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Author Topic: Editorial: A small PSA about CodeWalrus  (Read 7695 times)

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Offline gbl08ma

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Re: Editorial: A small PSA about CodeWalrus
« on: March 02, 2018, 10:48:58 am »
I think graphing calcs are much less of an appealing platform for development and for teaching programming than they were a decade ago.

- Recent models are more restrictive than ever in order to comply with new exam regulations, and in some countries said regulations have done away with graphing calculators entirely;

- A decade ago, when we weren't in "everyone has a smartphone"-era, calculators were the only affordable and relatively common handheld platform where development could be made on the device itself. Nowadays, everyone who buys a graphing calculator most likely also has a smartphone. Naturally, people wonder "how can I make smartphone apps and games?" before they even wonder "how can I build calculator games?". I think you all agree that a smartphone offers way more possibilities while still having the handheld form factor (just think of all the I/O of a smartphone that is missing on most calculators: sensors, radios, speakers...), with the plus of being so much more commonplace (which is very appealing for beginners who are heavily motivated by the fact that billions of people will be able to play their game/use their app). As for programming on-the-go, you can write scripts and run them on a smartphone, or even compile code, and you get to use a (small) QWERTY keyboard and not an awkward calculator keyboard;

- People looking to play with embedded systems programming, for example because they find the idea of developing software for machines with few resources appealing, there's all the IoT stuff (from RasPis to Arduinos to ESPs) which is way more beginner-friendly than any calculator platform (and has the benefit of appealing to people who like to tinker building physical, hardware stuff), and there are also all the retro game consoles and handhelds, like the Gameboy;

- "But you can't bring a smartphone to exams!" I got into Prizm development largely because of the appeal of "cheating" on tests. I never really "cheated" much but I must say it was quite appealing to be able to run my own code, my own software, in a context where you are supposedly deprived of much computing aid. However, going back to my first point... new exam regulations mandate the introduction of exam modes and similar stuff which makes it notably more difficult to run your own stuff during exams - to the point where doing so would definitely, beyond any doubt, be considered cheating and one would face serious consequences if caught. If I was buying a graphing calculator today, with the new regulations in place, I would most likely never have much interest in building software for it;

- Most tech depreciates and becomes a commodity over time. Again, smartphones: you can find models at any price point from $50 (or less!) to $1000+. However, graphing calculators have, for the reasons we all know about, kept their prices (or even slightly increased them!) unless you buy used. The fact that calcs are perceived as being an expensive thing makes people fear "breaking" them, and sometimes with good reasons (yes, I, too, have bricked my Prizm once...). And they are not just any "expensive item", they are something you need for school and thus can't afford to go without. This obviously disincentivizes exploration of the calculator platforms.

Now, if you don't mind, some thoughts on forums as a discussion medium. Some months ago, I posted this lengthy post at Cemetech. Much of what I said there was specific to the Cemetech topic in question and Cemetech itself, but there are some thoughts there that apply to any forum:

I feel that since a few years ago, with the rise of discussion platforms more similar to Reddit, Hacker News, StackExchange, etc., as well as with more and more discussion taking place behind walled gardens like Facebook, there are fewer people interested in participating in a "traditional" forum like Cemetech. (I frequent other "traditional" forums and even used to be a moderator at one, and this is something that affects all kinds of forums.) Some communities also started centering more and more around real-time chat services like Slack and Discord. For example, often you'll see that a project on GitHub uses their issue tracker, and besides that, discussion takes place on Slack. Another example: for UnderLX, I'm using a Discord "server" as the only place for discussion, posting changelogs, etc.
I don't participate in them, but I also know there are large communities around programming languages, frameworks, etc. on Slack.

Personally I spend a lot of time on Reddit and Hacker News. However, these types of websites are not good for long-form, ongoing project discussion (for example: on Hacker News, you can do a "Show HN" about your project, and receive feedback, but there's really no way to keep a discussion going on for weeks/months as the project evolves). I think this is one thing Cemetech excels at: a place for people to post development logs of their projects and discuss them in an ongoing fashion that can be easily be read from any point (unlike IRC, Slack or Discord, which as Alex mentioned are hard to catch up to after a few weeks or even days). But for it to be worth posting about a project at Cemetech, there has to be an audience. In this sense, you may become stuck in a catch-22: nobody posts projects because there are not enough people participating; nobody participates, because there are not enough interesting projects.

Finally, I think the graphing calculator communities have always suffered from a serious fragmentation problem, which has become especially acute in the past few years as (due to the reasons I mentioned above) the amount of people participating and the amount of discussion decrease. As much as I hate saying this, because I really like how each community has its own style and quirks, there are too many communities for a topic that is more niche than ever. If I were the king in the world of graphing calculators, I would be forcing a merger, like any sane CEO would. Since that is not possible, perhaps not even desirable, then I "prescribe" Codewalrus exactly what I "prescribed" Cemetech: that you (we) work towards making this a community around discussing and supporting each others' projects and other topics that interest us, and maybe leave graphing calculators in our past, and try to avoid "drama" at all costs. "Drama" confuses newcomers and makes them feel like they don't belong. I have observed this over and over again in multiple forums, including some where I was staff for quite a long time.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2018, 10:51:25 am by gbl08ma »
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