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Author Topic: Digital illiteracy?  (Read 5231 times)
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I feel pretty much the way you feel about computer languages when I look at sheet music.
(I was never taught how to read music)

It is completely off the original topic, but sheet music is actually fairly simple to read. It is based around five lines, and the position of the markings on or between those lines dictate the note:

---------------------------------------------------- E ------
                                                        D
-------------------------------------- C --------------------
                                     B
------------------------ A ----------------------------------
                     G
----------- F -----------------------------------------------
      E
D --------------------------------------------------------

The musical alphabet goes A,B,C,D,E,F,G , and one set of these is called an octave.
Now for the markings on it. There are semibreives - they are four beats long, minims - two beats, crotchets - one beat, quavers - 1/2 beat, and semiquavers - 1/4 beat. (There are more notes, but these are the main ones).
And that is the basics of reading sheet music! The five lines are called the staff, and you can get notes above and below it, but they follow the same pattern as the others. For the note symbols, check out wikipedia - they have nice diagrams.

Onions.
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Well getting back to the original topic - I also agree that this rasberry pi computer is going to do nothing else to help the real problem of kids not knowing how it works/basic computer hardware theory.

Needless to say I'd like a few if they're going to be that cheap!
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@Onions: Interesting, but if there are eight notes to the octave, why five lines?
Or should I be reading between the lines?
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You ask them about Rule 110 and they stare at you blankly...
Stares back at you blankly. Is it a US thing?

Rule 110 from the domain of cellular automata. I would say it's debatable whether that's an essential part of digital (or computational) literacy. If you're getting into gaming or other world simulation work, then yes.
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@Onions: Interesting, but if there are eight notes to the octave, why five lines?
Or should I be reading between the lines?

Yes, if the note symbol is on the line, it counts as one note. If it is between the lines, it is another note. I guess they made it like that to save space when you get a really long piece of music.

Onions.
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I’ve never had to actually read music, and indeed, managed to somehow pass music at school without ever successfully reading it (I knew a lot about synthesizers, it was 1977, the music teachers were quite old-generation, and they probably thought I knew more than I did about music itself).

But, and this is relying on memory of my old Yamaha CX5m Music Composer cartridge I used to try and use in 1985…

Haven’t you got the lines and spaces assigned to the wrong notes? Shouldn’t it be FACE for the spaces, and EGBDF for the lines, reading from the bottom line up?

Oh, and that’s another thing — my natural assumption was shattered surprisingly once when I realised that music is the wrong way round. I’d naturally assumed that the bass frequencies are spatially analogous to “here, near my forehead” and as the frequency increases, it increases in the direction of “toward my toes”. That feels right to me. But no, music is the wrong way round — increased frequencies go the wrong way — up. Same as the piano keyboard — it’d be more natural to me to have the bass at the right end, the treble at the left end, and each time I plinky plonk at a piano keyboard it somehow surprises me that it’s the wrong way round.
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Very lively discussion, with music on the background smiley-wink

Let me chip in some stuff I've been thinking since I saw the first post.

1) There are too many digital illiterates compared with how many computers on the planet

2) Computer/digital literacy should be a part of high school/college general education classes (too bad only I and a CSCI professor on my campus would probably vote yes), like there are English literacy classes on composition. Using computer programs is not the complete literacy, like someone can only read but not write, basic programming skill is needed.

3) Programming languages should be taught like other languages, with lots of reading of short to medium length classic programs and find errors on some reading and appreciating the beauty of other reading. I recall I did this accidentally when I got my 4 books of BASIC programs. There were lots of programs that are like simple games, guessing numbers etc. To a 10-year old they were perfect. Most of the editors at the publishing house didn't know BASIC so they made simple printing mistakes here and there and my brother and I were correcting mistakes as we when from one program to another.
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Shouldn’t it be FACE for the spaces, and EGBDF for the lines, reading from the bottom line up?

