Last month I attended the Hands on Science Summer Camp at Otago University. We stayed at the hostel Unicol, or University College for short. The mornings were taken up by our main project and the afternoons were taken up by field trips and other activities. In my case the main project was computer science. In my group we had three computers between six students. It was interesting to note that although in the whole camp there were about 30% more girls than boys, in my computer science project it was all boys. The computers used were ordinary Intel based PCs such as the type used to run DOS and Windows. The secret to their power was the operating system NextStep. NextStep is a very powerful, modern operating system system based on a UNIX clone called Mach. It was invented by the same man who invented the popular Macintosh computers. Our project was in two parts. Application development, or programming, and networking. In our application development we used a special project builder application that came with NextStep, with an integrated interface builder. Our application was designed to convert graphics files from one format to another. The first step was designing the interface, or how the application looks on the screen. The second step was writing the underlying code that is linked to the interface. We used a language called objective C. Objective C is a cross between ANSI C and Smalltalk. The Smalltalk fragments refer to objects on the interface. A Smalltalk fragment looks like this: [output field2 set string value:sFormat]. This means I want the variable sFormat sent to the second output field in text format or as a string. This type of programming is called object oriented programming and is useful where the computer uses a graphical user interface.
The second theme in our computer science project was networking. Nearly all of the worlds universities, military establishments, and a large number of businesses have their computers connected to a global network called Internet. Internet can be used to send e-mail or electronic mail to over 15 million users world-wide. We sent some comments about NextStep’s project builder application to Steve Jobs, the inventor of NextStep. My address was email@example.com. This means my user name was summer1. Otago refers to the university and ac means it is an academic institution. NZ refers to the country. Steve Jobs’ Internet address is SteveJobs@next.com. Com is short for commercial. Internet can also be used to run programs on computers remotely. We used a program called Mosaic to view a hyper-media file about dinosaurs. The file was located in a computer at Hawaii Community College in Honolulu. The hyper-media file consisted of speech, text and photo quality graphics.
In the afternoons we did small science related activities on subjects we chose. I chose to do Chemistry, Physics, and Information Science. In Chemistry and Physics I did things I have done before at school such as copper compounds and diffraction. We did get to use some equipment that our school doesn’t have such as electronic balances and lasers. Information Science was very interesting. We explored subjects such as artificial neural networks and fuzzy logic. These techniques are used to solve many problems in control, diagnosis and event prediction as well as many other problems.
In the evenings we did some social activities such as karaoke, going to the museum, a science quiz and a disco.
I made a lot of new friends but more importantly I learned lots about science and I also learned about what life at university would be like. It was a very valuable experience that I won’t forget.