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The whole video of Engelbart's Online System (NLS) is available on youtube. Some of it is *really* interesting. Most of it is unfortunately dry. It's easy to forget that this was 50 years ago, and also mindblowing that it was only 50 years ago.

Anyway, back to Computer Chronicles. In an episode about Word Proccessors, the man they were interviewing said "There's a lot of talk about making people more computer literate. I'd rather make computers more people literate." There's a phrase that resonated with me in a big way.

It sounds like the kind of semantic buzzword shuffling so common in standard corporate speak, but I got the impression that the guy that said it, believed it. He believed that computers had gotten powerful enough that they no longer had to be inscrutable.

There were others working around the same time on similar ideas, or at least from a similar philosophy. Working to make computers, if not intuitive, at least comprehensible. I think this is a noble goal.

The computer is often thought of as a tool, but it is more like a tool shed, in which we store a collection of tools, a source of power, and a workspace.

The tools of the 60s and 70s were primitive, partially because of the limited space and limited power our toolbox could provide for them, but also because our ideas and understanding of how these tools should work were limited by the audience who was using the tools.

That is to say, in the 60s and 70s, computers were weak and slow and computer users were also computer programmers. A small, tight knit circle of developers and computer scientists were responsible for the bulk of the progress made in that time, and the idea of designing tools for non-technical users was never considered.

Computer culture had, by and large, a kind of elitism about it as a result of the expense and education required to really spend much time with a computer. This changed, slowly, starting in the mid 70s with the development of the Microcomputer Market and CP/M.

Computers became more affordable, slowly. Affordable computers became more powerful, quickly. Within 10 years, non-technical users were interacting with computers on a daily basis. It was against the beginnings of this backdrop that the phrase I mentioned earlier was coined. "Human Literate Computers" or "Human Centered Computing."

Ease of Use was the holy grail for a lot of computer companies. A computer that was so easy to use that they could sell it to grandma. But, to me at least, Human Literate and Easy to Use are distinct ideas. Many modern applications are Easy to Use. Netflix is Easy to Use. Facebook is, for all it's faults, pretty easy to use. The iPhone, the iPad, and ChromeOS are super easy to use.

Well, they are easy to use as long as you use them in the prescribed way. As long as you let them tell you what you want to do, instead of the other way around.

That, IMO, is the distinction.

I think that many of the steps towards demystifying the computer of the 80s and 90s did good work, but ultimately, the computer industry left the whole idea behind, in favor of making some tasks Very Easy while making other tasks Practically Impossible, and turning everything into a surveillance device.

When I was a kid I was brought up with computers that showed you how they worked.

You booted in to a command prompt or a programming language, or you could get to one, if you wanted to.

I got to play with GW Basic and qBasic and, a little, with hypercard.

I got to take apart software and put it back together and make things that made people happy.

I got to make things that I needed. I got to make things that make me happy.

Today, the tools to do that are complex to compensate for the vast additional capabilities of a modern computer, but also to reinforce technical elitism.

I often wonder why Hypercard had to die.

It was because Jobs wanted the Computer to be an Appliance. A thing only used in prescribed ways.

Letting people build their own tools means letting people control their own destiny.

If I can make what I want, or if someone else can make what they want, and then I can take it apart and improve it, why would I pay for an upgrade? Why would I pay you to build something that doesn't meet my needs?

I'm mentioning hypercard specifically because I've been relearning hypercard recently, and it is *better* and more useful than I remember it being.

It's honestly revelatory.

Hypercard, if your unfamiliar, is powerpoint + instructions.

Here's a great introduction/example: loper-os.org/?p=568

The author walks you through building a calculator app in about 5 minutes, step by step.

Warning: There's a bit of ableist language tossed around in the last paragraph. Skip it, there's nothing worth reading there anyway.

You use the same kinds of tools you would use to build a slideshow, but you couple them with links, multimedia, and scripting.

Want a visual interface for your database of client data? Great! slap together a roladex card, and drop in a search function.

Go from concept to presentation ready in an hour or two (or less, if you've done this before!)

Hypercard was easy to use. Everyone who used it loved it. It was integral to many businesses daily operations.

Jobs killed it because he couldn't control it.

Microsoft doesn't ship any tools for building programs with their OS anymore, either.

They used to. There was a time when you could sit down at any windows or DOS machine and code up a program that would run on any other Windows or DOS machine.

