quietly, but she asked.

“And when I gave her an answer, she almost always asked ‘why?’ I don’t mean ‘why why why’ like a 5-year-old, but if she didn’t understand why something was important or why you’d want to do something one way and not another way, she asked why.

“It’s a good question because if the only reason for doing something is because I said to do it, what is she going to do if I’m not there?

“What happened to this girl? She’s now a computer science major at UC Santa Barbara. She was able to do that because she didn’t give up on herself when she didn’t understand something and because, even though she wasn’t the most naturally outgoing person she decided to own her own results and use the resources that were available.”

“You’ve got to own it, kids. When you need help, ask for help. Don’t give up on yourself.”

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Teaching Computer Science: Asking for Help

9 Jan 2018 /

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week at a local high school, helping out with computer science classes.

Cell phone

This morning, in AP Computer Science Principles, the teacher went through an explanation of the hexadecimal number system, then gave an in-class assignment for students to convert their cell phone number to hexadecimal. Not in two parts, 3 digits and 4 digits, but as a 7-digit number.

It seemed pretty obvious from the interaction and the body language and the looks on their faces that a lot of students didn’t get it, but in a class of 25 students, only one student asked for help. Until the teacher finished with that student and asked “Does anyone else need help?” and eight more students immediately raised their hand.

I asked the teacher, “Can I address the class for a minute?”

 

“First off, doing a 7-digit hex conversion is not easy. I know professional programmers who can’t do it. So I’d expect someone trying to do it for the first time to need some help.

“In fact, if you know any professional programmers, ask them to do a hex conversion on their phone number. Let me know what happens. I guarantee you won’t have to ask too many people before you stump someone.

Snap programming

“None of the material in this class is easy. Snap programming? You might look at it and think ‘There’s a cat and a fish and a duck . . . I’m not understanding it but it looks like a program for 5-year-olds. It’s embarrassing as a high school student to have to ask for help with it. Maybe I’m not very smart.’

“No, Snap is a university-level curriculum from Berkeley. Academically rigorous. I worked through the assignments myself and I found them pretty challenging. I’d expect many of you to find them challenging as well. So you should be asking for help.

“If you need help, waiting for someone to ask if you need help is not going to be a winning strategy. In school, in life or in anything. Because if no one asks, then you need help and you don’t get it.

“There’s probably a natural reluctance to ask questions because what if I’m the only person who doesn’t know the answer? Then I ask a question and look foolish.

“It’s going to be unusual in any class that you’re the only person who doesn’t understand something. If you find that happens to you a lot, you may have a problem. But normally it’s going to be pretty unusual.

“I can tell you in this class, there’s definitely more than one person who finds the material pretty challenging. As I said, I find it pretty challenging myself. It’s not so challenging that I need help with it, but it’s definitely challenging enough that I’d expect most people who are not programmers to need help with it.

Hexadecimal

“I’m also hearing some people today saying to themselves or to the person next to them, ‘Why do we need to know this?'” That’s actually a very good question. Binary of course is the fundamental language of computers, but why would you need to know hexadecimal? Anyone?”

No hands go up.

“OK, we’ll talk about that in a minute. If it’s not clear to you, in this class or any class, why you’re being asked to learn something, put your hand up and insist on understanding the relevance.

“One final anecdote:

“I worked with an AP class a couple of years ago at another school. About this same timeframe, late first semester, I was in class on a Monday and before the class started, one of the students asked me, ‘How was your weekend?’

“I said, ‘It was okay. How was yours?’

“‘It was great! I played like 47 straight hours of [some video game I can’t remember the name of].’

“And he was one of the worst students in the class, maybe the worst.

“I know he and his parents had met with the principal and the teacher to figure out why he was doing so poorly in computer science. It had to be the school’s fault, right?

“So I’m trying to wrap my mind around this. You played 47 hours of video games, you have no idea what’s going on in this class, and it’s the teacher’s fault?!

“No, it’s your fault. You put nothing into it so you get nothing out of it, you don’t ask for help, and that’s why you’re failing.

“Moral of the story: Don’t be that guy.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Teaching Computer Science: It’s Not Easy to Teach a Subject in Which You Have No Training

29 Dec 2017 /
Mr. Rex Manihera, a teacher at the Glendowie South Primary School at Auckland

A recent issue of Science has an article on the pipeline for computer science teachers . . .

The first sentence says, “It’s not easy to teach a subject in which you have no training.”

That could be the whole article, really. That’s about all you need to know about the current state of computer science instruction: It’s not easy to teach a subject in which you have no training.

