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Bil Lewis

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Mice in the Classroom

April 23, 2008

I was attending a Norweigen dance camp in Wisconsin, so I thought I'd call up my old profs and offer to do a colloquium. They were overjoyed and I happily arrived in Ripon the day before. Ah! The old alma mater! Such memories!


I got to Mary's house early evening and she and I reminisced about old times and dreamed about the future. Mary's husband had been the librarian when I was a student and I had grown close to the family. (They took me in when I was kicked out of the physics lab over spring break. I was going to spend the whole break in the lab programming anyway, so bringing in my sleeping bag didn't seem unreasonable to me. The staff disagreed.)

I headed off the next day to the lecture hall, where I found a half-dozen of my old profs and a dozen Jr. High School students. (Well, they looked like they were 14 to me.) I gave my usual deeply insightful talk on debugging backwards in time, computer science in general, and life itself. Interspersed with the occasional innanity and truly dumb joke.

(What's purple and commutes? An Abelian grape! Ah ha ha ha ha... :-)

I usually have them rolling on the floor by the time the lizard comes out. Not this time. They showed a subdued amusement and seemed to stifle actual laughter.

When it came to the climax of the demonstration, and I bemoned the fact that my debugger had a bug in it... No student said a thing!

After an awkward silence, a prof suggested I should debug the debugger with itself. Which of course I then did, but only to the mild amusement of the audience. At Google they howled! At Sun they applauded! At Ripon... they smiled.

This was a class of 18-20 year olds. 18-20 year olds should not be polite! They should be up arguing and debating and behaving in a highly unappealing manner!

They were mice.

Not a single student question afterwards.

I was bummed.

I had lunch with a trio of polite, intelligent, quiet young men afterwards. We talked about computers and life and the pidgeon I raised in my dorm room. (Pidgeons do not have sphynxzqter muscles. I
would not recommend this to anyone else.) They were alive somewhere in there, but it just didn't come out. Why??

In conversation afterwards, all the profs said that students were getting quieter every year.

This is terrible. Quiet is not healthy for students.



Note to fellow graduates: Always offer to do a colloquium. It's fun and your profs will enjoy it so much.

Note to students: TALK!

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