Monday, May 28, 2007

Etoys lunar lander

The tutorial for the lunar lander is here (download pdf)

This involves creating a yspeed variable and then writing scripts for a motor (which is controlled by the inbuilt Etoys joystick - great feature, which will appeal to kids), for gravity and for the landing process (which works by colour under detection)

The final scripts look something like this (click on image for a closer look):

It's great fun manipulating the joystick to control the speed of descent.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

New types of games will be developed on the OLPC

New types of games will be developed on the One Laptop Per Child, exploiting its unique features

An OLPC Game Jam (game design and programming event) will be split into four development tracks centered around a particular hardware or end-usage aspect of the laptop:
  • Mesh Networking: Each XO has mesh networking capabilities that allow it to broadcast and connect to any laptop around it, allowing activities to easily be made collaborative.
  • Camera: Each XO has a videoconferencing-quality camera embedded to the side of its display.
  • Tablet Mode: The XO laptop has a distinct tablet mode where the screen can output high-resolution b/w graphics in sunlight conditions and features built in game-pad like buttons. This mode might lend itself to specific styles of play including one involving real-world activity beyond a confined space.
  • Malleable Games for Learning: A key consideration of the OLPC effort is certainly learning. However, more importantly it is hoped that kids can use the laptops to create their own games and experiment deeply with learning games by having access to modify and change them as part of a learning process. This track will elicit games that speak to this ideal.
"There aren't too many games right now that take advantage of mesh style networking," said Klein, referring to the XO's ability to use Wi-Fi to communicate with other users up to a kilometer away, and display them as icons on its Sugar interface. "There are networked games, sure, but they aren't sensitive to the ability to display the presence of other users depending on where they are in relation to you, or to pop up on the screen when they are close enough."
More information at hackronym and yahoo news

Saturday, May 26, 2007

my generation

Check out The Zimmers, my generation (you tube)
People try to put us d-down (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Just because we get around (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby
Documentary-maker Tim Samuels travelled all over Britain recruiting isolated and lonely old people. The finale of the show is this group of lonely old people coming together to form a rock troupe and trying to get into the pop charts.
- the zimmers (wikipedia)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Negroponte CBS interview

CBS 60 Minutes has run a detailed interview with Nicholas Negroponte (including his critics / competitors such as Wayan Vota / Intel) about the One Laptop Per Child Project. Worth watching the online video.

Negroponte started on this pathway by founding a school in Cambodia in 1999, putting in a satellite dish and generators. Then they gave the children laptops. Instantly, school became a lot more popular.

"The first English word of every child in that village was 'Google'," he says. "The village has no electricity, no telephone, no television. And the children take laptops home that are connected broadband to the Internet."

When they take the laptops home, the kids often teach the whole family how to use it. Negroponte says the families loved the computers because, in a village with no electricity, it was the brightest light source in the house.

Another relevant fact from the interview - Fifty per cent of the children in Pakistan and Nigeria are not in school. OLPC can provide some sort of education for these children.

CEGSA Conference, July 2007

I've put forward two presentations and one workshop for the Computers in Education, South Australia Conference (CEGSA), 19-20 July, 2007. Not yet approved.

Course Title: Alan Kay's educational vision (presentation)

Description: Alan Kay, winner of the 2004 Turing award, invented the GUI and the first object orientated programming language, Smalltalk. His educational vision, developed over 30 years, has not received as much attention but is just as interesting. This presentation will describe that vision.

Course Title: One Laptop Per Child (presentation)

Description: The One Laptop Per Child project plans to release millions of cheap laptops to developing countries over the next few years. This presentation will discuss the hardware, software and educational goals of the OLPC Project.

Course Title: Etoys / Squeak (workshop)

Software and Version: Squeak 3.9

Audience: Years 3-12

Description: Etoys / Squeak is a powerful drag and drop programming language which has been included on the one laptop per child project. This session will demonstrate how to program in Etoys.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

alan kay's educational vision

Tracing the Dynabook: A Study of Technocultural Transformations John W Maxwell
Ch 4. Alan Kay's Educational Vision

John Maxwell has read all of Alan Kay's writings and claims to have summed up his educational vision in six main points. Here are some rough notes. Best to read his dissertation of course.

1. Computers for Children

Alan Kay was strongly influenced by Seymour Papert. I've written extensively about Papert elsewhere (Papert, ISDP, Behaviourism, Invitation) and won't go over that ground again here.

Alan Kay set out to design a personal meta medium for children. This goal led to a shift in his thinking about user interface.

Rather than access to functionality, a child-centred user interface would be an environment in which the users learn by doing.

2. Systems Design

The problem with both a user centred approach to design and a designer centred approach is that both assume that we know in advance what the system will be like. So, the starting point for designing a children's machine ought to acknowledge ignorance, that we don't know the endpoint.

How do we build a system that can grow into something yet unforseen by either its users or designers?

It ought to be more like paper or clay than a finished device like a car or a TV.

One metaphor here is cell biology. One kind of building block which can differentiate into all the needed building blocks. You need an evolutionary approach.

