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

July, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Kids Are Smarter Than You Think They Are


    I gave a couple of talks on Internet safety last week. I spoke to a group of middle school students and a group of third and fourth graders at a summer technology camp. As always I learned a lot from teaching kids. 

    I asked the younger kids for examples of good passwords and was astounded at how great the passwords they recommended. They were long and usually consisted of multiple small words or a mix of words and numbers. They seemed pretty random as well. Little kids put things together in ways that seem logical in their minds but seem completely opaque to adults. But at the same time they thought there were one letter passwords that would be hard to guess. When I pointed out that someone could try all the letters one at a time I could see the gears turning as they worked that out. But they did seem to get it.

    With the older kids I talked a little about predators and again the thinking was mixed. Kids who know that there are people who target kids who are aged 10 to 12 think they are protected by saying they are 16. They aren't actually thinking that there is a whole other set of people who target 16 year olds.

    Kids do understand that people on the Internet are not always who they seem to be. And that makes sense. Most kids who lie about their age on different community sites are savvy enough to know that they are not the only ones doing so. They know that there are creepy people on the Internet and that they should avoid them. In fact I have heard more then a few stories, especially from girls, about attempts by strangers to initiate sexual conversations. Most of the time girls will just shut off the discussion and leave the virtual area.

    They generally don't report these incidents though and reporting them is one of the things I encourage. The little ones seemed much more willing to report things to their parents. I guess the older kids like to think they can handle things on their own. They may be smarter than adults think they are but they are not always as smart as they think they are.

    I really believe that education is the way to go with kids and Internet safety. According to this article even Congress is starting to come around to that idea. I think that the lesson of Sleeping Beauty is instructive here. Had her parents educated Beauty about the dangers of spinning wheels she would not have been as likely to prick her finger on one when she ran into it for the first time in her life. Kids are going to run into predictors no matter how much we try to shield them. What we have to do is educate them on how to deal with the situation when it happens.

    We teach children about meeting strangers in real life and they need to know the Cyberspace equivalent events and how to deal with them.

    BTW there are a lot of good Internet safety training resources available at and NetSmartz.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Microsoft and Open Source


    It never fails that when I am introduced to a big Open Source supporter one of the first things I hear is "and of course Microsoft hates Open Source." Well actually they don't. Microsoft competes with some Open Source products but that is not the same as hating.

    Also Open Source (OSS) is more of a development process than a company and we don't really even compete with different development processes. In fact Microsoft supports a number of open source efforts and Microsoft employees contribute to some of them on their own time as well.

    Microsoft just announced a new website to talk about Microsoft, the OSS community and the interaction between the two. The new site is located at

    Other OSS at Microsoft links:

    · Port 25 – Open Source Software Lab at Microsoft (with blog posts by members of Microsoft's Open Source lab)

    · Codeplex – Microsoft’s open source project hosting site (I linked to one of the education related projects there last week.)

    · Shared Source – Microsoft’s set of programs for sharing source code with customers, partners, governments, researchers, etc.

    · John Lam’s Blog – John is a Microsoft blogger who blogs on IronRuby, Dynamic Language Runtime, Silverlight, and related projects. (IronRuby was released last week BTW)

    · Microsoft Open Source ISV Forum –  Microsoft Partner Program through with offers for OSS ISVs

    Oh and Microsoft doesn't hate Apple either. I like to remind people that Microsoft's large Macintosh Business Unit creates and sells the wildly popular Office: Mac software. Microsoft sells a lot of software for the Apple.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Turning Our Backs On Tech


    Or perhaps the growing shortage of Chief Information Officers (CIOs). All of a sudden I've been getting copies of or links to this column in Fortune by Geoff Colvin. According to some sources there is a shortage of really qualified CIOs in the US. I can't say that I am surprised.

    Being a CIO (I was one once in a small scale and without the title and pay check) requires a difficult mix of skills. Sure you have to be tech savvy but you also have to be business savvy and people savvy. Geeks who work best locked in a dark room coming out only for pizza, Jolt or Chinese takeout need not apply.

    The column says a few things I have been trying to say.:

    It isn't coding in cubicles anymore. Those jobs really are going offshore, and they should be. The jobs that remain are more demanding, higher paying, and multiplying fast - if only there were people to fill them.

    This is a problem and companies, especially high technology companies have to have a hand in fixing it. They have to show people, especially students that there is a future, a bright, fun, exciting future, in computer science and information technology. But parents and teachers have to get involved as well.

    Spread the word - "Companies big and small desperately need well-rounded IT experts."

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