Oops, yes it should. I should have put


----------F-----
           E
--------D-------
        C
------B---------
     A
---G-----------
  F
-E-------------
D

To add to the original topic, they do teach programming at our school, but it is not proper programming. We are shown how to program by drawing a flowchart on a computer and getting a big piece of complex software to turn it into code. All you need to do is draw a flowchart. That's all. Nothing else, just draw a flowchart. Then, you press F5 and it uploads the program the computer made onto a microcontroller they call a "genie chip". (Personally, I'd use an AVR smiley-grin)
To me, this is not programming. It encourages problem solving, which is an important part of programming, but does not properly cover the subject in any depth.
HOWEVER, there will always be people like me, and I'm sure other people on this forum, who want to know how things work, and why. It is these people that will learn by choice, take things further than would be possible in schools. Whenever there are people interested in something, there will be people willing to learn. Most people may be digitally illiterate, but there will always be people wanting to learn.
 

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I learned BASIC at school - took me ages to get out of that mindest.
It wasn't until much later and I studied formal grammars and Michael Jackson's (no, not that one) "System Development" that I really got proper programming constructs, and mapping the problem onto software.

(Oh, and I don't consider the musical excursion as OT)
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The thing is, it’s not just computers. I mean, you lot are all computer fanatics, spending most of your day up to your elbows with bytes, J-K flip-flops and conditional tests, but most people aren’t and their perspective of a computer just about equates to their perspective of a toaster. They just get on and use it, fixing it or modifying it is never even considered, just buy a new one at half the price of the old one.

It’s exactly the same in many other domains, I would suspect. On one hand I’ve been a designer since quite a few years before the advent of DTP and to hear people refer to “cut and paste” without a clue how cutting and pasting was actually done is dismaying, but that’s the reality of now. Similarly, originally when I was a professional photographer, I learned how to do unsharp masking, drop shadows, outlining, entirely with film. Now people think those terms originated with Photoshop.

Cameras are an ideal example of how the technology has abstracted away from the user. For most of the 20th century it was possible for a person who owned a camera to read the manual, get used to the concept of exposure being affected simultaneously by varying the aperture setting and varying the shutter speed, and the idea of a smaller aperture giving a greater depth of field, a wider aperture giving a narrower depth of field, a slow shutter speed picking up motion blur and a fast one freezing motion, and the film speed equating with sensitivity. It wasn’t too difficult to grasp, and many people ended up doing so until auto exposure relieved them of that (and auto focus much later). But now we have programmed scenes in digital cameras, and the things we can vary are fundamentally different to the actual mechanistic variables of the original film camera.

Now our variables – completely different variables – are varying an abstracted program, which is someone else’s idea of how the processor should process the Bayer-matrix data. Nobody is in direct control any more. If someone sets the camera to “lady with hat” or “screaming brat” or “distant mountain” or “underwater barbecue with fireworks” what on earth are they actually varying? Nobody knows. Well, no consumer knows. No professional photographer even knows. No camera expert even knows. Except the particular ones that programmed up the way that the “engine” performs the processing, and which abstractions they’ve given us to play with.
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or “underwater barbecue with fireworks”
hahahahaha smiley-grin

Yeah I suppose it's similar in a load of different domains.

The issue at hand is too many young people are illiterate - it's not so much everyone needs to be it's just that those children who have the mathematical mind and are interested should get the teaching they require to improve their skills.
And as some would say, only some people will benefit from that (based on my analogy) isn't true as even the people who aren't interested or good at it will improve and it'll be more use to people than french (compulsory in many UK schools) is to most people.
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You ask them about Rule 110 and they stare at you blankly...
Stares back at you blankly. Is it a US thing?

Rule 110 from the domain of cellular automata. I would say it's debatable whether that's an essential part of digital (or computational) literacy. If you're getting into gaming or other world simulation work, then yes.

Rule 110 is also the simplest set of known "rules" for a cellular automata that can act as a Universal Turing Machine. I would say knowing this (and knowing what a UTM is, and why it is important to computer science) -is- an essential part of digital literacy for a computer scientist (though not necessarily for child or even an adult learning programming), which is what I was getting at.

