Data is ones and zeroes. Software is ones and zeroes and hard work. Welcome to the Third Bit.

Greg Wilson Welcome to Greg Wilson's personal blog.
The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.
Sep 15, 2014 Stray Thoughts
My friend Bob told me a story once. He spent a winter in a cabin outside Whitehorse with only a dog for company. When the thaw finally came, he and his dog got into his truck and headed into town to pick up supplies. Suddenly, without warning, a thought popped into his head: "I wonder if I have enough money?" He said it didn't feel like it was his thought. It felt like it was something from outside him that had just been floating around looking for a brain to land in, in the way that a mosquito might cruise...
Sep 11, 2014 What Sciences Are There?
The Software Carpentry pre-assessment questionnaire for bootcamp participants ask them to tell us what field they're in. The options we give them are usually some variation on: Space sciences Physics Chemistry Earth sciences (geology, oceanography, meteorology) "Macro" life science (ecology, zoology, botany) "Micro" life science (microbiology, genetics) Neuroscience Medicine Engineering (civil, mechanical, chemical) Computer science and electrical engineering Economics Humanities and social sciences Library sciences Other: ______________________________ People frequently use the "Other" field to tell us that their specialty doesn't fit any of our categories, or that the categories themselves don't make sense. I agree with the complaint, and would...
Sep 10, 2014 Please Help Trans Tech
Naomi Ceder's talk at PyCon 2014 about her transition from male to female was the highlight of the conference for a lot of people. She recently posted this; I think it's a great cause, and they'd be grateful for your support. Un- or under-employment. Harassment and violence. Suicide. These were the sobering possibilities I considered as I prepared to transition, the risks that I run as a transgender woman in our society. And as frightening as those prospects were and are for me, they are orders of magnitude worse for trans people who are young, who are poor, who are...
Apr 24, 2014 Hand Made
Sadie made this for me. It's super-cuddly.
Apr 15, 2014 This Is Why I Don't Write Any More
Thursday: fly to Montreal for PyCon. Friday: give a talk at McGill. Saturday: tell people at PyCon what I know about education. Sunday: help Michael DiBernardo run a reviewing sprint on 500 Lines or Less, the fourth volume in The Architecture of Open Source Applications, then forget to mention him by name in a lightning talk about the project. (Sorry, man...) Monday: teach a one-day version of our instructor training course while a dozen other people are teaching three Software Carpentry bootcamps in parallel and a bunch of volunteers are sprinting to gather names and genders of speakers at computing...
Mar 14, 2014 Is Learning at Scale Just Another Name for Ubiquitous Surveillance in the Classroom?
Last week, I attended an ACM conference called Learning@Scale. It was the most depressing meeting I've been to in years, both because of what was said and done and because of what wasn't. According to its blurb: This conference is intended to promote scientific exchange of interdisciplinary research at the intersection of the learning sciences and computer science. Inspired by the emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)...this conference was created by ACM as a...key focal point for the review and presentation of...research on how learning and teaching can change and improve when done at scale. That sounds cool, and...
Jan 24, 2014 The Other One Per Cent
Over the past year, there's been a minor rage storm on the internet (and oh yeah, in print, I guess) about the widening gulf between academic haves and have-nots. One theme that's come up over and over again is the unexamined privilege of the tenured few who run academia (see for example this post, and more importantly this follow-up). I'm on the side of the ragers, but I think many of them don't realize that they're part of a different "one per cent" when it comes to information. I no longer have an academic position, so I can't (legally) access...
Nov 10, 2013 Three Old Men Drinking Tea
Years ago, a friend took me to see an exhibit of Chinese paintings in Edinburgh. I liked one so much that I picked up a print (which I have long since lost). for one called, "Three Old Men Drinking Tea." As near as I can recall, the text said, "The first figure is the Buddha: he is frowning because the tea is bitter. The second, Lao Tzu, is smiling because the tea is warm, while the third represents Confucius, who is ignoring the tea and studying the cup very closely." I think about those three old men a lot when...