Late binding (Etoys, References) allows a fluid approach to change, the opposite of hard wired instrumentalism.

3. Smalltalk

(Alan Kay invented the first object orientated programming language, Smalltalk)

Smalltalk is better described as a communication medium rather than a programming language. The Smalltalk environment is more important than the language.

It has a recursive design. Why divide a computer into weaker things such as data structures and procedures? Instead why not divide it up into little computers?

The foundational premises of Smalltalk are:
  • everything is an object
  • objects send and receive messages
  • objects have their own memory
  • every object is an instance of a class
  • the class holds the shared behaviour of its instances
  • to evaluate a program list control is passed to the first object and the remainder is treated as its message

Alan Kay regrets the terminology, object orientated, thinking later that message orientated would have expressed it better

There is not a clear dividing line between "objects" and "actors". Both are different aspects of the notion of process.

The ethic of mutability: Every component of the system is open to be explored, investigated, modified, built upon. The distinction between tool and medium is blurred.

4. Doing with Images makes Symbols

Jerome Bruner (1960s) identified three mentalities: enactive (kinesthenic), iconic and symbolic (abstraction)

User interface design should integrate these modes. With Etoys the user does things with images (play) and gradually the symbolic meaning emerges.

A study of mathematicians (Hadamard, 1954) found that most of them think in terms of imagery and a significant number reported a kinesthenic basis to their thinking. This was more important than their abstract symbolic thinking

5. Narrative, argumentation and systems thinking

A significant thing about stories is whether they are good, not whether they are completely consistent internally or externally, they may contradict other stories.

Since the 17th Century the most influential Western cultural expressions have been arguments, not narratives:
  • democracy
  • science
  • technology
  • health care
Arguments are chains of logical assertions, this mode of discourse originated with Francois Viete in the 16th Century and was further developed by Rene Descartes

More recent forms of argumentation defy linear representation:
  • chaos theory
  • complex systems
  • simulation modelling
Only a tiny fraction of people are fluent in these forms of communication. Children are wired for story telling but not for logic and systems theory. The computer as a medium is capable of simulating any descriptive model. Simulation is more effective learning than a maths equation and made possible through the computer. So far, this has worked for science, but not for school.

6. What is literacy?

Martin Luther considered teaching Latin to Germans. But then he opted to restructure German so that it could handle philosophical and religious discourse.

Similarly, today, we are faced with the alternative of mass media dumbing us down or using computers in powerful ways

For many, today, print has failed as a carrier of important ideas. Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death has argued that as a society we are incapable of dealing with complexity.

Literacy is powerful ideas. The "haves" are those who can discern these powerful ideas.

to circle
repeat 90[fd 1 rt 4]

Logo teaches calculus but still many teachers just don't get it

How can children have an embedded cultural experience that encourages learning logic and systems theory? The Montessori approach is free choice and self development of preferred objects to think with.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

"computers in education" mush

Tracing the Dynabook: A Study of Technocultural Transformations John W Maxwell (pp. 10-19)

"Computers in Education"

Bland phrase, the meaning of which is highly contested. "Educational computing" currently makes no sense. There is no guiding rationale or set of common principles that we can agree with or critique. It is all mush.

Conventionally, the computing world consists of experts and end users, producers and consumers. These are roles that many teachers accept far to readily.

Some radicals have seen the computer as a transformative agent and have attempted to challenge these conventional roles. For example, Papert saw logo as a means to put advanced ideas into the hands of unsophisticated users. This message had some influence for a few years but slowly sank almost without trace. Alan Kay's Dynabook idea was also a radical break from the conventional division of labour but one that had less penetration than Papert's.

Education is complicit in adopting the conventional view and marginalising the radical view. In these ways:
  • Uncritical acceptance of and buy into industry originated solutions and campaigns which disempower everyone - students, teachers, schools. Office productivity software, the proprietary way.
  • Miracle worker discourse. This brilliant teacher, rare individual, can work miracles with the computer. Meaning that most teachers can't.
  • Learning objects or distance education curricula. Knowledge and authority is vested with the publisher or the information source.
  • Critical educational thinking is not applied to the basic question, "What is the computer for?" It's either there to achieve a particular goal which existed in the curriculum before the computer existed. Or, technology has an innate progressive, or sinister, logic of its own.
We lack any clear sense of what computers might be good for. Maxwell's dissertation presents a historical solution to this problem by tracing the Dynabook and it's main author's (Alan Kay) thinking over a 40 year period. He gives us a history of powerful ideas, rather than "where do you want to go today"

Friday, May 18, 2007

meeting Pierre-André Dreyfuss

Pierre-André Dreyfuss wrote to me while holidaying in Australia and with the help of lucychili we organised a meeting with him last Wednesday in Adelaide.

He is short, with greying hair and black bushy eyebrows

Pierre-André has an intensive background in logo, microworlds, toontalk, etoys / squeak and loves to talk about programs he has done in them. He is a very committed and dedicated educator.

It was fairly amazing meeting someone from another country whose programming software passions were pretty much parallel to my own.

