Day 6 - A Few Thoughts

My Mom Was Right: Eniac was Pretty Awesome

When I was in third grade we chose an inventor and gave a report on the person and invention to the class. I really wanted to do the Wright Brothers, but my Mom strongly encouraged me to do Eniac instead. In particular, this means I could call her friend from graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and talk to a real person who had helped build it. At the time, I hated making phone calls to anyone, even my grandparents who I loved and who baked me cookies. So, the idea interviewing a stranger was not something I was super excited about.

Ramsey did a quick history of computing today: from Lovelace to Swift. Looking back, my Mom was right and the Eniac was pretty damn cool.

There Really Is Stuff Between Javascript and Binary!

Loved Ramsey’s class today. Best of all, we saw how C and javascript could be compiled into Assembly code, and that we could actually look at the Assembly code itself. It was amazing to see this - to actually see it - on the screen. It felt similar to the feeling of wow from seeing Zach save an image in raw format and that data as sound in another program. I’m very much looking forward to connecting the dots between the software I write and actual hardware of the computer in the coming weeks.

Drumming Demo to Illustrate How Much Easier Something Can Be When Somebody Shows You a Technique

Amit challenged us to drum a 2-beat with one hand and a 3-beat with the other. For many, it was hard to do. Then he showed us a technique of just slowing it down and thinking of it as “a beat together, then a bum-bam-bum with the two hands, and then another beat together.” Then, practice it and speed it up. It wasn’t about trying harder, but changing how you were learning it. This was a metaphor for the value of sitting with other people to see how they are doing what they are doing, and being able to get/give tips.

In other words, sometimes a little help from somebody who knows what they’re doing goes a long way.

It’s Hard to Know What Will Change the World When It’s First Written

Amazing that the first computer program and the idea that using machines to manipulate numbers could be used for music and other non-numeric things was written as an author’s note at the end of a translation of a lecture.

Conquering Learning Curves is a Learnable Thing

Amit: “If you spend time conquering difficult learning curves, you will be good at conquering difficult learning curves wherever you find them.”

This is something I definitely agree with. Knowing how to face the unknown, to be ok with being bad at something while learning it, to know what types of questions to ask, to get help as needed, to figure out what you need to learn, to change course or push through, and to practice through challenge are all things that are easier with practice. And, the more that you face different challenges, the more you know that you can and will get through the parts that don’t feel good.

Differently Shaped Learning Curves

In Amit’s class on “learning about learning” he spoke about the idea of differently shaped learning curves for different activities. For example, with a piano it’s easy to make it play notes that sound fine and even put them together into basic songs. But, it’s extremely difficult to be quite good. In contrast, you need to spend a little time with a guitar to play your first song. But, then it opens up a world of possibilities. He suggested that code used to be like a guitar, where it was harder to get started and make your first thing. Now that we have more tools, you can do something pretty cool on day 1. But, getting really good it quite difficult. The other challenge that he mentioned is that as a learner you often don’t have much insight into what the learning curve looks like, or what part of it you are on. You don’t know how hard it’s supposed to be so when you struggle you don’t know if it’s you, or if what you’re doing is just quite difficult.

Written on October 8, 2014