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

November, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Is Computer Science Dying


    Well that is a pretty dramatic title. I didn't think it up myself though. I'm not so pessimistic. It is the title of a post I read recently though. There does seem to be a lot of bad news in the field of Computer Science these days. I also read recently that Cambridge University in England is having trouble attracting as many computer science students as they would like.  One quote from the article is interesting.

    Cambridge professors blame the dwindling enrollment figures on their field’s ongoing image problem

    Image problem? Well yes. Would you want to be many of the computer geeks you see on TV and the movies? And worse still there is the image of all the jobs going away. Scary stuff. And in fact there is a lot of evidence that the actual need for computer scientists is going up. Bill Gates who regularly laments on a looming shortage recently also brought up a desire to see more African-Americans and other minorities in the field. Now even if you see that as some sort of politically correct purely social goal or see real value in a diverse workforce I think most would agree that computer science offers a good career path for many people. It should be open to all regardless of race, gender or other attribute.

    But if I can come back to the article that started me off on this thread - the one called "Is Computer Science Dying" - one of the things I really like about it is that it addresses the famous quote by Edsger Dijkstra who claimed, "Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes." It's worth the read just for that discussion.

    My answer to the title question is that computer science is not dying. It is changing and the perceptions of it are changing. I think it is also rapidly becoming ingrained in more and more disciplines. It is like math in that even people who don't major in it are increasingly finding themselves in a position where they have to study it more than perhaps they originally thought. Rather than moving more into the hard sciences as an engineering it is becoming more and more a true "liberal art."

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Math Add-in for Microsoft Word


    Here is a little goody for all of you out there (especially you math teachers) who are always struggling to add mathematical things (formulas, graphs, etc) into Word documents.

    The Microsoft Math Add-in adds computational and graphing capabilities to the Equation Tools Ribbon of Word 2007.
    With the Microsoft Math Add-in for Word 2007, you can:

    • Plot a function, equation, or inequality in 2-D or 3-D
    • Solve an equation or inequality
    • Calculate a numerical result
    • Simplify an algebraic expression

    I tried this out and it is very easy to use with lots of helpful explanations and "how to" instructions. You have to have Word 2007 of course but the add-in itself is a free download. More information and the download are here.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Insert Cute Little Cartoon Mascot Here


    A long long time ago in a place far far away I was an operating system developer. OK it wasn't a place far far away in that it was here in New Hampshire where I still live but for many of you that is a far far away place in some ways. This was almost 25 years ago and that is a long long time ago in computer terms. Anyway, the operating system was called RSTS/E and it was a great little OS.

    The development team was one of the best organizations I ever worked with because the people were just plain great. Two of the things that made the team great were its sense of humor and its dedication to supporting their customer base. As part of that support the development group sent people to some major users group meetings. A popular part of the program was the opportunity to submit questions to the development team and have them answered publicly.

    One year someone made a feature request (or perhaps it was a bug report) and added a line to the effect that "any bozo could make that change." The team had a good laugh over that one because of course it was far from an easy thing to do. Then they decided to have some real fun. They went out and rented a Bozo the Clown costume for the next day. The question/issue was read from the stage and when that last line was read a member of the team burst into the room in costume yelling "I object." "Bozo" helped answer questions for the rest of the session and a good time was had by all. Bozo the Clown then became the unofficial symbol of the group for some time to come.

    Digital Equipment, the company that owned RSTS/E, had several operating systems for several different kinds of hardware. When I was at DEC (or Digital as our company president preferred to call it) the big operating system with all the investment and prestige was VMS. VMS had an unofficial mascot as well. Theirs was a Cheshire Cat. If you go to the RSTS/E page at Wikipedia you will find a logo with a bull dog (another character that was used on occasion to represent RSTS/E) and you will notice something coming out of the dog's mouth. That something is the tail of a Cheshire Cat. A little rivalry on display.

    One can see a little of that sort of rivalry at Microsoft these days. In this case it is largely seen in the programming language teams. It's all friendly of course and the teams work very well together as far as I can tell. But like so many things there are perceptions of better and worse, more and less powerful, more and less popular, and more or less prestigious. Paul Vick blogged about some of this in the context of the "persona" that the Visual Studio team uses to describe the types of developers that they are targeting. He's not all that happy with the one many people ascribe to Visual Basic and suggests another one.

    I like his suggestion a lot. But part of me really thinks what they need is a good, friendly cartoon character to use as a mascot. I'm not sure what to use for the various programming languages though.

    Perhaps the Road Runner for C++. You know - very fast but hard to understand and often frustrating for people trying to contain it.

    For C# maybe Mighty Mouse- fast and powerful and yet somehow approachable.

    For VB maybe a dolphin - smooth, friendly, helpful and just hard to hate. Let's make him look ready for business though. VB is for people who like to get things done and have fun doing it.

    I'm sure someone else, someone more creative, can come up with better ones. I just want to get people thinking about the idea.

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