Monday, February 03, 2020

the Todd river

Alice Springs locals say that when you see the Todd flow three times you'll stay for life. In 2018 we had 161 consecutive days without rain so I was doubtful that I would ever see the Todd flow.

But today after more than 2 years here I saw it flow for the first time:

Monday, January 27, 2020

books I am reading in 2020

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2007)
Bruner, Jerome. The Culture of Education (1996)

Eglash, Ron and co., various articles:
  • Automation for the Artisanal Economy: Enhancing the Economic and Environmental Sustainability of Crafting Professions with Human-Machine Collaboration (2019)
  • Of Marx and Makers: an Historical Perspective on Generative Justice (2016)
  • Culturally responsive computing as brokerage:toward asset building with education-based social movements (2016)
  • Computer Science Education from Life (cSELF) (2013)
  • From Ethnomathematics to Ethnocomputing: indigenous algorithms in traditional context and contemporary simulation (2012)
  • Fractal Simulations of African design in pre-college Computing Education (2011)
  • Teaching with Hidden Capital: Agency in Children’s Computational Explorations… (2009)
  • Culturally_Situated_Design_Tools_Ethnocomputing from field site to classroom (2006)
Gershenfeld, Neil; Gershenfeld, Alan; Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld. Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution (2017)
Kelly, Kevin. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that will Shape our Future (2017)
Merlan, Francesca. Caging the Rainbow: Places, Politics and Aborigines in a Northern Australia Town (1998)
McLean, Ian. How Aborigines invented the idea of contemporary art: edited and introduced by Ian McLean (2011)
McLean, Ian. Rattling Spears: A History of Indigenous Australian Art (2016)
Nakata, Martin. Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines (2007)
Perkins, Rachel. Boyer Lectures 2019 (audio)

my decade

I went through my blog posts from 2010-now to clarify my own path. As usual I have jumped around, leading multiple lives, burning bridges and ending up in no man’s land. Nevertheless, it makes sense to me.

I began the decade continuing with some serious study of political economy, mainly but not only Marx. I feel satisfaction that I finally gained some understanding of Capital and value theory. Why did I stop this, given that the economic crisis certainly hasn’t gone away? Part of the reason was that I couldn’t find reliable comrades to team up with. Another reason was that I found it really hard to get a strong grasp of the subject. But, in thinking about it more, in the end it felt like armchair research. I couldn’t see an endpoint that would be socially useful. I wouldn’t be able to prove anything beyond the now fairly obvious fact that capitalism is an unstable system. I’m an activist as well as a theoretician. Would I return to this topic? Perhaps. I would like to understand authors like Picketty (Capital in the 21st C) and Graeber (Debt: The First 5,000 years)

I began the decade as a huge fan of Noel Pearson. Because of him I became involved in indigenous education and decided to give Direct Instruction (Zig Engelman version) a go. In my interpretation of Noel’s educational vision I could play a positive role. I completed an observation visit to Djarragun College (a Pearson school), near Cairns, in April 2012 and was impressed. Later, I went there to work, 2016-17. The school was a fascinating place but in 2017 the leadership turned bad. I learnt a lot about Noel and now think he is a poor leader. I learnt that someone might be a great speaker and writer but still a poor leader. Nevertheless, because I was teaching aboriginal kids from all over the Cape and Torres Strait Islanders too, I ended up with an experiential understanding of the difficulties and joys of teaching those kids.

Assessing the significance of indigenous culture has been a tortuous path for me. Initially, due to Noel’s influence (DI) and Alan Kay’s influence (the non universals) I was one eyed about the virtues of modernity. However, this began to change due to both my reading and exposure to culturally informed ways of teaching maths. Through the conferences run by Chris Matthews (ATSIMA 2016 and 2018) I discovered YuMi Deadly Maths and authors such as Martin Nakata ( Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines). This was a slow burn, starting in 2016, but looking back now I can see it transformed me from a determined supporter of DI into something very different. I still see a place for DI, the Rhonda Farkota version, but it is not central to my way forward anymore. I’m no longer a vanilla modernist but have transformed into a mongrel modernist.

