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82-Year-Old Japanese Woman Finds Success in Coding (aarp.org)
709 points by joering2 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 214 comments



I just moved to Japan, and it's fascinating that connotations (including my previous) with Japan are "High tech, futuristic, efficient" when in reality it is, "slow moving, traditional, and (frequently) inefficient." I can comment more as to why / how.

This woman is not only fighting cultural norms of the _world_, but also Japan. Software engineering, in general, lags so far behind the rest of the world, save robotics. It's starting to change, and I'm glad that people like Wakamiya-san are preventing the creation of a 'conventional software engineer'. Seriously, the field needs more role models like Grace Hopper to idolize rather than our current trend of Jobs, Gates, Woz, Knuth, etc.


> Seriously, the field needs more role models like Grace Hopper to idolize rather than our current trend of Jobs, Gates, Woz, Knuth, etc.

How about not idolising anyone? Those role models you list are each admired for completely different reasons. What's wrong with them? At the moment your comment seems sexist.


Right. Sexist. Okay. I'll bite.

Since I'm clearly in the wrong here, I'll let you explain to minorities, women, and non-gendered people why there aren't any people in the engineering limelight that look like them.

While you're at it, please figure out how to break into their subconscious to make them believe that they're capable while the rest of the world shows no clues of that.

I'll be waiting.


Totally agree we need role models from all groups and should make sure especially that the ones who are minorities get all the attention they deserve. That doesn't mean that our existing ones should be undesirable because of their gender and race.


> That doesn't mean that our existing ones should be undesirable because of their gender and race.

Do you think that's an argument someone is making here?


Yes, I think parent saying "rather than" means that they prefer one over another. A both/and additive approach to diversity is much more just and healthy than an either/or zero-sum one. Indeed the latter just becomes discrimination in another form.


Even if I knew any of the answers, why should I explain anything to anyone? I'm not going to apologise for having been born looking like people I admire.

Why would I want to convince someone that they can do something? What if they can't? Did you try to convince your plumber that he might be good at carpentry last time you saw him?

At the end of the day, I don't care whether Jobs, Gates, Woz, and Knuth have penises or not. For some reason you do and I think you should be the one to explain yourself.


I'm not sure if your comment is intentionally obtuse. Nobody is asking you to apologise for being born the majority, and if that's what you took from the parent comment then that's very silly.

Equating gender and profession, also, is very silly.


The comment is essentially saying that if I do great things and become a role model then I'm not welcome because we already have plenty that "look like me".

What else am I supposed to read?

I never equated gender and profession so that comment looks completely out of place.


> The comment is essentially saying that if I do great things and become a role model then I'm not welcome because we already have plenty that "look like me".

The comment isn't about you at all. The OP said we need more role models like Grace Hopper and less like Jobs, Woz, etc. Reading this as "White men should stop aspiring to become future role models" is silly, it's about a desire to increase the diversity of tech role models. It really just sounds like you're playing the victim here, for no real reason?


Come on. If the post wasn't about that then why does it specifically call out four male role models? It could have just left it at Grace Hopper, but no. The post contains more negative than positive by far.


Since the thread is more akin to a trash fire than something of substance, perhaps, I can offer some insight into my comment.

My comment is merely a nod to the notion that I believe we're missing out on brilliant minds that could shape our future. Brilliance and genius aren't confined to a race or gender. This is nothing about being white, and it's not about diversity for diversity's sake. It's more about progress.

We've all benefitted from the aforementioned greats and their contributions. I do, however, think there are some rocks unturned and I'd like to see them given a chance.


The point is that when _anyone_ thinks about role models in computer science and programming, all of the options fit into a pretty small niche. It _is_ relevant to have those examples, because there's a world of difference between nobody having any role models at all, and every role model being from one group.

Think about how much the existence of these role models obviously matters to you, and realise that nobody wants to take that away from _you_, they simply want to give it to other people as well. When I look at the field of programming, I don't see people like me. Things are getting better, but we still live in a world where if you aren't a white man then you have no examples to point to and say "look, I can do this!"

And you might say, "well, I never needed that", and that might be true - I obviously never needed it either - but appreciate that whether you needed it or not, you _had_ it, and a lot of other people do need it, whether white man or not. We all need role models to aspire to. Stop acting like other people getting the things you've always had is taking anything away from you.


Those four role models don't look like me, and I think they're all awful examples of people someone should look up to. But you need to acknowledge both sides. Stop being so stubborn and look at it objectively. We do need more diversity in role models, however by saying you want less of the current role models you are initiating a direct attack. It's tricky business either way. But perhaps it would be better to say that you wish four great role models that look like you also held such prominent mindshare.


>We do need more diversity in role models, however by saying you want less of the current role models you are initiating a direct attack.

Literally nobody is saying this. If people are reading "we should have more role models who aren't men" as "we should have fewer male role models" then that is _their_ problem, not a legitimate point which needs to be debated.


Did you even read the post? It says he wants more Grace Hopper rather than more male role models. It's an absurd and offensive thing to say but unfortunately one which will be cheered in many echo chambers.

Practically speaking, how can anyone make more role models that satisfy some arbitrary appearance standard? The implication is that we have those role models because of their appearance and reject equally deserving ones of other appearances. Again that's absurd and offensive.


"I'd rather have more X" != "I want less Y". This is not a zero sum game.


<throws wrench> ... why does X need role model X? Can't an X have role model Y? Why wait for there to be role model anything. Those who want to come in, come in!


Some X don't. I didn't. Some X do.

Realise that you're talking about human beings, not machines. Human beings are raised from birth in human society and do not make decisions like "what kind of things do I want to be interested in?" in a perfectly logical and informed manner.

When you come across popular figures in any area, if they look like you the immediate reaction is "wow, so I could do that too?". If none of them look like you, then the reaction is not that. You might end up doing that thing anyway - no corellation is 100% - but the idea that children have role models that they can relate to is not some hard hitting hot take.


Who are these people that need a role model? How do you know they even exist? It really sounds like you've just cooked up a theory with no supporting evidence.


I know because, staggeringly, there has been actual research done and I talk to human beings who this affects. Like, literally five seconds on Google Scholar could have answered that question.

Do you have counter-studies to cite, or is just a case of academic consensus not agreeing with you and so being ignored? I'm actually astonished by your responses here. You're writing with an air of superiority and authority while asking basic questions like "Who are these people?" and "How do you know they exist?" which I had assumed were fundamental bases of any legitimate discussion on the topic.


No, it is not a fundamental truth. I haven't seen any evidence. It sounds like you could show me, but you haven't.

My original point was nothing to do with whether such people exist or not, by the way, I'm just asking that question now because you seem to be referring to some research that I'm not aware of.


>Like, literally five seconds on Google Scholar could have answered that question.

You're probably going to consider this flippant, but: Having the same arguments over and over again with people who haven't done any research is too boring for me to be willing to do it again. I have limited time and it isn't my job to google for you. If you were saying "I disagree with the research" or "I have problems with the research" then that's interesting enough to be engaging, but "I am unaware of the research" means we'd just be having the same conversation I've had a dozen times before. No thank you.


> The point is that when _anyone_ thinks about role models in computer science and programming, all of the options fit into a pretty small niche.

Men are not a "niche" and, again, I really don't care that those people all have penises. To equate Donald Knuth and Steve Jobs because of their genitalia is absurd. Those men have actually done things and it is those things that we might choose to admire.


Have you heard of "examples." They are things you provide in order to make your point more clear. Seriously.


> when in reality it is, "slow moving, traditional, and (frequently) inefficient."

Since you just moved here, I would also consider the "whys" of those problems you see. Approaches are probably different from what you're used to elsewhere, but that doesn't necessarily make them inefficient or bad -- just different from what you're used to.


Agreed. You can see my other comment, but I think it takes some time to wrap your head around and reconciling the differences.


Having Alan Turing as a role model helped me immensely with internalized homophobia.

When I was younger I honestly thought there weren't many intelligent gay man, and that it was somehow a proof that I was never going to be really good. That was until I discovered Alan Turing was gay, and actively researched about intelligent gay people.

Role models that are like you are so important. One day a friend asked why I got excited when I discovered some guy I admired was gay, and then I realized that he doesn't understand because he has lots of people like him in any area. I know it sounds kind of tribalist in a way, but when society puts you down because you are in a certain group, it's really hard to avoid thinking you are "limited" because of who you are. After seeing lots of people like me, it's less important to me to have these role models since now I know I'm no less of a person because of who I am.