Cameron Wilson, chief operating officer and president of the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, is quoted as saying, “It’s really hard to convince a computer science professional to give up a job that pays up to three times more to pursue teaching. And I don’t think we should.”

Wilson’s opinion that computer science classes should not be taught by someone who actually knows something about computer science is probably influenced by the fact that Code.org is one of the leading providers of training programs and online curricular resources for in-service teachers tasked with teaching computer science.

How would this “train a neophyte” scheme work in other academic areas?

Assuming you could provide a one- or two-week training workshop to prospective teachers, would you:

  • Hire someone who has never played an instrument to teach a music class?
  • Hire someone who has never picked up a drawing pencil to teach an art class?
  • Hire someone who doesn’t speak Spanish to teach a Spanish class?

These all seem like absurd ideas with a very low ceiling on what you could hope to accomplish pedagogically. Why does anyone think it makes sense for computer science? Someone needs to explain that to me.

Putting non-practitioners in the CS classroom also requires, in addition to the teacher training, a second key component: the prefabricated curriculum.

Teachers are not able to design and teach a year-long class on a subject in which they have themselves only a week or two of experience, so Code.org and others offer packaged courses delivered to students online.

I’ve had an opportunity to see this in action. I volunteer two mornings a week at a local high school, helping out with the first period computer science class. It’s a mixed class, with most of the students taking AP Computer Science Principles, and a handful of kids taking an introductory programming class in Python.

The AP students are using UTeach, supplemented by the Berkeley BJC curriculum. The Python students are using CodeHS.

The teacher, a converted math teacher, does little to no independent instruction during the class period.

The material is too hard in my opinion for most people who are not programmers to read and understand and to figure out the assignments without a lot of help. Keep in mind that the teacher is also not a programmer.

The first two programming classes I took in college had a ~75 percent drop rate. Programming is hard but it can also be fun and beautiful. I don’t think a teacher who is not a programmer is able to convey that. Minus the beauty and fun, there’s nothing left but the difficulty.

I don’t see most students having what it takes to push themselves through difficult material delivered to them via a computer screen with no human interaction.

They give up and they blame themselves. I’m not smart enough for this. I don’t have what it takes.

It’s discouraging to see this because even kids who are not going to be programmers can learn useful ways of thinking about and solving problems from a computer science class . . .

  • How to break down complex problems into manageable parts
  • How to recognize patterns among and within problems
  • How to recognize important information vs. irrelevant detail
  • How to develop step-by-step solutions to a problem, or rules to follow to solve a problem

It’s a way of thinking that can’t be taught by someone who doesn’t genuinely think that way.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Vignette

28 Dec 2017 /
A Shoulder for a Superhero

Sara, 48, suffers from breast cancer, diagnosed three times in five years.

She has to stop teaching at school but engages actively in volunteer work.

Her environment praises her for her courage.

She helps other cancer patients in a respectful way to deal with their illness. This for her is also very rewarding.

Still, from time to time, mostly when Sara does not expect it, an ocean of tears comes up . . .


AP Computer Science Revisited

6 Feb 2017 /

I got a LinkedIn invitation today from a student I taught in an AP Computer Science class a couple of years ago.

She’s now a computer science major at UCSB. Several of the kids from that class are now in college as computer science majors. Some of them would have been computer science majors anyway, without the class — they came in already having programming interest and experience — but this young lady was not in that group.

She was quiet in class but when I worked with her one on one, she asked a lot of questions. She asked them quietly but she asked. And when I told her to do something a certain way she always asked why.

She only has four connections at this time so I appreciate her thinking of me. 🙂

LinkedIn


At some point, even if you don’t need the money, you have to teach what you were taught. — Ken Kesey


The Ceiling Seems Very Low

10 Sep 2015 /

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/09/10/codeorg-hadi-partovi-computer-science-back--school-kids-teachers-women-minorities/71905738/

I don’t know if this is good news or bad news. It would help to know what “trains” means but I read the article and it doesn’t say. Reporters need to be more inquisitive.

Can someone with no knowledge of computer science or programming be “trained” to teach computer science or programming? What would that entail? How long would it take?

Can someone who’s never played an instrument or listened to a piece of music be “trained” to teach a music class?

Can someone who’s never picked up a drawing pencil or visited a museum be “trained” to teach an art class?

Can someone who doesn’t speak Spanish be “trained” to teach a Spanish class?

The ceiling on any of these approaches seems very low compared to hiring actual programmers, musicians, artists and Spanish speakers . . .

