I am now a volunteer blogger for Communications of the ACM blog.(ACM is the Association of Computing Machinery. If you are a card carrying geek, your card says "ACM") You can see my first post at: http://cacm.acm.org/blogs/blog-cacm/34871-no-were-not-losing-our-ability-to-think-critically/fulltext
I'm going to try to blog there a couple of times a week, so I'll cross post the articles here. I think I will need to keep my madder witterings for here only, though.
I find it typical that in academia you have to write your own promotion application, which requires serious work (at least a day of writing). It's as much effort as applying for another job. The interview is an hour of slimy goodness out of which you emerge as a slug. And then you have to wait the rest of the summer to find out if you were successful. Having been interviewed, I now realise my research area is worthless and that I am simultaneously too ambitious and not ambitious enough. Clearly I am lucky to have been employed by them as a lecturer in the first place. Starting proceedings with the question "Can you explain why your research area of "softer than soft computing" has any merit?" kind of put me off. And the panel stared blankly when I told then about the computational crafts project. Just as well I didn't tell them about plants with personalities. (Remind me to tell you about them sometime. Very cool.)
My summer student has made me a Miffy! Isn't it cute? Eventually its cheeks will glow pink when you switch a button. The student has also made a bracelet with flashing LEDs and a cat who purrs when you stroke its nose. This is the computational crafts summer project which EPSRC funded for 10 weeks, with a view to getting more girls interested in programming through craft projects.
I am really excited about this! My background is not in electronics, but there are a number of starter kits you can you for e-textiles which come with a programming environment. One astonishing one is the Button Schemer. It's a dinky little chip the size of a 5p coin which you can program simply by writing a program on a web page, and then holding the chip up to your LED monitor to download the file and start executing it. I am not kidding. The chip can be sewn into a leather bracelet, or a t-shirt or a soft toy. The researcher who designed this had the flash of insight that you can encode the text of a program in visual representations, such as a bar code, or a sequence of lights. The sequence of lights can be generated by pulsing lights on the monitor in long/short bursts like morse code. There is a light sensor on the chip which can recognise the light sequences (if it is close enough) and then start executing the program which the flashes represent. Genius! The researcher also suggests a scenario where you could get input for your program from a bar code (such as getting it to loop 4 times by scanning the brcode for "4" with your bracelet in which the chip is embedded).
To see where to get the kit, and a demo video start here:
Unsurprisingly, the student who is working on this projects has been
accused by one of my colleagues of not doing "proper" work and playing
too much. Another example of a person who assumes play and learning can't happen at the same time. The thing is, once we get the prototypes ready, write the learning materials and try it with kids, I bet the colleague will recognise that it is useful for computer science. It's just that some people can't see the potential of ideas like this in the early stages. Of course it might not work well for workshops, but if you don't take risks you don't learn anything new. Plus, I have a cute Miffy mascot on my desk and what more can you want in life?