But we can't have that anymore.

In the name of Ease of Use, they left out the Human aspect.

Use your computer how you're told to use it, and everything is easy.

Do anything new or novel and it's a struggle.

My nephew has an ipad.

He asked his dad how to write games. His dad didn't know. His dad asked me how to write games on an iPad. I told him not to bother.

My nephew asked me how to learn to write games.

I gave him a raspberry pi and a copy of pico 8.

Now he writes computer games.

He couldn't do that on his iPad.

Hypercard would be a perfect fit for the iPad and iPhone.

Imagine it!

Imagine the things you could build.

But we aren't allowed to have computers that are fun to use, that are easy to build for, that are human centric, or human literate.

The last 10 years of development in computers were a mistake. Maybe longer.

Instead of making computers Do More, or making them Feel Faster, we've chased benchmarks, made them more reliant on remote servers, and made them less generally useful. We brought back the digital serfdom of the mainframe.

In the first episode of computer chronicles (youtube.com/watch?v=wpXnqBfgvP) the mainframe guy is real adamant about how mainframes are good and micros are bad.

The host, a microcomputer legend, disagrees pretty strongly.

Later, when they talk about the future of networking, the mainframe guy talks about it as a return to mainframes. The micro guy talks about BBSs, peer to peer networks.

The mainframe guys are winning.

(this is not to say that I think mainframes are bad. I don't. Mainframes can be really good and interesting! Plato was wonderful, as were some of the early unix mainframes.

But IBM style Mainframe culture is The Computer as a thing you Use but don't Control culture, and I am very against that.)

I have to step away for a while. I'll continue this later.

@ajroach42 I want to respond, elaborate, & discuss at length here. I spent about 10 months some years ago immersed in the computing literature around the history of debuggers, during which I went from EDSAC to Visual Studio, but also all the other half-dead ends ends of computing history such as, e.g., Lisp machines.

Naturally, I came out of it a Common Lisper, and also naturally, with Opinions about modern computing.

Up for the discussion? It could get wordy and over a few days. :)

@pnathan for sure.

I haven’t gotten in to lisp machines yet, but I’m always down for discussion.

@ajroach42 @pnathan
This thread is going to be gold :)
(I'm replying here so that I won't forget about it...)

@ciaby @pnathan I hope you enjoy! I'm looking forward to the discussion as well.

@ajroach42 @ciaby
OK, so, I'm about a decade older than you, Andrew: I taught myself QBasic in the mid 90s, got online late 90s, never really looked back.

First, I want to say this: older computer systems - considered as systems - were generally more capable.

But to be clear, they were limited in use for those who didn't take an interest in learning them. I'm talking about things that weren't Windows 3.1+.

@ajroach42 @ciaby This was the Great Debate that was largely won by Microsoft. "Everyone can 'use' a computer.". That is to say, everyone can operate the appliance with preinstalled software. *everyone*. Apple pioneered the notion, but it turns out to be the preferred mode for businesses, who really rather don't like having specialized experts.

@ajroach42 @ciaby It is my contention that Windows (& *nix) computer systems are designed to be administrated and managed by sysadmins, and the user experience in this case is great.

When you have sysadmins, there are no driver problems. There are no printer problems. There are no problems, as a matter of fact: it's all been taken care of by the admins.

This is exactly how executives like it.

Apple does the same, with their iPhone.

Apple is the sysadmin, metaphorically.

@pnathan @ciaby This is a good point, but I think it deserves scrutiny.

I am employed as a support engineer and a sysadmin, and I still run in to driver issues, printer issues, etc.

I take care of them, eventually, when I can.

But, even after doing this for 10 years, I still encounter problems that I can't solve (because there isn't a solution.)

but the metaphor of Apple as sysadmin, I'll accept. I disagree with someone else admining my phone, but that's another issue.

@ajroach42 @ciaby your users pay you so they don't have to care about sysadmin issues. their world is great!

@ajroach42 @ciaby I'm glossing over the 1% failures to get at the core point: sysadmins are designed into the windows and unix world so users can focus on their core competency.

@ajroach42 @ciaby

Hi, I'm probably near the age of @pnathan, and while I'm not a lisper anymore (ages went from my emacs fluency) I agree with all he said.

