[Squeakland] Logo vs. Squeak

Alan Kay Alan.Kay at squeakland.org
Thu Aug 14 08:44:25 PDT 2003

HI Mikael --

Thank you very much for your email. I have several somewhat 
overlapping reactions to this.

First, I think it's great, and is a great approach in general -- 
especially for early learning stages and for explanations. The idea 
of using a comic book style has come up several times over the years, 
but we've never pursued it -- and it's terrific to see what you've 
done so far.

Second, my larger opinion about this is pretty similar to my larger 
opinion about the place and relationship of comics to more text-based 
writing. On the one hand, I think comics are an art form all of their 
own, and they can have quite a bit of evocative power. On the other 
hand, I think there is something special and unique about 
"disembodied text" and what is required to read it and produce one's 
own internal realizations of the ideas. So I'm always very interested 
in helping children learn the harder stuff because I think quite a 
bit of it is really good for them.

In the world of programming, we have more than one kind of goal for 
the endusers, and this definitely influences the kind of designs we 
put before them. Two of the most important partially overlapping 
goals are (a) as a productivity tool, and (b) as a tool to shape the 
learner's mind.

For (a) we would generally try to maximize quick success in a 
project, often by putting in lots of built-in functionality that can 
be hooked together to make the end result. For (b) say, for math 
learning, we might rather want to have fewer and more primitive 
building blocks and try to motivate harder, more difficult work and 
play from the learner because our main goal is not just getting a 
project done, but to effect a real and often qualitative change in 
the learner's mind.

These two areas overlap a bit, because a lot of the motivation in 
both areas for the enduser is "reasonable success for reasonable 
effort" -- so it would be ridiculous to make (b) painful, or to have 
stupid gratuitous difficulties that have nothing to do with the 
learning we're hoping for. But I do think that a lot of making a good 
(b) is about "finding good difficulties" whose surmounting will help 
the learner and motivating the learner to surmount them. And, in the 
end, the productivity tool approach in (a) starts to fall down 
because it is very difficult to provide all the plugin features (and 
very little deeper learning is happening while the features do cover 
the space).

An interesting example for me is Photoshop. It has a zillion features 
and is very useful. But, the user never learns anything about image 
filtering and is simply blocked if the filter they want isn't there. 
Mitchel Resnick and his group at MIT are doing a system for teenagers 
in Squeak (called Scratch) that tries to bridge this gap by e.g. 
combining the use of filters and the learning of the "computer math" 
of filters (by making their own filters from the start) as the kids 
make projects. In other words, the idea here is to keep the children 
"in the conversation" of the tools they are learning, not to "help 
them to death" by providing opaque features. This seems very good and 
important to me, and is an important part of how real computer 
literacy will eventually be learned.

These transitions are part of the ongoing conversations about how to 
help learners move from one comfort zone to a further higher level of 
sophistication. The relation of picture books for the very young to 
comic books and other picture and text books to mostly text books is 
a possible model to look at. The relation of your work to "computer 
math" seems quite important to me because, at least right now, the 
target for most children is a visual scene and objects that are 
usually manipulated kinesthetically. A lot of the power of the model 
is in symbology of one kind or another, and it is also helpful to 
have comments and other expressions in one's native language. This 
begs for a little more form and organization. I'm very interested to 
see what the next stage of these ideas will be.



