Tag Archives: ASCII

I will teach myself to code. A 90 challenge.


Last week, I signed up to learn coding with Thinkful.

What’s Thinkful?

Thinkful is an online school where you can learn web development and coding.

The cornerstones of the Thinkful model are curriculum, community and mentorship.

One of my people, Ian White, had posted something on his Facebook page about learning to code in 90 days.

And I was immediately intrigued.

Learn to code in 90 days?

Where do I sign up?

I’ve always played around on the periphery of coding – managing web, mobile and app development projects – but never actually coded myself.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

I did have a DOS/ASCII class in high school.

And I’ve messed around in the code on WordPress for a couple of sites I’ve developed over the years.

And one of my friends did create his own web platform Upl1nk, which I made a few pages with.

But I can’t say that I actually know or am conversant in any programming languages.

So I’m a little excited to get started.

Now this isn’t your ordinary 90 day challenge.

For one, I’m paying for the Thinkful course.

For $300 a month, I can learn the ins-and-outs of front end web development.

The course is broken up into modules, and there’s an online curriculum, which, if you follow strictly, will allow you to complete the course within the prescribed time frame.

There is nothing to preclude you from completing the course in a shorter span of time, of course, but it’s all about pacing and comprehension.

Mind you, Thinkful isn’t all self-study.

You’re assigned a Thinkful Mentor, who you chat with (via Google Hangouts) once a week for 30 minutes.

And if you get stuck or need help, Thinkful has a host of online resources and links to loads more, like StackOverflow.com, to get you straight.

What’s more, Thinkful has taken advantage of Google Plus, creating a community of coding newbies, like your’s truly, as a sort of coding support system.

At this point, I’m about five days in and loving it.

I’m on my first module, Unit 1: Structure and Style with HTML and CSS, and I’m almost done.

I’m soooo lying.

I am not almost done.

I’m about 40% done.

Truth be told, I’m very a little behind where I’m supposed to be.

I didn’t actually look at the syllabus after I enrolled.

I sat back waiting for my mentor to call me to get started.

Completely ignoring the flood of emails from Thinkful, welcoming me to the course and setting me on the path to get started.

I thought they were a bunch of marketing drivel you get after you give up your email, so I kinda tuned out.

By the time I got my head out of my ass and checked in, I realized I was several days behind.

Yes. I know. I’m a jackass.

I should have been more diligent.

Cut me some slack.

It’s my first online self-study course – what did I know?

Point is, I’m chugging right along.

I’m all syntax and structure, and I’m starting to get it.

If you’re interested in learning how to code, there are a host of other self-study courses out there, besides Thinkful.

Many of the lessons in my course come from Code Academy, which has a really good learning interface.

And I’m sure that there are others.

For the time being, though, I’m sticking with Thinkful.

And I’m confident that when my 90 days is up, I’ll be a front end coding fool.

No. I’m not going to assault you with updates along the way.

Yes I am.

But don’t worry.

It will only be the cool shit I’m really proud of.

At this point, you would have seen that I was adding a bit of code to show off, but since WordPress is an HTML platform, all my lovely code was hidden.

I know. I’m a dork

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Filed under digital advocacy, Uncategorized

Keyboards and Keystrokes. Confessions of a Black Geek.

Black keyboard

At the behest of my favorite reader, Levi, I’ve decided to share another (unfinished) chapter from my book.

It recounts my formative first experience with computers, in high school, and signals where my interest in technology was piqued.


In 1985, I was a sophomore at Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. It was a private Catholic high school known for its athletics and rigorous academics. My older sister Beatrice had set the bar, by applying for and being accepted to the prestigious Stuart Country Day School for Girls, in Princeton. Even though it cost my parents a grip, they weren’t prepared to skimp on the education for their boys, so my brothers and I were enrolled in the slightly less expensive and much closer Notre Dame.

Quiet is kept, I was a great student. I excelled in all things academic. Being the child of two Nigerian educators (dad had a PhD and mom two Masters degrees), I didn’t have much of a choice. And it went without saying that I was a dork.  A Black Nigerian dork, but a dork nonetheless.

I graduated at the top of my class from elementary school. High school was no different. True to my genetics, in my freshman year I tested into all AP courses. Over the course of my high school career, I had AP Math (algebra, geometry and trig), AP English, AP Biology, AP Chemistry and Honors French. Even with this schedule, school was a breeze. I got straight A’s and was on the Honor Roll every semester.

But it wasn’t a total cakewalk.  Despite the fact that I was a Black brainiac, there was one class in which I was rendered daft and totally useless: typing (or word processing rather). Sure, I could recite the periodic chart, conjugate a sentence in French and dissect an invertebrate with floss and a toothpick, but in typing I struggled.  I was totally out of my element.

