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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

people using computers

history of programming languages-ii

thomas j. bergin

1996

Link

2017-08-17

just some text about early attempts at making computers friendly to users. or perhaps users friendly to computers. or both.

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'as adele liked to point out, it is hard to claim success if only some of the children are successful--and if a maximum effort of both children and teachers was required to get the successes to happen.'

'in part, what we were seeing was the "hacker phenomenon," that, for any given pursuit, a particular 5% of the population will jump into it naturally, whereas the 80% or so who can learn it in time do not find it at all natural.'

'it started to hit home in the spring of '74 after i taught smalltalk to 20 parc nonprogrammer adults. they were able to get through the initial material faster than the children, but just as it looked like an overwhelming success was at hand, they started to crash on problems that did not look to me to be much harder than the ones on which they had just been doing well...that night i wrote it out, and the next day i showed all of them how to do it. still, none of them were able to do it by themselves. later, i sat in the room pondering the board from my talk. finally, i counted the number of nonobvious ideas in this little program. they came to 17. and some of them were like the concept of the arch in building design: very hard to discover, if you do not already know them. the connection to literacy was painfully clear. it is not enough to just learn to read and write. there is also a literature that renders ideas. language is used to read and write about them, but at some point the organization of ideas the connection to literacy was painfully clear. it is not enough to just learn to read and write. there is also a literature that renders ideas. language is used to read and write about them, but at some point the organization of ideas starts to dominate mere language abilities. and it helps greatly to have some powerful ideas under one's belt to better acquire more powerful ideas.'

'[useful paths] the first is fluency, which in part is the process of building mental structures that make the interpretations of the representations disappear. the letters and words of a sentence are experienced as meaning rather than markings, the tennis racquet or keyboard becomes an extension of one's body, and so forth. if carried further one eventually becomes a kind of expert--but without deep knowledge in other areas, attempts to generalize are usually too crisp and ill-formed. the second path is toward taking the knowledge as a metaphor than can illuminate other areas. but without fluency it is more likely that prior knowledge will hold sway and the metaphors from this side will be fuzzy and misleading. the 'trick,' and i think that this is what liberal arts eduation is supposed to be about, is to get fluent and deep while building relationships with other fluent deep knowledge. our society has lowered its aims so far that it is happy with 'increases in scores' without daring to inquire whether any important threshold has been crossed. being able to read a warning on a pill bottle or write about a summer vacation is not literacy and our society should not treat it so. literacy, for example, is being able to fluently read and follow the 50-page argument in paine's common sense and being able (and happy) to fluently write a critique or defense of it. another kind of 20th century literacy is being able to hear about a new fatal contagious incurable disease and instantly know that a disastrous exponential relationship holds and early action is of the highest priority. another kind of literacy would take citizens to their personal computers where they can fluently and without pain build a systems simulation of the disease to use as a comparison against further information.'

- history of programming ii, smalltalk session by alan c. kay