Thursday, July 15, 2010

Teaching Again (and Learning)

I'm back in my teaching clothes, PSU facility, small windowless computer lab with fan, about ten students.

Today was a blast. I showed off Virtualbox, so one student promptly installed it, burned a Linux iso to CD, and hosted this other operating system. Another student brought her Apple laptop and wanted to get VPython working. She was expertly assisted by another student, who even knew where site-packages was hiding (I'd never have guessed it, under "frameworks" somewhere).

That's not to say it's always easy.

Some students get bored when everyone else is looking so busy. I had some geometry toyz strewn about, such as Mag-Blocs and a Yoshimoto necklace of Bites (as in Sytes).

Models in Space

One of my students seems obsessed with the difference between securely random and pseudo-random, knows there needs to be a seed, promptly zeroed in on os.urandom( ) -- which takes a hit off the computer clock or something -- and random.seed. This guy has done some reading.


Return a string of n random bytes suitable for cryptographic use.

This function returns random bytes from an OS-specific randomness source. The returned data should be unpredictable enough for cryptographic applications, though its exact quality depends on the OS implementation. On a UNIX-like system this will query /dev/urandom, and on Windows it will use CryptGenRandom. If a randomness source is not found, NotImplementedError will be raised.

There's no serious need for cryptography in this course, which is geared for beginners, despite some advanced students taking it. However, knowing something about the subject and its history is relevant to many walks of life. We also talked about The Turk (as an "apparent chess playing automaton" -- brave staff), as well as Ada Byron and her role in the advent of contemporary computing. Grace Hopper (USN): also moved us along big time.

Mostly I let them work at their own pace today on self-chosen projects. We've done a long slog through data structures, elementary functions, class/object syntax.

More than a couple turned to Pygame as a possible source of interest. I should find something runnable for the next class. Others have already spent many hours in Pygame. A mixed bag, to say the least.

My thanks to the friendly staff.

Mom got off early this morning, via PDX. Light traffic. Tara has been sharing philosophical observations by text messages:
You know, after reading 1984 I can see connections with Nietzsche. The people in 1984 are like Zarathustra's "last man".

Pretty nifty. I think that 1984 is a portail of what happens if we never become overmen. That's the right plural right? Yeah... Have fun!
She's 15 (about the same age as these students), with Friends in Montana.