Throughout the decade I have attempted to understand the true nature of science. Following Pickering I now see science as a complex performance in which there is a dance of agencies between humans and machines as nature offers resistance to our attempts to understand it. Representation and abstraction may be useful at times but they are not real. The path to truth is in the world, lived practice, the full, messy, sensual social human drama of activity.

I still believe there is no single unified learning theory and good teachers have to walk the walk along several approaches: behaviourist, cognitivist, constructionist, enactivist, phenomenology.

In the past couple of years I’ve resumed study of the potential of computers in education. In particular the three game changers of computer coding, physical computing and maker spaces. I’d like to make a contribution by taking these devices to Disadvantaged students, particularly the indigenous.

Late in the decade I’ve discovered the work of Ron Eglash and co which can be called ethnocomputing or Culturally Situated Design Tools. I think I can apply this to Australian indigenous conditions and make a positive contribution in this regard. I’ve developed an exemplar to illustrate this approach, called Dotted Circles, which integrates computer coding, maths and the Papunya Tula art form.

Life after Noel (2018)
Alan Kay Universals / Non Universals (2008)
Martin Nakata: Disciplining the Savages ...
Rhonda Farkota
The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science (1995) by Andrew Pickering (download the book)
the 3 game changers, Invent to Learn
Ron Eglash CSDT site and articles

Monday, January 20, 2020

Frontier Justice by Tony Roberts

I remember being impressed by the meticulous research in this book when I read it in 2018. IMO it is essential reading for those who want to understand the frontier wars. Keith Windschuttle has challenged this sort of information when it has been put forward by other authors, such as Henry Reynolds, in what is known as the history wars: the true impact of British colonialism on Australian aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. I did look for critical reviews of this book but couldn't find any.

I found a review I agreed with (here) and am quoting it in full.

Frontier Justice: A History of the Gulf Country to 1900 by Tony Roberts (2005)
Tony Roberts begins his monumental study of Aboriginal-white frontier relations by describing the harshness, remoteness and dangers of the Gulf country, a vast region stretching from the Barkley Tablelands to the Roper River in the Northern Territory and from the Stuart Highway to the Queensland border and beyond as far as Burketown. The region is centred on the isolated township of Borroloola.

As Roberts notes, this was Australia’s last frontier. Even today the area is remote and little known to most Australians. The strength of Robert’s study of frontier relations in this region is evident from the start in the deft and telling way he sets the context. During the pastoral boom of the 1880s thousands of head of cattle were driven along the ‘coast track’ from Queensland to Roper Bar and Katherine in the Northern Territory to stock the vast stations being established. There followed many hopeful individuals seeking riches in the Kimberley gold rush. Roberts notes this was ‘a momentous time in Australian history’.

However, describing the enormity of the dispossession and destruction that overwhelmed the tribes of the area in the short space of two decades, Roberts applies those same words to describe the significance of these events for Aboriginal society. He says it was ‘a momentous time in Aboriginal history’. The implication is clear – there are two histories in this country. Roberts sets himself the task of exploring both versions, and in the process throws much light on previously hidden aspects of the interaction of the two societies, settler and Aboriginal, in this remote frontier region.

Roberts’ detailed, almost forensic, examination of this relationship reveals a tragic and cruel tale. The damage inflicted, sometimes unwittingly, but all too often with callous intent, on the Aboriginal people of the region, is captured in the words of his title – ‘frontier justice’ – a title redolent with irony, as the reader becomes only too well aware as the story of the destruction wrought upon Aboriginal society is revealed.

Frontier Justice provides a detailed account of the history of the area to 1900 on a chronological and on an area by area basis. Although this approach leads to some repetition, the result is a comprehensive account. Roberts has spent 30 years researching and writing this book. It is a labour of both love and despair. The story Roberts tells is one of rape, abduction and murder of Aboriginal people by brutal whites (and Roberts makes abundantly clear that not all whites were brutal), of Aboriginal reprisals by way of killing of whites (Roberts uses the term ‘murder’), spearing of stock and setting fire to the country. The deadly cycle of reprisal, including ‘punitive expeditions’, then comes into play. Indiscriminate shooting of Aboriginal men, and sometimes of women and children, became the method of ‘controlling the blacks’. Roberts builds a strong case to show that the police were active agents in the punitive expeditions, and in particular raises serious concerns about the role played by Inspector Paul Foelsche who was in charge of policing in the northern half of the Territory from 1870 to 1904.

