When the Heck Did Learning to Code Become Cool?

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And why it sucks to be a beginner today…

If you — like me — became a software engineer before the Internet was at scale, back in the good-old-days when AOL was spamming our physical mailboxes with CDs — you may not appreciate how drastically becoming a software developer has changed.

Although the Internet has made our lives collectively easier, the dynamic of learning to program totally different from when I was starting out.

When the heck did learning to code become cool?

When I was teaching myself to program in high school, the attitude people had was “that’s just because Ken sucks at football” — not that I was some kind of glamorous rock star.

With the prevalence of social media, and the epic rise of companies like Instagram and “tech celebrities” like Zuckerburg, it has never been cooler to be a software developer.

How the world views developers in the ’90s and today:

If you’re reading this, you may still not believe me when I say in certain circles it’s very cool to say you can code. If you don’t believe me, there are a bunch of talks on YouTube, where you can watch people brag about how awesome they are because they can code to an audience that actually is listening and impressed.

While the image of developers has changed from some members of the general public — and I don’t have to feel embarrassed telling people I program computers for a living anymore — beginners that are looking to become software developers face a whole slew of problems that I never had to face.

Problem #1: You need to learn HTML9 Responsive BoilerStrap JS (or whatever JS Framework is trending today on HackerNews).

There’s a lot of hype out there about the next latest and greatest programming fad.

A lot of progress is being —> Read More

Friends, Foes, or Food: Among Cannibal Warrior Chimps

Male chimpanzees hug one another before encountering neighbors (photo by Aaron Sandel)

The chimpanzees stopped. Silently, each mouth parted into a grimace, teeth and gums exposed. They turned to one another and embraced, arms around each other’s shoulders and backs. Then they ran. I bolted after them, hugging my binoculars to my chest, ducking under branches and wriggling my way through vines that grabbed at me.

We came face-to-face with a neighboring group of chimpanzees: the formidable enemies who live to the south of the Ngogo community. Chimpanzees on both sides hooted and drummed the exposed roots of trees. The Ngogo males scattered, running back and forth screaming. The neighboring group of males continued to yell and cry as they retreated south. I followed Rollins, a slender-faced Ngogo adult male. He gave the trunk of a tree one last kick that echoed through the forest. The battle was over.

Male chimpanzees hug one another before encountering neighbors. (Photo by Aaron Sandel)

Chimpanzees are highly territorial, and the Ngogo chimpanzees are especially famous for their war-like behavior. They regularly go on patrols of their borders, walking in single-file lines as if on a covert military operation. Inter-group encounters can result in lethal aggression and at Ngogo this has lead to territorial expansion. This time there were no casualties in the face-off. But the neighbors of Ngogo are not always so lucky.

In early January a group of Ngogo chimpanzees—male and female—went on a patrol. As we reached the top of a valley, the males took the lead, leaving behind the females with their infants and juveniles. Suddenly, they became silent and stood upright on their back legs. They turned and hugged one another. Then they broke apart and sprinted down the hill. I ran after them. I heard a chorus of screams. When I caught up to them, they were in a pig-pile grappling over —> Read More

New U.S. Water Rule is Crucial for Clean Drinking Water and Resilience to Droughts and Floods

An aerial view of the Prairie Pothole Region, near Wing, North Dakota.  A new U.S. clean water rule protects prairie potholes and other freshwater ecosystems. Credit: Jim Ringelman, Ducks Unlimited/courtesy US Department of Agriculture.
An aerial view of the Prairie Pothole Region, near Wing, North Dakota. A new U.S. clean water rule protects prairie potholes and other freshwater ecosystems. Credit: Jim Ringelman, Ducks Unlimited/courtesy US Department of Agriculture.

It took nearly a decade, but finally the waters left terribly muddied by two U.S. Supreme Court cases have gotten a good bit clearer.

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers issued a new rule clarifying which of the nation’s streams and wetlands come under the protections of the federal Clean Water Act.

Without this rule, some 117 million people – about one in three Americans – would continue to get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection from pollution and degradation. And large populations of fish and wildlife would remain at risk of losing critical habitat.

The need for this clarification arose in large part from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in the Rapanos-Carabell case, named for the two petitioners who each had sought to develop wetland areas on their Michigan properties – one for a shopping center in Midland, the other for condominiums north of Detroit.

In a mixed ruling, the four conservative justices ruled that the Clean Water Act applies only to “permanent, standing or continuously flowing” bodies of water, casting aside the protection of ecologically crucial seasonal and ephemeral wetlands and streams that are often hydrologically connected to flowing waters downstream.

Four other justices disagreed with this hydro-illogical interpretation and sided with sound science and the overall intent of the Clean Water Act to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”

It was Justice Anthony Kennedy, however, who, in a separate opinion, introduced the confusing requirement that only streams and wetlands for which a “significant nexus” with navigable waters can be shown to exist —> Read More

Exploring Sarajevo, 20 Years After Dayton Peace Accord

Meho Zekic, 72, and "the butcher" play chess with oversized pieces at a park in central Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina on October 23, 2014. (Photo by Amanda Rivkin)

From morning to midnight, in sun or snow, pensioners play chess with passion, swinging life-sized pieces across a board painted onto the pavement in the center of Sarajevo.

I struck up a conversation with a crowd of bystanders, and learned that was not always so. Twenty years ago, this square was deserted, a victim of Bosnian-Serb mortars. Now, the chess players razz each other against a backdrop of multinational chains. But the past is never absent in Bosnia, and the storefronts face the once-majestic Austro-Hungarian officer club, still riddled with bullet holes two decades after the country’s ethnic war.

Chess has become a spectator sport at Trg Oslobođenja, where crowds often accumulate to watch pensioners compete. The board, which was painted onto the pavement after the war, has become a local hangout for elderly residents of Sarajevo. (Photo by Amanda Rivkin)

Supported by a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant, I’ve been exploring Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital that was besieged during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. It took nearly four years to end the violence, a feat that was achieved through a power sharing agreement between Bosnia’s ethnic groups called the Dayton Peace Accord. As we approach the 20th anniversary of Dayton, I’m learning how ethnic divides have affected the reconstruction of the city, as residents try to shape a new multicultural Bosnia.

Sarajevo was once a beacon of multiculturalism, where different ethnicities got along. But the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s gave way to nationalist fervor and on April 5, 1992, the Bosnian Serb Army surrounded the city, launching the longest siege in modern history. By the war’s end 1,400 days later, 11,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed.

A rich mix of Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Yugoslav heritage defines Sarajevo, which is located in a valley. During the siege, Bosnian Serb —> Read More

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