I want to document but I need to learn first!

Jerry Balzano gjbalzano at ucsd.edu
Mon Mar 10 18:44:19 PST 2003


>... I've been using Squeak since 2.7 and I have never come across any
>programming language or system that can humiliate me quite as thoroughly
>as Squeak does.
>... It is PAINFUL to feel stupid and dumb and helpless when you are used
>to feeling clever and competent, especially when the language itself
>is so simple.
>		R. O'Keefe, 2/13/03
> --------------------
>Hello Rachel
>Nine days ago you wrote the interesting mail below
>to the Squeaklist.
>May I ask you what are your expections for the documentation
>team to come up with?
>There are various things which are beeing worked on now.
>But we need "customers" like you. What are your interests in
>doing with Squeak?
>		H. Hirzel, 2/19/03
> --------------------

I am hoping this message will not make a persona non grata on the Squeakdev
list, or make me go squeaking back to my little lurker hole in the wall ...
but as a competent programmer in many languages (and around Squeak since
*before* 2.7), I nonetheless feel the way R. O'Keefe does, *in spades*. 
And as for Rachel, cited in H. Hirzel's epigraph/email, she, like so many
newbies to the squeaklist, appears to be long gone.  I did begin, awhile
ago, doing a kind of ethnography-of-disappearing-squeak-newbies, tracing
their initial enthusiastic postings, the helpful replies (always, always
including Ned Konz, bless you sir), the dreadfully high percentage of cases
in which this initial enthusiasm would fade away ... but it was too
depressing, and to what end?

I am not here to trash Squeak -- far from it!  I have been around so long,
on and off, because I truly do believe, on the one hand, that herein lies a
potentially *great* environment for newbies to programming.  As a teacher
of teachers and an advocate of programming, this gets me very excited, as
you can imagine.  (And the record 2005 posts to squeak-dev in Feb 2003 was
due in no small part to a sudden upsurge in the pedaogical consciousness of
the list...also exciting...less so recently...)  But I think that if the
Squeak insiders really believe that "kids in fifth grade are able to master
etoys" (A. Raab, 2/10/03) without one or more Squeak insiders hovering
close by, they are sadly mistaken!  (This is similar to a problem a fellow
named Papert had vis a vis the "learnability" of Logo in the late 70's -
early 80's....)

"So why should we even listen to this guy?"  ("Maybe he really can't even
program his way out of a paper bag...") Well, maybe some of you have
stopped already.  I've made many false starts in Squeak, and the
responsiveness of Ned Konz, Karl Ramberg, and Stephane Ducasse (to name a
few) to my previous postings is part of what keeps me around ... now I'm
responding, instead of Rachel, to Hannes Hirzel's request.

>But we need "customers" like you. What are your interests in
>doing with Squeak?

***I want to see -- and show others -- a viable learning path through etoys
to Morphic-Squeak proper.***

I have some "field notes" from an attempt I made to show etoys to
teachers-to-be in UCSD's Teacher Education Program that I would love to
share with people on this list.  Some of the contents border on painful,
but if I could only answer all *their* questions (and remember, if I am
twice-, these teachers are three-times-removed from Squeak-insiderness), I
would be able to document some of the projects on Alan's "Partial list of
Etoy Projects" -- posted to Squeakland 2/11/03 (but not SqueakDev!).  Get a
load of these (the total "partial" list was almost 40 lines long):

Gradient following - Salmon and Clownfish
Tree Growing
Multiple Mentalities
Grey Walter Conditioned Response Learning
Circuit Models
Anyone who could create projects like these in any programmable medium, I'd
say, would have a serious leg up on "real" programming by anyone's
hard-nosed definition of that elusive (and ever-changing) concept.  My
students (same ones as above) wrote programs in NetLogo, Microworlds (a
descendant of Logo), and Stagecast Creator, including a "Turtle Epidemic"
model in NetLogo for which I wrote the tutorial (see
http://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/resources.shtml) and a "Food Fight"
game in Stagecast Creator, for which I'd love to be able to write the
"etoys tutorial", if I could only see how to do several simple things in
Etoys, for example
  * have an agent (smiley) create another agent (burger) in the space next
to him
  * have an agent (smiley) send a message to a counter agent (count down)
each time he "uses up" a burger, and another message to a counter-scorer
agent (count up) each time one of his burgers hits his opponent
...just to name two.

So, speaking of "viable learning paths", does anyone have a suggestion for
one for *me*?  Who wants to respond to all the questions my
teacher-students raised in my field notes?  Who wants to help me complete
all the projects on Alan's list?

If *I* can't figure out how to do this stuff on my own, there's no way any
of the teachers I teach -- even after they've been thoroughly
Balzano-indoctrinated to the virtues of programming and completed my
more-rigorous-than-99%-of-other-teacher-ed-computer-courses course -- will
be able to figure it out either.

Respectfully submitted,
Jerry Balzano

Dr. Gerald J. Balzano
Teacher Education Program
Dept of Music
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
Cognitive Science Program
UC San Diego
La Jolla, CA 92093
(619) 822-0092
gjbalzano at ucsd.edu
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