January 31, 2006

From the ACM's Computers in Entertainment

A rather interesting section on gaming, with many resonances with educational applications for gaming (v4i1 Jan 2006):

January 30, 2006

Alternate reality games

Speaking of alternate reality games, sf/fantasy novelist & game writer Sean Stewart has this to say:

Right now, this art form is more exciting than novels. If I had to choose, I’d do this...

I think that every means of communication carries within itself the potential for a form of art. Once the printing press was built, novels were going to happen. It took the novel a little while to figure out exactly what it was going to be, but once the press was there, something was going to occur. Once motion picture cameras were around, the movies—in some format or another—were going to happen.

I modestly or immodestly think that we got some things fundamentally right about the way the web and the internet want to tell stories in a way that not everyone had gotten quite when we lucked into it. What people do on the web is they look for things and they gossip. We found a way of storytelling that has a lot to do with looking for things and gossiping about them.

Giving a sense of where "kids today" will be getting their entertainment and information in the future is always a useful way to start thinking about how we will have to meet them there. Read the whole interview, it's quite provocative. via BoingBoing

January 27, 2006

Friday Fun: LabLit

Perfect for a Friday, I get to combine my usual focus on science & technology with my occasional focus on science fiction! Check out the site LabLit: The culture of science in fact & fiction for a bunch of fun and stimulating feature articles and resources. Or, as they put it, stuff about:

a small but growing genre of fiction in which central scientific characters, activities and themes are portrayed in a realistic manner, in a realistic (as opposed to futuristic or speculative) world. Lab lit, furthermore, encompasses all stories in which scientist characters are shown carrying out their scientific endeavors in a way that is integral to the plot. (I am always happy to see realistic minor scientist characters in literature of other genres, but I would not classify these books as 'lab lit' unless science was mostly the point of the novel. The boundaries are not always cut and dry, however.)

Lab lit is not synonymous with science fiction, although of course there can some overlap. Science fiction is removed from reality by definition and will have an element of fantasy – it will be set in the future, say, or in an alternative universe. No matter how realistically crafted these fantasy scientists and their world are, or how closely they parallel actual science culture, it will not be a scene that you and I could easily encounter were we to walk into a research institute, field station or any other place where scientists are doing what they do. Science fiction has and will continue to give us true-to-life protrayals of scientists in many cases, but the genre itself is a different beast.
While they're a bit coy about the whole sf thing, quite a few of the novels, films and other works they cite as just "novels" are, in fact, science fiction. They should just come clean and admit that sf about scientists doing science is really LabLit too, even if it's in the future. In any case, there's lots of very interesting things to check out on their site.

Some examples of the features they have:
A few pointers? First of all, it would be nice if the article blurbs on the front page actually matched the titles of the articles inside. Also, they should probably design their front page to be a bit less cluttered, only showing the most recent couple of articles in each category and making it a bit clearer how to get to the older items in that category.via Locusmag.

Jane on teaching

Jane has posted what seems to be the last in her series on teaching various levels of CS courses:

January 25, 2006

Recently, at the IEEE

Recent journal articles of interest:

More Science Blogs

Via BoingBoing, it seems that Seed magazine is hosting a bunch of science-related blogs:

A nice variety of interesting topics, many (all?) are cases of Seed hosting a previously active blog. Each blog has its own feed, or you can subscribe to a single feed combining all the blogs.

January 19, 2006

FreePint article on Engineering Information

Roddy McLeod has an article on Engineering: the changing information landscape in the most recent FreePint. Roddy provides a solid summary of the current situation and some speculation about where we are headed. Recommended.

January 18, 2006

Around the blogosphere

  • The latest Tangled Bank carnival on science blogging. Not forgetting our very own Carnival of the inforsciences, of course.
  • Confessions of a Teenage Science Illiterate from the SciAm blog is pretty interesting. I like this quote: "Perhaps if more people understood just some of such basic principles of science, we would be ready to make informed decisions about the medical potential of stem cells, global warming and other vast science-based conundrums facing ... the world today. At the very least, we should educate our children to understand them, since they will have to deal with the consequences of the decisions that are made today in an apparent fog of ignorance." Amen.
  • Blogging about teaching: The miniseries by Jane. The first episode is up, and it's about The Intro Courses. Jane has some great ideas about teaching intro programming courses. As I recall my own first programming (Fortran, natch) course back around 1982, it's what really got me interested in CS. It was great fun, I even did the bonus assignment on matrix multiplication. I'm pretty sure there weren't any blowhards in the class. It was such early days for teaching programming to anybody, that I think we were all pretty much at the same level.
  • The Wrong Side of History, via InsideHigherEd, is an interesting commentary on women in science and how many male faculty members are still in denial.
  • Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 'cause, you know, you just can't make the point enough. And because it demonstrates the strenghts of the Wikipedia.
  • Generation Disengaged from ACRLog. Are students less intellectually engaged in their educations today than in the past. We always seem to assume "Kids Today" are somehow fundamentally inferior in commitment that we were back in the good old days. Personally, I think we're all just remembering our own undergrad education with rose-coloured glasses. That, and people who become profs or librarians might also have been a little keener than average.
  • Via E3, a new blog Physics Information Fluency by Pat Viele.

January 13, 2006

Library 2.0

If you're wondering what it's all about (and the whole L2 business hasn't made as much of a splash in the academic library world as in public libraries), Walt Crawford has a special issue of C&I to explain it all.

The core concept? To me it seems that the L2 advocates are saying the we should pay more attention to what our patrons really want from us, not just what we think they should want or what we've always given them in the past. The core assumption seems to me to be that our patrons needs and expectations are changing faster than we're adjusting to serve them. Is this the case? Probably yes, but at the same time the speed with which our patrons are changing (and expecting us to change) isn't uniform. Yes, even the millennials aren't uniformly permaconnected or addicted to googlization. Can we figure out a way to change faster while still serving a wide range of expectations? Probably. Is it easy? No. It's always dangerous to assume that all of our patrons want the same thing from us all the time.

