Time for Seven More Languages

So, five years ago (really! that long ago?), I got tired of teaching the Programming Languages class out of Sebesta and decided to try something new. So, I used the book “Seven Languages in Seven Weeks” (https://pragprog.com/book/btlang/seven-languages-in-seven-weeks) as the course text.

It was, well, an experience.

Nevermind that the book that was due to be published on August 15 finally showed up in November. In fact, I counted that as a positive (in an “if life gives you lemons” way) since students got to experience how many professionals get their books on new topics with programs like Beta books, Early Release, and MEAPs. And we all liked the much lower price than traditional text books and PDF version that students could carry around easily.

But for years, I’ve been lectured about how lecture is the wrong way to teach classes (trust me, the irony was not lost on my, but seemed to be on the people lecturing me on not lecturing). You should be “the guide on the side” not the “sage on the stage.” And, despite my desire to learn as much as I could about these languages, all seven of them, I soon realized that the student questions and errors would far outstrip my knowledge of the languages. So, I really did become the guide and soon added an assignment where the class would get points for figuring out things I couldn’t. That made us all happy too–they got points and I didn’t have to figure things out.

What was particularly great about the book is that the languages were not your typically Java, C++, C#, C, blah, blah, but included some that really required new ways of thinking. Yes, some students still growl at me about Prolog 5 years later, but once you get it, Prolog is a bunch of fun. Really. Trust me.

And even better, the book didn’t just do “Hello World” in each of the languages. It focused on examples that demonstrated the different features of each language. When we were adding functions to the built in integer class in Ruby in the first week, students knew to hold on tight, it was gonna be an interesting ride. (Especially when you consider most of the class had never had any experience with scripting languages, so just simple Ruby and the REPL was a bit of a shock to the system.)

It was much like a white water rafting trip. I felt battered at the end, they were certainly battered, but if you like that kind of thing, it was a lot of fun. Still I rushed back to the safety (and cruise ship stability) of Sebesta the next year. Turns out, I shouldn’t have rushed for safety quite so fast.

In listening to the students who took the course at their exit interview much later, it was a great experience and the favorite class in the curriculum for a lot of them. They really appreciated the skills they developed in the class and the exposure to so many new ideas. They realized it would be sorta useful in their futures. (It doesn’t hurt that I had some fabulous students in that class either-yes, you Travis and Levi! And yes, you others who don’t live within 10 miles of me.) So I did it again (with a bit more guidance) in 2013 and had planned on doing it with the follow-up book (titled, duh, “Seven More Languages in Seven Weeks”, https://pragprog.com/book/7lang/seven-more-languages-in-seven-weeks). While I may have fooled some students into thinking working with a language that was not supported was a way to appreciate the support languages other than Io received, it was time to try something new.

But instead of teaching this fall, I’ll be doing something else. (Please don’t ask what or why without planning on offering a job interview or adult beverages.) And one of the many things I’ll miss is not having the chance to do seven more languages.

Still, as I was teaching from Seven Languages, I found the experience of others who blogged it) to be very useful. The work of Yevgeniy Brikman at http://www.ybrikman.com/writing/tags/#Seven%20Languages%20in%20Seven%20Weeks was especially useful. And since I still haven’t figured out what something else is going to be, it seemed like a good time for me to work through Seven More Languages on my own and record the experience here. It won’t be as useful an experience without students to ask questions I never would think of, but I do still carry a lot of student questions with me, so we’ll see what kind of trouble I can get into on my own.

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Social Media Overload

So, I’m at Pycon. I figure I should report back, mostly to the GDG Academy people, since Python is a big deal in K12 education.

But there’s the rub. Where do I post? Since GDG Academy is on Google+, that seems obvious. But in the community page? On my page? Probably not, since I don’t “own” those spaces. So my own blog makes sense. Then post to Google+ (both home and the academy?) or send email to the GDG list or Tweet?

Damn. Let’s see how it goes. At least I’m pretty sure I won’t need to post to Ravelry.

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For now

My father died yesterday morning.

And since then, I’ve needed to write something about it. After all, one of my favorite quotes is from Anne Morrow Lindberg:

I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.

But Dad’s been sick for a long time. Since his Parkinson’s came with dementia, he’s been gone in many ways for years. (Parkinson’s is ugly. Thanks Sergey Brin for what you’re doing to stop it.) When I called on Christmas 2009, it was clear the phone confused him too much, so I stopped calling after that. I last visited in June and while there was some time when he knew who I was, just being there exhausted him out as he strained to figure out who I was and how to entertain me.

But now he’s really gone.

For real.

For good.

Forever.

But that little Christian voice is reminding me “For now.”

