No 21 - Playgrounds 🤖 Public Spaces 📐 Architects for the very young

Playground as platform

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9412 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.


Hi hi hi. July is here and so is my annual vacation. Before hopping and skipping towards summer there is one project I want to share:

We’re starting work towards a computer playground in downtown Helsinki! Together with city of Helsinki we are imagining a public playground in Ruoholahti that teaches kids about technology through play. What if you could learn about how computers work by climbing and crawling? What if the basics of computational thinking could be explored on a trampoline? What if a playground could make technology more approachable, playful and familiar?

If any of this sounds interesting to you (the intersection of physical play, public space and computer science with a playground as a platform, if I may), these are topics we’ve been researching and studying during spring and will continue the work in autumn with more stakeholders and groups. I’ll be of course writing more about the process and discoveries in this letter.

And now - I wish all of you a very lovely summer. See you in August!


Linked List

In computer science, a linked list is a linear collection of data elements whose order is not given by their physical placement in memory. But here it is a selection of things I’ve been reading lately.

No. 20 — Acorns 🌰 Packet switching 🤝 Dancing drones

The three handshakes of TCP/IP

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9426 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.


In Finland work needs to be done by midsummer, so the weeks before are a blur. And while everything I’m doing right now seems messy, unfinished and unnecessarily complicated, the end of June is near.

I was pulling up some numbers, and noticed that my TED talk (which at the time also felt messy, unfinished and unnecessarily complicated) now has 2.1 million views. OVER TWO MILLION! This is the power of Internet I at least tend to forget. Give anything enough time and it will grow. Richard Hamming and his acorns everywhere.

On that thought - this little corner of the Internet has seen twenty editions. What started as a pandemic project has grown into a meditation I look forward to writing. Can’t wait to see what another six years will bring.


One of my favorite themes of computer science to teach is packet switching. Something in protocols makes me feel light, joyous and resilient. (The three handshakes of TCP/IP sounds like a young adult novel I would read!)

I’ve made teaching tools with vegetables and orchestrated kid-sized Internet protocol demonstrations. Both of the experiments taught me to appreciate how it is even possible that the Internet works as well as it does - and how amazing it is that no single company owns these protocols.

Anyways, last week I read Matt Webb’s story on infrastructure, protocols and how we could create national packet-switched drone delivery networks.

The article is smart, fun, and genuinely new - I’ve only read stories on startups building stuff with drones and have been largely uninterested, but the idea of creating a national delivery system, a physical network powered by a protocol seems.. familiar. That’s how the Internet got started. Handshakes in the air.

Infrastructure builds slow and then fast. ARPANET (and then the internet) was 4 nodes at launch in 1969; 100,000 nodes after 20 years in 1989 when the web was first proposed; and a billion nodes 20 years after that – an efficient, interoperating, exponentially-growing network for information. My take: Now is the time to start work on the equivalent infrastructure for the physical world.

If you’re interested in learning more about packet switching, there’s an activity for that. The CS Unplugged project has made great instructions on doing this with kids.

Try out the activity


Linked List

In computer science, a linked list is a linear collection of data elements whose order is not given by their physical placement in memory. But here it is a selection of things I’ve been reading lately.


Classroom

I’m hoping to surface and share stories from all of you and I’d love to see your creations! Here are a few teachers using Ruby in creative, fun and inspiring ways:

How a Swedish classroom uses Ruby, make sure to click through the slides for the Picasso inspired decomposing activity.

No. 19 - Hajimete no Otsukai 💠 Shape of stories ⛏️ Software archeology

When we close down the wilderness, we close down imagination.

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9452 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful. This essay first appeared in Blue Wings back in 2018.


One of the most beloved Finnish traditions is what we call “everyman’s right,” or the use of forests as public commons. Everyone has the right to roam, wander, collect berries, and get lost in the wilderness. This, together with our safe cities, has made it possible for Finnish children to be so adventurous and self-sufficient at such an early age.

And that freedom isn’t only true of cities and forests. As a kid of the 1990s, I was allowed to surf around the internet freely. The internet of my childhood is gentle and anonymous. It’s the internet of unfinished, homemade websites and the freedom to try on twelve different identities before breakfast. The browser’s home button was always the final leash that would pull me back to safety from my cyber-adventures.

The world and the internet have changed since my childhood. Kids today need to learn how to navigate a more commercial internet full of apps, ads, and real threats. Cities, too, in many parts of the world are unsafe, which is restricting children’s right to roam freely. A Natural England report by Dr William Bird famously showed how in four generations the area where a Sheffield child was allowed to walk unaccompanied shrank from almost 10 kilometres to less than 300 metres.

Today’s kids have nowhere to go where they aren’t followed, tracked, and logged – and this applies both online and in the urban space. The current world of technology is a tale of commercialisation and fear. I went surfing one day in an effort to rekindle my childhood excitement of being able to go anywhere and be anyone at the click of a mouse, but all I found were uniform Instagram photos and warnings for parents. Three threats that lurk online. Ten ways to safeguard your child from the Internet. The World Wild Web has turned into a tame playground.

Sure, young children should not go online alone. They shouldn’t trust everyone. But when we close down the wilderness, we close down imagination.

Luckily inspiration for self-sufficiency can still be found in unlikely places. Hajimete No Otsukai (or はじめてのおつかい) is a beloved Japanese TV series about children as young as two running their first errands in their neighbourhood. The camera crew secretly follows as the tiny humans make choices about crossing the busy streets, picking up flowers and tofu at the grocery store, or bringing a missing hat to a big sister in school.

It’s exciting and scary to watch the children overcome obstacles that are both physical and emotional. Through manageable tasks, the children develop self-reliance, and a sense of social trust.

