Archive for the ‘rants’ Category

We’re Stuck Here

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

I have come to the conclusion that man is never going to leave the solar system. A few one way trips by unmanned vehicles perhaps but never man. I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of permanent stations on the moon in my lifetime or even my son’s. While that makes me sad what really bothers me is that most people aren’t bothered by this.

Without technology beyond what we have today it just takes far too long to travel outside the solar system. Even Mars is a multi year trip. We don’t have the technology for a round trip to Mars either. Theoretically possible? Probably but I don’t see much chance of it happening in the near future.

In the 60s we landed men on the moon and brought them home. It was an exciting time. I really thought that we’d keep going and that a manned station was only a matter of time. Today we haven’t been back in almost 41 years. There seems to be little interest in sending men back and even less in a moon base. Well except for science fiction fans like myself.

Science fiction is full of stores with faster than light flight or at least ways around the limitation of that speed with wormholes or such nonsense. There doesn’t seem to be any indication that any of this is even possible though. So no way we’re getting out of this solar system reasonably.

BTW this means that there are not space aliens visiting up either.  That doesn’t bother me. I don’t believe there is life out there anyway.

But boy would I like to see us explore new worlds.

CS Educator Interviews: The Index

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

In June of 2013 I started collecting interviews with computer science educators. The plan was to highlight people doing interesting things at a wide range of schools. It’s been an educational experience for me. And a lot of fun as well. This post will serve as a regularly updated index to the interviews as they are posted.

Some Thoughts On Blogging

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

It’s been a bit over eight months since I left Microsoft and moved my Computer Science Education blog to a new location. The move went surprisingly well all told. I didn’t migrate my old posts from the old location but didn’t start completely from scratch. The blog had been around for a while and I had occasionally cross posted so there were some posts there. Also I used Feedburner so by changing that link I kept most of my RSS subscribers.  Other traffic tool longer to build up. But Blogger claims I’ve had a bit over 130,000 page views since then. That’s not bad.  Recent page view counts have been similar to what I was seeing at the old location.

Otherwise I have noticed some changes. Especially lately I am blogging a bit less frequently. Sometimes only twice a week. Other times three times. I used to always post at least five times a week. A couple of reasons for this.

One is time. Or rather how I prioritize my time. At Microsoft part of how I was measured at salary review time was on traffic to my blog. That was a serious incentive to work on quantity as much if not more than quality. These days I don’t have that incentive. In the long run that is good I think.

I also used to have an email inbox that regularly filled with requests from others at Microsoft to promote their products or events. Occasionally driving action to those events or products was also rewarded. These days I don’t have many Microsoft people asking me to promote their stuff. I still do promote some things for friends especially when I think it has real value to my audience. Mostly I do it on my own though. I do miss getting some updates on products directly though. I’ve hardly heard about the Imagine Cup for example. I used to blog about that a lot. I still think it is a great event but my time priority is not to track down the news on it.

Thirdly I am not going to cool events like I used to. I’m not complaining as I am really enjoying being back in the classroom but those events were both a nice change of pace and something good to write about.

On the other hand I am writing about more non-Microsoft things. Not that I didn’t do so before as I often wrote about things like Alice and Scratch. I don’t hesitate to write about Google or Apple these days. I used to occasionally write about them before but always very carefully. A Microsoft employee could get into real trouble commenting too much on competitive products. Not as much from inside the company as outside though. Being publically critical of the competition was not encouraged at Microsoft. In fact they’d rather people said nothing at all than be hyper critical. Promoting competition was also not going to win you any friends but was actually easier for me than being critical. It’s all easier now though.

I’m not sure what the blogging is going to look like over the summer. My blog is evolving and I’m not sure in what directions it will really go. All I know is that I still have a need to share ideas, tools, events and other information. So the blog continues.

Easter, Bing Images and Google Doodle

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Today Bing has a picture of Easter eggs. Google has a picture of Cesar Chavez.  Mixed feelings about this. I didn’t expect an Easter theme from Google. I have very low expectations about them. They ignore a lot of important holidays and events for more obscure or geeky ones.

