At school, our 9-year-old is currently studying the hsitory of human civilization from the late stone age through to the bronze age. The other week, the class was split into three
groups, each of which was tasked with researching a different piece of megalithic architecture:
One group researched Stonehenge, because it’s a pretty obvious iconic choice
The final group took the least-famous monument, our very own local village henge The Devil’s Quoits
And so it was that one of our eldest’s classmates was searching on the Web for information about The Devil’s Quoits when they found… my vlog on the subject! One of them recognised me and said, “Hey, isn’t that your Uncle Dan?”1
On the school run later in the day, the teacher grabbed me and asked if I’d be willing to join their school trip to the henge, seeing as I was a “local expert”. Naturally, I said yes,
went along, and told a bunch of kids
what I knew!
I was slightly intimidated because the class teacher, Miss Hutchins,
is really good! Coupled with the fact that I don’t feel like a “local expert”2, this became a
kick-off topic for my most-recent coaching session (I’ve mentioned how awesome my coach is before).
I eventually talked to the class mostly about the human geography aspects of the site’s story. The area around the Devil’s Quoits has changed so much over the millenia, and it’s a
fascinating storied history in which it’s been:
A prehistoric henge and a circle of 28 to 36 stones (plus at least one wooden building, at some point).
Medieval farms, from which most of the stones were taken (or broken up) and repurposed.
A brief (and, it turns out, incomplete) archeological survey on the remains of the henge and the handful of stones still-present.
Quarrying operations leaving a series of hollowed-out gravel pits.
More-thorough archeological excavation, backed by an understanding of the cropmarks visible from aircraft that indicate that many prehistoric people lived around this area.
Landfill use, filling in the former gravel pits (except for one, which is now a large lake).
Reconstruction of the site to a henge and stone circle again.3
It turns out that to be a good enough to pass as a “local expert”, you merely have to know enough. Enough to be able to uplift and inspire others, and the humility to know when
to say “I don’t know”.4
That’s a lesson I should take to heart. I (too) often step back from the opportunity to help others learn something new because I don’t feel like I’m that experienced at
whatever the subject is myself. But even if you’re still learning something, you can share what you’ve learned so far and help those behind you to follow the same path.
I’m forever learning new things, and I should try to be more-open to sharing “as I
learn”. And to admit where I’ve still got a long way to go.
1 Of course, I only made the vlog because I was doing a videography course at the time and
needed subject matter, and I’d recently been reading a lot about the Quoits because I was planning on “hiding” a virtual geocache at the site, and then I got carried away. Self-nerdsniped again!
2 What is a local expert? I don’t know, but what I feel like is just a guy who
read a couple of books because he got distracted while hiding a geocache!
3 I’ve no idea what future archeologists will make of this place when they finda
reconstructed stone circle and then, when they dig nearby, an enormous quantity of non-biodegradable waste. What was this strange stone circle for, they’ll ask themselves? Was it a
shrine to their potato-based gods, to whom they left crisp packets as a sacrifice?
4 When we’re talking about people from the neolithic, saying “I don’t know” is pretty
easy, because what we don’t know is quite a lot, it turns out!
If you google “learn to code,” the first result you see is a link to Codecademy’s website. If there is a modern equivalent to the Computer Literacy Project, something with
the same reach and similar aims, then it is Codecademy.
“Learn to code” is Codecademy’s tagline. I don’t think I’m the first person to point this out—in fact, I probably read this somewhere and I’m now ripping it off—but there’s something
revealing about using the word “code” instead of “program.” It suggests that the important thing you are learning is how to decode the code, how to look at a screen’s worth of Python
and not have your eyes glaze over. I can understand why to the average person this seems like the main hurdle to becoming a professional programmer. Professional programmers spend all
day looking at computer monitors covered in gobbledygook, so, if I want to become a professional programmer, I better make sure I can decipher the gobbledygook. But dealing with
syntax is not the most challenging part of being a programmer, and it quickly becomes almost irrelevant in the face of much bigger obstacles. Also, armed only with knowledge of a
programming language’s syntax, you may be able to read code but you won’t be able to write code to solve a novel problem.
So very much this! I’ve sung a song many times about teaching people (and especially children) to code and bemoaned the barriers in the way of the next (and current!) generation of programmers, but a large part of it – in this country at least – seems to come down to this
difference in attitude. Today, we’ve stopped encouraging people to try to learn to “use computers” (which was, for the microcomputer era, always semi-synonymous with programming owing
to the terminal interface) and to “program”, but we’ve instead started talking about “learning to code”. And that’s problematic, because programming != coding!
I’m a big fan of understanding the fundamentals, and sometimes that means playing with things that aren’t computers: looms, recipe cards, board games, pencils and paper,
algebra, envelopes… all of these things can be excellent tools for teaching programming but have nothing to do with learning coding.
Let’s stop teaching people to code and start teaching them to program, again, okay?
Family Picnic: Joining Ruth and JTA at Ruth’s annual family picnic, among her billions of
second-cousins and third-aunts.
New Earthwarming: Having a mini housewarming on New Earth, where I live with Ruth, JTA, and Paul. A surprising number of people came from surprisingly far away, and it was fascinating to see some really interesting networking being done by a
mixture of local people (from our various different “circles” down here) and distant guests.
Bodleian Staff Summer Party: Yet another reason to love my
new employer! The drinks and the hog roast (well, roast vegetable sandwiches and falafel wraps for me, but still delicious) would have won me over by themselves. The band was just
a bonus. The ice cream van that turned up and started dispensing free 99s: that was all just icing on the already-fabulous cake.
New Earth Games Night: Like Geek Night, but with folks local to us, here, some of whom might have been put off by being called “Geeks”, in that strange way that
people sometimes do. Also, hanging out with the Oxford On Board folks, who do similar things on
Monday nights in the pub nearest my office.
Meeting Oxford Nightline: Oxford University’s Nightline is just about the only Nightline in the British Isles to not be using Three Rings, and they’re right on my doorstep, so I’ve been
meeting up with some of their folks in order to try to work out why. Maybe, some day, I’ll actually understand the answer to that question.
Alton Towers & Camping: Ruth and I decided to celebrate the 4th anniversary of us getting together with a trip to Alton Towers, where their new ride, Thirteen, is really quite good (but don’t read up on it: it’s best
enjoyed spoiler-free!), and a camping trip in the Lake District, with an exhausting but fulfilling trek to the summit of Glaramara.
That’s quite a lot of stuff, even aside from the usual work/volunteering/etc. stuff that goes on in my life, so it’s little wonder that I’ve neglected to blog about it all. Of
course, there’s a guilt-inspired downside to this approach, and that’s that one feels compelled to not blog about anything else until finishing writing about the first neglected thing, and so the problem snowballs.
So this quick summary, above? That’s sort-of a declaration of blogger-bankruptcy on these topics, so I can finally stop thinking “Hmm, can’t blog about X until I’ve written about