Ask the grumpies: Computer programming for a tween girl

OMDG asks:

My 9 yo has expressed interest in doing a coding camp and she told me she wants to be an engineer recently. I guess she started doing scratch last year at school and really enjoyed it, and she totally lit up when I asked her if she’d want to do something like this for camp next year, which I was kind of surprised by. She’s really good at math too. Anyway, I wondered if you had any suggestions about how to find things that would be the appropriate level and interesting, that won’t totally turn her off. I remember when I was growing up only nerdy boys did this sort of thing, and they weren’t super nice to girls like me who were interested. Do you have any suggestions on how to nurture this?

My sister also got turned off of programming by jerk boys at a computer camp. (She does do some programming for her job but dislikes that part.). I think for that reason there are many places that have girls only summer camps.  When she’s a little older, keep in mind these summer camps in Ann Arbor.

DC1 enjoyed NIU virtual summer camps last year.  We don’t know if they will be virtual this year, but she can always go in person.

Outschool has online summer camps for girls.  Here’s one example.  (Currently it only has Spring sessions up, but it will likely have summer sessions later).

Khan Academy has an hour of code thing.  There’s also coursera, though that may be best for older kids.

One of DH’s friends recommends this learn-to-code site.

Here’s some other thoughts we have had:

1 Minecraft coding not well supported on its own, but can work well in a classroom setting—there may be some that’s better supported but we haven’t found it.
2 Unity is a lot of fun, we’re not sure how easy to get into without a class, but it easy to do on your own after having had a class.
3 Here’s an earlier post that has a link to a Python book for kids that DC1 enjoyed.  There are links in the comments to suggestions for other ways for kids to learn programming.
4 Scratch has come a long way since DC1 was little.  Once you create a program you can share your code. There are a lot of scratch programs available online that people share, so you can see what people have done and you can learn a lot from looking at other people’s programs.  She could look at programs and change them to see what happens and make them her own.
5 Statistical programming packages make nice beginner languages.  You could give her simple programming assignments to help you with your work in exchange for $$.  DC1 has made a few .do files for me in the past, though very simple ones.

Many years from now, when she is thinking about college, look for engineering programs that graduate a healthy percent of women and avoid the ones where there’s a precipitous drop between freshman and senior year.

Grumpy Nation:  What recommendations do you have for learning and growing with computer programming for a tween?

Ask the grumpies: Planning for retirement/savings when you don’t know when you’re going to die

First Gen American asks:

How would you plan for retirement date and/or savings plan if you each had a parent that both died very young and very old.

No matter what happened with your parents or grandparents, you don’t know when you’re going to die.

That means you need to plan for the contingency that you’re going to live a really long time.  Essentially– you need insurance against the eventuality that you live longer than expected.

There are a few ways to get this insurance:

  1.  Keep having income coming in (working)
  2.  Have a lot of savings that you don’t completely spend down (knowing that with luck you will still have money leftover when you die and that money will not be wasted because it brought peace of mind)
  3.  Annuitize

Those of us in the US and most other developed countries have some form of annuitization from the government– Social Security is ours.  Although Social Security may be cut or it may not keep up with inflation depending on future politics, it will probably be there to form some sort of hedge against outliving our assets.  But most of us want more than what that can provide.  If you want more, you can buy an annuity, though annuity markets can be kind of messed up.  Working longer is subject to ability, health, age discrimination and just plain luck, so you may not have a choice in the matter.  And savings you likely understand and are wondering how much to do.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say to stop worrying about when you’re actually going to do die as you do retirement planning.  Pick the oldest age you think you’re likely to die and plan for that.  Think of it as insurance, not optimization.  You’re trying to make sure you can afford tuna fish instead of catfood in your old age.  There may be contingencies with your own personal planning– you may have children you think could pick up the slack if you run out of money (or you may want to have some annuities).  You may be willing to drop your consumption down to low levels and hope the government picks up increased medical bills at older ages.  And as you get older, you’ll have more information about your personal health diagnoses and may have a better idea for the future.  But in your current planning, pick that old age and ignore the young one.

Ask the grumpies: how do people play video games these days?

