“I don’t know anything about computers.”

Hello visitors from StumbleUpon! If you like this article, you might be interested in my other popular posts.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when friends say, “I don’t know anything about computers.”

This sentence irks me for a couple reasons. The first is that it is blatantly not true. I’ve met folks who have never touched anything more complicated than a solar-powered calculator. Compared to them, my friends — who use their computers constantly for schoolwork and practically live on Facebook — have considerable technical experience. It is disheartening to hear how little they value their knowledge.

Moreover, the context in which I typically hear friends say, “I don’t know anything about computers,” is as an excuse when their computer does something unexpected, they don’t know what to do, and they would rather back off and let someone else fix it than try to solve the problem on their own. My friends are afraid of their own machines. I think this sentiment is a symptom of ongoing trends in the industry towards a closed-box style of consumer computer design.

Cory Doctorow explains it better than I can in his iPad rant on BoingBoing:

The original Apple ][+ came with schematics for the circuit boards, and birthed a generation of hardware and software hackers who upended the world for the better. If you wanted your kid to grow up to be a confident, entrepreneurial, and firmly in the camp that believes that you should forever be rearranging the world to make it better, you bought her an Apple ][+.

[...] Buying an iPad for your kids isn’t a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is yours to take apart and reassemble; it’s a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals.

While Apple’s closed-box style contributes to the ease of use which is the hallmark of Apple’s products, I’m afraid that it is changing consumer attitudes in a negative way. Apple wants to keep the inner workings of their products a secret to the point that they want to make it illegal for consumers to alter the software running on their own property. Preventing users from controlling the software on their own devices is dangerous for several reasons, but it scares me most because it discourages users from learning about their devices. In effect, Apple is profiting from its customers’ ignorance, and the consequence is that more of my friends profess, “I don’t know anything about computers.”

Apple’s products are a timely example, but other manufacturers are guilty too, and I think it’s the generation just now learning about technology that will suffer most for it. Curious kids will never be able to tinker with the insides of their iPads as they could with the Apple][+. I think we as technophiles have a responsibility to kids to pick up the slack. Get your kids a garage sale computer to take apart together. Find out if your teenager’s high school offers programming classes. Donate to or volunteer with groups such as TechBridge, which offers after-school programs in technology and engineering for underprivileged girls in Oakland, CA. But most importantly, make sure kids are not afraid of tinkering with technology. How else can they hope to make it better?

Should kids be building their brand already?

My first homepage - names and images blurred to protect the innocent and embarrassed.

Last month, Fred Wilson wrote an article on the importance of online branding for young people, especially those of us prying our way into the job market. He agrees with David Karp that the best way to secure a positive online presence is to sell yourself well and market yourself frequently. Examples include posting copious flattering pictures on Facebook to overwhelm the unflattering shots and spreading links to your LinkedIn profile so that unrelated flotsam doesn’t get a higher search ranking than your professional profile does.

I completely agree that pains should be taken such that when the prospective employers google your name, they never find unmentionable content before they find your homepage. When I google my own name, at least the top four results and two more of the top ten are actually about me, and moreover are pages I’d be comfortable letting a recruiter see. While I haven’t secured the domain for my full name, I do have a versatile domain that I like and that I’ll be able to use for my future portfolio.

I didn’t go about domain shopping until halfway through college. Wilson, on the other hand, brags that he bought the domains for his children’s full names a few years ago, and his daughters maintain photo blogs under theirs. He doesn’t mention how old his children are, and while a quick scan of the girls’ blogs shows that they’re probably college students, one might get the impression from Wilson’s article that he advocates kids begin to build their brand as soon as their early teens.

