Writing and Programming: More alike than you may think (Part 3)

This is the last of three posts about some of the similarities I’ve noticed between writing and programming. You can catch yourself up by reading part 1 and part 2.

As I’ve mentioned in both of the previous posts, I’m not trying to make linguistic and programming codes the same thing. And I’m not trying to force some sort of artificial connection between the two.  What I am trying to do is bring together principles from both that might allow us to understand each of them better.

Programming code and linguistic code are undeniably distinct. We can’t compare Ruby or Java to English in the same way we can compare French or Tagalog to Russian.  There’s a big difference, right? But fundamentally, isn’t the purpose of both programming and linguistic codes to do something for a human being? They communicate messages, provide information, enable actions.

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Writing and Programming: More alike than you may think (Part 2)

Over the past year or so, I’ve become keenly interested in the connections between technology and the humanities. Why do we persist in separating the two?  Are they really so foreign that they can’t be brought together?  What can we carry over from one discipline to improve the other? How can we begin to blend the lines of distinction between the two disciplines to strengthen what we do as writers, usability researchers, designers, or developers?

These are huge questions to tackle, and I can’t even come close to scratching the surface. But I do have a few ideas of my own, based on my personal experience over the past 6 or 7 years moving back and forth between the two camps.

Yesterday I began a list that presents some of the similarities I’ve noticed between programming and writing.  This post is the second half of that list.

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Writing and Programming: More alike than you may think (Part 1)

I always have such ambitious plans for the semester breaks: books to read finish, lesson plans to revamp, furniture to refurb (finally gave up on that one–can someone just take me to Ikea?), trips to take, people to see… sleep to catch up on (Yeah. Right).

Maybe I need to look up the definition of “break.”

Along with a laundry list of other things, one item on my summer to-do list is learning Ruby on Rails. I am frustrated to realize that I remember precious little about object-oriented programming (Uh, what’s a class again?), so I’ve basically resigned myself to starting back at square one.  I’m trying to convince myself that this is a good thing.

While working with Ruby this past week, I started noticing several core principles that can apply to any type of programming language.  I grabbed a sheet of paper, and as I continued to work, I started jotting them down.  As the list grew, I suddenly realized that these were all things I already knew… based on my background writing and teaching writing.

I’m not going to make the argument that computer programming codes and linguistic codes (writing) are the same thing. Clearly they’re not. But the writing processes of  programming languages and human languages actually might have more in common than you think.

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Lendle: New Kind of Book-Borrowing

Borrow Books and Carry On


Bought a Kindle book that’s just been sitting there since you finished it? Lend it out! Lendle.com is a book sharing site that allows you to lend out and borrow Kindle books–for free!

Lendle.com is based on the idea of “share-and-share-alike,” so you can’t actually borrow books unless you’re willing to lend out some of your books, as well. But it all sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. You earn “credits” for each book you lend out. Once the credit adds up to $10, you can spend it at Amazon.com.

Hmmm… sounds like I’ve found a way to help fund my Amazon.com habit!

Check out Lendle’s FAQ page for more info.


Image Source: Flickr, Adrian Short

The Beauty of Interdisciplinarity: Moving Between Two Cultures

Image source: “Interdisciplinary Crosstalk

Lately, I’ve been reading Go To: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists and Iconoclasts–the Programmers who created the software revolution by Steve Lohr (2001).

Why on earth would an English PhD student read something like this? 

I mentioned several posts ago that my background is kind of whacky. I’ve never felt quite “at home” in any one department.  I’m like the friend who “couch-surfs” from house-to-house. I could crash anywhere and fit in for a while…but moving in permanently is out of the question. (Probably not the most flattering description, but I think it serves its purpose.)

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How To: Create a Spotlight Using Skitch

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, Skitch has helped me save several thousand. At least.

I’ve been using Skitch as a quick and easy way to create help guides. It’s come in handy when I’m trying to explain something to students over email–like setting Word document margins, accessing library resources, or finding something on ULearn.

There are lots of great screen capturing tools out there, but for the absolute basics, Skitch works in a pinch.  No crazy options or settings. Just a clean, no-fuss interface.

This How-To post explains how to create a spotlight using Skitch in just 5 easy steps.

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Robo-Readers to the Rescue: Providing Instant Feedback

Yesterday, I posted about an article published in Inside Higher Ed titled “A Win for Robo-Readers.” The article covered the findings of a study from the University of Akron, which showed that automated grading software can be used to evaluate writing for grammar and syntax.

I was a bit concerned about some of the comments in the article, but I’m actually very excited about the potential of Robo-Readers for the writing classroom.  But I wouldn’t rely on them necessarily as a grading tool. I want my students to use them as a learning tool. My hope is that eventually, Robo-Readers might be able to evaluate students’ writing for them as they work.

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Robo-Readers to the Rescue

There’s been a lot of buzz lately on my RSS feed about automated essay-grading software, or “Robo-Readers.” Several weeks ago, Inside Higher Ed published an article announcing “A Win for the Robo-Readers.” The article very briefly presented and commented on the results of a study conducted by the University of Akron, which found that Robo-Readers can effectively evaluate student writing on a quantitative level. In other words, they can determine whether sentences follow proper grammar and mechanical rules.

The author of the Akron study and dean of the Akron college of Ed., Mark D. Shermis, admits that comp classes shouldn’t completely rely upon the software for grading. They should be used as a supplement to grading, to ease workloads.

I agreed with the article and with Sermis’ statements about the Robo-Reader tools until the very end of the piece. And then I saw something that I found rather troubling:

The Akron education dean acknowledges that AES software has not yet been able to replicate human intuition when it comes to identifying creativity. But while fostering original, nuanced expression is a good goal for a creative writing instructor, many instructors might settle for an easier way to make sure their students know how to write direct, effective sentences and paragraphs.

“If you go to a business school or an engineering school, they’re not looking for creative writers,” Shermis says. “They’re looking for people who can communicate ideas. And that’s what the technology is best at” evaluating.

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Book Apps: Why are we still calling them books?

I don’t know about you, but when I hear “e-book” I automatically think of something that can be read on a Kindle or Nook (or on one of their associated iPad apps). Basically, text that was written for a print medium and slapped into a digital format. Yeh, they’re convenient (I can download one in minutes), they’re cheaper (though only marginally), and they’re more easily accessible (who wants to carry around 50 lbs of books?)… but they aren’t exactly innovative.

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iPad for Planning Writing – Setton University

I’m becoming pretty dependent upon my iPad for taking notes, reading (lots and lots of reading), and managing my calendar/to-do list. But I’d like to start integrating it into my writing work-flow.

I came across Setton Hill University’s ipad initiative page this morning, and found this interesting video about how one professor is using the iPad to help her students plan their writing projects and discuss plot development.

As a part of their Griffin Technology Advantage program, Setton Hill gives iPads to all full-time students and faculty. And what’s really cool is they are encouraging students and faculty to submit videos of how they are using their iPads to change the way they “learn, teach, or live.”

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