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.
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 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 and as a Kindle e-book on 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
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!
Jun  9, 2013 Heroes
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. — Edmund Burke These men chose to do something. If anyone deserves to be called heroes, they do. Edward Snowden Bradley Manning
Jun  7, 2013 Is There Only Room for One Utopia?
The title of Samuel Moyn's The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History is misleading. It isn't really a history of human rights; instead, it's an outline of how human rights rose to prominence as a defining political issue in the years after World War II. But it doesn't really do that either: all too often, Moyn alludes to people and events, rather than describing or explaining them, so his argument he's trying to make is sketched rather than drawn. And he definitely is making an argument. In a nutshell, he believes that human rights have become important because other utopias...
May  8, 2013 If Anything, They Overestimate My Javascript
From my open source report card: More seriously, there's a whole lotta unhealthy spin goin' on when "open source" means "what you did on GitHub".
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