Fri04242015

News

LAH resident killed in cycling accident

LAH resident killed in cycling accident

A longtime Los Altos Hills resident and philanthropist struck by a bicyclist Monday (April 20) while walking along Page Mill Road has died from the injuries she sustained.

Kathryn Green, 61, died a day after the accident, according to the Santa Clar...

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Schools

LASD Junior Olympics scheduled Saturday

LASD Junior Olympics scheduled Saturday


Town Crier File Photo
The Los Altos School District Junior Olympics are slated Saturday at Mountain View High School. District officials say the opening ceremonies, above, are always memorable.

Los Altos School District fourth- through sixth-grader...

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Community

Altruism, adventure in Africa: Los Altos couple relates experiences in new book

Altruism, adventure in Africa: Los Altos couple relates experiences in new book


Courtesy of Wendy Walleigh
Rick and Wendy Walleigh spent a year and a half in Swaziland and Kenya.

Los Altos residents Rick and Wendy Walleigh experienced long, successful high-tech careers. But retirement? No, it was time for an encore.

Leavin...

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Sports

Workout warriors

Workout warriors


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos High gymnast Jessica Nelson soars by coach Youlee Lee during practice last week. Lee is a 2005 Los Altos High grad.

Some coaches would like to see their athletes work harder. Youlee Lee has the opposite problem ...

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Comment

Ending the debate: No Shoes, Please

In a general sense, everything is up for debate with me: What do I cook for dinner? Did I do the right thing? What color paint for the bedroom? Do I really want to go? Has the team improved? What difference does it make? Should I give him a call? Is...

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Special Sections

Fitness focus: No holds barred for Los Altos sisters

Fitness focus: No holds barred for Los Altos sisters


Photos Courtesy of Barre 3
Gillian Brotherson, kneeling at left, guides studio instructors through a workout at barre3 Los Altos.

Health is all about balance. That’s what two Los Altos natives learned as they navigated work, motherhood and welln...

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Business

Physical therapist brings business background to new Los Altos clinic

Physical therapist brings business background to new Los Altos clinic

Courtesy of Eliza Snow
Strive owner Robert Abrams, kneeling, runs a balance test.

With more than a dozen physical therapy clinics in Los Altos, one new business owner streamlined his approach in an effort to set his practice apart.

“I always wan...

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Books

People

CAPTAIN: CHARLES THOMAS MINOR

CAPTAIN: CHARLES THOMAS MINOR

Age 96

December 7, 1918  - March 28, 2015 

Chuck passed away peacefully in the home he built in Los Altos surrounded by his beautiful wife of 69 years, Bonnie, his two sons and their spouses, David Minor & Caryn Joe Pulliam; Steve &...

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Travel

Cuba libre: Local residents join mad rush of travelers

Cuba libre: Local residents join mad rush of travelers


Natalie Elefant/Special to the Town Crier
Los Altos resident Natalie Elefant noted the vibrant street performances as a traveler in Cuba.

The U.S. restored diplomatic relations with Cuba late last year, enabling Americans to import $100 worth of cig...

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Stepping Out

Stage fright

Stage fright


Joyce Goldschmid/Special to the Town Crier
“The Addams Family” stars, from left, Betsy Kruse Craig (as Morticia), Joey McDaniel (Uncle Fester) and Doug Santana (Gomez).

The Palo Alto Players production of “The Addams Family”...

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Spiritual Life

Magazine

Food for thought: Hidden Villa programs offer teens training in sustainability on the farm

Food for thought: Hidden Villa programs offer teens training in sustainability on the farm


/Town Crier It’s not all cute and cuddly for teens participating in the eight-week Animal Husbandry Apprenticeship program at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills. Mia Mosing of Palo Alto, left, and Sophia Jackson of Los Altos clean the pigpens – one of...

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Inside Mountain View

Up to the challenge: Local leaders unite to help at-risk youth

Up to the challenge: Local leaders unite to help at-risk youth


Courtesy of Challenge Team
Jeanette Freiberg, bottom of pile, has fun with family members. The Challenge Team named Freiberg, a student at Mountain View High School, its 2015 Youth Champion.

There’s an ongoing joke among members of the Challenge...

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Will code for cookies: Volunteer network introduces youth to computer science


Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
Sheena Vaidyanathan looks in on Emily Zhang, left, and Ashley Zhang at CoderDojo Mountain View.

In a big room at Microsoft Corp.’s Mountain View campus last month, children propped elbows on tables and intensely tapped away at laptops. Loops, conditionals and variables marched down screens, but so did zombies and cats as goofy sound effects pinged on command.

CoderDojo, a network of volunteer groups that introduce young people to computer science, plays up the fun inherent in digital creation. The Silicon Valley chapter gathered children, parents and mentors in the Microsoft conference room July 27 with the idea that anyone can edit and create code – computer science is accessible to more than a narrow niche of the community, and certainly not limited to college- or even high school-level study.

“There’s a lot of awareness and interest in this area, but not always somewhere to go to keep learning,” said Brian Skinner, one of the primary mentors for the Silicon Valley CoderDojo.

The Dojo aims to create that place, tapping into a community of adult mentors who understand and support the goal. The Los Altos School District offers a weekly computer science program in its elementary schools and hosted a coding showcase and competition last spring. Sheena Vaidyanathan, who teaches computer science in the district, led the recent CoderDojo session, introducing Scratch, a programming platform custom-made for young people. Students from all around Silicon Valley turned up with their parents in tow.