Point is, I don't think most people understand the impact of having role models that are like you, and that's why they don't "get it" when people talk about it.


> When I was younger I honestly thought there weren't many intelligent gay man, and that it was somehow a proof that I was never going to be really good. That was until I discovered Alan Turing was gay, and actively researched about intelligent gay people.

Indeed. Young people believing in themselves and feeling that the field will accept them is incredibly important. It reminds me of this quote from an article [1]:

> ...any healthy child—if taught early and intensively—can be brought up to be exceptionally successful in any field.

Children should be allowed to enjoy their childhood, but I think there is some ground to be covered in exposing more demographics to computer science early.

[1] - https://daily.jstor.org/chess-grandmastery-nature-gender-gen...


I attended a Microsoft developer event in Tokyo today and was surprised that all of the keynote engineer speakers were female.

Might have been a bit of a marketing exercise, but nonetheless it’s a really good thing to see.


If gender doesn't matter, why is it a good thing to see more of a specific one?


If 100% of their engineers are women then yes they still have a problem. If it's a sign that they have a more even balance then it's a good thing because they're not wasting/ignoring 50% of the potential pool of people, and because diversity of backgrounds leads to better decision making and more innovation[1] which presumably as a tech company is a desirable outcome.

[1] See references to papers in this blog posting: http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbli... and also https://hbr.org/2013/12/how-diversity-can-drive-innovation


It might be a sign of exactly the opposite. Unless we know the method used to pick the speakers, it's all speculation.


Interestingly, I've was unable to attend a developer event in Japan last year due to my gender.

I find all sorts of different types of sexism in Japan, but also lots of young hardworking people who have no time for it.


Can you elaborate? What happened exactly and how were you informed?


>> I can comment more as to why / how.

please, I'd like to hear your observations.


I'm from the south in the US, specifically the Appalachia (`app-uh-lai-chuh` for us) region. The culture I grew up in and Japan aren't so dissimilar. That's partly why I live in Japan.

Aside from people being on time and getting food to you -- "things" (for lack of better term) move slow here. Some examples:

- It took me three weeks to get a debit card from one of the national banks here. They have a web login and send me an email every time I swipe my card; however, there's no way to check my balance online.

- At restaurants / coffee shops you'll stand in line for an exceptional amount of time. In NYC, if a line gets "out of hand" baristas / servers shorten the amount of attention they give to each customer. It's expected when you get to the counter, you know what you want. Not in Japan (or at least all the places I've visited). Many times people will get to the counter, after standing in line, and debate with their friends what to purchase. It's always great that you know the person behind the counter is giving you their full attention, but it's frustrating when you're behind 2 - 3 people who are taking their time with their purchase. It's especially ironic in a culture that is fixated on not inconveniencing others.

- Swiping a credit card is weirdly complicated. In most places in the USA / the rest of the world -- it's a 'swipe and go' sort of deal. In Japan many systems are geared more toward physical money and transit cards (Passmo / Suica). In many cases, using your bank card requires closing the transaction on the register, printing a receipt, keying this in on another machine, waiting, and signing (in some cases). The efficiency that transactions happen with in the USA is definitely something I took for granted.

- In terms of it being traditional here, I liken current Japanese culture to the US in the 1930s - 40s. A majority of people who work in Tokyo will be in suits (sometimes known as 'salary men' depending on their position), and the gestures of bowing and greeting are much like America's pre-WWII culture of tipping hats / more formal language. I've always been fascinated with more humble, traditional culture(s). I think it attributes to better humans.

Though it seems like I'm giving Japan a hard time in some ways -- it's just "different," but I wanted to highlight some of the ways that (as a foreigner) your predispositions affect your expectations of a culture. I largely attribute my own to media coverage of Japan in the U.S.

Tangent to all of this. One of my favorite things that was unexpected, but obvious once I knew about it was the Japanese concept of "monozukuri"[1]. Many things are so well crafted here, because of a cultural emphasis on producing things with quality. I also think this is a part of why things move slow here. Americans are so focused on immediacy that there's a line of books exploiting that, Sam's "Learn X in 24HRs." I respect Japan for not being the "face paced" culture SF / NYC have turned into. Tokyo feels so tame in comparison, and (for me at least) that's a good thing.

1 - http://www.japanintercultural.com/en/news/default.aspx?newsi...


Interesting observations. But for me, (been in Japan many times over the last 5 years), I didn't notice any of the items you mentioned.

Seemed similar to NY/SF speed in Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama.

To me, there is less or no small talk- definitely in places like Lawson and 7/11, but even department stores, with local or foreigner customers.

I noticed things go slower in Kyoto and other small towns, but no slower than small towns anywhere else in the world.


> To me, there is less or no small talk- definitely in places like Lawson and 7/11, but even department stores, with local or foreigner customers.

Even though I'm pretty basic, there are a couple of cashiers I'm friendly with / make small talk. I think it's there if you initiate it. Albeit, I'm pretty friendly / jovial.

> I noticed things go slower in Kyoto and other small towns, but no slower than small towns anywhere else in the world.

I think it depends on where in Tokyo you are. Ginza feels slower than Shibuya and Shinjuku to me. I'd say Tokyo is most like LA in how many different "feeling" neighborhoods / micro-cities you have within one area.


> It's especially ironic in a culture that is fixated on not inconveniencing others.

I can explain this paradox: Japanese will wait patiently for their turn without complaint, but when it’s their turn it’s THEIR TURN.


> - At restaurants / coffee shops you'll stand in line for an exceptional amount of time. In NYC, if a line gets "out of hand" baristas / servers shorten the amount of attention they give to each customer. It's expected when you get to the counter, you know what you want. Not in Japan (or at least all the places I've visited). Many times people will get to the counter, after standing in line, and debate with their friends what to purchase. It's always great that you know the person behind the counter is giving you their full attention, but it's frustrating when you're behind 2 - 3 people who are taking their time with their purchase. It's especially ironic in a culture that is fixated on not inconveniencing others.

I never got this. The thing is, it seemed to me that the people who are waiting are totally "cool" with it. They are not bothered and will, in turn, take their time to pick. I think it is just a cultural thing. But yes, it is interesting given that Japanese are not annoying people, and they value time.

The points you make are valid. I think people perceive Japan as a high tech country because they have a highly developed and efficient transit system. I mean when you go there as a tourist, that's practically what you are interacting with. Oh, and high speed Internet. That certainly will strike the average person as a high tech country.


> I never got this. The thing is, it seemed to me that the people who are waiting are totally "cool" with it. They are not bothered and will, in turn, take their time to pick. I think it is just a cultural thing. But yes, it is interesting given that Japanese are not annoying people, and they value time.

They are definitely cool with it. I think Americans and a lot of the world are consumers out of convenience, whereas (for coffee and other similar goods) people in Japan are consumers for the experience. I think the choosing portion is a part of this experience that they're there for. Just a hypothesis, though.

> The points you make are valid. I think people perceive Japan as a high tech country because they have a highly developed and efficient transit system. I mean when you go there as a tourist, that's practically what you are interacting with. Oh, and high speed Internet. That certainly will strike the average person as a high tech country.

Transit is amazing here. Except when it rains, it seems to cause the local trains some trouble, which is unexpected. My internet experience has been hit or miss, but work and cafe speeds are amazing here. Not Seoul[1] amazing, but solid.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_in_South_Korea


I find a lot of the preconceptions on Japan seem to carry over from perceptions of their economic and industrial prowess from the 80s and 90s and consumer electronics and mobile technology dominance in the 90s-00s.

Things have changed a lot since then - besides high tech the other preconception is the assumption that costs/expenses are quite high - I’ve found these days Tokyo (and doubly so for the rest of the country) on the cheaper end of world class cities/developed countries these days.

Tech-wise there are a few things that I think continue to be interesting:

* As mentioned their transit system is first class. Their touchless pay system continues to develop and works pretty much seamlessly across the country now (there are some cash-only country buses still) and you can use it at just about every convenience store. Phones support Suica natively now and can auto refill - I’m not sure I’ve seen another transit card around the world that works across the whole country. There isn’t real-time GPS tracking for buses and the like but everything runs on schedule so maybe not so necessary

* Japanese vending machines are the best and the rest of the world should get with the program. This is as much infrastructure as technology - having the supply chain to restock and maintain vending machines every 100m (max) in cities and in literally the middle of nowhere across the country is really something if you think about it

* Japanese people still like tiny gadgets and you’ll often find slightly miniaturized versions of everything, which can be neat/charming, although not the insane feats of engineering they were in the past

* Japanese software generally sucks but it’s interesting for me to see where there engineering effort has gone like into pikakura machines, networked arcade games (like MMO horse racing simulators, NFC card-based RTS arcade consoles, etc), etc

* I’ve heard lots about domestic robots but I haven’t seen anything out in the wild. There’s that one somewhat automated theme hotel, but that’s more of a gimmick than anything. The Robot Restaurant is awesome for many reasons, but the mechanical stuff is all RC’d.