I’m all for building positive content, but I remember the kind of content I created when I was a teenager. No, I wasn’t a wild party girl, but in high school I did have a website dedicated to obscure and decidedly dorky interests. Sure it helped me learn HTML and CSS, but it’s far too embarrassing to showcase to potential employers. While I was proud of it at the time, I’m very glad I never promoted that website under my real name. Kids who start branding in their teens will be stuck with cached content that they probably won’t want associated with their names when they want to impress someone with their online presence. For this reason, I disagree with Wilson that kids need to start their branding early. I don’t think kids need to worry about self-branding until they know what they want to showcase. Until then, anonymity is a kid’s best Facebook friend.

On being a computer camp instructor

As of yesterday, I have completed my summer job. I worked at computer game design camp as a lead instructor, and it was definitely an eye-opening experience. While I didn’t get an IT internship this summer as I’d previously hoped, I still think I spent the summer well in terms of employment.
I thought I knew a lot about working with kids, but I found there was plenty left to figure out the hard way. When I applied for the job, I didn’t expect to be in charge of a whole group of kids on my own, but the camp director decided that I had enough experience to warrant being a lead instructor for the camp. Being a lead instructor meant that I would be in charge of a class of twenty campers for a week, with another instructor assisting me. I worked at three different locations over the summer; sometimes there were other classes from our camp at the site, and sometimes it would just be me, the other instructor, and the campers at our location. My point is that I was suddenly in charge and had to act with authority, even when I didn’t know what I was doing. Turns out that being a figure of authority is quite difficult if you’re not used to it. The two hardest parts were talking to parents and mediating disputes between kids. Parents want to be reassured that they are dropping off their kids in a safe environment where they will have fun, and moreover that their kids are getting their tuition’s worth. They don’t want to see a lead instructor who doesn’t know what she’s doing who will leave the kids bored all day. Mediating kids’ disputes was even harder, I think. You want to be fair to the kids, but if you didn’t see what happened, it’s generally one’s word against the other’s and they probably are both at fault. I learned that the best thing to do is just to seperate them, and by the end of the day they will (hopefully) have forgotten whatever it was they were arguing about.
That’s not to say I didn’t have fun working at camp. Working with kids is rewarding for me partly because of all the funny things kids do. One day was particularly notorious in this sense. I had just brought the kids back from their afternoon recess and a couple had received injuries in the day’s dodgeball game. I had ice packs on hand, so I gave each kid an ice pack. Our ice packs consisted of a plastic bag of ammonium nitrate pellets and a smaller bag of water inside. When you break the smaller bag of water, the water reacts with the ammonium nitrate and an endothermic reaction occurs, making the whole bag ice cold. The problem with these packages is that the smaller bag of water is sometimes difficult to break. The best way is to squeeze the bag as though to pierce it, but this idea did not occur to the kids I gave ice packs to. Instead, they thought it would be more helpful to throw the ice packs on the floor. The other kids thought this was wildly hilarious, so even after the packs were cold, the kids kept throwing them on the floor. Sure enough, one of the thrown packs violently exploded and poured cold slush all over the floor. As if that wasn’t enough, another kid running toward me slid in the slush and kept sliding until he stopped right in front of me, smiling that, “Oops, I messed up but it was hilarious!” smile. It was just the perfect storm of hilarity, and I had to turn around very quickly so the kids didn’t see me laughing. The problem at that point was that the kids were out of their seats, laughing at the kid who fell, and making a mess with the spilled ice pack, and I had to get them back under control somehow. My solution was to turn around suddenly and yell, “All right! Everybody sit down!” in my best angry-camp-counselor voice, and then to chuckle to indicate that I still found the situation funny. It worked; the kids sat their butts down as soon as they thought I was really mad, but relaxed when I laughed. The only casualty of the day turned out to be the outfit of the kid who slid, which I’m afraid may have bleached under the influence of the chemicals.
Overall, I think being a camp counselor was a good experience for me. It was an enjoyable way to make money to last me this coming school year. Over the course of teaching kids how to make computer games, I also discovered that it is something I might want to do for a living someday. I don’t think I’d want to be a camp counselor all the time, but I think I would enjoy working in an elementary school teaching computer classes some day. Not only would I get to work with both computers and kids, but I would hopefully be able to improve kids’ chances of getting into programming, which is something I strongly believe should be taught in school much sooner than it is now.

