Partly in response to my famous challenge on Salon “Why Johnny Can’t Code” -- denouncing the disappearance of basic, introductory coding languages from our personal computing devices -- several groups have done wonderful things to help bring back at least a simple, reliable way for kids to learn programming. For example, Quitebasic.com is a cool, easy, accessible Basic site, offering a simple and obvious entry and display system, usable via any mere browser, ease-of-use and applicability to simple textbook exercises. Quitebasic is instantly ready to use. with a very plainly separated coding area, palette and results screens.
Just last week I spoke at Microsoft Research and
brought this topic up again (along with many others; it was a wonderful
audience of 200 or so brilliant people). So they are aware of the
"basic" problem. Given today's lavish available memories and
cyber-power, they could tuck into the corner of Windows a turn-key
system so simple and universal it might tempt textbook publishers to
bring back "Try it in BASIC” exercises that used to ease millions of
kids into ten-line programs that showed them that exciting,
world-changing epiphany. The moment when they realized: "Wow! Every pixel is created by an algorithm!"
now some coincidental news: Just today I was shown a new BASIC system
for the iPhone and iPad that attempts to chip away at the problem. Have a
look at techBASIC.
is the sort of thing - rather than 140 character lobotomizations - that
we need to be encouraging for kids. Before we become a society of
=== More about Your Existence ===
Here's an excerpt from Existence that's been eliciting some yucks... and yucks (!) from readers:
gut bacteria transformed to function as tiny computers, powered by
excess food. Have a problem? Unleash trillions of tiny, parallel
processors occupying your own intestine! Speed them up by eating more!
And they produce Vitamin C!
"At first, Tor thought this
must be a hoax. It sounded like a comedy routine from Monty
Phytoplankton. She wondered how the computed output finally emerged."
If that weren't enough to entice you to race out, buy the hardcover and tell your friends, then how about this from the LA Times review: "Whodunits
are a sure thing in publishing — just about everyone loves a good
mystery — but Brin's multifaceted novel proves that another question
resonates just as powerfully with most people: Are we alone in the
And this by Simon Bisson on ZDNet: "Science
fiction is as much a literature of the moment as it is of the future.
This book, then, is both a warning and an encouragement: a novel that
engages with the world we're building and tries to show us a way to
become a mature civilization rather than a raggle-taggle band of
individuals. Technology has libertarian roots, but in the end we build
the tools that construct a civil society.
Brin shows us the world our technology is building, and then poses one
of the biggest questions: what is it all for?
left with in Existence is one of those rare SF novels that needs to be
on every technologist's desk, alongside John Brunner's Shockwave Rider,
Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End, Charles Stross's Rule 34, and Brin's own
Earth. We may not be able to see our future, but in Existence we get a
picture of a possible — even a plausible — tomorrow."
=== Experts line up against High Frequency Stock Trading ===
This from one of the smartest and most on-target tech economy sages around - Mark Anderson, of the Strategic News Service:
a time when bankers are already at the bottom of the reputational heap,
it now seems that their ration of scorn has jumped again. Not only are
the worst of them greedy, it turns out, and dangerous, and unrepentant,
and unwilling to pay for their mistakes, and undesiring of the most
obviously needed reforms - but they are also building systems so complex
that even they cannot manage them.
"We already knew
that retail investors were no longer safe on the trading playground,
but now we've learned that neither are the big bullies who made the new
rules. Having already heard that about half of the volume of the NY
Stock Exchange was in what is now called High Frequency Trading (HFT),
this week I've learned that that figure is probably conservative, and
that as much as 80% of the trades may be program-driven.
kind of zoo is this? A practice ground for Chaos Theory? Is this the
centerpiece of capitalism? When the NYSE not only encourages HFT, but
profits by selling colocation of servers at exorbitant rates to allow
HFT practitioners that extra picosecond of advantage - you know that the
wheels are about to come off."
Of course, I have my own
"crackpot" or rather far-seeing reason for wanting this HFT lunacy to
stop. It is the surest road to "Skynet"... to the emergence - in secret
and without the slightest oversight or public scrutiny, of AI that is programmed from the start to be predatory, parasitical, voracious, insatiable, amoral and relentlessly sociopathic.
=== And Finally...
have a few shout-outs to members of the brilliant Contrary Brin
community, some of whom I met in person during my recent book tour, and
some of whom I'd like to ask a favor! I'll say more in the first