To give some context, I'm a polyglot programmer currently working on a brand new operating system jehanne.io

Now, the assumption that you seem to share is that people cannot learn how to program. I used to think this too.
Now however I realized that it's like we were scribas of Ancient Egypt arguing that people cannot write.

@Shamar @pnathan @ciaby I never said people can't learn to program.

I'm saying that some people don't want to learn to program, and that what we call "programming" is needlessly difficult for some tasks, in the name of corporate profits.

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@Shamar @ajroach42 @ciaby @pnathan

sorry for digging up this old thread, but I have one remark that's been on my mind since I saw your post:

I knew how to read and write when I was 4. I don't remember how I learned it, but I guess I wanted to learn it, or found it fun.
Are not all people like that? Do other people only learn to read when forced to at school?
Is there a correlation between programmers and people who learnt to read before school?

@Wolf480pl @Shamar @ajroach42 @ciaby @pnathan I don't remember learning to read either, but different people learn at different paces, and learning later has little correlation to academic performance. The main correlation is being forced to learn to read causing later lack of interest in reading.

@seanl @Shamar @ajroach42 @ciaby @pnathan
Yeah, seems to make sense.
I was forced to learn to calculate integrals, and I hate integrals, and I forgot them already.

@seanl @Shamar @ajroach42 @ciaby @pnathan
btw. doesn't the school system seem to you like it's designed to destroy curiosity in children?

@Wolf480pl @pnathan @ciaby @Shamar @seanl and to turn them in to obedient workers who don't ask questions, and accept ridiculous punishments as a matter of course.

@ajroach42 @seanl @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan
IOW, hackers are a danger to the state (or even society) ?

@ajroach42 @seanl @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan
OTOH, I've seen state money being spent to pic the best students and provide them with an individualized education path, so that'd mean the state actually wants to support hackers... weird...

@ajroach42 @seanl @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan
The incompetence part is IMO self-explanatory, so let's focus on malice.
Any ideas who and why doesn't want there to be many hackers?

@Wolf480pl people who's power would be threatened by people who think for themselves?

The owners of capital.

@ajroach42 @seanl @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan
Or maybe let's consider the incompetence.
It surely is hard for a single person to keep 30 children occupied, let alone teach them something.

Would homeschooling be better? In the best case it probably would, but what about the average case and worst case? Would homeschooling-as-default reinforce the divide between the rich and the poor?

Or maybe we should go for master-and-padawan model, where you learn by helping someone do what you want to learn?

@Wolf480pl @pnathan @ciaby @Shamar @seanl this isn’t addressing the issue in any substantive way, unless you’re trying to bait someone in to saying we should abolish the education system for the good of education.

@seanl @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan @Wolf480pl (I do not mean to imply that that is your goal. Perhaps I should have phrased my standby differently.)

@Wolf480pl @pnathan @ciaby @Shamar @seanl the problem is underfunding and mismanagement.

That’s the problem everywhere, but especially in education.

@ajroach42 @seanl @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan
but assuming we have infinite money and perfect management, how many children do you think should be in a single class? And how do we get enough good teachers to make that happen?

@ajroach42 @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan

Also, as @seanl said, everyone has a different pace of learning. Moreover, we want to promote curiosity. IMO the school model where it's scheduled that "in year X, all children learn Y" doesn't fit that requirements well.

@ajroach42 @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan @Wolf480pl Part of the problem is that bureaucracies are extremely bad at producing high performance when results are difficult to measure. This is how we get bad teachers who can't be fired, because the bureaucracy can only fire based on easily measurable things, and the unions won't allow measurement of even things that can be measured, often for good reasons.

@ajroach42 @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan @Wolf480pl And people who would be really good teachers often end up doing something else because they don't want to work in a system that sucks the life out of them.

There are bureaucracies that do a better job of educating than the average US school district. I'd submit that none of them do a great job of educating. Education really needs to be continuous and ambient.

@ajroach42 @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan @Wolf480pl Actually I think the way you get educated people is by having a culture that values learning. American culture does not, and that's why we have a shitty educational system. I don't see how you can fix the educational system without shifting the culture.

@seanl @ajroach42 @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan
Why do you assume we're talking about American (and by that you probably mean USian) culture and education system?

@Wolf480pl @ajroach42 @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan Well, Andrew is in the US. But I'm just talking about what I know. If your solution can't work for everyone what's the point?