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Teaching Computer Science: The Last Day

13 Jun 2015 /
Space Invaders

On the last day of class, I gave students the code for a partially working Space Invaders game, along with instructions for adding collision detection and completing the implementation. The instructions didn’t leave too much to the imagination because I wanted to give everyone a chance to finish out the year on a successful note. I estimated it to be about a 30-minute activity. It didn’t occur to me that that students would do anything but finish the program and spend whatever time was left over blasting aliens.

What they actually did was, they finished the program, tweaked the firing interval so they could shoot faster, changed the speed of the sprites, added more aliens, changed the program to shoot two bullets at a time instead of one, changed the program to shoot five bullets at a time, enabled the aliens to drop bombs, had the game recognize that when the alien count gets to zero, it should stop and write You Won or Game Over, switched the image files to cooler looking spaceships and missiles . . . one student changed the alien image to a picture of my dog (available from a previous assignment), pugs from outer space.

So when I say that we couldn’t have had a better group of students, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. They exceeded expectations on all metrics. I wish I could have thanked each of them individually for their unique contributions to the class.

Programming is what I do, it’s been a big part of my life for a long time. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to share it and I’m sad that it’s ending . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Lesson Planning

24 Apr 2015 /

It’s exhausting work . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Ask More Questions

20 Apr 2015 /
Primary School in "open air"...

English: Primary School in “open air”, in Bucharest, around 1842. Wood engraving, 11x22cm

You need to ask more questions. I think there’s a general fear about asking questions. There’s a risk of looking foolish in front of the whole group when it turns out that everyone else already knows the answer.

It’s actually very unusual for someone to ask a question to which everyone else knows the answer. If you find it happens to you a lot, you probably want to get that checked out, but normally it’s very unusual.

Another scenario: Somebody, maybe a teacher, says something and you think “That doesn’t make sense. I wonder if it makes sense to everyone else. Rather than risk looking foolish in front of the whole group, I’ll wait and see if someone else asks a question.”

So you wait for someone to ask a question and no one asks a question. Why? Because they’re all waiting for someone to ask a question.

Many people, including teachers, are not good at organizing their thoughts and articulating them with precision and that’s why you can’t understand what they’re saying. Don’t assume that it’s a problem with you. You need to move people to a position of clarity by asking questions.

Also, people love the person who’s willing to ask questions because it relieves them of the need to ask questions.

Education, like everything else, you get out of it what you put into it. Don’t sit in a class with unanswered questions in your head and let everything wash over you like a tidal wave.

My own kid, even in a good school district, I don’t feel like he got a good education because of good teachers, I feel like he got a good education in spite of bad teachers. He got a good education because he put a lot into it and he got a lot out of it. And his classmates who got a good education did so because they put a lot into it and they got a lot out of it.

All of which is a long way of saying “ask more questions.”

Any questions?


Teaching Computer Science: Extra Credit

15 Apr 2015 /

I wish I got a dollar for every time a student asks, “Can I get extra credit for [insert action for which it makes no sense to give extra credit]?”

Today in class we did a difficult programming exercise. It wasn’t graded but I asked everyone to turn it in so I could evaluate the difficulty of the assignment.

“Can we get extra credit for turning it in?” a student asked me.

“How does it make sense to give extra credit for turning it in? Everyone is turning it in.”

“It raises everyone’s grades,” he said. “Like a rising tide lifts all boats.”


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.”

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 . . .


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.


Teaching Computer Science: Pro Tips for Finishing a Project

5 Mar 2015 /

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements.

  1. For many (most?) students doing an object-oriented development project for the first time, this assignment is too difficult to do without a lot of guidance. Therefore: ask for help early and often.
  2. If you wait till the night before a checkpoint, you won’t have enough time to finish and we won’t have enough time to help you effectively. Therefore: ask for help early and often.
  3. I’m seeing students struggling to write code that we’ve already given you. That’s not a good use of your time. Know what we’ve given you and use it.
  4. This is what your program needs to do: [Feature list goes here].
  5. Pick a feature and try to implement it (or part of it). If you can’t do it, come to class tomorrow and ask a question.
  6. Repeat Step 5 until done.

Teaching Computer Science: Lessons Learned

1 Mar 2015 /

We did a programming lab in class . . . before we started, I mentioned several times that Java code that would be useful for the lab was posted on the class website.

So it surprised me that several groups got stuck during the lab when they got to the part where the sample code would have been useful because they didn’t go to the website and download the sample code.

Going forward, I will preface important announcements by saying “I cannot emphasize this strongly enough . . .” while pounding my fist on a solid object.


Teaching Computer Science: Today Was Not the Best Day to Say What You Just Said

14 Jan 2015 /

Class website

I asked the class to pass in today’s homework and a student said, “I couldn’t figure out what homework was due today.”

