What is coding?

To be able to make the application Build your town! , I had to learn how to code. I thus took a course online about Actionscript 3, the language which uses the software Flash of Adobe, and I annoyed also much my colleague Benjamin, who knows Actionscript on the end of the fingers.

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It was for me like a return in time. At 11 years, I made little programs in BASIC, recopied lines of code to be able to play Snake or to see my name being written on my television set. It was magic! I found this same pleasure while building Build your city!.
One speaks much about training of coding at the school, and I met last February a group of researchers, developers, teachers, who thinks of this future of education. By putting their discussions compared to my practice, I needed to put at light my own thoughts. They will be the object of several articles. Here the first.

All starts with a need…

I have a need to satisfy. It can be vital (to nourish me, protect me,…), educational (to render comprehensible with a child whom it should not put its fingers in the catch,…), cultural (to divert me,…) This need can relate to me, or concern my close relations, my colleagues, my neighbors, my fellow-citizens,…
How to satisfy this need?
I analyze the ways of satisfying this need.
Certain needs can be satisfied in a simple way, with an already existing solution (to find food, a ustensil to hide the sockets, a video game available on my console,…)
Others do not have immediate and accessible solutions. I thus have a problem.
I must reflect how proceeding. I must project myself in the future to imagine a way of solving my problem. I go, thanks to this projection, to eliminate certain possibilities, and to promote others of them.
If it is that it is necessary to invent and implement a solution which does not exist yet, it will be necessary me to set up a strategy, a diagram of construction which corresponds to my problem, with my way of apprehending it, my way also of considering the world.
Which relationship with the code? coding?
The diagram which will lead me to solve my problem, I build it gradually. I consider a first solution, then I imagine (or I test when it is possible) what it will have as positive or negative consequences. According to this first answer, I will modulate my solution, will make him take another way, even to remove it to think of another.
Each stage is analyzed and appears a kind of “node” in my reasoning, like a junction. The segments follow one another until arriving at the solution.
To code, it is what I have just described.
To code, is that connected with the use of a foreign language?
The data-processing code is a language, with its words (many of them drawn from English), its syntax (which it is paramount to respect) and its construction. In this direction, to learn a data-processing language resembles the training of a language.
This language makes it possible to dialogue with a machine, a machine which was created to receive this code. The interaction between who “speaks” this language, and the machine which receives it is immediate, there is an action which results from this (even if this action is sometimes an error message), inevitably.
But to code, it is much more than speaking a language.
Let us take an example:
I am in a country whom language I do not speak, and I am lost.
My need: to go to a precise place.
My problem: to find my road.
While analyzing the possible solutions, I realize that I do not have any map, not internet connection to download some, and my only solution is to require my way.
The person who informs me understands fortunately the name of the building in which I must go.
With the signs which he makes, I associate quickly  the notions “on the right”, “on the left”, “straight” to the words corresponding in his language.

Here am I, for little that my memory is good, with a series of instructions which I can follow, and I can follow them because I know how to direct my steps towards the right-hand side, the left or to go straight.
The resolution of my problem was about coding: I analyzed the situation and coded my answer in “I must seek a person, then to ask him my question, to retain his answer and to reproduce the movements which were indicated to me in the good order. The person who helped me solved my problem thanks to a code: she transmitted a set of indications to me to be followed, in a particular order.

I have just described my understanding of coding. In the next article, I will tell you why I think that it is important for the children to learn how to code (not that for the children, moreover). The article is here: “I code, I grow.”

Popularizing science: how to

Cécile Michaut is doctor in chemistry and scientific journalist since 1998. She teaches popularizing science in universities and universities. She founded a company, Science et Partage, which works in this quite particular field of the formation to popularization.

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Her book, Vulgarisation scientifique, mode d’emploi, published by EDP Sciences (only in french I fear), is a concentrate of intelligence and passion for the transmission. Cécile Michaut evokes in it the (good) reasons to popularize sciences, the good ways of doing it, the (bad) fears that it is necessary to learn how to tame. What is particularly invaluable, it is that she included in her book interviews of scientists, journalists, presenters, so the book becomes living and opened.
It addresses itself above all to the researchers who wish to share their research and their knowledge, but it did not leave me indifferent, because number of the points who are approached there coincide with my daily practice.
It is the reading of this book, inter alia, which pushed me to remake my site in the form that it currently has, with articles like this one, in which I share my readings, my discoveries, but also my way of considering my work.
More particularly, here is the magic sentence which illuminated my day of reading. It is from the physicist Etienne Klein, and I should write it on the wall opposite my office so much it contains, in a few words, the reasons for which I like my job (I hope my translation is good enough!):

If one wants to take part in a common world, each one must be able to explain what it does by taking account of knowledge of the other.

Etienne Klein, in Vulgarisation scientifique, mode d’emploi

The idea “to take part in a common world” is primordial. The scientists who offer to a share of their knowledge to us allow us to make our world vaster, and they give each other also the possibility of increasing theirs of our own knowledge, questionings, even worries. The common world which results from it is able still to grow with the next meeting.

