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How To Get a Game-Obsessed Teenager Into Coding?

Darth_Burrito Motivation (704 comments)

For me, math, science, and reading were all good motivators. We talked about formulas, equations, and algorithms all the time in class. Since class was really boring, I'd spend my time programming our TI-8x's. F=ma, E=1/2mv^2=mgh, etc all go into the calculator. Reading at home played into that really well. For example, in Sagan's Contact they talk about a message being embedded somewhere in Pi with the hint that such a message could only have been created by an architect of existence. One day in geometry we learn how to calculate Pi, and guess what I'm programming in my calculator. Later I read stuff like cryptonomicon and between silk and cyanide and spent countless classroom hours trying to find new ways to factor numbers.

Looking back, I was always interested in tinkering with large public data sets. I built several iterations of a fantasy baseball league site and multiple stock analysis tools. I also played with decision tree algorithms and imdb's public data and messed around a lot with trying to analyze my pokerstars hand history. Today, we are drowning in new and interesting and often totally unexploited data sets. The right 20 lines of perl could change the course of human history. The challenge is not to find those 20 lines, but to look for them.

Some kinds of games encourage programmatic thinking. You get a lot of exposure to arbitrary sets of rules and how to manipulate stuff in well defined environments, to build and test plans, etc. Civilization and StarCraft are all kind of production/workflow optimization problems. At some point though, there's a difference. Programming is more an act of creation. What's possible is undefined and what happens is defined by you. I think to make the leap from gamer to hobby programmer, you need a spark of something, the kind of attitude that believes 20 lines of perl can change the world.

I think a classic mistake in programming education is to teach using "good teaching languages". Working in a write only language like perl allows you to produce immediate results at a time when you're not ready to accept the full abstraction of good programming practices. It also primes you to accept the principles of a good programming language at a later date. A year breaking bad habits is a good trade for 5 years of programming experience.

more than 4 years ago
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Bing Search Tainted By Pro-Microsoft Results

Darth_Burrito Reality? (582 comments)

Is it perhaps possible that this is one of those cases where reality is interceding on behalf of Microsoft? The other day someone asked me to review a Macbook Pro they wanted to purchase and Apple was charging $1,000 to go from 4GB to 8GB and advertising it as if 4GB were enough for web browsing, email, and word processing... but if you wanted to get the most out of your PC, you need 8GB. I was torn between wanting to boycott apple and wanting to buy their stock.

Windows is a term that could be related to Macs. Any article that talks about the pricing of either needs to compare it against the other to have any meaning. At least one Why-are-Macs-so-expensive article makes the google list. Given that Macs are insanely expensive compared to PCs I would guess that there would be more articles explaining the cost of Macs versus the other way around.

more than 5 years ago
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The Hidden Cost of Using Microsoft Software

Darth_Burrito Re:You cannot use viruses/bugs as an example of co (691 comments)

Insufficient counter example.

In server software, popularity is often correlated with stability and quality. A larger market share tends to mean a better and usually more secure product. Those that opt to use better products tend to be better admins or developers or whatever which can also have a positive effect on security. This is arguably even more true when comparing microsoft solutions which are known for nice GUIs to open source tools which are known for text based configuration and heavy customization.

On the desktop, the products with larger market shares are those products that have the least savvy users. When combined with the size of the market, this is clearly the best attack vector.

As an aside, when it comes to desktops, we are a windows shop. An executive (and a very smart one) with a joint appointment recently inquired about replacing his non-domain XP laptop (supported by other area) with a Mac machine managed through our group. One of the reasons he gave was that XP was so horribly slow and his Mac at home booted up so much faster, the implication being Microsoft sucked. I took a look at his laptop and found that there were 50+ startup programs listed in msconfig, almost none of which had anything to do with Microsoft or windows. Since the executive had administrator privileges, it was clear to me that his problems were largely self inflicted. I doubt 1/5th of the crappy startup programs had mac equivalents.

The exec's problem was not with malware per say, but in my experience, most desktop malware infections are caused by users and correlated with market share.

more than 5 years ago
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The Fight Over NASA's Future

Darth_Burrito Re:Can't keep putting everything on our credit car (288 comments)

What makes you think they didn't have a space program? More importantly, what makes you think they are all dead?

I find it highly suspicious that we haven't been hit with an ELE from space in the past 60 million years. The most probable explanation for that would seem to be that, roughly 60 million years ago, someone or something blasted off into space with a mission to protect the earth from future bombardment.

