6 July 2006

Everyone (but me, of course) slept in past breakfast in the Hall this morning. Though it's been a quieter week than last week, they're getting tired out.

I had only one challenge for the kids, but Katie asked for two because I had an extra meeting after office hours today. Then I came up with two, but Jenny complained that she couldn't do any of them, so I came up with three, one for each of them.

For Matt, "Where was penicillin turned into a medicine?"

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For Katie, "Find a canal lock and take a picture of it with one of you at one of the levers."

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For Jenny, "Go to the Porter's Lodge and get a replacement light bulb for my bedroom."

In CS1316, we moved from linked lists of music to those of pictures, but they're already grokking it. "I don't know," asked Katie (the student, not the daughter). "It seems to me like getNext() and setNext() should be somewhere else, not in the picture linked list or music linked list classes themselves..." YES! I told her she was right on, and that we'd be getting there, but it was still very cool she saw where it was going.

In CompFreak, it was text analysis day. I don't know about them, but I enjoyed it. When I highlighted patterns in the text as red on a black background, everyone jumped a bit – it was a striking visualization. They got into regular expressions more than I expected, and everyone seemed to wake up as we started exploring similarities and differences between Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare (e.g., Bacon talks a lot more about "God" and uses even more similes/metaphors than Shakespear, and surprisingly, refers to "the stars" as much as Shakespeare).

After office hours, I had an hour meeting with Eric Roberts from Stanford. He's living at Magdalen College for the summer with his wife, a poet. He's in the Provost's office at Stanford, and is co-chair of the ACM Education Board, which I've just been appointed to.

It was a fascinating discussion. One of the themes of our discussion was that Eric doesn't think that my goal of getting more non-majors into CS courses is as important as getting more CS majors. His argument is in terms of national competitiveness. I'm probably not going to do it justice, but I'll try to get it right. We need great programmers to stay competitive and produce better software. Consider that the ratio of good to mediocre programmers is 100:1 – it's quite literally true (in several studies) that the best programmers are as good as ONE HUNDRED mediocre programmers. Eric believes that our goal ought to be to identify (out of non-majors and in high schools) the best potential programmers and train them intensely – that's the best thing for our economy and our field.

My argument in response is that that IS important, but we may be more successful at improving national productivity and competitiveness by teaching everyone to program. Virtually none of them will be virtuoso's, but all will develop schools that will allow them to improve their own productivity and will allow them to innovate and develop new computing applications for their fields, even if those applications aren't as powerful and scalable as that produced by software professionals. It's a distributed vs. centralized argument – we might be able to raise the overall productivity more by improving the masses, rather than focusing on the few. Eric listened politely to my argument, but he didn't buy it – it is true that that 100:1 empirical factor is in his favor. My argument involves training thousands of those 1's, while he only has to find tens of those 100's to have more of an impact than me.

But I did point out that there's an additional reason to make programming ubiquitous: It's the world's most amazing paintset. The computer is the most creative device ever imagined, and it's in the interests of human potential and creativity to enable more people to express themselves using this tool. Eric agreed, but stuck to his guns that the economic imperative is more important.

After my meeting with Eric, I caught up with the kids to go get tickets to "Pirates II." Unfortunately, they were already all sold out!–at both the film theaters near us! Katie and Jenny both started crying – they wanted to see it today so badly. Finally, they calmed down and agreed that we should go Saturday night after biking.

We went home and hung out, then went to dinner with the students. (Most of the students are already off on their weekend adventures.) We played soccer for about a half hour until enough college students showed up to play that we felt that we should share the field. We've been hanging out tonight – Jenny reading her "Horrible Henry" (a popular British children's series – she's on her fourth book and just started Monday!), Katie playing "Zoo Tycoon" and "Animal Cross," and Matthew doing everything all at once (IM, role play, email, and Flash movies). And me, I FINALLY finished my IRB, and am looking forward to getting back to my data structures book writing.

Tomorrow: Legoland!