Tuesday, April 14, 2009

COMPUTERS: I've Decided to Get a Harvard Education

A little late in life, I've decided to get myself a Harvard education.

This from a guy who flitted around the educational universe post high school. I did time at Ryerson Polytech (now Ryerson University) and Sheridan College and have a credit or three from York University. In addition, I contributed to a textbook used at McMaster University. Through it all, I maintained my classification as an unedu-ma-cated (sic) bum. And now, I plan to add Harvard College to the list of schools I learned something from.

And never graduated from.

Okay, the reality is that I have found a most fascinating website. http://cs50.tv is the site set up to allow the downloading of the full course load for Harvard's Computer Science 50: Introduction to Computer Science I. Every lecture is taped and made available, as are the course notes (compiled by teaching assistants so the students can concentrate on what the professor is saying, instead of scribbling down pearls of wisdom). The problem sets AND quizzes used by David Malan are downloadable, as are the slides he uses during the lecture. It's wonderful. (WARNING: The full set of files runs to about six gigabytes of download)

The course teaches computer basics and then dives right into programming, unfortunately using C, a language only a masochist could love. Luckily, Malan doesn't just jump from 'This is a computer' to debugging C. He at least bridges the gap with an object programming language called Scratch that resembles more a build-it-with-Tinker-Toy-Objects language than an actual programming language. In MY day (I am very old), that pseudo language for getting novices up and running was Turtle, as new programmers learned the art of moving a triangle about a screen. THEN, we moved to Fortran, the C of its time. Thank god for the arrival of Basic while I was STILL in high school!

I find Malan entertaining AND informative. He was a PoliSci major before becoming entranced with programming and his enthusiasm shows all these years later. He loves the 'art' of programming and he passes along that passion from the week's worth of lectures I've seen.

This course is available to any Harvard student, from frosh to fifth-year senior (or even more tenured) or web-surfer who can chance upon it. So, it's fitting for most any teenager and above who is curious about computer programming. Without having gone through all 32 hour-long lectures, I can't promise that it remains viable for a pre-college student. But Malan does go from baby steps to something approaching running in the three hours I HAVE seen. He certainly DOES talk fast. And I can follow him. I think MOST high school kids with an aptitude and an enthusiasm for the subject COULD keep up.

I'm going to get through the whole course. Might take me longer than the allotted 13 weeks a Harvard scholar would have to finish it in. But then again, I never claimed to BE a Harvard Scholar.

Maybe later!

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