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

June, 2009

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Useful Links June 8 2009

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    I was on jury duty for most of this week. That took up quite a bit of my time and I didn’t have much time for blogging, Twittering or much else of what I usually do during my work days. I did manage to collect a few good links though. Some came from Twitter (follow me @AlfredTwo), come came from email, some from blogs and some from my own browsing of the Internet. Here are the best of them. I hope you find something useful here.

    A couple of things showed up around Expression products I found this Lap Around Microsoft Expression Blend

    This video presentation demonstrates the Expression Blend tool and its different features. The presenter talks about items such as data binding, control templates and animations.

    From @pbarone and @dFate I found a link to these Free Expression Web Video Tutorials For Beginners

    I ran into two different sites for teaching copyright and Intellectual Property issues. One is from Microsoft and one for the Electronic Freedom Foundation

    NCWIT (@NCWIT) Had a number of good career related links:

    Microsoft’s demo of Natal was a big hit at the E3 conference last week. I found several interesting links related to that:

    • Here is the first demo of  Microsoft's Project Natal motion-sensing technology in action.  Controller? Who needs a controller?
    • The Milo demo with Natal shows a person interacting with a character in a game through the game reading body language and things the person says. Really cool computer person interaction

    Mark Guzdial (@guzdial) Had an interesting post which stirred some controversy and had some fairly upset replies in the comments. The provocative title was The Responsibility of APCS for the Decline of Enrollment in Undergraduate Computer Science It is really worth the read including the replies in the comments.

    Last week Blake Handler "The Road to Know Where" emailed me a link to a set of templates for use in teacher to parent communications. I think many teachers will find them quite useful.

    The Computer Science teachers Association sent out an email  this week asking for teachers to participate in a survey about teaching computing concepts using "toys."

    In this survey, the term “toy” is used very loosely. A “toy” might be an actual toy, but it could also be a story or poem, paper and pencil activity, food item, an object found around the house, or any one of an endless list of possibilities. The students themselves could be the objects

    Clint Rutkas (@ClintRutkas) Twittered breaking into the game industry - bungie tools engineer talks about getting into the business. Note that  he says  "have something to show." Students can use tools like XNA to create a portfolio of games to show what they can do.

    Clint also Twittered a link to this article called Dawn of the Personal Computer: From Altair to the IBM PC that lists a lot of the early  PCs and shows some of the history behind  them.

    Microsoft Research (@MSFTResearch) Provides a link to an article titled: Microsoft’s DigiGirlz Day Helps Girls Tackle Tech

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    It Ain’t Heavy It’s My Software

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    The trend these days seems to be moving applications to the web browser. The ideas behind that are having access anywhere – from any location, from any computer, and at any time. Sounds great. But I resist. I like my so-called heavy applications. OH I understand the benefits of light applications that run from the web browser. I also understand the limitations of computer based heavy applications – operating systems dependence and lack of availability when one is away from their “home” computer. And there is installation costs. I get all that. 

    I do happily use Outlook Web Access and Hotmail for email  when I need to for example. But I’d still rather use real Outlook or another “real” email application. I use twitter from the web interface from time to time but the power and flexibility of TweetDeck or other special twitter applications wins me over when I have a choice.

    I think this is as much a result of my perception that special purpose tools in most areas give one better results than general purpose tools. Sure a Swiss Army knife will let you do a lot of things with one tool. But as well as separate screw drivers, scissors, knifes, etc? No not even close. You can use one hammer for everything you need to hit but a wrecking hammer will not do as good a job putting in nails as a framing hammer. And getting a table saw to do what a scroll saw can do is going to lead to frustration. Likewise a web based email client will do a lot – and they are much improved in recent years – but a dedicated application on your computer can do more, faster, easier, and still let you do a lot when you are not connected to the Internet.

    Which brings me to the next piece. I didn’t grow up with ubiquitous network access. And I still find myself in places where I can’t get connected easily. So the idea of only being able to use an application when connected to the Internet scares me a little. Well maybe concerns me would be a better way to phrase it.

    I do like cloud computing to some extent. The idea that I can place data on the cloud and get it from anywhere is great. The idea that there are cloud applications that I can use and access when I am connected is great. But I still what to work locally. I still want some control over my data. That control piece may actually be what concerns me the most. I have always taken responsibility for backing up my own data. Sure I have worked on commercial systems where formal and regular backups were taken. But I have always also done my own backups. I still have copies of programs from college – over 30 years ago. I trust me. not that I haven’t ever lost anything but nothing I haven’t been pretty sure I didn’t need anymore. Well mostly. :-)

    Do people – thinking students really – think about and discuss the pros and cons of heavy apps against light apps? I’m not sure too many programming courses really teach light apps. most web-based development I see done in high schools and early years in university are heavy apps. That concerns me a bit. I guess some web development courses cover simple web applications with some database access. That’s great as far as it goes. But I’m not sure it teachers the complexity of building the sort of web applications that many in industry are moving to. While it is true that I am not a huge fan of that sort of thing I recognize that for the near future they are the future. Students need to know about creating them. At the very least they should be exposed to the discussion and presented with the issues to think about. The sooner that happens the sooner they can build applications that old school people like me will be comfortable using.

    Or maybe they’ll see the pros and cons differently and the pendulum will swing back to locally run applications. Stranger things have happened.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computers In The Court

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    I served on a jury this week. That’s one reason why I haven’t been seen on Twitter, email or blogs much this week. Serving on a jury was an educational experience for me. One of the interesting things I learned was how much modern court rooms use computers and other modern technology. Computers and monitors were everywhere. (NH District Court Technology Page)

    Court rooms on TV and the movies have a lot of empty space. They typically have two tables for attorneys with a lot of room on all sides and between them and the bench where the judge sits. In the court room I was in there were four large tables with two podiums and a good sized work station in front of the judge’s bench where the court reporter and occasionally the deputy clerk of the court work. There is not a lot of room to maneuver. There are however computer and TV screens everywhere.

    Every table and desk seems to have a flat screen monitor. The lawyer’s desks, the judge’s bench, and the clerk’s desks. The jury box has two very large monitors in the railing/wall that separates them from the rest of the court room. There are even wall mounted monitors for court observers. All of this is tied to a Presentation Display System (PDS). This system is used to display evidence of various types to trial participants. There is no passing around of pictures; no setting up  of screens and projectors for videos; and no messy setting up of tape recorders for audio clips. Every thing is done by computer from any of the work stations.

    The court has wi-fi so the judge and attorneys can communicate using their computers. The judge  may use the computer on the bench to look up points of law, communicate with his clerks but he can also watch the court reporter’s transcript in real time.

    But actually court use is not limited to the court room and trial. There are computers involved in selecting jurors, tracking cases, filing documents, and just about every aspect of the process I have looked at.

    It seems like every time I get a closer look at almost any business area, government area or any other organization for the first time I find computers in new and often unexpected ways. I see this as continuing for a long time to come. Will this bring development jobs? I imagine so.

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