No. 27 — Footnotes🦶Fall teaching ⬛ Rut Bryk

Seeing only the punctuation

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9633 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.


The older I get, the more I enjoy seasons of work. Like come fall, I start teaching again and the leaves turn orange and it’s time to play my autumn anthem Höstvisa (lyrics by Tove Jansson) on a loop and all the other tropes of a season changing.

The course on Playful Computing doesn’t officially start until beginning of November, but I’m updating my teaching syllabus from last year and planting some new ideas.

(This course is only for students of faculty of educational sciences in Helsinki University, but I’d be interested in maybe (remote) teaching more. Send me a note if you work with teacher training universities!)


“You can read this book the way you might read E.M. Forster before taking a trip to Florence” says Wes Anderson of An Editor’s Burial: Journals and Journalism from the New Yorker and other magazines.

The book is a lovely collection of essays by real New Yorker reporters. It is meant to accompany the upcoming movie French Dispatch, where a foreign bureau of a fictional Kansas newspaper creates its final issue - inspired by the New Yorker of 1960s.

I of course can’t wait to see the movie. But what I’m most curious about is the phenomenon of this making of elaborate expanded universes. Is there a name for this?

I have a few examples:

The author Jenny Offill built a lovely page named Half a Library (from Samuel Johnson’s “A man will turn over half a library to make one book.") of the books that have shaped her writing.

Penny Lanne, the director of NUTS! created a footnote index of claims in the documentary. It is both intellectually rigorous and seriously playful.

And a bit more old school there is Bowie’s bookshelf, a collection of essays on the 100 books David Bowie was influenced by.

I don’t see these as mere appendices. I have come to think this kind of layering of notes and provenance as something Internet was made for. And if not Internet, the generation who grew up with it. I want footnotes, prior foundational texts, playlists, fanfics and a universe of ideas for everything I see.

The linear experience of reading a book or watching a movie feels squashed. On Internet we can always sleuth and search, follow an idea deeper. Any more examples to add my collection?

The images are artworks of Rut Bryk, a formidable Finnish ceramic artist. Her works, despite their organic nature always somehow make me think of computer hardware and circuitry. I wonder what her footnotes would have looked like?


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.

  • Privatdozent is a newsletter that should interest many folks here: the sparkly, eccentric and highly human-centered history of physics, math and computers. There’s also a new biography on John von Neumann I’m about to start!

  • Tactile maps of Greenland combine my interest in tactile objects to think with and way-finding. I love how soft the wood becomes through touch.

  • Seeing only the punctuation. A simple, beautiful tool that removes everything else outside of punctuation on a piece of text. The outputs look like punchcards with a ton of personality. The original piece also compares the punctuation style of different authors.


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 educators and parents using Ruby in creative, fun and inspiring ways.

I had a lovely discussion with Antonio Santiago from KideScience on storytelling, shapes of stories, learning through our fingertips. It’s 37 minutes and I at least had fun recording.

There is a Basque version of Hello Ruby out! I haven’t yet seen it myself, but looks fun and you can get the book here. Kaixo Ruby!

This map template is so good makes me think I should make a similar resource myself too!

A post shared by Hello Ruby (@helloruby.world)

An oldie from Japan, but I love the dedication! The decoder activity here.


Calendar

Public events, workshops and presentations.

No. 26 — Anni Albers 🧵 Weaving 🧶 LOL memory

Woven circuits

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9661 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.


It’s been a fall of old connections. I first learned about the work of Anni Albers through the Woven Circuits interview between Taeyoon Choi and Shannon Mattern back in 2019. Now City of Paris Modern Museum of Art had an exhibition dedicated to both Anni and Joseph Albers.

Anni Albers worked in the medium of textiles, often bound by an engineers grid, but with creativity, rhythm and almost linguistic character. I love Anni’s quiet, steadfast work, that asks the materials to dictate and artist to listen.

“All art starts with a material, and therefore we have first to investigate what it can do… Respect the material—use it in a way that makes sense — preserve its inherent characteristics” says Anni.

I find this true in of all of my work, too.


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.

  • Anni and Joseph had strong identities as educators. They took up the pedagogical principles of Bauhaus and turned them into something that still resonates today. Together with artists, sociologist, dancers, mathematicians and architects they formed Black Mountain College. I became a supporting member during the pandemic (had wanted to visit!) and the museum offers a lot of interesting virtual programming.