Easter is the single most important day of the year for Christians though. Christmas pales by comparison so even though I am not surprised I am still disappointed in Google. The Bing one is at least Easter related in the secular sense. I guess they are trying to avoid offending non Christian people while still making a notice of the day for Christians. Not sure what I would have chosen but Easter eggs is probably not it.

Things Have Changed

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

I’m reading an old book. Well actually its an old story and I’m reading it on my Kindle but you know what I mean. The book is Allan Quartermain by H. Rider (Henry Rider) Haggard and it was written in the late 1880s.  Let me tell you things were different back then.

I don’t mean just the obvious technology that wasn’t there back then either. One expects that in a book that takes place in an earlier time. The striking differences are cultural. Books written today that take place in a previous era tend to view those times though the lens of today’s mores and standards. This is not the case with a book that was written during that time. There the reader sees the mores and standards of that time. That is what is the big difference.

I’ve read a number of books from a hundred or more years ago. I’ve got a nice collection of the original Tom Swift books for example. I see some different attitudes towards technology in those books. But the thing that always gets to me is the attitude of the rich, entitled white male primary characters towards women and minorities. These books are written by and for those white males and that is obvious from the language and the actions of the characters.

Women are portrayed as second class. Not as strong emotionally, physically or mentally as men. Blacks are not portrayed as well as women. Words that are no longer accepted in polite society were regularly used without apology as casually as we would use a term like “African-American.”  It’s all quite striking to me as a reader.

I can imagine that books like these had an influence on the young men who read them a century ago. I suspect that the people who bought the books and who wrote them thought about the spirit of adventure, the notions of self-reliance, and in the case of the Tom Swift books an acceptance of science and technology and viewed those as good things. In many ways they probably were (and are). But the social aspects were something that were probably not obvious to the authors or readers. That was just the way real life was.

I wonder if there were books for African Americans in those days? I suspect not that many. In the 1980s for example few African Americans could read and fewer still had the time or money for leisure reading. There were probably books for young (white) women but I haven’t run into any yet. I’m open to suggestions to some I should read though. I wonder what sort of lessons those books taught – intentionally or otherwise.

For now I am enjoying a look into the past but happy that we have progressed since then in so many ways.

School Makes Me

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

I saw a blog post by SCOTT MCLEOD at where he showed the results of typing “school makes me” into Google to see what suggestions it made to complete the query. I decided to try the same thing with Bing.


The list that came up there may be even scarier than what Scott’s list showed. I’m not completely sure what they options are based on but there isn’t a single positive statement in the list above. What does it say about our schools and how can we fix it?

I decided to try some other options. For example “school is” and I got a mix here.


Back to BG

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

A couple of weeks I agreed to return to Bishop Guertin high school to fill a sudden vacancy in the computer science department. I’d been away for 9.5 years working in industry. I was a little nervous about the prospects though. Organizations change over time. People change over time and I know that I have changed in the intervening years. So what would happen when a changed me returned to a changed school? I’ve had both good and bad experiences returning to some place or organization I had been away from for a while.

Four days of classes later I’m getting relaxed. Sure there are changes but in many ways it feels almost as though I had never left. There are a whole new batch of students of course. And some new faculty members and administrators. But there are a good many familiar faces among the faculty and staff. The physical plant is pretty much the same as well. That all helps.

Day one was pretty stressful. Normally a teacher has a week in school for meetings, learning the changes and generally planning for the new school year. I didn’t have that. The teacher I am replacing was really helpful and gave me a lot of resources to use. Unfortunately I was also trying to catch up with a contract project I was working on AND had some car trouble to take care of. I could have used a little more prep time. With help from the other computer teacher (an old friend) I was able to get though the day just fine. Mostly I ran into process issues like learning the attendance system and some hardware issues like an unfamiliar projector.

Still I didn’t feel like I had a minute of calm. Every second was doing something to prep for a class coming up what seemed like instantly.

