Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?

Comment Re:Basics? (Score 1) 246

How about teaching English, Math, Science and such first? US students are in many cases barely able to read and fail miserably at math. Let's get everyone up to a first world level before we worry about computer science for everyone. CS should be an elective.

Jeff Atwood for Education Secretary.
Learning to code is overrated: An accomplished programmer would rather his kids learn to read and reason
BY Jeff Atwood
Sunday, September 27, 2015, 5:00 AM

  Mayor de Blasio is winning widespread praise for his recent promise that, within 10 years, all of New York City’s public schoolchildren will take computer science classes. But as a career programmer who founded two successful software startups, I am deeply skeptical about teaching all kids to code.

When I became fascinated with computers as a teenager in the early 1980s, computers booted up to a black screen and a blinking cursor. You had to learn the right commands to get them to do anything at all. In other words, you were forced to become a computer programmer in order to be a computer user.

One of the great achievements of modern computing is that we no longer need to be programmers to create, build and get things done with the amazing supercomputers that everyone carries around in their pockets.

That’s a victory we should claim for our kids — rather than purposefully, almost gleefully sending them back to the era before computers became user-friendly tools.

I’m not saying young people should be oblivious to the way the sausage is made, any more than they should be oblivious to where their food comes from. Indeed, in the coming decades, there are thousands if not millions of good jobs waiting for skilled programmers and creative thinkers who understand the logic of programming.

But as someone who’s been immersed in the digital world for most of his life, I can attest: Computer science is less an intellectual discipline than a narrow vocational skill.

If someone tells you “coding is the new literacy” because “computers are everywhere today,” ask them how fuel injection works. By teaching low-level coding, I worry that we are effectively teaching our children the art of automobile repair. A valuable skill — but if automobile manufacturers and engineers are doing their jobs correctly, one that shouldn’t be much concern for average people, who happily use their cars as tools to get things done without ever needing to worry about rebuilding the transmission or even change the oil.

There’s nothing wrong with basic exposure to computer science. But it should not come at the expense of fundamental skills such as reading, writing and mathematics — and unfortunately today our schools, with limited time, have tons of pressure on them to convey those basics better.

I’ve known so many programmers who would have been much more successful in their careers if they had only been better writers, better critical thinkers, better back-of-the-envelope estimators, better communicators. And aside from success in careers, we have to ask the broader question: What kinds of people do we want children to grow up to be?

It’s true. Anyone can learn to code. But very few people can explain why they wrote a line of code, what that code does or convince other people to use it and help them build it. These are all essential human skills that have everything to do with the art of communicating with other people, and nothing at all to do with the writing code that a computer can understand.

Learning to talk to the computer is the easiest part. Computers, for better or worse, do exactly what you tell them to do, every time, in exactly the same way. The people — well . . . you’ll spend the rest of your life figuring that out. And from my perspective, the sooner you start, the better.

I want my children to understand how the Internet works. But this depends more on their acquisition of higher-order thinking than it does their understanding if ones and zeroes. It is essential that they that treat everything they read online critically. Where did that Wikipedia page come from? Who wrote it? What is their background? What are their sources?

Learn to investigate. Be critical. Don’t just accept opinions you saw on Facebook or some random web page. Ask for credible data, facts and science.

I want my kids to experiment with their computers, to collaborate and learn with other people through them. To think of their computers not as special devices and instead leverage their potential.

What will you use it for? What will you do with it?

If you want your kids to have a solid computer science education, encourage them to go build something cool. Not by typing in pedantic command words in a programming environment, but by learning just enough about how that peculiar little blocky world inside their computer works to discover what they and their friends can make with it together.

We shouldn’t be teaching kids “computer science.” Instead, we should provide them plenty of structured opportunities to play with hardware and software. There’s a whole world waiting to be unlocked.

Atwood, a software developer, blogs at

Comment Re:Did anyone actually read the articles? (Score 1) 432

Or how about this one? "Results from a recent AAS survey were reported at the last week's plenary session on harassment, defined as unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Some 82% of astronomers have heard sexist remarks from their peers; 44% heard sexist remarks from supervisors; 9% experienced physical harassment from peers or supervisors."

Those articles do not read like SJWs and the do seem to indicate some sort of a problem.

I read that bullet-point summary cited in the article and they didn't define unwelcome conduct. That can be as innocuous as inviting someone to have dinner after a conference. Or striking up an unwelcome conversation. Or criticizing a scientist's paper. Or anything that anyone subjectively decided was unwelcome conduct.

Anything could wind up in that survey as unwelcome conduct, whether it was reasonable conduct or not.

