Pixel Scroll 12/6/18 By Grabthar’s Pixel, By The Scrolls Of Warvan, You Shall Be File’d

(1) SNAPPY JACKETS. BookRiot lists its choices for “The Best Book Covers of 2018”. Lots of genre book covers here. Two examples:

I love a cover with a flipped image, this one showing a well-dressed man and woman on one side and a bowler hat-wearing man bicycling on the other side. The colors and rainy arc of tree branches in the London mist makes me think of Mary Poppins (that scene with Mr. Banks, anyone?) and then all I want to do is put this book into my eyeballs.

—Aimee Miles

Any time someone mentions this book—which is often because it’s awesome—the cover vividly pops into my brain. It’s like a movie poster for a blockbuster that you just can’t wait to see, and then after you see it you put the poster up on your bedroom wall!

—Jamie Canaves

(2) ATMOSPHERICS. Out today, the Game of Thrones “Official Tease: Dragonstone.”

Fire and ice. The final season of Game of Thrones begins this April.


(3) AUREALIS AWARDS DEADLINE. Tehani Croft, Judging Coordinator of the Aurealis Awards, reminds everyone that entries close at midnight, Friday, December 7:

It’s important to remember that ALL eligible Australian work published for the first time between January 1 and December 31, 2018, must be entered by midnight on December 7even work intended for publication after the December 7 cut off.

When entries are made, you will receive an auto response from our system to acknowledge receipt (please check your spam folder if this does not arrive) – this is the only requirement for entries to be valid. Details regarding payment (for long form entries) and submission will follow in the coming week.

Thank you to everyone who has already submitted entries this year – the judges have appreciated a consistent flow of entries in a timely manner, which has helped avoid an end-of-year bottleneck.

(4) FOURTH ALLEGATION AGAINST TYSON. Buzzfeed News adds a new charge: “Nobody Believed Neil deGrasse Tyson’s First Accuser. Now There Are Three More.”

…Now a fourth woman has told BuzzFeed News her experience of sexual harassment from Tyson. In January 2010, she recalled, she joined her then-boyfriend at a holiday party for employees of the American Museum of Natural History. Tyson, its most famous employee, drunkenly approached her, she said, making sexual jokes and propositioning her to join him alone in his office. In a 2014 email shared with BuzzFeed News, she described the incident to her own employer in order to shoot down a proposed collaboration with Tyson….

(5) MORTAL PETER JACKSON. The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy renders his verdict: “‘Mortal Engines’: Film Review”.

A fantastical bit of steampunk sci-fi runs to a considerable extent on fumes in Mortal Engines, an action-loaded tale of adventure and combat set in a future that takes its design cues entirely from the past. Based on the initial book in a series of four by British author Philip Reeve, the first of them published in 2001, this new effort by Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films is certainly lavish and expensive looking but never thoroughly locks in to capture the imagination or sweep you off to a new world where you particularly want to spend time. It’s combat-heavy, but not in an especially enthralling way, spelling an uncertain commercial future in the U.S. at least; foreign results could be significantly better.

One thing the film does have going for it is a resilient female lead, Hester Shaw (Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar), a survivor of childhood violence compelled to take revenge on her mother’s killer. Another is a bizarre form of conquest that’s illustrated in the extensive opening action sequence, in which one mobile society — in this case, a condensed version of London — races on giant treads across a rough wasteland in pursuit of a smaller, rag-tag community in order to literally gobble it up. There’s a milder, less demented Mad Max quality to the set-piece that decidedly rivets the attention, even if the sheer physics of it seem more than a bit preposterous; it’s akin to a huge garbage truck consuming a lawn mower.

(6) APPS AND TRAPS. Etelka Lehoczky says “Surrealism Meets Sci-Fi In ‘Parallel Lives'” in a review of this collection of short comics stories by O. Schrauwen and Eric Reynolds.

Parallel Lines is loosely a work of sci-fi. Most of its characters live at some time in the future, and all make use of rarified technologies. One woman communicates with a hologrammatic friend and lives in a coffin-sized pod. A team of explorers wend their way through outer space in a shimmering cubical ship. Schrauwen’s father Armand turns up in the book: He uses something called a Bomann Kühlbox T5000 to beam his face and voice to the future. (He finds it a frustrating experience, as the futurians ignore him in favor of seeking out exotic new ways of “leisuring.”) Schrauwen himself makes an appearance, too, in a first-person story of alien abduction that toys unsettlingly with the tropes of that genre.

