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Comment: Re:"Teaching" programming (Score 1) 155

by wrook (#47296263) Attached to: Computational Thinking: AP Computer Science Vs AP Statistics?

Your view is common. I held it myself for a long time. I have since changed my mind. The real problem is that programming is taught very badly pretty much everywhere.

I spent 20 years as a programmer and then taught English as a foreign language for 5 years. I am now back programming, but I have started to apply what I learned as a teacher to programming. Just like programming, foreign languages are usually taught badly: the idea is to teach grammar and drill vocabulary. The students jam words together using the grammar and eventually learn how to speak. The problem is that most people are not very good at this technique, leading everyone to the conclusion that you need to have some sort of talent for learning languages in order to become fluent at a second language. I have found (like a lot of other teachers) that this is a poor way to teach. It is better to use "comprehensible input" to build fluency. The idea is that if you furnish students with a large amount of input that they can understand, they will acquire language. So instead of breaking up language by category and teaching rules that students apply, you give them language in context that they can understand and have a high amount of repetition. My experience (at high school level) is that the vast majority of my students could reach a surprisingly high level of fluency.

When I went back to programming a couple of years ago, I started mentoring some of the guys on the team who were under performing. Their main problem was that they would not understand what was going on in the code and would resort to "programming by google" (i.e. just cut and paste whatever crap from stack overflow that seemed relevant into the code). I talked with these team members and asked them, "When you read the code, how much of it do you understand perfectly". The answer was "70-80%". I explained the input hypothesis and told them that in order to reach fluency with the code, they would have to understand 95% of everything they read. Or, since it is hard to tell if you understand 95%, they should aim for 100% comprehension. After a few times where they fell back and claimed that it was "impossible" to understand all of the code (and I demonstrated that it was not impossible), they started taking more time to comprehend what was in the code base. Within a few months, their level improved dramatically.

I'm not saying that anyone can be a great programmer. But, most people who are diligent enough to graduate from college can become a half decent programmer. Our team is rather special in that we provide a lot of time and support to allow people to improve. I think the reason most teams can only get good productivity with talented programmers is that they essentially abandon them once they join the team. If you don't have the chops, then you don't deserve to be here. I've actually said that before, to my shame. I now think that most people who are interested in programming can be a programmer if they are taught properly.

Comment: Instead of programmers, why not PGMs? (Score 1) 155

by wrook (#47292997) Attached to: Computational Thinking: AP Computer Science Vs AP Statistics?

In over 20 years as a professional programmer, I have met many, many good programmers. In the same time period, I have met maybe 3 competent program managers (or business analysts, or whatever they call them in your neck of the woods). I'm lucky to be working with a great program manager right now and it is amazing what a difference it makes. I would easily trade half my team for that one person. There will be a lot of people here who have *never* worked with a competent PGM.

If you have people skills, organizational skills, can find a way to not go crazy listening to programmers complain about minutia, and can grasp technical concepts you can be a good PGM. Which probably explains why there aren't very many... Rather than push people who are not interested in techie things to become programmers, why not look for people who are interested in talking to people, listening to problems and organizing things. Train them as PGMs.

Comment: Re:One word answer: (Score 1) 198

by wrook (#47095459) Attached to: Is Bamboo the Next Carbon Fibre?

I can't really understand what you are talking about. A Calfee frame costs $3000 and weighs 6-7 pounds. My entry level (knock off Asian clone) carbon fiber frame costs $800 and weighs 2.1 pounds.

My entire bike weighs in at 17.5 lbs (I have crap wheels and a heavy seat post). Adding 4 pounds for the frame is nearly a 25% increase in weight. If I was going to spend $3000 on a frame, I would certainly match it with decent wheels and seat post. This would change the weight increase to over 30%.

Bamboo, while cool, is an expensive way to dramatically increase the weight of a bike. Not that I'm a weight weenie... But if I wanted a "heavy" bike, I could get a great aluminium or steel frame and spend the other $2000+ on the rest of the bike. A Caad10 aluminium frame, which is a very decent frame, weighs 2.4 pounds. Top of the line steel frames weigh about the same. Honestly, I can't really tell the difference in weight when riding a bike with a 3 oz heavier frame, but I can definitely tell the difference with a 4 lb heavier frame.

