Coding project generator
I almost finished it, but I had to extend my deadline a little. I’ll write about it next week.
This week starts a new project month: Sol, the extra month in the middle of the International Fixed Calendar. This month my project is a miscellaneous assortment of life maintenance tasks, mainly continuing to set up my apartment and setting up routines for cleaning and cooking. There are no real deadlines on these things, so I’ll do however much I can fit into four weeks.
Tuesday my futurism group met to discuss the book Program or Be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff. I had mixed feelings about the book. Overall I think it’s a decent conversation starter, but it’s too vague and cursory as a set of advice on its own.
My main beef was with the last chapter, which shares its title with the book. Here’s a 6-minute video summary and a half-hour interview. He says that in the computer age, programming is the new writing, the latest advancement in media skill. The masses need to learn this skill so they won’t be at the mercy of the elites who already have it.
I agree that:
- Everyone should learn that we aren’t limited to the software we’re given. Software is designed by people, and it can work differently than the way they’ve made it. Learning to program can give you a first-hand knowledge of this fact. That knowledge can help free your mind from the software ecosystem we live in.
- The basics of programming are easy to learn. One place to start might be MIT’s Scratch lessons.
- There are useful automation tools that don’t require advanced skill. For example, the website IFTTT. The Automators podcast gives a lot of pointers.
But I also disagree because:
- Merely knowing how to program won’t be enough to free people. They need to have a creative mind and the kind of critical, sociological perspective of people like Rushkoff. So he needs to be clearer about the programs he expects people to create, especially since “software” covers so much territory.
- Making software that’s usable and safe is hard, at least when it’s open to the Internet. It takes a lot of dedication to careful thought and testing. I imagine a world where everyone dashes off quick programs from day to day, and all those programs quickly get hacked. Data breaches become a feature of everyday life.
- What people need are options, software they can choose when they want to leave Facebook or whatever. Not everyone has to take on the role of creating those options. And there are already many alternatives. For example, here are alternatives to Twitter.
- The mere existence of alternative software isn’t enough. People need to use it. After all, everyone’s on Facebook because that’s where everyone else is. So there’s the business question of how we can build the popularity of these other networks and tools.
Last week I got through Design for How People Learn, and I started Story by Robert McKee. Even though I haven’t finished McKee’s book yet, it’s already my favorite of this batch. Very thought provoking and practical. Thank you, Linda, for recommending it.
Linda commented on last week’s post with a question: What do I look for in a writing craft book? I jotted down some thoughts.
- An author who’s informed by long, broad experience.
- Endorsements by friends or by the subject’s authorities or by the book’s popularity.
- Depth rather than superficial techniques. Insights that go beyond the basics. I do need the basics, but after that I need more. I also prefer writers who care about the art of writing and not just how to appeal to the market. But I get that a working writer needs that kind of info to make a living.
- Thorough coverage of its topic.
- Citations of evidence. This could be scientific evidence about what works for readers, or it could be analysis of a wide range of examples.
- Organization that lends itself to procedures and checklists. In my view this is a big part of what makes a book practical.
- Examples of what to do and what not to do, with suggestions for fixing the bad examples.
- Writing that follows its own advice.
- Recommendations for further reading on the book’s topics.
- Exercises are a plus, especially progressions of them, even though I always put them off when I’m just getting through the book. I value them when I decide it’s time to practice. I have whole books of writing prompts.
Great examples of these qualities are Joshua Schimel’s Writing Science and Julie Dirksen’s Design for How People Learn.
My worship played last Sunday. Since I’d finished my survey of our patches in MainStage, I picked a few new ones to try out that weekend, mainly a flute and a dulcimer. I think it worked okay, but I need to practice the styles I have in mind. I also need to ask for feedback on whether what I’m playing sounds good, since I’m still learning how to fit synth into the band.