(7) WHAT’S WRONG WITH WOKE “WHO”? [Item by Olav Rokne.] Lucy Jones of the Independent uses Doctor Who’s more inclusive storytelling — and the resultant backlash — as a framework to examine what it means to be “politically correct.” Her conclusion is pretty close to what most people on File 770 have been saying all along: that there’s nothing incorrect about telling stories that fully represent the diversity of society. “Doctor Who backlash shows why it’s time to bin the phrase ‘politically correct’”.

Words have consequences, and, in the rise of populism, these ones certainly have had, so instead of writing it off, I wanted to delve deeper into the Doctor Who criticism and try to understand what these swathes of shocked people online were outraged by, and if it had anything valuable to say about how people feel about changing societal and cultural norms.

(8) ARMITAGE OBIT. Peter Armitage (1940 – 2018): British actor, died December 4, aged 78. Screen appearances include Jack the Ripper (both episodes, 1988), Chimera (one episode, 1991), The Indiana Jones Chronicles (one episode, 1993), The Second Coming (both episodes, 2003), Magic Grandad (four episodes, 2003).


[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and JJ.]

  • Born December 6, 1911 – Ejler Jakobsson, Writer and Editor born in Finland who emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager. Several short fiction works co-written with his wife Edith were published in the horror pulps in the late 1930s, and they co-edited two one-off magazines entitled The Octopus and The Scorpion. When Super Science Stories was revived briefly in 1949, he was editor for that two year run – with Damon Knight as his assistant. In 1969, he took over Galaxy and If, succeeding Frederik Pohl. With the assistance of Judy-Lynn and Lester del Rey, he worked to make the magazines more contemporary. Under his auspices, several Best of anthologies for both If and Galaxy were published, and Galaxy was a three-time finalist for the Hugo Award. (Died 1984.)
  • Born December 6, 1924 – Wally Cox, Actor and Comedian. Who can resist the voice of the Underdog series, which ran from 1964 to 1967? I certainly can’t. He also appeared in the films Babes in Toyland,  Quarantined, and Once Upon a Mattress, and had guest parts in The Twilight Zone, Mission: Impossible, Lost in Space, Get Smart, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and Night Gallery. Interestingly, he had a lifelong close friendship from childhood with Marlon Brando (Died 1974.)
  • Born December 6, 1938 – Patrick Bachau, 80, Actor, Writer, and Producer from Belgium who had parts in French-speaking genre films before crossing the ditch where he became known to genre fans for his four-year role as Sydney on The Pretender. He also played a main role in the miniseries Kindred: The Embraced, had guest parts in episodes of Alias, The Dead Zone, and Earth 2, and had roles in Jennifer Connelly’s genre film debut Phenomena, The Cell, Serpent’s Lair, Vampires: The Turning, the execrable The Rapture, and 2012: We Were Warned.
  • Born December 6, 1948 – JoBeth Williams, 70, Oscar-nominated Actor and Producer who graduated from university intending to become a child psychologist, but instead caught the acting bug. Genre fans will remember her for her Saturn-nominated role in Poltergeist and its sequel. Other genre films include The Day After, Endangered Species, Switch, TiMER, It Came from the Sky, and The World Beyond. She also played Marge Slayton in From the Earth to the Moon.
  • Born December 6, 1953 – Tom Hulce, 65, Oscar-nominated Actor of Stage and Screen and Producer. His first genre role was in a highly-praised performance as the lead in the American Playhouse broadcast of The Rise and Rise of Daniel Rocket, about a young boy who discovers that he can fly. Although the bulk of his career has been in the theater, his most notable genre film role was as Henry Clerval in Kenneth Branagh’s Saturn-nominated Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He was nominated for an Annie Award for his voice performance of Quasimodo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and appeared in the films Stranger than Fiction and Jumper.
  • Born December 6, 1962 – Colin Salmon, 56, Actor from England who is best known for playing M’s Deputy Chief of Staff in three James Bond films, and as James “One” Shade in the Resident Evil film series. He has had roles in films including Alien vs. Predator, Tales from the Crypt, Punisher: War Zone, Annihilation: Earth, and Space Island One, and on television series including Arrow, Limitless, and the obligatory Doctor Who appearance (with David Tennant). He had a main role in the British series Hex, and currently plays General Zod in the Krypton series.
  • Born December 6, 1969 – Torri Higginson, 49, Actor and Producer who is almost certainly best known for her Saturn-nominated main role for four seasons as Dr. Elizabeth Weir on Stargate: Atlantis – but, like JJ, you may experience the lightbulb going on when you hear that her earliest genre role was as the female lead in Shatner’s TekWar series. She also had a main role in the supernatural series Inhuman Condition, and a recurring role in the deep space mystery series Dark Matter. Other appearances include Stephen King’s Storm of the Century, Stonehenge Apocalypse, The Cult, and episodes of Highlander: The Raven and The (new) Outer Limits.