Lately I've been thinking of a kind of taxonomy of our community. Working from the core assumption that the library has something valuable to offer to our students, I see our community broken down in the following way:

  1. People that know about and use our resources. This is obviously the group we tend to focus our energies on. We see and interact with them so when we are contemplating change, we can often fall into the trap of focussing too much of our energy on them.
  2. People that would use our resources but don't know about them. At academic libraries, this is a hugely important group. We know we can help them and we know that once they see what we have to offer they will be happy to take advantage of our resources. This group basically includes all first year students. The challenge? How to reach them, how to breakthrough the fog of other distractions and get the message to them. Outreach to this group is obviously a key component of most IL programs. Changing to engage these students is a difficult but very important challenge, one that I'm sure needs to embrace a lot of the technology that L2 advocates embrace, such as social software, but also other way to draw them into our physical space and touch them that way.
  3. People that know about our resources but don't use them. The Googlers. They know about the library, know what we have, but either can't be bothered or are dismissive of our resources. These people often turn up at the reference desk at the last minute, frustrated and with chip on their shoulders. Often these students are the bane of their prof's existences as well. Their preconceived notions about the library make it hard for us to convince them that we have something to offer. Usually easy to spot at the back of the room in IL sessions. Very gratifying to be able to bring one into the fold. A difficult group for us to come to grips with when we contemplate change, and in some ways the focus of L2 discussions. We have to find a way to convince them that we have something to offer.
  4. People that don't know about our resources and wouldn't use them even if they did. Arggh. The toughest group of all to reach. Again, many first year students fall into this catagory. We always hope that we can somehow reach every student at the institution at some point, but I think that there's a significant portion that we really do miss. I certainly know that there are significant numbers who almost make it through without coming to the library. Rarely does a term go by when I don't see a 4th year student coming to the desk without a library card, asking how to find a reserve book. I'm always tempted to say, "Almost made it through, didn't ya!" Changing, finding a way to reach everybody, finding a way to engage and enlighted them, finding a way to turn these #4s into #3s, is a difficult challenge, one that will certainly involve a lot of new strategies.

Hmmm. This post went on a lot longer than I thought it would. In any case, change is a constant. I think it's a lot less stressful to embrace it than to resist it, or a least to figure out what parts of the change process you can embrace without going crazy. I like to think my modest (and still not finished) My Job in 10 Years series is my way of figuring out what it'll be like working in L2 (or by then, L4 or L5).

January 11, 2006

ELD Scholarly Communication Committee

Via ELDnet-l, a website for the above mentioned committee. The Committee also has a Scholarly Communication in Engineering blog which doesn't have much yet but will certainly be worth watching. Welcome!

January 6, 2006

Friday Follies: Albert Einstein Madlib

OK, so the family is doing Madlibs after supper last night and one of the ones that comes up is titled Albert Einstein. The bold terms are the ones we filled in:

Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany, in 1879, the son of Pee Wee Herman and Janet Jackson. In 1902 he had a job as assistant lampshade in the Swiss patent office and attended the University of Zurich. There he began studying atoms, molecules, and poodles. He developed his famous theory of gory relativity, which expanded the phenomena of sub-atomic pogo sticks and minty fresh magnetism. In 1921, he won the Nobel Prize for jalapeno peppers and was director of theoretical physics at the Kaiser Wilhelm SUV in Berlin. In 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor of Mars, Eistein came to America to take a post at Princeton Institute for tooth picks, where his theories helped American devise the first atomic bar stool. There is no doubt about it: Einstein was one of the most brilliant cooks of our time.

Another funny physics madlib.

January 5, 2006


Joel Spolsky has a very thought provoking article on his Blog, Joel on Software. It's basically about what the main teaching language of CS programs should be, C or Java:

Therein lies the debate. Years of whinging by lazy CS undergrads like me, combined with complaints from industry about how few CS majors are graduating from American universities, have taken a toll, and in the last decade a large number of otherwise perfectly good schools have gone 100% Java. It's hip, the recruiters who use "grep" to evaluate resumes seem to like it, and, best of all, there's nothing hard enough about Java to really weed out the programmers without the part of the brain that does pointers or recursion, so the drop-out rates are lower, and the computer science departments have more students, and bigger budgets, and all is well.

As you can see, he takes no prisoners. His idea is an interesting one, central to the whole idea of what a CS education (or any education, for that matter) should be about: getting a job or learning how to think. Spolsky definately comes down on the learning how to think side, drop out ratio and enrollment numbers be damned.

As we can all imagine, there's been plenty of buzz about this on the compsciblogosphere and that's a very good thing. Personally, I think CS programs have to find a balance. Yes, hard topics need to be covered and those not cut out for the field need to be gently culled, but students also need to get some marketable skills to get them that all-important first job. Another thing that needs to be pointed out is that there is really no longer one kind of "computer science," but really a whole range of paths including systems, software engineering, databases, communications, applications areas and a whole lot more. It's probably no longer such a good idea to think of CS and CS education as a monolith.

I plan on forwarding the article to the members of my comp sci faculty, hoping they will get something out of the debate. One other essay on Spolky's very interesting site is his definition of a good developer. A detailed description of how some people are just way better at creating software than other people and how is really worth getting those people to work for you.

As for your truly, when I took my CS degree, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Pascal was the main teaching language with C only just starting to gain popularity. Fortran (the first language I learned) still had a lot of adherents rather than its current status as a niche language. I did learn C, but as part of an elective rather than a compulsory part of the program. I also learned COBOL. via Topix CS.