> I’m not sure I’ve seen another transit card around the world that works across the whole country.

HongKong but it is a small city. The card also functions in Macau.


As is Singapore's EZ-Link. In fact, you can buy a EZ-Link SINO Visitor Pass, which is both a Singapore EZ-Link card and a Guangdong Lingnan card... I know Hong Kong issues a few cards like this for cities across the border in the mainland.

Still, not nearly as impressive as the Japanese system.


A couple weeks ago, a popular post here on HN was how U.S. culture was actually lagging Japanese culture by about 10 - 20 years, while much of the rest of the world lags U.S. culture by a few years, and how things that were trendy in Japan quite a while ago are just now getting popular in the U.S. and then they will spread to Australia and other places in a few years.

So it's interesting to see your opinion that is contrary to that article.


Do you have a link to that post?



Thanks!


> In most places in the USA / the rest of the world -- it's a 'swipe and go' sort of deal.

In most of EU you never swipe. I have swiped maybe 2x in my life and only because the chip did not work. (The swipe then did not work either...) You either use chip/pin or contactless and pin over 20eur


In most places the magstrip is disabled (both on the cards and in the readers) because it's insecure and there was a lot of low-effort cloning going around.


The hardware to clone magstripe cards is shockingly cheap and easy to get hold of.

I was tickled a few years ago when Samsung tried to roll out mobile payments in the US and had to include a kind of hardware magnetic stripe emulator in their phones, chip & pin is nowhere near ubiquitous yet.


> Many things are so well crafted here, because of a cultural emphasis on producing things with quality.

I think this, at least partially, is the culprit behind being slow. Quality requires time, years of practice, sweat, dedication and experience. And it works really well for craftsmanship. Japan is well known for it's craft, art, cuisine and aesthetics - even in trivial cases like design of manholes or disposable shopping packages. Unfortunately, the same doesn't seem to work for technology, especially for IT. Learn a language/framework today, forget tomorrow, rapidly switch to more efficient solution, keep up with industry standards and everyday learn something new. There's no place for "learn once - master whole life" concept in current enterprise environment. Maybe with exclusion of basic principles. Everything else change on a daily basis. Yet, Japanese web pages tend to look like messy amateur pages on GeoCities 20 years ago and financial institutions wouldn't change for ages (actually, their online pages looks even worse.)

I do disagree about restaurant lines, though. I've yet to see so well organized crowd. And people do know what to order when they reach the counter because in most places they have a menu in their hands long before they get there. And any other lines, on that matter, especially when you compare Western train/metro stations.


> I do disagree about restaurant lines, though

Restaurants ( especially soba / ramen ) are so efficient it's insane.

I should have clarified, I'm talking more about coffee shops / cafes ( 喫茶店 ).


you are just talking about buying stuff, and money

I think your point of view may be a little too americanish


I do like that the Japanese culture seems more apt to actually stop and smell the roses.


Why Grace and not Jobs/Gates/Woz? Please elaborate - I'm curious.


I am in Japan, too How to contact you?


Very inspiring, this is her website: http://marchan.travel.coocan.jp

Also previous discussion and video: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14995333


Kind of off topic, but I've always found Japanese domain names to weird. They always seem to be subdomains of someone else's site. Why is this?


She is probably using some hosting service provided by Japaneses company. edit: the company hp is cocan.jp a lot of personal home page are host by them. since normal Japanese don't exactly know how to use heroku and AWS.


In case you're not aware, you're being downvoted for "Jap". Perhaps you were just abbreviating "Japanese", but it's considered offensive.


That is good to know, I am not from the states. I thought Jap was abbreviate for Japanese what have the internet done to me lol.


"Jap" only became an ethnic slur in American English during/due to World War II.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jap


The rules are complicated, as a non-native English speaker it would be very easy to get caught out. Brit and Aussie are fine, Jap and Paki are pejorative. Best to use the full term if in any doubt.


Reminds me of my early days in the web (early to mid 2000's) when people had GeoCities websites, Angelfire, etc... For the record GeoCities never closed for Japan probably due to this phenomena you mention where they just host somewhere instead of buying a domain. I wonder how many pay for hosting despite only having a subdomain.


Even more crazy, the Japanese Geocities is part of the Japanese Yahoo.

Sometimes it really feels like they have a parallel web going on over there!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yahoo!_GeoCities#GeoCities_Jap...


Although I can't read Japanese I love how simple her layout and fast to load her website is.


There's a video at the end of the article where Tim Cook is discussing with Masako Wakamiya,

Tim asks specific questions on accessibility & she enthusiastically answers all of them precisely.She definitely knows what she's doing.

I wish, Tim asked her what difficulty she faced while porting to iPad as she said so.

Nevertheless, the video made me happy.


I wonder how much of brain elasticity in as adults is just due to attitude. I generally find kids more eager to jump into new things, while adults are more stubborn and complacent towards new experiences. Once you have money or kids it's a lot easier to just have someone else do it for you. Still, at 82 I imagine most people will start developing issues with memory so it probably isn't an easy feat, and she's found more success than I have...


I think that openness and confidence are major factors. Having taught older adults to use computers, one of the major difficulties is getting them past the fear that they might "break" the computer and the need to memorise rote instructions rather than experiment with the interface.

The body language is quite distinctive - tentatively pressing keys with an outstretched index finger as if the keyboard might jump up and bite them, pushing around the mouse with their fingertips rather than grasping it with their whole hand, leaning away from the screen as if it might explode in their face.

Some older people just can't internalise the idea of looking at the screen for clues as to how to proceed. No matter how many times they're told and shown, they just don't get the idea that computing is interactive. They try to memorise every interaction as a series of rote steps, so if something unexpected happens they're completely lost. They are completely incapable of navigating a UI without very explicit instruction, even if it's broadly similar to UIs they know how to navigate. Something as trivial as accidentally scrolling down a few lines on a website is a complete showstopper. I don't understand it, but I find it endlessly fascinating.


The part about memorizing rote steps is roughly what you would expect from any kind of beginner in any field or skill set. But the part about being all tentative seems like a difference between a beginner who is older and one who is a little kid. The old person has spent a lifetime learning that rash actions can have bad consequences, while the kid hasn't yet. In other words the kid doesn't know or care about breaking the computer, and so probably learns faster as a result. (Good thing it's hard to break the computer and the consequences are usually nil. Wouldn't necessarily recommend the same approach for something like base-jumping or neurosurgery.)

I wonder how much it would help these people if you framed it more as an interaction with a person. Which it is. For example, telling them things like "OK so the programmer who wrote this told the computer to grab that bit you just typed, and display it for you over here [point, point] for your reference." In other words I wonder whether knowing a little about what's going on inside the thing, and the fact that it was just some silly ordinary dufus that wrote the software, helps a person like that be a better end-user.


I've seen these exact behaviors countless times, ever since I was the "kid who knows computers" (in the 90's) trying to walk adults through using them.

Oh, and when you ask them to "look at the screen", they're only mentally able to process a 2-square-inch "window area" at any given moment. So you first have to direct their gaze, very specifically, before you can actually expect them to read and process anything. (Of course it doesn't help that many of them used bifocals that made it difficult to actually see anything up close, except maybe a book, without squinting at a weird angle. Not sure if that's still an issue today.)


As much as I'd agree with the symptoms you guys are describing when it comes to my parents and grandparents, I don't think this is much of an age problem at all.

The same thing happens to my kids when I present them with a bash shell. They don't understand how to read the instructions, and they're uncomfortable with text commands. They don't want to type 'man' or 'help', and they give up very quickly. Everything they use on computers and game consoles are GUIs, most of them extremely easy to use by the standards of text interfaces like bash & vi.

This is a familiarity problem. You have years and years of experience with your OSes, which is what allows you to see outside the 2-inch window when you use a new application. You know exactly what you can ignore, and exactly what you need to pay attention to. They don't. Being unfamiliar with all of it and not having any idea how any of it works is what makes it seem like they're not learning quickly, but it's more because they're trying to learn everything at once, and are overwhelmed, not because they're not learning at all.