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Consolidation Time

So, I’ve been keeping blog entries on the Mercer Rescue Walk site (walkertracker.com — a pretty cool site for those who will take any encouragement to walk a few extra steps a day) and at Ravelry (for Sock Madness 2011) and since the walkertracker site has been reset once already and I’ve lost everything, I figure it’s time to get things back where they belong.  I think I can backdate posts, so this might appear after I move the ones over from those other places.  We shall see.

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Where the Good Stuff Went

Steps Walked: 30,294 (23,952 at moderate pace)

Inside the British Museum

Yes, I suppose walking over the Thames (4 times) might be more impressive to a walking audience, but you can only get shots like this (inside the British Museum) on foot.  We did a walking tour of the museum, which was more listening than walking, but, on reflection, it did hit all the tour book sites, including the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles (they don’t like to call them that though!), and much nicer pieces of the Mausoleum than are left in Turkey.

Really.  The Mausoleum is basically just a large lot with a bunch of chunks of marble:

Shot of The Mausoleum Ruins

Bodrum, Turkey

The British Museum has some of the statues that were at the top of the building:

From the British Museum

It does lead to the question of who really should have these antiquities.  When we were in Athens, they made a strong argument that the Elgin Marbles were looted, but in London, there’s a completely different story.  I figure it’s a good thing I don’t have to be the one to make the decision.

Another walking tour around Parliament at night really added steps.  Along with seeing the big fancy lit buildings and Lambeth Palace, we got to wander through alleys still lit with gas lights.  The walking company we used (London Walks: walks.com) was suggested by someone I worked with and was a great way to get us out and somewhere…otherwise, there’s so much to see and do, it’s hard to figure out where to get started.

Pret a Manger is also a good thing.  There’s one right outside the hotel (okay, in London, there’s one outside just about everyplace) and they can always be counted on for good basic affordable food.

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London, Day 1

Steps Walked: 21,170 (15,535 at moderate pace)

Big Ben, London

A Shot From Today's Walk

So, we took a red eye to London and got almost no sleep, but it’s London, so we literally walked ’til we dropped.  It “helped” that the hotel didn’t have a room ready until mid afternoon.  The hotel is wonderfully positioned.  We’re right across from Trafalgar Square and just down the street from Parliament.  We walked there easily, even as tired as we were.

But how else except by walking do you get this close to Big Ben?

Or see signs like this one?

Fortunately, there’s a well-reviewed pub right next to the hotel, so once we woke up again, we didn’t have far to go for dinner.  Surprisingly, there are traces of blue laws there (or maybe it’s just being in an urban setting) so it was closed.  Good thing there was a Thai place even closer that served us before we fell back to sleep.

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Taking Heart

Since I haven’t been to Pennsylvania to see my father since I started working at Info Tech in September and since plane tickets were cheap and snow wasn’t in the forecast, we flew up to Williamsport yesterday.  Dad looks good, all things considered (growing old in not a task for the weak or cowardly).  We had a good visit and two more days here.

But that’s not the point of this post.

We flew out of Gainesville despite all the problems we had there when we came back from Greece.  Please don’t take this as any sort of endorsement of Gainesville Regional Airport because it really is a po-dunk one-horse place.  But maybe because it is a po-dunk one-horse place, the flight crews that come into it are, shall we say, more relaxed at times.  Every time I fly, I remember the flight announcements from an Eastern flight a million years ago, just as Eastern was failing.  The crew knew they were all losing their jobs soon and decided to go out with a smile:  “Okay, if you’ve been living in a cave for the last 20 years, I’m going to show you how to use your seat belt.”

Delta’s Connection isn’t going under quite as soon (probably) so the crew was a bit more circumspect.  Still, the flight attendant included prayer as one of the things to do as you were putting on your oxygen mask and even included it as she acted out how to don the mask.  But more interestingly was the announcement from the pilot that we would be given priority into Hartsfield because we were carrying a heart.

Okay, so there were 53 other hearts on board, but those were in bodies, not in coolers.  And, since I wasn’t sure quite what I’d see in Williamsport, I welcomed the opportunity to think about what having a heart on board meant (beside landing with no circling and getting a gate with no waiting).

Two families were dealing with significant emotions…one at the loss, probably sudden, of a loved and the other at the chance for new life (and you just  know the phrase “Christmas miracle” was bandied around that hospital waiting room more than once yesterday).  Hey, it helped to know there were people who were bigger emotional basket cases than I was.

But then I started to wonder, is it really the case that the loss was sudden?  Who are these heart donors anyway?

The Internet is an amazing place and http://optn.transplant.hrsa.gov/latestData/rptData.asp has all the answers, some of them a bit surprising.

There were 6,011 heart donors last year.  The largest number of them died of stroke (2,471), but a lot (2,340) died of blunt injury (only 942 of these were motor vehicle accidents though).  There were 539 gun shot wound caused deaths.