I hope Hajimete No Otsukai can be an inspiration for the next generation making their way in the world, whether in a natural, urban, or digital context. After all, it is only through browsing, meandering, wandering, and exploring that we learn to find what we’re looking for.

Try out an activity called Hiding in Plain Sight, which combines walking in a city with finding the Internet!

Try it out


Linked List


Classroom

I’m hoping to surface and share stories from all of you and I’d love to see your creations!

Inspired by last week’s pancake algorithm, Milena and her child made a video + cardboard version of it. Do click - the video is great and I love this kind of creativity.

Emilie reviews STEAM books - very honored to be on her list. The rest of the recommendations are wonderful too!

A nice twist on the Dataselfie activity.

..And some in-real-world bit penguins!

No. 18 - Pancake sorting 🥞 Dates and history 🔩Shortage of chips

Working with a spatula

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9447 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.


Last week we shot a short talk about home-cooked software. My manager had access to a kitchen studio and the idea of doing a technology talk, but in the style of a cooking video, was born.

The talk is about a lot of things: what we can learn from recipes, Samin Nosrat, rooftop gardens, caloric surplus and the idea of developing a palate and what that means for software engineering. But one of the most fun to shoot segments was demonstrating the pancake sorting algorithm.

This is an algorithm to sort a disordered stack of pancakes in order of size in the smallest number of steps. There’s a lot of varieties to both the problem and the solution, but in essence what we shot was bringing always the largest pancake not yet sorted to the top with one flip and taking it down to its final position with one more flip. And then repeating this process for the remaining pancakes.

Unless you’re very well versed in algorithms, you probably need to read that sentence a few times. And odds are it still doesn’t make much sense. Experimenting with this interactive version might help a little bit. But still, slow, at least for me.

I’ve written earlier about the role of touch in learning and once again I was reminded how much my fingertips help in understanding. Working with the spatula I don’t think I’ll ever forget the algorithm. I own it.

Try it out. Find seven different sized objects and really try moving through the sequence of steps in the instructions. It’s a joy. I’ve made something similar in the past with bubblesort algorithm, there’s a worksheet to try out.

(Once your fingers are all greasy and gross playing with the pancakes it might occur to you where this algorithm is used. Well, for example in parallel computing to calculate shortest paths between processors - which in turn is what powers scientific research, game engines, AI calculations.. anything that requires a LOT of computing power.)


Linked List

In computer science, a linked list is a linear collection of data elements whose order is not given by their physical placement in memory. But here it is a selection of things I’ve been reading lately.

  • Geography is the chessboard of history. Makes (among other things) the argument that our focus on teaching dates when it comes to history is.. weirdly trivial and mostly useful because dates are easy to grade. Makes me think what are the things we teach in computer science that are equally esoteric.

  • This internal combustion engine website made the rounds earlier and I obviously love it. Wish someone made an electric circuits - logic gates - ALU version that would start with the step by step approach of Code by Charles Petzold. (That should probably be me.)

  • I’ve been following the global shortage of microchips with much fascination. When everything becomes a computer, turns out it’s not only software we need. The entire field of semiconductors and talent as a geopolitical resource has this sense of 1960s, and transistors at the heart of it being both a physical thing and a mathematical operation is a metaphor I keep thinking about.


Classroom

I’m hoping to surface and share stories from all of you and I’d love to see your creations!

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No. 17 — Marginalia 📝 Fred Rogers ❤️ Palimpsest

A reader with a pen

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9447 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.


Marginalia, as in marginal notes or embellishments in a book, has long been an obsession of mine. The Hello Ruby series got started as scribbles in the margins of my Learning Rails book back in 2010. Whenever I didn’t understand a concept (MVC?Object oriented design?), I would try to make a tiny drawing of it. This obsessive habit became my career.

Ever since I’ve been a reader with a pen. And I am in no way alone.

Oliver Sacks was a voracious scribbler of his 500+ books. Browsing through these pictures it occasionally feels his playful soul is present in the space between the text and its commentary. One recurring app wish I have (😞 Readmill👋 Readwise) is a social way to read and share marginalia. I think the only NFT I’d be interested in purchasing is one that unlocks the layers of secrets someone else’s notes contain.

Sam Anderson made smart and detailed notes while reading that grew into essays and critiques, but also a year long project highlighting this visible thinking.

Pierre de Fermat wrote his famous last theorem in the margins. I’ve linked the project inspired by this tendency for scientists and researchers, Fermat’s library, before but it bears repeating. Start with the recent I, Pencil article.

It’s not only the literary and scientific text that in my opinion benefits from a subjective commentary. Programmers regularly annotate their code to make it easier for the next human to read it - the computer doesn’t really care and odds are someone else will work on your code in the future. Sometimes it happens with line comments, separated from the actual code with special characters (like /* or ##). Sometimes it’s done by the software that handles the versioning (like git diff or commit history).

Recently I’ve been trying to find primary sources on early Finnish punchcard operators. Some of these punchcards from 1950s and 1960s are digitalised, but they lack.. context? Thinking? It makes me wonder if the most lasting legacy of the Svalbard Github repositories won’t be the code, but the annotations that are stored.

Linked List

In computer science, a linked list is a linear collection of data elements whose order is not given by their physical placement in memory. But here it is a selection of things I’ve been reading lately.


Classroom

I’m hoping to surface and share stories from all of you and I’d love to see your creations! Instagram has been recently quite active - sharing here a few of my favorite inventions. I’m also trying to remember to post more on the Hello Ruby instagram account and share these there.

A post shared by @code_buzzy
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