Here’s what she wrote in The Secret of Childhood:
One day two or three mothers came to me and asked me to teach their children how to read and write…All that I taught these four- or five-year-old children were some letters of the alphabet which I had the teacher cut out of cardboard…They would march up and down in procession holding up the letters of the alphabet like banners and uttering shouts of joy…“To make Sofia, you have to have an ’S’, an ‘O’, an 'F’, an 'I’ and an 'A’.”…In the beginning, a written language is distilled from its spoken counterpart…The child who first make the discovery was so astonished that he shouted out loud: “I’ve written, I’ve written!” The children excitedly ran up to look at the words which he had traced on the floor with a piece of chalk…The children were rarely interested in reading what another had written. Many of the children would turn around and look at me in amazement when I read out loud the words they had written, as if to ask, “How do you know it?” It was only after some six months that they began to understand what it is to read, and they did this only by associating reading with writing. They watched my hand as I traced letters on a piece of white paper and came to realise that I was communicating my thoughts.
This weekend, Lauren and I went to Now Play This, an experimental games festival. It was at Somerset House. We played some really cool stuff.
Many of my favourites are hard to talk about. This seems like a good thing.
A game where you catch balls on a wire. You control the wire with a physical rope that you can stretch and relax. In this way, you can gather the balls and spring them into the air.
A game where you try to draw a replica of a work of art. You draw by pressing one of the many buttons. Each button does something different. It might shift certain colours, or move sections of the drawing. Because the labels on the buttons are cryptic, and because each action tends to act on the whole drawing, it’s hard to act intentionally. The game shows a score for the similarity between the two pictures. This is the one guide. Press a button for a moment. If the score goes up, keep pressing the button. If the score goes down, press a different one. Following this metric makes your drawing a secondary, surprising result.
A game where you cooperate. Each level has a key, a door and some obstacles to jump over. The goal is to pick up the key, unlock the door and walk through the door. There are ten players. Each player controls a little guy who can jump. The trick is that the little guys need to stand on each other’s heads to reach the key or get over obstacles. What really left an impression on me was that, when I saw it, the game was being played by ten people who were strangers to one another. Yet, wordlessly, they cooperated. They developed simple techniques like standing on each other’s heads. They developed more complex techniques like standing on each other’s heads and staggering their bodies to create stairs.
The new film by Cristian Mungiu. Very good.
Saw this at the America After the Fall exhibition at the RA.
Saw this with my wife and my Dad at the weekend.
A human-machine interface is modal with respect to a given gesture when (1) the current state of the interface is not the user’s locus of attention and (2) the interface will execute one among several different possible responses to the gesture, depending on the system’s current state.
Both parts of the definition of a modal gesture are necessary to decide whether, for example, the gesture of pressing the Backspace key is modal. In most computer interfaces, assuming you are in the process of entering text, the Backspace command erases the most recently typed character. If that character was an e, the key erases an e. If that character was an x, the key erases an x. That is, sometimes Backspace is an e eraser, and sometimes it is an x eraser. Considering only the second part of the definition, the use of Backspace is modal because what it erases depends on the character most recently typed; context is part of the system state. However, when you realize that your locus of attention is the object that you are erasing, it is the first part of the definition that explains why the operation is not modal and why you do not make mode errors when you use the Backspace key.
The Messina’ contraption is a rare occurrence in today’s ProTools-oriented production world. Rather than record an instrument or voice into a computer and manipulate the audio file in post-production, Vernon and Messina have figured out a way to split a melody into several harmonies on the fly, giving the player the ability to change the chords and arrangement in real time. The Messina is all over 22, A Million, but its abilities are heard most distinctly in the mind-bending saxophone spinout on “45,” the second-to-last track on the album. Michael Lewis’s free-form sax lines bend and slip in and out of time as Vernon arranges them into gospel chord changes, and it sounds like Lewis’s playing is a ribbon that Vernon is picking up and zig-zagging through the air.
And then me and Lewis, the instrument we were playing was only possible to play as two people, and it was just us making music as freely as humanly possible.
Pinker talks for an hour about how humans use language. Fascinating.
Introduced in 1984. Superseded the jeep.
Main job: people and supply carrier.
Specifications. Drive on- and off-road. Carry large loads. Survive indirect fire better than the jeep. Climb a 60% incline. Traverse a 40% incline. Electronics waterproofed against driving through 2.5 feet of water.
Weight: 2-3 tonnes.
Speed: up to 70 mph.
During the Iraq war, the role of the US army changed from fighting the Iraqi army to suppressing guerrilla insurgents. This meant Humvees had to withstand IEDs more often. To adapt to this, the US manufactured and added armour kits for the vehicles. These made them heavier and less manoeuvrable. When they withstood an explosion, the doors tended to jam, trapping soldiers inside. To adapt to this, hooks were added to the outside of the doors so another vehicle could yank them off.
Indirect fire is artillery that doesn’t require a line of sight between the weapon and target. E.g. a mortar.
Traversing means driving along, rather than up or down.