At 9:27 AM +0200 8/14/03, Mikael Kindborg wrote:
>Hi all.
>Very interesting reading! Thanks for cc-ing me Ken.
>Below follows a few comments on topics mentioned in the discussion.
>At 07:29 2003-08-09 -0800, Alan Kay wrote:
>>Hi Ken --
>>There are definitely a lot of good ideas in ToonTalk -- and, as you 
>>know, I've been interested in various kinds of iconic programming 
>>for many years. I think some nifty combination of iconic and 
>>symbolic elements (yet to be discovered) will indeed be part of a 
>>much better authoring system for all.
>>Your knot example is a good one, but so is the fact that you used 
>>English to state your case below. I think you would agree that a 
>>combination of English and pictures and actual manipulatives would 
>>be even better, just as quite a bit of math is difficult to express 
>>only in pictures, though pictures and manipulatives are a great way 
>>to start off.
>As Ken mentioned I have been studying the use of comics for 
>programming. A key aspect
>of comics is that texts and pictures are tightly integrated. Text 
>and other symbolic
>signs are presented in the context of the pictures. This can create 
>a very direct experience
>for the reader/programmer who has become familiar with such visuals. 
>The pictures can
>show concrete objects and actions, texts and symbols can show more 
>abstract concecepts
>and actions.
>I have an example in my thesis that illustrates how an eToys type of 
>script using turtle
>graphics might be visualised as a comic strip:
>This example is just a mockup, but it shows how a symbolic 
>representation can be
>combined with an iconic representation (the rocket and the "ghost 
>image" showing
>the previous position of the rocket).
>I did a Java-based implementation of a programming tool that uses 
>comics. Here is
>an example from the thesis that illustrates what a program looks like:
>The top four frames a different looks for the rocket, the two strips 
>that follows are
>two of four events for steering the rocket (the system has no turtle 
>I am currently implementing a nicer version of the tool in Squeak (I 
>do regret using
>Java) that hopefully will include turtle graphics.
>One interesting finding of the thesis is that the visual language of 
>comics can
>can be used to overcome some of the limitations of graphical rewrite rules,
>while maintaining a direct mapping between the program and the runtime result.
>See e.g. pp. 288-294 in the theis, which is available at:
>At 19:28 2003-08-09 +0100, Ken Kahn wrote:
>>Hi Anindita and Alan -
>>You both responded to my message using the word "icon". I think that word
>>refers to a different set of ideas than those I'm trying to promote. Would
>>you say that in Super Mario Brothers that Mario is an icon? That the
>>mushrooms he eats are icons? I don't think that is how the players think
>>about things. They are in a virtual world and a mushroom is an object in
>>that world, not an icon that stands for something in the world. In games and
>>in ToonTalk there is a suspension of disbelief that doesn't happen in iconic
>It gets easier to understand the different properties of signs when 
>using "icon"
>in the semiotic sense, a sign that looks similar to that which it 
>signifies. (So
>called icons in user interfaces are sometimes symbolic signs, they 
>have an arbitrary
>relation to that which is signified.) A very interesting class of 
>signs are indexical signs.
>Such signs "points to" that which is signified. Using signs in the 
>direct context
>of pictures, such as in comics, is an example of how symbolic signs can
>take on indexical and even iconic qualities. A voice balloon, for 
>example, gives
>a very direct impression of speech for the reader who knows the signs system.
>Another example is motion markers such as speed lines.
>>Alan brings up a very important topic - is the ideal system multi-modal so
>>that users/programmers/players can switch between different ways of seeing
>>and thinking about pieces of their program? Would it be best if they could
>>easily switch between using pictures, English, demonstrations, and some
>>precise notation (like math or Logo) on a fine-grained basis? I'd love to
>>see more research on this but I'm not sure the result would be optimal. I'm
>>afraid one might lose the simplicity of mono-modal systems. And in the case
>>of ToonTalk I wouldn't want to introduce anything that interferes with the
>>fantasy of being in a virtual world.
>I think that the problem is that most programming languages are mono-modal.
>It is for example well known that one learns best when using several senses.
>In my view comics is an example of the theories of Piaget and Bruner at work,
>using a mix of symbolic, visual/iconc, and perhaps even "enactive" 
>signs (such as
>speed lines).
>At 19:55 2003-08-09 +0200, Andreas Raab wrote:
>>[Text deleted]
>>But here's something to look at which I think is pretty darn cool:
>>It's in German (sorry for that but it has been made for German kids ;) and
>>covers a lecture on "How to make Computer Games" which was given by my
>>friend and collegue Maic Masuch (who is professor for computer games at the
>>Univ. of Magdeburg) and who is very interested in scalable media
>>environments for his students. The system you see there is called JIVE and
>>has been done by Jana Hintze based on Croquet and Tweak.
>This looks very impressive. I especially like how the pictures of 
>the characters
>and the thought bubbles are integrated into the script. Somewhat like comics!
>I think that the kind of program representation shown here could be 
>developed further
>by using elements from comics. Do you (Andreas) think that the 
>people at Magdeburg
>would be interested in this? If so, could you hint me at who to contact?
>Best, Micke


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