  • Brevity puts a smart weapon in Captain Kirk’s hands – or is that a smartass weapon?

(11) THEY’RE IN A RABBIT STEW. BBC One has put out a trailer for its adaptation of Watership Down. It will be released on Netflix on December 23, the day after it debuts on BBC One.

(12) MORAL EQUIVALENT OF WAR. M. Harold Page expounds on internet culture in “Worldbuilding Once and Future Fake News: Not Really A Review of Singer & Brooking’s LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media at Black Gate.

I’ve been reading LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by Singer and Brooking. It describes the emerging world of Internet “news” where news passes from person-to-person on social media, no source is uncontroversially trustworthy, and where both information warriors and click-bait farmers are uninterested in the truth, except as a way of making untruths more plausible.

In this world, what determines a narrative’s success is not veracity but rather: Simplicity; Resonance; and Novelty.

Just switch the arena to “rumor” and this looks awfully like a greatly accelerated version of the pre-modern — especially Medieval and Renaissance — milieus we use as inspiration for Fantasy worldbuilding.  Keep the rumor but return the tech, and it’s also a good jumping-off point for building a Space Opera future. Stay with me and I’ll explain. But first, back to the smoking ruins of Limoges.

(13) THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON. Nature reports a Chinese spacecraft will soon make the first visit: “Journey to the far side of the Moon” [PDF file].

Early in the New Year, if all goes well, the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e-4 will arrive where no craft has been before: the far side of the Moon. The mission is scheduled to launch from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan province on 8 December. The craft, comprising a lander and a rover, will then enter the Moon’s orbit, before touching down on the surface.

If the landing is successful, the mission’s main job will be to investigate this side of the lunar surface, which is peppered with many small craters. The lander will also conduct the first radio astronomy experiments from the far side of the Moon — and the first investigations to see whether plants will grow in the low-gravity lunar environment…

(14) MORE MUPPET MUSIC. Lyndsey Parker, in the Yahoo! Entertainment story, “Paul Williams unearths lost ‘Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas’ Muppet soundtrack: ‘One of my favorite things I’ve ever done'”, says that Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, which hasn’t been seen since its broadcast on HBO in 1977, is about to be released in theaters later this month.  Paul Williams talks about his song “When The River Meets The Sea,” which was played at Jim Henson’s funeral in 1990 and which he thinks is one of his best works.

When songwriting legend Paul Williams met Muppets mastermind Jim Henson in 1976, after appearing on The Muppet Show, the fateful encounter led to a long and fruitful musical partnership, highlighted by Williams’s Oscar-nominated theme for The Muppet Movie, “Rainbow Connection.”

But it all started with the 1977 HBO cult classic Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, which will be screened in theaters nationwide for the first time ever this month, on Dec. 9 and 16. And incredibly, Williams’s twangy Emmet Otter soundtrack has finally been officially released, just in time for this holiday season, with a previously unreleased song, “Born in a Trunk,” that didn’t make it to air.

(15) FRUIT FLIES LIKE A… MARULA? NPR reveals “When And Where Fruit Flies First Bugged Humans”.

A study published Thursday suggests Drosophila melanogaster first shacked up with humans when the insects flew into the elaborately painted caves of ancient people living in southern Africa.

That’s according to a report published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Scientists say the flies would have been following the alluring smell of stored marula fruit, which were collected and stored by cave-dwelling people in Africa. This tasty yellow fruit was a staple in the region in those days — and was also the fruit that wild flies apparently evolved to depend on in nearby forests.