@Wolf480pl @ajroach42 @Shamar @ciaby @pnathan Most arguments that point to European countries really boil down to "Well just have a smaller, substantially less diverse country that is less anti-intellectual and everything will be fine."

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@seanl @ajroach42 @ciaby @pnathan @Wolf480pl

Even in Italy, where you can literally breath, drink and eat so many different cultures each few kilometers, politicians disregards and continuously demage culture and schools.

The fact is that people with a good culture are harder to manipulate.
Also the Italian school has been demaged by the cold war between USA and URRS: we have had a complex set of effects here, including politics damaging the education system to fight comunism among teachers.

@Wolf480pl @ajroach42 @seanl @Shamar @ciaby

homeschooling is not practical nor possible to do well at scale.

it relies on having at least one highly educated & disciplined parent who throws their career & potential in the trash to teach their children. to be clear, that largely means women.

I had an *excellent* homeschooling education and I have 0 desire to suggest that anyone should pursue that path who isn't wealthy already.

fix the frigging school system.

@Wolf480pl @ajroach42 @seanl @Shamar @ciaby to be even more blunt, most people aren't that unique or that interested in learning what's needed for general life success and achievement. That's the point of a regularized mandated curriculum: to ensure, on average, people know enough to be good citizens.

the legendary lack of care for education produces the antipathy towards education in the USA.

if you want excellent education, you must make rich kids go to public schools.

@Wolf480pl @ajroach42 @seanl @Shamar @ciaby in areas such as the puget sound where rich people get to siphon their kids off to private schools means that they let public schools go hang,

ban private schools both secular and religious.

@pnathan @Wolf480pl @ajroach42 @seanl @ciaby

I pretty much agree.

Up to 13 years ago I would have agreed completely.

However now I have some doubts about religious schools: maybe it's just that my conversion to Catholicism poses a bias, but I see a value in schools that have a religious bias.

IFF the quality of the education is equivalent to that of public school, the bias proposed to students differs from the mainstream consumerism, teaching them to take everything with a grain of salt.

@Shamar @pnathan @Wolf480pl @ajroach42 @ciaby From a political standpoint, forcing the rich to send their kids to public schools would certainly improve the quality of the public schools. Or it might just get the rich to move elsewhere.

In Palo Alto, one of the richest cities in the US, the wealthy largely send their kids to the public schools. Reason being that Palo Alto itself is exclusive, so the public schools are essentially private. They have parks that don't allow non-locals.

@Shamar @pnathan @Wolf480pl @ajroach42 @ciaby And that's what you'll get if you ban private schools & home schooling. Many more communities will start looking like Palo Alto, and public schools in poor communities will continue to suck. And then the rich will fight any requirements to bus kids around, funding for said buses, etc.

@Shamar @pnathan @Wolf480pl @ajroach42 @ciaby If anything, banning private schools would *benefit* the rich because instead of forfeiting the taxes they spend on public education, they'd now be getting them back.

@ajroach42 @Shamar @pnathan @Wolf480pl @ciaby I'm not sure how it is in other states, but in California the quality of the local schools is one of the top drivers of where upper middle class people choose to live. In my family's case we picked the school first and then moved near the school. Even if people didn't relocate right away, over time the clustering would happen, and it would be worse because there'd be no private school fallback.

@Shamar @ciaby @seanl @Wolf480pl @pnathan having worked in public and religious schools, most religious schools in the US are regressive and every one I’ve ever set foot in (many) have been horribly abusive.

I lose so much respect for people that subject their kids to that stuff.

@ajroach42 @pnathan @Wolf480pl @ciaby @Shamar A couple of the most respected schools in my area are religious. A majority of the students in both schools aren't even members of the religion of the school.

@seanl @Shamar @ciaby @Wolf480pl @pnathan my perspective is probably tainted by growing up in the rural south, where ‘religion’ is wielded as a weapon against education.

@ajroach42 @pnathan @Wolf480pl @ciaby @Shamar Yeah "religious school" to me (here) means Catholic or Jesuit, i.e. religions that value education. For many other (Christian) religions "religious school" seems like an oxymoron.

@seanl @ajroach42 @pnathan @Wolf480pl @ciaby @Shamar In the city I live in (Newark, OH), the public school system has a perception of being where you send your kids to become drug dealers, whereas the religious schools are where you send your kids to learn. (Most of them are Catholic in my area, AFAIK.)

