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New Friends. New Horizons.

This is a little video compilation of a few moments I captured Simon talking to his new peers in April 2020

Thanks to the lock-down, Simon’s got new friends. For a little over a month now, he has been part of exciting daily discussions, challenging coding sessions and just playing together with his new gang (warning: playing always involves math). We’ve never seen him like this before, so drawn to socializing with his peers, even taking the lead in some meetings and initiating streams.

And then we realized: this is how social Simon is once he meets his tribe and can communicate in his language, at his level. Most of his new friends are in their late teens and early twenties. Most of them didn’t use to hang out together before the crisis, probably busy with college, commuting, etc. The extraordinary circumstances around covid-19 has freed up some extra online time for many talented young people, creating better chances to meet like-minded peers across the world. Finally, Simon has a group of friends he can really relate to, share what he is working on, ask for constructive help. And even though he is the youngest in the group, he is being treated as an equal. It’s beautiful to overhear his conversations and the laughter he shares with the guys (even though sometimes I wish he wasn’t listening to a physics lecture simultaneously, his speakers producing a whole cacophony of sound effects, but he likes it that way and seems to be able to process two incoming feeds at once).

Last week, Simon took part in a World Science Scholars workshop by Dr. Ruth Gotian, an internationally recognized mentorship expert. The workshop was about, you guessed it, how to go about finding a mentor. One of the things that struck me most in Dr. Gotian’s presentation was her mentioning the importance of ‘communities of practice’. I looked it up on Etienne Wenger’s site (the educational theorist who actually came up with the term in the 1990s):

A community of practice is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. This definition reflects the fundamentally social nature of human learning. It is very broad. It applies to a street gang, whose members learn how to survive in a hostile world, as well as a group of engineers who learn how to design better devices or a group of civil servants who seek to improve service to citizens. their interactions produce resources that affect their practice (whether they engage in actual practice together or separately).

It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop personally and professionally, Wenger wrote in 1991. But communities of practice isn’t a new thing. In fact, it’s the oldest way to acquire and imperfect one’s skills. John Dewey relied on this phenomenon in his principle of learning through occupation.

It has been almost spooky to observe this milestone in Simon’s development and learn the sociological term for it the same month, as if some cosmic puzzle has clicked together.

Of course, it would be a misrepresentation to say nothing of the internal conflict the new social reality unveiled in my mothering heart as I struggled to accept that Simon started skipping Stephen Wolfram’s livestreams in favour of coding together with his new friends. 👬Yet even those little episodes of friction we experienced have eventually led to us understand Simon better. We sat down for what turned into a very eye-opening talk, which involved Simon asking me to take down the framed Domain of Science posters we’d recently put up above his desktop and pointing to those infographics depicted on the posters that represented the areas of his greatest interest.

we got our posters at the DFTBA shop

Simon simply guided us through the Doughnut of Knowledge, Map of Physics, Map of Computer Science and Map of Mathematics posters as if were on tour inside his head. And he made it clear to us that he seriously preferred pure mathematics, theoretical computer science and computer architecture and programming to applied mathematics (anything applied, really) and even computational physics, even though he genuinely enjoyed cosmology and Wolfram’s books.

“Mom, you always think that what you’re interested in is also what I’m interested in”, he told me openheartedly. It was at that moment it hit me he had grown up enough to gain a clearer vision of his path (or rather, his web). That I no longer needed to absolutely expose him to a broadest possible plethora of the arts and sciences within the doughnut of knowledge, but that from now on, I can trust him even more as he ventures upon his first independent steps in the direction he has chosen for himself, leaning back on me when necessary.

So far, in just one month, Simon has led a live covid-19 simulation stream, programming in JS as he got live feedback from his friends, cooperated on a 3D rendering engine in turtle (🤯), co-created Twitch overlays, participated in over a hundred Clashes of Code (compelling coding battles) and multiple code katas (programming exercises with a bow to the to the Japanese concept of kata in the martial arts).

example of a Clash of Code problem
e of a Clash of Code problem
This is Simon’s code in one of the Clashes of Code (he won this round from 6 other players). Such programming battles last somewhere between 5 and 15 minutes and come in three modes: fastest mode (in which you must complete the puzzle as fast as possible), shortest mode (you need to write the lowest code size) and reverse mode (you have to guess what to do by observing the provided set of tests). Simon especially likes the last mode, because you have to find the code by finding patterns in the given test cases, which appeals to his mathematical talent.
CJ from the Coding Garden discussing Simon’s solution
Simon working on a 3D renderer project together with his friends
Simon came up with a plan to work on the 3D renderer

Last month, ten young programmers including Simon formed a separate “Secret Editors’ Club Riding Every Train” group on Discord, uniting some “nice and active” people who met on The Coding Train channel (they also included Dan Shiffman in the group). Simon really enjoys long voice chats with the other secret editors, going down the rabbit holes of math proofs and computer algorithms. Last Tuesday, he was ecstatic recounting his 3-hour call with his new peer Maxim during which Simon managed to convince Maxim that 0.999… equals 1 by “presenting a written proof that involved Calculus”:

We even talked about infinity along the way, aleph null and stuff. There was a part where he almost won, because of the proof I showed him when we talked about infinities. I was almost stumped.

