I doubt very much if it is possible to teach anyone to understand anything, that is to say, to see how various parts of it relate to all the other parts, to have a model of the structure in one’s mind. We can give other people names, and lists, but we cannot give them our mental structures; they must build their own.
“Well now they knoooooooooooooow…”
Lauren and I sent a video of us singing Let it Go to my niece.
Lauren and I visited DC and we spent several hours in the National Gallery. My favourites:
Leonardo da Vinci, Ginevra de Benci
Raphael, The Alba Madonna
Raphael, Bindo Altoviti
Matteo di Giovanni, Madonna and Child with Saint Jerome, Saint Catherine of Alexandria and angels
Fra Filippo Lippi, Madonna with Child
Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance
Pieter de Hooch, The Bedroom
One of the best de Hoochs I’ve ever seen. This reproduction really doesn’t capture the magic of the tiles and the uneven floor.
This is Alan Kay’s paper on the DynaBook. A transcription of the paper is here.
He quotes Pavese: “To know the world one must construct it.” This is an elegant summary of the paper’s views on how children understand the world through models.
‘We feel that a child is a “verb” rather than a “noun”, an actor rather than an object; he is not a scaled-up pigeon or rat; he is trying to acquire a model of his surrounding environment in order to deal with it; his theories are “practical” notions of how to get from idea A to idea B rather than “consistent” branches of formal logic, etc.`
I love this story of children using the DynaBook to create a microworld. It is both exciting and dangerously seductive.
`Zap! With a beautiful flash and appropriate noise, Jimmy’s spaceship disintegrated; Beth had won Spacewar again. The nine-year-olds were lying on the grass of a park near their home, their DynaBooks hooked together to allow each of them a viewscreen into the space world where Beth’s ship was now floating triumphantly alone.
’“Y’ wanna play again?” asked Jimmy.
’“Naw,” said Beth, “It’s too easy.”
’“Well, in real space you’d be in orbit around the sun. Betcha couldn’t win then!”
`“Oh yeah?” Beth was piqued into action. “How could we do the sun?”
’“Well, uh, let’s see. When the ship’s in space without a sun, it just keeps going 'cause there’s nothing to stop it. Whenever we push the thrust button, your program adds speed in the direction the ship is pointing.”
’“Yeah. That’s why you have to turn the ship and thrust back to get it to ship.” She illustrated by maneuvering with a few practiced button pushes on her DynaBook. “But the sun makes things fall into it…it’s not the same.”
’“But look, Beth,” Jimmy aimed her ship, “when you hold the thrust button down, it starts going faster and faster, just like Mr. Jacobson said rocks and things do in gravity.”
’“Oh yeah. It’s just like the rock had a jet on it pointed towards the earth. Hey, what about also adding speed to the ship that way?”
’“Whaddya mean?” Jimmy was confused.
’“Here look.” Her fingers started to fly on the DynaBook’s keyboard, altering the program she had written several weeks before after she and the rest of her school group had “accidently” been exposed to Spacewar by Mr. Jacobson. “You just act as though the ship is pointed towards the sun and add speed!” As she spoke her ship started to fall, but not towards the son. “Oh no! It’s going all over the place!”
'Jimmy saw what was wrong. “You need to add speed in the direction of the sun no matter where your ship is.”
’“But how do we do that? Cripes!”
’“Let’s go and ask Mr. Jacobson!” They picked up their DynaBooks and raced across the grass to their teacher who was helping other members of their group to find out what they wanted to know.
'Mr. Jacobson’s eyes twinkled at their impatience to know things. They were still as eager as two-year-olds. He and other like him would do their best to sustain the curiosity and desire to crate that are the birthright of every human being.
