Wait, what?

I had planned on writing about an interesting book I read a few weeks ago, recommended by a friend at work.  Science of the mind, artificial intelligence… a lot of fascinating ideas.

But that will have to wait a week or two, because America’s unique brand of religiously motivated nuttiness keeps providing fresh material.  A couple of months ago it was the Tennessee legislature passing a bill defending teaching creationism in public schools.  Then just this week I learned that Louisiana fundamentalist schools are using the Loch Ness monster as evidence of present-day dinosaurs, contradicting the theory of evolution.  Or something like that.  From an Accelerated Christian Education biology textbook:

Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the “Loch Ness Monster” in Scotland? “Nessie” for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

But wait, it gets better.

The Republican Party of Texas conveniently provides a write-up of their 2012 platform on their website.  (Here is a direct link to their PDF.)  One particular item seems to have caught particular interest in the media, and is relevant here:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

To be fair, note that the capitalization is intended and important.  Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) is not just a generic concept, but an educational movement, whose validity and effectiveness is justifiably debatable.

But that’s about as far as the apologists can go.  Apparently critical thinking and challenging fixed beliefs are unacceptable modes of thought for some Texans.

And it doesn’t stop there.  I would quote more, but I don’t really have to.  Just open it up yourself, flip to a random page, and start reading.  I’m not kidding.  Search for “Israel,” for example.  Or “homosexuality.”  Or just stick to the entire “Educating Our Children” section, from which the above quote is taken.  There is plenty more where that came from: “Controversial Theories,” etc.

I think what I found shocking about this document is the lack of subtlety.  To borrow from comedian Bill Burr, real bigotry is usually quiet, subtle.  Behind closed doors.  At the dinner table, or maybe over drinks with a close friend at the bar.  But here, the filter has been removed.  This is overt, out-in-public, we-don’t-care-anymore closed-mindedness.

I have family in Texas.  With children in Texas schools.  Those children will be the next generation of adults, taking our place, so to speak, applying what they have learned in school, from their parents, and from each other, to living their lives and understanding the world.  What will that next generation be like, I wonder?


Python on Android

I have been experimenting with writing Android apps using Python.  Currently, there appear to be two contending ways to do this: Kivy, which looks promising and focuses on providing a clean, cross-platform way to manage multi-touch interfaces; and PGS4A, or Pygame Subset for Android, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a toolchain for packaging an application, written in Python using Pygame, into a single .apk file.

I will focus on PGS4A here.  I like what I have seen so far, and not just for my own recreation.  When tackling graphics in Python, students often gravitate toward Pygame on their own.  I like the idea of providing a relatively straightforward means of deploying students’ projects from desktop to smart phone, even if only as a “teaser” demonstration of this kind of portability.

The documentation on PGS4A is reasonably good, but I did encounter a few hiccups that are worth recording.  In particular, I wanted to see if I could get an app working that involved GUI widgets, which are not provided by Pygame out of the box.  Following is a hopefully more complete list of start-to-finish instructions, including how to use additional modules like PGU (Python Game Utilities), a Pygame-based GUI widget library.

Installing Python

  1. Install Python 2.7, adding C:/Python27 to your PATH environment variable.  (Where the operating system matters, I’ll focus on Windows here, because if you’re using Linux, then you already know what you’re doing, don’t you?)  Note that the link is to the site for Visual Python, which isn’t needed here, but is a handy one-stop shop that includes several useful modules, like Numpy, under the hood.
  2. Install Pygame 1.9.1.
  3. Install PGU 0.18 by unpacking the zip archive to a temporary folder, and running setup.py install.
  4. At this point, you should be able to develop and run Pygame applications on your desktop.

Installing Pygame Subset for Android

  1. Install the Java Development Kit (JDK), setting the environment variable JAVA_HOME to point to the JDK installation folder, and adding %JAVA_HOME%/bin to your PATH.
  2. Install PGS4A 0.9.4 by unpacking the zip archive to a permanent folder (e.g., C:/pgs4a), and running android.py installsdk.  For development purposes, I recommend creating a signing key during the installation process, to make the build/deploy/test cycle simpler (you don’t have to keep entering your keystore password).  You can always re-sign with a more secure key later.

Creating an app

At this point, you are ready to create an app.  In the pgs4a folder, create an app folder containing all required files.  At a minimum, this includes main.py, which must have a main() function.  The example on the PGS4A site works on Android, but is missing some housekeeping required to also work cleanly on your desktop.  Following is a modified example:

"""Example app using PGS4A (Pygame Subset for Android).

This example is taken from:

with the following modifications:

    1. Check for ev.type == pygame.QUIT.
    2. Call pygame.quit() explicitly.  This is required on Windows when
        running from IDLE.

import pygame

# Import the android module. If we can't import it, set it to None - this
# lets us test it, and check to see if we want android-specific behavior.
    import android
except ImportError:
    android = None

# Event constant.

# The FPS the game runs at.
FPS = 30

# Color constants.
RED = (255, 0, 0, 255)
GREEN = (0, 255, 0, 255)

def main():

    # Set the screen size.
    screen = pygame.display.set_mode((480, 800))

    # Map the back button to the escape key.
    if android:
        android.map_key(android.KEYCODE_BACK, pygame.K_ESCAPE)

    # Use a timer to control FPS.
    pygame.time.set_timer(TIMEREVENT, 1000 / FPS)

    # The color of the screen.
    color = RED

    while True:

        ev = pygame.event.wait()

        # Android-specific:
        if android:
            if android.check_pause():

        # Draw the screen based on the timer.
        if ev.type == TIMEREVENT:

        # When the touchscreen is pressed, change the color to green.
        elif ev.type == pygame.MOUSEBUTTONDOWN:
            color = GREEN

        # When it's released, change the color to RED.
        elif ev.type == pygame.MOUSEBUTTONUP:
            color = RED

        # When the user hits back, ESCAPE is sent. Handle it and end
        # the game.
        elif ev.type == pygame.KEYDOWN and ev.key == pygame.K_ESCAPE:
        elif ev.type == pygame.QUIT:

# This isn't run on Android.
if __name__ == "__main__":

In addition, you must include in the app folder any other dependent files or modules used by your program (e.g., fonts, sprite images, the PGU module, etc.).  For example, pygame.font.Font(None, font_size) does not work, since the Pygame default font is not explicitly included in PGS4A.

Which brings us to PGU.  You will need 3 things in your app folder to use PGU GUI widgets:

  1. ConfigParser.py.  This module is required by PGU, and is bundled with Python (in C:/Python27/Lib), but it’s not included in PGS4A, so you must put a copy in your app folder.
  2. The PGU module itself, copied from C:/Python27/Lib/site-packages/pgu to pgs4a/app/pgu.
  3. The GUI “look and feel” themes are in C:/Python27/share/pgu; copy these to pgs4a/app/share/pgu.

Finally, those GUI themes use some TARGA .tga image files, which PGS4A currently does not support.  Fortunately, this was easy to fix: just convert those .tga files to .png, and change the corresponding filename extensions in the config.txt files in pgs4a/app/share.

Once all of these code files are in place, from the pgs4a folder, run android.py configure app, followed by android.py build app release (or android.py build app release install if you have an emulator or physical device connected).  The resulting .apk file is in pgs4a/bin.