Computational Thinking

December 2, 2015

There’s been quite a lot of material on computational thinking as part of the Computing curriculum over the last few years, and I’ve been teaching some of it to the 1st year students at Stirling University for a number of years. A recent post in the British Computer Society magazine website on Computational thinking set me looking back through what I wrote about this area, in preparation for giving this part of our 1st year course. What we did was to teach some Java programming, and then put in two lectures on this area: we reckoned that trying to teach computational thinking without exposure to programming first would mean that the students would have no context. Re-reading my article made me decide to put it online So here it is: Two Lectures on Computational Thinking: a brief essay, as written in October 2012.

It’s as relevant now as it was then – indeed, I gave essentially the same two lectures just two weeks ago as part of the CSCU9A1 module at Stirling. The lectures themselves are hidden: if anyone’s interested, I can supply them – though they essentially follow the essay above.

Some tracks on SoundCloud

May 24, 2015

I hav started (just) to record a little of myself playing on SoundCloud. Not much there yet, but at least I know how to do it. I have a little 2-channel USB M-Audio sampler (that I bought years ago in LA!), and an AKG microphone for recording my nice new Kawai K200 Piano. And I also have my Roland Electronic piano, but i haven’t tried recording it yet (no good excuse: I’ll do it soon). What to put up there? A good mixture, I think: so far there’s a Scottish tune, and a short (and not terribly good) rendition of Monk’s Well you needn’t. But there’ll be more before long! Wonder if anyone will listen to them?

Playing at the Kinbuck Beer Festival

April 25, 2015

Just back from playing piano (electric) at the Kinbuck Beer Festival. Kinbuck is a small village just north of here, and they hold an annual beer festival, which I’ve played at before. But this time I played solo piano for about 50 minutes. A beer festival audience is not one given to subtlety, so I played a mix of old blues numbers and fast standards, with lots of bass and decoration. They seemed to like it! Maybe I’ll get another gig or two from it…though I can play with bit of subtlety as well.

I have just discovered Rumi…

April 10, 2015

I read a review of something that mentioned Rumi, and I recalled that he was a 13th century mystic poet, whose name  I had heard of somewhere, but knew nothing at all about. And I recalled that 13th century Persia  was a very cultivated and civilised place, with a history much longer than Dunblane in Scotland, where I’m writing this.

So I ordered the book that was mentioned, and eventually it arrived. It’s been sitting winking at me for most of the week, as I’ve struggled with marking assignments (or, enjoyed playing jazz…). And so this evening, tired out, and after a little wine, I finally opened it.

The effect was electric.

I read the poem “Sexual urgency, what a woman’s laughter can do, and the nature of true virility”. I had to read it aloud.  I thought through the images. I read it again, and saw more layers of images.

Finally I thought: I’ll write a blog about this, but before I do, I’ll look for “I have just discovered Rumi” on Google. There was only 10 results, but I knew I was not alone. I looked for the tile of the poem I named, and I found many copies of it. I was definitely not alone.

I haven’t read any more yet, but this was a teaching story by a Sufi master, set to delicate verse I suspect in Persian, and set to very effective verse in Coleman Bark’s translation. It made me think of Idries Shah’s books that I read nearly forty years ago, and that led me to reading teaching stories from the cultures, for there are many in other religions.

I shall come back for more.

The solar eclipse

March 20, 2015

There was a nearly total solar eclipse here this morning: it was total rather further north-west of here, but here it max’d out at about 97%. Most of the University staff came out to watch. We’d been promised quite thick cloud, but in the event, there was mix of light and heavy cloud, and that meant that one could sometimes see the crescent of the sun using a dark filter (I used some old photo slides from 1978 – others actually had the right glasses, while others looked at the reflection and one person used a plastic divider which worked rather well). But one way or another we all saw it. My colleague Peter Hancock had his camera properly set up, and took a rather nice image (which I’ll as him if I can put up here). Meanwhile here’s one of mine taken with an iPhone 4!IMG_1012 I have a friend who was up in Torshavn, and when he uploads his (total eclipse picture!), I’ll add a link to it.

The light at the eclipse had a strange ethereal feel to it; not darkness, that’s for sure, but a light that cast sharp shadows, and seemed very white. It also got rather cold!

St. Patrick’s night at the Dunblane Hotel

March 18, 2015

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Every Tuesday night at the Dunblane Hotel there’s an Scottish/Irish/other music session, staring about 8.30 (but nearer 9 or even a wee bit later sometimes). Sometimes there’s just a couple of folk, sometimes there ten or more. Whistles, fiddles, elbow pipes, the odd flute, and guitar, and yours truly often on an electric piano accompanying. And last night was St Patrick’s Night (17 March). Now, sometimes pubs put of a bit of a show for St. Paddy’s but the DH isn’t really like that. So it was up to us to play to amuse ourselves, and the other customers. There were eight of us last night, and at maximum probably about eight other customers too. But we did have a good time!

After watching Selma…

February 22, 2015

On Friday, my wife and I went to see the file Selma, at the MacRobert Cinema at Stirling University. It’s a great film: dramatic, moving, quite long, but paced. The words and the oratory are wonderful to listen to. And of course, it covers events that we can remember being aware of in out own time, as young teenagers in Europe, as we heard about civil rights in America with the ears of an idealistic post-war generation, and as we watched the war in Vietnam gradually heat up.

