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Old 03-23-2019, 08:26 AM   #46
hazel
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To go slightly off-topic for a moment, what exactly is coding? It used to mean translating an algorithm into either machine code or a special programming language like C which could then be translated into machine code automatically. But nowadays whenever there is a news item on television about coding, you see kids pushing coloured shapes around and linking them together. How is that coding? Do they actually see any real code and, if they did, would they be able to relate it to their toys?
 
Old 03-23-2019, 07:46 PM   #47
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hazel View Post
To go slightly off-topic for a moment, what exactly is coding? It used to mean translating an algorithm into either machine code or a special programming language like C which could then be translated into machine code automatically. But nowadays whenever there is a news item on television about coding, you see kids pushing coloured shapes around and linking them together. How is that coding? Do they actually see any real code and, if they did, would they be able to relate it to their toys?
I understand how creating gui objects and associating code and attributes to them is used in programming, but programming and software development in general is more than coding alone.
You have asked a question that makes me think, and I thank you for that! This could get interesting!
 
Old 03-23-2019, 09:18 PM   #48
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Originally Posted by hazel View Post
nowadays whenever there is a news item on television about coding, you see kids pushing coloured shapes around and linking them together. How is that coding?
I think code is better as text or numbers, and this goes back to Recorder in Windows 3.1. You can record a series of actions on the computer and play them again later. Like most people, I was younger in those days, and I don't know if there's a way to make it record anything other than mouse movement and keys, but that's a very brittle form of "lead-through programming." If you don't like that phrase, you could call it "automation" instead.

Programming in its simplest form, is describing a series of steps for the computer to follow. You can "program" a VCR. I don't know what software engineers have to say about that, but it's a valid definition. People are always trying to make the basic definition more complicated (or deny it exists.)

Quote:
Do they actually see any real code and, if they did, would they be able to relate it to their toys?
I wonder about that too. The truth is that the gui toys are closer to a real language than it probably appears to most people.

https://i.imgtc.com/qkoqemo.png

Recorder would also be closer to programming if it weren't as brittle as the cursor has to be in just the right spot every time. But technically, the result is a "program" of a sort. It's a program that moves the mouse and types in keys.

GUI "drag-and-drop programming" like is all the rage for beginners, really just replaces some of the syntax with boxes. It's not very different from Lisp in that regard, (replace the parentheses with boxes) most of these drag-and-drop languages are inspired by Logo and the MIT Media Lab, and Logo itself comes from Lisp.

The biggest problem in my opinion-- is that it abstracts the code to the point that students may not appreciate that it's actually code. That's why I promote the idea of a compromise-- a text-based version of such coding where you have similar conveniences (such as a similar template for each command) but in a text editor.

Go ahead and make the font larger, use different colours, whatever-- it will be less typing, but the student will understand they're really dealing with text, not graphical boxes.

But making a few syntax elements into graphical boxes doesn't mean it's not code. It means that more people might not realise it's code, and IMO that can also be a problem. If you're going to learn to code, you might as well be able to tell you are coding. Adding a "text mode" IDE or building one for existing GUI program files could help a lot.

A different but related idea is frame-based coding: https://www.greenfoot.org/frames/ again, it replaces some of the syntax with boxes, but on a broader level than each line of code. Not sure that's necessary, but I'm in favour of exploring ideas like this. I think you could just write an IDE like this, and add the relevant elements of the language (like Python) to it.

Last edited by freemedia2018; 03-23-2019 at 09:25 PM.
 
Old 03-24-2019, 01:01 AM   #49
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Originally Posted by frankbell View Post
The New York Times Sunday Magazien has a long article exploring this: When computers first came about, a significant--at times a majority--of persons writing code were women.
If I remember my computing history correctly, when computers first came about, the operators were really data entry clerks. Most of them were women, and they punched data and changed tape reels.

As the computers became more flexible, the job of the operator increased in complexity and would eventually involve programming, first by flipping switches and even moving connectors around, and later by writing programs at terminals. The women who held these jobs seemed to have no problems with the learning curve. (My mother did some COBOL programming way back when.)

I started working with computers as a teenager in the early 1980s. A desktop "personal" computer back then was a large, noisy, non-networked box that made the desk literally shake when the hard drive heads were seeking. That is, if it had a hard drive at all. Such machines ran MS-DOS and were mostly used for word processing, accounting and payroll. The user/operator was usually a woman.