Travelling through the pack ice in a ship:
And then without warning and reason, as far as we could see, it would open out again, and broad black leads and lakes would appear where there had been only white snow and ice before, and we would make just a few more miles.
Clean Code, Robert C. Martin
Lots of applicable advice.
The Software Craftsman, Sandro Mancuso
Apprenticeship Patterns, Dave Hoover and Adewale Oshineye
Practical Object Oriented Programming in Ruby, Sandi Metz
Describes a useful toolkit for writing OO programs.
Infinite Loop, Michael Malone
I wanted this to be more about design and less about business.
How Children Fail, John Holt
Lucid accounts of the practicalities of helping children learn. Gold dust.
Make it Stick, Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger and Mark A. McDaniel
Techniques for how to learn topics well enough to apply them.
Going Solo, Roald Dahl
A very interesting account of when Dahl was a fighter pilot in WW2.
Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux
The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman
Half of it is about systems for formally analysing designs. Half of it is examples. Pretty good.
Envisioning Information, Edward Tufte
Many examples of visualisations, with analysis and evaluation. I wanted this to include a system to use when designing visualisations.
Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
Loved the parts about anthropology. Didn’t like the whirlwind tour of societies.
Do No Harm, Henry Marsh
The essay about an operation to repair an aneurysm is very interesting and exciting. Most of the rest of the book is boring reflections on foolish hospital practices.
Dealers of Lightning, Michael A. Hiltzik
A good overview of XEROX PARC. I wanted more about the technology and less about the personalities.
Spelunky, Derek Yu
Eloquent Ruby, Russ Olsen
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
Blew my mind. The first novel I’ve enjoyed in many years. So restrained and careful.
The Process of Education, Jerome Bruner
Amazing ideas about intuition, spiraling, and how all learning should be about getting to the structural truth of a topic. I adored his idea that children who are studying a topic should be doing the same activities as an expert researcher. Little physicists in white coats and safety goggles.
I saw this in my week off work before Christmas. It’s 3D, and made me feel awe.
There’s incredible footage of the surface of the sun that looks like a volcano.
And there’s a scene where astronauts arrive at the International Space Station. They come inside through a hatch and greet the astronauts who are already there. It feels like they’ve come to visit family, but they’ve journeyed through space to get there.
See this excerpt of Pinocchio for an example of both horizontal and vertical movement.
Saw this with Lauren and Govind at the Wallace Collection.
My sister, niece and nephew are staying with us tonight. They made us gingerbread men. Those are gardening gloves.
A video demo Subtext, a programming environment that works like an instantly and executing and directly editable AST.
I had walked into that high school class prepared to help them in any way that I could. But instead of the school learning from my experience, I learned from them. They showed how computer science education should be done. Start everyone early, and offer those who are passionate about the subject limitless room to grow.
School boards fight to keep CS out of schools, since every minute spent on CS is one less minute spent on core subjects like English and math. The students’ test scores in these core subjects determine next year’s funding, so CS is a threat.
Teachers often refuse to teach real CS because more often than not they don’t understand it. Instead, they end up teaching word processing and website construction, while calling it CS.
Parents often oppose CS classes since the grade has no direct benefit on their child’s academic prospects. This is compounded by a lack of understanding of the difference between their child playing video games and their child writing video games.
Students intentionally tune out of CS class since there are few things worse in American high school than being labelled a nerd.
But Wittgenstein was “interested in everything,” and he engaged his students in a sort of “project-based learning” that wouldn’t be out of place in the best elementary classrooms today. They designed steam engines and buildings together, and built models of them; dissected animals; examined things with a microscope Wittgenstein brought from Vienna; read literature; learned constellations lying under the night sky; and took trips to Vienna, where they stayed at a school run by his sister Hermine. Just to get to the train required a twelve-mile hike through the mountainous forest around Trattenbach; on the return trip, the students made this hike after midnight. On the way, Wittgenstein would ask them the names they’d learned of the plants in the forest. In Vienna they would discuss the architectural styles of the buildings they visited and look for examples of the machines they had modelled.
Chris Ford shows how to make music using functional composition. He starts with the basic building block of sound, the sine wave, and gradually accumulates abstractions. His talk builds to a Bach canon.
I was twenty-five. But, already, I was beginning to get a little set in my ways; perhaps, I reflected in my rare moments of introspection, even a little smug. There were those pin-striped suits from Scholte; those blue and white shirts from Beale and Inman with their starched collars; those neat, well-cleaned shoes from Lobb; the dark red carnation that came every morning from the florist in the Faubourg Saint Honoré. After breakfast a brief walk under the trees in the Champs Elysées. Or sometimes a ride among the leafy avenues of the Bois. Then the daily, not disagreeable task of drafting telegrams and dispatches, on thick, blue laid paper, in a style and a handwriting which, I flattered myself, both discreetly reflected a classical education. Occasional telephone calls. Occasional visits to the Quai d'Orsay; the smell of bees-wax in the passages; the rather fusty smell of the cluttered, steam-heated offices; comment allez-vous, cher collègue? Luncheon at a restaurant or at somebody’s house: politics and people. Afterwards, a pleasant feeling of repletion. Then, more telegrams, more dispatches, more telephone calls till dinner time. A bath. A drink. And then all the different lights and colours and smells and noises of Paris at night. Big official dinner parties, with white ties and decorations. Small private dinner parties with black ties and that particular type of general conversation at which the French excel. The best-dressed women, the best food, the best wine, the best brandy in the world. Parties in restaurants. Parties in night clubs. The Théâtre De Dix Heures, the chansonniers: jokes about politics and sex. The Bal Tabarin: the rattle and bang of the can-can; the plump thighs of the dancers in their long black silk stockings. Week after week; month after month. An agreeable existence, but one that, if prolonged unduly, seemed bound to lead to chronic liver trouble, if to nothing worse.