Bookishbiker asks:

I don’t really get how people play video games anymore, like what is the actual technical mechanics of it all? Do all video games have to be played on consoles? Are there some games where you just log into a web page? Are there any good games that are phone-only? (I think you recently had that conversation and the conclusion is that phone games aren’t that good.) Every now and then I read a review about a game that sounds interesting but then I don’t even know how a person games. I’m old enough to barely remember using a cassette tape to load a game called Montezuma’s Revenge! And I haven’t gamed since. So feel free to break the concept down to tiny bits :) I’d like to try some immersive but not super HARD game sometime but I don’t even know how it all works.

I have handed this question off to DH.  I can’t both play games and take care of myself, much less excel at a job or pay attention to other people.  I don’t know how other people do it.

People play games on all of the above, and many games are available on multiple platforms.

There are definitely good games on phones.  He just finished playing Slay the Spire, which he liked, but he’s not sure that he would recommend it to everyone.

There are time-wasting games on websites, like candy crush, or emulation games (like NES emulators etc.) that you can play in your web-browser these days, you know, to reclaim your childhood.  Maybe even Montezuma’s Revenge! (DH notes there’s an Artificial Intelligence that does really well on Montezuma’s Revenge.)

Centralized distribution has become a big thing, so Steam games or Humble bumble and other distributers are where many people get their video games these days.  You can easily get access to a lot of games to buy for your computer or console system.

He tends to use Meta-critic for finding games, which he thinks works best for finding console games.  As far as he knows, there’s not a single website that is good for all kinds of video games.  Steam has good rankings, so he tends to use steam for finding computer games to download.

A lot of people on gaming podcasts recommend that you get an XBox X or XBox S and get an XBox GamePass which is $15/month and you can get access to tons of games.

Two immersive games that we would recommend to anybody are:  Stardew Valley (for PC / Mac / Linux, Xbox One, Playstation 4,  Playstation VITA, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android!) and Undertale (available on Switch, PC, PS4, PSVita, and XBox).

Note:  None of these are affiliate links and none of these companies have the slightest idea that we exist, though DH does spend a big chunk of his allowance on Steam games.

Grumpeteers, what are your video gaming recommendations?

Ask the grumpies: Why is it so hard to prioritize my health when I’m so good at everything else?

First Gen American asks:

Why is it so hard to prioritize my health (specifically portion control) when I am so disciplined in every other aspect of my life?

We are the same person.

Genetics might suggest it’s because we both had parents who likely starved or were undernourished during parts of their childhood which altered our genes.  (Yes, this is a real thing– I went to a conference on it!  Barker, of the Barker hypothesis, himself was there!  RIP.  He yelled at me for being an idiot when I suggested that he partner with Jamie Oliver who at the time was terrifying SAHMs in the US with one of his reality show programs about school lunches.)

And, unlike money where it gets easier to save the more you already have saved, our bodies fight getting “too thin” and it gets harder to lose weight the less we weigh.  We don’t like deprivation and fight against it.

And unlike habits like smoking or video games etc. you cannot stop eating cold turkey (well technically you likely never have to eat turkey of any temperature, but I know you know I meant that metaphorically).  So there’s no all or nothing option.  You HAVE to eat (and eating is delightful), so if you, for example, manage a candy crush addiction by not having it on any of your devices, the same thing won’t work for food.

And, eating food can increase our willpower in other areas (I read that in Willpower by Baumeister).  So lack of portion control may be partly responsible for your amazing discipline in other areas.  I definitely gain weight when I’m up against deadlines because I need to fuel my brain.

There’s also the… yes, I could prioritize exercise, but that 30 minutes/day doesn’t come from nowhere, I have to take something else away.

And one could make food boring (some people have the same thing for lunch every day and the same set of dinners every week) and have food habits (10:30am is apple time), but that sure would take a lot of joy out of life.

Grumpy Nation, do you prioritize your health?  What are your secrets?

Ask the grumpies: Luxury or roughing it on vacation?

Leah asks:

Is it better to indulge in some luxury on vacation (for example, getting a king sized bed or a fancy rental car), or do you prefer to “rough it” so home feels more luxurious?

