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

April, 2011

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Movies for Computer Science Students

    • 5 Comments

    I had some email yesterday with a link to a post titled "The Top 10 Movies for Computer Science Students." It is an interesting list and I have seen most of these movies. And I have enjoyed several of them. I’m not sure if this is my top 10 list though. I worry about the computer science characters in some of them. Hacking is one thing but cracking is another. I think the differences are lost on many students (and still more in the media). I don’t like movies where the CS people are the bad guys. Antitrust: drives me crazy for example. It seem to show companies in the computer industry in a bad light. I don’t see the resemblance to Microsoft that some seem to see there BTW. It always makes me thing of one of several computer industry companies based in California which I will not name. 

    And while computer science is not as hard as some would say it’s not the child's play that Wargames and Hackers seems to suggest. There is that moral ambiguity again as well.

    I am surprised that Sneakers didn’t make their list though. Good hackers and evil crackers and a guest spot by a Cray super computer. It has it all. And speaking of Robert Redford and guest spots by famous computers there is Three Days of the Condor which has a PDP-8 in the opening scenes. Maybe that dates me – both remembering the movie and the PDP-8. I worked with one of those in college.

    I think we have to be a little concerned about how computer scientists are presented in the media. We make an easy target but its seldom a fair portrait. We’re a whole lot more diverse than other portrayed. And less geeky. You’d never know from the movies and TV that there are some really good looking women in the field for example. And many of us actually get outdoors enough to get tans. More than that though computer science is making the world a better place every day. I’m not sure you’d learn that from movies or TV. And that is not a good thing.

    So what movies would you recommend for computer science students? Are there some were the computer science is mostly real? Where the computer scientists are the “good guys?” Where computer science is helpful? Well, now that NUMB3RS is off the air. Sad smile



  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Books for Computer Science Students

    • 2 Comments

    Ever since I was told about a list of Movies for Computer Science Students and wrote some comments about that list I have been thinking book. Fiction books. Novels that tell stories that involve computer science and the sorts of issues of privacy, philosophy, ethics and social change that computers make in our society. And being a life-time science fiction fan that may come easier for me than for many. Books have an advantage over movies is that they can spend more time on explanation. They spend more time talking about how people (and in some of the cases I will list – machines) think and why they act as they do. I don’t have anything like a top ten list but I do have a couple of books that always come to mind. OK eight book are on this list. And in general a couple of authors – Asimov, Heinlein, Stephenson – who I like.

    I, Robot (9780553382563): Isaac Asimov: Books

    ISBN: 055338256X
    ISBN-13: 9780553382563

    A lot of people think that this is the book the movie of the same name was based on and they are sort of right. This is a book of short stores and is really a lot more than the one story in the movie. It introduces the Three Laws of Robotics and the various stories explore what they mean in practice. This is a great place to start. Of course I am a huge Asimov fan.

    Caves of Steel (Robot (Spectra Books)) (9780553293401): Isaac Asimov: Books

    ISBN: 0553293400
    ISBN-13: 9780553293401

    This is a novel about two detectives – one human who hates robots and a second who is a robot himself. Yeah, it is one of those unlikely “buddy” stories. They are trying to track down a killer who just might be a robot. Along the way this is a great story of what it might mean to have robots who think and who look human.

    The Adolescence of P-1 (9780671559700): Thomas J. Ryan: Books

    ISBN: 0671559702
    ISBN-13: 9780671559700

    This book is out of print and somewhat dated but I love it. You can get used copies and I hear rumors of copies available on the Internet. The story is built around a computer program that was created as a smart worm but becomes sentient as it grows through the world wide network of IBM mainframes. See I told you it was a bit dated. But it brings up interesting ideas of what it means to be thinking and also what happens if a computer program gets too powerful.

    The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (9780312863555): Robert A. Heinlein: Books

    ISBN: 0312863551
    ISBN-13: 9780312863555

    Heinlein is one of my favorite authors and while some of his later books are not really appropriate for high school students many of his works deal with interesting looks at societies with a “what if” sort of view. In this book a very powerful computer who controls much of the moon becomes self-aware and decides to help the people on the moon rebel from Earth. Politics, smart computers, revolution – more topical today than one might expect.