Kids Under TreeAs of yesterday, I have completed my summer job. I worked at computer game design camp as a lead instructor, and it was definitely an eye-opening experience. While I didn’t get an IT internship this summer as I’d previously hoped, I still think I spent the summer well in terms of employment.

I thought I knew a lot about working with kids, but I found there was plenty left to figure out the hard way. When I applied for the job, I didn’t expect to be in charge of a whole group of kids on my own, but the camp director decided that I had enough experience to warrant being a lead instructor for the camp. Being a lead instructor meant that I would be in charge of a class of twenty campers for a week, with another instructor assisting me. I worked at three different locations over the summer; sometimes there were other classes from our camp at the site, and sometimes it would just be me, the other instructor, and the campers at our location. My point is that I was suddenly in charge and had to act with authority, even when I didn’t know what I was doing. Turns out that being a figure of authority is quite difficult if you’re not used to it. The two hardest parts were talking to parents and mediating disputes between kids. Parents want to be reassured that they are dropping off their kids in a safe environment where they will have fun, and moreover that their kids are getting their tuition’s worth. They don’t want to see a lead instructor who doesn’t know what she’s doing who will leave the kids bored all day. Mediating kids’ disputes was even harder, I think. You want to be fair to the kids, but if you didn’t see what happened, it’s generally one’s word against the other’s and they probably are both at fault. I learned that the best thing to do is just to seperate them, and by the end of the day they will (hopefully) have forgotten whatever it was they were arguing about.

That’s not to say I didn’t have fun working at camp. Working with kids is rewarding for me partly because of all the funny things kids do. One day was particularly notorious in this sense. I had just brought the kids back from their afternoon recess and a couple had received injuries in the day’s dodgeball game. I had ice packs on hand, so I gave each kid an ice pack. Our ice packs consisted of a plastic bag of ammonium nitrate pellets and a smaller bag of water inside. When you break the smaller bag of water, the water reacts with the ammonium nitrate and an endothermic reaction occurs, making the whole bag ice cold. The problem with these packages is that the smaller bag of water is sometimes difficult to break. The best way is to squeeze the bag as though to pierce it, but this idea did not occur to the kids I gave ice packs to. Instead, they thought it would be more helpful to throw the ice packs on the floor. The other kids thought this was wildly hilarious, so even after the packs were cold, the kids kept throwing them on the floor. Sure enough, one of the thrown packs violently exploded and poured cold slush all over the floor. As if that wasn’t enough, another kid running toward me slid in the slush and kept sliding until he stopped right in front of me, smiling that, “Oops, I messed up but it was hilarious!” smile. It was just the perfect storm of hilarity, and I had to turn around very quickly so the kids didn’t see me laughing. The problem at that point was that the kids were out of their seats, laughing at the kid who fell, and making a mess with the spilled ice pack, and I had to get them back under control somehow. My solution was to turn around suddenly and yell, “All right! Everybody sit down!” in my best angry-camp-counselor voice, and then to chuckle to indicate that I still found the situation funny. It worked; the kids sat their butts down as soon as they thought I was really mad, but relaxed when I laughed. The only casualty of the day turned out to be the outfit of the kid who slid, which I’m afraid may have bleached under the influence of the chemicals.

Overall, I think being a camp counselor was a good experience for me. It was an enjoyable way to make money to last me this coming school year. Over the course of teaching kids how to make computer games, I also discovered that it is something I might want to do for a living someday. I don’t think I’d want to be a camp counselor all the time, but I think I would enjoy working in an elementary school teaching computer classes some day. Not only would I get to work with both computers and kids, but I would hopefully be able to improve kids’ chances of getting into programming, which is something I strongly believe should be taught in school much sooner than it is now.