Oct 23, 2013 A Simple Exercise
Every teacher has a few favorite assignments. Here's one of mine, which I gave to two undergraduate software engineering classes that I taught at the University of Toronto: According to Statistics Canada, about 6% of Canadians are from East Asian or South Asian backgrounds. However, roughly 75% of students in Computer Science are ethnically Asian. Your task is to write two short essays, each roughly 1000 words long. In the first, you are to argue that this proves Caucasians and members of other ethnic groups are intrinsically less interested in or capable of programming than Asians. In the second, you...
Oct  8, 2013 Assuming the Problem
Gizmodo ran a piece recently titled What Happens When Cities Fall Apart? about the work of David Kilcullen, an Australian military theorist who believes that many future conflicts will take place in lawless urban areas—what he calls "feral cities". For me, this was the most important, and most saddening, passage in the article: ...if cities—particularly in the world's coastal, developing regions—are such a hotbed for future aggression...then how can we develop a new understanding of the city that would help us to...design away this growing problem? How can both civil infrastructure and urban governance be made more resilient to become...
Sep 24, 2013 To Tell You the Truth...
Sep 15, 2013 PyCon 2014 Proposal
I submitted this proposal to PyCon 2014—win or lose, I hope to see you all there. Submitted by: Greg Wilson Category: Education Python Level: Novice Audience: scientists, educators, and community organizers Objectives: Attendees will learn what we know about free-range teaching and learning, why very smart people still mostly can't program, what's wrong with MOOCs, and what the #1 priority for creators of new programming languages ought to be. Duration: I prefer a 45 minute slot Description: This talk will explain how Software Carpentry has grown to run over a hundred training events a year, what we've learned along the way, and...
Sep  5, 2013 Still
I am pleased to announce that my YA novelette Still is now available in paperback at Lulu.com and as a Kindle e-book on Amazon.com. The story is an extended version of one that ran in the Summer 2010 edition of OnSpec magazine; it deals with some difficult themes, but it's the piece of writing I'm proudest of, and I hope you enjoy it. For more about the book and my other fiction, please see http://sensibleadventures.com/.
Aug 31, 2013 How It Should Have Ended
Aug 25, 2013 Why Open Access?
Mark Guzdial's group at Georgia Tech does world-class work on how to teach programming: over half of the links in the recommended reading for our instructor training course point at Mark's blog, and I've learned much of what I know about education from following up the pointers he has provided. Two and a half weeks ago, he posted a link to a paper that he and others had written summarizing what actually works in introductory programming classes. The paper itself was behind the ACM's paywall, and reaction to that ranged from disappointment to vulgar. Mark responded thoughtfully, arguing that the...
Aug 12, 2013 Offering a New Order
Every movement that seeks to change society faces two great tasks. The first is to discredit the old order. The second is to offer a new one. Without the assurance of a new order, the debate becomes a choice between order and chaos, and order wins. — William Saletan, in the New York Times Book Review, Sept 26, 2004
Jul 28, 2013 Chillin'
Jul 28, 2013 Rebooting
After repeated hackage (and half-hearted tech support from Dreamhost, which seems to have lost all interest in its customers), I've rebooted this blog using Jekyll and a custom theme instead of WordPress. I'll be migrating to a new host soon as well; I apologize for any disruption in your feeds.
Jun 13, 2013 Problems with Pandoc
People have been asking me to write the Software Carpentry instructor's guide in Markdown instead of HTML, mostly so that it will be easier for other people to review and contribute. I was initially against the idea because standard Markdown lacks so many features that I'd basically be writing HTML with back quotes instead of <code> tags, but it turns out that Pandoc's variation on Markdown provides a lot of what I want—a lot, but not all. After converting the section on databases, I've come up against the following: Pandoc won't number figures and insert those numbers in references. I...
Jun 13, 2013 Keynoting at SPLASH 2013
I will be giving a keynote talk at SPLASH (formerly OOPSLA) in Indianapolis on Wednesday, October 30. Hope to see you there!
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