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

June, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    EduBloggerCon

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    Most of the entries in the Education section of my RSS aggregator today are about EduBloggerCon. Yesterday somewhere between 80 and 100 educational bloggers met in a very special pre-conference at the Georgia World Congress Center. NECC, billed as the "World's Premier Ed Tech Conference" starts today and most of the attendees at yesterday's event are in Atlanta for that. It was a natural time to organize this sort of event.

    The hi-tech world of A-List tech bloggers (people at the top of Technorati's lists) have nothing on the bloggers who were at EduBloggerCon other than a larger audience. The whole event was well organized using a wiki, email and as far as I can tell some discussions in Second Live may have been involved as well. At the last minute I decided to leave my laptop in my hotel room but it appears that I was one of the very few who made that decision. There was live blogging a plenty. There were also virtual attendees there via Skype and Second Life. I which I could have attended the Second Life session but alas I could only be in one place at at time and there were other good sessions going on.

    The educational blogosphere was there is full force. People like Will Richardson, Dave Warlick and the Cool Cat Teacher - Vicki Davis were there. So was Anne Davis. And well many many more. Teachers, principals, superintendents, technology coordinators, technology integration specialists, librarians and more. A rather good sample of the mix at NECC actually. There were not many edu bloggers who focus on the political end of things there. Not that the bloggers here didn't have or express political opinions but the focus at EduBloggerCon was on pedagogy and using Web 2.0 tools to improve teaching and learning. When politics came up is was when discussion turned to the barriers to use of new technology.

    The Edu blogosphere doesn't get the attention in the media that the tech, business, and political blogosphere get and I think that is a shame. There is a lot of innovation going on in education but too much of it is happening in isolation. Social networking and blogging can help make some connections. So too can conferences like NECC. But for the most part the people who need to hear about these innovations the most are the same people who disappear from the end of the spring semester until teachers report back for duty in late summer. Those people are not attending the conferences and they are not reading blogs. Too many of them are not interested in change at all. Only when news of these new best practices gets out in the main stream media are we going to see them get the attention they deserve.

    Our students are living in cyberspace but too many of our teachers are not. They are strangers in cyberspace at the same time their students are calling it home.

    [Note: Cross posted in my social computing blog.]

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Programming Proverbs 21: Hand-check the program before running it

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    Hand checking code seems to be a dying art. At least for students that is. Throw some code into the IDE and hit F5 to compile and run and then see what happens. "Ready, Fire, Aim"

    At the risk of sounding like the old guy reminiscing about the good old days that were not really so good I can't help but remind people what it was like in the days when you could expect to get to the computer once a day. Each shot at the computer meant one compile/run/test cycle. One really had to be careful about what you sent to the computer and that meant you went over your code carefully, by hand, before letting the computer get at it.

    Back in the day that meant you looked for syntax errors as well as logic errors. I'm not so sure that letting the computer do most of the syntax checking is all that bad an idea anymore. On the other hand, really bad things can happen if the logic is wrong. I still like the idea of looking at the code closely, pretending to be the computer to make sure that the algorithm works the way it is supposed to work.

    Call me old fashioned if you'd like but to me spending some time to double check the code by hand to the point of having a high level of confidence in the results seems like a good idea. When the program has its first clean compile and runs for the first time it shouldn't be a surprise that it works correctly. All too often it seems as though programmers, well mostly beginners, put together some rough set of code with the hopes that it will achieve close to the correct result. Once they see how close they get they assume they can gradually fix things. While iterative development is in many ways a good idea it would be a lot better to go from success to greater success than from near success to closer to success.

    This is the twenty-first of a series of posts based on the book Programming Proverbs by Henry Ledgard. The index for the series is an earlier post and discussion of the list as a whole is taking place in the comments there. Comments on this "proverb" are of course very welcome here.

     

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Physics Of Game Development

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    One of the things that seems to be a bit of an eye opening experience for many students is that there is a lot of math and science (especially physics) involved in creating game programs. Many game programs are really elaborate simulations and a good simulation has to actually and correctly simulate things. Channel 9 has an interview with Brian Beckman who is a physicist who works on game simulations. Recently he world on the physics behind simulating the tires in the popular racing game Forza.

    Here is the write up on the interview taken from Channel 9.

    Ever find yourself wondering about the math behind your favorite simulation game? Did you know that the motion physics of a car are much more complicated than the those of an airplane?


    Brian Beckman, physicist, programmer and Channel 9 celebrity (he's been on C9 a few times...), sure does. Besides spending time innovating programming languages and tools, Brian spends time working on the mathematics behind real-time physics simulation. Most recently, he worked on the math behind the tire physics of the popular racing game Forza.
    Simulation, by definition, needs to be accurate. Otherwise, well, it's not simulating reality, really, which is of course the idea of simulation. Games like Forza in fact simulate real physics of racing in a predictable and highly mathematically precise manner. That's exactly why Forza is a real-time automobile racing simulation game. 


    The past, present and future of computer simulation of real-time physical events, or simply computer-based simulations that involve highly accurate representations of things moving/changing in space and time that are precisely affected by multiple variables like wind, rain, gravity, mud, oil, planets, waves, etc are very fascinating topics for gamers(many may not realize this explicitly, but they sure experience it!), mathematicians, programmers and physicists alike. Heck, any body who thinks about the thinking behind things that they experience in a simulated environment should watch/listen to this interview (available in podcast form as well as video).


    Towards the end of this conversation, Brian mentions Rigs of Rods and Plasma Pong. Check out the Rigs of Rods simulation demo at 00:58:11!
    Our sister site, Channel 10, has a great Forza piece.

    Speaking of both Physics and Channel 10, take a look at this cool demo from Maker Faire with Laura Foy. A man in a metal suit getting hit by artificial lightning. It's a demo that UC Santa Cruz takes into high schools in California.

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