Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

December, 2006

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Sudoku in Visual Basic .NET


    I found an interesting little program that creates Sudoku puzzles in Visual Basic .NET. I have to say that I really love it. But not for the reasons one might expect. I don't love it for the amount of cool features it has. Frankly it doesn't have all the bells and whistles that a lot of Sudoku programs I have seen do have. That is, paradoxically, why I love it. If you are looking for something fun to play with, uh, I mean work with and learn from, over the holiday break this may be just the thing.

    Let me explain. One of the great learning experiences one can have is taking an existing and functional program and adding features to it. Now while I agree with my college professor who told me over 30 years ago that no program is ever really finished it's nice to have some low hanging fruit. This program has room for all sorts of additional features. What sort of features?

    • Adding color coding of rows, columns or subgrids that are completed.
    • Additional error checking
    • A timer - how long does it take you to finish?
    • Top times recording - ideally at each level
    • Replace the command buttons with textboxes for easier input
    • Tablet PC input with ink!
    • Make a Pocket PC version. IF you do that let me know so I can get a copy from you.
    • Probably a lot more that I haven't even had time to think about.

    You will be able to work on this program using Visual Basic .NET Express. It was written for Visual Basic 2003 but Express upgraded it nicely for me without any errors. A couple of warnings that we easily fixed because I hate warnings.

    Send your students after this one. Try it out yourself. Is it the greatest implementation of Sudoku ever? No it's not. But what it is is an easy to understand, very manageable piece of code that lends itself to extension, expansion, improvement, experimentation and just plain fun. And are those all really good things for over the holidays?

    Speaking of holidays - I'm taking next week off. It's time to spend Christmas with my family. Will I be blogging? Probably not very much if at all. I hope you are all getting some time off for the end of the year and enjoy what ever holiday you celebrate.


  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Field Trip to a Launch Event


    There always seems to be a shortage of interesting and educational field trips for computer science programs. My students used to complain regularly that they wanted to go on a computer related field trip.  Conferences are generally in the wrong place, too expensive and way over the heads of students. There are companies who will open their doors to student field trips (I've helped set up a number of these to Microsoft locations) but often it is hard to make the necessary connections to make these happen. I was reading that Brian Scarbeau is planning on taking his students to one of the Microsoft Windows Vista and Office Launch events in Orlando. That's a pretty interesting idea I think.

    During the months of January and February and a few in March these events are being held all over the country. I know several teachers who have taken students to free events like this in the past. The level of presentation is usually something they can handle. The speakers and demos are generally very good - interesting, professional - and the demos are outstanding. In short they are a good way to show students some new technology and give them an idea of what professional trade events are like. And of course of importance to students there are usually free things to take home. I've seen students win big door prizes at some events. Something for everyone. There is educational value, the students have a good time and the cost (mostly just transportation) is lower than a lot of other field trips.

    I'm sure that other companies have similar public events that are possibilities. But these are the ones I know about. Something to think about at least. Is anyone else planning a field trip to a launch event?

    NOTE: Brian added the following in the comments and I wanted to highlight it:

    It's easier to register a class by calling 1-877-673-8368. Tell them you want to register your class and they will give you a fax number where you can fax them the list of students.

    BTW if the IT support people at your school or district don't know about these events you may want to tell them. I would think they'd welcome the opportunity to hear about what is new in Vista that may make their lives easier.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Is it the computer or the programmer?


    Doug over at EdTEchDev has a great set of quotes about programming and learning. I highly recommend the whole collection and think you could go there and read them all. But one of them stuck out when I read it:

    That's the thing about people who think they hate computers. What they really hate is lousy programmers.
    Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle Oath of Fealty

    Think about that a minute. The computer is just fine. It's doing what it was told but it was told to do the wrong thing or it was told incorrectly. The programmer did it. When we teach programmers do we ever let students blame the computer? Generally we shouldn't. What we need to do is to remind programmers that they are responsible for the user's experience. Is it a good one or a bad one? What could the programmer (I include the program designer in the general category programmer) do differently to make the user's experience better?

    If data is lost, if a program is hard to use, pretty much everything that causes users to "hate the computer" is really the fault of the programmer. Now to be completely fair there are people who hate things that are physical attributes of their computers. The location of USB ports, the noise of the fans, and all sorts of things like that. Those are the fault of the hardware designers. Same principle as the programmers just different people to point fingers at. But it's still the people who are at fault not the poor innocent computer.

    Wether it is software decision or hardware design the customer - the end user - is the person who has to be kept in mind. Sooner or later they will wake up and go after the person who is at fault.

    BTW for discussion here is an interview with Jeff Raikes, President of Microsoft Business Division, that I found via a link on Don Dodge's blog. Don's post is also well worth reading. One of the big points Jeff makes is the need to focus on the customer more than the competition. Customer thinking is something all engineers need to learn early.

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