Roberts explains that essential to the subjugation of the Aboriginal tribes was the conspiracy of silence that prevailed. This kept the metropolitan government in Adelaide at bay as they struggled ineffectively to keep some control of the Northern Territory situation. One needed to know the code to understand what was happening – Aboriginal people were not ‘shot’, they were ‘dispersed’. When reports were written they understated the numbers killed and misrepresented the circumstances. Bushmen were not obliged to join in the hunting of Aborigines, but they were required to keep silent about what they knew. Roberts has managed to penetrate this ‘veil of secrecy’ only through an enormous research effort. He has uncovered many key documents from archives and personal possessions which have not previously seen the light of day. He has relied on a wide variety of sources, published and unpublished, including extensive Aboriginal oral history. It is a cover-up that almost succeeded.

Such a mass of information could have been overwhelming, and made such an account as this turgid and difficult. However, Roberts writes with an economy of words that repay close attention as they carry much information, directly and by implication. Writing of the punitive expeditions, Roberts notes: ‘In the fledgling Northern Territory they [the punitive expeditions] were commonplace: supported by government officials, applauded by the local press, perpetrated by ordinary men and sometimes led by senior police officials’.[1] The sentence says a lot about the nature of the Australian frontier. Roberts’ book is lengthy not because the author is wordy, but because of the mass of information it contains.

As well as punitive expeditions, casual shootings and assorted violence, Roberts describes the forced sexual mistreatment of women and children in the region. Venereal disease became rampant and was untreated. The practice of kidnapping young children left old people to fend for themselves – often destitute and starving.

However, a parade of violence, well-researched and documented as it is, would not take us far in understanding the dynamics of the frontier. Roberts shows that lying behind the self-justified and largely unchecked violence was the assumption that the Aboriginal people had no rights in the lands they had occupied for millennia. On the other hand, the whites had, apparently, the right to travel through, or even take possession of, these lands. Any opposition on the part of the Aboriginal people was seen as contrariness, treachery or criminality. This is the true psychology of terra nullius. Roberts himself pinpoints this assumption by the whites: ‘The land was simply occupied as if it were terra nullius and severe punishment was meted out to any Aboriginal who resisted’.[2]

Frontier Justice is a well-informed, closely researched and absorbing book. It is a work of detailed scholarship which manages to be objective, in the sense of a dispassionate search after historical truth, and morally engaged at the same time. Roberts does not hesitate to name moral bankruptcy. Frontier Justice strips away the romanticised view of the pioneering days which has largely served to hide the brutal and difficult realities of our past. These realities have to be faced. Frontier Justice makes a significant contribution to this task. It deserves to be in every school, university and public library.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Australia's shameful history

“This history is so shameful that most Australians could not admit that this is the origin of their state and their nation”
— Indigenous historian Marcia Langton, in The First Australians.
When I grew up in Melbourne in the 1950s the history of what happened to the aboriginals was invisible. No one talked about it. As Bill Stanner said in 1968 it was the great Australian silence, a cult of forgetfulness on a national scale. A view from the window where a significant part of the landscape was hidden.

Some of my marxist comrades say something like this:
Aboriginal resistance to colonialism can’t be supported because their social system was too backward, primitive, “stone age”. Further, it is argued that Marx supported globalisation and implied from that, that he supported colonialism. See Marx Supported Capitalist Globalization  According to this dialectic the British occupation of Australia was basically a good thing. Modernity is good, superior to any form of pre-modern society. Perhaps I am not portraying their position correctly. They can fix that.

What I am thinking:
This mindset filters out some uncomfortable facts. We see the world through our mind memes, the state of our mind determines what we choose to see. Hence, some of these comrades end up say that Windschuttle was correct in his denial of massacres. I've been told that historians such as Lyndall Ryan and Henry Reynolds either exaggerated or lied and never admitted it when they were caught out. I can except that but believe that their fundamental position is correct, that widespread, systematic massacres occurred.