> The same thing happens to my kids when I present them with a bash shell. They don't understand how to read the instructions

Uhm, the issue here is squarely on Bash's end, not your kid's. Even the Windows command prompt is far more intuitive to learn. I know because I vividly remember how much more confused I got when learning the former.

In Windows, when you type "help", it actually gives you helpful commands: COPY, MOVE, DEL, REN/RENAME, etc. and at least the basic commands are actually what you'd expect. At least you have a foothold somewhere that you can ground yourself, and you start learning a bit more every time.

Try that in Bash, and good luck learning out how to do anything in Bash on your own. Oh, you want help? I gotchu! I'm guessing you're looking for job_spec, bg, compopt, coproc, disown, shopt, or trap? Oh I'm so sorry, you said all you wanted was to just copy a file? Haha I'm just a shell! You can't expect me to know how know what it means to "copy" a file! I can't even find that command! But if you need help, type "man -k" (what kind of a name is that??) to find out more about other commands. Oh, so you typed "man -k"? Okay, "apropos what?"??? (You, thinking to yourself: is 'apropos' even an English word?? I literally just typed in man -k like they told me to, and I got back a question I don't understand...) And on and on and on, until weeks later you realize the darn command was helpfully named 'cp' and not 'copy'...


Fully agree with the crapiness of learning Bash 100%. Bash is very hard to learn compared to, say, the OS UI in Android or Nintendo Switch.

But, my point is that my kids lose all their confidence and all their patience, and they become tentative and fearful. They show all the same symptoms that were mis-attributed to age in the above comments.

On a game console, my kids are not afraid to explore every menu and push every button. In a text interface, they are lost and they don't try things. They seem to learn slowly and they don't seem to listen to instruction because of how different text UIs are from the GUIs they know. When I get a new text interface, I know all kinds of things to try, and I do so without much fear.


> In Windows, when you type "help", it actually gives you helpful commands: COPY, MOVE, DEL, REN/RENAME, etc. and at least the basic commands are actually what you'd expect. At least you have a foothold somewhere that you can ground yourself, and you start learning a bit more every time.

Yes, this. I recall back in the MS-DOS days that I frequently used a text-GUI help menu that showed all the commands you could do and what each one did.

Personally, this is what I struggle with on *nix shells - I can do the very basics but there's little guidance showing you a broad overview of what is possible. Granted, the world is bigger now but if you asked me how to do a random task I'd probably google it first instead of reading a man page.


> Personally, this is what I struggle with on *nix shells

Once you learn the 8000 or so commands, it becomes incredibly intuitive.


Don't forget all the little tricks in chaining them! And all the magic you can do with pipes.


> Personally, this is what I struggle with on *nix shells

It's not just the shells! ;)


Only problem is, those commands are useless. COPY won't back up a directory tree. You need XCOPY. Oops, XCOPY chokes for weird reasons and terminates with a strange error message because a path was more than 255 bytes. It needs a bazillion options to do the equivalent of GNU's "cp -a". If you go online to get help with this, the best advice you get is to download and install something called RoboCopy.

Yes, MS-DOS was easy to learn. XCOPY worked in MS-DOS.


https://unix.stackexchange.com/a/87128

"copy doesn't copy directory structures, it will only copy the files, hence the error message you're encountering. To do a deep copy such as this you can enlist either the tar command and use the construct tar cvf - --files-from=... | (cd /home/tmp/test/files/; tar xvf -) or you can just use rsync."

That's so much better..


cp most certainly does copy directory structures. Just not filtered ones whereby just certain entries are arbitrarily selected from the source tree and only those are replicated in the destination tree.

The issue in the question is that the person has expanded, into the cp command line, a bunch of full paths, effectively like "cp a/b/c/file1 a/b/d/file2 .... dest" and wants those relative paths to be re-created under dest as dest/a/b/c/file1 and so on. Indeed, cp does not do that; it simply puts the specified objects file1 file2 ... into dest.

An option to create each object's relative path under dest would be useful, but it would be a pretty awful default behavior.

GNU cp has this option:

  `--parents'
     Form the name of each destination file by appending to the target
     directory a slash and the specified name of the source file.  The
     last argument given to `cp' must be the name of an existing
     directory.  For example, the command:

          cp --parents a/b/c existing_dir

     copies the file `a/b/c' to `existing_dir/a/b/c', creating any
     missing intermediate directories.
GNU Coreutils is in active development, unlike the Windows command line which is basically abandonware (as, to be even-handed, is the Unix (tm) command line.)


When talking with people who struggle, I talk about the that the difference between being able to see a footprint to track a new animal in the forest and you being able to use a somewhat novel computer interface are based on the same principles of experience and ignoring the piles of useless information.


Agree, they just not familiar the computer as us.


As an engineer myself, I'd say one of the harder aspects of my job is using all the freaking GUIs and interfaces presented to me. Granted, I wouldn't consider many of these interfaces to even be considered "good" by most standards, but so many designs are unintuitive I really think thats the root of the problem.


It is tough because there definitely are people who are very nervous about trying things on a computer. We just had a lady today worried about using a Mac as she is used to Windows. It is a slightly different paradigm in terms of finding programs and I remember being a bit lost at first. But I also have confidence with computers and am okay with trying things and searching for how to do things.

If you lack that basic curiosity and courage, I don't really know how "intuitive" anything can be. Isn't "intuition" driven by understanding concepts behind things? The best way to get that intuition is through a bit of instruction and a lot of experimentation.


Yeah, but I can understand this mindset. Like, I think about home maintenance. Some screw-ups are no big deal and some of them I'm going to do a lot of damage and need help fixing it. I'm not exactly gung-ho about knocking walls down with a sledge hammer without knowing what I'm doing.

Now, you might answer that you can't really break anything that badly with software, but I'd say that's not right. I could delete documents I needed with no way to recover them, or end up with ransomware, or end up putting my credit card number somewhere I shouldn't have, or whatever, and I'll likely be bewildered and unsure what happened, if I don't know anything about computers.


That's true, it is just difficult to know what level of expertise your users are at and what responsibility do you have to educate them?


Well, it can certainly be extremely frustrating to deal with user education, especially with users who clearly don't really want to learn. But it helps to imagine that all of us are like this in some ways. I think experience in a call center and as a junior system administrator has made me a more empathetic developer, anyway.


I notice the same thing. At least in my experience, I think it's generational experience not age or ignorance. I'll use my father as an example. He grew up poor, having to build or fix things for his family. Guy could build anything, build and rebuild engines, appliances, even electronics. But what these all have in common...they aren't interactive, at all. It's a process, and even a tiny mistake can ruin the entire thing or get yourself hurt. Compound that with being told as a kid not to touch expensive things (say, TV) or you'll break it, dangers of being shocked by capacitors, etc. In the end I think you end up with people who really are scared of computers. It's a new way of thinking (interactive vs process), and years of fear of breaking expensive things. Compound that further from experiences of trying to use a computer freely, getting scammed or getting a virus, getting gouged for money by Geek Squad and losing all their files/bookmarks...of course they're afraid of messing up. Just my opinion, of course, I have no hard data to back it up.


> Having taught older adults to use computers, one of the major difficulties is getting them past the fear that they might "break" the computer

This is the exact same problem I've always had many times when tinkering with electronics, so I can wholeheartedly understand it. Fortunately with computers you can pretty much promise laymen that any problem they cause fixable with no cost (except time), but in the case of electronics I find it much more difficult to overcome the fear that I might actually physically fry something and need to buy a new one. Anyone have tips for that?


I've been tinkering with electronics for about 30 years. Can do some cool stuff like assembling a power supply from scratch or an amplfier, can also put together projects with arduinos, raspberries, etc. I still fry components once in a while. But it's fun! If you are a programmer one hour of your time is worth a lot more than the cost of the components of many fun projects.

A few tips: - Do not touch anything you cannot afford to lose. - Buy at least twice as many components as needed for a project, if this is too expensive, that's a good sign you might want to get more experience with more simple projects before taking on this one. - Avoid soldering as much as possible, at least at the beginning. - If you want to learn how to solder do it with very simple circuits like those that only include LEDs and resistors. Practice a lot and then use your skills on a project you like. - If possible, measure components before installing, do not trust your knowledge of color codes or nomenclature or pins configurations in the case of diodes and transistors. - When tinkering with digital circuits try to use only 5V level components, avoid 3.3V components. Of course you can use converters to interface but it's nice to avoid that complexity at the beginning.

