[Squeakland] Logo vs. Squeak

Ken Kahn kenkahn at toontalk.com
Sat Aug 9 14:08:56 PDT 2003

Alan Kay wrote:
> Just a pause for a thought here ... Neither the current Squeak syntax
> nor the Logo syntaxes are ideal for children and other end users. We
> really should be thinking about what improvements in UI should be
> made to help them. Andreas Raab has pointed out that the syntax of a
> programming language is actually part of its user interface -- and I
> think this is a really important observation. If we look at the
> difficulties of having children understand (say) parameter passing in
> Logo, we should be thinking about how it should look.

I'd like to urge that people consider radical alternatives to textual
syntaxes. Syntaxes based upon diagrams or pictures have had limited success
either because they weren't very general or, despite being visual, they were
too abstract and difficult for children and other end users. But there are
alternatives to text (even with tiles) and to pictures. My ToonTalk
(www.toontalk.com) is an example. The equivalent of a Squeak method in
ToonTalk are the actions you train a robot to take in a game-like animated
world. Syntax isn't a good way to think about such things. What is the
syntax of showing someone how to tie a know for example?

Programs in any language are created, composed, edited, debugged, and
studied (typically by reading the source code). ToonTalk currently excels in
creation, debugging, and composition and is very weak for editing. And
rather than study the source of ToonTalk program you can watch it to
understand what it does. The shortcoming with editing and studying programs
can perhaps be overcome - e.g. Mikael Kindborg's work on comic strip
programming (http://www.ida.liu.se/~mikki/comics/index.html).

Another open question is whether a good animated syntax can be found for all
computation models.

I think the fundamental idea underlying ToonTalk is that programming can be
made very concrete without giving up any expressive generality. For young
children this concreteness is especially important. In ToonTalk parameter
passing isn't difficult - it is just giving boxes full of stuff to birds or
robots. Even 4 year olds are able to understand and accomplish a lot - see
Leonel Morgado's thesis-in-progress - e.g.



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