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

August, 2010

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 16 August 2010


    I was on vacation last week. I could not seem to stay away from the Internet and from blogging though. So there were blog posts and I was on Twitter a good bit. I also scanned my email regularly (otherwise catching up after vacation is HARD) and so I have some links to share today. I’m also relisting (in case you missed it and are just starting back at school) my top ten posts from July and June.

    I get asked about getting into the game development business quite a bit. Mostly from students who are thinking about what they need to study. The Microsoft Job Blog covered this a bit recently (How to "break in" to gaming & entertainment) and you may want to pass the link along to students you know.

      A journalist from Australia attended the 2010 Imagine Cup finals in Poland this summer. He wrote a great wrap up piece on it titled Imagine a world changed by software (PDF). It’s an inspiring article I think. I hope it will inspire more students to not only enter the Imagine Cup but look to software as a way to make a positive difference in the world.

      The entry deadline is fast  approaching for the UIST 2010 Student Innovation Contest. By fast I mean you have to sign up by August 17th, 2010 though you do have more time to get started on your plans and real entry. I just found out about it myself or I’d have passed this along earlier.

      The goal of the contest is to develop new interactions on unique hardware that you cannot get anywhere else. We supply you with the special hardware and you show us how innovative you can be with it. This year, Microsoft Applied Sciences is loaning out a set of "adaptive keyboards", which can detect touch as well as change their visual appearance.

      An interesting story about Brown University which has 9 women in their computer science junior class -- all of them were Microsoft interns this summer. (All Nine Women in Brown University Computer Science Class Intern at Microsoft) One key point you should notice. The previous summer one of these students was an intern and it was the way she created a positive impression that inspired Microsoft to recruit more students from the same program. As a teacher and as an industry person I am always very careful with my recommendations. The first person you refer to a company really sets a tone for your credibility and for the future chances for people you recommend later. Of course it also says some good things about the quality of Brown’s computer science programs.

        On the humor front, Rob Miles linked to How a programmer reads your resume . It’s a sort of comic that compares how a human relations department looks at a resume to how a programmer  looks at it. It’s funny because there is a real kernel of truth in it.

        Lynn Langit recorded three more of her Small  Basic recipes - 

        Interested in buying Microsoft software for your school? Check out this MS software academics buyer's guide from ZDnet. But don’t forget that information from Microsoft is also available at under the How To Buy menu option.

        Over on Channel 9, Andrew Coats uses a cartoon video to explain The Cloud Platform Story

        Now my top 10 from June and July.
        1. Visual Programming Languages – Kodu, Scratch, Alice, App Inventor and more. Are they helpful? Can we make them more general purpose?
        2. Over-Educated, Yet Under-Qualified? – Is education and qualification as closely tied as we’d all like to think they are? Can students get jobs and do them well right out of school? Some good comments here as well.
        3. Critical Thinking – It’s important and we all agree on that. I think anyway. But are we teaching it and teaching it well? Join in the discussion.
        4. How many types of Programmers are there? – Are there only a couple of fairly narrow goals for programmers or are things more complex? The post talks about three types and asks “are there more?”
        5. Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) Certifications – Learn about these new entry level certification exams and materials and decide if they fit the goals of your school. If you are at a career/technical school it is highly likely that they do.
        6. Advice for an Imagine Cup team – Pat Yongpradit is an award winning computer science teacher (Pat Yongpradit Selected to participate in the 2010 Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Education Forum in South Africa!) who mentored a high school team that made it to the US finals of the game division of the Imagine Cup. In this guest post he gives some useful advice for teachers mentoring groups of students who would like to compete this year.
        7. A Show About Computer Programming – Some interesting comments on this post already. It asks the question “what would a TV show about computer programmers look like?”
        8. Multiple Paths into Computer Science – Start in high school or college? Skip college and learn on your own? Four year college or community college? What are the paths into computer science careers today?
        9. Microsoft Research Illuminates Mars in 3-D With WorldWide Telescope – Lots of interest in the World Wide Telescope Mars data set. A great way for students and adults to learn about the Red Planet and for teachers to help build interest in the skies.
        10. A Rose is a Rose – How important is selecting the right names in a program? Does it make a difference in understanding, debugging, or later review of code? There are some code examples to discuss and some discussion in the comments already. Join in.

      • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

        Non-Myths About Programming


        Mark Guzdial attended the first day of the ICER 2010 conference in Denmark this week. He blogged about that day (Blogging the first day of ICER 2010) and it sure does make me wish I had been able to go. Next year the conference is in Rhode Island so maybe I’ll be able to swing it. For now I am reading blog posts about it and waiting until the conference journal shows up in my mail box. One particularly interesting thing I borrowed from Mark’s post was his summary of  Moti Ben-Ari’s keynote talk, Non-Myths About Programming. He had seven (eight really) statements that people today talk about as being “myths,” but he says are quite true.

        1. Programming is boring. But so is everything else, says Moti. Even the specialist surgeon gets bored doing the exact same thing for the 5000th time. He suggests that television may be influencing our students’ belief that everything should be exciting and all problems can be solved in 45 minutes.
        2. You have to sit in front of a computer all day. So does everybody, he says. Some jobs, like travel agents, sit in front of computers even more than programmers do.
        3. You have to work long hours. Moti asks, “What professional job today does not involve long hours?”
        4. Programming is asocial. Moti argued, “No one ‘chats’ with his/her ‘clients.’” He says that some students may feel that, “I prefer helping people directly, say as a social worker, than creating computerized ‘things’ people need.” Programmers help people, and talk with their clients as much as doctors do.
        5. Programming is for those who think logically. Totally true. Most jobs also involve thinking logically, but if you can’t, don’t go into computing.
        6. Software is being outsourced. It is, but not the interesting stuff. He says people do things in software that they don’t quite know how to do yet. If they knew, they’d manufacture hardware to do it. If you don’t know how to do something, you don’t send it away to get it done. He had a great story about Margaret Hamilton who led the development of the Apollo software systems. He says that NASA could never have outsourced the development of the Apollo software.
        7. Programming is a well-paid profession. So what’s so bad about that?

        He then said that there’s a new myth being propagated that he dislikes, that CS is NOT primarily about programming. He says it is.

        OK that last point about programming and CS is going to be controversial. But is he just stating something along the lines of the “emperor is not wearing any clothing?” This is one I want to ponder. And of course I am hoping that smarter people than me will put forth solid arguments one way or another.

        I disagree about programming being boring though. I find it to be fun most of the time. And programming can be social if you do it right. Ben-Ari may be defining social too narrowly. I wish I had been there to hear the whole talk for more context.  Still there is a lot of potential for discussion here. Opinions?

      • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

        Windows Phone 7 Sample applications


        Windows Phone 7 Program Manager, Sean Mckenna, visited the Channel 9 studio to demo of some Windows Phone 7 applications. The idea is that these are some core applications, for which the source code will be made available at the Windows Phone Developer site, that developers can integrate into their more complex and intricate original applications. Check out what he's offering and get to developing!

        What does he demo?

        1. Level sample with accelerometer
        2. Theme settings and usage within apps
        3. Machine Translation along with text to voice
        4. Shopping list
        5. Weather via msn for data
        6. Stocks with News from Bing including Browser Launcher functionality
        7. Silverlight 2D game (not finished yet) but uses accelerometer

        While we’re at it, here are some links to some Windows Phone Getting Started Videos

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