The fact that there are people out there graduating from supposed computer science courses without understanding the importance of Rule 110, without understanding what a UTM is, without knowing the contributions of Turing (and Church, and Russell, and Whitehead, and...) to computational theory - it boggles the mind.

At one time, there was this fear that ordinary people wouldn't understand (or care) about what goes on "inside the box", just so long that it worked, and woe to the world should it break. Only the "high priests" of computing would know or understand. What I am now seeing is that the supposed "high priests" of computing now being educated, are also being educated in such a manner that even they don't understand what is going on "inside the box"! It would be like a newly educated phD in chemistry not understanding covalent bonds, instead saying "I'll leave that up to the physicists" - or some such shenanigans!

This really bothers me - computer science encompasses so much - to not understand the basics of it does a real disservice to the field. If you don't understand Rule 110 or why it is important, if you don't understand what a UTM is, or why it works... I'm finding this difficult to relate, but we're (our species) is getting into the territory of learning how DNA really works; at its core, we understand that it -is- the "tape" (indirectly via RNA and tRNA) of a UTM, and that the complexity known as the ribosome is the read/write head and interpretor. We still don't completely understand how the ribosome works, but it is likely going to take the knowledge of UTMs, cellular automate, and Rule 110 (among others) to figure it out (along with how the whole DNA coding system works to generate proteins, etc).

That's the importance of it for computer science, and for biology. We are on the cusp of altering our programming on such a fundamental level it is both exciting, intriguing, frightening and mind-boggling all at once. It makes me giddy knowing there are people out there playing with this stuff (and I sincerely wish I could be a part of it, but my understanding and education does not come close to what is really needed).

To see some schools here in the USA (I can't speak for other countries) gloss over such knowledge frustrates me; perhaps I'm being unfair, maybe this knowledge is considered in another area of the computer science curricula at these schools (though I tend to wonder why it would be broken out like this - it seems that it isn't a requirement, though it really should be - I sometimes wonder how you could expect to write an emulator, say - without understanding what a UTM is).

...sigh...


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A lot of that is lost on me and I'd class myself as being rather above average in this field.

Unfortunately not being taught it at an early age has meant that I doubt I will ever really get to the knowledge of computers and chips that some off you guys are at and as technology advances, I will learn the new and still not understand what goes on inside
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Rule 110 is also the simplest set of known "rules" for a cellular automata that can act as a Universal Turing Machine. I would say knowing this (and knowing what a UTM is, and why it is important to computer science) -is- an essential part of digital literacy for a computer scientist (though not necessarily for child or even an adult learning programming), which is what I was getting at.

The fact that there are people out there graduating from supposed computer science courses without understanding the importance of Rule 110, without understanding what a UTM is, without knowing the contributions of Turing (and Church, and Russell, and Whitehead, and...) to computational theory - it boggles the mind.

Well, I completely get your point, but I think I'm using a different definition of literacy. And I think we can use the more typical definition of literacy as an example. You can learn to read/write at a level which allows you to be functional in society, or you can become literate at a higher level, e.g. broader vocabulary, multiple languages, studying linguistics. I don't argue at all the a Comp-Sci degree should include things such as Turing-completeness, AI, and P / NP problems. I didn't attend college at all, and didn't even know about such things until I was well into a very successful career. So, was I digitally literate? I think that I was, and am. But then, I have knack for this stuff, and did things like read the PDP Architecture Handbook. Heck, I was often the 'mentor' on the software team, helping BSCS types get their heads into what real-world systems development was about. Turing-completeness is cool. It also doesn't help you a lot when you're trying to write a 1.5 page-long SQL statement. You can be literate in your problem domain area, without necessarily understanding cellular automata.

But what do hate to see is so-called programmers who don't know how to do anything other than string together snippets plopped into the "action" dialog of a GUI IDE. You might well get something that runs and does what's expected, but you don't know why. And that is a recipe for disaster in the real world.
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Oops, yes it should. I should have put

----------F-----
           E
--------D-------
        C
------B---------
     A
---G-----------
  F
-E-------------
D


Yes, for treble clef. I don't remember bass clef any more. smiley-confuse Then, there are several other clefs on top of that. smiley
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