[Squeakland] Logo vs. Squeak

Alan Kay Alan.Kay at squeakland.org
Fri Aug 15 12:26:00 PDT 2003

Hi Folks --

Mitchel Resnick just showed me "Howtoons". Check this stuff out, it's 
really terrific!





At 7:44 AM -0800 8/14/03, Alan Kay wrote:
>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 graphics).
>>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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