Scratching below the surface

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab developed Scratch as a colorful, visual tool for creating, sharing and remixing programming projects. Children use building blocks explicitly drawn from the computer science taught at MIT and commercialized in Silicon Valley, but they do so using animation, storytelling and game play.

cat scriptcat sprite

Users customize a character to suit their whimsy – often a cat, to start – and then build scenarios for that creature to act out using the art and logic of sequenced instructions. Students use a menu of color-coded building blocks to find action ideas – rotate, repeat, generate a sound. The blocks echo the physical world, representing chunks of code but looking like LEGOs, which snap together to build something greater than its individual parts. Imagination, not technical knowledge, becomes the limiting factor as you animate your creature in an increasingly complex universe of your own design.

At one table, sisters Jacky and Sophia Moore vetted a cat and mouse game with mentor Steven Ragnarok. Multiple characters were already in play, a mouse devouring bits of cheese as a cat chased it across the screen. Jacky, 14, explained their process of accelerating game difficulty, with the cat speeding up as the cheese gets eaten.


Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier 
Jacky Moore experiments in Scratch, with an assist from Sophia Moore and mentor Steven Ragnarok.

Ragnarok works at Github, a San Francisco-based company that has become a first stop in the world of writing and sharing code. He described the way a hodgepodge of computational concepts can be introduced obliquely through play with objects like the mouse/cat duo. Abstract concept-building gives way to doing and discovering.

The project helps young people to “forget about the computer for a while and think about the language and the world it builds for you,” he said. “Scratch has its underpinning in a world of live objects you interact with. It’s easier to understand what’s going on if you don’t peel back the layers of the onion yet.”

Mitch Resnick, the MIT professor who helped found the project in 2003, noticed that digitally adept young people were very good at interacting with digital devices, but often couldn’t go a step further and become creators. He described it as if one could read, but not write. As you become fluent in speaking and writing a language, you can tell jokes and write letters. Similarly, as children pick up Scratch or other educational programming languages, they can animate a greeting card or build a game. The idea of productive, creative fluency underpins Scratch’s creation.

Scratch Practices

• Procedure: Map out a big project by planning a series of smaller tasks. Work iteratively and incrementally, writing a little bit, testing it, and then writing some more.

• Fixes, not frustration: Test a project and when you find a problem, debug it. Generating silly errors and resolving bugs can be part of the game.

• Remixing: Find inspiration and solutions in other people’s ideas, and share your own work. Scratch has compiled more than 3 million projects that are part of the “Creative Commons” – a shared intellectual space free of copyright that encourages the growth of ideas upon ideas.

Some programming languages provide description – for instance, CSS shows a webpage what color to make words and how big to display pictures, and SQL can tell you how many stories in the Town Crier’s database mentioned Bullis Charter School last week. Other languages, such as JavaScript or C++, are procedural, directing actions such as starting and stopping a sound effect. In Scratch, beginners get a feel for both description and procedure as they design action and the environment in which it happens.

Collaboration and cookies

The educational languages’s personalization and visual style capture attention – a coding error feels relevant if you watch your avatar get devoured by a zombie. Beyond that, programs like Scratch also chase the bigger idea that computation leads to creation, and that making projects with and for others feels powerful.

“I think magic happens when kids get to know each other in a social environment, teaching each other,” Marcy Delgado said.

She co-founded the Silicon Valley CoderDojo after attending an event hosted by the San Francisco branch with her son.A high school student in Ireland started the first CoderDojo in 2011 and since then new chapters have sprung up around the world.

Scratch Concepts

• Sequence: Envision an action as a series of steps. For a cat to chase a mouse, the mouse must move, the cat must sense that movement and then follow it. Find the building blocks for each action, and put them together in order.

• Boolean logic: Structure questions for which the only possible answers are “true” or “false.” In Scratch, for instance, you can have your program answer the true/false question, is my cat touching a wall? IF a cat is touching a wall, THEN it should meow and rotate 90 degrees so it doesn’t get stuck. You’ve kept your creature in motion and, along the way, you found an introduction to the math that helped build search engines.

• Parallelism: Learn how to make things happen at the same time, and work through the unexpected consequences of concurrent actions. You can program multiple characters to move around the screen simultaneously – what should happen when they collide? What if two cats catch the same mouse – which gets to score?

Delgado said that parents often help find venues for the group to meet, and that over time the Dojo is developing a core group of returning students who are advancing into more complex programming projects.

The bimonthly events in Silicon Valley are free but tend to book up early. Donations support the snacks that fuel hours of hacking.

“At events like this, the cookies are done – we always need more cookies,” Delgado said ruefully. “If we could have one thing, we want money for munchies.”

The Dojo is also constantly recruiting new mentors who circulate at events helping young people debug their projects and dream up extensions for an idea.

“We need technical people who are passionate about what they do. It’s the enthusiasm and the encouragement that really make the difference,” Delgado said.

In addition to introducing beginners to Scratch, the Dojo encourages students who want to pick up other languages such as HTML, CSS, Python and even Unity, a 3-D game development tool.

“Starting young, there’s not really a hurry,” Skinner, the Dojo mentor, said.

Programming “is seeping into every aspect of the world,” he said, but to engage with it, people have to know they can have fun. Even starting from scratch, young programmers can tackle complicated problems – and do it with style.

To connect to a local CoderDojo, visit coderdojo.com. To explore Scratch, visit scratch.mit.edu.

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