Comment Re:Fueled by recent change to Twitters TOS (Score 1) 191

Oh, yes, Shurat HaDin, the Israel governent operation that brings frivolous lawsuits against critics of Israel.

This isn't a valid social science experiment, it's just lawyers and hasbara operatives gathering allegations to fill up the documents in what they openly admit are frivolous lawsuits to harass Palestinians and their supporters.

What they've proven is that Facebook is more likely to respond to a threatening picture of an adult with a gun than of a child with a slingshot. It would be interesting to see what kind of results a social scientist would get with matched photos.

I'm sure they know that this is a frivolous lawsuit in the US, where our free speech is protected by the First Amendment.

Of course, you can never tell what a judge or a jury in the Southern District of New York will do. So it does have some intimidation value -- for suppressing free speech.

Palestinians who try to sue the Israeli government for its illegal killings don't get anywhere.

It's like the mice trying to sue the cats with a judge and jury of cats.

Comment Re:EHR Developers are not EHR Daily Drivers (Score 2) 111

You may know that doctors used the aircraft industry as a model of rational system design.

Anesthesiologists lowered their malpractice rate from one of the highest to one of the lowest of the medical specialties by adopting standard aircraft engineering principles. One of their problems was that different hospitals had different anesthesiology equipment, and the controls were all different. Anesthesiologists would often work in more than one hospital in a single day, so they would be moving among different controls. It was like the early days of aircraft, when controls like throttles weren't standardized, so the controls on one plane would make it point up, while the same motion on another plane would make it point down. Since then, aircraft engineers have standardized the controls.

The conventional wisdom in medicine now is that they should adopt the methods of the aircraft industry. It doesn't always work, maybe because of cultural differences. It's hard to stop prescribing antibiotics inappropriately and sometimes fatally, when patients demand antibiotics for every ill, and give doctors a bad writeup on Yelp when they don't agree to those demands. It's hard to stop unnecessary surgery when a high volume surgeon can make upwards of $300,000 a year, and a low volume surgeon can be asked to leave the practice.

Interestingly, quality management seems to work well in the government-run British NHS and the US VA hospital system.

One of the best critics of EMRs is Robert Wachter, a professor of medicine at UCSF, who wrote a book called The Digital Doctor which has a chapter on Epic. Wachter went to Boeing and spent time with the engineers who designed the cockpits.

Wachter btw wrote this

At my own hospital, in 2013 we gave a teenager a 39-fold overdose of a common antibiotic. The initial glitch was innocent enough: A doctor failed to recognize that a screen was set on “milligrams per kilogram” rather than just “milligrams.” But the jaw-dropping part of the error involved alerts that were ignored by both physician and pharmacist. The error caused a grand mal seizure that sent the boy to the I.C.U. and nearly killed him.

How could they do such a thing? It’s because providers receive tens of thousands of such alerts each month, a vast majority of them false alarms. In one month, the electronic monitors in our five intensive care units, which track things like heart rate and oxygen level, produced more than 2.5 million alerts. It’s little wonder that health care providers have grown numb to them.

Submission + - No more "meaningful use" of IT for doctors (

nbauman writes: The administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, told an investors' conference that they will be backing off the unpopular requirement that doctors show "meaningful use" of their new computer systems.

Andy Slavitt, acting administrator, admitted that “physician burden and frustration levels are real. Programs that are designed to improve often distract. Done poorly, measures are divorced from how physicians practice and add to the cynicism that the people who build these programs just don’t get it.”

Dr. James L. Madara, CEO of the American Medical Association, agreed that EHRs were having a negative impact on physicians’ practices. Many physicians are spending at least 2 hours each workday using their EHR and may click up to 4,000 times per 8-hour shift, he said.

Instead, CMS will reward health care providers for patient outcomes through the merit-based incentive pay systems created by last year’s Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) legislation.

CMS is calling on the private sector to create apps and analytic tools that will keep data secure while fostering true and widespread interoperability.

Comment Re:A secure backdooor? (Score 1) 179

That's like the UN Security Council. If China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States agree, they can do what they want.

That would probably mean their police agencies deciding among themselves.

Let's look at real cases.

If you had a news service, like Wikileaks, that managed to annoy all of them (as a good news organization should do), they could agree to go after that news organization.

And what are the politically-correct grounds for using the back door? Child pornography? Human trafficking? Tax evasion? Drug dealing? Bribery? Terrorism? Capital crimes? Weapons of mass destruction? Waging war?

What if Miss "A" claims that Julian Assange raped her on one night, though she had enthusiastic sex the nights before and after?

Comment Re:distribution of wealth and (Score 1) 729

You incorrectly assume that we live in a different system. In our system, you need to work to get money.

Not if you're in the top 0.1%. As C. Wright Mills said, they don't have to work. They can do whatever they want. For them work is a hobby.