    Snow Crash (Bantam Spectra Book) (9780553380958): Neal Stephenson: Books

    ISBN: 0553380958
    ISBN-13: 9780553380958

    Snow Crash is a mystery story told in a future where many people are connected though a virtual world in cyberspace called the Metaverse. Think World of Warcraft mixed with Second Life for what the Metaverse is like. When Second Life became big I  thought the Metaverse was coming soon but that never really happened. This book though is an interesting look at what happens when the lives between the real world and cyberspace get blurred.

    Cryptonomicon (9780380788620): Neal Stephenson: Books

    ISBN: 0380788624
    ISBN-13: 9780380788620

    This is a must read for cryptography buffs. This book takes place both in the current era and in world War II. During WW II Allied cryptographers work to break enemy codes without the enemy figuring out that they have been broken. In the present time there is a search for lost treasure. The two stories combine and mix in unexpected ways. It’s well told. And long – over 900 pages as I recall.

    Neuromancer (9780441012039): William Gibson: Books

    ISBN: 0441012035
    ISBN-13: 9780441012039

    This is the book that introduced the word Cyberspace. It is also the book that started the cyberpunk genre which I confess I am not a  huge fan of in general. I’m an old-fashioned “space opera” sort of science fiction fan. But this is an important book and belongs on a list like this.

    Digital Fortress: A Thriller (9780312944926): Dan Brown: Books

    ISBN: 0312944926
    ISBN-13: 9780312944926

    This is not Dan Brown’s best book. Not even close. And the science is off in some important places. I include it though as a look at the idea of a Digital Fortress where data is safe from governments and others who would control its contents and access. That makes it good for discussion.

    That’s a start. I’m sure many of you know of more and even better books out there. I would love to hear your suggestions for additional books or better books as well as which of the books above you would leave off your list and why.



  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    XNA Game Development Tutorial

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    From the makers of the “XNA Game Studio Beginner’s Guide” DVD’s, the next evolution of Game Development training for Beginners!

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    Online. Plaintext Searchable Code. Lessons for Design, Art, and Programming. Everything You Need, Free.

    Jump in at: http://create.msdn.com/gamedevelopment

    Developed in Collaboration With MSDN Channel 9, XNA Game Studio, and App Hub

    Bite-Sized Lessons, A Great Single-Screen Experience

    This combination video and text tutorial set teaches basic 2D game development on Windows, Xbox 360, and Windows Phone 7 using XNA Game Studio 4.0.

    • Videos are each less than 5 minutes in length
    • Accessible with a web browser, no special installs needed
    • All source code is plaintext, easy to copy and paste
    • Assets and code projects downloadable for a quick jumpstart
    • Downloadable checkpoints throughout to keep learners on track
    • Entire experience can be run windowed, side-by-side with Visual Studio

    COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATION

    Learn the following lessons in our easy-to-follow chapters:

    • · Game Design from Start to Finish
    • · Animated and Static Art Creation
    • · The Game Loop Explained
    • · The XNA Content Pipeline
    • · Rendering Static and Animated Sprites
    • · Player Input on Windows, Xbox 360, and Phone
    • · Collision Detection and Response
    • · Debugging Game Code
    • · User Interface Design and Rendering
    • · Sound Playback
    • · Information on Xbox LIVE Indie Games and Windows Phone Marketplace

    How Do I Get Started?

    Just browse to: http://create.msdn.com/gamedevelopment

    You’ll Find the Link to the Tutorial Right On the Page.

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    You'll ALSO FIND…

    • A full “graduation path” for game developers from Beginner to Pro
    • Step-by-Step guidance for each level
    • Information about Xbox LIVE Indie Games and Windows Phone 7 marketplaces.
    • Links to “Going Professional” guidelines and contact points for Xbox LIVE Arcade and Microsoft Game Studios

    Special thanks to the Xbox LIVE Arcade and Microsoft Game Studios Xbox LIVE on Windows Phone 7 teams!

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