The guys have now inspired Simon to take part in the Spring Challenge 2020 on CodingGame.com, a whole new adventure. To us, the lockdown experience has felt like an extra oxygen valve gone open in our world, another wall gone down, another door swung open, all allowing Simon to breathe, move and see a new horizon.

Simon trying to explain why he didn’t fulfil a promise, he has finally found the people who speak his language 🙂
Contributing, English and Text-Based Data, Lingua franca, Milestones, Notes on everyday life, Together with sis

Simon edits his sisters vlog and does the subtitles

Simon’s sister Neva has started a vlog and Simon, busy as he is, enjoys editing her videos. For the first 17-minute video he has also done all the subtitles (translating from Dutch to English), which was a project that took him two days and something like 7 hours of work! Neva, in her turn, has got Simon increasingly interested in environmental issues.

Simon doing the subtitles
If you could choose, when woud you like to live – now, in the past or in the future? This poetic portrait of what the new generation thinks about the future climate is a spontaneous talk that Oxiea Villamonte (Royal Art Academy of Antwerp) and her young friend Neva Houben (8) have recorded while taking a walk by the river.
Lingua franca, Milestones, Murderous Maths, Philosophy

Infinities Driving You Mad. Part 4a: Indescribable Numbers

This is the fourth video in Simon’s short series Infinities Driving You Mad. In this episode, Simon attempts to start to comprehend indescribable numbers. To Simon’s knowledge, no one has ever made a video about indescribable numbers on YouTube before. Simon is planning to record a follow-up to this video, something like part 4b.




Link to Part 3 about the strange world of inaccessible numbers: https://youtu.be/5kFrr6GajMY

Link to Part 2 about ordinal numbers: https://youtu.be/D0l-EwPmx-w

Link to Part 1 about cardinal numbers: https://youtu.be/jyOnxdJHWOU

Coding, Coding Everywhere, Community Projects, Contributing, Geometry Joys, html, Java, JavaScript, Lingua franca, live stream, Living Code, Machine Learning, Milestones, Murderous Maths, neural networks, Notes on everyday life, Physics, Simon makes gamez, Simon teaching, Simon's Own Code, Simon's sketch book, Together with sis

Simon and Daniel Shiffman

Today is one of the most beautiful days in Simon’s life: NYU Associate Professor and the creator of Coding Train Daniel Shiffman has been Simon’s guarding angel, role model and source of all the knowledge Simon has accumulated so far (in programming, math, community ethics and English), and today Simon got to meet him for the first time in real life!

Daniel Shiffman posted:

Coding, JavaScript, Lingua franca, live stream, Machine Learning, Milestones, Murderous Maths, neural networks, Notes on everyday life, Python

Magic around New Year’s Eve

This magical time of the year, Simon’s craziest, most daring dreams come true! First, his guru from the New York University Daniel Shiffman sends Simon his book and the words he writes there are the most beautiful words anyone has ever told him. Then, on the last day of the awesome year 2017, Simon’s other hero, the glamorous knight of AI Siraj Raval materialises in our living room, directly from YouTube! Happy New Year full of miracles and discoveries everyone!

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Daniel Shiffman’s book “The Nature of Code” that Simon had already largely read online and now also reads before bed. It also comforted him recently when he was in pain, he cuddled up of the sofa with this big friendly tome on his lap.

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Daniel Shiffman signed the book for Simon:

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Siraj Raval stepped out of the YouTube screen straight into our Antwerp apartment on December 31. Simon has been following Siraj’s channel for months, learning about the types of neural networks and the math behind machine learning. It is thanks to Siraj’s explanations that Simon has been able to build his first neural nets :

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Schermafbeelding 2018-01-05 om 02.07.56

Coding, Community Projects, JavaScript, Lingua franca, Milestones, Simon's Own Code

Simon builds his own RiveScript Editor

Simon has been working on a RiveScript Editor for creating chat bots. RiveScript is a markup language, that gives chat bots the ability to respond to messages from humans using natural human language. This project will involve server side programming, which means that Simon will have to go through the whole process of hosting it on Heroku once he’s finished. So far, he decided to give himself a break in the middle of programming the syntax highlighting, which he found a little too much boring work, so not sure whether the editor will ever be published. In any case, Simon has got quite far and the interface looks good.

Simon has already built three chat bots using RiveScript online editor and Atom.

 

Coding, html, Java, JavaScript, Lingua franca, Milestones, Notes on everyday life, Writing and calligraphy

Analysis and generation of text-based data. What else to do on vacation?

During the vacation, Simon worked on several programming projects playing with language and grammar, from Daniel Shiffman’s Programming from A to Z course at New York University. Those included creating a new context free grammar sentence generator, using a markov chain in a Google form, creating a diastic machine with JQuery and making a regular expressions tester in JavaScript.