Fwd: Re: I want to document but I need to learn first!

Christopher Sawtell csawtell at paradise.net.nz
Thu Mar 13 14:14:03 PST 2003

----------  Forwarded Message  ----------

Subject: Re: I want to document but I need to learn first!
Date: Thu, 13 Mar 2003 09:47
From: Christopher Sawtell <csawtell at paradise.net.nz>
To: Kim Rose <Kim.Rose at viewpointsresearch.org>

On Thu, 13 Mar 2003 05:50, you wrote:
> Hi, Christopher -
> Thanks for your comments -- It's a small comment in a way, but, I
> should point out that both the Squeak and Squeakland websites are
> ".orgs" not ".coms".

Oh?? Why does the address resolve then?? See my command line;-

chris at liberty chris $ host www.squeakland.com
www.squeakland.com has address

> This was done for explicit reasons and *should*
> inform visitors that we are not a commerical site or product driven.

I suspect that the reason the .com address is working is because the browsers
are all programmed to convert a single word into a fully qualified name in
the .com domain. Thus putting "Squeakland" in the location window of a
browser will work. It's nice but gives users the completely wrong impression
unless the forwarding to the .org page is done non-transparently.

> Your suggestion to emphasize the experimental nature/work in progress
> is a good one...we felt we had made that point, but perhaps not.  We
> are beginning to work on a site redesign and will take this into
> consideration.

The site is so well put together that one gets the distinct impression that
Squeak is a "going concern". It's a case of "actions speak louder than

> I think you've hit on one of the most difficult parts of this work.
> It has been for me, certainly.   We are attempting several things
> with the development of Squeak and we are doing them simultaneously
> -- the way we look at it is that we are developing, living and
> working in a "Living Lab".   The bottom line of our work is
> *research*.  We are attempting to develop new media and tools to
> provide a means of deeper learning for children and adults.  However,
> this work cannot happen in isolation, so as we develop iterations,
> tools, etc., we must share and get users and their feedback.  We must
> grow our community.  We must USE the developments in "real world"
> environments AS we continue to refine, change, develop and improve
> them.  This is what we are attempting to do here. It is our hope that
> others, who might be more "product/commerically inclined" would take
> our research and perhaps develop "product" on top of it.  This would
> include documentation, curriclum, a support structure, etc., etc.
> Believe me, if anyone realizes how difficult it can be to live in a
> "Living Lab" world, it is me.  I am constantly pulled between
> "research" and "product" -- since many of our users/testers are
> approaching Squeak/Etoys as "product", but in fact, it is not.

Yes, I understand that. It must be difficult for you. I would just like to
give this little bit of practical feedback. If, a small word, but one with
much more meaning than its two letters imply, you want to get feedback from
people involved with both Squeak and the real world two things are really
important: That things work consistently. i.e. backwards compatibility is
really important: Error recovery is vital. My experience is that programs
break, because of incompatible upgrades to the interpreter, inappropriate
input or some other inexsplicable thing, and one is dumped into the pink
window of the Squeak Smalltalk debugger. imho that's a real no-no.

> I also think what we're all having difficulty with here is that our
> community is a mix of different types of people, which is wonderful,
> but something else we need to better understand.  Many of you have
> programming/computer science backgrounds;

That is my situation. I am essentially self taught, and know the methodolgy
 of programming and wanted to share my skill-set with my son. He, by the way,
 spent some time hovering around the subject, then dived in one day and
 produced a car track complete with a lake in the middle. The cars suddenly
 went slower and produced splashing noises when in the water. Having
 completed that he had the satisfaction of a completed project, and is now at
 a bit of a loss wondering what to do next, so life has moved on to other
 things for him. The wonderful thing Squeak did for him was that for the
 first time in his life he saw the point of using the written word to
 communicate instructions. We set up a book object to hold the user manual
 for the car game. As the parent of a child who was having great difficulty
 with written literacy it was joyous in the extreme to see this happening.
 Thank you.

> others have no programming
> experience but would like to think about how they might use computers
> to help understand complex ideas.  These different 'types' will look
> at "the Squeak elephant" in different ways -- so, conversations about
> learning "Smalltalk", for example,  are completely irrelevant to most
> elementary school teachers.