Comment: Re:Missing a rather large point (Score 2) 136

by wrook (#46786139) Attached to: Plant Breeders Release 'Open Source Seeds'

I can see this working very similarly to the free software movement. As you correctly point out, there are already plenty of gardeners who are passionate about seed sharing. The internet allowed free software to be an efficient method of software development and distribution. 30 years on, it has even reached mainstream development. Just look at the percentage of teams using free software development tools (especially in web development).

In the past, it was difficult for an individual (dare I say hobbyist) to develop a useful new variety of plant. You need a lot of time, effort and especially land. But what if you can coordinate with other hobbyists over the internet? What if you all agreed that you would share seed? What if you all agreed that nobody could restrict the future use of these seeds. Now you have many hands, and many small plots of land, and many different growing environments, pollen, etc. Suddenly it scales.

What is needed is coordination and trust. The GPL created a level playing field that allowed people to trust each other when collaborating in software development. I'm not sure, but having a similar agreement for seed development does not sound like a bad idea to me.

Comment: Re:Shame this happened (Score 4, Informative) 136

by wrook (#46786091) Attached to: Plant Breeders Release 'Open Source Seeds'

Just to clarify. The lawsuit that I'm aware of entailed a farmer using roundup on his field and discovering that some things didn't die. These were volunteers from a neighbouring farmer's field that blew into his. He collected that seed and grew a subsequent crop of roundup resistant plants. While the farmer was not obliged under contract not to replant these seeds, the act of planting was considered patent infringement.

Personally I'm not a fan of the laws that allow this to happen, but probably this was a good legal judgement. It is important to get the fact right, though. I would have no problem with a seed company selling seed under a contract. I have a fairly big problem with the concept that planting a seed is patent infringement. But that's what the law allows right now.

Comment: Re:I admire their spunk, but... (Score 5, Insightful) 275

by wrook (#46592549) Attached to: Operation Wants To Mine 10% of All New Bitcoins

Random guy here. I may be wrong, but I think you are confusing inflation with deflation. The value of BTC is rising against real goods. So in other words, it costs less in BTC to buy things today than it did last year. This is deflation.

I have been watching Bitcoin with interest to see what it will do. In hindsight, if I were to criticise Bitcoin, I would say that it is too difficult to receive BTC. It is interesting that the very thing that makes it secure has the potential to limit its distribution. As the price of BTC goes up, it becomes more lucrative to mine. This increases interest in mining and encourages people to invest in hardware to mine. This, in turn, increases the difficulty, raising the barrier to entry. So new BTC are likely to remain in a relatively small group of people.

Of course, people can buy BTC, but if they do so speculatively, they may be loath to part with the BTC until they have made a profit. This can further limit the spread of BTC. In other words, you could get into a situation where people holding BTC are largely those who have spent a large amount of money mining it, and those who are speculating on its value. For those who wish to use BTC as a token of exchange for goods and services, it can be difficult/expensive to acquire in any quantity.

I think it would have been better to encourage inflation. In an inflationary system, currency essentially expires. The longer you hold it, the less value it holds. This is an excellent feature because it encourages the use of the currency, allowing it to get into the hands of people who will use it for true growth (i.e., producing something that has tangible value to someone else). If I can not get my hands on currency, or the barrier to entry to getting currency is too difficult, then my potential productivity is wasted. I can't obtain the resources I need to do my work. The currency has failed to do its job.

Obviously this topic is too broad to discuss intelligently in a /. post. However, I would encourage Bitcoin developers to look at modern economics with a more critical eye. I think many people are unwisely discarding a lot of economic theory without really understanding it properly.

Comment: Re:Let's Play (Score 1) 110

by Applekid (#46361263) Attached to: <em>Thief</em> Debuts To Mediocre Reviews

Thank god for Let's plays on Youtube. If I happen to find that the reviewers are right, I don't need to buy it and if I find that I disagree, I can order it after having watched a bit of gameplay. In that case, sure, I have to replay already viewed scenes, but it doesn't top the amount of frustration I get from having spent good money on yet another crappy game...

No wonder game companies are trying to get let's play videos taken down with DMCA claims.

