Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Computer Science - going down with the dinosaurs...

This alarming article shows that enrollment of Comp. Sci. majors are down about 50% since their haydays of 2000. The article summarizes the main reason for this is the dotcom bust and the need to make the courses more relevant and fun for beginners.

I agree.

Thinking back, oh about 20 years ago, I was still a child in China. Don't remember when I first started but I was hooked to arcade video games at a young age. I remember my mom got really frustrated with me for not being able to leave Space Invaders...

I remember also when the glorious Nintendo came out, friends from the elementary school would gather secretly at this guy's house who is renting out time on the console by the hour. I had a really hard time trying to get that little Italian guy on the screen to eat some mushrooms instead of getting hit by random turtle shells...

I remember my first computer, the beautiful hand-me-down 286 from Samsung with a 10 inch yellow screen and an adorable beeping noises when it processed. I learned how to program in QBasic on that.

I could go on and on about my memories with the computer and how I fell in love, but the point is this: computers are fun! You can not be a good programmer if you don't think working with computers is a tons of fun.

Unfortunately most of the current Comp. Sci. curriculum seem to be better suited to suck the fun of computers. This mostly happened in Computational Theory and Testing(yuck!) classes. I am firmly convinced that those were thrown in so those who are on the fence about grad school will leap for joy and sign up immediately.

For the rest of us, a shorter, maybe 2 years Comp. Sci. degree is enough. Most things I know now I have learned from working anyway. It is a disciple that is changing too fast to be locked up 4 years in a basement lab for. It is important to learn how to be a life long, self-start learner, THAT was the most important thing I got out of college.

Oh and keep it fun!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Back to the basics

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T.S. Eliot

Not all is improved in the modern world. I was having dinner with my great aunts one day and they recalled a time when they were children, in China. Their uncles would bring them fresh vegetables and grains from their farms every week. Since then the living conditions have improved and one of the things that caught on is refined flour. People like it since it tastes better. This article points out however, there is a simple explanation to this, the refining process makes the flour to have less protein and less fiber, so carbs (i.e. sugar) become more prominent, of course it tastes better.

People are becoming more aware of the nutritional value of more organic choices. I heard that there are three types of vegetables in China: the best is what they call "Green Vegetable", the next down is called "No Public Harm Vegetable", and then the worst are just called vegetable I guess. (I hate to be the guy to come home and say, "Guess what, honey? I didn't get paid again, so I guess it is the not-so-green-with-potential-harm vegetable for us today."

Since when did eating "No Public Harm Vegetable" became a luxury? Since we did our health? This is by no means unique to China. I've always feel penalized for wanting to eat better in US. Just go to Wholefoods or Wild Oats, a sack of groceries will cost you twice as much as the normal stuff.

I could never hide the fact that I am an outsider whenever I go visit my mom's side of the family in a Chinese village. Not only do I dress different, I am the only one overweight there. Working in the field all day with their hands and eating a meal of lots of vegetables and little meat (because meat is more expensive), they don't have to go to a gym after work to pump iron for a hour just to stay in shape. I couldn't help but wonder if this modern way of life is a bit of a stretch than what God has intended for us.

I love progress, I love many of the technologies that made our lives immensely better than it did 100 years ago. I am not asking for a throw back to the Stone Age. But not all progress is good and one needs to stop and think from time to time. Sometimes, it is good to go back to the basics.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

New programming technologies

I read once that a good programmer should learn one new language a year in order to stay current. I am checking into two of them right now.

Ruby on Rails is an open source framework that allow one to rapidly develop applications. The most attractive thing to me is that it is well designed so things fall into their appropriate buckets (model/view/controller). It is designed with change in mind and let me tell you, that is valuable thing when working with customers with ever changing specs.

Openlaszlo is another open source framework that allow you to design either Flash or DHTML based web 2.0 applications that looks really nice and "with the user interface capabilities of desktop client software." After playing with it for about 30 minutes, I like it quite a bit but I think someone who is more of a designer would find it even more attractive. It is very interface focused.

I got few ideas brewing. In the past, I have often committed the error of paralysis by analysis, thinking too much about my applications instead of just build something and see what happens. I was inspired again by the free book Getting Real to stick with the basics and not get ahead of myself. The game is afoot!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Let's try this again!

Back in the day, I had a blog on my own website, there were few entries here and there, but in the end I just decided that I wasn't that interested in myself. (That's ok, my friends didn't laugh either when I told them this, I still have my day job.)

Now I am more interested in myself and I have decided to talk about everything and nothing, let's give this another shot.

I will attempt to cover many important topics such as life, humor (thanks Dave Barry!), ok, you can read the title yourself, I suppose. But let me just say one thing about excellence. There was a line in Braveheart, "All man dies, but not many of them really lived." Now, don't go sky diving yet, the point is that it is good to think about why we are alive, what are we doing here and make sure we are living a life that is worth living.

Are we just food eating, movie watching bipeds that try to maximize our fun on earth as long as we don't hurt anyone? (If you are able to pull it off, congrats, you are the first human island, entirely unto yourself.) I believe that there is a purpose in life, that we are created in the image of a loving and righteous God. I am a sinner, eternally lost if it wasn't for Jesus Christ, who came and died for my sins on the cross. Now I have been redeemed as a child of God, freed to do good works that glorifies him. And at such, excellence is essential, God is excellent, he is not mediocre.

Excellence is the exception, not the norm. Too often people are happy with the status quo, not realizing that "good is the enemy of great", as the book Good to Great points out. Don't reinvent the wheel, dare to think, work hard, and be patient.