Hope this helps.


Cool, thanks! :)


>but in the case of electronics I find it much more difficult to overcome the fear that I might actually physically fry something and need to buy a new one. Anyone have tips for that?

Set yourself a learning budget and accept that blowing things up is part of the experience. It's not terribly expensive to buy a large stock of basic components. Sellers like Banggood offer assortments of resistors, capacitors, diodes and transistors for a few bucks. Arduino Nano clones are about $2 each on Aliexpress, so buy half a dozen. The Aneng AN8008 multimeter is more than good enough for student use and costs less than $25; a Daniu DT832 is perfectly usable for basic measurements and costs about $5, so it's no tragedy if you blow it up. You can find an old analog oscilloscope on eBay for about $50.

If you're getting into repair, ask your local thrift stores for broken electronics or buy a job lot of cheap broken stuff on eBay. If you can't fix it, you can always scavenge it for components.


Thanks, yeah. Though it's not necessarily so much the money (at least for cheap components), but the hassle of (a) figuring out if things are actually broken or if you're doing it wrong, and (b) actually going through the trouble of getting new components. Nice thing about software is you can use the same equipment for a while :)


I wonder the same thing trying to learn a new language.

I notice the biggest difference between me and a child is that children don't care about messing up. Meanwhile I often have this worthless apprehension of "better not practice Spanish on these Spanish speakers, I might mess up and feel stupid."

I tried to learn Spanish like I learned how to program. Now I'm living proof that you can become good enough to read books in Spanish yet amaze people with your inability understand spoken Spanish.


> Now I'm living proof that you can become good enough to read books in Spanish yet amaze people with your inability understand spoken Spanish.

Two quick hacks to try.

1) Stop reading books in Spanish silently. Read them out loud. This will force your brain to create neural pathways between understanding, comprehending, and speaking.

2) Put in your earphones and walk down the street. Play something that is like a Spanish conversation podcast and try to mimic what they are saying. Doing it in public will help conquer the 'ego' that gets in the way of making mistakes in public and eventually with other people.


I suspect adults learn languages a lot faster than kids, when we spend the same amount of time being exposed & practicing.

All the polyglots say you have to be willing to mess up a lot and work to shed your fear of feeling stupid. In fact, try to seek it out because that's the primary way you get feedback & learn.


And it is the same with almost everything, including programming. If you are afraid to admit you don't know something you will spend much more time before you learn it. Sure, you are playing with your reputation - but in my experience it is better to have a reputation of a fast learner than the reputation of a know-it-all.


Right, I remember a Quora answer to the effect of: "If children pick up languages faster, it's just an artifact of how much more likely they are to be immersed in an environment of native speakers willing to put up with them and correct their errors; if you could get a group of native Spanish speakers to do the same to you as an adult, you'd pick it up quickly too."

(I've anecdotally heard stories of "gringos" picking up conversational Spanish just from working in the back of a restaurant with a Spanish-only staff.)


> I suspect adults learn languages a lot faster than kids, when we spend the same amount of time being exposed & practicing.

In linguistics, it's pretty well accepted that kids learn languages faster than adults for neurological reasons, with considerable research support: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_period


Oh I'm sure that critical periods are legit, and I don't doubt that infants and very young kids are learning at a faster rate than adults.

There's just a lot more to learn during first language acquisition than during second language acquisition. It's possible for a child to learn faster than an adult in general, and for it to still take longer to learn a language to basic proficiency, because there's a lot more to learn the first time.

The article you linked even acknowledges that and confirms my premise from above: "Certainly, older learners of a second language rarely achieve the native-like fluency that younger learners display, despite often progressing faster than children in the initial stages."

The research support on second language acquisition seems rather mixed here to me. There's certainly some evidence that kids eventually learn more, but this article presents some evidence against, and the evidence here on time to proficiency vs amount of effort isn't exactly what I'd call considerable. Most of the discussion is on whether second language learners achieve perfection, not on how long or how much effort it takes to become a basic speaker.

Very little discussion on the learning environment difference between kids and adults. Kids get full immersion and years of constant feedback. Adults usually get a few classes or books, a few hours of practice a week, and are usually speaking bilingual while learning, etc. I'd like to see studies comparing apples to apples.


I'd suspect it's easier for children to learn unfamiliar spoken languages than adults (they don't have to un-learn certain patterns from a native language).

I'd postulate it's probably easier for trained adults to learn new programming languages as they're more familiar with structured syntax and the semantics involved, and are more likely to have exposure/experience with a similar language. Also, concepts from one programming language carry over to another, even if they're expressed differently.

I don't have any studies to back this up; it's just my gut-feel.


My experience is the opposite. I don't have to unlearn native patterns. I learn a different pattern, and switch to it. Because I understand grammar and the parts of speech as an adult, at a level beyond simply having copied it from people around me, I can understand foreign, completely different grammar, at an intellectual level.

When I speak (and learn) Japanese, my conscious understanding of Japanese grammar simply makes it easier. The same when I speak French. I don't unlearn anything; I learn different patterns, and I simply switch to them.

In fact, it's what you suggested about programming languages, but for spoken languages. In my experience, adults can learn foreign languages far faster than children can. Maybe it appears that children are better at it because they are completely immersed in the language they need to learn and have no other means of communication. If I spent 16 hours a day immersed in a foreign language, with people trying to communicate with me and no other way of communicating back, I reckon I'd pick it up pretty swiftly.


Interesting. I admittedly don't have much experience learning foreign languages; I did K-12 in the US and was only required to take 2 years of Spanish. I'd assumed from discussions with other students taking, for example German, that it'd be more difficult. Versus programming languages, I've learned, C, C++, C#, Java, Python and Perl (and I supposed a modicum of JS) as well as x86, x64, 68k, MIPS, z80 and Atmel AVR assembly. I've always had an easier time learning a new programming language/assembler than a foreign natural language. Maybe that's just me.


Spoken languages are a lot harder to learn than programming languages.

But think about how much faster you learned JS than the time it took to learn C (or whatever your first programming language was.)

Don't forget to account for the vast amount of learned information you get to leverage from your first language, even if you have to unlearn a few things or learn a few new things.

Even though JS is very different from C, learning JS was much, much faster for me than learning C was, because I already knew a whole lot about the way all languages work just from learning C.

I'm learning Icelandic right now, and it only took a few weeks of 30 minutes a day to cover some basic conversational skills, gather maybe 100 or so words of vocabulary, and get an introduction to the basic speech patterns & conjugation. It'll take a lot longer to be fluent, but children take years to get that far, because they're starting from scratch and don't have connections to build on. I see a ton of connections to German and English that kids wouldn't.

It's also hard to compare programming to high school Spanish, since it's easy for us to spend 10 hours a day programming, but in high school we topped out at like 3 hours a week of Spanish exposure, and most of that wasn't practicing very hard.

I moved to Mexico as a child (during my first grade year), and learned enough Spanish to go to school, play with the kids, etc. I feel like I'm picking up languages faster now than I did then.


YouTube anecdotes, but here is Gabriel Wyner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBMfg4WkKL8 describing his experience of learning nothing much linguistically in High School or College, but then joining immersion based courses at an adult and making significant progress in a few weeks.

and here: is Chris Lonsdale saying adults can learn useful amounts of spoken Chinese in 6 months, with immersion and being able to watch mouths closely and see how speakers move their moouths to pronounce things (IIRC): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0yGdNEWdn0

and there's a bunch more; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WLHr1_EVtQ and so on


You cannot spend the same amount of time, because a little kid basically has 60 hours in a day.


It's a different skill but I'm learning piano as an adult. I have a digital piano and headphones, and it's great — nobody like neighbors, roomates or people outside on the street hears so I can play around and learn without problem.

We can't really do the same with languages, but it's interesting! I definitely feel how I tense up if I have to practice openly.


I'm learning karate. It's entirely opposite your position in that I'm lined up with beginners of all ages, so I'm learning alongside 7/8 yo boys and girls (I'm middle aged); and often some parents watch the class.

It's difficult to be in the open like that - but it's a lesson in humility.

It has given me a great appreciation of my children who are also in the class (at higher grades), and been a fascinating lesson in learning and development. It's helped me in many ways - I'd recommend it.


