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Wed, 11 Jan 2006
Why we took the kids off of Python

[ Julie posted briefly about this -- here's my side of the story ]

Shortly after Mind Camp in November, the girls were really getting interested in doing some more Python stuff (their interest had tailed off a bit, and our crazy summer meant that we didn't get to spend as much time on this as I wanted). The two older girls both wanted their shot at the computer, which made it harder for them to get a long session in front of the machine. Also, the Thinkpad X20 that they had been using developed some odd behavior where it would shut down instead of going to sleep, which meant that the kids were losing their work semi frequently, which was frustrating.

Up to this point, they had been working by clicking a Windows shortcut that opened Python in a DOS box. From there, they could type in the commands to start up turtle graphics and then just enter their commands at the interpreter prompt. The only computer "literacy" required was turning on the power, logging in, clicking a shortcut, and learning to deal with windows being selected or not. Now, they were going to have to learn about files.

The new regimen involved another Windows shortcut to pop up Notepad. The girls then had to learn to save a file, switch windows (on purpose, not by accident) to the Python interpreter window, reload the module, and look at the Tk output window. I found myself barraged by questions that had nothing to do with turtle geometry or programming. All the questions were about the environment -- forgetting to save a file, getting windows out of focus or behind each other, forgetting to reload the module, etc. I suppose they were learning computer "literacy", but it really reminded me as to how much stuff you need to know in order to do some simple programming. In a way, it was easier when I was doing AppleSoft Basic on the Apple II -- no separate editor, no windows to lose or have out of focus.

At Mind Camp, Todd Blanchard brought by a copy of "Squeak: Learn Programming with Robots", and the girls got excited by paging through it. It looked pretty good, and Squeak/Smalltalk certainly has the programming constructs that I want my kids to be exposed to straight off (at least if they are going to be programmers). Also, one of the original motivations for Smalltalk was for allowing kids to do programming and simulations, and that heritage seems to have carried through into the Squeak community. For a great/depressing look at some of the learning applications, you can check out this video from ETech 2003.

Some caveats. Using the "Robots" book involves using a customized Squeak image that has been tailored for educational purposes. Some might consider that "cheating", but I'm looking for the best environment for my kids to learn about essential computing concepts, so I don't really care if it's "cheating" or not. Also, using Squeak doesn't completely get you out of the file problem because each girl still needs her own image to avoid stomping on her sister's work. But the overhead is much lower. Michaela, who is 5, came to me and told me about all the stuff that she did in Squeak - creating multiple robots via direct manipulation and then issuing a stream of Smalltalk commands - that she was able to figure out on her own (with a little help from the book).

[22:41] | [education] | # | TB | F | G | 14 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Forgot my blogoversary again

This is the second year in a row that I forgot my blogoversary. I only remembered because I was trying to remember something that wrote about a while back. This means I actually looked at the sidebar of the blog and saw the year archives running back to 2003. So that's three full years of writing a lot of posts (this one is number 1456!).

So... happy blogoversary to me, a few days late.

[22:36] | [computers/internet/weblogs] | # | TB | F | G | 2 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
The Stevenote - it didn't work

I escaped from the Stevenote unaltered by the Reality Distortion Field. At no time did I reach for my wallet.

The software announcements were completely unsurprising. Last year I would have been excited about iPhoto improvements. This year, due to Aperture and Lightroom, it's a little harder to get excited. I did like the stuff about photocasting. It's nice to see the use of RSS to deliver pictures, although anybody using Flickr or any other such site will yawn. The more interesting thing is the way that an iPhoto that subscribes to the photocast can use the photos just like any other photo. Now that's microcontent for you.

If I were interested in podcasting, then the new features in Garageband sound really attractive. The only problem is that I barely have enough time to crank out blog posts these days, much less the additional work to do a good podcast. And somehow it seems to me that a lame podcast is much worse than a lame blog post.

Ok, on to the hardware stuff.

I think that the crossgrade stuff for the Pro apps is completely reasonable except for Aperture, which has only been out a month. It's hard to see this as anything but sticking it to your early adopters.

