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

August, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Are You Reading This Blog From The Source?


    Here is an interesting ethical question. Perhaps it is one worth discussing in class. I would welcome comments and discussion here as well. [Come on Alfred - get to the point. ed.]

    Well at least one and probably more web sites are reproducing content, including my blog, from on their own sites. They are using the RSS feed to automatically update their sites with content written by other people.  If you are not reading this blog at then you are reading one of those copies. (Please come over and look at my site and think about subscribing directly if the other posts there look interesting. End of shameless plug begging for subscribers.)

    So what is the big deal? After all these people are not editing my copy and they are not taking credit for my work. And it is not like I am losing advertising dollars or that they are making big money from me either. Some of these sites have advertising and some don't. The one I am most aware of does not have advertising though it does have a button to donate via PayPal. And of course the main goal of this blog, promoting information of use to computer science teachers and others, is still being met. One could argue that having my content on other sites helps that goal.

    On the other hand authors lose out on some less tangible things when this wholesale copying takes place. I don't see traffic reports and hit counts from those other sites. That makes it harder for me to know how much interest there is in what I am writing. That is useful when I try to justify my time and effort - be it to my manager, my wife or just to myself. Also some links may go to those other sites rather than to this site. That effects how my content is found in search engines.  Some of these sites link back to the original source (which is good) but some of them do not and that is not so good for search engine traffic. I think that a lot of bloggers get a lot of their traffic via search engines. I know that I do.

    Probably the worst thing though is that there is potential for people to leave comments on these other sites that I may never see. People will think they are replying to me (or the author of another copied blog) and be dissatisfied when that person never replies. And of course the author of the post misses out on a potential conversation.

    This is not something I lose sleep over of course. But it is something to think about. Is it stealing? Is it helping? Are these people providing a service? (Note that anyone can subscribe to the main RSS feed at without these other sites.) Just what is going on and is it ethical?

    Feel free to discuss. Actually please discuss and let me know what you think.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Hackers @ Microsoft


    What is a hacker? Could a real hacker possibly work at a company like Microsoft? Does Bill Gates know? 

    In my early days of computing a hacker was "someone who is curious and wants to learn how systems work." I borrowed that definition from a new blog called hackers at mirosoft.  The blog just opened yesterday and there is already a debate in the comments about the term "hackers."

    Hacking and cracking [into computer systems] were not always so closely related in people's minds. And in fact hacking was not always thought of as something only outlaws did. It was a more serious and respectful term for people who really dug into things. For people who were self taught and continuously learning though study, practice and hard work. Security was part of it but far from the totality of it. Hackers put together clever code, innovative tools, and looked at things in new and creative ways. To me the term has always included "top researchers in their industry, dedicated people working on the bleeding edge of what's going to be common place in the next 5 or 10 years of computing. " Now of course it has a whole different meaning to a lot of people.

    The hackers at Microsoft bloggers are "white hat" bloggers. That is to say they look for security flaws so as to help close them up. They are trying to make software more secure rather than to exploit holes. It looks like its going to be an interesting blog.

    I do think that students need to learn about security from the beginning of their education (self-education or formal education) so a site like this would appear to be useful there. It should also be useful for learning about some of out of the box thinking that goes on in the field.

    So check it out!

    BTW Bill Gates is pretty much as "hacker" as it gets. The man made his first money in computers by finding bugs in a timesharing operating system after all. So you could say that Microsoft is a company founded by hackers.

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    A Call For Sharing Stories


    I was stuck in Chicago the last couple of days and one of the items in my carry-on case was a copy of "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It seems to be written for a wide range of people and professions but there seem to be some good ideas for teachers in it. After all, teachers are in the business of communicating ideas and getting them to "stick" in student's brains.

    One of the steps to making things stick is putting them into a story. An example in the book is a number of copy machine repairmen sharing a story about a particularly tricky repair problem. By going through the steps that were taken to find the problem and fix it the friends hearing the story are much more likely to remember this particular issue when they run into it. You've probably run into the same thing in your live of work no matter what it is.

    I've heard teachers in the faculty lounge talk about problem students and how they handled them. I've heard stories of teachers who surprised a class with multiple versions of the same test to catch cheaters. I've heard stories of special lessons that just seemed to work so much better than average. These stories are one of the ways I learned a huge about about being a teacher. And not just in the early years either. I like to think that as time went on some of my stories were helpful to others but I never stopped learning from other teachers. The stories made the ideas stick far better than a dry recitation of steps to follow.

    Leigh Ann Sudol, CSTA Publications Chair, wrote asking teachers to share their ideas with each other in the CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association) blog last week. Leigh Ann talked about learning some interesting things over the summer and posted some links. Then she said

    Well, I hope that you found my links useful, now how about one of your own? It could be your personal web page if you have some nifty lessons, it could be a site you visit often for information, or it could just be an activity or an idea that you use in your classrooms that you think others might find useful.

    The Internet is a great place to share stories of projects, techniques and other things that work. Because stories work, they make ideas stick, they are great teaching tools. I think it would really be great if more teachers shared their stories via blogs, comments in blogs, personal web pages and the more traditional workshops and conferences. Give it some thought. Share what you know with others.

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