It was probably the raptors (it always is). I'm guessing they saved as many as they could in the seed ships while sending hunter-killer probes after near-earth asteroids. Even now, a society of hyper evolved Raptors are probably awakening from their cryogenic fugue out in the Ort cloud. Any day, they'll be sending a probe our way to evaluate the habitability of Earth as they've no doubt done every 20 million years or so.

What's gonna happen when they find out an infestation of not so furry primates have taken over and are now molding the remains of their ancestors into cheap plastic hello kitty christmas ornaments? I'm guessing they'll either capture a comet from the Ort cloud and send it hurtling our way, wipe us out with death beams from space, or send crack teams of Raptor ninjas down to exterminate us in hand to hand combat.

more than 5 years ago
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Twenty Years of Dijkstra's Cruelty

Darth_Burrito Re:Dijkstra couldn't use a computer?!? (727 comments)

Shortest path algorithm, semaphores, compilers, programming language design...? This is the kind of stuff of formal programming methodologies. However, the kind of stuff that goes into it is not the kind of stuff that goes into software development in 99.99% of the world. Dijkstra was no doubt very smart, but I'm not sure I'd hire him to build business software.

more than 5 years ago
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Twenty Years of Dijkstra's Cruelty

Darth_Burrito Re:Real-world cruelty (727 comments)

Where exactly do semi-formalized, poorly thought-out specifications handed to you half-written out on a napkin and constantly subject to change fit into the programmers task and Dijkstra's world?

Many of the professors exist in a world where faculty is king, ie in charge of every aspect of the business. Therefore not receiving inputs in the desired fashion would be unacceptable and rejected outright.

more than 5 years ago
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Twenty Years of Dijkstra's Cruelty

Darth_Burrito Re:Cruel to be kind (727 comments)

The aim of a really good degree is to be cruel

There is a difference between something being cruel and something that is difficult or challenging. Any teacher who believes their goal is to be cruel should be fired. My greatest strides have always come from the work that came out of my home and not out of the classroom or even the work environment. The greatest aid in learning is the motivation to learn. Cruelty is not a good incentive for independent learning.

Then you graduate and find out the real world is easier than the theory.

Real world software development jobs are also a lot easier than rolling around naked through hot coals and velociraptors, but this isn't necessarily an optimal way of preparing someone for a career as a developer. I found a lot but not all of the theory I was taught in school to be irrelevant (axiomatic semantics, countability) while I was missing many fundamentals (usability, interface design, realistically modeled team work and project management).

more than 5 years ago
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Twenty Years of Dijkstra's Cruelty

Darth_Burrito Re:Cruel and couldn't use a computer (727 comments)

Rule Number 1 of Computer Science - Don't reinvent the wheel. Everyone who invents their own education focused language that's only used at their school is violating the first rule of computer science. At my university, the first year of programming is taught in a java like variant of C++ called Resolve C++. Why is it bad?

  1. It hurts students applying for co-ops/internships because none of the employers no what it means.
  2. It hurts students because there are about a thousandth of a percent of the sources of information about Jo-bob's made up educational language as there are for something like Java.
  3. It hurts students because they don't feel like they can go home and make useful projects in weird language XYZ in their own time.
  4. It wastes time because you are rolling your own instead of reusing something tried and true. As the needs of the modern world change, will your made up language be able to change with it, or will it stagnate like everything else in academia?
  5. By rolling your own when a veritable shitstorm of acceptable solutions exist, you are setting a horrible example for your students.
  6. Most importantly, while students are not always right, they absolutely hate it when they are forced to learn some professors pet project and if something useful is only slightly harder why piss them off.

more than 5 years ago
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Twenty Years of Dijkstra's Cruelty

Darth_Burrito Re:engineering (727 comments)

My point is that you should not throw out fundamental stuff like computational complexity in favor of topics that directly apply to "real-world problems".

Almost everything taught applies to real world problems. Information doesn't know if it's theoretical or practical. It has value which is relative to its intended use. The sooner we embrace that fact, the sooner we'll have a balanced curriculum.

At my university, topics like axiomatic semantics and countability are covered while topics like usability and user interface design are not. The topics presented are often far more important to the provider than they are to the consumer. It's a classic case of a developer that creates the product he thinks his customers should want without truly soliciting requirements.

more than 5 years ago

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