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John Spencer

Dr John Spencer began his teaching career in 1981 armed with a Sinclair ZX81, thereby demonstrating two things at once: Firstly he was in at the very start of ICT in the classroom and secondly he is a sucker for duff technology. Thereafter he taught joining a start-up open source company as their Head of Education in 2002. Now John is bringing his iconoclastic disposition and tendency to throw a spanner in the works to blogging.

Rasberry Pi and DIY genetic engineering

Want to inspire kids? Programming is so last century

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I am caught up in the latest craze for the elderly. I am going to become an owner of a Raspberry Pi. I can’t wait; kids will gasp at my mastery of the semi-colon shaking their heads as I produce a parabola on the TV screen.

Down the pub after a few pints of Old Peculiar I’ll rap with my mates about selling our Ping game. It’ll be like Pong but the ball will be sexier.

We’ll discuss the merits of different programming languages, stop washing, let what’s left of our hair grow long and build a shed where we will live out our days.

You know, it’s funny but I don’t remember wanting to build a crystal radio set or an electric bike like my dad did when he was a nipper. Uh oh, you don’t suppose his dad’s Voltaic cells were the ‘in’ thing in the 19th Century do you? Alan Turing thought Gottfried Leibniz was really coo l... the things you could do with the calculus and ratiocinator!

You get it don’t you? The new, the exciting and glamorous technology promises power and possibility to the young tyro. When it becomes mature it does not become worthless, far from it, it becomes something to be taught by the old to the young. The young usually groan a bit but that’s their job.

Thus I was taught (and teach), electro-chemical cells, tuned circuits and amplification, calculus etc and soon I guess computer programming too. This is a good thing and I will have projects like Raspberry Pi to thank for it. Programming is as mature as is the calculus and so must taught to each generation, just don't expect them to get too excited.

So what does do it for today’s power-crazed youngster? That’s easy ... DIY genetic engineering. Sticking a bit of DNA in a bug is as easy and unpredictable as my ZX 81. Now that’s a hobby with as many unforeseen consequences as was mine 30 years ago.

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