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

March, 2009

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Art and Computer Science


    Last year I heard an executive from a video game talking about hiring developers. One of the things he said (roughly paraphrased) is that they find a lot of good graphic artists and a lot of good software developers but it is rare to find someone who is great at both. Game companies don’t expect software people to create the outstanding graphics that today’s gamers expect. They hire artists for that. But there is something to be said for software people to know something about art.

    Daniel Rasmus, Director of Business Insights at Microsoft – basically a futurist, said recently in a blog post titled The ART of Software that “If you want to code for the web, design for the web, or do any software work that touches people, then take an art class first.” To me it is pretty obvious that customer facing software has to look better and be better designed for appearance than ever before. Not all of us are artists though. I’m sure not. That is why some of us need help now and again. But some basic understanding of art can still go a long way.

    But art doesn’t always lend itself to data driven analysis. Dan’s post also links to an article (Google's top designer quits, blames engineers) about a designer leaving Google because of an insistence on pure data driven selection of designs. While I would argue that some data analysis is helpful – I am an engineer by nature after all – I can understand that some things just do not lend themselves to that sort of analysis. Someone with an eye for how things work and and instinct for how people see things can do a lot with a lot less data. In other words, I think sometimes the best thing is to trust an artist.

    Yet an other reason that we all need to support art education in schools I think.

    BTW I only recently discovered Dan’s Future of Work blog but I really like it. I recommend it to you for a regular read.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    SIGCSE 2009 Day 1


    It is really great to be back at SIGCSE again this year. I have been coming to SIGCSE for years now. I’m not sure when I started coming but the last five or six years I haven’t missed any. And I have a lot of friends who come most years as well. Some of them I only see at SIGCSE while others I see at other events. In fact it took me a long time to get from the entrance to the exhibit hall this morning because I kept running into people I know and stopping to talk to them. Catching up with old friends took up a lot of the day. This is one of the reasons that SIGCSE is my favorite conference all year.

    I made it to a couple of sessions only. I have been spending most of my time in the exhibit hall earning my pay check. But I did make it to some of a session on Scratch this morning. It was interesting hearing how Scratch is being used to teach programming at the university level. There was also some discussion about potential ways that Scratch could grow/improve and what added features would be bad a good. A lot of that relates to difference audiences and purposes. But it was a positive and useful discussion I think.

    This evening I attended a Birds of  a Feature session discontinuing the future of the AP CS program. The only thing really settled was that nothing was really settled. I heard a lot of the same things I heard last month at a similar session at TCEA. I am coming to the conclusion that the worst problem is not the exam or the reduction from two exams to one. Rather I think the problem is that too many students are not exposed to computer science until too late in their high school careers. AP CS appears to be hard because students have no real preparation in many schools. In others they have some but perhaps not enough. Do you think that teaching AP English to students who could not read and write would be easier than AP CS is now? Somehow I doubt it but that is what comparing apples to apples would be.

    The exhibit hall seems greatly reduced this year. The College Board does not have a booth at all. The spaces covered by the book publishers are greatly reduced in most cases. And there just seem to be fewer booths than usual. IBM and Apple haven’t been to SIGCSE in years. Intel, Sun Google and Microsoft all have booths and are sponsors this year. Microsoft’s booth is the same size as last years. Microsoft is also helping to sponsor Kid’s Camp again this year. This is a great day camp experience for the children of attendees.

    The Microsoft booth is showing a lot of different things again this year. The Academic Research Kernel program, MSDN AA, Imagine Cup, Kodu, and other things including the star attraction – a Microsoft Surface table. It’s been a busy booth. It’s also where I am hanging out a lot so if you are also at SIGCSE please come looking for me.

    Tomorrow looks interesting. Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy Officer at Microsoft, is giving the keynote on “Rethinking Computing” and I hear he has some cool stuff to demo. Plus there will be some sessions of the future of the AP CS program. Yep more talk about that.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    The Problem with Lists


    Let’s talk about social networking for a minute. For example bloggers and twitter – and related of course but those are the two things I am thinking most about. There are some good lists out there. For example I like Scott McLeod's list of top 50 education bloggers. And I have been scanning through the tag lists at lately. The edtech and education tags in particular. I’m looking for interesting people to follow when I look at those lists. And I do find some. But honestly I think I miss a lot as well.

    I mean sure it is probably a safe bet that someone who makes Scott’s list is writing interesting stuff. After all that list is based on Technorati lists which is based on how many people link to those blogs. People tend to only link to interesting stuff. And the twitter list is based on number of followers. Once again boring people don’t pick up followers. But what about the long tail?

    By the long tail I mean those bloggers and twitter users who are interesting and useful and potentially great but who have not been around for many people to find them yet. These top 50 lists don’t help people find these gems in the rough. Oh sure I might find them if I look far enough down the list of education tagged people in WeFollow. But at 461,000 people (can that be right?) I’m not sure I have time to check them all out.

    For this reason I think we (all of us) need to help people discover new people to follow – be it on Twitter or bloggers or what ever. I love the idea of #followfriday on Twitter. Follow Friday calls for people to recommend other Twitter users for people to follow. Often these come in a theme. It’s all very individual but if is a way of introducing people to others. I think it helps. With blogging there are blog rolls and links embedded in posts of course. These are very helpful and are a long standing tradition in blogging. So maybe when you visit a blog from a Top list you will want to see who they link to. And when you look at a new Twitter feed see who they follow.

    Of course that only works if the top bloggers and Twitterers follow more than just the other top of the list people. I think that is also a good idea, a healthy idea, to prevent getting caught in an echo chamber. In a sense I feel like the A-list bloggers and Twitterers serve their audience best when they widen the circle and bring more people into the conversation. It’s not always how many people read/follow you. Sometimes it is about how wide a circle you are learning from.

    So help me find good people to read (blogs) and follow (Twitter.) And I’ll try to do the same for you. Thanks.

    PS: I’m on Twitter at

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