'From what Beth and Jimmy blurted at him, he was able to see that the kids had rediscovered an important idea intuitively and needed only a hint in order to add the sun to their private cosmos. He was enthusiastic, but a bit noncommittal:
’“That’s great! I bet you the Library has just about what you need.” At that, Jimmy connected his DynaBook to the class’s LIBLINK and became heir to the thought and knowledge of ages past, all perusable through the screen of his DB. It was like taking an endless voyage through a space that knew no bounds. As always he had a little trouble remembering what his original purpose was. Each time he came to something interesting, he caused a copy to be send into his DynaBook, so he could look at it later. Finally, Beth poked him in the ribs, and he started looking more seriously for what they needed. He composed a simple filter for his DynaBook to aid their search…
'Beth discovered that her problem was ridiculously easy if the sun was placed at “zero”, and she simply subtracted a little bit from the “horizontal” and “vertical” speeds of her craft according to where the ship was located. All of the drawing and aninations she and the other kids had done previously were accociplished by using relative notions which coincided with the scope of their abilities at the time. She was now ready to hold several independent ideas in her mind. The intuitive feeling for linear and nonlinear notion that the children gained would be an asset for later understanding of some of the great generalizations of science.
'After getting her spaceship to perform, she found Jimmy, hooked to his DynaBook, and then soundly trounced him until she became bored. While he went off to find a less formidable foe, she retrieved a poem she had been writing on her DynaBook and edited a few lines to improve it…’
What made Jimmy think of adding the sun? Also, its very handy that the sun was a viable project for them to implement. What if Jimmy had thought of making the game 3D? What makes for a microworld that is a fertile place for children to have ideas for things to try? What makes for a microworld that is simple enough for children to implement?
What is Mr Jacobsen’s role? He doesn’t seem to be a question answerer. He seems more of a “teach a man to fish” man. He also doesn’t pepper Beth and Jimmy with questions so he can understand what they are confused about. This reminded me of John Holt’s idea in Why Children Fail that a teacher’s attempts to grasp a student’s level of understanding get in the way of the student reflecting on their own understanding.
How did Beth discover the idea of placing the sun at “zero”?
'A tool is something that aids manipulation of a medium and man is cliched as the “tool building animal”. The computer is also regarded as a tool by many. Clearly, though, the book is much more than a tool, and man is much more than a tool builder…he is an inventor of universes. From the moment he learns to see and to use language, each new universe serves as a medium. (and constraint) of expression in which imagined structures can be embedded, usually with the aid. of tools.’
Must read more about Piaget, Bruner, Hunt, Kagan and Montessori.
’[Moore, the inventor of the talking typewriter] feels that it is not so much that children lack a long attention span, but that they have difficulty remaining in the sane with respect to an idea or activity. The role of “patient listener” to an idea can quickly lead to boredom and lack of attention, unless other roles can also be assumed such as “active agent”, “judge” or “game player”, etc. An environment which allows many perspectives to be taken is very much in tune with the differentiating, abstracting and integrative activities of the child.’
'Where some people measure progress in answers-righttest or tests-passedyear, we are more interested in “Sistine-Chapel-Ceilings/Lifetime.’
’"Sistine-Chapel-Ceilings are not gotten without healthy application of both dreaming and great skill at painting those dreams. As bystander L. d.Vinci remarked, "Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art”. Papert has pointed out that people will willingly and joyfully spend thousands of hours in order to perfect a sport (such as skiing) that they are involved in. Obviously school and learning have not been made interesting to children, nor has a way made to get immediate enjoyment from practicing intellectual skills generally appeared.
'With Dewey, Piaget and Papert, we believe that children “learn by doing” and that much of the alienation in modern education coms from the great philosophical distance between the kinds of things children can “do” and much of 20-cerntury adult behavior.’
'If we want children to learn any particular area, then it is clearly up to us to provide them with something real and enjoyable to “do” on their way to perfection of both the art and the skill. Painting can frustrating, yet practice is fun because a finished picture is a subgoal which can be accomplished without needing total mastery of the subject.
'Playing musical instruments and gaining musical thinking is unfortunately much further removed. Most modern keyboard and orchestral instruments do not provide subgoals which are satisfying to the child or adult for many months, nor do they really give any insight into what music is or how to “do” it on one’s own. IT is usually much more analogous to “drill and skill” in painting a billboard “by the numbers”, and not even getting to use your own numbers or paint!
'The study of arithmetic and mathematics is, in general, an even worse situation. What can a child “do” with multiplication. The usual answer is work problems in the math book! A typical establishment reaction to this is that “Some things just have to be learned by drill”. (Fortunately kids don’t have to learn their native tongue under these circumstances.) Papert’s kids need to use multiplication to make the size of their computer-drawn animations change. They have something to “do” with it.’