Day two was better. I was still working on planning out my lessons but I was focused on several days rather than just the next group of kids to come into the room.

Day three better still. I even felt like I could take a short walk around the school during a prep period. The confidence was returning and I was starting to relax.

Today was day four and I felt almost like I was back in the swing of things. I have gotten in the groove of the rotating schedule, getting students to and from lunch break, taking attendance, and most everything else.

I’m still tired of course. My body is adjusting to a new reality. A reality that includes being on my feet a lot more than I am used to. A reality that means my work day starts much earlier in the day than I am used to. And not time to take a nap in the middle of the day either. I suspect that adrenaline is keeping me going much of the day.

Today in the second to last block of the day (a prep period) I started to drag. One more class to teach and I wasn’t sure how I’d be. As the students flowed into the room I felt my energy level rise again. The tired feeling was no where to be found as I taught the class. Kids will energize one if you really enjoy teaching.

I’ve still got some planning to do. I don’t have the schedule for the semester as solid as I’d like it to be. I’ve seen a lot of outstanding teachers over the last few years and I worry that I can’t reach those standards. Making things flow right takes planning and I haven’t had the planning time I’d have liked. I’m hoping to get some of that planning done this weekend though. At this point I have a much better feel for where the students are at, where I am at and where I need to get them.

The good thing is that I know the material cold. I don’t have to spend a lot of time learning the concepts and tools I am teaching. I’ve done it all before. It’s mostly a matter of getting back into the rhythm of things. That and the fact that I great students. Cooperative, engaged, and interested. I’ve really missed the students.

Trust/Don’t Trust The Government

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

My Dad used to tell a story about a preacher and an old woman in the congregation.

The preacher started off preaching about the evils of gambling and the little old lady yelled out “Amen Brother.”

He railed against the evils of drink and the little old lady yelled out “Amen Brother.”

He denounced the evils of smoking and the little old lady yelled out “Amen Brother.”

He started in on the evils a snuff and the little old lady yelled out “Now brother you have moved from preaching to meddling!”

So it is with politics especially today. The government is either helping make the world safer or meddling in what should be private affairs depending on which side you are on an issue. be it global warming, gun control same sex marriage, abortion, copyright infringement, and just about anything else. The same government is evil when it sides with “the other guy” and good when it is on your side. People tell others to “trust the government to protect you” on one issue and “the government is out of control” on others.

People want it both ways. It doesn’t work that way. Sooner or later the more power the people had the government the more power the government wants and takes. At some point either a government become totalitarian or the people say “enough” and start taking power back from the government.

It seems to me that a lot of people agree that business/the rich/how ever you want to categorize them have too much government control. And yet those same people have no problem with the rich funding candidates that they believe in. Obama did not win without a lot of rich people funding his campaign. Was the balance different for him than for Romney? I have to ask “does it matter?” because I don’t think it does. He, and just about every other elected person at the national level and many state levels, is really too beholding to the rich and powerful.

I don’t see a peaceful resolution. I wish I did but I don’t. The country is too divided on too many issues. Division favors the united and for now that means the rich and powerful.

What Kind of Cheese on Your Meatball Parmesan

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Growing up in New York I would often order a Meatball Parmesan hero (grinder, sub, sandwich depending on your part of the world). What I would get was a bunch of meatballs covered with melted parmesan cheese on a long roll. I’ve live for 30 or more years in New Hampshire and here I am likely to be asked “What kind of cheese would you like on that?” It’s as if I hadn’t already said what sort of cheese I was expecting.

Parmesan is almost never an option by the way. American, provolone, mozzarella or even cheddar are more likely options than parmesan. It’s as is Parmesan were a generic word for cheese. But it’s not. No one asks what sort of meat do you want on your Peperoni Pizza do they? Of course not. That would be silly.

Now I don’t mind provolone or mozzarella cheese on my meatball sandwich but why not call it what it is – meatball with cheese?

No Ordinary Father

Friday, September 21st, 2012

I’ve been thinking about my Dad (Rev. Alfred C Thompson) a lot lately. Mostly I keep thinking of asking his advice on things but of course I can’t do that anymore. As I thought about him this morning I decided to post the notes for the talk I gave at his memorial service.