@Shamar @pnathan @ajroach42 @seanl @ciaby
from what I've heard about catholic schools in Poland, they're the greatest source of atheists. If you're kinda-religious, and your parents send you to a religious school, you'll see the church's hypocrisy from so close that you won't want to have anything in common with Catholic Church anymore.

@Wolf480pl @pnathan @ajroach42 @seanl @ciaby

This happens in Italy too.

There is also another explanation to this fact: when you see that the world outside the school follow certain goals and values and your teachers propose to follow completely different ones, you realize that you can choose. Or even go for your own road, being skeptical about botb the world and the religion.

On the other hand Faith is not something you learn.

I was a bad atheist myself and I didn't learn to believe.

@pnathan @ajroach42 @seanl @Shamar @ciaby
so what you're saying is:
- to achieve success in a modern society, you need to have some basic skills that everyone is expected to have, before you reach the age of 18
- most people don't want to learn those skills before the age of 18
- we should force them to learn those skills so that they can be successful

@Wolf480pl @pnathan @ajroach42 @seanl @ciaby

Success is such a limited concept.

People should be forced to learn what they need to be free.

This includes math, history, geography, computational thinking and hacking.

For their own interest and the interest of everybody else.

We all need free citizens.

@Shamar @pnathan @seanl @ciaby
>force someone to learn hacking
>force someone to be curious
isn't this an oxymoron?

@Wolf480pl @pnathan @seanl @ciaby

Only on the surface.

When you force a group of kids to do a scientific experiment,and then another, and then another one too, and then you let them alone in the lab, what do you think they will do?

On my first chemistry lab the first question to the teacher that one of my classmates did was: how can I build nitroglycerine?
The teacher said: oh you could, we have everything you need, here. But I won't teach you the procedure, you'll have to discover yourself!

@Wolf480pl @pnathan @seanl @ciaby

It worth noticing that my teacher was not crazy: internet was not yet a thing in Italy back then.

@Shamar @Wolf480pl @seanl @ciaby geez a lot of talk in the last 3 hours.

the point of having a nationalized standardized curricula is to ensure all parents have a stake in its success.

palo alto, ca and similar communities are pathological and dangerous to the body politic

@pnathan @Shamar @seanl @ciaby
There's a lot more to a school system than just curriculum.
Anyway, what's the point of parents having a stake in the curriculum being good if they have no influence on it?

@Shamar @pnathan @seanl @ciaby
uh... why make nitroglycerine... nitrocelulose is AFAIK simpler to make and easier to handle

@Wolf480pl @ciaby @seanl @pnathan @Shamar I imagine that that's something the teacher would be happy for the kid to discover by themselves

@Wolf480pl @pnathan @seanl @ciaby

At 14, my class mate had only one interest: girls.

He was actually pretty successful with them. His technique was based on make them laugh. It was actually funny in the class.

Nitroglycerine was probably the most dangerous thing he was able to think to make everybody laugh.

@Wolf480pl @pnathan @ciaby @Shamar @seanl Having come out of a G&T program, I can attest that it's less about supporting us, and more about keeping us from causing problems for other people (and, honestly, keeping us alive.)

@Wolf480pl @ajroach42 @seanl @ciaby @pnathan

Hackers are difficult to manipulate, they respect what you do and ignore what you represent, so in a way they can become annoying to the leaders of any organisation. OTOH not every annoying person is an hacker. Also hackers can be pretty well integrated in the same organisations, because the whole group benefits from their original perspectives.

The Hollywood sociopathic hacker is a misrepresentation: more hackers would be a problem for the power.

@Shamar @ajroach42 @seanl @ciaby @pnathan
Ok, so hackers are a danger to those with power.
But would the society be able to function if, say, 50% of people were unaffected by any manipulation by those with power? Or would it turn into a chaos?

@Wolf480pl @seanl @ciaby @pnathan

I cannot see how that should turn the society into a caos.

Hierarchical societies based on power and people manipulation are just one possible kind of societies.

But society is a human artifact like another: so many hackers will forge new solutions.

@Wolf480pl @pnathan @ciaby @Shamar I couldn't write when I was young, because of motor control issues, but I could read before I started school.

Everyone I know wanted to learn at some point. Most of them still do, but feel beaten down by the oppressive march of the clock.

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