[Edu-sig] Reality checks at OSU...

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Fri Nov 21 20:49:50 CET 2008

So I got a lot of reality checks visiting OSU in Corvallis yesterday,
a campus I've visited in other contexts, but this was my first time to
more central campus buildings that I can recall, parked off Jefferson
near Monroe, went to special collections in Valley Library for a visit
to the Doug Strain reading room (more info in blogs).

The big flatscreen in the library shows study carrels (floor plan,
like CubeSpace), and which have computers in use, vs. which are
sitting idle, with icons by operating system:  Windows, OSX,
OSX-music, OSX-video, i.e three flavors of Apple, one of Microsoft
(Windows icon).

Zero Penguins.

Gotta bring those in on laptops, use 'em with wifi, which is what I'd
planned for (lugged my Dell in Razz (my Subaru)).

The icon for your study carrel turns red or pinkish if you've stayed
over two hours.  I couldn't tell if this was a badge of honor, shame
or neutral, as in "I study really hard" vs "I hog more than my share"
vs "who the hell knows what it means" (more my attitude).

Of course there's no way to tell, from the flatscreen, which of these
cubes was running any Python.  That'd be kind of invasive (of
privacy), though sometimes a sysop might poll processes for anonymous
summarizing i.e. OSU would be able to register upticks in Python usage
if it wanted, without naming names, kind of like O'Reilly does around
book titles (i.e. what's hot and what's not) etc.

I liked how these students looked really interested in learning stuff,
and very believably that's what they were there for (to actually study
-- not everyone in a toga, no evidence of kegs (this was the library,
after all)).

My daughter Tara (freshman in high school) was impressed, and with
more than just the library.  She got to hold a Nobel prize even, one
of two in the exhibit chamber.

In the MVC design I'm working on, significant work gets performed by
Python processes with no obligation to update a browser directly, i.e.
the visualization process is on a whole different machine potentially,
and works against SQL tables directly.  A good analogy might be a
closed source archive:  you have access to the reference desk (as a
browser) but the nuts and bolts application, controlled by way of a
web interface, isn't directly talking to any web framework, even if
Django's a front end.  To "control" is to submit to a jobs queue in
SQL, not to chat directly with aliens (other Pythons).

This way of implementing MVC means the core controller maintainers
don't need to know jack about AJAX or talking to web clients.  Just
make sure all the relevant info gets out there in MySQL or what have
you (sqlite for prototyping maybe), and let geeks doing visualizers
work independently, in other cities even, no sharing of source code
necessary, just table schemas.

I'm not coding solo in this picture, have svn credentials is all.

There's possibly an open source angle in that a lot of code gets
wasted making up for the fact that your average XHTML isn't designed
to be searched (as a namespace, it inherits a lot of visualization
concerns as attributes), whereas some flavors of XML are designed
entirely around making different ontologies more accessible.

So a stripped down version of the parser could be released that just
assumes a customized, search-friendly playground, where people post
their political views, other thoughts, with the very deliberate intent
to guide scoring and polling at the XML level.  These are politicians
or pundits, opinion shapers, not shy about expressing themselves.

In other news, Pycon is suggesting Steve Holden and I rent a blimp to
flash ads about a Flying Circus event:  him and me doing an
experimental prototype curriculum of tomorrow as a twosome, me the
futurist Portlander, hot off the jet, and he the focused interlocutor,
keeping me on task and on target, in terms of preaching relevantly to
the actually present choir.

Given the somewhat mathy content of the proposal (wanna do some RSA,
fractals in PIL, vectors in VPython), the idea of the blimp was to
attract local high school teachers from around Chicago, maybe shifting
to an evening time slot on the weekend so they might come after work
(a generous concession).

My response has been to defend the content as private sector relevant
even though it's in the guise of a futuristic high school curriculum
(drawing from personal experience actually teaching this content to
high school aged students here in Portland, as chronicled in this very
edu-sig archive).

The goal is to impart skills around core Python plus some important
libraries and strategies for using 'em (same as most tutorials, so not
so unusual, no blimp need apply (sounds expensive!)).

Plus this duo workshop leader format might demonstrate a good way for
project leaders in all walks of life to manage teams of peer coders
i.e. set up some semi-Socratic Bob asking Alice or Alice asking Bob,
with Eve the lurking learner, gradually picking up clues as to where
the team has been, is headed, starting to more ask better questions as
the picture becomes clear (unlike in cryptography, Eve is on our side
in this picture, just might not speak our language yet, i.e. Python).


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