My Dad was a man of many hats; many roles in life. He used to tell me that many people knew about some of his hats, a few people know of many of his hats but only very few knew about all of them. Over the last few years Dad filled me in on history I hadn’t previously known. I thought today I would share some of this with you.

My Dad was first a son. The second child of immigrants from Norway his first language was Norwegian. He learned English through immersion when he started public school. Many people don’t know that he took a two year hiatus from college to help take care of his mother who was in poor health. Others who know that he served in the Navy for three years of World War II don’t know that his first war related service was working for the Norwegian government in exile in New York. A service that included recording messages in Norwegian for broadcast to occupied Norway.

He did join the Navy once he was old enough. There he drove landing craft delivering soldiers and Marines to the beach for seven different island invasions in the war in the Pacific. One medal he was particularly proud of was the Philippine Liberation medal which was awarded by the government of the Philippines. It seems like he was constantly running into nurses from the Philippines and they always got to hear about that medal.

After the war he spent some time crewing sailing yachts but eventually settled down enough to attend Taylor University. At Taylor he not only got a great education but met my mother, Louise Penner. After getting married and graduation the plan was for Dad to get a degree in theology before heading for a career teaching Philosophy. That plan was cut short by my impending arrival. So Dad became a part-time pastor of the East Hampton Methodist church and worked on his degree part-time. My parents were to have two more children before the family moved to Brooklyn where the last of four children was born.

After a long illness my mother passed away leaving my Dad to raise four children alone. When I tell people that my Dad was no ordinary father they often assume that I mean because single fathers were rare in those days but that is only a small part of it. Ordinary fathers send their children to summer camp. My Dad sent the whole neighborhood to summer camp. For two weeks every summer the neighborhood was quiet as literally dozens of kids went to the Adirondacks to attend Word of Life camps. Many of these children, including myself, started their serious Christian lives at that camp. Dad raised money from civic organizations all year long to help pay for camp fees and transportation.

Also during the years in Brooklyn my Dad joined the Navy Reserve as a chaplain. There he eventually rose to the rank of Captain and only age forced retirement kept him from making admiral according to the Navy’s chief of chaplains. Dad’s other chaplain ministry was to the New York City Fire Department.

Dad’s day was a 24 hour 7 day a week affair. At any time of the day or night the phone might ring or a knock on the door would indicate someone in need of help. I’ll never forget one night around 11 answering the door to see a fireman in uniform who asked “is the chaplain available?” And he was. At any time to anyone who needed him.

Dad took over a hospital once. He was appointed by a bankruptcy judge to take over as the administrator of a hospital in Chapter 11. A year and a half later the hospital was in the black and a permanent administrator took over. And oh yes he kept up a full load of work as the pastor of a church as well as his Navy and Fire Department responsibilities. I’m not sure he slept. At least most of us kids had mostly grown up by then. We’re still only mostly grown up by the way.

In his 60s Dad started to retire to enjoy life with his second wife, Sheila who he had supported and encouraged as she pursued her own ordination in the Method Church. First the Navy and then the full-time pastorate. He was still holding on to his role at fire chaplain when buildings came down on September 11th 2001. One night he slept in his truck a block away from the scene. He stayed at ground zero for six weeks before pneumonia forced him first to the hospital and then home. He ministered to fire fighters, rescue workers, families and helped train and prepare volunteer clergy who came from around the country to help. Having seen so much in the war and during his time as fire chaplain as well as having gone through losing two wives of his own he was uniquely qualified for this capstone event of his career.

After this Dad’s health gradually declined but for years he was active as a guest preacher in many churches. One of his great joys was participating in the weddings of several of his grandchildren. The last wedding he performed was my son and daughter in law’s wedding two years ago. And he loved it.

Father, Pastor, Fire Chaplain, Navy Chaplain, American Legion Chaplain and more. But in all things he was first and foremost a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that is what made everything else possible.