What facts?
That there were repeated massacres of aboriginal people. Following from the terra nullius doctrine aboriginal people were not treated as having any rights. So, in Tasmania the ex convict settlers took their women. In Queensland pastoralists took their land, etc, etc. Any thinking person should be able to see that this would inevitably lead to conflict. I filter the facts through that context, terra nullius and what would have to flow from that. Aboriginal people responded by killing whites or cattle. In response the whites responded by multiple killings of aboriginals, the only viable way in the conditions of the early colonies, to “teach them a lesson”. Those doing the massacres were usually not brought to justice. Either a blind eye was turned or the massacres were kept secret from authorities.

The evidence:
I didn’t always know this as mentioned earlier. When I went to Far North Queensland (Pauline Hansen country) I learnt through reading (eg. Henry Reynolds) and talking to people that the mindset of “keeping the abos in their place” was widespread. A cleaner at Djarragun College told me that during a holiday further north a publican had told her that when driving home at night if an aboriginal was on the road the best thing to do was run them over.

At any rate, I’ve read these books which I believe provide adequate documentation of both the mindset and the facts:
All that is solid melts into air by Marshall Berman
The Politics of Suffering by Peter Sutton
The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper
The Black War by Nicholas Clements
Why Warriors Lie Down and Die by Richard Trudgen
Why weren’t we told? by Henry Reynolds
Forgotten War by Henry Reynolds
Frontier Justice by Tony Roberts
Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines by Martin Nakata
Cosmopolitanism by Kwame Anthony Appiah
Colonial Frontier Massacres, Australia (Date Range: 1780 to 1930)
Dancing with Strangers by Inga Clendinnen
The Sinister Glamour of Modernity by Ross Gibson
Australian Frontier Wars: Keith Windschuttle and Henry Reynolds on Lateline (22 minutes)
Australian Frontier Wars: Keith Windschuttle and Henry Reynolds at the National Press Club (58 minutes)
Man from Arltunga: Walter Smith Australian Bushman by Dick Kimber
Gillen's Modest Record edited by Philip Jones
Boyer Lectures 2019, by Rachel Perkins (audio)

Of these, perhaps the best documented books about the massacres (rather than the mindset) are those by Clements (about Tasmania) and Roberts (about Queensland and the NT). I mention this because I accept that everyone is busy on their own projects and doesn't have time to read everything.

Update (Jan 19): Added some more books and links. In particular the debate between Keith Windschuttle and Henry Reynolds at the National Press Club (58 minutes) is worth watching.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Dotted Circle samples

A good app IMHO. Here are some sample art works I made with my dotted_circles app. The first two are me just playing around but the bottom two are attemps to imitate a portion of aboriginal art from the exhibition book referenced at the end.

Go to the Snap! app dotted_circles_6 and do one yourself!

(with the last two designs I have attempted to imitate a fraction of the art work on pages 2 and 80)

Issues arising:

My overall goal is not to imitate Papunya Tula art but to find new forms to teach maths and computer coding to indigenous students.

This is an app which builds a bridge between maths and computer code to make art. When introduced to students what will the learning outcomes be? I suspect they will learn something about design but it would take a lot more input from a teacher for the students to learn computing coding and maths from this. Nevertheless, it may motivate them to do so.

The User interface is poor. Since the user has to poke around and find the values to change in the Scripting Area. Important issue but I'm not sure at this stage how to improve it. ie. you can do good art with this app but need patience to master the user interface. Not good since UI is a huge issue.

There is a big story to tell about the Papunya Tula art movement, which I have yet to tell, although others have.

The learning theory was discussed in an earlier article: Culturally Situated Design Tools: Dotted Circles Exemplar version 2. In two phrases (1) performance above representation (2) ascend to the concrete.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Culturally Situated Design Tools: Dotted Circles Exemplar version 2

aka Tribal Modernism
aka ethnocomputing

It begins like this:

and develops into this:
This began as an exploration of a good way to teach maths to the indigenous. It has turned into an integrated curriculum approach with maths as one of the important elements. The elements of integration include art, aboriginal culture, technologies including digital technology, maths and story telling

A powerful idea from indigenous culture is the circle. This was highlighted by Chris Matthews at the final session of ATSIMA 2018 (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mathematics Alliance).