Whenever, say, the accounting application had to be upgraded, the vendor would send out a large envelope with 2 or 3 5.25" floppies and typewritten(!) instructions on a poorly photocopied piece of paper. The instructions would read something like "Insert disk 1. Copy all files in the EXE directory into the C:\APP directory."

The operators/users performed these upgrades themselves. There were seldom any issues. It seems it never occurred to anyone that a woman wouldn't be able to do these things.
Quote:
Originally Posted by frankbell View Post
To make a gross over-simplification, when computer came into the homes, parents tended to encourage boys to use them more than they encourage girls.
That seems to be the common narrative in today's media, yes. My experience back in the 1970s and 1980s was quite different.

Here are some anecdotes, which I will afterwards supplement with a snippet of hard data:

I was a young boy when the home computer revolution hit the western world. I remember when my father came back from a trip to Hong Kong (or was it Singapore?) with a box that hooked up to the TV, and we would sit on the carpet and play "Tennis" or "Hockey" (really variations of Pong) until the batteries ran out. It was amazing.

A few years later, and I was busy immersing myself in this new subculture. I did all I could to earn money to buy a computer, software, and later peripherals. It was particularly difficult to save up money for all this, since I also wanted to read every computer-related magazine I could get my hands on.

At school, I'd say more than half the boys were at least somewhat interested in computers, mostly for the games, although being a "nerd" was not cool by any stretch of the imagination.

However, hardly any girls showed the least bit of interest in this new phenomenon, and in fact most were not shy of displaying their utter disdain for what was later to be named "nerd culture". It was a rare occurrence indeed when someone of the fairer sex would join the guys in playing video games or talking about computers. Of course, when they did, they were more than welcome; even back then, "nerd culture" was anything but misogynist. It was just that most of the time, girls chose to engage in other activities.

The parent generation, at least in my culture, didn't really encourage or discourage either girls or boys to spend time playing with computers, which is what they would call it back then.

Some adults were skeptical of these new-fangled things, others were sure this had to be "the future". But most would readily admit that they understood nothing of computers, and they certainly didn't approve of their children spending hours playing Space Invaders, or typing in programs from magazines, or racking up phone bills on BBSes.

In our household, my younger siblings eventually got to use my computers. My brother soon wanted his own, while my sister was content with borrowing one of ours on occasion. She used them quite a lot, and to this day she loves the video games now referred to as "retro". But she certainly was the exception; none of her friends were the least bit interested.

If you want to know if my experience is in any way representative of the era, I suggest you look to computer magazines, comics, movies and other representations of pop culture from that period. Spoiler: You'll find portrayals of socially inept boys with coke bottom glasses behind every computer, while the popular boys usually engaged in sports. And there's no prize for guessing in which environment the girls would be found.

It's such a stereotype because it was mostly true.

I don't think the divide between the sexes we see today in the computer industry can be adequately explained by social norms or pressure from the parent generation, and here come the hard facts I was talking about earlier:
  • In the Nordic countries, where there's as close to complete equality between the sexes as one could possibly have, and just about every woman works full time and is free to choose any career she wants, there are almost no women in IT: Hardly any female programmers, consultants, systems designers, security specialists etc. Notable exception: Quite a few women work in database design.
  • In poorer countries, where one has to choose one's career carefully in order to support one's family, there are quite a lot of women in IT, especially as programmers/computer scientists. Just Google for "women in tech" and "India" or "Malaysia".
Why would we find almost 50% representation of women in Computer Science in what are arguably patriarchal cultures, where the societal norm for women is actually to get married and be a housewife, while in the Nordic countries where women seldom marry before 30, almost all the women flock to nursing, teaching and other decidedly non-STEM fields?

It's such a stereotype that "men are from Mars and women are from Venus". Perhaps it's because it's mostly true?

Last edited by Ser Olmy; 03-24-2019 at 01:14 AM.
 
Old 03-24-2019, 01:47 AM   #50
Ser Olmy
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Originally Posted by hazel View Post
To go slightly off-topic for a moment, what exactly is coding? It used to mean translating an algorithm into either machine code or a special programming language like C which could then be translated into machine code automatically.
I'd say that's a good definition.