That may well be the case for you, living as you do in the strongest economy
in the world, but for those of us who live in situations where school is seen
very much as a vocational preparation for life, Squeak has the very real
advantage over other educational software in that it is written using an open
programming language which can be seen at the click of the mouse. Yvonne, the
talented ten year old, was continually clicking of the little square on the
tiles because she wanted to see what the computer had written for her.

For the parents and teachers I have spoken to, the fact that Smalltalk is a
real industrial strength computer language of great power and productivity
justified the precious time spent "playing at car races" on the computer. You
see, Squeak can be a very real first stepping stone on the way to the
industrial giants namely VisualWorks, SmalltalkX, GemStone, etc., etc.
Mastering these systems gives people the skill-set to become very viable
economic entities in a world dominated by those horrors called VB and Java.

> Anyways..I just thought I would take a minute to  re-emphasize the
> "Living Lab" nature of what we are trying to do here....We should
> make this more clear on the Squeakland site and we thank you for your
> continued input and interest.

Getting the balance between the experimental and producing something that can
be used in the real world is far from easy. I know that, and admire you folks
for having achieved it.

> cheers,
> Kim
> At 11:32 PM +1300 3/12/03, Christopher Sawtell wrote:
> >I've been reading the thread since the first post by Jerry Balzano, and
> > would like to make a few comments.
> >
> >On Tue, 11 Mar 2003 17:45, John Steinmetz wrote:
> >>  Thank you for these comments, Jerry. I think you're bringing up
> >>  important points.
> >>
> >>  I think it needs to be emphasized over and over again that Squeak is
> >>  a research system. It is not a completed product, but a work in
> >>  progress, and that causes ome of the frustrations teachers and other
> >>  novices experience. Perhaps more could be done on the Squeakland site
> >>  to make this clear.
> >
> >Yes indeed. That site is very professionally put together and does have a
> >dot.com address. In spite of the "Under construction but ready for
> > playing". Without explicitly saying so, you give the very distinct
> > impression that Squeak is now ready to be used in the school and home by
> > "mere mortals". Although I have been around computers for something like
> > thirty years now, I have found learning Smalltalk to be one of the most
> > difficult intellectual exercises I have ever attempted. There is so much
> > of it to learn and the approach to the system is simply out of this world
> > when compared to the normal edit a file, compile it, and crash it cycle.
> >
> >Perhaps you might like to consider making the forward from the .com
> > address not quite so transparent, and reinforce the experimental nature
> > of Squeak right there on the home page.
> >
> >>  Any programming environment provides challenges to non-expert users,
> >>  and expert help is often needed. In my opinion many who promote
> >>  computers as tools for learning say too little about the amount of
> >>  support teachers and students need in order to get good results.
> >
> >I'd go so far as to say that in a normal
> >
> >>  I'm sure most people on this list are excited about the promise of
> >>  Squeak--many kinds of promises, really. It's astounding that Squeak
> >>  has come so far, and that has a lot to do with people helping one
> >>  another. Clearly, to get to the next stage, with ordinary users and
> >>  ordinary teachers being able to use Squeak, much more needs to
> >>  happen.
> >
> >Yes, that's true, but please don't dumb it down totally by removing the
> > lovely advanced features like the development environment etc. Just hide
> > them. _The_ feature with which I have had by far the most success in a
> > school setting is the Alice system, I had a very intelligent ten year old
> > girl typing commands in like as if there was no tomorrow, and we ended up
> > with Alice waving her arms about and Rabbit playing the drum silently.
> > After that she asked "Can we program this like I can do Basic on my
> > computer at home". Fortunately I had installed the full kit and merely
> > hidden the tabs, so we were able to open a workspace and do a little bit
> > of Smalltalk scripting to print out the multiplication tables.
> >
> >  > The book by BJ Conn and Kim Rose is one step in that
> >  > direction. But you are right to remind us not to confuse
> >>
> >>  possibilities and promises with what is really doable now. While
> >>  working to make some of these possibilites real, the Squeak community
> >>  needs to try to stay clear about what's not real yet.
> >
> >I seem to remember that a few years ago there was a "Stable Squeak"
> > project. It seems to have disappeared. Anybody know what happened to it?