The numbers (1), (2), (3) and (4) on the diagram refer to particular interfaces within the overall picture. I’ll use those interfaces to describe the approach in more detail.

(1) The interface between Indigenous Dotted Circle Art and Ascend to the Concrete.

The dotted circles are prominent in western desert aboriginal art (Papunya Tula) dating back to the early 1970s. I was surprised to discover the assertion in a couple of books by Ian McLean that aborigines invented the idea contemporary art. It makes for interesting history and I’ll have to summarise that story at another time. Dotted circle art in indigenous culture is a powerful theme, not tokenistic. Ian McLean coins the term "tribal modernism" to describe the growth of the Papunya Art movement:
The Western Desert painters remain committed to their tribal traditions. They did not abandon them for the promises of Westernism but instead insisted on the contemporaneity of their tribalism. This is perhaps the greatest shock of the art movement from an artworld perspective: it is tribal modernism. Thus it challenges the self-defining paradigms of both Western modernity and the artworld.
- Rattling Spears, p. 121
The following example comes from a public poster about NAIDOC week:

(2) The interface between Maths of the Circle and Ascend to the Concrete.

Mathematical abstraction is often cited as a pinnacle of Westerm culture.

However, some authors have presented original interpretations. Ascend to the concrete comes from the philosophy of Marx. Andrew Pickering’s mangle analysis of Science speaks of the dynamic interaction between the material (machines) and humans. Epistemological pluralism, where the bricoleur approach is recognised as both valid and powerful, comes from Papert and Turkle.

By mathematical abstraction I mean, pi = circumference / diameter and the other formulae that flow from that. Mathematical abstraction is powerful, I agree with that. However, it is also a double headed beast. To abstract a circle, as in a textbook maths representation, is to oversimplify the richness of real circles found in art and nature.

Rather than dry as dust textbook maths I strive here for material based, hands on, models that will engage, motivate and educate. The long term goal is to teach maths and the computer coding of maths. But dry abstractions, learn C = 2piR, then plug in the values and get the correct answer, often does not engage or promote meaningful understanding.

How do we make the derivation of pi more concrete? One good way is the rope activity. Walk out 7 steps along a rope being held by a partner. Then walk around your partner in a circle counting your steps. If you get 44 steps then you have an approximation for pi (44/14 = 22/7). Repeat this process for different radii. Notice that the value of C/2R or C/D is always roughly the same. Why is that?

Moreover, a sprite on the computer sits at the boundary between the abstract and the concrete, a visible thing, almost tangible. Program it to move in a circle. That is abstract. Then see the sprite move in a circle. That is concrete. Add some colour and other effects, such as lumpy dots. That is enriched concrete or artistic concrete with an underlying abstraction. We have ascended to the concrete.

Snap! program estimating pi by measuring circumference and diameter

(3) The interface between Maths of the Circle and Indigenous Dotted Circle Art

How do we make the maths artistic and the dotted circle art mathematical? This can be done with computer programs such as Turtle Art, Scratch or Snap! There are various ways to draw circles on the computer. A good way to do a dotted circle was to start in the centre, lift the pen, move radius, put the pen down, draw the dot, lift the pen and return to the centre. Then turn a little and keep repeating the process. Computers are fast, one of their great strengths, so it doesn’t take long.

I spent a fair bit of time experimenting with colours of both dots and background and how to do lumpy dots, more in keeping with the art form. I am doing this for the user but the how to can be read in the code. The art and maths intermingle in a transparent process.

