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13-year-old game, 11-year-old programmer

Wednesday 9 March 2016

I got an email from a mom last week:

Hi Ned- My 11-year old son recently started learning Python and is using it to solve math problems. Today, he wondered how Python is used in real-life; we did a search and came across your “Nat’s World.” Is there a possibility for you and your son to meet with us to share Nat’s World?

I told her I couldn't meet one-on-one, but suggested they attend the upcoming Boston Python project night. I didn't know what would come of it. Project night is completely unstructured, an opportunity to hang out with other Python people. It's a complete jumble of all kinds of people. There's no guarantee you'll find what you need there, but there's a good chance you will.

Last night was the project night, and there they were! They sat down at one of our beginning learner tables, and others joined them. I didn't have a chance to sit and talk with them at length, but I could see they had the attention of helpers, including John, one of the regulars. Each time I looked over, John was in deep discussion with the kid.

While talking to someone else last night who was interested in game programming, I looked up the game that originally got the mom's attention: I posted Nat's World to this site 13 years ago today!

The mom and the kid said goodbye to me when they had to go. She seemed pleased, and he did too, in his quiet but eager way. I told him, "That makes me happy."

As the night was winding down, I caught up with John, who was talking to a few others. "That kid was amazing!" he said. "I know, that was so cool," said someone else.

This is what makes local user groups so great. I don't know what John was expecting to do with his evening. I don't know what the mom and the kid were expecting when they decided to come. But they made a connection, got some help, and made an impression on each other. People across the room who didn't even talk to the mom or the kid came away with an unexpected picture of what the Python community can be like: broader and more diverse, more welcoming than the stereotype of a tech user group filled with brogrammers.

And this is also what is cool about making things and putting them online. Nat's World was a fun project when I made it. I haven't run it in years, but my family still remembers it fondly. When I first posted it, I had a few nibbles of interest from people, but it was only a little side project, I could have just as easily not put it on my site.

In the way of the internet, Nat's World had receded into the past, an old post unlikely to get any further attention. The code doesn't even run any more. But someone found it, and because of it they got in touch, and they got to a project night, and connected with other people, and who knows where it will all lead?

John Higginson Cabot

Sunday 6 March 2016

I was in the library yesterday, and wandered into the Brookline room, where books particular to Brookline are kept. They have annual town directories going back more than a century. I pulled one down and looked up my street address.

Of course, when we bought the house, the realtor had little stories about previous occupants. We were told it was built by a Cabot, and that he was a bachelor.

The town records gave me two names: John H. Cabot, and F. Ernest Cabot, living in the house in 1905. Googling around a little bit, I found a notice about John H's death:

John Higginson Cabot, of Brookline, died Feb. 5, 1916, aged 85. ... Mr. Cabot was for a while engaged in the iron business, but early retired, as lameness from childhood unfitted him for an active life, and his tastes and attainments were very decidedly toward literature. He was a devoted lover of Shakespeare, and occasionally read some of the plays in public, and frequently did so privately for the pleasure of his friends. He excelled notably as an actor in private theatricals, and took part in many of the receptions of the Brookline Comedy Club. He was a bachelor, and the last of his immediate family.

Is it safe to say that today he would be out of the closet? It goes on:

He is survived by a number of nephews and nieces and their children, representing three generations. Frederick P. Cabot, judge of the Boston Juvenille Court, and F. Ernest Cabot are his nephews. Like others of his family, he had a distaste for retrospect.

I love that line: a distaste for retrospect!

He lived in the present, keenly alive to the world's great movements. Toward the close of his life, failing health confined him for a year to his chamber, but he was surrounded by loving relatives, close association with whom proved very happy for all.

"His chamber!" That's a room in our house! Of course living in an old house, you know that people have lived there before, had entire lives there, and felt as proprietary and private about the house as you do. But this sentence somehow made it much more real. This weekend as I have moved through my house, I've been more aware that others have preceded me.

A little more digging shows that John H. is buried in Mt. Auburn cemetery, along with some close family, so in the spring I may look them up...

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