> >Anyway what about having a double release scheme a bit like the Linux
> > kernel? UserSqueak - Stable, and DevelopmentSqueak - Unstable.
> >Possibly with mail-lists to go with them. I found the squeak-dev list had
> > far too much traffic for the time I have available, to say nothing of the
> > fact that many of the threads were intellectually beyond me, yet, in
> > contrast, up until now this list has appeared to be virtually moribund.
> > Is there a SqueakUser list?
> >
> >>  One other thought: Squeak is interesting not just because it makes
> >>  certain things easy, but also because it is rich and complex. Rich,
> >>  complex things (music, sports, math, art, etc.) are often difficult,
> >>  often need very good helpers to be present, and sometimes need a huge
> >>  amount of infrastructure.
> >
> >The other thing that everybody is under so much pressure in the school
> >setting. What's really needed is time. There's never enough of it.
> >
> >>  For instance, I am a musician today only
> >>  because my school had a very good music teacher and a pile of
> >>  instruments made by expert craftspeople and music manufactured by
> >>  expert composers and publishers--and my parents got me lessons with
> >>  still another expert, and I was able to play in youth orchestras with
> >>  more expertise at hand. Even with all this help and encouragement,
> >>  and even in such a supportive context, it took many years for me to
> >>  get any good at all. Most of the helpers were able to provide very
> >>  satisfying projects at every stage--even students who did not become
> >>  professional musicians were able to have a good time participating.
> >>
> >>  Probably very few schools can offer the kind of infrastructure for
> >>  computer learning that my school music program offered. Yet I think
> >>  computers need the same kind of multilayered help and expertise, and
> >>  a supportive context of enthusiasm and encouragement for the activity.
> >
> >Without doubt that's the case. I don't know about the situation is other
> >countries but here in litle NZ the use of computers in school is very
> > patchy. The government is spending a small fortune on providing the
> > hardware, operating systems and 'office' oriented software, but there is
> > not only a distinct fear of the huge abyss of the unknown, but sadly more
> > often than just occasionally a misplaced sense of pride in ignorance.
> > This means that the vast majority of computers are badly underutilised
> > and often end up just being web-surfing sets, glorified paint-brushes or
> > typewriters.
> >
> >>  Maybe we need to lose the idea that doing interesting and valuable
> >>  things on the computer can happen in isolation. One of the
> >>  constantly-reinforced fantasies about computers is that they will
> >>  make good things happen all on their own. It's an attractive notion,
> >>  but it's a fantasy. If good things are to happen, people will be
> >>  required.
> >
> >Oh so very true, but not just people, but skilled and knowledgeble people.
> > How many of them are going to both want to and be allowed into school
> > classrooms?
> >
> >>	John Steinmetz
> >>	Squeak enthusiast
> >>	bassoonist, composer
> >>
> >>  >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?
> >
> >One point to remember here is that it is extremely difficult for an expert
> > in any subject to create really good documentation far a lay person about
> > that subject. The expert assumes an unreasonable amount of background
> > knowledge - the unwritten lore which has become so ingrained that it is
> > second nature. He produces a book with lots of what I call 'transparent
> > lines', the simple facts just get forgotton. Alternatively he falls into
> > the trap of assuming that his reader is a totally witless fool with the
> > intellect of a dumb five or six year old. Exaggeration hovering, I know,
> > but there is a lot of truth there too.
> >
> >>  >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!
> >
> >I beg to differ here, I have personally seen a ten year old, and two or
> > three 12 year olds use the e-toys most effectively. The ten year old is
> > an exceptional student, but the others appeared to be pretty normal
> > children who made car races and cannons firing in a morning. ok. Squeak
> > e-toys is not for the witless child, but any child old enough to have
> > language skills and of normal intelligence can learn to think like a
> > computer scientist using Squeak and the e-toys. It's just that not
> > everybody wants to learn to think like a computer scientist, so they
> > don't.
> >
> >>  >(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....)
> >
> >That's all for the moment. imho what's really needed is a glossary or
> >dictionary to the natural language you gurus have developed over the last
> >twenty years while Smalltalk has been developing.
> >
> >Please keep up the good work.
> >
> >--
> >Sincerely etc.
> >C. Sawtell.


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