[nSLUG] Re: OLPC Meet-up in Nova Scotia?

Mike Spencer mspencer at tallships.ca
Mon Oct 5 14:51:30 ADT 2009

Dan MacKay wrote:

> On 2009-10-05, at 00:05 , Michael Crawford wrote:
>>  It would be specifically
>> aimed at students that knew very little about computers, and nothing
>> at all about programming.
> Who remembers the teaching programming language LOGO??
> Let's resurrect it and launch a kid's programming teaching blitz for  
> its forty-fifth birthday!

Somewhat OT yarn (I'll connect it up at the end):

Circa 1990, I was in the middle of a series of annual blacksmithing
demos for a first-year university program on the history of technology.
All the kids in the group  took chemistry, physics and calculus but
the history course was the humanities core of their program.

Starting with the beginning of technology, there were modules on
cooking, ceramics, weaving, blacksmithing, the internal combustion
engine and (!)computers.  Each module involved extensive,
heterogeneous readings, field trips, a visiting expert and hands-on
work.  They cooked with a professional chef, forged iron with me,
rebuilt small gas engines and raced them on go-karts.  All the modules
were received with great, even exuberant enthusiasm.

Except for computers.  The teaching team put together a great
collection of readings and had some Osborne 1 computers (for which I
supplied Conway's "Life" :-).  But the kids all went, "Ho-hum.  We
already *know* about computers.  We use Unix workstations to do our
homework."  The professors, teaching assistants and I all thought that
groking Conway's "Life" in C  and Basic on a Z80 would be
intriguing. Nope.  Ho-hum. (They eventually abandoned the computer
module as a consequence.)

Well, these kids were all well-informed and exceptional in one way or
another. And Michael Crawford *did* say, "...aimed at students that
knew very little about computers, and nothing at all about

The other day I spotted a kid, maybe 10 to 13 years old, operating a
radio-controlled Monster Truck on a vacant lot, spewing up dirt on the
turns and doing jumps from a plywood ramp.  As an alternative to
hunting up kids with *no* computer savvy -- say, trekking into the
high Andes, the Bombay slums or the remote Ozarks -- maybe you could
hack a RC truck controller to interface with a Logo interpreter.
Forty-five years ago, computers were big and so slow that the turtle
had to move slowly and stay tethered indoors. Modern laptops have
wireless and are fast enough to keep up with the speed of the moving
toy vehicle.  LOGO at the speed of light^H^H^H^H toy trucks.

For the quicker kids that get right into it, there's the added element
that, for a fast-moving vehicle, you have to take into account
momentum and other basic physics.  Or, on a more digital plane, you
could segue from the (cool and exciting real RC toy) into the logic of
Braitenberg's _Vehicles_.

Just wool-gathering off the top of my head...

- Mike

Michael Spencer                  Nova Scotia, Canada       .~. 
mspencer at tallships.ca                                     /( )\
http://home.tallships.ca/mspencer/                        ^^-^^

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