Pierre-André is Swiss and his preferred language is French. It was difficult to understand the detail of some of the conversation due to his strong accent, although his English vocabulary is quite good. eg. see this post about toontalk and etoys to the squeakland forum

He is the author of vtoys, a visual drag and drop program designed to make etoys more accessible to younger and disadvantaged students. Pierre-André asked us for help in an English translation. My friend Paul has done some work already by taking the documentation from the French language site and running it through google translate. The English output is fairly good,

Here is a v-toys page in French, translated into English using google translate.

Update: I have updated the translation in English URL, as Tony pointed out the earlier one was temporary. You have to quickly grab the URL while google translate is translating. Thanks Paul.

Monday, May 14, 2007

community user interface

Everything changes.

So it's not logical that the human computer user interface (UI) will always be based on a desktop metaphor of windows, icons, menus and pointers (WIMP). Something better will come along.

Maybe something better has come along. Sugar UI, as featured on the OLPC

In Sugar the focus is on a community UI, rather than a desktop UI. This makes a lot of sense because the wirless mesh network is a central feature of the OLPC:

  • Neighbourhood replaces Desktop
  • Frame replaces Menubar

and there are other changes:
  • Journal replaces a hierarchical file system
  • Activities replace applications
  • Objects replace files

Follow this link for a complete description of the OLPC Human Interface Guidelines

Some related links:
The Sugar UI
The Sugar UI featured in the OLPC appears to finally break from the well worn conventions of Windows and MacOS

File Systems Aren't a Feature
Why the file system should be completely eliminated

Video of the OLPC UI

The purpose of this site is to support the exchange of ideas about next-generation user interfaces, focusing on approaches that go beyond the Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointing Device (WIMP) method on which most current user interfaces are based

Jensen Harris
This blog is all about the new user interface we've been working on for Office 2007. This new version does away with menus and toolbars and replaces them with new paradigms such as the Ribbon, Contextual Tabs, and Galleries (MS insider view)

the future

According to Charlie (Shaping the Future), in the future:
  • With universal GPS, it will be impossible to become lost
  • Everyone will be able to keep a complete video recording of their whole life. "Sixty kilograms (of diamond) can store a lifelog for the entire human species for a century." The study of history will no longer be gappy. Total history.
  • All our objects will be on the internet, eg. teaspoons, lightbulbs, and friendly to us
  • Privacy will be an alien concept. You can see the beginning of this in the way that young people, in particular, reveal all sorts of details about their lives on line.
I think the inevitable loss of privacy there will fuel a political movement for a fundamentally different sort of non intrusive government or state apparatus. It's more sensible to fight for this than to throw away your mobile and go and live in a forest or a desert. That would be analogous to fighting for the right enjoyed by our ancestors, never to travel more than a few miles from their village.

See also, Four funerals and a wedding

Sunday, May 13, 2007

why the OLPC may sell in the USA

Does Intel Fear $100 laptops? (download this pdf to read this Fortune article in full)

OLPC may sell in the USA to achieve the economies of scale needed to bring the price down to $100 by 2008. The current price of the OLPC is $176.

This arises from competition from Intel which is now selling its Classmate PC for $180 in the same countries where governments have expressed interest in the OLPC

This threatens to undermines the economies of scale required to bring down the price of the OLPC to $100.

"We need to trigger a supply chain for three million units to get started," Negroponte says, "and need a few large agreements to kick it off. I just cannot do 300 deals of 10,000 each."

By selling the OLPC in the USA where interest is very high the OLPC project will be able to kick off these economies of scale. This will also attract more programmers to the project

It's a strategy game between Negroponte who wants to help the poor and Intel who wants to make money and wreck the OLPC project in the process

It seems to me, therefore, unlikely that the OLPC will be offered for sale in Australia shortly because of our low population. However, I believe that special submission could be made to sell the laptop to aboriginal communities, who have long lived in third world conditions.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

return to hospital

I thought I was making a good recovery from a mysterious massive bleed following a prostate biopsy

However, a few days later, due to sore ribs when I lay down to sleep I checked myself back into hospital, last Sunday morning.

I have been in hospital since then receiving more tests, analysis and treatment

The doctors are now saying that I have a couple of small blood clots in my lungs (pulmonary embolism) and a mass on my left kidney which looks like a cancer.

My blood has been thinned (currently using subcutaneous self injecting clexane) to control the clotting and I’m due for a nephrectomy (kidney removal) in 6 weeks time

Many thanks to visitors, those who phoned and the expertise of QEH staff

With luck I should be able to resume a normal life after that. I’m feeling strong.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

unexpected hospital stay

I've been AWOL since last Thursday, in hospital.

I checked in for a routine test (prostrate biopsy) and something went dramatically wrong. I became the one in a thousand statistic that is mentioned when these tests are suggested and which you think will never happen to you.

I was bleeding uncontrollably for many hours and needed a blood transfusion and a couple of operations to fix it.

Many thanks to Queen Elizabeth Hospital staff for their expertise and help. And to friends who visited and left phone messages.

I'm continually amazed by our progress in medical knowledge. I feel I'm on the road to a full recovery.

I was thinking of creating a separate blog to discuss some men's health issues in more detail. Will keep this entry short though.