No amount of intellect was going to help me break the cipher of the cryptograph machine they called a typewriter.  “Place your hands so that your fingers rest at ASDF JKL;”  What are you saying? It felt so weird. Why not ASDFGHJK? Or SDFGHJKL Or even ASDFKL;’?  There was just too much going on at the same time.  Hands cocked just so, eyes shifting from copy to keys to typed sheet, I was overwhelmed.

While my classmates’ fingers flew across the keys, click, click, clacking away, I found myself pecking tentatively, struggling for accuracy, not speed.  Head down, I stared menacingly at the keys to ensure they remained where they were supposed to be.  Imagine my consternation upon hearing “Eyes up Mr. Chukumba!  You should be looking at the copy not the keys! Eyes up!” If my eyes were up, how was I to know if I was pressing the right keys? Riddle me that Joker!

The torture was exquisite. I struggled through the first half of the term, earning a “B” – my lowest grade ever.  I had to face the very real possibility that my GPA would be reduced by a non-academic class. Would I ever live down the shame? Mercifully, the semester ended with me no worse the wear.  I survived, and my fingers eventually attuned to resting on the “home row” of the keyboard, poised and ready.

Despite surviving the first term of typing, I was loathe to return the following semester. Who needs typing anyway? I was going to a titan of industry, run my own business, rule the world! Some lackey was going to do my typing. Couldn’t I take another AP class instead? Something useful, like animal husbandry perhaps?

As I walked into the typing classroom and sat in my seat, agonizing over another torturous semester, I failed to notice that our word processors had been replaced by keyboards, CPUs and monitors. Our typing instructor had been replaced by a person calling himself a “computer programmer.”

Some time in the 80s, the powers that be in the Roman Catholic Dioceses felt that their college prep schools should ready students for the coming world of computers. So the decision was made to add basic programming  to the curriculum. And apparently over the break, Notre Dame took heed of that directive and introduced computing.

When our instructor informed us that were sitting in the new computer lab, for the new Computer Science course, the goosebumps on my arms told me something truly life changing was going down.  I would now have the opportunity to put the techniques I had learned in our typing class to practical use. I was over the moon! As we walked through the process of “booting up” the computer and I saw the blinking glowing green cursor on the screen for the first time, I knew I had arrived.

Mind you, it’s not like I hadn’t seen a computer before.  My younger brother, Anthony, had hipped me to computers a while ago. Anthony was a true geek.  He had some early hobbyist version DIY personal computer, which he hooked up to an old black and white television (which served as his monitor) in our basement. At least a year or so before my class, he had animated a little digital man and made him run across the television screen.

He could make the running man do all kinds of things. Run left to right. Right to left. Diagonally. In descending rows across the screen until he disappeared. But he did other things too. Like make the computer speak. And play music, and rain digits (a la Matrix).

I was mesmerized then and it all came back as I sat in class.  I vaguely recalled his “if, then” commands, as we were talked through BASIC, DOS and ASCII. When we were given the key to rebooting the computer, if we ever experienced a glitch, (the now famous) Ctrl+Alt+Del, I felt that I was being handed the Rosetta Stone, that would allow me to unlock untold secret digital knowledge.

After we ran through several exercises, I discovered that I was able to focus more on the instructor’s instruction than the location of the keys as my fingers found their stride. Outside of trying to find the various function keys, I never looked down at the keys. I had mastered the keyboard!

By the end of that first class, I was buzzing, and I knew then (as I do now) that this tech thing was going to be an indelible part of my future. Even though I didn’t take up programming, I realized the power of computing and knew that somehow my personal fortune lay in understanding (even at the most basic level) how things – digital things – worked. And how the inner workings of this world would impact everything.

Now before all you fact checkers get all up in arms over my dates, know that I’m still researching.

I’ve reached out to my old high school to see if they can pull my transcripts and let me know if my memory actually serves me correctly.

Who knew that writing a book would actually require you to remember dates and shit?

It’s a work in progress, bear with me.

But anyway, Levi, what do you think?

Do I keep going?

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Filed under digital advocacy, technology

Digital Stewardship: PAL Digital U.N.I.Verse.City

A PAL Digital U.N.I.Verse.City workstation.

If you’re a forty-something like me, computer classes in high school involved learning to program in ASCII or DOS on a monochrome screen.

If you attended college, there may have been more advanced computer classes, for which you likely moved and stored content on floppy disks.

After college, you used a PC running some version of Windows at the job, and computer proficiency meant that you knew how to use Microsoft’s Office Suite.

You’re up on the latest gadgets, even if you don’t own an iPad or mobile tablet.

