Tue03312015

News

Safeway escalator elicits safety concerns from customers

Safeway escalator elicits safety concerns from customers


MEGAN V. WINSLOW/Town Crier
The escalator at the Safeway on First Street poses a safety hazard, some customers allege.

A Safeway shopper who accidentally placed his cart last month on the customer escalator instead of the shopping cart track next to...

Read more:

Loading...

Schools

Los Altos High hosts 30th Writers Week

Los Altos High hosts 30th Writers Week


Above Photo by Traci Newell/Town Crier;
Author Jack Andraka shares his story with fellow high school seniors during Los Altos High School’s Writers Week last week.

Los Altos High School students learned firsthand last week how professionals ...

Read more:

Loading...

Community

Service dogs bring smiles, comfort to veterans at Foothill College center

Service dogs bring smiles, comfort to veterans at Foothill College center


Photos by Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Charles Viajar, student and U.S. Navy veteran, brings his four-legged companion Bruno to the Veterans Resource Center at Foothill College. Bruno, a 2-year-old Imperial Shih Tzu, is trained to assist Viajar with...

Read more:

Loading...

Sports

Improbable run to NorCal semis saves season for St. Francis girls

Improbable run to NorCal semis saves season for St. Francis girls


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
St. Francis High’s Daisha Abdelkader goes on a fast break in the CCS Division II final. The senior point guard scored eight points in the Lancers’ NorCal semifinal loss to Dublin last week.

Senior Daisha Abdel...

Read more:

Loading...

Comment

We'll buy it; what is it? Editorial

Would you buy a device on the condition that you are kept in the dark about how it works? Would you feel good about purchasing such a device when the contract even calls for nondisclosure of the nondisclosure form that keeps the device top secret?

T...

Read more:

Loading...

Special Sections

MV resident, engineer applies brainpower to screenplays

MV resident, engineer applies brainpower to screenplays


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
High-tech vice president by day, screenwriter by night, Mountain View resident Robert Frostholm pursues his passion for storytelling.

Robert Frostholm has always been a storyteller.

Until a couple of years ago, however, hi...

Read more:

Loading...

Business

Vintage Bath changes hands as new owners add twist to classic offerings

Vintage Bath changes hands as new owners add twist to classic offerings


Alicia Castro/Town Crier
Vintage Bath, the downtown Los Altos showroom, is under new leadership. Taking over are, from left, co-owners Jerry Rudick and Deena Castello and marketing and visual director Alissa McDonald.

Deena Castello – the new cu...

Read more:

Loading...

Books

'Pope Joan' Book weaves tale around legend of female pontiff

'Pope Joan' Book weaves tale around legend of female pontiff


The idea that there may have a female pope at one time in history has generated much speculation throughout the centuries. “Pope Joan” (Crown, 1996) by Donna Woolfolk Cross, does not answer the question; rather, the author has created a detai...

Read more:

Loading...

People

BEVERLEY JEANE (DORSEY) MCCHESNEY

BEVERLEY JEANE (DORSEY) MCCHESNEY

1944-2014

Beverley McChesney passed away at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, CA on Sunday, Nov. 16. She had been fighting cancer for about 23 years until it went into her lungs.

She is survived by her husband David, of Cloverdale; her sisters...

Read more:

Loading...

Travel

Eat, hike, soak: Cavallo Point Lodge offers Marin experience

Eat, hike, soak: Cavallo Point Lodge offers Marin experience


Eren Göknar/ Town Crier
Cavallo Point Lodge comprises former U.S. Army buildings, like the Mission Blue Chapel, repurposed for guests seeking a luxurious getaway.

It used to be a place where batteries of soldiers lived, with officers’ quarter...

Read more:

Loading...

Stepping Out

Cal Pops performs Sunday at Foothill

Cal Pops performs Sunday at Foothill


Courtesy of Cal Pops
The Cal Pops trumpet section includes Dean Boysen, from left, Bob Runnels and Noel Weidkamp.

The California Pops Orchestra is scheduled to perform “Swing Time!” – a musical tour of Big Band hits from the 1930...

Read more:

Loading...

Spiritual Life

Oshman JCC hosts panel on Judaism and Science

The Oshman Family Jewish Community Center has scheduled its inaugural Judaism and Science Symposium, “An Exploration of the Convergence of Jewish & Scientific Thought,” 5 p.m. April 12 at the JCC’s Schultz Cultural Arts Hall, 39...

Read more:

Loading...

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...

Read more:

Loading...

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.

Schools »

Schools
Read More

Sports »

sports
Read More

People »

people
Read More

Special Sections »

Special Sections
Read More

Photos of Los Altos

photoshelter
Browse and buy photos