The humble fruit fly now lives with humans all over the planet and is one of the world’s most studied creatures. For more than a century, biology and medical laboratories have depended on this fly — one scientist notes that at least nine times, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded for research on Drosophila….

(16) STONE FAT: Harder to lose than cellulite! “Fossil preserves ‘sea monster’ blubber and skin”.

Scientists have identified fossilised blubber from an ancient marine reptile that lived 180 million years ago.

Blubber is a thick layer of fat found under the skin of modern marine mammals such as whales.

Its discovery in this ancient “sea monster” – an ichthyosaur – appears to confirm the animal was warm-blooded, a rarity in reptiles.

The preserved skin is smooth, like that of whales or dolphins. It had lost the scales characteristic of its ancestors.

The ichthyosaur’s outer layer is still somewhat flexible and retains evidence of the animal’s camouflage pattern.

The reptile was counter-shaded – darker on the upper side and light on the underside. This counter-balances the shading effects of natural light, making the animal more difficult to see.

(17) NO LONGER SF. Remember to tip your avatar: “Japanese cafe uses robots controlled by paralysed people”.

A cafe staffed by robot waiters controlled remotely by paralysed people has opened in Tokyo, Japan.

A total of 10 people with a variety of conditions that restrict their movement have helped control robots in the Dawn Ver cafe.

The robot’s controllers earned 1,000 yen (£7) per hour – the standard rate of pay for waiting staff in Japan.

It is hoped the project will give more independence to people with disabilities.

(18) A WORD FROM SOMEBODY’S SPONSOR. We’ve come a long way from the one-room schoolhouse. I suppose in another generation they’ll be saying we’ve come a long way from the one-robot schoolroom.

The Belgian company Zora Bots is currently conquering the world with its unique solution especially designed for humanoid robots. Now, Zora Bots is about to change the way education system prepares the future generations to the ongoing technology revolution. In Belgium, a new step has just been made in that field with the support of Zora solutions. Comitted in an ambitious digitilization program, the town of Ostend (West Flanders) becomes today the first smart city in Europe to equip all its secondary schools with a humanoid robot. That means no student in secondary cycle will be deprived of having his first coding experience with a robot.

(19) MAKING A POINT: BBC tells about “The Indian restaurants that serve only half a glass of water”.

At the pure vegetarian Kalinga restaurant, a couple have just been seated when a waiter approaches their table and asks if they want water.

“I said yes and he gave me half a glass of water,” says Gauripuja Mangeshkar. “I was wondering if I was being singled out, but then I saw that he had only poured half a glass for my husband too.”

For a moment, Ms Mangeshkar did wonder whether her glass was half full or half empty, but the reason why she was served less water was not really existential.

Nearly 400 restaurants in Pune have adopted this measure to reduce water use, ever since the civic authorities announced cuts in supply a month ago.

[Thanks to Mark Hepworth, JJ, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, Carl Slaughter, Steve Green, Daniel Dern, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Soon Lee.]

69 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 12/6/18 By Grabthar’s Pixel, By The Scrolls Of Warvan, You Shall Be File’d

  1. 13
    I thought that the Russians had sent one there, but maybe I’m misremembering and it was one of their lunar orbiters.

  2. @11: does anyone else get an uncanny-valley feeling about that trailer? I don’t assume rabbits in the UK move the same way as the ones infesting this area, but the movement just doesn’t seem right.

    @P J Evans: I know the Russians published the first pictures (and IIRC pasted names on some of the best craters — not that I mind a crater named for Tsiolkovski…), but IIRC that was from an orbiter only, not a lander.

    Edit: Fifth!

    @OlavRokne: huh?

  3. @Chip —

    @11: does anyone else get an uncanny-valley feeling about that trailer? I don’t assume rabbits in the UK move the same way as the ones infesting this area, but the movement just doesn’t seem right.

    Animal movements are very rarely “right” in animated anything, and yes, it always annoys the hell out of me, why do you ask? 😉

  4. 11
    Those don’t look like rabbits to me. I’ve seen both wild and domesticated rabbits, and hares too, and those just don’t look right in shape or fur.

  5. @Mortal Engines. That’s the second review I’ve read of it…the first one said that the movie was behind the times, too much along the lines of movies made during the Teen Dystopia height. Damn. I really enjoyed the books and was hopeful for the adaptation

  6. My pet bunny lived to be nearly ten but he never rolled around on his back like that. I’m thrilled that Watership Down is being revisited though, it’s my favorite novel.

