On human achievement

This week, of course, is the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.   I've been watching a number of the documentaries that have appeared on cable all week long.   I've found them incredibly fascinating --- I've long been fascinated with the space race, for a variety of reasons.    But my thoughts keep turning to a memory from some years ago.

Somehow, since I became a "grownup", I manage to find my way to Washington, DC, every few years or so --- sometimes on vacation, sometimes on business, sometimes a bit of both.   My memory is from one of those early trips.

I found myself on the Mall with a day (or at least an afternoon) free for whatever I might choose to do.   As many tourists are want to do, I wandered over to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum and spent a couple hours there.   My highlight was viewing the Apollo capsule on display there.   It amazes me that three people could live in a space so small for that long, while achieving the amazing feat of making it to the moon and back safely, with less computational power than I carry around in my pocket today.   It was clearly a technological achievement --- possibly one of the greatest achievements of humanity.

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SIGCSE 2019: public accountability

What, nine months since my last blog entry?   Well ... read the previous entry to read why.

Seriously, though .... my annual trip to the SIGCSE 2019 Symposium just concluded.   And I'm going to head back to the office on Monday, right into the middle of a campus-wide fight (sigh), find the pile of grading that I need to work on, and forget about all the interesting ideas I encountered.  The pile of paperwork I collected will end up in a corner of the office, only to be encountered a year from now when I clean the office and have long since lost the opportunity to put some of what I learned into practice.

Will that happen again?   Yeah, probably.   But maybe I can do something to help with that.

So, in what follows, I'm going to capture the ideas I ran across, mostly from the little notebook I picked up in the exhibit hall (thank you, SIGCSE 2020 organizers), and what I'd like to do about them.   Maybe publicly speaking the words into existence will make it more likely that something will actually happen with them.

If you like, feel free to ask me about these ideas in the coming months, to hold me accountable.   Or, if CS education topics aren't your speed, go ahead and move on to the next item in your news feed.

Last chance to bail out ...

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  • Current Mood
    pensive pensive

Words matter. Positive words matter more.

I'm sitting home watching this epic Wimbledon semi-final that simply won't end.   (Currently 24-24 in the 5th set.)   You know what I'm noticing the most?   The chair umpire, who quiets the enthusiastic crowd down by saying "Thank you", rather than something more directly aggressive like "Quiet, please".   

It's probably something distinctly British.   But it's also an interesting pattern of using a positive statement instead of a negative one to achieve a purpose.   

I've read this before in a number of contexts.   I remember knowing about this even in college, when I was tasked to write a statement about email etiquette for a group in which I was a member, and took pains to write statements positively rather than negatively.   But I've been reminded of this more lately.

  • In the video of The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch recounts the story of talking with one of his advisors, who said to him "It's a shame that people perceive you as arrogant; it's going to hurt your ability to achieve your goals."   Pausch's remark after-the-fact: "Wow, what a nice way to tell someone that they're a jerk!".
  • Staying with The Last Lecture: in the book, Pausch recounts a story that he learned from his time working for Disney.   If you ask a cast member at Disney what time the park closes, they'll tell you that "the park is open until 9pm" (or whenever).   Note the switch: it's not that the park closes at 9pm, it's that the park is open until 9pm.
  • I saw an article come across my newsfeed awhile ago that points out that people who are perpetually apologizing can, instead, say "thank you", and achieve a better purpose.

Can politeness and courtesy and positive affirmation achieve more than criticism?


Thanos (Still) Demands My Silence

I admire young people on social media.

Yes, young people are ... um, young.   Sure, they post freely, without much self-censorship.   They post ideas that aren't well-formed.   They lack experience to understand many of the implications of the ideas they post.

They live their lives out loud.

But you know what happens as a result?   They learn.   People respond to their ideas and point out the flaws in their arguments.   And then the original posters point out the flaws in the counterarguments.   A dialogue results.   The net result is the development of better ideas, and intellectual growth.   (That last one is particularly of interest to me, given my chosen vocation.)

I wish I could live my life out loud.   But I can't.   Because I'm surrounded by people who demand my silence.