#1:  I can’t tell you what my revealed preference is on this because the only time we tried to take an actual vacation we inadvertently caused a pandemic through our hubris instead (not really– correlation is not always causation unless you’re the protagonist in a work of fiction).  I’m pretty sure the house we rented was in a good location but not as nice as our current house, which is pretty par when you live in a nice house in the middle of nowhere.  I remember when we bought our house out here, for the first time going to conference hotels was no longer nicer than where we lived (previously we’d lived in ancient urban apartments or dorm rooms).

In general, I think we have a minimal standard of what’s good for travel– in NYC that may be a tiny hotel room, in the rural Midwest it might be a nice AirBNB.

I am not at all a fan of roughing it.  Count me out of hiking trips unless there’s a cabin with running water and electricity involved.

#2:  We do not “rough it”.

Ask the grumpies: How draining are unmotivated students?

FGA asks:

How much more work [is] an unmotivated student is vs someone who does the work. One of my children is going through the phase of passing in a lot of things late or not reading the one page of prework before a class discussion because he thinks he can wing it. (No he can’t) We’ve tried all kinds of angles but right now, we are trying to get him to see what a pain in the …it is to have to nag people to do their work, show their work, do the prep, chase people to hand things in. Would love actual teachers’ perspectives on pet peeves or things kids do that make their jobs harder.

I mean, you can’t care more than the students do.  That’s a mistake a lot of teachers make in their early careers.  That energy is better spent on the kids who actually want to learn.

It is depressing and a huge waste of time.  The whole point is to learn what you can.

I would actually recommend that he spend some time thinking about what is goals are for the class, even if his goals are just to get high enough grades to blow this popsicle stand.  The better his grades are, the more options he will have.  It doesn’t matter how good or how bad the teacher is– he should be able to get what he wants even without them cajoling.  Even if they’re terrible at their jobs.  That’s irrelevant.  Self-motivation is important.

That said, late work is a pain to deal with– takes way longer to grade.  I don’t accept it (unless there’s a true long-term emergency) and instead have a drop two lowest scores policy.  Class discussions go poorly when nobody does the prework and go well when everyone does.  Showing your work is important because when you’re out in the world people will need to be able to trust what you did and to replicate it with small changes.  Not handing things in that you’ve done is a huge waste of everyone’s time.  Just hand it in.

Alice says:

When I was teaching, I didn’t do a lot of what you’re describing– no nagging, no chasing, none of that. If my students turned in their work on time, they got the credit for it for the quality of work that they did. If they didn’t, they didn’t. Most kids did the reading by the night before– which I know, because I required them to send in responses to the reading by 10 p.m. the day before it was being discussed in class. And most kids turned in their work on time, most of the time. The very small handful of students who persistently didn’t, I warned once– I had them meet with me outside of class and told them that they were in danger of failing. At that meeting, I recommended that they drop the class before the drop deadline if they didn’t want the likely F on their transcripts. I only failed one person– someone who skipped class a lot, didn’t turn in most of their work, and who ignored the warning. I was unhappy about it because I didn’t want to give an F, but– the students earned what they earned based on what they did. The other kids I warned dropped the class while they still could.

This is probably not helpful from your point of view, but– for me, a student who was unmotivated to the point at which they were going to fail was very easy from an instructional standpoint. They didn’t give me enough to react to. I put my time and energy into the people who made the effort to show up and do the work. They may not have vastly improved by the end of my class (Freshman Comp), but they engaged. They tried.

Ask the grumpies: More on masks

Steph asks:

Have you tried the KF94s from [behealthyusa.net not sponsored]? I’ve got some flying coming up in the new year and am considering upgrading from my KN95s that I use for teaching.

YES. They sell the BOTN which are the top rated across KF94 both guys (Aaron Collins and Lloyd Armbrust) who do ratings and you can get 100 of them at $1/mask right now as a holiday clearance (or a smaller number for less money but more per mask).  At the most recent NBER health conference, I noted Amy Finklestein (a top health economist) was wearing a BOTN KF94 as her chosen mask.  I LOVE the KF94– it is a sea change from KN95 in terms of fit and comfort. They have this extremely clever yet simple method of tightening the ear loops and the boat-style is away from your face so it’s easier to breathe.  I no longer wear KN95 unless I have a cute (but terrible quality) redbubble mask to go over it that matches the day’s class topic for my Ms. Frizzle thing.

