More cool Montreal tech happenings

écoHACK MTL Launch 5 à 7

Am I dreaming? A new project called écoHACK MTL marries two things I’m passionate about, environmentalism and open data. écoHACK MTL is a partnership between an interesting mix of eco-conscious Montreal non-profit and community organizations. On the open data front, there’s Montréal Ouvert and OpenNorth; on the NGO side, Alternatives and Santropol Roulant. Also involved: RuePublique, an organization devoted to improving the health and safety of Montreal neighbourhoods and ECTO, a cooperative co-working space. This fall they’re holding Montreal’s  first-ever “green” hackathon. So if you’re involved with or care about urban agriculture, greening of public spaces, cycling, renewable energy or environmentally sustainable buildings, check out next week’s launch party. Ditto if you have expertise in computer software, Python or open data. When: May 23, 2013, 5-8 p.m. Where: ECTO, 880 Roy St. E. (Sherbrooke metro) Register here

Données ouvertes (Open Data) 5 à 7

Expect to discover some “top-secret” news about an open data project related to Montreal’s upcoming November election at this first monthly get-together Montréal Ouvert is organizing on behalf of Québec Ouvert (according to Québec Ouvert’s e-newsletter)  for people interested in open data. When: June 5, 2013, 5 -8 p.m. Where: Benelux, 245 Sherbrooke St. W. Register here.

Ladies Learning Code is coming to Montreal

While I have to put this in the “I’d be there if I weren’t broke” category, I think this is great news. The Toronto-based non-profit group “runs workshops for women (and men) who want to learn beginner-friendly computer programming and other technical skills in a social and collaborative way.” Ladies Learning Code has chapters in Vancouver, Ottawa, Halifax, London, Calgary and Edmonton. This June they’re launching a new Montreal chapter with an all-day workshop intro course on HTML and CSS. When: Saturday, June 8, 2013, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Where: Notman House, 51 Sherbrooke St. W. Cost: $50.00, includes a catered lunch Info available here.


One thought on “More cool Montreal tech happenings

  1. Michael Black

    “Hack” is a terribly overused term, too often misused. I would argue that it’s original meaning was “experience based learning”. It’s about making maps, rather than following maps.

    When I was 11, I found hobby electronic magazines, and consumed everyone I could find. They were project oriented, but every construction article had some theory of operation, and there were tutorial articles next to the construction article. But I just jumped in. None of it made sense in initially, the only thing I could understand was the letters column and some of the less technical articles. But I kept at it, starting to build projects (that didn’t work). I never sat down with a text book and read it through, then started with other things. Eventually the things I built did work, though ironically instead of carefully buying the parts that the article called for, I was using parts I’d taken out of things, having gained enough knowledge to know what would and wouldn’t work.

    It was clearer when I got my first computer 8 years later. I didn’t read a book about programming, I started entering bits of code and seeing how it ran. It was easy in 1979, since the computers were pretty limited, and did have monitor programs that allowed easy entering of code, and running little bits of it. I could look at a book and see how an operation would change the status register, but it meant more to run that bit of code and then see how the status register looked after running the code. When I got my second computer, and could run BASIC, the process was much more obvious. I got a book about BASIC, but instead of reading it from start to finish, I started reading it and then jumped ahead, looking for something I wanted an answer for, trying things and then using the book to find something I wanted to know.

    The most important thing I learned from playing with electronics and programming was how to learn.

    I never gave it any thought until I read Steven Levy’s “Hackers” and then realized that’s what I did. I was spending a lot of time with someone about five at the time, and I realized she did the same thing, initially she couldn’t talk, couldn’t read, so all her learning had to come from experience. Indeed, she followed what interested her, and one bit of information might mean nothing, but then later when put together with something else, it would be useful. Actually, I “hacked” her, initially making small gestures, looking for a reaction, watching and learning from her rather than reading books beforehand. Everything I know about children comes from spending that time with her, I wasn’t much of an observer when I was small.

    But when people get to school, the learning is isolated from the experience. The learning is because someone else says they need to learn it, rather than learning because it’s interesting in itself or lets them do something. The learning is harder since it’s isolated from experience, and because it’s not something they want to learn.

    The school method tends to run things. Most people don’t plunge into things, they need maps, someone to lead them, or take that course in programming first. When I first had internet access it was 1996, still fairly early, and the Montreal Freenet had just started. People would ask questions, rather than try things themselves. I went off and found the answers. I didn’t know the answers, I just had the skill to either find the answers, or to try things until I got an answer. They could have done the very same thing, except their mind wasn’t in it.

    Seymour Papert understood this, from observing children, and from observing the MIT hackers. So he created Logo, a play/learning environment. It was safer than mixing chemicals together, but the intent was for the kids to try things and learn, rather than learn and then try. Oddly, when it got out of the labs, it was treated as a “simple programming language” and the teacher would sit at the front of the class and instruct the students, rather than them learning from the experience.

    It’s a mentality more than anything else. I was always more interested in things outside of school than in, when I’m sure for many their interests outside of school were not about learning things, so “learning” was done in school. I’ve seen people unable to operate until they read the book, and unable to judge the book, except to believe it has to be right since it’s a book. So they wonder why things don’t work when the book said to do it this way.

    IN school the thing is to not make mistakes, that’s bad. But hacking, you learn from mistakes. But since you are making the path through the woods, you can find your way if you fall off the path.

    I saw a neat story some months back about a woman who learned to make traditional native saddles by taking an old one apart to see how it was made. And then she learned by making mistakes. A hacker, even if it has nothing to do with computers.

    So if you want to program, pick a language and play with it. Try small things, see what happens. DOn’t worry about making mistakes. Try things to make mistakes, see what happens. Do it in small bits, learn from that and then put the small bits together to make something bigger. Find something you actually want to do, like fix an open source program to do something you want, or a simple program to do something practical. Use that as the goal, a problem to solve, rather than learning abstract from need.

    And see “hacking” as a learning process, not something technical.


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