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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Teaching about Computers

Did I say, in this blog that F1 is the greatest teacher ? Well I said that to my class as well. It took some days for me to realise that neither  F1 nor google was  the idea of help for 'normal' people, I mean IT-scared people who call themselves 'just being normal'.

help meant pressing a button and ... they hear a celestial  voice or the terrestrial voice of a friendly  guru (don't ask me to read anything , please)

help- What can I do for you?
user - Oh , my internet is not working..
help- what exactly is not working sir, (or madam, as the case may be)
user- I pressed the E (intenet explorer icon, friends) and i am not seeing the web page I want to see.
help- can you see the network icon on the system tray sir?
user - what network? what system tray ?
help- I mean the twin TVs at the bottom of your screen
user - yeah , why couldn't you speak clearly, now I see the TVs, but there is a red cross over it.
help- then you are not connected.  did you switch on the modem sir ?
user - modem ?? oh the box near the phone. ? where is the switch ?
help- behind that box sir..
user - no one told me there was a switch behind that box...........
help- sir, I'll switch it on for you... wait for 10-15 seconds sir, your page will be displayed..
user- yeah, now it's ok, I knew I could fix it.....

That's the kind of help people want... not some silly process ... read- understand-try it out -read again- and .. if it works, ok else, repeat from step 1.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Learning to Learn

My experience with Computers : Learning and Teaching


"You bought a machine? At the grocery-store? How big is it?"
"It's sort of a grocery. It's an Apple."
"Richard, your thought is very sweet but are you sure I need-an apple-at this time?"
"By the time you pop out of the shower, wook, you are going to see a miracle, right here in our trailer.' I promise."
"We have so much to do, already, and there isn't enough space. ... Is it big?" But I said not another word, and at last she laughed and went for her shower.
She came out of the bathroom fresh and clean, her hair gathered under a towel-turban to dry.
"OK, Richie, I can't stand the suspense! Where is it?"
I unveiled the computer from under the dish-towel. "Ta-da!"
"Richard?" she said. "What is it?"
"Your very own . . . COMPUTER!"
She looked at me, wordless.
"Sit you down right here," I urged, "and then press the key marked 'Control' and at the same time press the 'B.' That's called 'Control-B.'"
"Like this?" she said.
The light-square vanished, and in its place the screen filled with words:
"Isn't that sweet," she said.
"I made a mistake."
"Move the cursor to the right of the mistake, then type Left-Arrow." She did, and the mistake disappeared.
"Does it have instructions?"
"It teaches you itself. Press the Escape key twice, then the M key a few times, and follow what the screen tells you. ..."
That was the last I spoke with Leslie for the next ten hours. She sat tranced in front of the machine, learning the
system. Then she typed things-to-remember flies into it, building schedules, idea-lists; attacked correspondence.
"Wookie," she said, after midnight, "I apologize to you. I am sorry."
"That's all right," I said. "What are you sorry for?"
"I thought you were being a silly gosling, I thought here's just what we need, a big electric toy in the trailer to put us right out in the rain, but I didn't say anything because it was your sweet gift. I was wrong! It's so ..." She looked up at me, searched the word and came down on it center-square: ". . . organized! It's going to change our lives!"

So enchanted was she with the powers of the computer that more than once in the days that followed I had to ask very courteously if it might be possible for me to have a few minutes at the keyboard. I wanted to learn, too.
"Poor dear," she said absently, as she typed. "Of course you want to learn. Just a few minutes more. . . ."
Minutes turned to hours, to days; interrupt her I refused to do.

Soon I was back once again from the Apple store, a second computer in tow.


That was an extract from “A bridge Across for ever “ by Richard Bach
The book was written around 1984, but it was in 1993, when I came across this passage... and it just hit me...(India, then was about 5-10 years behind US and we were still using AT- 286, and 386 machines and Personal Computers were rare yet, at least at homes.)

It teaches itself; the idea really hit me. I am yet to see anything else that teaches itself as a computer does. Now  of course it teaches not just about itself, it teaches everything. To know anything you just google.. . A computer , in any form + internet + a search engine = learn anything about anything.

My battalion, then, was deployed in high altitude area, locked out from the rest of the world by snow for over six months. Why not spend the winter usefully ? It was Aug and just about 3 months left for the snowfall, to cut off our link to Uttarkashi. I bought a AT 286,with all the money I had plus some borrowed . Still I was falling far short , so I had to defer buying a hard disc. Armed with a floppy of dos-5 and a few floppies of word star, story board, lotus and dbase, I just made it to our base a month before the snow fall started.

We had electricity, but that was from a rudimentary hydel power system ; can't call it a plant; it was more like the one in 'Swadesh' movie, enough to light a few bulbs.

The problem was that the output voltage fluctuated between 50 v to 350 v. When the snow became hard, the turbines stopped and it was zero. We had to send out a patrol to break the ice with pick axe and the power was restored ! When it hit 350v, only the very ruggard appliances survived. So the power to computer had to pass through three voltage stabilizers. The boot floppy was the most precious commodity since there were just two PCs in a radius of about 50 kms of mountainous terrain covered with snow. Every time you switched on the PC, it was through the boot floppy. !

F1 key is the greatest teacher. By the time snow thawed around march, I had learnt, Word star, lotus and dbase besides advanced commands in DOS. Then we had whole lot of applications like card maker, picture maker, banner maker and so on. There were also codes written in 'BASIC' to draw pictures or play music. Those were 'no mouse' days. I had actually learnt to draw portraits using the key board, pixel by pixel.

Honestly, the thrill I got from using those apps, I don't get with modern day apps like photo-shop or movie maker. There was so much novelty in the idea of  rearranging '0's and '1' s to produce pictures or music. Every time you switch on the comp , it was pure magic. So much about nostalgia !

And there were games, prince of Persia  paratroopers, mario, pc-man, carman sandiago and alley cat , just to name a few.

Nowadays, learning anything has become even easier....It's a magic moment when a child realizes that 
seemingly unrelated scribbling on paper actually conveys so much. Its a revelation that you can learn anything by reading a book. So is it a magic moment when you realize that you can learn anything by typing on the google bar “how to xxxxxxxx”.It may be a short term task like how to make 'mor koozh' ? (a near extinct South Indian dish) or it may be a long term project like 'how to learn Sanskrit ?' . 'how to play guitar ?' What's more , you get various options , learning on line, downloading ebooks, or viewing visuals on you tube or a combination of all.

If learning was fun, then teaching was more fun, about that later.....