But there was one quote that really struck home to me (again probably as a North European), and though I have searched for it, I can’t find it: in essence it pointed out that one of the ways the rich whites in the America kept the poor whites down was by ensuring there was a group who were always lower then them, namely the black Americans. It hit home, because that’s been true in many societies: the Irish in Scotland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the native populations in Australia in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and many others too, at many different times. And that seems to be something that is always in danger of being present.

So the father hits his older son, who then punches his little sister, who the slaps her smaller brother, who then kicks the dog…

Is this “just human nature” or can we do better?

One thing I discovered looking for the quote above was just how strongly King wrote on poverty and war, as well as on racism, how much he was far, far more than a single issue politician. I am beginning to understand why there is  Martin Luther King Day in the USA.

Life events at one remove.

December 15, 2014

It’s been a week-end of major life events at one remove. On Friday, my youngest, Jonathan, was 21, and today, my oldest, Eleanor (now with her own blog) is 40. Turning  40 doesn’t seem such a long time ago, even if turning 21 seems like a lifetime past. I recall mine, working in the City of London, and being taken out and filled with whisky (as a Scot in London) at lunchtime. (Well, I suppose, I must have been a willing victim, since I don’t believe anyone forced drink down my throat!). This was followed by a rather unproductive afternoon, during which I’m told I suddenly turned green, and rapidly left for the toilets. My fortieth was a much more civilised affair, a party at home with children present, and a new electric piano. But why should these life events of my children affect me so?

On one hand, it’s an intimation of an end of an era: with no kids under 21, surely I should be moving on to some new part of my own life. I haven’t any grandchildren, though there’s a grand-dog, Frieda, in DC with daughter Alexis & Katy! And perhaps it’s also my recent (minor) operation providing intimations of aging and mortality. I’m not a believer in trying to indefinitely prolong life: there’s a time to go, and preferably before ones wits abandon ship. How long might that be? My father made it to 84, and was  solving the Times crossword the evening before he died, so that’s a good sign. But I’ve watched others gradually lose the place, and it’s not a pretty sight.

At least now, it’s over: there’s no other big birthdays on the immediate horizon (at least birthdays are predictable). Nor, so far as I know, any imminent marriages or other life events, but one never knows…But carpe diem! Let’s celebrate the birthdays: we had a very good dinner at the Cafe Andaluz in Glasgow for the 21st, and there’s a party in Stirling for the 40th next Saturday!

A new blog!

December 4, 2014

I’ve decided to create a new blog, one with technical content. It’s called
Lestheprof’s Audio Research Blog, and it’s intended to have technical content about my audio research. It seemed a better idea than putting a mix of technical and non-technical material into this blog. So: if that’s what you’re interested in, mosey on over to http://lestheprofsaudioresearchblog.wordpress.com!

What to vote on the 18th September

September 6, 2014

Lots of people ask me how I’m going to vote, and it’s the primary topic of conversation both inside Scotland, and whenever I’m travelling abroad. Those who know me, know that I’ve been a member of the Scottish National Party for more than 30 years, and so assume that I’ll be voting Yes. But I didn’t find it that easy to decide. Indeed I vacillated for a long time.

The biggest arguments against are economic and financial. There’s the issues of a currency, of whether an independent Scotland would be poorer or richer, of whether industry would rune a mile, or run towards Scotland, of whether the banks currently headquartered in  Edinburgh would move their headquarters south, and so on. There are arguments and counter-arguments, and it’s not really possible to know who to believe. My own view is that in the short term, the economic effect would be negative.  But, one has to ask, is that a sufficient reason to vote for the status quo, as opposed to independence? It is certainly true that the Union of the parliaments in 1707 was largely for economic reasons, between the failure of the Darien Scheme, and the little ice age (in particular the “Ill years” of the 1690’s) causing poor harvests. But how does that play now?

I’m old enough to recall the feeling in Scotland both after the devolution referendum of 1979 (which failed to deliver), and the one of 1997 which delivered the Holyrood parliament. After the first, there was a real feeling of failure: the Scottish Cringe was strong, and there was a strong impression that we had failed to stand up for ourselves at all. That contrasted with the feeling of elation in 1997: what had happened in between is hard to describe, but was surely a major change in the whole of Scottish culture. Now here we are, 17 years later, debating full independence. Is this a step too far, or the logical conclusion of earlier events?

What has happened I’d describe as a cultural renaissance. Arts, music, and science are stronger now than they have been in my memory. There’s a real feeling that we really can do this. But are we suffering from the optimism disease (see Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children)? Probably, but what is the alternative? There is undoubtedly a majority in Scotland in favour of Devo-Max (maximal powers for the Holyrood parliament, specifically fiscal autonomy), but this is not on offer: the question demands a straight yes/no answer (two alternative forced choice, in Psychological parlance). Can one believe politicians who say that this will come if there is a No vote? I suspect it’s a reasonable likelihood if the vote is near to 50/50, but that in itself begs another question – will Independence really be possible if the vote is 51:49 in favour?

There’s lots of fears and scaremongering on both sides of the argument: in my own area, science funding is seen as a major issue, pushing people towards No, but the UK is moving towards more and more applied research (and I don’t actually see a Scottish government behaving differently). I’m due to retire in a few years – will it affect my pension? But whether it does or not, is that a good reason to adjust my vote, if it will make Scotland a better place over the next few decades (by when I will be long gone, I suspect)?

In the end, I think Scotland will have a better future for going it alone. There’s lots of unanswered questions – but it’s not the case that these are all answered in the status quo either. And now I’ve done it: I’m abroad at a the ICANN 2014 conference 15-19 September, in Hamburg, so I had a postal vote, and I’ve now posted it. Alea iacta est, for me at least.