Category Archives: Internets

Learning to code again

A few days ago one of my friends tweeted a link to Codeacademy. As you will see when you go there, which you should do immediately after reading this blog post, it teaches you to code by immersing you in lessons right in your web browser. It pushes you in the pool, but you can see it’s a shallow pool, and the water is pretty warm.

You begin thinking you’re just typing. But before you realize what you’re doing, the site’s like, “Oh, btw you’re learning JavaScript right now.” I’m a big fan of tricking people into learning. By telling you that you’re programming after you’ve already completed part of a lesson, the site’s gotten you past the hardest part of programming. Well, at least the part that keeps 99% of people from doing it. You know, the part where you have to overcome all the preconceived notions about programming you’ve accumulated throughout your life that leads you to believe computer programming is something only geniuses do, so if you’re not a genius you shouldn’t even bother.

It came easily to me though. I found it fun, and satisfying in the same way I used to find solving math problems satisfying. A few lessons in, I started realizing that the stuff I was learning on Codeacademy about JavaScript was very similar to the things I learned in the C++ Intro Programming course I took in Engineering school. It’s been six years though, and I had assumed I’d forgotten everything and that my propensity for programming had somehow degraded because I’m 24 now and probably past the stage where I can soak up information like a sponge. Even though I completed all the courses on the site in three days, that stuff was very introductory, so it’s too early to tell if that’s the case. But I have a hunch it was just something that I told myself to avoid trying and failing. I think that lots of other people do that too, and that sites like this can help break through that mental blockade.

There are a few issues with the site though, mostly with how the instructions are worded. I don’t think the lessons would have come quite so easily to me if I hadn’t taken a C++ course and been familiar with if/for/while/do while loops and the basic programming terminology, which they don’t often bother to explain. Probably because it’s a site made by programmers, not English majors, which you can’t really fault them for.

I emailed one of the founders,  Zach Sims, to tell him his site is awesome but that there are some language barriers. He said he knew, and that the site wasn’t really ready for launch. They wanted feedback so they released the prototype on Hacker News, and they ended up with more users than they knew what to do with. Of all the problems to have, that’s a good one. I just hope they hurry up and develop the site, because I have exhausted the material and I need more lessons or I will be sad. I finally found a productive insomnia activity I enjoy and it was over so soon! Typical. But I guess I don’t have to be scared of programming anymore, and I should maybe take an IRL class so I can build my own websites instead of criticizing everyone else’s.

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Please do not ever fall for this

I just got an email in my inbox from “Gmail support” with the subject “Important Update.”

That was the first red flag, as Gmail almost never sends important updates through email, they embed them directly into the site, usually in an alert banner across the top that you can dismiss, or links in the upper right hand side.

Another red flag is that it didn’t have the “verified” padlock symbol net to it, an option you can enable in Google Labs to ensure you that emails from sites that malicious hackers often try this stuff with, like PayPal and eBay, are actually sent from those domains.

Opening the email, I noticed, as did Wired Science Blogger Rhett Allain, that the email didn’t automatically open with images. An email from the Google staff would have. Clicking “view images” presented this email:

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Look at this fucking love connection

Last year when I was working at ScienceBlogs.com, my co-Cat Herder dug up this web gem on flickr and posted it in the forums to the amusement of the bloggers. Titled “Arikia at work”:

Then today, while searching for inspiration for the upcoming photoshoot I’m participating in so I can have some decent head shots/avatar pictures, which have been requested by just about everyone above me in the professional world (and one person in my personal world who I wish was above me in a different way right now if you know what I mean), I came across this strapping young lad’s soul mate:

Look at that fucking love connection!!!!!!!! Amirite?

I hope they found each other and had dirty hot sex by the light of the Atari 520 ST with color graphics and 64k RAM.

ScienceOnline: The Bonnaroo of the Blogosphere

In May of 1994, the first World Wide Web conference was held in the auditorium of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). For some historical perspective, this was the year that Netscape released its first Web browser, Mozilla, the World Wide Web Consortium was established, Windows 95 was released with software to access the Internet, and companies like America Online, Prodigy and CompuServe were competing for status in the public consciousness as the lead provider of Internet access. The Internet was beginning to be accessible to the general public, not just those with extensive computer knowledge or who were working within educational or governmental institutions. The Web as we now know it was beginning to take shape.

