Category Archives: Technology

Technology

Learning new things?

Earlier today I posted this on twitter:-

I thought I’d write a quick post about it, as since I posted it got me thinking about learning new things.

If you ever decide to learn about something new, especially an unfamiliar technology, everything can seem confusing and bewildering.  Try something for me – go to Stackoverflow.com and pick a subject that you know nothing or very little about – here’s a list of questions about the Ruby programming language, for example.  All gobbledygook?  I thought so (unless you’re an expert in Ruby already and reading this, then choose something else, OK?)

Once you start learning that new thing and new knowledge starts sticking to your brain, the questions start to make more sense, and if you’re lucky you’ll eventually come across one that you know the answer to, and that gets quite exciting.  Over time, more and more learning means you get to answer more and more questions and then, one day, the penny drops and things change completely.  Somebody posts an answer to a question and you find that you completely disagree with it and need to make your voice heard.  

At this point two things happen – you either make a fool of yourself by getting the wrong end of the stick, or you nail it completely and look like an expert on the subject.  Either way is good – if you do the first, you learn from your mistakes.  If your conflicting opinion is correct however, you come to the realisation that you are starting to know your stuff.  That is the point when the hard work of studying and learning starts to come to fruition.

I would seriously advocate using something like stackoverflow or Experts Exchange regularly to test your knowledge in new fields.  They not only present new ideas to you that you might not have read up on in the past, but provide different contexts and situations for you to apply your new knowledge to, and when you do get to the point where you start to successfully answer questions correctly, things get much more interesting and satisfying.  You’re also helping others learn in the same way, too, and that contribution is noteworthy.

Technology

Coding – The New Latin? A little discussion…

Hands up if this brings back memories:-

A couple of days ago the BBC News ran an article entitled ‘Coding – The New Latin’, a piece discussing the proposal that coding/programming may become some kind of core subject in schools, and that ICT skills taught in today’s age are really nothing more than primers on the general day-to-day operation of computers (or MS-Office basics) rather than how they work or how to get them to do what we want them to.

I have to say I completely agree with this proposal.  As a person with a high interest in programming but with skills that are mainly self-taught as a byproduct of an inquisitive mind, I feel that such teaching would have been invaluable at a younger age.  That said, I was always a geek at heart, learning to program BASIC on my Commodore 64 by copying code from books and magazines.  Not every kid I went to school with was like that – in fact I think I was a pretty rare breed in terms of my own peers at the time.

Nearly half of my life ago I left the world of education with a complete lack of interest in computers and only a handful of skills in PC use.  I had discarded my programming books and was interested in girls and going out.  It was only when I entered the world of work that my interest in those things was reborn, and the prior knowledge I had gained from a mis-spent youth ‘coding’ at least gave me some idea that I could make things happen with computers that went beyond creating ‘flashy’ PowerPoint presentations or making newsletters in Word or Publisher.  

I soon started putting things together and finding that many of these products had some form of in-built programming language which, if applied could not only save me time but that of others.  I started learning more about the subject and I’ve never looked back.  I’m not sure if I’d have had the same enthusiasm had I not picked up the very basics from an early age.

All that being said, I’m no computer scientist.  I know what I know and I make a pretty decent living from it.   If I had my time again I would certainly have taken a greater academic interest in computers rather than my pretty useless A-Level in Psychology.

I certainly don’t think that teaching children the building blocks of coding will produce a surge in applicants to computer science degrees in later life, but I do think it has the opportunity to open minds to the possibilities of that machine we carry in our bags to work, or sit in front of at home.  Even using Excel functions and formulas is made easier when you have a basic understanding of constants, variables and conditional logic.  I think it would really make a difference.

Children today are completely surrounded by technology, the operation of which often baffles the older generations.  Smart phones, tablets and Internet applications are now a staple of youth culture, and their operation often comes more naturally than, say, reading or basic numeracy.  These are obviously the building blocks of education and should continue to be so, but some teaching on ‘how’ and ‘why’ these technologies do what they do in basic coding terms I feel would help no end.

What do you think?  Comments are more than welcome.

Random Technology

Password complexity

This comic from xkcd.com touches on password strength and debunks a common myth – that of password complexity.

Most websites and workplaces etc are hot on password complexity to better secure your files and logins, but it would seem that it isn’t password complexity (or c0mpl3x1ty) that is important, but the length of the password.

This link, although containing some rather complex maths and other geeky stuff, gives you an idea of how long it would take to ‘break’ a password using a couple of different methods.

Here’s how long it would take to break a ‘complex’ password such as “xt15021a”:-


And here’s how long for “I love visiting 2toria.com”:-

Much longer, isn’t it?  So, when thinking up a password, it’s apparently much better, safer and easier to think of a four or five letter mnemonic or sentence that you’ll remember rather than a shorter password that’s made up of numbers, letters and other symbols.

Internet music Technology

Apple joins the social networking scene

So, after some speculation about yesterdays Apple press conference the news is out – Apple have upgraded their software versions, created a new iPod Touch and, in a move to edge into the realm of social networking, they have released ‘Ping’, a new tool built into iTunes.  Not a bad idea at all, really, and if you think about it, it’s a simple and commonsense addition to their media player which adds some value in terms of following favourite artists and finding out what the rest of the world is listening to.  It’s quite a similar idea to Last.fm, but as it is already built in to iTunes it will no doubt pose a threat.

I do think this is a good idea but I wonder if, asFacebook can integrate with Twitter and vice versa, whether or not Steve Jobs will allow its application to talk to other existing social network sites or whether it will remain an ‘Apple only’ product.