I wasn’t feeling at my best to begin with. I was tired because I was up late making sure the class website was updated with all relevant materials, homework assignments were listed at the top of the page under the Homework header with due dates listed in bold font next to each assignment so that there’s no way anyone looking at the website, assuming they’re old enough to read, could fail to understand what is the homework and when is it due.

So when that kid said that he couldn’t figure out what the homework was, I felt the futility of life grabbing me by the throat and I was mad . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Collected Thoughts

10 Jan 2015 /

If you recognize the person on this next slide, please raise your hand. Don’t yell out the name, just raise your hand.

Derek Jeter

About two-thirds of you recognize Derek Jeter. I thought everyone would recognize him, but still a clear majority.

I’m not a Yankees fan or a Derek Jeter fan particularly but the Captain and I are on the same page on this topic. I have to admit I was pretty competitive as a student. I didn’t want anyone to do better than me and I especially didn’t want anyone to do better than me because they worked harder than me.

This Jeter quote reminded me of a quote from another notable sports figure . . .

Bob Knight

This is Bob Knight, college basketball coach, most notably at the University of Indiana. He won 902 games, three NCAA championships, and he coached the 1984 Olympic basketball team to a gold medal.

Notice that he says “everyone” and “no one.” He doesn’t say some people don’t want to come to practice. There’s a universal aspiration to accomplish great results without a corresponding level of effort. I recognize that in myself, definitely. As far as I can tell, this approach rarely if ever works, even for people we think of as prodigies.

Mozart used to say that anyone who thought composing music came easily to him was very much mistaken. While all the other kids were playing kickball, Mozart was in the house practicing his music lessons. In case you’re thinking that kickball wasn’t even a game at that time, you may be right. The point is that if there was kickball, Mozart wouldn’t have been playing it because he was practicing his music lessons.

One more on this topic . . .

Michelangelo's David

This is a quote from Michelangelo. Nothing great seems to happen without a lot of practice.

Once again, please raise your hand if you recognize the person on this next slide.

Anton Chekhov

He looks Russian.

Yes, he is Russian.

Dostoevsky? Tolstoy? Mendeleev? Pushkin? Boris Pasternak?

No . . . he’s known as an author of plays and short stories.

[A student sitting next to a smart but quiet young man from Russia points to the Russian boy and says, “He knows.”]

Who is it? Chekhov.

Right . . . this is Anton Chekhov. He wasn’t a programmer but his advice is relevant to many different endeavors.

Don’t overcomplicate things. A good heuristic – which is a fancy way of saying “rule of thumb” – is to do the simplest thing that could possibly work. Method A could work, Method B could work — which one should we try first? Try the simplest one first.

Note that the heuristic doesn’t say to do the simplest thing. If the simplest thing couldn’t possibly work, don’t do it. Do the simplest thing that might actually work.

One final slide. I don’t think anyone will know these people so I’m not asking for a show of hands.

2 days in a closet

I saw an article last week about a man and a woman who were “trapped” in a janitor’s closet at the Daytona State College Marine and Environmental Science Center for two days. They got themselves in the closet last Sunday and finally on Tuesday, the gentleman on the right got the idea to call 911. Why that idea took two days to incubate is unclear. Police showed up to let them out and found out the closet was not locked. They could have opened the door themselves.

Maybe the lock was meth’d up, like the woman. “Meth’d” up, get it?

Are they students at Daytona State College? The article doesn’t say. Do any of you have Daytona State College on your college wish list? If so, you may want to take it off. Or just keep it as a safety school in case Harvard and the Sorbonne don’t come through for you.

What can we learn from this story? I don’t want to say “don’t make assumptions” but don’t make unwarranted assumptions. Don’t make assumptions about things that you can easily verify. If you’re in a closet, don’t assume the door is locked. Try it and see. A lot of uncertainty can be dispelled by trying things out.

Assumptions can hurt you as a programmer. You might be stuck because you’re assuming some condition is true that isn’t true. Or you’re assuming that some condition can never be true when it really can be true. Don’t make unwarranted assumptions.

I couldn’t help noticing that a lot more people recognized Derek Jeter than recognized Anton Chekhov. If you want to achieve great renown, if you want to be part of the public consciousness, entertain people in a simple-minded way, like hitting a ball with a stick and running around in a park. People can be entertained by Derek Jeter without expending any effort.

Where Chekhov went wrong is that he failed to anticipate a world where nobody reads anymore. Furthermore, he believed that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them. His plays and stories don’t have a traditional structure where everything is tied up neatly at the end, so you not only have to put in the time to read them, you have to go into overtime to ponder the moral ambiguities. Who has time for that in their busy lives?


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