I'm currently doing something similar and wanted to give 3 pieces of advice to anyone wanting to do similar:

1. Don't buy a 2 or 3 octave keyboard like I did.

2. Synthesia is great. Guitar hero for a midi keyboard.

3. musictheory.net is a great interactive way to learn some basics.

My learning is mainly geared towards producing for games, so I thought I could get away with a 25 key keyboard, but I regret it a lot.


> I notice the biggest difference between me and a child is that children don't care about messing up.

A physiological difference you wouldn't have noticed are that children will be making more neural connections than adults at that stage of their development.


But they have significantly less neural connections overall, and you already have whole sets of neural connections available to reuse at a very high level - there’s no evidence yet that the neural connections children are making are stronger or more flexible than the adult ones in your brain right now. In fact given how most humans become more intelligent as they age (compare a 20 year old to a 40 year old) it’s likely that the brain continues to improve.


Could it be that aging has to do more with the accumulation of “knowledge”, where knowledge literally means replacing perceptions with “I know”s and thus becoming more rigid and disengaged from the senses...

...and not so much as physical aging as the cause of these.

Maybe we are mostly surrounded by people who age without questioning culture around them, or their mind and body habits.

I’ve found that with age and certain practices I’ve become more available to learning, more available to retraining/rewiring of habits, and more responsive to change. My strong opinions are more loosely held and I constantly focus on letting go of any grasping that causes me suffering.

“Drop it while it’s hot” has a whole and new wonderful meaning. My body is aging but my experience of the world is becoming more colorful, more vibrant and more exciting.

My dad is close to 80 year old, an active surgeon, at the top of his field, actively publishing papers, teaching, seeing patients, driving to jobs in different cities, with yoga and tennis on a semi regular basis while writing a book and editing a magazine. Many of these require him using a desktop and laptop computers, he just got an android smartphone which I wished him luck with because it’s too complex for me to support.


I think you have to find a kind of patience. Going through your life psyching yourself up about how amazing and life changing this new experience is going to be doesn’t last. For most people the mid life crisis is the last time they try that.

All of the new stuff I’ve started has been on the cautiously optimistic end of the scale. This could be the best thing ever but it’ll take a long time for it to be so. Just show up until then.


Coming from the chess world, I suspect your hypothesis is correct. I've taught adults and children and all else being equal adults learn and improve vastly faster than children.

But the all else being equal part is the catch. Adults often don't put as much effort into the work as children and a big problem is preconceptions that people have difficulty letting go of.

I also consider myself some slight degree of proof of the hypothesis. I didn't even learn how the pieces moved until I was 17, which is ancient in the chess world, and didn't take it seriously until I was in my 20s. And now I have enough grandmaster scalps to create a.. err.. something that uses lots of scalps!


Teaching beginners? Sure, most little kids are immature and don't understand the big picture concepts of general strategy that adults already learned before they started studying chess. And adult many likely already had some chess experience.

But Progressing through to expert or world-class? History verifies the conventional wisdom that ages ~12-30 show the greatest gains.

And when you look over to things like language and music, the difference in learning ability is vast. Kids can become trilingual effortlessly, while adults almost never get close.


To compare apples to apples you need to look at a given sample that have engaged in the same amount of effort and compare it to another group that has engaged in the same amount of effort. For instance the media representation of the chess prodigy completely misses out that our 'prodigy' has been studying chess beyond full time for 6+ years. How does this compare to adults who study chess as a beyond full time job for 6 years? Well it's tough to say since almost nobody actually does this.

Laszlo Polgar's experiment is tangential but an interesting aside here at least on the notion of 'conventional wisdom'. Polgar wanted to perform an experiment on the nature of mastery of something (mathematics/music/chess/etc) being a matter of work rather than some natural talent as was, and remains the view of 'conventional wisdom.' After some consideration he decided to use chess, something he had no particular talent in, as his test bed -- and announced beforehand that he would create a master. He found a wife (also of no meaningful chess talent) willing to participate and they had a child which was their experiment subject. In fact the experiment was made doubling interesting by the fact that he had a girl. Then another. Then another. "Conventional wisdom verifies" that girls tend to do worse at chess than boys. Those children were Susan[1], Sofia[2], and Judit [3]. He created 2 grandmasters, and one international master. Judit becoming the 8th highest rated player in the world!

Language is another interesting example. I enjoy traveling and know many people that became fluent in languages as adults. And the vast majority tend to share one thing in common - they were forcefully immersed in the language. Cutting out the abstracts there - they tend to have wives or girlfriends that speak little to no english. There's no chicken or egg there, they invariably learned the language after moving in with the person. I expect you'll find the children that are genuinely trilingual (and not I took 4 years of spanish in school and can kind of speak it passably type 'fluent') will be made up heavily of children where multiple languages were spoken in their household - the same sort of 'forcible immersion.'

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Polgar

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sofia_Polgar

[3] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judit_Polg%C3%A1r


The Polgar experiment had at least one major bias -- they were the Polgars' natural born children, not "average" people. Also, Polgar's own hypothesis was that it required to begin study by age 6. Has anyone tried taking a 30-yr-old adult, and funding a 20year intensive chess curriculum for them?


If a child tried to learn language the way adults do, they would be far more likely to fail.

The difference in circumstances is likely greater than the difference in brain plasticity past a few years old.


For what it's worth, the actual structure of the brain starts off with way too many neurons and connections and starts paring them down. Learning is creation, but it is also destruction. Removing useless connections is valuable. A lot of the paring down happens in your teens with the process reaching a stable state in the mid-20s.

This doesn't mean learning ceases past the point (clearly not). But it does mean that changing synaptic weights and forming new synapses comprise the bulk of learning rather than new neuronal projections and creating new neurons of which the later two become insignificant with small exceptions (such as the generation of new neurons in a small region called the SVZ and also in the hippocampus, a region important for memory though I don't know if the role of these new neurons is known in any great detail).

Adult learning necessarily uses restricted mechanisms compared with children and adolescents. It's still a general learning machine though, though rate of learning might suffer (I'm not familiar with that part of the field).


Tango you might be another fantastic exception to add to the small list of late starters who got to GM level such as John K. Shaw and Jonathan Hawkins.

However I suspect that everything else being equal children do have a higher skill ceiling because there are very few late achievers in chess.

An experiment would be needed, take a group of 10 year olds, 20 year olds and 30 year olds and immerse them in intensive 5 year course of study.

I would wager that the 10 year olds as a group would have progressed further.

Why do I say so? Because, it is incredibly hard as an adult to obtain the so called unconscious mastery in any field. (Ie what Gladwell alluded to in 'Blink'). It is the pattern recognition that's been alluded by many.

With kids this can happen, 'the jump' so to speak. With adults I've not seen it happen in almost 40 years of playing chess at a decent level(FM).

I remember it somehow clicking for me at 14 for chess. It is the level when you do not have to think and you can make a good move. It was the level when I realized I could keep up with IMs.

Of course you need both pattern recognition(GM-RAM) and the ability to calculate. Ability to calculate can be trained, but it is also part of talent/ability.

Among my kids and nephews only one has that ability.

Are you going to tell me that among your adult students all have the raw ability/potential to make master?


I'd absolutely love to see that experiment. It's something that I think would be applicable to so many other fields as well. But you'd also need to strictly control for everything. As Botvinnik said, chess cannot be taught - only learned. If the adults are just phoning it in, the result is of course preordained.

In my opinion, I think anybody (of at least 'normal' mental capacity) has the potential to make master. Will any of my adult students do so? Absolutely not. They want to improve at chess, but want to do so in a way akin to taking a pill. Like you obviously know there is an immense amount of work to improvement and chess improvement is extremely weird. For instance extensive tactics study are key for improvement, but it's not like you'll see it instantly reflected in your rating - and after some time of diligent work and effort, it's entirely possible that somebody's rating might have even decreased. Something I experienced, as well as most other stronger players I know, is the 'stair step.' You don't improve steadily and linearly, there's these weird huge jumps where it seems like somehow you wakeup one day and are just xxx points stronger.

People understandably expect proportional rewards to proportional work, but that's just not how chess improvement works. I also think this is how so many adults get trapped in opening study - there the rewards can be immediately visible, even if it's not really all that helpful to your overall improvement. Kids don't really think about these sort of things and often just enjoy learning about the game and solving the problems. But adults are generally doing it as a means to an end and have much more difficulty dealing with the nature of improving at the game. And it can also directly lead to self doubt in them as they use this as an indicator that they've plateaued, lack talent, or whatever else. And lacking confidence in chess is a great way to kill your results.


