[Edu-sig] Re: "Killer Apps" vs. CP4E

Kirby Urner pdx4d@teleport.com
Fri, 03 Mar 2000 15:24:54 -0800

>(fast interactive rendering via DirectX or OpenGL, high-quality
>raytracing for output, and a built-in Python interpreter...  but
>not exactly free, of course...)


Re news of some of the latest projects --

We already know that Python is a powerful and capable
language.  So is C++, so is Java -- a host of others
(e.g. the LISP varieties -- some claim Scheme is no 
longer a LISP (an irrelevant aside, I know)).

So I have no doubt that many talented and accomplished
programmers are going to use Python and JPython to 
create whiz bang gee whiz applications that help 
students learn a variety of subjects.

But this is nothing new.  We already have an embarrassment
of useful software, a lot of which is having a hard time
finding its way into the standard curriculum -- simulations, 
dynamic geometry programs and so on, all with their advantages 
and disadvantages.

The question in my mind is how to open up the world of
programming to more people.  I'm especially interested
in doing this in a non-CS context (my students haven't
necessarily committed to following any CS curriculum).

To this end, even the best application/simulation/killer 
app ever conceived, for teaching geometry or physics or 
whatever, might be completely irrelevant from the standpoint 
of opening up the world of programming to a wider audience 
-- because the code is hard, difficult to comprehend
(doesn't mean inelegant, just means "done by a pro" (or 
by a hacker -- sometimes it's a very fine line...)).

In sum, when it comes to "proving Python can drive 
sophisticated apps with GUIs, real time graphical feedback", 
I have no doubts.  I know that's true.  But my initial 
reaction is "so what?".  What does this have to do with 
CP4E?  Just being a devil's advocate (a role I'm probably 
all too accustomed to playing).

My mentioning of Struck in this context (earlier post) 
was in line with the goal of giving students deeper insights 
into coded namespaces.  Gerald de Jong, founder of 
beautifulcode.nl, specifically wrote Struck in a way he 
hoped demonstrated elegant _simple_ Java code (he trains
people in Java for a living, has flown to Tokyo and places
to show how it's done -- not unlike Bruce Eckel in this 

The amazing thing about Struck isn't how much goes on "under
the hood", but how LITTLE.  And yet you get a lot of screen 
activity, the ability to do animations -- from a very _tiny_ 
reiterative vector processor.

I, for one, am not in on this listserv because I'm trolling 
for potential collaborators on some "killer app". That might 
happen, inadventently, but my focus is finding ways to open 
up the world of programming to more students.

To this end, I think Python is already adequate as is (as 
I've been saying from the beginning), and no additional apps 
are essential to furthering these goals.  I'm sure the next 
IDLE will be even better, and eagerly await its debut, but 
0.5 is certainly usable as is.  No need to sit around 
twiddling my thumbs waiting for Guido to provide: he's 
already made a tremendous contribution, is not himself a 
bottle neck of any kind.

Seems to me that most of the relevant barriers to CP4E are 
political and administrative.  The technology is not the 
problem.  The problem is a creaky, obsolete, boring, 
unimaginative curricula.  

What I'm doing is setting some new standards (yes, using 
Python as a part of the mix), so that I can go out to world 
and say "look, any of you other curriculum writers _could_ 
be doing stuff more like this -- don't you think this 
makes a lot of sense, compared to what's run-of-the mill