[Edu-sig] Accessibility to non CS types?

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Tue Jun 6 05:07:19 CEST 2006

On 6/5/06, Paul D. Fernhout <pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:

> Even if you don't want to watch the entire 90 minutes, there is a textual
> description there of what is presented.

Yes, Alan Kay circled that video at our summit meeting, Kim too.  I
saw Guido take a peak at the Google version (as did I):

> 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. :-)

I noticed a tendency of some at our meeting to want to hide the gory
details of whatever behind the scenes state management software the
pros have to use, to create these friendly kindergartens.  They didn't
seem to want us to tour "the tunnels under Disney world" e.g. why
would we ever talk about the various Linux supported file systems.
Isn't that antithetical to our goal, of blissful user-independence
from the underpinnings?

But that's not MY goal.  I'm not interested in insulating people
beyond a certain level.  Make playgrounds to get 'em started, but by
all means start conducting tours of the dark side as they mature.
It's the same thing we should be doing around the fast food industry.
Don't paint over the slaughter houses with a lot of Ronald McDonald
imagery.  Show the whole industry in the bright light of day.  Not
incessantly, not while we're eating, but make sure books like 'Chew on
This' don't get purged from the library.  Let those kids who want to
look behind the scenes do so.  Otherwise all this "self-discovery"
rhetoric is just empty BS.

> 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

For the sake of argument, let's so no.  Coming up with these brilliant
ideas was the relatively easy part.  Implementing them to the point of
talking "one laptop per child" still only a dream, was much harder.
Steve Jobs had to dive in.  A lot more talent than just Alan Kay's was
required.  And *still* we see a lot of room for improvement.  There's
no reason to gloat, I agree.

> 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).

If met a lot of chordist fans over the years.  I think when it comes
to personal interface devices, it's a rather personal decision.  Which
keyboard, which kind of mouse.  I'll state preferences if asked
(especially if we're setting up equipment I'm going to use), but I
don't imagine myself prescribing for everyone else, saying thou shalt
master the trackball or thumb thingy or whatever.  Recommendations and
personal testimony are welcome (like in commercial advertising),
edicts from on high are not.

> 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:
>    http://www.bootstrap.org/dkr/discussion/0215.html
> (I have long since taken down the experimental Zope site linked there,
> though.)

I don't think Zope is a good first exposure to Python code.  Too
complicated under the hood, too much going on that's from the specific
knowledge domain (object databases and web publishing).  This isn't to
diss Zope as a product, nor Plone atop CMF.  I've partially overlapped
Plone and Zope world quite a bit -- joined a Plone sprint with Alan
Runyan and Andy McCay among others, that time in Vancouver BC.

> 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

I have lots of good things to say about Java in my Saturday Academy
classes.  I don't appreciate it when language bigots say they're
promoting Python, when all that means is talking cheap shots at other
languages (which isn't to say everything about Java is equally

> P.P.S. (*) well, this is ignoring Ivan Sutherland's work on Sketchpad,
>    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Sutherland
> or Vannevar Bush's Memex concept,

I never ignore Memex -- many citations to that Atlantic Monthly
article over the years (I learned about it from Ted Nelson).

>    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memex

>    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/194507/bush

Right, that one.  I was blathering about hypertext in the early 1980s as well.

> 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. :-)

A labor of love.  Seems kind of solipsistic though, which is why I'm
glad you've attracted some fans.  That's what edu-sig is good for I


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