Traditionally, programming was about being able to design an algoritm and then formulate it within the constraints of a given programming language. The language constraints exist because the languages (to varying degrees, of course) reflect the underlying limitations of the actual computer hardware: The better you are able to express your algorithm, the more efficient the program will make use of the computer.

Quote:
Originally Posted by hazel View Post
But nowadays whenever there is a news item on television about coding, you see kids pushing coloured shapes around and linking them together. How is that coding? Do they actually see any real code and, if they did, would they be able to relate it to their toys?
I remember Logo back in the 1980s. Great, you could move a triangular shape around the screen and make lines and dots. Sure, you learned how to turn a desired shape into an algorithm consisting of a sequence of instructions, but that's only a very small step on the way to teach programming. I can't remember ever seeing any wanted ads for Logo programmers.

I guess the idea behind the Logo classes was to make children comfortable with playing with a computer. After all, back in the 1980s, parents would be likely to tell their children not to type just anything into the computer, in the event they might break it. That hasn't really been an issue for the last 20-25 years.

I'm all for making computers more accessible, but in cases like the one you mention, there are so many layers of abstraction between the "program" and the actual computer that the "programming" exercise teaches very few (if any) skills that are useful outside of that particular environment. I would certainly hesitate to call that "coding".
 
Old 03-24-2019, 04:54 AM   #51
freemedia2018
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ser Olmy View Post
I guess the idea behind the Logo classes was to make children comfortable with playing with a computer. After all, back in the 1980s, parents would be likely to tell their children not to type just anything into the computer, in the event they might break it. That hasn't really been an issue for the last 20-25 years.

I'm all for making computers more accessible, but in cases like the one you mention, there are so many layers of abstraction between the "program" and the actual computer that the "programming" exercise teaches very few (if any) skills that are useful outside of that particular environment. I would certainly hesitate to call that "coding".
At least we are getting closer (back) to a workable distinction between the two terms.

People are still afraid to break the computer, if they are doing anything unfamiliar. Open a command line and look for a few files, they will be certain that something is going to get broken, or hacked. You used to run a different program with a different diskette, often with its own bootable system included-- try that now, and they will wonder if you erased Windows. Fair enough, it's certainly possible to do so.

Logo was/is part of an entire teaching philosophy called Constructionism that encouraged discovery and self-actualisation. It goes far beyond teaching people to be comfortable with the computer, but that's certainly a plus.

A lot of that philosophy went into the mostly-defunct one-laptop-per-child project, and was more or less the realisation of the Dynabook, a 1960s invention by Alan Kay who could be credited somewhat with inventing the laptop. Kay was directly involved with the OLPC project as well.

MIT continues to push constructionism through things like App Inventor. While I've also lamented that GUI-based "coding" has a level of abstraction that we might consider unfortunate or excessive, that abstraction is very useful for App Inventor, where it has enabled students at a high school level to develop apps for Android that would be far too tedious for most people otherwise-- given that Android itself has so many layers of abstraction that it would seem insurmountable.

I used VB 1.0. It was an interesting idea, but I never cared for VB. Microsoft used it to make it easier to outsource what seemed like their bulk of their development overseas. Schools stopped teaching computers the same way, opting instead for "application training" and we are finally getting back to teaching the steps of coding, but it would be nice if 1. the students knew it was coding, or the methodology reflected it and 2. more teachers understood the subject they were teaching.

As a teaching tool, Logo is doing better than ever before. It's worth asking why, because it has important implications for teaching.
 
Old 03-24-2019, 07:39 AM   #52
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Quote:
Originally Posted by freemedia2018 View Post
People are still afraid to break the computer, if they are doing anything unfamiliar. Open a command line and look for a few files, they will be certain that something is going to get broken, or hacked.
I date my involvement with computers to a single incident which took place on my first day at work at the Building Research Station in Garston. BRE in those days had a single mainframe, an ICL machine with a princely amount of memory for the time (96 kb). You talked to it using a teletype (yes, folks! A real tty). There were two of us starting that day, and the other one had some experience with computers from her University course. I had none. She told me, "You can type whatever you like into a computer. You don't need to be afraid of doing any damage. There's a sort of filter that filters out any input which isn't correct."