    I’ve played virtual “team sports” with paralyzed people and some are decent athletes, so it stands to reason they could work at virtual jobs too.

  7. Not only do the bunnies’ motions and fur look all wrong, I think I saw a scene where they were speaking! Nobody’s going to buy that.

    Realistic hair/fur is very hard to render efficiently because of both the geometric complexity and the complex way light travels through and reflects off the fibers. Looks like this one has been done on the cheap. Or, more charitably, they’ve gone for a stylized look.

  8. Hark! The herald pixels scroll
    “The comment section’s free of trolls!
    Double fifths and sevens filed
    Dog and shoggoth reconciled.”
    Joyful, all you Filers rise,
    For new books are on half-price;
    When a typo you proclaim
    Of libations appertain.
    Hark! The herald pixels file,
    Rotating the WABAC dial,
    “From Mount Tsundoku’s overlook
    I see cats sitting on my books.”

  9. @Matthew Johnson — Thunderous applause.

    @Hampus — I shall be purchasing both of those games at the earliest possible opportunity. (I’m currently in a replay of Dragon Age: Origins & its DLC — at the moment, I’m running around in Golems of Arglebargle, which is easily the most difficult one they produced.)

  10. 11- As a pet rabbit owner, I don’t think the animation is too bad but it does look unfortunate when they’re running — their back legs don’t go far out enough and without enough force, so it makes them look weightless. Which is a problem for a lot of CGI work.

    And yeah, rabbits don’t roll on their backs. At most, they’ll flop on their sides if they feel especially comfortable and happy.

  11. 11. RE: Watership Down. To me, it looks like they took the style of the animated movie and CGIed it, keeping the shapes. I’ll need to rewatch that version before watching the new version though.

    So funny, I had a whole conversation with a co worker last night about WD and this production. She also had the “rabbits look uncanny” reaction to the stills she saw.

    Still looking forward to it!

  12. I’m also not psyched with how the rabbits in Watership Down look, or the animation in general, but I’m hoping if I shut my eyes, it’ll be a nice audio play. The cast is amazing, even if they’ve apparently gender-flipped Strawberry (whyyyyyyy? The whole reason to go to Efrafa is because they have no female rabbits. If Strawberry is a female, that kind of undermines that, though I guess they could go with the “We need more than just one female rabbit.”)

  13. Cliff on December 7, 2018 at 2:47 am said:

    Realistic hair/fur is very hard to render efficiently because of both the geometric complexity and the complex way light travels through and reflects off the fibers.

    To get realistic movement you also have to simulate the effects of gravity, air, and the friction of hare hair against hare hair. It is something on the level of needing a supercomputer to calculate. (Fortunately supercomputers now cost a few hundred bucks each at your local Wal-Mart.)

  14. @Shem —

    And yeah, rabbits don’t roll on their backs. At most, they’ll flop on their sides if they feel especially comfortable and happy.

    Not always true. As a counterexample, I have an adorable photo of a pet bunny sleeping on its back, all cuddled up to its favorite dog friend.

    @Matthew — Bravo and huzzah!

  15. Here —

    I dug out my copy of that bunny photo and temporarily uploaded it to my blog site so I could post it here. I won’t leave it up for long, because it isn’t my photo and I don’t know the original source.

    Let’s see if I can make this work —

    ETA — nope, that didn’t work. Let’s try this instead —

    bunny pic

  16. Contrarius, that poor bunny has clearly been corrupted by being raised in a dog household. Unfortunate bunny has had their poor brain twisted.

  17. If cats are SJW credentials, what are bunnies credentials for?

    Hugh Hefner?

    Playboy did publish a lot of genre fiction back when it was actively publishing fiction.

  18. Lis Carey on December 6, 2018 at 7:47 pm said:

    (1) If the book jackets are going to start snapping when we try to pick them up, I’m going to swear off print books permanently.

    It could be worse–they could be wearing infinity stones when they snap… 😉

    John A Arkansawyer on December 7, 2018 at 3:59 am said:

    18) I’m not a developer, but I’m close enough to one to agree with this guy: I’m a Developer. I Won’t Teach My Kids to Code, and Neither Should You.

