State of New Jersey needs COBOL programmers

Liam Proven lproven at
Mon Apr 6 05:34:04 CDT 2020

On Mon, 6 Apr 2020 at 11:28, Jim Manley via cctalk
<cctalk at> wrote:
> Speaking of COBOL and Admiral Grace Hopper, I have one of her actual
> nanoseconds, a piece of insulated solid wire about 11.2 inches long, when
> she was a Superintendent's guest lecturer.  Since I was a Navy MSCS
> student, she "signed" it with stripes and gaps in magic marker, as the ones
> and zeroes in ASCII representing her name.
> An enterprising headhunter scoured retirement communities in Florida,
> Texas, Arizona, etc., in 1999, looking for COBOL programmers who knew where
> the two-digit dates were in the code.  In many cases, the source had been
> lost by the 1990s, so they really had to know the code.  AIUI, the Federal
> Reserve and many banking systems still run COBOL executables that have been
> wrapped to enable them to be run on modern OSes on current hardware, much
> as FORTRAN executables run on NASA missions, such as the Mars orbiters,
> landers, and rovers.  Rewriting such code would introduce bugs galore,
> especially anything contracted out by the government to the lowest bidder.
> As for learning computing, I have a slightly different range of students
> that are my charges than present company.  It starts with kindergartners
> and ends with adults of all ages in colleges and universities.  OK, so what
> the heck can a kindergartner possibly learn about computing?  Notice that I
> didn't say computer science, that's a subset of computing.  Computing
> encompasses mathematics, physics, science, engineering, hardware, software,
> and all of the more specialized areas under each of those major
> categories.  Programming isn't even up toward the top, any more than
> soldering is, although my students all learn some things that will be
> useful throughout their lives, no matter where they wind up career-wise.
> Here's what kindergartners can learn about computing: the concepts of
> something and nothing, and that there is literally money in computers.
> Huh?  The little ones don't even see a one or a zero when I start them out
> - we start with one of the most fundamental concepts in computing that even
> some freshman CS students often don't comprehend, the difference between
> something and nothing.  I ask them to identify opposites that they can
> sense, such as light and dark, a marble and an absence of a marble, left
> and right hands, magnets that attract and magnets that repel, etc.
> Eventually, we graduate to pennies: nice, shiny, brand-new-from-the-bank
> pennies that, to a kindergartner, are actual gold.  They play with the
> pennies to discover that they can roll around, and learn that they're not
> food or nasal suppositories, under careful supervision by multiple adults.
> They also find out that there is another opposites concept: heads and
> tails, which we acknowledge as what we educators call a scaffolding
> element, upon which other concepts will be built later.
> They're then provided egg cartons, which enables them to start learning the
> concept of organization, which even many adults never get close to
> mastering.  After a while, the tykes are encouraged to toss the pennies
> short distances and they learn that the pennies just happen to fit nicely
> at the bottom of the egg-holding parts of the cartons.  That's when I begin
> repeating the mantra to them every day: "There's literally money in
> computers.  There's literally money in computers ... "  When they start
> repeating it at home, their parents/guardians thank me profusely when they
> see me.
> Now the magic begins - the kids are shown that patterns can be created with
> shiny pennies and not-so-shiny empty holes.  I collect egg cartons from
> institutional kitchens that use real in-the-shell eggs, e.g. breakfast
> places like IHOP, Denny's, etc., that serve eggs sunny-side-up/down.  Very
> few kitchens use real eggs any more unless they're serving dishes with
> actual yolks and whites - omelettes, scrambled eggs, baked goods, etc., are
> all made with powdered eggs or liquid egg mixtures, even at what you might
> consider upscale restaurants.  The cartons they use are upwards of
> eight-by-eight eggs in size, which stack nicely for storage, as well as
> rapid access to make lots of whole, fresh egg dishes.
> You might be seeing where I'm going with the eight-by-eight cartons,
> because they're ideal for representing arrays of bits as bytes, with rows
> potentially representing successive memory locations, registers, graphics
> buffers, etc.  Of course, the kindergartners aren't going to understand
> anything about those sorts of concepts, but by the time I do get to them,
> they don't think twice about manipulating pennies in egg cartons.
> In the higher grades, I teach them binary  math after we map pennies to
> ones and the egg holes to zeroes.  They haven't learned decimal numbers and
> math at that point, yet, so this is a terrific opportunity to get them
> comfortable with bits without the confusion of seeing 10 and reflexively
> reading it as ten - it's always pronounced "one zero".
> At that point, they can learn the four rules for binary addition:  0 + 0 =
> 0, 0 + 1 = 1, 1 + 0 = 1, and 1 + 1 = 0 and carry 1 to the next digit to the
> left.  This is much simpler than learning decimal addition and prepares
> students by scaffolding decimal math on top of binary math that they
> learned as early as possible.  Early on, I also ensure that the
> something-nothing opposites concept of something and null are deeply
> instilled
> I use these techniques for students all the way up through elderly adults
> to help them understand what's really going on in binary digital
> computing.  You would be surprised at how many supposedly computing-savvy
> people have no idea that computing hardware almost universally executes
> everything at the bit level, and that the air around them is filled with
> exabits/second of serialized data via all sorts of frequencies and
> modulations.
> Extrapolate that sort of progression through all of the computing concepts
> discussed in previous posts, and much more, using scaffolding all the way
> up through the postgraduate computing level and you now have an idea of
> where computing education is going.  This is not your grandfather's,
> father's, or even your own kind of educational experience, this is
> something more befitting of the 21st Century, and it's not limited to just
> computing.
> Waiting until the post-secondary or even secondary educational levels to
> teach computing is no longer an option, as we don't have the luxury of only
> educating an elite few.  We have to start as early as possible with
> everyone and build layer upon layer alongside all of the other fundamentals
> to establish a citizenry to whom computing fundamentals are as familiar as
> the A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s, along with other important ideas and skills that
> haven't been taught appropriately for going on 100-plus years.

What a wonderful post. Started out with me being a little envious of
meeting Admiral Hopper and having a nanosecond, and ended up with an
inspiring tale of teaching logic.


Thank you for that!

Liam Proven – Profile:
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