> I wonder how much of brain elasticity in as adults is just due to attitude

I wonder that too and do believe that it is largely about attitude. Part of it, however, is also wisdom. For example, as adults, experience has brought us to the point of realizing that a lot of what drives younger people is just buzz and bullshit. 99.9% of the things everyone claims are "THE NEXT BIG THING YOU MUST NOT MISS OUT ON!" end up being of no practical consequence whatsoever to life or society.


I think it's not just about attitude, but also about having learning as a habit.

I can't find it, but I recall an article in Science showing that Myelin production is increased when there is a continued demand for it (so Myelin production can be trained like a muscle to some degree). The higher-level interpretation was that since Myelin production is connected to brain elasticity and learning, that once you get over a initial bump of starting to pick up the habit of learning more Myelin would be produced and it would be easier to learn going forward.

Anecdotally I found that to be very true. It was always easier for me to pick up new things during the week when I kept my brain in a "learning state" on my off-days by reading books or having a stimulating discussion with friends. But who knows, that might just as well be a Placebo effect.

(Sorry for missing reference, and the unscientific jumping to conclusions)


This kind of relates to the “neural Darwinism” idea. Or “use it or lose it” as it relates to certain behaviors. I don’t know if it’s true but it’s a useful way to think about it.


I wonder how much attitude is controlled by brain elasticity? Seriously, most non molecular biological explanations with regards to brain function are just tautologies. Your brain doesn't work because you don't try hard enough. You can't try hard enough because your brain doesn't work. This is the subject matter of thousands of clickbait articles.


Fair point but I think people generally intuitively separate learning ability or speed and willingness to learn. I've met my share of determined idiots and passive geniuses, given mostly when I was in school. To me it seems like, while they're probably related, brain elasticity and openness aren't inextricably linked, such that one is directly responsible for the other


Totally anecdotal, but my grandpa is 90, and he made it a point to learn how to use facebook and youtube. (I saw him on Facebook the other day when I visited him.)

He wanted to be able to follow family and see everyone's pictures and whatnot.

He was always into learning tech and liked gadgets though. I remember in the early 90s he had a car phone. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and he was the only person I knew with one.


>I wonder how much of brain elasticity in as adults is just due to attitude

It reminded me a quote (that I'll try to interpret/translate as best as I can): That's not you stop playing games as you get older, it is you get older when you stop playing games. I am a young person, but I live it, feel it as I age.


And how much of attitude is based on the genetics/physical state of the brain?

So many people can be taught that a growth mindset is all you really need to continue to improve at a skill, yet the distributions are still bell curves and people still plateau where they are at.


I think its due to a couple of things. 1. Free "Space"/"Threads" in our brain as kids we had a clean install of an os with only hunger and sleep to worry about. As adults we juggle with dozens of things in our mind. 2. Fear of failure. As kids we dont really care about what others think as we grow older we lose this wonderful ability :(


Is brain elasticity an objectively scientific thing? Can it be measured? It seems like an invention to fit observed mental rigidness with age.


Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's ability to transfer neurons across areas of grey matter. Essentially moving function.

It is observed in adults as well as children, but there is definite decay in that ability.

By 'observed', neuroplasticity has been observed at the microscopic level, as well as higher levels, such as brain remapping of function following injury.


Yes, it is. In mice we even know some enzymes responsible for this:

https://futurism.com/fountain-youth-effect-young-blood-old-m...


> Still, at 82 I imagine most people will start developing issues with memory so it probably isn't an easy feat

This is where you've made a presumption using your imagination.


Eh, you can have all the attitude you want, but I'm watching my mother wither away with dementia (she's 81). There's nothing attitude-wise that is involved there.

It's just luck whether you can still do coding at 40,50,60,70+. You WILL reach an age where you will not be mentally capable of doing all the things you want to do whether that is coding or driving a car. Maybe science and modern medicine can save us, but it's too late for my poor mother.


Out of curiosity, did she retire before the dementia or after? It's by no means scientific, but among all of the old people I know, the strongest predictor of dementia would be retiring. I haven't been able to find any studies on the relationship between stopping working and the onset of dementia, although it seems like working or keeping busy might somehow help stave it off.


Could pre-dementia cause people to be ineffective / uncomfortable at work, causing them to retire?


That's entirely possible. Maybe the old people who keep working keep working because they're not gradually becoming demented.


If I understand correctly, she started out with Swift as her first language?

Wakamiya soon bought programming books and learned Apple’s Swift programming language through lessons with a programmer, nearly 200 miles away from her home in Japan's Kanagawa Prefecture, via Facebook Messenger and Skype.


Looks like she has been interested for many years

"This wasn’t the first time that Wakamiya took on a challenge. She’s been dabbling in the tech field since the age of 60."


What does it mean "oriented to old people"? Old people can play anything, they just have slower reflexes. Silver Snipers are 60-80 years old and play Counter Strike:

https://www.theverge.com/2017/12/20/16800924/silver-snipers-...


Arguably there might be culturally/socially more appealing topics and associated gameplay for different generations.


When I was a teenager playing Starcraft, I learned that one of the guys who regularly played with us was in his 50s. At the time it seemed weird anyone that old would be able to keep up in this game, or even know what it's about.


I find lots of players in Overwatch are surprised to find I'm 46 with an above average SR whenever it comes up. Though I typically don't snipe, I seem to still have some twitch reflexes left!


One of the things she mentions in the interview with Tim Cook, at the bottom of the article, is that many old people have trouble swiping on their phone, so she wanted the game to be playable through only tapping the phone.


It means there's nothing about being woke, backpack kid, or Nirvana. The games do feature songs from Barbra Streisand, mornings walks, and coffee from McDonalds.


I still find it hard to get a php ajax form to work despite tinkering with code for over 10 years. I can;t imagine trying to code an entire app when getting a form to work takes hours. guess some people learn faster than others


Things are a lot less painful than they used to be.

fetch()/promises/async/await and better browser support.

https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/API/FormData

https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/API/Fetch_API

Also promises (coupled with async/await) make things a great deal more pleasant and I'm old enough to remember the old days.


JS syntax is a lot nicer these days but that's always been relatively easy. Where web dev is hard, and will always remain hard, is the concept of writing stateless applications. Building something that might seem easy to you, such as a form with server-side validation, is very different to building a desktop app. When you write desktop apps you don't rebuild the entire UI for every update. You don't have to reload the user's entire state on every call. Those things are weird if you're not used to it.

It's perfectly reasonable for a developer to say they find it hard.

And, arguably, it could be part of the reason why frameworks like React are so popular - they make writing for the web a little more like writing a desktop app, because components can have persistent state.


How does javascript async/await solve form handling (presumably pure html) and basic PHP?


He said ajax, the asynchronous part can be handled cleanly with async/await particularly if doing more complex field validation/rules.


Maybe PHP AJAX forms take a lifetime to master, compared with what people learn nowadays.


Very inspiring. Made me happy - to know that after programming for 28 years, I might only be half-way through my career.


I know Masako and I think what she has accomplished is pretty remarkable. Her story goes to show that people can accomplish anything they want, regardless of age, if they take joy from it.


I'm 60 years old. I'm teaching myself node.js and related tools. I find great joy in learning anyway but networked computers are still as amazing to me now as they were when I first encountered them in the 70s.

If you ever speak to Masako, please tell her she inspired an old geek in America.


I will.


There’s a 78 year old man enrolled in Computer Information Systems at Clemson right now. Great story and amazing life too.

https://newsstand.clemson.edu/78-year-old-sophomore-everythi...


Quite a feat!

I think her success as a marketer shouldn't be overlooked: many of the app store reviews focus mainly on her unique backstory (plenty of them posted before this article was even published). Very nicely done.


A point of clarification: "She's been dabbling in the tech field since the age of 60." Still impressive though!

Also, the app isn't described until 3/4 into the article: "The app, based on the annual Japanese doll festival of Hina Matsuri, invites players to arrange 12 ornamental dolls --- representing the country's emperor, family and guests --- in a specific order."


The article goes on to define "dabbling in the tech field" as buying a computer and creating Excel art.


and also CODING A PHONE APP IN SWIFT


There's been quite a few studies that learning things like new languages forges new neuron pathways and helps fight off dementia and other age related brain diseases.