How to redesign UIs to help users do the things that are important to them.
(Leonardo and Fra Filippo Lippi.)
They find a fun mechanic, like jumping, or hoovering, and then use it for every interaction the player has with the world. The story, character and world design follow from the mechanic.
A diagnostic level score was assigned to subjects’ [debugging] behaviors.
At the lowest level (level 0), subjects randomly choose circuit elements or program lines to test.
At the next level (level 1), subjects used a systematic forward or backward pattern. For example, a subject using a systematic forward movement might start in the upper left hand corner of the circuit and test elements to the right. A systematic backward movement would start at one of the elements connected to a place where the expected and actual outputs did not match. Then the subject would test each element backward until no error in output is found.
At level 2, subjects targeted certain areas of the circuit or program to test first. For example, if a subject noticed that the expected and actual outputs do not match for the top circuit element but they do match for the bottom circuit element, then a subject using a targeting strategy would test each element connected only to the top circuit element and not to the bottom one.
Finally, the highest level strategy (level 3), reasoning from output characteristics, not only targeted a certain area but also used process-outcome pairings. By process-outcome pairing, we mean that a subject would examine the expected and actual output and notice the difference between the outputs. Then, the subject would identify those circuit elements or program statements that could cause the difference.
Saw this at the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the RA this weekend.
I sometimes break down my experience of a piece art into two parts: the feelings I have when I interact with it, and the thoughts I have when I think about it later. The same is true for video games. My favorite games are both enjoyable to interact with, and interesting to think about.
Fascinating accounts of fighter combat in World War II.
A fascinating documentary, full of detail about De Palma’s approach to directing.
For the first interview of the day, I’ve started including a really, really easy programming problem. I had to start doing this during the dotcom boom when a lot of people who thought HTML was “programming” started showing up for interviews, and I needed a way to avoid wasting too much time with them. It’s the kind of problem that any programmer working today should be able to solve in about one minute. Some examples:
Write a function that determines if a string starts with an upper-case letter A-Z.
Write a function that determines the area of a circle given the radius.
Add up all the values in an array.
These softball questions seem too easy, so when I first started asking them, I had to admit that I really expected everyone to sail right through them. What I discovered was that everybody solved the problem, but there was a lot of variation in how long it took them to solve.
That reminded me of why I couldn’t trade bonds for a living.
Jared is a bond trader. He is always telling me about interesting deals that he did. There’s this thing called an option, and there are puts, and calls, and the market steepens, so you put on steepeners, and it’s all very confusing, but the weird thing is that I know what all the words mean, I know exactly what a put is (the right, but not the responsibility, to sell something at a certain price) and in only three minutes I can figure out what should happen if you own a put and the market goes up, but I need the full three minutes to figure it out, and when he’s telling me a more complicated story, where the puts are just the first bit, there are lots of other bits to the story, I lose track very quickly, because I’m lost in thought (“let’s see, market goes up, that mean interest rates go down, and now, a put is the right to sell something…”) until he gets out the graph paper and starts walking me through it, and my eyes glazeth over and it’s very sad. Even though I understand all the little bits, I can’t understand them fast enough to get the big picture.
And the same thing happens in programming. If the basic concepts aren’t so easy that you don’t even have to think about them, you’re not going to get the big concepts.
Serge Lang, a math professor at Yale, used to give his Calculus students a fairly simple algebra problem on the first day of classes, one which almost everyone could solve, but some of them solved it as quickly as they could write while others took a while, and Professor Lang claimed that all of the students who solved the problem as quickly as they could write would get an A in the Calculus course, and all the others wouldn’t. The speed with which they solved a simple algebra problem was as good a predictor of the final grade in Calculus as a whole semester of homework, tests, midterms, and a final.
Lauren, Matthew, Ruth and I went here last weekend with Ruth’s brother and his son. It was so cool.
There is a big, rocky slope with pumps. Children can dam the rocks to make conduits for the water.
And there’s a colossal tree house made of interconnected rope and wood bridges, netting and tree towers. There is an element of danger, but the risk is minimised by the soft ground and webbed rope. Lots of brave children clambered around, and a brave Mary and Lauren, too.
I’ll hire anybody who has ten years’ professional illustration experience. No computer experience required. I can’t teach anybody how to spend a lifetime drawing, but I can teach people to use a computer.