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

May, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Who, from the Past or Present, You'd Like to Teach Your Class for a Day


    Edutopia is doing a set of reader surveys at their web site. There are a bunch of interesting categories but one in particular caught my eye - Who, from the Past or Present, You'd Like to Teach Your Class for a Day? The names they have a great and interesting names for sure. Einstein, Lincoln, King. But you know they don’t fit the topics for a computer science class. I didn’t have to think very long to know who I would want for a computer science class – Grace Murray Hopper.

    I imagine that a lot of people would come up with Randy Pausch because of his amazing and inspiring speech. Some might come up with Babbage or Ada Lovelace because of their historic place in the development of computers. These and others are great choices but for me no one compares with Grace Hopper.

    I had the pleasure of hearing Adm. Hopper speak a number of times. I was one of a group of students who had lunch with her when she gave a number of talks at the college where I did my undergraduate work so I got to meet her in a more casual situation as well. I found her to be very inspiring. I would have to say that more than anyone she instilled in me the notion that computer science as a career could be fun and interesting and full of constant learning. Also she was someone who thrived on out of the box thinking. She had a clock that ran counter-clockwise just to demonstrate that just because something had always been done one way that wasn’t the only way it could be done. “But we’ve always done it that way” was a statement that drove her up the wall. She promised listeners that if they ever said it she would show up on the spot to haunt them. I can’t hear or read that phase without thinking of her to this day and I first heard her speak over 35 years ago.

    She was a person who was ahead of her time for her whole life. I believe that even today she would easily catch up and run ahead of current thinking in no time at all. I still remember things from that first time I heard her talk that didn’t come widespread for years afterwards but later became key to progress in the industry.

    Now she could be a terror from what I understand. She drove people hard and gave fits to vendors whose software had to pass through her standards testing. It is completely appropriate that the ship the Navy named after her is a real warship. But boy could she inspire people! And that is the sort of person I’d want talking to my students.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Tips for Tech Talks and Demos


    One of the things I have been doing for years in the classroom and the lecture hall and conference rooms is giving technical talks and demos of creating code. As a teacher it was a daily occurrence. Honestly I thought I knew some tricks to make life easier. But one can always learn new ones. Chris Bowen gives a huge number of technical presentations, often to very critical – under several definitions of that word – audiences, and he shares some of his tips on his blog. A couple I knew about. Changing font sizes and having a good backup plan for example. But I didn’t know all of these.

    One that looks particularly interesting is ZoomIt. Chris has a separate earlier blog post just about ZoomIt. But as a teaser I’ll quote the intro from the site were you can download ZoomIt for your own use:

    ZoomIt is screen zoom and annotation tool for technical presentations that include application demonstrations. ZoomIt runs unobtrusively in the tray and activates with customizable hotkeys to zoom in on an area of the screen, move around while zoomed, and draw on the zoomed image. I wrote ZoomIt to fit my specific needs and use it in all my presentations.

    ZoomIt works on all versions of Windows and you can use pen input for ZoomIt drawing on tablet PCs.

    Check out Chris’s suggestions and feel free to add your own on his blog or mine. Also I wrote a collection of my own hints around using Visual Studio in the classroom sometime ago that may be useful for many people. Check it out!

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    An Analog Computer Clock


    Every so often I like to highlight some technology that is just plain cool. The clock below is one such.

    Michael Scherotter created this watch image using a very high end, very sharp looking watch with permission of the manufacturer. While I typically do not wear a watch I do have an appreciation for them. Digital watches are just plain boring while high end watches like the Ball are as much works of art as they are examples of fine engineering. So taking the looks of the watch and replacing the “works” behind it with a computer code is interesting. It may not be as portable or even as accurate (computer clocks are notoriously inaccurate) but it is a really cool clock for a computer desktop.

    Michael has written a blog post about how he created this application that makes interesting reading. The purpose of this project was largely to show what can be done with Silverlight. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more cool Silverlight applications as the newer versions are released.

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