To prove it, she typed in "damn and blast!". The computer replied, "Invalid command, damn". She typed "what do you mean, 'invalid command'?". The computer replied "Invalid command, what". From that day on I wasn't afraid any more.

The first code I ever wrote was when a colleague taught me a Basic program for calculating the length of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle. I could see exactly how it worked, and the discovery that I could actually give a computer orders simply blew me away.
 
Old 03-24-2019, 08:09 AM   #53
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Originally Posted by hazel View Post
You don't need to be afraid of doing any damage. There's a sort of filter that filters out any input which isn't correct."

To prove it, she typed in "damn and blast!". The computer replied, "Invalid command, damn". She typed "what do you mean, 'invalid command'?". The computer replied "Invalid command, what". From that day on I wasn't afraid any more.
Everybody needs this experience.

Quote:
The first code I ever wrote was when a colleague taught me a Basic program for calculating the length of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle. I could see exactly how it worked, and the discovery that I could actually give a computer orders simply blew me away.
This one, too. Awesome, isn't it?
 
Old 03-24-2019, 08:41 AM   #54
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Our IT unit once lent me a Sinclair ZX-81 to take home and show my mother. I don't know how many people here remember those. They were made out of metal with a sort of painted tin keyboard. There was no screen; you had to plug them into your TV set. There was no real OS either, just built-in Basic.

I showed her my Pythagoras program and also another one for converting centigrade into fahrenheit and back. She was not impressed.

"I don't see what's so special about that," she said. "It only does exactly what you tell it to."

I said, "Mum, if you understand that, you already know more about computers than three quarters of the people in this country."
 
Old 03-24-2019, 08:50 AM   #55
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hazel View Post
...
"I don't see what's so special about that," she said. "It only does exactly what you tell it to."
I'm still trying to master that myself. What else is it supposed to do, bake you a cake?

Quote:
I said, "Mum, if you understand that, you already know more about computers than three quarters of the people in this country."
If you just understand what Linux is, you'll know more than three quarters of Australia
 
Old 03-24-2019, 09:24 AM   #56
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I breach in rather late but return to the beginning quickly:

I learned programming from a woman. C and C++ to be precise, but also in other domains, I have rather gladly accepted the authority and superiority of female professionals:
  • In ATC, I once gained the impression that they had more sustain, at least in ACC and UACC, meaning where vertical movements are rare and the traffic density can be high with a great diversity of speeds and other specifics to take into account. I do not write multi-tasking, as we had all passed the same tests, but it goes in this direction.
  • I choose female doctors, when I have the choice. For a simple reason: My experience is that everything is better with them than the male doctors I have seen.

Last edited by Michael Uplawski; 03-24-2019 at 02:03 PM. Reason: o
 
Old 03-24-2019, 12:20 PM   #57
ondoho
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ser Olmy View Post
If I remember my computing history correctly, when computers first came about, the operators were really data entry clerks. Most of them were women, and they punched data and changed tape reels.
...
ah, thank you so much for the whole post.
would love to +1 it but alas, it's not possible.

Quote:
I don't think the divide between the sexes we see today in the computer industry can be adequately explained by social norms or pressure from the parent generation, and here come the hard facts I was talking about earlier:
  • In the Nordic countries, where there's as close to complete equality between the sexes as one could possibly have, and just about every woman works full time and is free to choose any career she wants, there are almost no women in IT: Hardly any female programmers, consultants, systems designers, security specialists etc. Notable exception: Quite a few women work in database design.
  • In poorer countries, where one has to choose one's career carefully in order to support one's family, there are quite a lot of women in IT, especially as programmers/computer scientists. Just Google for "women in tech" and "India" or "Malaysia".

Why would we find almost 50% representation of women in Computer Science in what are arguably patriarchal cultures, where the societal norm for women is actually to get married and be a housewife, while in the Nordic countries where women seldom marry before 30, almost all the women flock to nursing, teaching and other decidedly non-STEM fields?
living in one of said nordic countries (i suppose you meant europe), i can say that while rights are close to equal, men and women are not.
i still find it hard to wrap my head around it soemtimes, but that's how it is.

i do however believe that nowadays it isn't a big deal anymore if someone chooses to venture into what is the other gender's domain.

that's what we need to support (support, not push).
i guess these things will change gradually.
it gives me great hope for the future.
 
  


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