    Despite the headline, I read that piece as more of a criticism of the current methods being promoted for teaching kids programming. Handing the kids a robot and access to a programming language seems to address the biggest complaints in that article: rote drill and the idea that there’s one “correct” solution to problems.

    I might go so far as to say that it sounds like what’s being offered is what that fellow was asking for, rather than what he was complaining about. An opportunity to learn something about programming and not just coding.

    (I am a software developer, and I think I find myself mostly in agreement with the article. Thanks for the link.)

  19. @Xtifr
    I was a computer-science major, and I agree with it, for the most part. (It sounds a lot like the mindset that thinks teaching kids coding will Fix Everything is the same one that thinks giving them calculators at 5 or 6 years old will teach them math.)
    Programming is like writing: it’s work and needs a lot of practice. (I had the pleasure of the same professor for two different languages. Some of the problems were identical, but the solutions were not.)

  20. @PJ and Xtfir. I’m not a programmer but I don’t agree with this article. Basic coding camp may not teach you everything that you know to be a programmer but it does teach some necessary skills. You need both that and problem solving etc to be a programmer.

  21. bookworm, learning syntax is the easiest part of programming. Problem-solving isn’t enough, either. Imagination, being able to see how to solve something you’ve never met before, that’s a big part – and that’s not, from my experience, really teachable.

  22. Writing readable code. There are a lot of talented creative people around, but if you can’t understand their code, they are doomed to single person projects. That and at least some besy practices.

    But bah, not impressed by that article. For kids, you start with syntax to be able to do anything at all. After that, they will pick up the problem solving if they find something fun they want to accomplish and have the knack for it. Best you can do there is try to limit the scope so its manageable.

  23. (7) It would, I think, have helped the author’s article if she’d been more familiar with the revived series of Who — she’d then have been able to compare the current series with previous ones, and form her own view on how / if they differed. Mixed-race couples and casual mentions of same-sex marriage have been present in the series since 2005, after all.

  24. @Jack Lint
    As a teen, I always read the short stories in my Dad’s Playboy mags and was particularly happy when there was an SF story. I vividly remember a story about a star going supernova and the sole survivors of a planet orbiting it watching the whole thing from research spacecraft.

    Occasionally, my Dad brought home Penthouse instead of Playboy. I always got angry then, because “the other mag has all the good stories and this one is just dumb”.

    Yes, I was the person who really read Playboy just for the articles and stories.

  25. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 12/7/18 Baby, It’s Scrolled Outside | File 770

  26. @bookworm:

    I have to agree with PJ here. I still look up certain keywords and syntax now and again, because I’ve used too many languages in my life to keep all of their idiosyncrasies straight in my head. (IptScrae was fun.) As long as I can see the algorithm, though, I can bash away at the mechanics until the code works.

    I’ve said for decades now that my computer science courses weren’t useful for putting syntax in my head. Hell, we used Pascal in those classes, I learned that in high school, and I haven’t touched it in this century. What remains useful is that the courses taught me how to analyze a problem and break it down into manageable units. The “I’m not teaching my kids to code” guy is focused on those skills, and I can’t fault him for that at all.

    There are reference books and search engines that I can consult if I run into a syntax problem. If I can’t figure out how to approach the necessary task, though, I’m screwed.

  27. @Rev. Bob
    We were required to have Basic/Fortran before we could even get into CS at my school – and I’d had Fortran twice already, so I was focusing on the finer points, like faking stacks in it (for non-recursive quicksort).
    Pascal was still a requirement – that was one of the two languages from the one professor – and Basic was an elective – that was the other. (IIRC, I was also taking assembler language (in the engineering department) and Latin, for fun, that quarter, at the same time I was taking…I think it was Basic, but I could be wrong, as it’s been nearly 30 years, and the papers are Somewhere Else. It was an interesting quarter.)

  28. The problem I have with not teaching coding is that all the creativity and problem-solving is vaporware until it’s implemented — and as the author notes, the first implementation is usually wrong. ISTM it’s a bit like asking someone to express a deep philosophical question without actually knowing any spoken or written language. I can certainly understand that some courses — maybe even courses for kids — spend too much time on syntax, but ISTM that there are a lot of ways to screw up a program due to broken syntax (or worse, to do something that looks clever but turns out to break due to a violation); learning this exactitude after the flexibility of spoken language, which commonly has many workable forms, is nontrivial in itself.

    tl;dr version: separate baby and bathwater.