  • The worlds of craft and computers share a common ancestor, the Jacquard loom. “The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves” stated Ada Lovelace famously. However I had not known of core rope memory and it being referred to as LOL memory, referencing the “Little Old Ladies” who assembled the computers. In more recent times, for Elisabetta Matsumoto, knot theory is knit theory. (Anni Albers, too, worked on knots!)

  • Material objects engage multiple senses.
    Material objects promote shared attention.
    Material objects elicit gesture.
    Material objects generate interactivity.
    I’m reading through Juhani Pallasmaa’s The Thinking hand and this essay on (remote) teaching and role of material objects grasps something profound.


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 educators and parents using Ruby in creative, fun and inspiring ways.

More computers! I love the labelling with string and pieces of paper.

If you’re curious to try out this activity, go here.

A post shared by @helloruby.world

Everyone deserves a celebratory brooch!


Calendar

Public events, workshops and presentations.

No. 25 — Copernicus and Bologna 🔭 Octopus intelligence 🐙 100 tabs of madness

There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9685 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.


This week thoughts on the collection of essays from Carlo Rovelli. Also starring: octopus intelligence, explore/exploit problem and Zelda as a ballet. Oh, and for any Turkish speaking folks out there - the Ruby series is now translated and available in Turkish. Drop me a note if you happen to find it in bookstores, or follow the link at the bottom of this e-mail.

P.S. There’s a new section called Calendar at the end of the newsletter. As meetings, events and live trainings are slowly returning, so I too, need to stop shrinking and start expanding. Many of the (webinar) events are free of charge.


There are very few pleasures as big as finding a favorite author’s new(ish) collection.

Carlo Rovelli’s There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness is exactly the kind of book I enjoy: smart, gentle, short, singular and at the same time wide-eyed and full of vertigo.

As a physicists Rovelli often speaks about science and poetry and how they belong together. But my favorite essay in this collection was "Copernicus and Bologna" on the role of higher education. In it Rovelli attributes Copernicus’ scientific breakthrough to the time he spent in Bologna surrounded by old knowledge, but propelled by the spirit of innovation from a community of young people like Da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Research into ancient texts and the rediscovery of the knowledge of the past – the obsession of humanists – was being propelled by a burning desire to innovate a new future entirely different from the present.

It’s not a new idea - understanding the past helps us understand the future is a mantra easily accepted. 15th century Bologna combined it with a youthful spirit of progress. And I think this combination is rare to find in a place or a city, especially when it comes to technology. It’s easy to find hotspots of tech innovation, that completely overlook the past. And likewise, to find places where history is more important than dreaming about the future.

What can the university offer us now? It can offer the same riches that Copernicus found: the accumulated knowledge of the past, together with the liberating idea that knowledge can be transformed and become transformative.

Further, I think it’s not only university that should be nurturing this kind of dual mandate. A kindergarten which offers the accumulated knowledge of the past with the spirit of open-ended future sounds like a great place to grow.


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 educators and parents using Ruby in creative, fun and inspiring ways.

It’s always fun to see a new translation of Ruby. The Turkish versions of all four books are now available (I think it’s language 34?)

So fun. The toothbrushing meets block-coding activity from here.


Calendar

Public events, workshops and presentations.

No. 24 — Tiny portals 🔗 Revolving bookshelves 💙 Why are hyperlinks blue?

Links as kindness

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9691 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.


One of my favorite technologies on the web is the humble hyperlink:

<a href="url">link text</a>

A link is a tiny portal. A kid of the 90s my web was full of them. Jumping from link to link I explored the new world, with a bungee cord built with code.

One thing I’ve noticed working with kids of today is, that the idea of a hyperlink is disappearing.

Links are occasionally clicked on, sure, and they still define much of what gets recommended to us. But the apps kids use don’t really support them (look at how hard it is to add a link to Instagram or TikTok) and QR-codes are proving to be far easier to use than typing tedious links.

In the third Ruby book (Expedition to the Internet) I tried to explore the more philosophical side of links with a few activities that teach kids to look at text around them through the eyes of a hyperlink. I’m not sure how popular this activity has been, but I’d be curious to see if anyone attempts to make a wall-sized/scrapbook version of the first activity.