The iMac announcement was a big surprise -- almost all the rumor sites got this wrong, and from the point of view of keeping Apple in cash, this is probably a good decision. I almost always ignore iMac announcements, because I'm mostly interested in the "Pro" series machines.

So last week I wrote a post about what I was looking for in an Intel Powerbook, although at the time I wrote it, I firmly believed that Apple would not announce a Powerbook today. How did Apple do against my list?

  • Dual Core CPU - Check. Except that the top clock for the MacBook is lower than the top for the iMac. Isn't this supposed to be a Pro machine? If you look at the Core Duo lineup, the MacBook models use the Core Duo T2300 and T2400 which are at the knee of the pricing curve. There are two clock speeds above these two models, but the price goes up significantly. I'm a little disappointed to not have the option to buy the fastest possible CPU.
  • Big Fast Disks - Uhh. 100G 5400 RPM standard? Not really what I had in mind, although I had summer of 2006 in mind, and you can't get some of the drives that I was thinking of just yet. Still, you could have at least given us the 7200rpm disk standard.
  • User service able hard disk - No way. The case is basically the 15" Powerbook case (more on this below), and that case is hardly what I'd call user serviceable.
  • Higher end GPU - Radeon Mobility X1600 - I'm not sure about this, but I think the Radeon Mobility x800 is the top of the line (but probably also sucks battery). At least it can drive a 30" display
  • Slimmer and lighter - slimmer, slightly. Lighter, nope - the same. The Lenovo T60 is 4.8lbs.
  • More RAM - nope. The MacBook only takes 2G
  • At least 5 hours of battery - ?? - This is looking scary. No battery life time appears in any Apple document that I could find. Not only that, the MacBook is using a slightly larger battery.
  • Announcement of x86 virtualization software - nope - The datasheets for Core Duo say that the Intel Virtualization Technology is in there. It's still early, so no biggie
  • Announcement of number of apps going Universal - no numbers were given, so we're still early here too. VersionTracker is now tracking universal binaries on a separate page
  • At least 1 firewire port - yep, but it's FW400.

Kind of disappointing. There is huge pent up demand for a reasonably performing notebook, and the MacBook Pro is certainly that. It looks like Apple did the most expedient thing that it could, which is to take an Intel 945PM chipset and stick it into a PowerBook case, and add a small number bells and whistles (like the built in iSight and remote control). That explains the ExpressCard slot, and the FW400. If I didn't have to measure the MacBook Pro against something like the Lenovo T60 (see preview), which has 5 hours of battery life with a 2.16GHz Core Duo T2600 in a 4.8lb package, I might be happy. But this is hardly the top to bottom revamp of the pro notebook line that you'd expect for the Intel transition. And let's not even discuss the name.

There are a host of little details which swing either way. I'm happy about ExpressCard, because it's going to be better in the long term, and my next machine (especially if I'm paying) needs to last a bunch of years. I'm ambivalent about the FW400 choice -- reality is that most peripherals are probably FW400, and the amount of engineering needed to get FW800 working was probably more than could be safely done in time for a MacWorld launch. There's no modem, but I haven't used one of those the entire time I've had my Powerbook. If I really needed something like that, I'd be looking for EVDO, anyway. Odd choice to change the display resolution of the LCD panel -- was it just to get space for the iSight? There's no dual layer DVD burner, which is a regression from the Powerbook lineup.

There's no 12" or 17" - so this isn't the full pro notebook lineup, which leads me to believe that this is a transitional product that helps satisfy pent up demand on a high margin product. It's going to be interesting to see how the rest of the lineup shapes up. I'd really like to get something better, and while the 15" MacBook Pro is a lot better than what I have now, it didn't hit the wishlist, which means that I'll have to be content to wait a few more months. In the meantime, I'll be consoling myself with the thought that others will be blazing the way on the transition trail, and hoping that a 15" Merom based MacBook Pro is going to come earlier than Christmas.

Despite all that, I am pleased that the transition has begun, and that Apple thinks they can do it all in a year, well ahead of schedule.

[00:21] | [computers/operating_systems/macosx] | # | TB | F | G | 12 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

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