Code Year / Codecademy (Edited)

A quick note – as Mike McGee points out in the comments – it is not Code Academy – it is Codecademy. My brain fixed the “error” without letting me know. It appears the Codecademy folks couldn’t get the name they wanted so went for something close. I apologize for any confusion my post may have created. — JR


The tldr – Very promising platform with a lot of potential, a bit rough around the edges right now.

Via TechCrunch, I found Codecademy. They are behind Code Year.

I’m not sure if the two are different at all. I guess I’ll figure it out when I get an email from Code Year. I’ve already done all the courses/lessons available at Codecademy.

Right now there is just some basic stuff on JavaScript. It’s not anything earth shattering – but I really like the approach and the platform they’ve built. All the lessons take place at their site. The lesson pages have instructions, an editor and a shell. Everything that one does happens in the editor or shell and it lets the student move on when each exercise is successfully completed.

There are some rough edges. Sometimes it’s necessary to read comments and instructions in the editor. The editor can’t be re-sized and a few times the comments were too long, so I had to scroll sideways to see the whole thing. That’s a pretty easy fix I think.

And sometimes I couldn’t get past an exercise but the feedback in the shell wouldn’t tell me why. I had one exercise where my solution was technically correct, but I’m guessing that the steps I took violated some threshold so it wouldn’t let me pass that section until I guessed just how they wanted it done. That was the most frustrating time so far. I could have skipped it and moved on but I wanted to get 100% completion.

They track how many lessons the student has passed. This leads to achievements that give students little badges on their profile. I really dig this kind of ‘gaming’ educational materials. I’m sure to certain people they are stupid or pointless – but to someone with a brain like mine they are incredibly motivating.

The Code Year piece is supposed to email out a new lesson each week. My guess is the first few weeks will be the lessons I’ve already done. I may blow off the code year thing and just keep checking code academy for new courses.

Performance as the Codecademy site has been less than stellar. I’m hoping they get that fixed. Sometimes I had to reload pages and pretty much always it was a long wait. Sometimes I’d finish a piece, it would show that I had completed it but then back at my profile it would show pieces not finished. I had to go back and click through the end again.

On an interesting side note – the Codecademy site says they are hiring. They are looking for a few people. What made me chuckle was the section on developers:
Our stack:

Backbone.js
Ruby/Rails
mongoDB
We love macs, but we’re not allergic to Linux systems


I laughed because I saw the Ruby on Rails bit and thought, “I wonder how that will scale.” They’ve been mentioned on TechCrunch and Hacker News already. I’m surprised if it hasn’t been submitted to Reddit. I expect to see it pop up on the slashdot front page at some point. I’m guessing they are going to see a lot of traffic.

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Posted in Geeks In Action, Programming

Heroica

Lego, quite a while back, came out with games. I’ve been interested in them since I first saw them, but never had a chance to play them myself. That changed today, as my son received one of the Heroica games as a Christmas present. It is the Waldurk Forest set.

If you don’t want to read all I have to say, I’ll sum it up like this, I think the game is incredible.

Like any other lego set, the first step is to build it. The game “board” is made up of small plates, and on each are different pieces to build the setting of the overall game. There are also some small pieces to put together to keep track of stats and inventory for characters. And there are little microfigures to represent the heros and monsters. These are smaller than the normal lego mini-figs and they don’t have arms or legs that move. The head is also fixed on. They are just a single piece. In this set there are spiders, which are also a single molded piece.

This is a very basic role playing game. Included in this set, are a Ranger, Druid and Barbarian. They represent different classes of characters. They each have a special ability. The set also comes with a number of weapons that can be purchased and when a player uses them, it grants that player a single use of the special ability of a different character.

The plates that make up the board can be connected in different ways. The set came with two different “mission maps” that show different ways to lay out the game. It incorporates the monsters, potions, gold and treasure chests which can turn out to be gold or the loss of health. The end goal can be killing a certain monster or reaching a certain point on the mission map. The mechanics are very easy and my kids (ages 8-12) picked up on how the game works quickly.

If there is such a thing as a gateway RPG, this is it. What has me really excited is that it’s all pretty much standard lego parts. We can take pieces from other kits that the kids already have, and build larger boards. The instructions encourage kids to try changing up the rules and seeing how that impacts the game. It’s a game that follows the basic lego philosophy. Not only is the board configurable, the rules are as well. My son and I have already talked about creating our own potions and modifying other aspects of the game.

