My Secret Life as a Spaghetti Coder
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Macintosh has had the ability to say things since it was introduced over two decades ago.


But that doesn't make it any less exciting. The imagination involved and the thoughts of "z0mg, I just told my computer to say something, and it said it!" don't escape us - even after growing up playing nothing technologically older than an Xbox.

Want proof? My daughter and I took turns on the keyboard on a recent Friday night. This conversation took place over two-to-three hours, and she asks to play around again every time she sees me on the laptop, and sometimes even when I'm not.

codeodor:~ sam$ say what are you doing?
codeodor:~ sam$ say come here please
codeodor:~ sam$ say what song are you listening to
codeodor:~ sam$ say what?
codeodor:~ sam$ say i'm say!
codeodor:~ sam$ say what is my name?
codeodor:~ sam$ say what is your favorite band?
codeodor:~ sam$ say does your computer talk to you?
codeodor:~ sam$ say mine does!
codeodor:~ sam$ say isnt that cool?
codeodor:~ sam$ say mac OS does this!
codeodor:~ sam$ say not windows!
codeodor:~ sam$ say weezer is AWESOME!
codeodor:~ sam$ say pretty cool, huh?
codeodor:~ sam$ say i can have my cat inside
codeodor:~ sam$ say you can have your cat inside the universe, that is
codeodor:~ sam$ say in doors at are house
codeodor:~ sam$ say in doors at our house on mars!
codeodor:~ sam$ say sanbo is silly
codeodor:~ sam$ say who the heck is sanbo? I'm SAMBO!
codeodor:~ sam$ say got it?

codeodor:~ sam$ say pull my finger!
codeodor:~ sam$ say pft
codeodor:~ sam$ say pfffffth
codeodor:~ sam$ say pth
codeodor:~ sam$ say th
codeodor:~ sam$ say thththththt
codeodor:~ sam$ say poot
codeodor:~ sam$ say do you smell that smell?
codeodor:~ sam$ say I am just a computer
codeodor:~ sam$ say that talks!
codeodor:~ sam$ say you are awesome!
codeodor:~ sam$ say true dat
codeodor:~ sam$ say thats true
codeodor:~ sam$ say no, i can only say stuff
codeodor:~ sam$ say ok, good night
codeodor:~ sam$ say its sleepy time

Programmers are wizards. We use the keyboard to type our incantations out to produce stuff from nothing but thought. We can think things, and make them happen without so much as a thought toward physical materials aside from our keyboards and displays.

A Programming Wizard
Image CC Licensed from Robin Hutton

I've been wanting to pass down that art for quite a while - especially so now that I've seen the interest it engages. So I thought I'd share a list of starting points I've collected with you all. Perhaps you've tried one or more of them and can shed some light with your impressions. On the flip side, maybe it will spur you to get your own children involved in what you do (or what we do, if you don't happen to practice the craft).

Anyway, here's a few that I intend to try out:
  • Etoys from Squeakland: Etoys points out that a lack of motivation often causes failure in learning, and their package tries to keep children emerged and "immersed in discovery" by letting them "make their own models, stories, and games" while learning "math, science, and language arts." It looks less like programming than I'm interested in, but I'm going to give it a shot.

    Squeakland logo

  • Scratch: A project from MIT that lets you put together puzzle pieces to direct movies / animations. This is similar to my impression of Alice, and I could totally see my daughter getting into this one. The website also makes it seem like there might be some social aspects to it, which could be fun.

    Preview of what Scratch can do.

  • Alice, Randy Pausch's brainchild from Carnegie Mellon: I'm interested in this because of the "fake move" Randy talks about, where we're teaching them programming while making them think they're doing something else.

    Like Scratch, it lets you create movies by programming them.

    The small blurb on their home page draws you right in:
    Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience.
    I have the highest hopes for this one, so I'll probably try it first in case I only get one shot.

    Thumb of a screen shot of Alice's IDE

  • Hackety Hack Logo Hackety Hack, from Why the Lucky Stiff: Very visually exciting, but short on details aside from "play an MP3" in one line of code or create a blog in six. There are nice testimonials and I've been impressed with _why's creativity, so that makes up for it.

  • Invent Your Own Computer Games and LiveWires from the Python world: These two items from Python weren't nearly as visually impressive or exciting. I'm willing to give them a chance, but one has to wonder if they're geared more towards adults who want a career change than kids who are first trying out programming. They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but still.

    Of course, we already saw what happened with say, and that's a big reason these guys make it in with the tough crowd above.
Have you tried any of these (either as a student or a teacher)? Did it work? Have you tried others methods?

Update: In the original version of this post there was mention of using a Wiimote and speech to text to really cast programming spells, with a link to a demonstration of using Wiimote as input to your computer.

As the author of the piece I linked to pointed out, it's not a kid-friendly site. The intended audience here are adults, so normally I wouldn't mind, but my posts tend to rank well in Google's index, so I could see kids finding it easily. Anyway, in the interest of decency and out of respect for parents whose children might find this article, I removed the link (though obviously I struggled with the decision).

Anyway, if you're looking for how to do it, there are plenty of resources available.

Hey! Why don't you make your life easier and subscribe to the full post or short blurb RSS feed? I'm so confident you'll love my smelly pasta plate wisdom that I'm offering a no-strings-attached, lifetime money back guarantee!

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Great stuff, how do we learn more? How's life? How's business? Where did you get the great Wizard logo? It drew us near, have no fear, we come in peace! We look forward to hearing from you.
-David Torkelson

Posted by David on Dec 20, 2011 at 10:29 PM UTC - 5 hrs

This was posted over 3 years ago, and while I've tried to maintain original sources I couldn't find it for this. Therefore, I found a new one that has a CC license.

For other sources, check

For where to find more info, I'd check out any of those links and see which ones interest you most. =)

Posted by Sammy Larbi on Dec 21, 2011 at 07:46 AM UTC - 5 hrs

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