No. 30 — AMA 🙋 Mesofacts ⛰️ Hyperobjects

Language too loose/too tight

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9600 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.


Every year on Instagram I’ve done a Q&A session on a long flight/layover (2018/2019, 2020). These Q&As have been a lovely way to reflect and notice how I have changed. I also get tons of “professional” questions about all sorts of things to my e-mail - from writing to illustrating to programming to reading and as nice as answering individually is, there is some benefit to to doing it openly. (At least more knowledgeable people can chime in!)

I was thinking of doing something similar for the next edition of this newsletter, so if you have questions, you can reply below or shoot me an e-mail. I’ll keep questions anonymous and use the first letter of your first name. So, ask me anything!

P.S Last year I wrote 24 ideas for holiday season if there are educators or parents thinking about doing a computer science themed December!


New words can have a way of shrinking the world. Use language too tight, risk alienation. Use language too loose, risk grasping new ideas and concepts. There are, however, two words, I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, both from early 2010s. Good ten years old, they both explain something about how hard it is to design or write about computer science education. So, here for you to think about:

Mesofacts. It’s the idea of truth decay, presented by Samuel Arbesman. Mesofacts are the facts that change neither too quickly nor too slowly, that lie in this difficult-to-comprehend middle, or meso-, scale. Often, we learn these in school when young and hold onto them, even after they change. For example, if, as a baby boomer, you learned high school chemistry in 1970, and then, as we all are apt to do, did not take care to brush up on your chemistry periodically, you would not realize that there are 12 new elements in the Periodic Table (via Boston Globe).” Computing offers so many mesofacts, everything from pure calculation power to what machine learning can/can’t do.

Hyperobjects. I’ve been slowly reading Timothy Morton’s book on the subject. Morton uses the term to explain objects “so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend localization”. Climate change and styrofoam are given as examples. I have an inkling computer (science) will be one too. Additional plus is that the term was inspired by Björk’s song Hyperballad and the two have corresponded publicly.


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.

  • Computer Science Week (December 6-10) is almost here and I know a lot of educators are getting ready! One great, free resource I’ve been reading lately is the Big Book of Computing Pedagogy by Hello World and RasberryPi Foundation.

  • I know I link a lot of Fermat’s Library stuff, but this paper “How to Build an Economic Model in Your Spare Time” by Hal Varian from 1997 is so lovely. It’s the same line of wisdom as Richard Hamming’s You and Your Research. Maybe I have a soft spot for computer scientists/economists giving life advice?

  • Benoit Leva does the most fascinating stop-motion work. For every commercial Instagram account I follow, I try to find 2-3 artists/museums. Makes for a much calmer experience.


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:

The pattern drawing activity is one of my favorite one from book one, even though it never was as popular as some other ones. Makes me think of Sol LeWitt.

A wonderful exit ticket questionnaire - I love the foldable design.

A post shared by Mama Carla🌳ZorganizowanaMama (@mamacarlapl)

Cutest little reader!

No. 29 — David Hockney 👀 But to see like this 🐈 They All Saw a Cat

Living in a rectangular world

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9628 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.


A few weeks ago I went to see the new David Hockney exhibition at musée de l'Orangerie. The show makes you walk a 70 meter demi-circle, following a year’s progress in Hockney’s surroundings in Normandy. Like a Chinese scroll, movement through time.

I am too much of an amateur in art to attempt to explain what David Hockney has been doing throughout his career. He has played with paint, crayons, photography, fax machines, camera obscuras and now with iPads to help us notice how technologies can enhance and change our perception. He has twisted perspectives and cut corners of paintings to help us notice how we see.

I think his interest in the lack of a single linear perspective and act of seeing are fascinating when trying to help children understand the world through the perspective of a machine. (Why? Because to understand the other, helps understand oneself.)

Of course I’ve been collecting examples of this non-human vision in technical ways. Examples include how a Roomba looks at the world, how a computer watches movies and what neural networks see? But I think David Hockney might still be my best guide in thinking about childhood and computer-aided perspectives to the world.

Some of the early Hockney photographic mosaics remind me of the recent explanations of how computers piece together visual information, in a way seemingly completely foreign to us. And at the same time, isn’t this exactly the way we see the world? As snapshots, from different perspectives, with progress of time built into our vision.

I don’t have a great activity to propose just yet to help children use the computer to see time, distance, non-linear perspective, escape the rectangle and notice perception. One idea I’ve been toying around with is the story recounted by Vea Vecchi in Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia where children are divided into groups around the model, each with a different perspective.

One girl, Laura, wanders around and stops to speak to Martina, who is sitting at Sewaa’s side. Laura tells Martina that what she has done isn’t right. In a friendly way, she says, “You’ve drawn Sewaa as if she was like this, in front of you…. Instead you were supposed to draw her like this … from the side … in profile … with only one eye, only one leg, only one ear.” She shows Martina her own side-view drawing, putting them side by side to compare. Martina, at first surprised, seems little by little to understand what Laura is trying to show her. Marina, the teacher, comes close to Martina and says in a kindly way, “The drawing you have made is lovely.” She pauses, then goes on to say, “But, to see it like this, where would you have to be sitting?” Martina points to the groups who can see Sewaa from the side, “There, at that table there.”