What I find peculiar is there were 736 who died of cardiovascular causes.  So, the heart didn’t work in one person, let’s try it in someone else?  And there were 243 deaths caused by drug intoxication.  I guess the  drugs caused fatal damage to something other than the heart.

One thing that did come out is that almost all donors died of something sudden.  And getting into Atlanta so quickly was no fluke.  The shelf life of a heart is only about 5 hours.  You have to figure it was still in the guy’s chest when we left for the airport at 4:30 AM, since we didn’t get to Atlanta until a little after 7:00 AM.  What with rush hour traffic, surgical prep, etc. they didn’t have much time.  (That may explain why gate checked baggage took a while to come off the plane.)

And so ends today’s distracting thought.

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Christmas Music, Greek-style

Okay, so the elevators at our hotel in Athens have been playing Christmas music since we arrived Saturday.  This has been peculiar for a number of reasons.

  1. How do they know when to start playing Christmas music?  They don’t have Thanksgiving, so why was it already playing November 28?  Advent hadn’t started, nor had December.
  2. Why is it all in English?  Are there no Greek Christmas songs?
  3. Why is so much of it religious?  This is a fairly international hotel (at least half the entrees are vegetarian, for example and far fewer than half the guests are American), so you’d figure they’d be less likely to play religious music.  But no, lots of it is straight from the hymnal.
  4. And why is so much of it, well, peculiar?  It’s gotten so Charlie’s afraid to get in the elevator.  Of course, I love it.  A new personal favorite is “Never Do a Tango with an Eskimo.”

Yes, “Never do a Tango with an Eskimo.”  A fine piece of music, if you ask me.  (An abomination if you ask anyone else.)  If you haven’t heard it recently, or ever, take a listen at http://www.turnbacktogod.com/never-do-a-tango-with-an-eskimo-song/ .

Besides the joy of the song with a title like that, be sure to notice:

  • Don’t you wish Rankin/Bass (of the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer tv special) had found this instead?  I’ve been meaning to try out animation software though.  Maybe I’ve found my muse.  Appropriate, given my location…
  • The end sure sounds more like a cha cha than a tango to me.  But I like this song, so that tells you about my musical knowledge/taste.
  • The site is for born-again Christians.  Umm, and what do Eskimos have to do with that?  Or maybe it’s the tango?
  • But check the lyrics…there’s nothing about Christmas at all in them.  This should get the creative among you writing new verses.  How about:
When Jesus does a tango, he'd prefer to have a mango
In the fruit bowl that he eats from at the break.
But mangoes in the snow just don't have a chance to grow,
So Eskimos have none for goodness sake.

I guess this means I shouldn’t complain about Christmas music when I get home.  But I still will.

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Lights, Cameras, Athens

One of the unexpected benefits of sabbatical is being able to travel at times other than summer and Christmas vacation. So we really took advantage of this by taking a cruise from Rome to Athens, via Turkey, Cyrus, and Egypt.

We’re in Athens now and have seen all the obligatory sites and taken the obligatory photos. But even though it’s been done before, standing in the shadow of the Parthenon is still pretty durn amazing.The Parthenon

Of course, we also get to see the unusual sites, traveling on our own.  At our local Metro station, there’s an archeological display, since apparently you can’t dig anywhere around here without hitting ruins.

Athens Metro Station

Still, it wouldn’t be travel without some fun and games.  The lights in our room in the Athens Hilton have been a source of amusement for me and annoyance for Charlie.  The closet has a light that comes on automatically when you open the closet and, well, stays on.  I can sleep through just about anything when I’m tired enough (and hiking up the Acropolis makes you tired enough), but Charlie was bound and determined to figure out how to turn out the light.

Athens Hilton

We finally discovered if you take the bulb out of the socket, the light goes off.  Then the next night, we got to learn how the night light in the bathroom was controlled.  (By the switch by the bed of course, you silly Americans!)

One of the strange things about traveling in November is going away when people stay and work. In the academic world, when one professor gets a vacation, they all do, so there’s no going back to an office three weeks ahead of you. Things will be interesting Thursday.

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Today’s geeky thought

So, as part of sabbatical, I’m maybe going to get involved in CMMI and trying to increase the process maturity here.  (Yes, I’m so old I still think of it as the Process Maturity Model.)  Now, what the heck do I really know of process maturity, me a denizen of the ivy covered tower?

And it struck me today.  I’m involved in the AP CS exam, both developing and grading the exam.  And, thanks to the work of a whole lot of people, AP CS really is at level 5.  Maybe not the development of the exam, but oh my, the grading of the free response sure strikes me as a well known, well documented system where measurements are taken and used for improvement.

Cool.  I really might be able to help.

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