Eventually, out of the Cambrian-like explosion that wired the masses, the Blogosphere emerged. While it evolved in the same rocky fashion as the Web itself, burdened by neigh-sayers and meeting corporate resistance as companies struggled to harness its growth for profit, the blogosphere is now viewed as an entity that is revolutionizing journalism and human communication at large.

For those on the forefront of the development of the Web, the World Wide Web conference was an event that educated, inspired and forged partnerships by connecting people whose paths would otherwise never cross.

From Weaving the Web, a book by the inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee:

It was a tremendous gathering. The auditorium held perhaps three hundred people. We limited registration to three hundred, but ended up with three hundred fifty after admitting members of the press, and others who just appeared — testimony of how the Web had grown.

There were people from all walks of life brought together by their enthusiasm of the Web. Talks given in the small auditorium were packed. Because it was the first such conference, many people who had been interacting only by e-mail were meeting each other face-to-face for the first time.

The excitement, congeniality and grass-roots fervor for furthering the Web inspired the reporters there, overdoing it a little, to dub the meeting the “Woodstock of the Web.”

Overdoing it or not, it is fitting to compare innovative conferences like this and ScienceOnline to the generation-defining music festivals that bring multitudes of people together over their commonalities in musical taste every year; registration for ScienceOnline was capped at 250 attendees this year, and filled up within 3 days of the initial announcement. The described enthusiasm and fervor of WWW conference attendees parallels the enthusiasm I observed of ScienceOnline participants.

And so I hereby dub the ScienceOnline conference, the Bonnaroo of the Blogosphere. I’m 23 and never attended Woodstock, but I think that as meaningful as it was to Sir Berners-Lee’s generation, Bonnaroo probably is to mine. As important as it was to have a meeting in the late ’90s to discuss and define the Web when it was in its infancy, it is as important to do so for the blogosphere today.

I attended for the first time last January, prompted by my role as an overlord of ScienceBlogs.com, and will return this year to lead a discussion session with Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com. Our session will be on Web Science, the emerging academic field that explores the way people use the Web, and will cover the origin and history of the Web, the phenomena that can be observed and measured by tracking the way people use the Web, how it effects us currently, and the future of science communication on the Web. We chose this topic because it is of extreme relevancy to the attendees of the conference — and extreme interest to us — and was personally inspired by our recent meeting with Tim Berners-Lee himself.

Attending the ScienceOnline conference last year was an incredible experience that further solidified my decision to pursue my interest in the Web. It’s a place where, if you’re into science and you’re into the Web, and these are the things that get you really excited academically, professionally and/or socially, you can learn what the game-changers in the field are up to and talking about, and talk about it with them, maybe become a game-changer yourself.

On the time line of human existence, being able to “know” someone before you meet them occupies an extremely minute segment. ScienceOnline is an event that epitomizes this. It’s a place where the names that we’ve come to know by hypertext on the computer screen become associated with real people: Where the mental images we hold of people based on their projected online personas become modified or solidified by the impressions gathered from meeting them and interacting IRL. Someday, this concept will be commonplace, if it isn’t already. But right now, it’s exciting to connect these two seemingly anachronistic pools of information.

So, you’ve probably gathered by now that I think ScienceOnline is awesome and that I’m really excited for it. And if I haven’t sold you on it’s awesomeness yet, be convinced by this: Bloggers and scientists partying together. I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good geek party.

ScienceOnline2010: Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, January 14-17, with the main conference events Saturday the 16th and Sunday the 17th. Get ready. Check it out on the ScienceOnline Wiki. Explore, contribute, Tweet and reTweet. Then when the time comes, check you favorite science blogs for mentions and Twitter for the #scio10 hash tag.

The effects from the networks that were forged at the early World Wide Web conferences are visible in just about every aspect of the Web today. Who knows what aspects of the future this year’s ScienceOnline will shape.

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Lead image photoshopped by me, logo courtesy of the ScienceOnline wiki.

