Computer coding as child’s play at Saturday festival in Augusta

With just a few keystrokes Vincent Blanchard programmed a computer, at the Maine Digital Festival, to draw a circle and a three-dimensional cube, though the 11-year-old confessed to the workshop instructor Jon Janelle he wasn’t entirely sure how he managed to draw the cube.

“It took a lot of coding,” the Augusta boy said. “A lot of thinking, too. Actually I don’t know how I got this, to be honest.”

Janelle, a software engineer for Tyler Technologies and a former teacher, said that’s okay, and assured Vincent that there is a lot of trial and error, and trying things you don’t know how to do, and even doing things without really knowing how you did them, in coding, even for adults whose career is in programming.

“I, all the time, if I don’t know how to do something, I just give it a shot,” said Janelle. “If it doesn’t work, it’s okay. We do this a lot in programming. That’s how you learn what things do. You just try stuff.”

Janelle explained the basics of what they needed to do but let the half-dozen middle-school-aged students taking part in the workshop Saturday figure out the details themselves, and also gave them time to just try out the programming language they were using, Python, which allows users to draw, and animate, pictures.

Vincent managed to draw what looked like a circle, without that particular skill being shown to him, by typing in commands and numbers to make the program draw a line making 180 separate turns on his laptop screen. His parents, Vanessa and Zach, also took part, though their drawings, for the most part, appeared to be less elaborate than his.

Vincent said he’d already done some coding before taking part in Saturday’s workshop on how to code using the Python programming language, making video games. He said he also likes to tweak codes, to see what changing them does to the program. He said he’d consider, when he grows older, seeking a career programming computers.

Jason Judd, program director for Project>Login, a nonprofit program of Educate Maine which seeks to interest, and educate, Maine students in computer science and programming, said the Maine Digital Festival also has the same goal, to instill an interest and knowledge in computers in Maine students.

“We believe every student in Maine should have access to computer science,” said Judd, who added that less than 30 percent of Maine schools have computer science programs for their students. “We see it as a foundational subject, like math or reading. We want to make sure students are learning to program and learning to code, so kids understand they can tell a computer what to do. Part of that is showing kids computer science is accessible, and enjoyable.”

Toward that goal of showing that coding can be fun, even for students as young as kindergarteners, Saturday’s festival at the Augusta Civic Center included activities for young students including assembling Code-a-pillars, caterpillar-like devices which kids assemble out of individual pieces, each of which represents a different command, such as to go straight or turn left or right.

By altering their placement of the individual sections, youths change the path the Code-a-pillars take when they are set loose to roam on their own.

Saturday students from the math club at the University of New England setup an obstacle course of fake mushrooms, with a basket full of prizes in the corner behind them. Kids who successfully assembled, or coded, their Code-a-pillars to make it through the maze of mushrooms to the basket got a prize. Jennifer Fatula, an assistant lecturer at the Biddeford college, said many youngsters were able to do so.

Shawn Pilling, a UNE student volunteering at the event, said it’s one of the club’s biggest events of the year and he and his fellow students wanted to help get young students interested in computer coding at an early age. He said he didn’t do any coding until he was 19 years old.

The Maine Digital Festival, which Judd said drew about 120 students, was held on the second floor of the Augusta Civic Center as, below in the auditorium, the Maine FIRST LEGO League state championship robotics competition took place. Students, who were between 9 and 14 years old, in that competition programmed robots they assembled as teams to complete a variety of scored tasks, primarily involving moving objects on a gaming table.


Elderly woman loses $42K in computer scam

Detectives with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office are investigating after an elderly woman said she was he victim of a computer hacking scheme.

“Somebody got into my computer!” explained the 72-year-old woman, who asked not to be named in this report.

The man claimed her internet provider owed the victim $300, which could be refund remotely.

“It’s an art form,” said Flagler County Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Lutz. “They got onto the computer, took control of the computer, basically locked her computer and bank accounts, so she couldn’t view them.”

Deputies said the woman turned the computer off, but the scammer called back, saying he accidentally put too much money into her account and they needed that money back.  The woman said that’s when the caller became aggressive, and she got scared.

