[plt-scheme] Last year students...

From: Geoffrey Knauth (geoff at knauth.org)
Date: Fri Apr 21 14:56:54 EDT 2006

On Apr 21, 2006, at 09:25, Matthias Felleisen wrote:
> 2. The vast majority, however, doesn't program unless told to do  
> so. I have noticed this trend for years now but I have no  
> explanation, only speculation. -- There are occasional exceptions,  
> people who do fall neither into the first category nor the second one.

People want to make a difference.  The less likely it seems a lot of  
work will make any difference, the fewer people will try.  For  
example, the very high percentage of sourceforge projects that have  
died or are dying of loneliness is discouraging.  Life is finite.   
People don't want to squander it.  That is rational.

But the flip side is that all those projects are there, and their  
number is increasing.  Those who do try, and make something new, are  
a special breed.

When you think of undertaking a project, free software or otherwise,  
you have to want it regardless of the reward, because even if you are  
rewarded, it will never equal what you put into it.  The reward is in  
the doing.  If people laugh at you for doing it, GOOD!, because then  
it is more likely you will do it before they do, if you just believe  
in your project.

Twenty years ago I got really passionate about a project I started  
for machine translation from Russian to English.  It was triggered by  
my knowledge and appreciation of Russian and my discovery of a  
computational dictionary of the language that set me off encoding  
100,000 words and writing software to handle combinations.  I slaved  
for months and finished about 20% of the language when one of my  
Russian teachers called me and said I should stop, because what I was  
doing had already been done by professors at two universities.  Oh  
well.  She meant well--she didn't want me wasting my time--but I took  
it too hard.  Looking back, that was a mistake, I should have gotten  
to know those two professors.  What we all need is a clearinghouse  
for knowing what needs to be done vs. what has already been done.   
That's what I see as the essential value of the whole academic  
enterprise and know-it-alls:  the good ones really do know where the  
boundary lies.

I really like it when professors offer students direction, for example:


or when a university has a mind-boggling number of projects to  
consider, e.g.:


Richard Stallman recently pointed me back to the FSF list of to-do  
items, which always lists lots of ways, large and small, that people  
can help:


Geoffrey S. Knauth | http://knauth.org/gsk

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