I’ve had the Nexus 7 in my hands for about twenty-four hours now, and I’ve been playing with it a lot. It’s my first tablet, so I can’t compare it directly to the iPad or earlier Android tablets, but I can say that I am very happy with it, especially for only $200.
The physical size is pretty nice. It’s definitely much more portable than a ten-inch tablet would be. I can even fit it in my front pocket. While I wouldn’t want to lug it around in there all day, it is convenient for transporting it short distances without tying up your hands. And it’s light. I don’t notice any issue with weight
Its most immediately impressive quality is just how fast it is.
In English, there are generally two ways of describing quantities: mass nouns, and count nouns. Count nouns are used when the quantity in question is a set of discrete items. “There are twelve bananas.” Here, ‘bananas’ functions as a count noun, which is appropriate because you can clearly tell where one banana ends and the next begins. In contrast, mass nouns are used when the quantity is continuous and not divisible into countable units. “There are twelve peanut butters,” for example, does not make sense. What constitutes a single “peanut butter”? Unlike with a count noun, a unit is required to refer to a specific quantity of a mass noun, even if the unit is implicit, such interpreting the previous example to mean “There are twelve jars of peanut butter.”
This brings me to the word “code”.
I’d like to address something that I’ll call the “I’ll tell you when you’re older” phenomenon in computer science education. This mostly has to do with programming, but there are also situations in theory education where this happens as well. Specifically here I’m going to discuss how it can affect the choice of a teaching language.
As is often the case with something so complex and with such a storied history, programming languages have quirks, gotchas, and many layers of operation. Therefore, it turns out to be extremely tempting when introducing an aspiring programmer to his or her first computer language to try as much as possible to avoid confusing the student by eliding material that isn’t relevant to the lesson at hand. Essentially, this means deflecting tangential questions, or anticipated questions, with the educational equivalent of the commonly experienced childhood situation where your parent promises to explain to you what some mature or risque term means “when you’re older.” In this sense, the instructor is requiring the student to wait until a later point in the course before explaining the meaning of a particular concept or construct.
In the abstract, this seems to be an advisable thing to do, but (though I certainly haven’t done formal study to back up this assertion) I suspect that it encourages the dreaded practice known as cargo-cult programming. Cargo-cult programming is the software engineering manifestation of an appeal to authority. It entails the use of patterns or code fragments when one does not really understand what they do or why they are being used, simply because one has been instructed to use them, or has seen an instructor silently do so.
It is my belief that a programmer, be he a student or a professional, should never, ever write a line of code without understanding what it does or why they wrote it. This maxim is fundamentally incompatible with the “I’ll tell you when you’re older” educational tactic because that tactic necessarily entails that the student use something without having understood it. So this tactic should be avoided whenever possible, and it should absolutely be avoided in a student’s very first lesson.