I wonder if there's been any studies to the cognitive benefits of teaching the elderly to code?


twice I have worked with colleagues in Japan on non-trivial things.. patience, skill and conflict-averse were my direct experience.. regarding the age topic.. it is rampant in the Bay Area, and in my opinion is a flimsy mask over an even greater list of ugly management practices


Since I posted it I feel compelled to add: its irrelevant that this person was a woman of Japanese decent.

We all know gender and nationality is irrelevant when it comes to skill of coding, but I wanted to keep it intact in the title as the article goes.

As of her age, I do think its quite unique skills to be so laser-focused at something as tedious as coding, even more in CamelType structured language as Apple forces on you.

I only code for last 30 years but I do hope to have such clarity of my mind when I reach her age, hopefully :)


She's a Japanese person making a Japanese app about a Japanese cultural topic.


I made an app for 2 older folks (~75) who connected with me over the web. The high level idea and functional spec was provided by them. One of the main reason i helped them was because it was interesting to see someone at their age trying to change the world (a bit) positively through the use of software..


share the app!!


This reminds me of the story about the 81 year old woman who uses an Amiga, AmigaBASIC and C to create programmatic visual art: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDfIkXf3uzA


Most of the people over 70s I knew have had their sight degraded or lost pretty much all of it. Her eyes (from the picture) look in a pretty healthy condition.

I mean degraded in a bad way that they can't read normal text and require assistance. I think they'll have trouble reading code on a normal computer screen.

What your experiences in your surrounding are? I don't really hang with older people when I travel so mine is limited to my family. I'm wondering if it is a genetic thing.

Given that I'm planning to retire by my very early 30s, and guessing an average age of 75-80. I still have around 40 years. Plenty of time and I like computers.


Depends a lot on the lifestyle. A few of my relatives managed to stay relatively fit over 70 with a relatively active lifestyle and probably some luck in the genetic makeup (they do need vision aids, but can manage fairly OK with them). I'm from Europe, but I heard that Japanese have a comparably high life expectancy, which likely results in better overall health in all age groups.

I'm sitting in front of a computer all day, so my chances are probably not as good in this regard if I don't change things. But I guess this kind of insight is news for few people around here.


> I still have around 40 years. Plenty of time and I like computers.

That's what we all wish for -- a long healthy mostly uneventful life -- until reality strikes, hard.


I always found it funny, the idea that age or agism should in any way stop you from achieving cool shit in business. Entrepreneurship is a jungle. Your customers, largely speaking, doesn't know your age or gender or whether or not you went to an ivy league school or anything else. Some career directions certainly do depend on that stuff, but that's mostly because they depend on other people for advancement. But building products is only a competition against forces that pull down quality, not a game of gatekeeper-signaling. If you want to succeed in business, you can either let that stuff affect you, or you can just build something that people buy and prove everyone who says there are fundamental barriers wrong.


What are some examples of successful businesses that launched and operate without person-to-person contact and negotiations?

Purely automated online operations conceal identities, sure, but investors usually know who the entrepreneurs, and major clients and vendors and joint-venture partners do too.


Independent mobile app vendors? Some pretty huge companies are not backed by VC capital or similar because there was no need for it at the start - and no reason to sell (yet) later.


Funny how a lot of people assume that companies can only ever work with investor money...


If only Rework was required reading...

I honestly think you could make an entire college course just based on the stuff that the Basecamp guys have put out there. I don't necessarily agree with their perspective 100%, but it's valuable to consider vastly different viewpoints.



Did you mean to reply to a different comment?


I was mainly hinting at the following:

“but investors usually know who the entrepreneurs, and major clients and vendors and joint-venture partners“

Not every company/startup is dependent on investors or joint ventures.

Building something and putting it out there. Grow by demand. Get buy offers by your ACTUAL performance, not by some investor money -> PR stunt -> hypetrain -> overestimation.

I don't even mean to attack you. I just get the feeling that the general audience here assumes that an investor is NECESSARY for success


I don't think they did because I read the same thing.


Lots of SaaS companies were entirely bootstrapped and rely primarily or wholly on low-touch B2C or B2SME sales - most of the speakers and attendees at MicroConf would fall into this camp.


as i get older and if (potentially) gets harder to land clients i figure i'll just do more remote work. i think ageism is more related to visual bias than anything else

edit: meaning cognitive bias kicks in after the visuals more than anything else -- although i highly doubt anyone would be jumping to hire an 82 year old (or even 70 year old) regardless of visuals. i'd prefer not to be coding for money at that age though.


you dont have to do those things by yourself. Can be delegated.


I found this oddly inspiring and zen. Made me want to break out and try something new


this is so true. Listening to the story of how Bob Moore founded Bob's Red Mills in his 50s in How I Built This podcast today. And it seems the concept of age is just in our minds.


My hat goes to the old lady, but frankly, if you feel the need to code and market something at age 82 then the odds are you're either struggling to make ends meet, which might warrant giving a cold hard look at the pension system in place, or you don't have and never have had much of a life outside of work - no kids or grand-(grand-)children, no hobbies, etc.


There's quite a common phenomenon where when people stop working, say through forced retirement, they die pretty soon afterwards. It's the same reason why having time on your hands leads to depression. People want to do things and feel useful.

She's building free apps to help the elderly, it would be a reasonable assumption to assume that she's not making a living off it.


The tech industry is full of people who don't need to work. Elon Musk could have comfortably retired in 1999 after Compaq bought Zip2. Would the world be a better place if he had done so?

It's an unfortunate reality that many older Japanese people have no choice but to keep working; with that said, I applaud anyone who chooses to use their retirement to learn new skills, explore new opportunities and keep making a contribution to society.


In retirement people pick up hobbies, where in the article does it say, she's using the proceeds to pay for rent?


These are terrible assumptions coming from a very limited view of the possible circumstances.


ouch, that's kind of harsh. You make a lot of assumptions.


The idea that someone would do work because they enjoy it seems entirely foreign to the parent. Although I suppose that is a more western perspective as well. Sure we have that whole "do what you love" bit, but there seems to be an appreciation of "craftsmanship" for lack of a better term that the Japanese have and we seem to have largely forgotten.


Or, she was just bored. Projecting the capitalist point of view on old japanese people is very naive.


> Wakamiya bought her first computer, then moved on to a Microsoft PC, and later a Mac and iPhones.

So what was her first computer?? :) The article says she bought her first computer after retiring from a 43-year career, which would be around 1997 (year 2018 - age 82 + 18 years + 43 years).


So what was her first computer??

Probably a super-cool Japanese machine that never made it to the West like https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_NEWS


I saw another such woman on (Japanese) TV some time ago, also octagenarian, I think. She made a virtual koto. You know, pluck the strings on the mobile device's screen, and koto tones come out. Maybe it's the same person.


Not really up to that level, but a 96yo neighbor rang on my bell for some tech support. The dude was sharper than a lot of 50yo persons.

Humans are weird


There are a lot of threads here comparing learning a "foreign" language with learning a computer "language".

C is C and English is odd.


I like how the design of her personal page look so outdated but still very very neat.


Made my day! Thanks for this.


This is awesome.


I feel it is kind of sad to see old people in the casinos. They are mindless spending time. They don't even seem to enjoy it. There must be games that are more enjoyable than that. no skill needed, no creativity being developed.


I actually stepped foot into a depressing casino some years ago and actually saw slot machines, and was amazed that would appeal to anyone. they're full blown video games but only have one button. super boring! and dumb - hey here's our hotel and restaurant, but to pay for your stay, instead of paying at the desk, you have to spend your whole vacation in a dark smoky room buying tokens to feed into a machine and pushing a button for days on end. sign me up.

I predict that current generations who have grown up with technology and video games are going to be much less interested in really dumb machines like this. But this is total armchair conjecture and I'm probably totally wrong.


I think that simplicity is actually part of the addiction. You have to only press that one button, and "exciting" stuff automatically happens.


They are mindless spending time.

You pull down, something spins, sometimes you get a reward.

Slot machine or Facebook app?


Many recreational poker players I encounter are well over 50, and more than competent at the game.


I think the parent comment was talking about video poker and slots, rather than the games without literally hardcoded success rates.


My grandma only seems to enjoy playing casino games on the ipad. Ive installed puzzle games and things like angrybirds. They never get played. I think she just plays simple casino game to keep herself occupied without putting a lot of effort. I like to think of its the same reason I listen to music to take my mind off things.


some casino games req. skill


Sure, but most of them are on slots.


Another great example where an open mind of any age will learn new things. My neighbour is in her 90's always seems to relish the challenge of learning new things, and it does seem to keep her brain sharp.




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