I’m extremely excited about the potential of this whole platform. There is so much here that I think is going to be a lot of fun for me and the kids.

Lego is great about making sure kits have all the pieces. But somehow in this one, the core of our die was left out. It’s a 6d and there are square pieces to afix to each side. We have the square pieces, just not the part they connect onto. I wanted the kids to play with the images they’d see rolling the proper die with the kit, so I wrote a little javascript page to allow them to “roll” the dice. It’s at http://geeksinaction.org/roll. It has worked very well for the games we’ve played so far. Of course Lego customer service is awesome and they say we’ll have the missing piece within a week. Ordering it was dead easy.

I’m a huge fan of lego. Their normal set, mindstorm and now Heroica. They are a great company, offering some really amazing products.

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Posted in Games, Geeks In Action

New Blog Home

Well – if you are reading this, you made it here. My personal musings will now be living at blog.geeksinaction.org so that I can use the top level domain for a personal project I’ve been thinking about for quite a while now.

My hope is to set up a site where people with technical skills (designers, programmers, sysadmins, dbas, etc.) can go and find opportunities to use those skills and the fruits of those skills to assist in ministry.

I see this happening on a number of levels. The simplest level would be allowing a person to participate by contributing money. This is a key way to help, but it doesn’t involve a lot of interaction.

The next level would be by participating in a project in a virtual manner. A designer could see that a logo is needed, exchange some emails or chat and then submit a logo. Or programmers could form a virtual team to code some needed software. This is hands on involvement, leveraging current tools to allow people anywhere to contribute.

The third level would be short term, on site involvement. Maybe an African country needs a new server installed and configured. This could be a two week job that a person from inside that country or outside it, could come and do on site. Technical short-term missions basically.

The final level would be more long term, internship type opportunities if you will. Needs can be presented that offer the people willing to meet those needs the opportunity to spend a year or two on site providing solutions to the needs.

We’ll see how it goes.

Posted in Geeks In Action, Work, World

December 7th, 1941

More photos here

Posted in General

Props

The only thing scarier than a propeller, is a propeller at night. I was just reading about this poor gal in Texaas that walked into a prop. It brought back a lot of memories of working around turboprops in the dark. Man I hate those things.

I think this shot from Navy.mil does a good job of making it clear why. They are hard to see in the light, and pretty much invisible in the dark. The noise is loud enough that it’s not so easy to identify just where it is coming from. That adds up to a rather dangerous environment, and I’m guessing this young lady in Texas may not have been used to running around airplanes in the dark. I do wonder why the pilot didn’t keep her inside until the prop had come to a complete stop. I imagine he or she may be wondering the same thing right now.

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Posted in General

Nothing To See Here, Move Along

Hooked up a Wacom Intuos 3 graphics tablet to my Fedora 15 box today. That’s it. Everything just worked. Sort of like when I was on the shared drive from the office server on Friday. No messing about with Samba – no issues – just worked. I love living in the future.

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Posted in Geeks In Action, Linux, OS

Messing with App Inventor

I have been so busy I haven’t played with App Inventor in a long time. Yesterday I read an interesting article about MIT taking over the project. That got me wanting to get things set up again and see where it was at.

It was frustrating because I couldn’t get my phone to connect to the software. I was googling and wracking my brain to figure out the issue. I tried on multiple machines with multiple OS’s. After many hours a very simple solution to my problems finally crept into my brain. I went home, got another USB cable and all my problems went away. Annoying but I’m glad I got it figured out.

On a related note, the App Inventor software is run from the browser. One piece, the “Blocks Editor” is written in Java. So the browser downloads a jnlp file and it needs to be run. I was using Chrome. But when I told it to auto-open the file after downloading it wouldn’t give me a choice in what program did the opening. It was using the open-jdk (which the docs say not to use) and I couldn’t figure out how to get it to let me switch to the Oracle jdk. So I went to running it from Firefox, where I had no problem setting this up correctly. There is a lot I really like about Chrome, but when I want to get stuff done, I inevitably end up back on Firefox

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Posted in Geeks In Action, Google, Programming

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