You probably have a smartphone, a laptop and an mp3 player.

And you probably consider yourself pretty savvy when it comes to digital technology.



We are dinosaurs!

Present company excluded, of course.

Today’s youth are exposed to technology, not as a stiff class taught by some bored out-of-touch professor, but as a natural extension of their everyday existence.

Their access to and adoption of technological gadgets, is second nature to them, almost intuitive.

And unlike us, who came into the ‘technological age’ of massive building-size ‘super computers,’ today’s youth have microprocessors in virtually every device they touch.

The Macbook Pros, Xboxes, Playstations, Wiis, Leapsters of today are tens of thousand times more powerful than anything we ever used growing up.

With Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc., kids are more immersed in interactive technology and applications than we ever were.

They can access and touch virtually any part of the digital universe, and regularly use technology to communicate, socialize and interact with one-another and others.

This intimacy, however, has it’s consequences, though.

Cyber-bullying, internet plagiarism, and the regular posting of questionable (and often inappropriate) content are norms, that we didn’t experience when we were using computers and cell phones.

Social media, as we know it today, didn’t even exist.

It’s no wonder that kids are acting…like kids, when they use them these different tools.

I think it’s important that we take stock of what our children are exposed to (from a digital, content and technological perspective), and give them real guidance on the appropriate and responsible use of technology.

To that end, I want to share a project that I’ve been working on with the Police Athletic League of New York City (PALNYC).

It’s called the PAL Digital Digital U.N.I.Verse.City and its a class being offered as part of an apprenticeship program.

The apprenticeship program is the initiative of Marcel Braithwaite, the Director of Centers for PALNYC.

Marcel manages PALNYC’s eleven (11) centers, located in the five boroughs of New York City.

And he wanted to develop a program that exposed kids to technology as a means of both skills/workforce development and keeping them off the streets.

The curriculum we are using for the program was developed by Mark Hines, a graduate of Princeton University, and the CEO and Founder of Marksmen Productions, Inc., a New York city-based creative agency.

Mark has designed a program that teaches real life skills to the youth, using live scenarios which give the students active participation in projects with real time results.

The Digital U.N.I.Verse.City (DU) is a six (6) month intensive audio, video and technology training program, tailored to students of varying degrees of technical proficiency.

Digital U.N.I.Verse.City classes meet two (2) times a week to provide students instruction in digital media production, it’s cultural impacts and ethical and moral responsibilities that accompany the use of these tools.

The program officially launches next Wednesday at the Harlem Center on 119th Street, and Digital Uni.Verse.City students will study media (news, tv, movies, music, art), how it is produced, and begin rudimentary hands-on manipulation of video and audio (DU101/102) in preparation for the Advanced Studio Workshop (DU201).

The Time Warner Center in the Harlem Center has been converted into the PAL Digital U.N.I.Verse.City classroom.

Students who successfully complete the intro courses will be invited to participate in the Advanced Studio Workshop, focusing on professional skill development in (one of the following) music production, audio/visual engineering, video production and direction, video editing, motion effects, journalism and musicianship.

Digital U.N.I.Verse.City instructors include many of our professional colleagues, who are experts in their respective fields.

From Grammy-winning musicians, to New York Times best-selling authors, the Digital U.N.I.Verse.City instructors will offer students hands-on training and skill development on live projects.

The Digital U.N.I.Verse.City curriculum starts with a review of the DU Acceptable Use Policy, which lays out the foundation for every student’s participation in the program.

Most people have never seen (much less read) an acceptable use policy.

But it is the most important thing, for people living in a highly interconnected digital world – and the point of this rambling post.

I helped to develop (read: wrote) our acceptable use policy, which came together after many long sessions, during which we worked diligently to draft something that actually made sense.

For the majority of people who have ever read (read: scanned) an AU Policy, you know its a statement by the owners, administrators or other gatekeepers of any digital or online environment, which provides a code of conduct that users must observe while utilizing (or as a member of) a particular system.

As an advocate for technology, the Digital U.N.I.Verse.City program, gives me a constructive way to address the issue of responsible use of technology by our youth.

More importantly, working on this project has forced me to address the fact that most of us operate without a set of guiding digital principles.

Obviously, I always promote best practices with my clients, and have helped draft numerous Terms of Use, Privacy Policies and various other online instruments governing the use of certain online programs or environs.

But that’s not quite the same thing, when the audience for my usual written verbosity is the youth.

Next Wednesday is our first class (did I say that already?) and I’m excited.

The pictures above were from our dry-run, when we set up the local Moodle we’re using for the class.

Be sure to look out for future posts about how the program is coming along.

Also, feel free to donate to or volunteer at your local PAL!

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Filed under opinion, technology