[Edu-sig] Accessibility to non CS types?

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Tue Jun 6 03:45:28 CEST 2006

kirby urner wrote:
> I also admire many of the constructivists you mention. [snip]

Wow, you sure get around, Kirby! :-)

By the way, in my post on sources, I forgot to mention "Doug Engelbart", 
of course. His "mother of all demos" is still driving much of computing 
R&D today (including, perhaps, a lot of Alan Kay's work). You can see the 
original demo at:
Even if you don't want to watch the entire 90 minutes, there is a textual 
description there of what is presented.

Perhaps making computers "accessible" to non CS types should involve 
teaching them more of the history of computing, i.e. how far we have *not* 
come. :-)

If one taught that, one would want to include Alan Kay's comments (linked 
by Francois in another thread)
on how hardly anybody wants to use post 1960s language ideas. :-)
(Although, even in the 1960s, there was Lisp with first class functions, 
which mainstream Java still lacks. :-)

While I'd rather have my three screen Debian GNU/Linux box and internet of 
today than his specific 1960s technology, clearly what Doug Engelbart's 
team demonstrated was such a quantum leap from what went before(*) that it 
really is barely matched in some ways by today's consumer systems, at 
least in spirit almost forty years later -- as around 1968 he demonstrated 
real-time collaborative audio and video conferencing and editing over a 
network, a dynamic extendable language, hypertext, graphics, the mouse, a 
chord keyboard, and so on. Have we really come that much further in four 
decades conceptually? In terms of chord keyboard use, for example, we're 
still behind his demo (his argument was learning to chord keys was a good 
investment for a professional, as beyond the improved speed, you could 
also mouse with one hand and chord text with the other).

I did try to get Doug's newer effort to consider doing the next version in 
Python (as part of his "Unfinished Revolution II" Stanford course), as 
well as try to hook them up with the Zope people directly, but I had 
trouble prying them away from the grip of Sun's Java. :-) See for example:
(I have long since taken down the experimental Zope site linked there, 

Note: while I thought using Java six years ago was not a very good idea 
because at that time, beyond the language's clutter and limitations, the 
JVM was also an unstable "write once, debug everywhere" solution with 
limited libraries, now, six years later, while I still think Java remains 
a problematical language syntactically, I think the JVM itself is a 
reasonable deployment vehicle in many situations (i.e. for Jython 
applications) and the Java libraries themselves have finally gotten most 
of the bugs out and there are some fairly good free versions of JVMs (e.g. 
Kaffe) and supporting libraries (e.g. GNU Classpath).

--Paul Fernhout

P.S. I should also mentioned Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, from 
their late 1960s book:

P.P.S. (*) well, this is ignoring Ivan Sutherland's work on Sketchpad,
or Vannevar Bush's Memex concept,
which both informed Doug Engelbert & colleagues' work (and which
J.R. Licklider funded, and even relates to Theodore Sturgeon's 1950s 
writings). Vannevar Bush's 1940s Memex idea really seems like the origin 
of many of these ideas.
By the way, here is a Python version of a Memex-like system I wrote a 
while back (included in a larger Python package):
The implementation is in the included sample file "tkPointrelMemex.py".
It is mentioned by me here with some usability tips:
Oh, and that article reminds me I did a Jython version of Memex too, see:
which has a screen shot and links to the code here:
I guess I'm kind of working my way through the history of computing with 
Python. :-) First Memex, now sort-of a nod towards Smalltalk (and Self) 
with PataPata, and then maybe, someday, Augment. :-)

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