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Last minute shopping

Posted by daniel on December 19, 2003 at 6:51 AM PST

The best gift we've found for this holiday season is fun, educational, and free. Note: this daily update includes a Bonus Track.

Mike Clark, Erik Hatcher, and I have been discussing teaching programming to children for a while. When we got together in October, Mike talked about some of the materials he's been looking at that provide interesting activities for exploration. He's taken the time to put some of these thoughts down in his java.net feature article StarLogo: Give the gift of learning. Although the activities he describes are a great way to spend time with an inquisitive child, he also correctly points out that they are fun for adults to do by themselves.

The three of us participated in a session that was an open discussion on teaching kids using computers. We had StarLogo and Squeak in mind. Not to speak for Mike and Erik, but I think the three of us agree that our goal with kids isn't so much to teach them programming as to use programming and fun activities as a learning environment. One of the other participants mentioned Rocky's Boots. I don't remember the program but it keeps getting suggested at such gatherings as an example. Anyone know what happened to it or who owns the rights to it?

Another fun aspect of StarLogo is the discovery of emergent behavior. As an example from nature, no Wasp knows how to build a nest and yet collectively they do. How do simply programmed objects collaborate to perform complex tasks? The StarLogo demos include several activities that explore this swarm behavior. I can't wait until my kids are off from school these next couple of weeks so we can play with this stuff.

As an aside, we featured the piece on StarLogo because it's a great way to get people thinking about objects, encapsulation, and behavior. That was a compelling enough reason to run it on java.net. I didn't know until I read a draft of Mike's article that the programming is written in Java. It's a nice example of a cross-platform, solid, Java desktop application.


The fun continues in Also in Java Today. We link to the MacDevcenter piece Elementary Computer Graphics: Drawing with Pixels. This is Michael J. Norton's exploration into how you might start elementary school children thinking about how to program video games. He starts with teaching screen position with a tic-tac-toe example and leads them to setting pixels. The activities are a lot of fun and can easily be used in conjunction with Mike's StarLogo activities.

For the older but playful set, we link to the latest in Chris Adamson's series on programming with QuickTime Java. This time Chris looks at QT Audio as he builds an audio player that he calls QTBebop "that displays song metadata, band levels, and current time, all of which help introduce the useful audio-related tools provided by QuickTime to the Java developer."

Bonus Track: For kicks today, check out the Christmas Rhapsody featured at the top of the Pledge Drive home page. It's a fun Yule tide parody of the classic Queen song.


In Projects and Communities, we remind you that today is the Last day to snap holiday pics of Duke on vacation. Already we've received pictures that feature Duke and his family enjoying a day at the beach and a trip that Duke took to visit his favorite move star (the Duke of course). Our project spotlight this week is on the Web Services and XML community project jsr206-public. Now that JSR 206 JAXP 1.3 is in public review through January 15, 2004, you can find the spec, JavaDocs, and open issues on the java.net project.


Check out Craig Castelaz's latest cartoon in today's Weblogs . In The Catastrophe Cycle, Craig builds on Joshua's question about How do you develop. Craig references a paper that suggests "there are periodic breakdowns in the requirements gathering process. The researchers call these breakdowns, 'catastrophe cycles', and largely attributed them to a form of information or complexity overload."

Satya Komatineni points to an article that discusses the Role of filters in Architecture. He writes "Filters is an architectural concept that works hand in hand with factories. When factories create object or objects a filter provide an option to post-process these object or objects." John Mitchell also checks in with his response to Jim Cushing's Personal Progress entry. In Progress or Constipation John wonders if too many of us are stuck in adolescence.


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