The idea of a hyperlink is old. The name goes all the way back to 1964 to Project Xanadu. The idea dates to the often referenced essay As We May Think from 1945 and even beyond that 16th and 6th century revolving bookshelves in Italy and China.

Ted Nelson, the pioneer of the hyperlink, wasn’t however completely happy with the execution. The modern “HTML is precisely what we were trying to prevent—ever-breaking links, links going outward only, quotes you can’t follow to their origins, no version management, no rights management,” Nelson lamented.

The hyperlink protocol specifies that a link can be text, but also image or any other HTML element. I wish the standard was expanded to fit all these possibilities.

What if you had the option to link within a video call or a game? What if links could show how many of your friends are reading the same article? What if link trackers were made visible on the syntax level? What if links could offer more context instead of piping us through the web? Two-way links? Tiny portals!

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 educators and parents using Ruby in creative, fun and inspiring ways.

A post shared by @paoletta1009

These memory cards (pun intended) can be printed here.

A post shared by @tietoevrylv

From my Latvian readers who always delight me.

A post shared by @imerinet

This is an activity I’ve been doing for a long time - asking students to imagine what is inside a computer. Love seeing these in the wild. I try to keep a running list of images here.

No. 23 — Compositional Patterns 🖋️ Comments on punchcards 🏛️ Winamp Skin Museum

Tell it like a mushroom

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9706 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.


Last weekend a story I researched and wrote for the biggest daily in Finland was published. It was my first time writing long form and I loved the experience.

The story is about my hunt for a Finnish Ada Lovelace or Grace Hopper - I interviewed early computer programmers and punchcard operators in Finland, now in their 70s to 90s, to learn how they influenced modern computing culture.

The story is paywalled (and in Finnish!), and I’m going to spoil it a little by saying that as of yet there was no hidden Linus Torvalds. But the response I got from readers was overwhelming - hundreds of comments and stories shared with me, but more importantly new kind of discussions between generations (often moms and daughters!) about careers and work in technology in breakfast tables all around our country.

There were two thoughts I didn’t have the space to explore in the piece.

First, the shape of the stories we tell about technology. There’s a recurring story of innovation in technology that centers around a hard working (often male) genius. It is a popular simplification, because it is straightforward to understand.

The meandering, spiralling or sprawling reality that has to do with the social and intellectual networks of an era, on the institutions and invisible work done by many, is much harder to capture.

Towards the end of the story I conclude:

“Did my hunting trip to the 1960s end empty-handed?

Yes, if the goal was to find a mythical white tiger.
No, if all along I've been on a mushroom hunt.

Finding the first mushroom encourages one to look for the next one. And stories, once found, have no end.”

The popularity of books about trees and moss and mushrooms suggest that there is a longing for these non-linear stories. But how do we write them? Because I’m an illustrator, I return to pen and paper and try to keep sketching the compositional pattern of the way we tell stories about technology. Maybe explore the story like a matsutake would? Maybe span the timeline like a mountain would?

Second, the idea of exploring a time that barely left any traces. Computing culture in the 1960s was hierarchical, women made very few contributions that are visible to our day (which does not mean they didn’t exist). Looking for sources made me also much more aware of our own era.

On one hand I loved finding information that isn’t on Google. One of the best parts of writing this story was the work I did in our National Archive, leafing through old journals. Some of the interviewees came from an obscure 1993 book I bought from an antiquarian bookshop a year ago. It felt like a true treasure hunt, like I was privy to some secret information not available for everyone.

On the other hand, I got jealous to all the art historians sitting next to me, reading through correspondence, studying original paintings. All I had was an opening, a gap, lines of code that have disappeared years ago. So how do we look for sources and find the stories about technology, when we lack the artefacts?

If I ever have the opportunity, I want to visit the archives of some of the big institutions in charge of the changes in 1960s to see if I can find any of the original punchcards, meeting memos or specifications, to see if there are any hand drawn doodles, notes or anecdotes that would help shed light to a computing time that barely left any.


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 educators and parents using Ruby in creative, fun and inspiring ways.

What a little legend, said someone in the comments.

A post shared by @maestraalle

Ruby’s pattern practice (exercise seven in the first book) - make the pattern according to instructions like these: Draw lines / Not straight / Not touching / Use four colors

Writing postcards to Ruby <3

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