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!
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.
I like how RSS is having a tiny resurgence. The algorithmic timeline of Big Tech, the frustration of only seeing content hyper-geared to one’s (consumer) profile.. all gets solved with a tiny piece of 22-year old technology that makes me think of Mario’s green pipes. I use Feedly (with some vintage feeds all the way from 2006), but am eying curiously at Fraidycat.
I started to keep a list of artists who’ve made (scientific) contributions outside their fields. I don’t know what I’m trying to figure out here, but a list is a good place to start. Vladimir Nabokov was an avid butterfly enthusiast who made a hypothesis about their migration patterns. David Hockney got obsessed with art history and optics. Do you have other suggestions? Brian Eno fits in somehow.
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.
These memory cards (pun intended) can be printed here.
From my Latvian readers who always delight me.
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.