  29. Rev. Bob: I’ve said for decades now that my computer science courses weren’t useful for putting syntax in my head. Hell, we used Pascal in those classes, I learned that in high school, and I haven’t touched it in this century. What remains useful is that the courses taught me how to analyze a problem and break it down into manageable units. The “I’m not teaching my kids to code” guy is focused on those skills, and I can’t fault him for that at all.

    I definitely learned syntax for a number of languages at university. But I agree wholehearteadly that was not the valuable part of my computer science education. The thing that has been so incredibly valuable to me — and not just in terms of developing software — was the training I received in logical top-down design and development. It taught me to break down projects of any sort into an outline of the various things (modules) which need to be done, then to break each of those down into lists of steps or submodules. This is a hugely-important life skill in terms of not becoming overwhelmed and paralyzed by immense tasks or problems (and in terms of being able to complete them successfully).

    Once I got out into the working world, I was shocked to discover that many of my co-workers did the equivalent of “pantsing” their software — they just sat down and started coding without doing any analysis or planning first — and their results were, unsurprisingly, really, really, bad. Not only did what they wrote not work properly, they had no idea how to go about debugging it. And I’m pretty sure that trying to debug and maintain software written by people like that was where I developed my proficiency at being able to out-swear sailors.

    While creativity is hugely important, it doesn’t matter how creative or innovative you are, if you don’t have the skillset to figure out how to logically implement your ideas (or the money to pay someone else to do it). This is, of course, a different skillset from actually knowing the syntax of the coding language, which is, I agree, the least critical part of it, as long as you can read documentation (another highly-useful skill which I was also surprised to find is not commonly-found amongst developers).

  30. We got stuff handed to us in “pseudocode”, which is what you’d get with top-down design, after two or three steps. (I’d started with flowcharting, way back, so I didn’t have a problem with pseudocode.)
    One of the papers I wrote was an error manual for a non-existent but imaginable language, as in “this error message is probably caused by this”. It’s a useful exercise.

    One of the problems set in one class was “decompose the range of integers 3130 to 3140 into the sums of not more than three integers”, with the requirement that it be done in as few lines as possible (in whichever language it was – Pascal, IIRC), and the number of sums so we’d know if we were Doing It Rong. (I did it in something like 67 lines, but someone else used 200-plus, with all kinds of switches involved. I’ll admit to getting out of a loop with a go-to, because I couldn’t figure out a better way. The program worked correctly, though.) It was one of the rare occasions when I could see how to do it right away.

  31. I don’t know if my father was teaching me any specific language back in the 60s — I guess he was teaching me whatever the government was using — but he was primarily just working with me on flowcharts, which he said I could use whether I went into computers or not. (I did not go into computers.)

    Would a reason to stress syntax to kids be in hopes they could express themselves better in code than they do in written English? Or is it that only people who can use their primary language can do well in computer language as well? I’m asking because I have no idea, though the friends I have in computing are definitely also good in writing and speaking.

  32. Jeff Smith: Would a reason to stress syntax to kids be in hopes they could express themselves better in code than they do in written English? Or is it that only people who can use their primary language can do well in computer language as well? I’m asking because I have no idea, though the friends I have in computing are definitely also good in writing and speaking.

    I have known a lot of software developers who were competent coders but absolute shyte at expressing themselves in spoken and written English — in fact, one of my advantages in my career has been my strong ability to do both, because so many of my colleagues could not explain something in plain English to save their soul.

    I can only relate my personal experience — which was that, when I started com sci courses, I found picking up computer languages (last time I bothered to count, it was more than 25) just as easy as I had found learning French in high school (and I had found that my years of French enabled me to read Spanish and Italian with pretty good comprehension).

    My suspicion is that people who have a facility for foreign languages will have a facility for computer languages, and vice-versa. Given that they’ve demonstrated that children learn foreign languages more easily than adults, I would expect children to have an advantage over adults with computer languages as well.

  33. JJ: Thanks for the response. I was terrible at French, so I guess it’s just as well I didn’t try to learn anything other than BASIC.

    (One of my French teachers asked me if I had taken Spanish first. No, definitely not, one foreign langauge was bad enough. Funny, she said, you speak French with a Spanish accent.)

Comments are closed.