I have a whole list of things that I'm not "allowed" to talk about.   I'd list them here, but ... well, I'm not allowed to talk about them.   Because someone will tell me that it's "inappropriate" for someone in my "position" to speak about that issue.    

And, no, that's not theoretical; I've had that conversation any number of times over the past year.

(Yeah, I'm vaguebooking.   That's the whole point, if you haven't noticed.)

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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 10-11 January 2018

A little late, because ... oh, who knows?

The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side Of The Pond.

1. January is National Mentoring Month. Have you ever had a mentor? Been a mentor? How would you rate the experience?

Academia is basically filled with mentoring relationships --- some official, some unofficial.   Even the para-church organization I'm affiliated with (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship), which operates inside academia, is filled with mentoring relationships.

Rating those experiences?   The best of times, the worst of times.   Sometimes the person mentoring you provides you with great counsel; sometimes, not so much.   On the whole, though, I've gained far more than I've lost from my mentors.

2. What current trend makes no sense to you?

It's been hard for me to figure out how to answer this ... because there are people who read my social media postings and then get mad at me behind my back.

But I'll do it anyways.

In 2011, only 30% of white Evangelical Christians believed that an elected official who committed an immoral act in their personal life could still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.

In 2016, that number had risen to 72%.

(Source: Public Religion Research Institute, as reported by The Washington Post.)

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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 3 January 2018

What, a Wednesday Hodgepodge completed on a Wednesday?   I must still be on vacation or something :)

The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side Of The Pond.

1. It's that time of year again...time for Lake Superior University to present a list of words (or phrases) they'd like to see banished (for over-use, mis-use, or genera uselessness) in 2018. You can read more about the decision making process and word meaning here, but this year's top vote getters are-

unpack, dish (as in dish out the latest rumor), pre-owned, onboarding/offboarding, nothingburger, let that sink in, let me ask you this, impactful, Cofefe, drill down, fake news, hot water heater (hot water doesn't need to be heated), and gig economy

Which of these words/phrases would you most like to see banished from everyday speech and why? Is there a word not on the list you'd like to add?

I'm terribly biased on this one.   

The word I'd like to see banished is "dish" ... not because of the use of the word itself, but because of what it represents.   Gossip hurts people.   More to the point: gossip hurt me in the last year.   I do my best not to engage in it myself, but our culture seems to thrive on it.

We'd be so much better off as a culture if we'd find a way to talk to people instead of talking about people.

2. What's something you need to get rid of in the new year?

The usual.   About 40 pounds.   Stress.   Clutter.   Guilt.   

3. Where do you feel stuck?

Just about everywhere.

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Wednesday Hodgepodge: 20-22 December 2017

Yeah, I missed last week, and I'm late this week.   At least everyone's taking next week off.  :)

The Wednesday Hodgepodge appears courtesy of From This Side of the Pond.

1. Where have you found unexpected magic or delight this holiday season?

As frequent readers (why do you read this, anyways?) already know, December is really hard for me.   Too many demands on my time and energy and spirit.   Which means that, inevitably, I can't do everything I'd like to do.

One of the things that I often miss out on is putting up decorations.   I remember living in a neighborhood at home where everyone would put out Christmas lights, and sometimes we'd just drive around the neighborhood looking at everyone's displays.   The most I can manage these days is to put some icicle lights out on our roof ... and half the time, I can't even get those put up.

Except this year, I came home from work one day, to discover that my dear daughter and her boyfriend had climbed up on the roof and put up the icicle lights for me.  I sat in the driveway and wept a bit.   It was a wonderfully unexpected gift.

2. What's your favorite type of holiday gathering? Will you/have you gathered in your favorite way this month?

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Five-Minute Friday: "Only"

One day late.  Oh, well.

Today's five-minute writing prompt appears courtesy of Five Minute Friday.

"I don't know why you're so sensitive.   Yeah, what he said was mean, but it's only words."

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  (James 3:9-10)

"It's only locker-room talk.   It doesn't mean anything."

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.  (Ephesians 5:3-4)

"I don't know why you're so sensitive.  It's only a joke.   Sheesh, stop being a killjoy and laugh once in a while."

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

"It's only a little white lie on a Facebook meme.  The larger point still holds.  Why do you care so much?"

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. (Ephesians 5:3-4)