[Edu-sig] Entering Squeakland

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Fri Mar 10 19:06:01 CET 2006

> I think you owe it to yourself, and perhaps to us, to understand  and
> express why Squeak does not represent the perfect environment for pursuing
> the kind of educational ideas that you tend to express. If it in fact does
> not.

In fact I'm better at using Python to express what I want to express,
about mathematics.  Hence my Pythonic Mathematics, my OSCON talks
about it, my trip to Sweden to explain it and so forth.  I was simply
never was a SmallTalk guy, much though I treasure OO.

What I see in Squeakland is a branch point to entirely other genres of
experience, but with OO in common, plus a willingness to control
puppets (assets I'm hoping to add, via Mono/.NET, to Python's
capabilities -- "giving hands to the snake" we might call it (a
metaphor for evolution, "snake" being the generic spinal chord in some

> My own concerns start exactly there - with the word "environment".
> My understanding is that many conclude that too much "environment" is what
> doomed Smalltalk to a  minor role in today's software world.

Yes, there's lots to say about this (most of it not by me).  In
SmallTalk what you save is "the image" -- which is the world as you've
massaged it and messaged it up until now.  You pass whole worlds
around, more than fragments thereof.  Context becomes everything.

And obviously, at some extreme, this becomes very impractical.

Most of us evolve our "working environment" in our heads so to speak,
crafting a personal and productive style, a mountain of habits,
practices, familiar routines.  But what we share with others is minus
most of that, just a *piece* of the action.  In Python, we ship
modules or .py files.  In Java, we ship beans (among other products).

My guess is SmallTalk wizards long ago added the atomism people were
missing, but by that time, the other language designers had already
absorbed the OO paradigm, and were reimplementing it in C (to give us
C++, Java, C#) and in Python.

To barrel ahead in the commercial sector, people wanted something
familiar.  Back when OO got started, in like the 1960 and 70s,
Smalltalk was way too Xerox Park, using odd-ball  GUI and mouse ideas
(expensive!) -- those would become standard on the PC only later, by
way of the Mac.

> And respect for children starts, I think, with not considering them any
> different from oneself on these kinds of issues.  I am actually very
> disappointed that - according to what you are saying - Canonical sees Squeak
> as having a central role to play in education for children.

Think of it this way:

You live in an environment (traffic, kitchen sink) and need to train
your thinking from within the OO paradigm.  "I am a factory" you say,
dressing for work.  Or "I am an Amtrak train, what are my properties
and methods?" (shades of Walt Whitman).  Then you go out there and
live your life -- in Squeakland if you're a mouse in Alan Kay's mind.

Or maybe this way:

Play Uru for awhile, on a fast, solid, Windows computer (no, not an
oxymoron, I'm tired of hearing that joke).  Now *there's* an
environment.  Is it wrong to expose children to such art?  Tara and I
venture in Uru together, or she goes with her same-age friends.  I
bought it for her as a gift.  In my scenario, in my lifestyle, a game
like Uru has the status of a Mona Lisa or Rembrandt.  It's only
regional prejudice that people think anything named Cyan, in Spokane,
Washington, could produce something as memorable.

Now, am I saying the mostly flat Squeak environment is as surreal and
immersive as Uru's.? Not exactly.  But it gives you access to a
wheelworks, the code piles, behind all this environmental
interactivity.  You see the tunnels under Disneyworld.

So again this is a useful metaphor, as a kid grows up in a science,
say a medical one.

> Python is glue, a citizen of the larger software world, and proficiency in
> it helps make one a better, more productive and potentially creative citizen
> of the world. Squeak is too much its own world.  If Canonical mission is to
> educate better world citizens, I think it is going off in the wrong
> direction here.
> Art

Better ability to slip *between* worlds -- to hop on a jet in LA, to
show up in Tokyo.  I'm hoping to push cars to eat more vegetables
(biodiesel) so we have more Arabica Gold left over for jets.  I want
kids to travel, Arabic speaking ones as much as any. Squeakers all.

Squeakland typifies a genre of literature (I'll call it that) in which
one becomes willfully lost in a vast matrix, the creation of other
minds (we hope not too sick and twisted).  More like reading a novel
or watching science fiction or something.

It's wonderful that we're able to build things like this.

Another example: http://www.activeworlds.com/

Yes, *you* might hate such stuff, but we could *not* take all this
away from children on general policy, once they've become addicted. 
There's simply too much precedent for healthy development in this
direction, like in the form of fairy tales and mythology.

Or see:


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