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Processing Twenty Years of Programming

I have lived in our current house longer than I have lived anywhere my entire life and we are moving later this month (next week!). While rummaging through boxes I have carried to New York, from New Jersey by way of Georgia — Smyrna, West Atlanta and Marietta, Georgia — one box held a collection of floppy disks from high school (1994–1998). I bought a USB floppy disk reader to resurrect this artifact.

History

I fell in love with computer science when I started programming sometime during the ages of 12–16. Before that I wanted to be a lawyer. I took a computer programming class at Paulsboro High School (two classes in fact, taught by Mrs. Pollino, also my Geometry teacher) where we learned Basic and Pascal—and in my estimation, the cold tyranny of flow charts. I even participated in some programming contests at a local college named Rowan University.

But, it was really a nexus of fortunate events that led me to a career in computer science. In addition to the high school class where I had an awesome friend and partner constantly pushing me (an eventual CS major in college, but now an anesthesiologist), earlier I had an uncle gift me a Commodore Vic-20 with manuals and cassette storage when he upgraded to a Commodore 64, a friend’s programmer dad gave me DOS batch scripting tips, and critically, my parents allocated a unexpected influx of cash to buy my brother and me a 50Mhz Packard Bell multimedia machine with 4MB of RAM, a 256 MB hard-drive, cdrom and modem in the early 90’s. That was the last computer we owned for a while until my girlfriend (and future wife) fronted me some money to buy a used surplus laptop from PSE&G after my first-year of college in 1999 (which I promptly installed Linux upon). I remember another student mocking me that first year of college for being a computer science major without a computer, it bummed me out, but luckily my friendly roommate let me use his Compaq PC to create my first website and rattle off some mean C++ and perl, all while listening to some music due to Napster.

Fast forward: later I’d own lots of computers, program robot dogs, help design sensor networks, and teach other students the joy of writing code to create art, stories, and worlds.

Some QBASIC programs

Now to the programs I dug up. They aren’t well written, and the graphically interesting selections presented below aren’t much more than graphing calculators, but they opened an entire new world for me. So they are special to me: authentic.

That experience of discovery and invention is what I hope to inspire in my students in 2017 and beyond. Even if with more or less modern things like text, games, robots, graphics, and computer vision.

p.s. Thanks to dosbox and renegade QBASIC executables for helping me run these old hacks!

Code as Language: L&T&C Take 2

In 2015 we introduced a computing component into Bard’s Language and Thinking program. We will be presenting a paper about that pilot project at ITiCSE this July.

We revised the curriculum in 2016 after the first experience. We revamped the coding workshop to be taught by Bard student instructors, moved the infrastructure to github, and made it about the idea of code and language. Starting with a free-write, then moving on to a hands-on lesson in HTML & JavaScript, and ending with an optional reflection on code and language. From WEIZENBAUM to POSTMAN to STEIN, students reflected on code as language, code acts, and creativity. We are again revising it this summer for the 2017 incarnation, stay tuned …

Summer Vacation 2015: Part II (Language & Thinking)

This summer I taught a course in the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) in addition to advising undergraduate research students. I also co-developed a computing component for our Language and Thinking (L&T) program. This post covers the L&T effort, the previous post was about BPI.

Since its inception, the Bard computer science program (i.e., department) has posited that computing is a valuable and integral part of a liberal arts education. Since I have joined the program, I have adopted this mission whole-heartedly — thus, this blog. As a program, we offer a wide variety of introductory computing courses involving: the web, simulation, interactive graphics, robotics, and digital humanities. These courses expose students from many backgrounds to computational thinking, communicating algorithms to computers and people alike in PHP, Logo, Processing and Python.

Last year our college was interested in exposing all of our students to coding & computing. Given this ambition, our program thought long and hard in consultation with others around campus. A new college-wide distribution requirement? A MOOC? Hour-of-Code? Scratch? App-Inventor? Scribbler Robots?
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Summer Vacation 2015: Part I (BPI)

Many wonder what teachers and professors actually do in their free summer months. Days on the beach? Long walks in the woods? Fishing? Crabbing? Well, I did a little of that this summer, but I also had the most extraordinary, and busiest, summer so far in my career.

After teaching computer science to undergraduates at Bard for six years, this summer was a bit of a reawakening. In addition to advising great undergraduate research students via BSRI, which I do most summers, I also taught a course in the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) and co-developed a computing component for our Language and Thinking program. This post (Part I) covers BPI, and the L&T effort is up next in Part II.
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Automatons and Entertainers

As the leaves begin to change in the Hudson Valley each year, Bard’s Hannah Arendt Center puts on a fantastic, colorful and current conference, and this year was no exception. The title of this year’s two-day event was Failing Fast: The Educated Citizen in Crisis. I was not able to see all of the talks, but the sessions I attended failed to disappoint. From Stanford computer scientist and Coursera founder, Andrew Ng speaking about the potential of the MOOC’s to John Seery from Pomona College speaking about the virtues of a liberal arts education, a large range of views were put forward. Check out the conference schedule for the other speakers.

The organizers of this conference go out of their way to invite intellectuals from across the spectrum to share their views: scientists and writers, conservatives and liberals, entrepreneurs and academics. All were invited to share their views about the future of education. But like past meetings with such impressively mixed audiences, many of the messages get lost, attenuated or misconstrued as they travel between the vast intellectual space between the participants.

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