I also got some of the POSH holiday style ones which aren’t rated as highly as BOTN but are still very effective according to one of the guys who tests masks.

My friend with a small face really likes the child-sized Tiger masks they sell, which are highly rated by one of the two guys.

For flying and other places where I’m concerned I’ll be in an enclosed space with unmasked unvaccinated carriers in areas with high case rates I use the Respokare N95 from a different website which are insanely expensive (like $13/each, head straps, great foam nose piece) but I CANNOT SMELL MY HAND SANITIZER when wearing them. The BOTN KF94 generally mute the smell, but it’s still there.  (Aaron Collins is not that impressed with the respokare— he prefers the Botn.)

Ask the grumpies: Favorite breakfast cereal? Or favorite breakfast food in general?

Leah asks:

Favorite breakfast cereal? Or favorite breakfast food in general?

Leftover cold pizza!

For cereal I like various kinds of muesli.  I don’t like having sugar for breakfast and it seems like almost everything is sugary.

If I’m feeling fancy, I like breakfast tacos or breakfast burritos.  Or an open face toasted cheese sandwich with a runny egg yolk.  Yum.  Avocado toast also good.  Ricotta toast too.

Ask the grumpies: Alternatives to grading

Leah asks:

I enjoy teaching but can’t stand grading. I find it demoralizing when students put in very little effort. Are there better ways to grade? Or should I consider a different career option?

It’s funny, I’m fine with grading when I’m not the one teaching (in fact, it is how I got spending money in college), but not so fine when it’s me they’re disappointing.  Why didn’t they listen?  Did I go wrong?  Why don’t they care?

The ideal solution is to have someone else do the grading.  TAs are the best.  Especially when they tell you general areas in which students need more work.  I don’t let them grade exams though, only homework.

And that costs $$.

Depending on what you’re doing, you can utilize multiple choice, or fill in the blank and so on and just not give partial credit.  I don’t do that though because I feel like students should get partial credit?

You can have students grade each other if you’re careful about FERPA (numbers, not names on papers) and it’s things where there’s a correct answer, though in those cases you could just have the computer grade.  :/

I dunno.  Grading sucks.

Here’s some posts on grading motivation and pens.

Grumpy Nation, do you have better advice?

Ask the grumpies: Graphic Novels for little kids

bookishbiker asks:

Any recommendations for non-scary/tense graphic novels for a five-year-old? I looked at Zita the Spacegirl and I thought it was okay, maybe a bit much/too soon, but I don’t want to wait another year or two. I’m excited to introduce the format of graphic novels/comics to a kiddo who’s starting to write their own stories.

Not scary:
Phoebe and unicorn (Newspaper comic strip, but there are story lines and there’s continuity even though nobody actually ages)
Owly (very sweet)
Owl Diaries (also sweet)

Bad Kitty (not technically a graphic novel, but has sentences and comic strip style interludes)

Full of juvenile humor but not scary:  Anything by Jeffrey Brown, Tom Watson, or Dav Pilkey (note:  The Dragon books are very Amelia Bedelia-esque and if that bugs you, you’re better off with Dog Man or Captain Underpants)

Some adventure:
Hilda (the graphic novels are rated 1st-2nd grade… I find the Netflix show a bit scary, but DC2 doesn’t at all)
Tiny snow fairy sugar (this was DC2’s first big graphic novel/manga want after watching the dub on netflix — we had to buy them used)
Squirrel girl (she eats nuts and kicks butts!  Fun for the whole family!)
Secret hero society
Pokémon (we literally own all of the ones that have made it into English– it’s almost two shelves)
My little pony graphic novels (the ones focusing on the Cutie Mark Crusaders (aka the main casts’ little sisters) have more mundane adventures– trying to make the wrong people fall in love vs. trying to not get burnt to a crisp by a dragon… more cringe, less actual danger)

Leah suggests:

Not graphic novels but great:
Princess in Black
Zoey & Sassafras

Owl Diaries (graphic novel) is also a hit here.

Lisa suggests:

My oldest really loved El Deafo and Guts.

My normally chill DC2 was terrified by a couple of the Wonder Women step readers, so maybe not those?

Grumpy Nation, what graphic novels would you recommend for a five-year-old?