Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Think Different (courtesy Apple)

Just love this video! I don't necessarily agree with their choice of people in the video - but I guess this was made for American audiences. The words and the message, however, are simply brilliant! Truly inspiring stuff...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Cool Science

If you want to get an idea of what the (Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment is all about - I've found this basic intro on Alice, CMS, Altas, LHCb and the Grid to be very well presented and organized.

Here's "Rock-star physicist" Brian Cox explaining the LHC on TED.

Prophecies of doom notwithstanding, this certainly sounds like a very exciting experiment - a hugely collaborative effort that will hopefully unlock some of the dark secrets of the universe. Here's the coolest science video I've come across :)

And if you want to get really spooked, check this one out...

But after that watch this one to be reassured - "YOU WON'T FEEL A THING!"

Monday, September 08, 2008

Why do School Curricula Ignore the History of Computing and the Internet?

I was struck by this question at a recent visit to the Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View, CA. Kitty-corner from the famed headquarters of Google in Mt. View, this museum currently proudly houses the Charles Babbage Difference Engine in addition to countless other artifacts that help the visitor trace the timeline of computer history and are a testimony to human ingenuity and inventiveness in the field of digital technologies through the last 6 or so decades.

The 2 hours my sons and I spent tracing the history of computers and computing (and the Internet to lesser extent) were mesmerizing - not just for me but my sons (aged 12 and 9) as well. There is obviously that thrill of watching the sizes (and prices) of computers go down as their computing power and storage capabilities shoot up exponentially; but the stories behind the early innovations are fascinating as well. (I think the kicks I got may have had a little to do with the fact that I have programmed the DEC VAX in my early days as a programmer and used the PDP-11 in my undergrad days at BITS, Pilani. The sight of punch cards brought back waves of long-forgotten memories - of their use as flashcards for memorizing GRE word lists :))

(Incidentally there are several awesome videos on the history of computers on CHM's channel on youtube).

I was reminded of my question once again yesterday when I chanced on a video of Ethan Zuckerman explaining the history of the Internet in about 5 mins - see below. (I think this one betters the earlier history of the Internet video I posted on this blog about half a year ago).

Agreed - the fact that I have always been fascinated by the history of Computers, Computing and the Internet may have a little to do with the fact that I have used computers for about 25 years now - I did my undergrad in Computer Science from BITS Pilani in the mid-eighties, and then was exposed to the Internet in the US in the BBS, usenet and gopher "pre-browser" days of the early 90s. (I remember following the 1992 Cricket World Cup sitting in my little apartment in the US - ball-by-ball on Why I was a member of rec.sports.gymn in 1991-92 I have no clue!).

That said, given how pervasive these machines are in our lives today, I think everyone, and kids especially, would be just as fascinated by the history of how computing, computers and the internet crept into our lives - starting with the code breakers used by governments during WWII; the work of research universities such as MIT; DARPA; the big mainframes; the pioneering work of organizations such as IBM; the birth of personal computers; Microsoft, Apple; supercomputers (the slideshow above has some pictures of the Cray as well); and finally CERN, hypertext, the World Wide Web and Google; iPods; video games; and seemingly limitless data storage capabilities...

Children are taught about many important discoveries, inventions and innovations in the course of their regular curriculum in Science and Social Studies. The rationale being that history teaches us about what man has done and thus what man is; and also helps kids understand change and societal development. Computers, Computing, the Internet and the World Wide Web rarely ever get the billing they deserve in school curricula today, despite that fact that these kids' lives are so hugely influenced by the use of computers and the Internet. I am convinced that our kids who are so familiar with names like Microsoft, Apple, Intel, Google, Yahoo, Sun (to a lesser extent), Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Sergei Brin; so familiar with the idea of computers and with the use of computers deserve to know and be aware about innovations in computers, the evolution of these technologies, and the people and organizations that laid the foundation for the work of Gates, Jobs, Page and Brin.

And while they're at it, I think they should also learn the basics of boolean logic, binary number systems and why silicon valley is christened thus :)

Anyway, here's Ethan Zuckerman's entertaining video on the History of the Internet...Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Listen to the Digital Natives, Sync Up With Your iKids

Purely by coincidence, the day after I wrote the post on Marc Prensky and Born Digital, I came across an article by Prensky which appeared as the cover story of Edutopia some weeks ago. The story is titled "Young Minds, Fast Times: The Twenty-First-Century Digital Learner: How tech-obsessed iKids would improve our schools." I believe that at the core of this issue is again the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants that I talked about in the previous post.

The article to me is less about what kids would like their school education to look like, than about the simple but so very important act of listening to kids; and not just about what they feel about their learning and how they would like to learn, but everything that concerns them and their lives. It seems so ironical that we attempt to shape our kids into responsible, questioning, independent-thinking human beings, but do not allow them to question or have a say in how they would like to learn and be taught; about how they would like to spend those countless hours in the classroom through those dozen odd years that we keep them in school.

If you did ask, you'd find out that kids of today are BORED, BORED, BORED by plain old chalk and talk (See some quotes below from the article). Think about how they spend their time outside the classroom and during their vacations, and contrast that with how we expect them to sit - hour after hour and day after day in the classroom - with none of the technology that they are so fluent and happy with outside of school - listening to teachers who are so clueless about how to engage them. Can we blame them if they find most of their classes mind-numbingly boring and have this to say ? --

"I'm bored 99 percent of the time."

"School is really, really boring."

"We are so bored."

"Engage us more."

"[My teachers] bore me so much I don't pay attention."

"Pointless. I'm engaged in two out of my seven classes."

Prensky calls "unacceptable and untenable" the fact that "Unlike in the corporate world, where businesses spend tens of millions researching what their consumers really want, when it comes to how we structure and organize our kids' education, we generally don't make the slightest attempt to listen to, or even care, what students think about how they are taught.", and he likens this to the treatment of women before suffrage.

According to the article - "Students universally tell us they prefer dealing with questions rather than answers, sharing their opinions, participating in group projects, working with real-world issues and people, and having teachers who talk to them as equals rather than as inferiors. Hopefully, this is useful information for teachers and other educators -- and it is important that educators realize just how universal these opinions are."

Prensky concludes the article with -- "After hosting dozens of these conversations, I realize one thing: We just don't listen enough to our students. The tradition in education has been not to ask the students what they think or want, but rather for adult educators to design the system and curriculum by themselves, using their "superior" knowledge and experience.

But this approach no longer works. Not that the inmates should run the asylum, but as twenty-first-century leaders in business, politics, and even the military are finding out, for any system to work successfully in these times, we must combine top-down directives with bottom-up input. As the students have told me on more than one occasion, "We hope educators take our opinions into account and actually do something!" Until we do, their education will not be the best we can offer."

(Image copied from Edutopia; credited to David Julian)