'Two of Piaget’s fundamental notions are attractive from a computer scientist’s point of view.
The first is that knowledge, particularly in the young child, is retained as a series of operation models, each of which is somewhat ad hoc and need not be logically consistent with the others. (They are essentially algorithms and strategies rather than logical axioms, predicates and theorems.)
'The second notion is that development proceeds in a sequence of stages (which seems to be independent of cultural environment), each one building on the past, yet showing dramatic differences in the ability to apprehend, generalize and predict casual relations. Although the age at which a stage is attained may vary from child to child, the apparent dependency of a stage on previous stages seem to be invariant. Another point which will be important later on is that language does not seem the mistress of thought but rather the handmaiden, in that there is considerable evidence by Piaget and others that such thinking is nonverbal and iconic.’
Context: John Siracusa is notorious for being ruthlessly logical.
Merlin Mann: “It’s just hitting me now that you’re a father to those kids and they have to live up to your standards.”
John Siracusa: “They don’t they just ignore me. They could give two craps what I…”
Merlin Mann, apeing Siracusa: “‘If you can’t define it, how can you defend it?’”
John Siracusa: “The smarter they get, the more their brains develop, the more I gain power over them, because my biggest tool is reason and logic.”
From Children’s Shoes, the latest episode of Reconcilable Differences.
Architect Christopher Alexander: “In my life as an architect, I find that the single thing which inhibits young professionals, new students most severely, is their acceptance of standards that are too low. If I ask a student whether her design is as good as Chartres, she often smiles tolerantly at me as if to say, “Of course not, that isn’t what I am trying to do… . I could never do that.”
Then, I express my disagreement, and tell her: “That standard must be our standard. If you are going to be a builder, no other standard is worthwhile. That is what I expect of myself in my own buildings, and it is what I expect of my students.” Gradually, I show the students that they have a right to ask this of themselves, and must ask this of themselves. Once that level of standard is in their minds, they will be able to figure out, for themselves, how to do better, how to make something that is as profound as that.
Two things emanate from this changed standard. First, the work becomes more fun. It is deeper, it never gets tiresome or boring, because one can never really attain this standard. One’s work becomes a lifelong work, and one keeps trying and trying. So it becomes very fulfilling, to live in the light of a goal like this.
But secondly, it does change what people are trying to do. It takes away from them the everyday, lower-level aspiration that is purely technical in nature, (and which we have come to accept) and replaces it with something deep, which will make a real difference to all of us that inhabit the earth.”
Via Michael Neilsen.
After being upside down in the flight simulator at the Air and Space Museum
With an original XEROX Alto
With an original Macintosh
In front of the Supreme Court
We got to walk around the deck, balconies and inside of the carrier and round the inside of a submarine.
Lauren tries to take off
Lauren with her war face
Lauren with her more relaxed face
A chair that was lightweight, durable, portable and comfortable.
A rescue helicopter. It could land on water. It was my favourite of the day.
Lauren and the A-12, the precursor to the SR-71
The best teachers are practitioners of the things they teach. Because they apply the material they teach in their own work, it is more likely to be useful and they can better judge how well they are conveying their ideas.
Victor talks about choosing a life’s work that will be important in a hundred years. He cites Carver Mead’s talk at the centennial of the Caltech Electrical Engineering department.
Mead says the following things.
The department was founded by Royal Sorensen. Sorensen’s field was power electronics, which had already gone through the exponential improvement part of its S-curve and had started leveling out. This meant that there wasn’t much left to contribute.
Caltech alums invented quite a few of the foundational technologies of the information age. This was because Sorensen made it a core value to understand something right down to the bottom. This meant people could ignore fields of expertise and work with whatever techniques and knowledge were relevant to achieving their goal.
And you can’t see the field that will be important in a hundred years, just like Sorensen couldn’t see the field of information theory that underpinned the information age. Victor’s lesson from this seems to be that, though you can’t see what field will be important, he can contribute by inventing tools for thinking that are technology independent.
It’s worth watching Mead’s whole talk:
We used this recipe.
Prepping the ingredients in regulation headband.