He told her to go buy gift cards and read him the serial numbers. He kept saying the cards didn’t work. She called police after spending $42,000 on cards.  Deputies say scammers like to target seniors.

“Especially during the holiday season,” Lutz added. “It’s going to be easy to fall for it, because you’ll be out shopping!”


A computer will help Somerset mother and son attain educational goals

Somerset resident Matilda Archer, 39, has spent the last 12 years taking care of her son, Dijon Archer, who brings her unimaginable joy.

Many who know her at the Somerville-based Jewish Family Services of Hunterdon, Warren and Somerset Counties say that she is thoughtful and always has a positive outlook on life. Archer and her son are part of the organization’s family mentor program, which provides tutoring once a week for her son, Dijon, who is in seventh grade, has a little trouble focusing, and the program is helping him keep his education on track.

She said her son has a variety of interests typical of a young man his age, including playing sports and hanging out with friends.

Archer said that while his grades have improved since participating in the mentoring program, having a computer would really help him because almost everything they do in school now is online.

This would also help her with her dream of finishing her college degree, as everything is also done mostly online in higher education as well.

Before deciding to go back to school, Archer worked at Player One Amusement Group doing accounting until Aug. 15 of this year.

“We nominated Matilda (for the Courier News Wish Book program) because she was recently laid off by her company, which was very hard for her because she is a single mother working to support her family,” said Young-ln Shin, family mentor coordinator at Jewish Family Services. “She is using this difficult time to better herself and improve the quality life of her whole family.”

“She is looking to go back to community college to finish her associate degree,” Shin said. “This has been a long-term dream of hers to get a degree.”

Archer said that because of her financial situation, she has not been able to complete her accounting degree even though she already has 49 credits. Her current situation has given her a golden opportunity to realize her dream.

“Raritan Valley Community College has a program that helps you go back to school if you’re unemployed,” explained Archer.

“A computer would help my whole family,” Archer added.

Jewish Family Services is a non-profit, non-sectarian, community organization which provides counseling, family mentor programs, senior mentor programs, and programs to help clients prepare for and find better job opportunities.


Computer Baba Presses Refresh Button, To Back Congress In Madhya Pradesh

Computer Baba Presses Refresh Button, To Back Congress In Madhya Pradesh

A group of religious figures led by Computer Baba on Friday declared support to the Congress for the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh.

It marks a radical change in the political stand of Swami Namdev Tyagi, popularly known as Computer Baba, who had been appointed as a minister of state by the BJP government.

Computer Baba had organised “Narmade Sansad”, a gathering of like-minded religious leaders from various states including Uttar Pradesh, on Friday to decide which party they should support in the polls.

“The saints will support the Congress,” he said at the gathering.

“When we can give fifteen years to them (the Bharatiya Janata Party), then we can surely give five years to Congress,” he said.

“If Congress upholds dharma, we will go with them in future or else we will withdraw the support,” he said.

In April, the BJP government in the state accorded him the status of Minister of State along with five others by appointing him on a committee for conservation of the river Narmada.

Before that, he had announced a “yatra” (procession) to expose illegal sand mining in the Narmada.


He resigned in October, accusing Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan of being a hypocrite and not fulfilling the promises made to him. The BJP government did little to stop illegal mining in the river, he alleged.


He’s Head Of Japan’s Cybersecurity But Has “Never Used A Computer”

He's Head Of Japan's Cybersecurity But Has 'Never Used A Computer'

Japan’s recently appointed cybersecurity and Olympics minister has told parliament he has never used a computer in his life, though he is responsible for overseeing cybersecurity preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.

Yoshitaka Sakurada, 68, was named to the two posts last month by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, having never held a cabinet position before during his 18 years in parliament.

The minister made the admission at a parliamentary committee meeting on Wednesday when asked by an opposition lawmaker if he was computer literate.

“I’ve been independent since I was 25 and have always directed my staff and secretaries to do that kind of thing,” Sakurada replied. “I’ve never used a computer!”

Sakurada had said that he recognised that “firmly carrying out cybersecurity from a citizen’s standpoint” was part of his job.

When asked by the lawmaker how someone lacking computer skills could be in charge of cybersecurity, Sakurada said policy was decided broadly by a number of people in his office and the national government, and he was confident there would be no problems.