I spoke about my job, some lines above, and I would like to establish the link between this book and my activity.
Thanks to an answer to a job offer, 8 years ago, I found myself surrounded by enthralling scientists, with the goal to carry out small films for the Natural history museum of Toulouse. It was, precisely, 22 films of a few seconds which were to illustrate 22 “nodes” in the tree of the life, i.e. 22 important modifications of the living beings having led to the development of new groups of living beings. I worked under the direction of Nathalie Grenet, a formidable museographe, and of Yves Lignereux, a zoologist of which I would have readily listened to the stories during hours.

This experience was my first meeting with sciences, as an animated film director. Since, the meetings followed one another, and I was pleased to broach very varied subjects and matters. I thus do not make popularizing science, but I regard myself as a kind of transformer by which the knowledge of the scientist passes and reaches the public.

I take time to discuss with the scientists with whom I work on their will of transmission, and I try to identify their needs, their fears, and to nourish me of their enthusiasm. The book of Cécile Michaut offered new keys to me to consider a richer relation between them and me.

Do you wish to react in this article, to share your experience? The comments are there for that!

Creative constraint #1 / Sam and Dave dig a hole

Sam and Dave dig a hole is a book written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen. I added it to my bookshelfs initially because I was hung by graphics. Moreover, other books illustrated by Jon Klassen then joined this one (the splendid Extra yarn, for exemple, also writen by Barnett), it is a very talented illustrator. I enormously like the way in which the color is used, with much matter. The nuances are very beautiful, and the dark colors are deep and rich.

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But this book became even more invaluable to me for what it tells.

« Quand arrêterons-nous de creuser ? demanda Sam.
– On est en mission, répondit Tom.
On creusera tant qu’on n’aura pas trouvé quelque chose de spectaculaire. »

Mac Barnett, in Sam et Tom L’incroyable aventure

The two young Sam and Tom, accompanied by their dog, will dig a hole, in search of something spectacular. Us, readers, are the only ones to see that they pass just beside increasingly large precious stones. They will dig a long time, without never finding these stones, will arrive until the end of the ground, and will make a long fall which will bring them in front of a house. They will find that “rather spectacular”.

I will not always break the magic of the discovery of a book by telling the end of the story, but for this one I needed to precise the facts. Why? Because this book is a kind of image of my artistic practice, and of the course I give to the students of 2nd year at Supinfocom Valenciennes.

I broach with them the concept and the realization of a very short film, on the model of a commissionned film, whom I invented the subject. The students work by groups of 2 (like Sam and Dave). The subject abounds in constraints: of time since it is necessary to manage to finish the film in a few weeks, of duration (not more than 30 seconds), of subject, technique of animation (After Effects in priority), of form. Work in duo also is often perceived as constraining, at least before work really starts.

This very constrained work can seem off-putting at first glance, and there are always some sighs with the announcement of the subject. I understand perfectly the desire of the student for being freer – there will be for some of them the first experience of creating a film from A to Z. I have some courses, over 6 months, to make them foresee a freedom that they only can discover by themselves through this project full of barriers: the creative progression.

Sam and Dave dig a hole shows us that the treasure that someone discovers is sometimes quite different from what he imagined to seek. The reader hopes secretly that the two friends will find a precious stone, and it is not the disappointment which is at the end of the road, but another discovery, a new amazement.

The creative constraint (carried at succulent tops by Oulipo) gives the possibility to the creators of exploring new fields, and, especially, to meet their own capacities to invent in “hostile environment”. It is not a question of seeking at all costs to release itself from the barriers, but rather, once they are well located, to dig as further as possible, to look further into research. To observe your own limits, your resources, to put in your memory feelings (the pleasure of finding the “key” of the subject, the distress in a dead end, and the way you circumvented it), are treasures which will be always valid, and which will enrich freer creations. Moreover, there does not exist situation of creation in total freedom, but rather the situations which one accepted or integrated the constraints.

I am often astonished by the idea that some have that commissioned films are less creative than the other kinds of film. A director, recently, to who I said that I directed mainly films for museums or scientists, asked me what I in addition did as really creative. This ignorance of one part of the field of creativity seems to me to have to be fighten indefatigably, especially with young people. I thank people who commissioned me for not to falling into this stereotype, and to always expecting from me to be more creative, particularly in the most complex and constrainted projects.

Sam and Dave show us also a moment of perseverance, and that also must echo in the spirit of young budding artists.

The reading of this album for children to an adult public was a rich experience for it as for me. It inaugurated our ritual of course’s beginning: a course, a book read aloud and left at disposal during the course.

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Sketches by Léa Cousty, student of 2nd year in Supinfocom.

I will often broach in my articles the subject of the creative constraint, but if you wish right now to react, the comments expect your words.

L’Americani

L’Americani, a 4-minute film to understand the Corsican emigration to South America, in the 19th century, and the origin of the famous “American Houses” on the Island of Beauty. read more