Trouble Thinking

May 6, 2011

The Finch: Teach Yourself Some Programming In A Way That Doesn’t Completely Suck

Filed under: Computers — Tags: , , , , , — Durandal @ 11:17 am

Okay, here’s the thing: I watched Hackers as like, a kid. I was 10 or something.

To me, for most of my life, learning to “hack” was basically like learning how to throw fireballs. You needed a secret tome or a mysterious mentor, and once you learned a little bit of it you would be able to enter a world unable to be imagined by mere mortals.
I’m going to do a bigger post about generally being a middling programmer and why I think it’s as important a skill as basic rhetoric, as well as why I think it’s being unnecessarily obfuscated by dorky insecure people. I think I already did one but hey, it’s not like anyone was looking when I posted that and I’m pretty sure I can do a way better one now.

But today I just want to share something neat I found on BoingBoing!

The Finch is a little robot that costs $100.


It’s cute, it’s got a light-up nose, and it can do tricks. But that’s just a less awesome version of that one dancing robot toy.

He stops caring about them literally the next second.

The really cool part about it is that it’s been designed by Carnegie Mellon University to teach you how to program. The basic idea, that I totally can get behind, is that there’s one massive problem with learning how to program: figuring out what you want to do.

It’s like learning how to speak a new language without knowing whether “can you direct me to the library” is even possible to say. Maybe this new language is mostly used for cooking fish? Who knows! The great part about the Finch is that it takes programming languages (Java and Python for now) and constrains them. Instead of being able to do absolutely anything, you can do a whole ton of stuff that is all related to making this cute robot do whatever you want. I cannot tell you how much this would have helped me as a younger programmer. Struggling with a blank canvas robs you of a great opportunity to develop your skills in a more organic manner. If you’re handed a toy that can do A->Z, you get to try to see if you can make it do all that shit. Just handing someone the Java API, while technically providing them with all the information they need to make anything they want, practically doesn’t do a damn bit of good.

So anyway, I kind of want to buy one of these just to support the idea, and I really hope all CS courses through the high school level buy a dozen each.

Here’s a video! New Trouble Thinking policy: all posts end with at least 40 dozen videos.

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