And they seem to get most of the income and wealth in this country.

Comment Re:distribution of wealth and (Score 1) 729

Whether it's immoral is irrelevant. Do you want economic growth or do you not? Growth demands consumption. Without, no economy will survive for long.

You're assuming that all economic growth and consumption is the same, or fungible. I disagree. I want economic growth, but only useful economic growth. A lot of economic growth is wasted.

Take health care. Canada spends about $4,000 a year per capita. We spend about $8,000. (Rounding off to simplify calculations.)

About $2,000 of that $4,000 difference goes to the cost of administeration and profits of the insurance industry. (Go to your insurance company's web site and look for the "loss ratio," which is the amount they actually pay providers, usually 10-15%. Then add in the 15% that your doctor spends dealing with the insurance company.)

So the Canadian GDP for health care is $4,000 per capita, and they're spending pretty much all of it on health care. The American GDP for health care is $8,000, but we're spending $6,000 on health care and $2,000 on administration and profits for the insurance industry.

That's a totally useless $2,000, because the Canadians don't have that expense and they do just fine. Yet it's calculated in our GDP and in our economic growth.

So it seems to me that we could have an economy without health insurance companies, and all those insurance company employees could be released to do something useful, like giving actual health care, and our economy would grow fast enough.

Or you could even let them sit on the beach and go swimming, and include that in the GDP as the value of recreation.

That economy would grow fast enough for me. I just want to have enough doctors to care for me when I get sick. I don't need insurance company employees arguing with me and my doctors over payments. I certainly don't want my doctor to spend an hour a day feeding data into a computer that has no value except for insurance companies.

Comment Re:Europe, land of the sheep and chickenshit (Score 1) 460

Yes, I disagree. It shows that college is associated with higher income, but not that college causes higher income.

It's consistent with the alternative hypothesis that (1) today, for the most part, only students from wealthy families can afford to go to college. (2) People from wealthy families tend to make more money than people from low-income families.

I'd be very interested in data that shows causation. Then we could for example sort it by fields of study to find out which fields of study were most effective in raising income.

Association is not causation. That's an important principle in social science (or any science). Economists keep ignoring that.

Comment Re:Europe, land of the sheep and chickenshit (Score 1) 460

That's an interesting article. I agree with one of the comments:


Jonathan NYC February 12, 2014

This comparison does not mean much, because it does confuses cause and effect.

A proper experiment would involve two groups of equal ability. One group receives a free college education, the other group receives the equivalent cash and is told to start working. Each group is instructed to make as much money as possible.

When Bernie Sanders went to Brooklyn College, tuition was free. Now tuition is significant.

Students who come from wealthy families are more able and likely to get a college degree. Once they graduate, they still have all the benefits of a wealthy family.

If your father is a lawyer, you graduate law school and use your father's connections to get a job. But people who work their way through law school have a hard time getting a job. I know lawyers and the difference is striking. One guy from a good family graduates Harvard or Yale and goes to work for a top corporate law firm. Another guy from a working class family graduates Fordham and goes to work in immigration law or criminal practice.

Comment Re:Don't speak for 'all of europe' (Score 4, Insightful) 460

Yes, the free market is not perfect, but there is probably nothing worse than a capitalist economy which is being prevented from receiving any negative market signals by government action.

A monopoly in an imperfect free market can be pretty bad and sometimes worse.

Americans don't realize this because it's been so long since we had a market that was really unregulated by the government. But you can look around the world for examples.

A year after "communism was destroyed" along with the Soviet Union, we had a handful of oligarchs with as much power and monopoly as the previous Soviet oligarchs and even less accountability.

Rather than running a cotton processing plant, they could make more profits by closing the plant, firing the workers, and selling the unprocessed cotton on the international market to cotton processors in India or China.

Or look at the unregulated Chinese pharmaceutical industry, which was the subject of a New York Times series a few years ago.

The Chinese chemical manufacturers would sell powdered milk for infant formulas, and add a toxic chemical that gave a false reading when the wholesale buyers analyzed it, and made it look like it had higher protein content and therefore commanded a higher price. But infants would get sick and die.

The Chinese chemical manufacturers sold a syrup for children's cough medicine, but substituted a cheaper toxic product for the more expensive pharmaceutical product. (I think they substituted ethylene glycol for glycerine.) On the order of 100 children died as a result.

Things like this were common in the U.S. in the 19th century and early 20th century, which is why we created the Food & Drug Administration and why we have government regulations. Once you remove the regulations, the same things happen again.

In Europe the free market gave us Thalidomide. Then they started regulating again.

Slashdot Top Deals

All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities. -- Dawkins