Joe the Box Squeaks

Mark Guzdial guzdial at
Tue Mar 31 21:28:24 UTC 1998

Longtime Smalltalk users and fans may recall the Sept. '77 Scientific
American in which Alan Kay introduced "Joe the Box" to the world, in
"Microelectronics and the Personal Computer".  Joe is a graphical box which
can be grown, tilted, and animated. Joe is actually older than 1977 -- he
appears in my tattered and multiply-photocopied "Smalltalk-72 Instruction
Manual," which I think makes him the oldest piece of Smalltalk curriculum.

Since I've decided to focus on graphics and UI in my Squeak-using class
this quarter, Joe was the perfect intro to objects and drawing.  So, I put
together a small Joe the Box world and used it in class today -- a 25+ year
old piece of curriculum, and it really seemed to work well!  My lecture
notes and the download link are at  (I
understand that LearningWorks includes a version of Joe the Box, too, but I
haven't been able to get it to run on my PowerMac :-(

It's really interesting to read over Alan's '77 article and compare the
predictions to today.  If you think of spreadsheets as a kind of
"simulation" and make similar kinds of swaps, the following paragraph seems
to be pretty descriptive of modern day:

  Ideally the personal computer will be designed in such a way
  that people of all ages and walks of life can mold and channel its
  power to their own needs. Architects should be able to simulate
  three-dimensional space in order to reflect on and modify
  their current designs. Physicians should be able to store and
  organize a large quantity of information about their
  patients, enabling them to perceive significant relations
  that would otherwise be imperceptible. Composers should be
  able to hear a composition as they are composing it, notably if
  it is too complex for them to play. Businessmen should have an
  active briefcase that contains a working simulation of their
  company. Educators should be able to implement their own
  version of a Socratic dialogue with dynamic simulation and
  graphic animation. Homemakers should be able to store and
  manipulate records, accounts, budgets, recipes, and
  reminders. Children should have an active learning tool that
  gives them ready access to large stores of knowledge in ways
  that are not possible with mediums such as books.

The weakest match is probably to the "Educators" and "active learning tool"
predictions, which is what makes educational technology an interesting
field to be in...


Mark Guzdial : Georgia Tech : College of Computing : Atlanta, GA 30332-0280
(404) 894-5618 : Fax (404) 894-0673 : guzdial at

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