Open Source

Getting Young Women Interested In Open Source 545

Posted by Soulskill
from the stop-making-them-uninterested dept.
New submitter Jason Baker writes "It seems like a perennial question: 'How do we get more women involved in tech?' The open source community, like any other part of the technology industry, is grappling with finding solutions that are more than just talking the talk of diversity, but actually make some demonstrable difference in the numbers. While there have been numerous success stories, the gender gap is still rampant. The answer, at least to one freelance entrepreneur, is providing strong role models of women using open source to have fun and make money. But is that enough to make a difference?"

Comment: Re:You were not hired to finish the project (Score 1) 308

by wrook (#46156265) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Do You Do If You're Given a Broken Project?

He's a contractor. Win, lose, blame, credit; what does it matter to him?

People hire contractors because they have problems that they can't or won't solve themselves. This is the nature of the job. A good contractor, one that gets hired again and again, doesn't panic just because the job is difficult. Even if the job is impossible, he simply says so before he carries on anyway.

Relax. Write code. Get paid. Drink Beer.

Java

Eclipse Foundation Celebrates 10 Years 155

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the emacs-is-still-better dept.
msmoriarty writes with news that the Eclipse foundation is ten years old this week. Although Eclipse was released in 2001, development was controlled by IBM until the creation of the independent Eclipse Foundation in 2004. "According to Eclipse Foundation Director Mike Milinkovich, that's a major reason Eclipse was able to thrive: 'IBM....did an exemplary job of setting Eclipse free ... We became the first open source organization to show that real competitors could collaborate successfully within the community.' He also talks about misconceptions about Eclipse, its current open source success, and what he sees for the future."

Comment: Re:Missing option (Score 1) 201

by wrook (#46072033) Attached to: Best skywatching equipment at my disposal:

Try to find small towns on the coast. The ocean is dark, which helps a lot. You will probably have to stay overnight, but if you are travelling anyway, I guess that's not such a big problem. I lived for 5 years in a small town on the coast in Japan. I could see the Milky Way every clear night on the ocean side. Couldn't see squat on the land side... Now I'm living in Watford. Last night it was clear enough that I could see a dozen stars and I was thankful for it. Can't wait to get back to my small town.

Comment: Re:Should be Alternative Language Requirement (Score 1) 426

by wrook (#46071763) Attached to: Kentucky: Programming Language = Foreign Language

I am probably unusual in that I have both worked as a teacher of foreign languages and as a computer programmer. The key here is, "What is a foreign language?". In the US, Spanish is designated a "foreign language" in most school districts. There are even areas where Spanish is the dominant language and Spanish is designated a "foreign language". Many of my colleagues and I have argued that we should be teaching a "second language" rather than a "foreign language". The distinction is small, but important. Foreign language teaching is aimed at teaching a language which is not in use near the student. The student doesn't have ready opportunities to acquire the language through their own efforts and must rely on the teacher to provide everything in the classroom.

Teaching a "second language" (or third or fourth -- "second" is a technical term that refers to any language that is not your primary language) is focussed on teaching the student skills to acquire language under the assumption that they have the means to act on their own initiative. It assumes that the language is accessible in some form to the student outside of the classroom.

I am not in favour of forcing students to learn "foreign" languages in high school. This pretty much guarantees that the majority of students will have difficulty finding any relevance for the subject in their lives. There are benefits, to be sure, but those benefits are aimed squarely at only a handful of students who already have an interest in foreign countries, etc. I would vastly prefer helping students with the mechanics of language acquisition and leave it up to them to explore ways in which they use the language (watching foreign TV/films, reading foreign books, talking to people on the internet, listening to foreign music). In fact, in my classes I avoided overt cultural references as much as possible, while encouraging my students to pursue whatever interested them outside of class.

From that perspective, I fully support the idea of teaching programming as a "second language". I actually teach programming using the language acquisition techniques that I learned as a language teacher. Don't worry, it's not the "Memorize a million words of vocabulary and try to fit it into arbitrary grammar rules" style of teaching. I teach programming as an application of language acquisition and it is extremely effective. Computer languages are very small and simple. Programming idioms are also (by and large) few and logical. In my opinion, this is a great first step before tackling a human language. Once you get the language acquisition techniques down (which aren't particularly difficult or numerous), it is easy to apply to a more difficult problem.

On the other hand, I have sympathy for those teachers who truly want to teach foreign languages for the benefits that they bring. I just feel that such classes should not be required for all students.

You can do more with a kind word and a gun than with just a kind word. - Al Capone

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