“Geek Party” pic via damn cool pics.


Computer Camp Love

Something odd happened today…

While I’m usually content sitting in front of my computer for hours on end, surfing, coding, IMing with my Internet friends, today I felt rather… discontent. It was 3pm and I hadn’t yet been outside. This is normal for me, but since I spent a marathon 17 hours on the computer yesterday, I felt an impulse rumble deep within the R-Complex of my brain telling me to go outside and experience the sunlight. So I decided I would leave my laptop and get some lunch with a friend.

…But I couldn’t find anybody to go with me. None of the friends I texted were around, or they didn’t text me back.

I’m typically quite happy living a solitary life (IRL). But for the first time since I can remember, I felt a bit… lonely.

So then I watched this awesome YouTube video and wished I was at Computer Camp, where every day would be like a Science Online conference.

Isn’t it romantic when their hands find each other across the keyboard? The best part though, is when he smells the floppy disk at the end. Ahh, amore.

Why Dave Munger’s passport fail made Science Online London better

There's Dave! Next time though, you should dance or juggle while you present.

There's Dave! Presenting from Second Life at SOLO09

Twas the facepalm heard ’round the science blogging community when news traveled that Dave Munger, who was slated to present at Science Online London, neglected to renew his passport and would not be attending the conference. But while this may be a high-ranking fail for Dave, it should be documented as a notable win in Science Online history.

I’ve been to more than a few scientific conferences in my day, and at almost every one there’s some kind of technological mishaps that stalls the flow of events. I always notice because, though scientists are typically highly intelligent, they can still make some pretty novice errors with whatever new technology is supposed to enhance their presentation — the kind of errors that leave me wiggling in my seat debating whether I should get up and help or mind social norms. Technology provides remarkable opportunities for enhanced communication in conference settings, but often times these opportunities are not explored for fear of something malfunctioning at crunch time.

But from what I’ve witnessed, technological experimentation is rampant at Science Online conferences (which is one of the many reasons I enjoy them so much). At Science Online London, while the conference was underway, a virtual conference was being held simultaneously in Second Life so that anyone around the world with an internet connection and the Second Life software installed could virtually attend by visiting the Elucian Islands, Nature Publishing Group’s archipelago of scientific wonder in Second Life.

I’ve never really gotten into Second Life, though I have attempted to explore it on two occasions. The first, my old laptop didn’t have enough space on the hard drive to run it; the second, I successfully installed the software and built an avatar, but within the first five minutes of gameplay she got stuck in some kind of vortex. Based on my failures, I will admit I was a bit skeptical that the plan to broadcast in real-time could be executed.

Multiply that by roughly 20 and that’s how skeptical I was when I heard that the new plan for the session on Blogging for Impact was for Dave Munger to beam himself into the conference via his Second Life avatar and actually conduct his presentation through Second Life. It’s not that I have ever doubted Dave or his abilities, or those of the very competent individuals who were in charge of the SL control panel. I guess I’ve just been jaded by my experiences of witnessing technological mishaps.

BUT IT WORKED!! After a few minutes of suspense while the SL techies tinkered around with settings and relayed instructions, Dave’s audio came in loud and clear and everyone in the conference hall — as well as in Second Life — was able to listen to Dave give his part of the presentation. It was like the conference audience was NASA when the Apollo 13 spacecraft came back online after all that dead air time (right around 8:35 in the video). Yep, pretty much exactly the same situation.

SOLOMunger

I think this was actually the coolest part of the conference for me, because I got to watch technological evolution in action. If it wasn’t for Dave’s passport fail, it wouldn’t yet be demonstrated at a Science Online conference that it is not only possible, put potentially just as entertaining and effective, for someone across the Atlantic to present in an auditorium full of people. It would still be just a theory waiting to be tested by a brave individual willing to risk technological malfunction.

Now that we know if can be done, the sky is the limit, really. Why keep conference presenters limited to individuals who can physically attend the conference when you could have anyone in the world beam themselves in for 15 minutes? Money and time have ceased to be limiting factors, so at Science Online 2010 this January, why not beam in the big names? (/crosses fingers for Nick Denton)