Sautéing the garlic.
Bringing to the boil.
After one hour in the oven.
After six hours in the oven.
Ready to trough.
Partly about how Mega Man teaches its mechanics. Sometimes, it exposes the player to a new thing in a safe environment and then lets them practice in a dangerous environment. Sometimes, it exposes the player to something where their normal tactics don’t work, but builds in time for them to recover and learn the right tactic. Sometimes, as with the wall jumping, it lets the player “accidentally” trigger a new action and immediately gives them a reason to try and do it again.
Partly about how Mega Man makes the player’s motivations the same as the player character’s: get more powerful weapons and defeat the boss that hurt them. It does this by a) making the powerups of the fictional game world meaningfully fun to the player and b) making the player suffer the same shameful defeat as the character. This means that the player doesn’t have to empathise with the character to care about the game. Or, maybe, it brings out the empathy.
At the Frick last year.
At the Frick last year.
Concepts that are too simple are sometimes not powerful enough solve harder problems. For example, Copernicus tried to explain the motion of the planets with circles. What was needed was a slightly more sophisticated building block: ellipses.
Humans are copers, which means we’re not built to throw away a solution that isn’t working, but, instead, we’re built to patch it to keep it working.
He draws an analogy between hierarchical structures and systems of gears. The latter seize up after about 1000 cogs. In contrast, the internet is like a biological organism with a huge number of decentralised cells. The internet has never broken, despite the fact that every node in it has been replaced at least twice.
He says that it’s much better for the invention arms of companies to work on ten year time scales. This avoids people trying to incrementally get to big inventions, which would mean those things never get invented. At XEROX PARC, they spent the first three years inventing, then the next five years polishing the inventions into things that were sellable.
About Pico Pico Cafe, a place in Tokyo made to attract a community of game programmers. One of the owners made Pico8 , the wonderful virtual console designed to be a toy box for making game creation accessible.
Over the past 10 years, two players in the world have been better than the current version of Cristiano Ronaldo: Lionel Messi and the previous version of Cristiano Ronaldo.
A documentary about two fishermen and their friendship. There are some interesting parts about the craft of fishing. There are some interesting parts about the way the two men’s approaches to fishing mirror the way they live their lives.
A super interesting documentary about the attempts of three men to climb Meru.
Saw this at the Film Forum yesterday. So great.
Unusually, the animations in the video are not just window dressing, but clever explanations of how the music works.
“This is wrong, PooBear. And he’s like, ‘No, it’s wrong right.’ I just had to get used to it.”
“The voice and mouth and your whole skill structure is like an organic synthesiser.”
“Anyone can copy any synth now. But if you manipulate vocals, it’s something original.”
“We added natual harmonies because we didn’t have anything from [Bieber] so we created our own harmonies. Like this one goes down a seventh.”
“When I do MIDI I usually just draw it in.”
“The drop has an A and B part. The first part’s simple: kind of a hip-hop bass. The second part goes double-time.”
“[On sound and drum sound making.] If you compare it to a painter, so much of the process until the eleventh hour is just getting colours right.”
Skrillex: “It was finding that one little thing. Which was the dolphin sound.”
Diplo: “Everyone wants to know what the violin/flute sound is.
Bieber: "Der-de-ee-oh. That’s actually my vocal that they took and messed with.”
Skrillex: “It’s pitched way up, distorted, bounced and re-bounced, so it sounds worse, almost.”
“You took a little pattern and created it into a whole different sound, but it still has the elements of some human thing. A warmth in the track.”
“It’s so cool that we’re still in an era where people think that people have no talent if they make computer music. It shows how young it still is.”
I saw this at !!Con. Kevin is so funny and has such a great sense of craft.
Really digging this on the PS4. It feels more tactical than other shooters. As well as fast reflexes, you win battles by planning: you attack from the side, you let the factions wear each other down, you box the enemies in, you do hit and run attacks.
“Sometimes I lie awake at night, feverishly searching for new ways to load myself down with more poorly-paying responsibilities. And then it comes to me: I should start another open-source project!”
Fun film about a day in the life of two trans women living in LA.
Saw this today at the Whitney. It’s essential to see mobiles in person. All the magic comes from their changing configuration.