What if the children could do the same, but instead of crayons, use the computer as a collaborator and co-drawer? What if instead of colors they could use datasets? What is instead of static images, they could use all the interactivity a computer can offer?

My dream collaboration would probably be a 5 year old, a Reggio Emilia atelierista, a computer vision researcher and Hockney spending a week together in Normandy.


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.

  • Spring Cannot be Cancelled: David Hockney in Normandy by David Hockney and Martin Gaynor is by far my favorite book of the year. My favorite thing about the book is that while Hockney is getting older and his living environment is getting smaller, it feels like his curiosity and vigour for life are just getting bigger. It’s rare.

  • They All Saw A Cat looks like a picture book version of what I’m trying to explain here with words. How We See by What’s New deconstructs human vision in a scientific way, many parts of which were completely new for me.

  • If you frame it like that. A fascinating essay on art history, rectangles, squares and circles. Another thing Hockney has been obsessed for a long time is escaping the rectangle.

    “It’s incredible how deeply imprinted we are with these damn rectangles”, Hockney commented as we looked at one of these early Grand Canyon collages on its cardboard panel. “Everything in our culture seems to reinforce the instinct to see rectangularly - books, streets, buildings, rooms, windows. Sam Francis once told me how odd the American Indian initially found the white settlers: ‘These people who insist on living in rectangular buildings.’ The Indians, you see, lived in a circular world.
    - From True to Life: Twenty-Five Years of Conversations with David Hockney by Lawrence Weschler

  • My friend Kristoffer launched a project called Wilderness Land : A Tribute to Web Surfing. It has a map, a Totoro and five hundred hidden links to odd, poetic places on the Internet. It too, defies rectangles.


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:

A post shared by Kovács Anita (@eperinda)

Binary practice with chestnuts! Worksheet version here.

I love the flappy computers! Printables here.

An A1 size poster by William Lau on all the splendid reading options around computer science, grouped by age and topic.

No. 28 — Isoprenes ⚗️Think Like a Bot🦿Grand jeté

The air is vibrating

My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9629 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.


I’m back from my first work trip to Madrid and also the first big performance since the pandemic started (the fantastic ballet Play by Alexander at Palais Garnier, from which the photos are).

In both of these events the only thing I could think: so many isoprenes.

So, isoprenes. Turns out we humans carry in our breath non-verbal, non-visual coordination. The mixtures of gases in our breath –the carbon dioxide, acetone, and isoprene - create a fingerprint that allows researchers to study for example movies and whether they will become a hit. But I think breath also helps us understand why performing to a live audience is so different from a Zoom room.

In the formidable Spring Cannot Be Cancelled: David Hockney in Normandy David Hockney and Martin Gayford have a discussion about something similar.

Martin Gayford: But, of course, recorded music - though it gives us pleasure - isn’t the same as being at a performance.

David Hockney: Oh yes, yes. I hear through electronic things now. Thats’s all I can do because os my deafness, so I don’t go to concerts that much as I’m hearing it electronically. The great thing about concerts, I’d thought earlier on, was that it wasn’t electronic. You could hear in a different way. That’s how I discovered music.

Martin Gayford: There’s a physical connection in a live performance, as there is when you are in front of a picture or a sculpture. If someone is playing the violin in front of you, the air is vibrating as a result of their actions in the same space that you are occupying. Not only can we see musically, on your drives, in films, or when we watch an opera staged, we can also hear spaces.

David Hockney: If you think of it, the acoustics of a recording are the acoustics of another place - not those of the space that you are currently in. You are hearing it in a different room. That must set up a distance.

I think coming out of the pandemic will require more vocabulary from us to describe and explore all of these things.

Air that vibrates, distances that can be heard, hearing different spaces and sensing them through chemical cues. All of this from the simple act of sharing a physical space.

The opposite can’t just be lumped together with one word metaverse / virtual / online.


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.

  • Think Like a Bot. A game where you guess how AI labels images. Learning to see the world through non-human eyes can be .. enthralling? Would try this with older students!

  • Fermat’s Library: Statistical Physics and biology. This is a 1992 paper by Giorgio Parisi, one of the 2021 Physics Nobel Laureates, where he attempts to bring together physics and biology. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading so many early papers on the convergence of computer science as a discipline, I love the leap he is making here. It’s bold, forward-looking, like a grand jeté.

  • Footwork. “A work of dance might be recorded abstractly in notation, but it’s the performance that realizes it; you can’t really encounter a dance without seeing it performed.” I don’t know exactly the connection to my own work, but found these four chapters on dance so refreshing and sparking all kinds of metaphysical ideas. Also, go see Play, if you can.

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.

Spoiler: The little reader wasn’t impressed with the Linux commands.

This is such an evergreen, cool project!

Denise creates these wonderful materials around Ruby. Here a connect-the-two version of the hardware-software activity.

Calendar

Public events, workshops and presentations.

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.

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