I got this far trying to imitate the above NAIDOC poster using Turtle Art:

(4) In the middle of the three rings above is a sweet spot, I hope. As I develop my understanding of the 3 teething rings the sweet spot becomes sweeter

My interpretation of ascend to the concrete in this context goes like this: It refers to a journey from the first exposure to a concept (eg. the circle) to an exploration of its properties (eg. pi) and then returning to the concrete circle in the world armed with a theory to put into practice (eg. understanding and using computer code to draw interesting and artistic circles)

Although it's not in the teething rings above digital technology is a wonderful device to present the abstract concretely. As well as that digital has become / is becoming the new dominant medium since you can arguably develop more powerful, more flexible and more evocative representations than in previous mediums. I have to qualify that though. Papunya Tula art is far more evocative than the puny representations I have developed so far digitally. Rather than trying to duplicate Papunya Tula art I have moved to the position of using aspects of it as inspiration to develop a new form of digital art. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Here is a summary of the approach. Take a powerful idea from indigenous culture and represent it using a variety of technologies! Start with the cultural theme so that the technology serves and enables different forms of expression of the culture. ie employ and mobilise the motivational aspect that comes with tapping into personal culture. Then use technology (both digital and non digital) to make the abstract ideas within the powerful idea more concrete.

We end with an enriched circle, a rich art form. Not traditional art. Nor an abstract disembodied circle. Rather a form which has elements of both abstract maths and traditional aboriginal art. Call it indigi_maths_art. Call it tribal modernism, a mongrel of the traditional and the modern. It’s part of the work of cultural extension.


In an earlier version of this essay I talked about representing the circle in various ways. Since then, I’ve been persuaded by Pickering that real knowledge arises through performance and representation is an after the event disembodied abstraction.

Performance is real time interaction between humans and machines to achieve a goal specified by the humans. This is a difficult path marked by resistance and accommodation to that resistance. Teachers understand this and are continually modifying their lesson plans to better fit the needs of their students. For Pickering, this is the true nature of scientific knowledge. It is part objective, part relative (or subjective) and part historical. Science is material, not just knowledge. Historically, this is true. Galileo used the telescope to help start a scientific revolution. Machines were at the heart of the Industrial revolution. Galileo’s work was dramatic performance. I am taking Pickering’s insight to help map out a performance based educational pathway. The modern machine that can assist us the most is the computer.

One goal is to master the user interface, to use the computer effectively. In developing this app I want it to be easy enough for the naive user to create interesting art quickly. And I want it to be open and transparent so the user can readily look under the hood to see how it was made.

Another goal is to teach computer coding. Computer coding has become more popular, largely through the lead provided by  Scratch. Nevertheless, not all students find this easy or are led to more complex coding. Even though block coding is easier than text coding still not all students become engaged with it. This is partly a cultural issue.

To learn to code is an arduous, sometimes difficult process and the cultural image of the highly skilled computer geek is a barrier to overcome here. Why would an indigenous student want to learn to code? The answer or pathway offered here is that it provides an opportunity to create some interesting and culturally relevant art forms. Hopefully, that might enhance engagement and learning further.

Tinkering or tuning is an important part of the learning process for both teacher and student. Humans tune the machines. The machines tune the humans. This process operates on me as the developer of this software app. Does it engage the student and help achieve the long term goal of teaching maths? A curriculum is an instrument too. Try the activities, see if they succeed. They will succeed for some but not for others. Then tweak them, think of new activities. This is a never ending developmental process. One goal was to teach the maths of the circle. Pi stuff. Are we succeeding?

Some of the many possible performances (previously I said representations) with which I have made some progress so far include:
  • The art itself (dotted circle theme). I have looked at the art and bought some books about it. I've yet to actually do the art myself but am looking for that opportunity
  • Language English: Tell the story of the Papunya Tula art movement and find out what the circles represent
  • Humans with rope, make a dotted circle or just a circle. This can be used to estmate pi concretely.
  • Snap! program estimating pi by measuring circumference and diameter.
  • Turtle art: For artistic effects and special fast primitives, such as arc, with the 2 inputs of angle and radius, arc: angle radius, see first iteration of a NAIDOC week poster using Turtle Art
  • Scratch application, see dotted_circles_version_1
  • Scratch: Cloning circles. I've done this in other contexts and it could be adapted to this context.
  • Snap! and Scratch compared: Hal Abelson's objective ("programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute") can be achieved more readily with Snap! than with Scratch. See a comparison between Scratch and Snap!
  • Snap! application, see dotted_circles_4
This artwork was made with the Scratch application, dotted_circles_version_1 Click on the link and do your own performance.

This artwork was made with the Snap! application, dotted_circles_5 Click on the link and do your own performance.

Another Snap! application work of art:
Here are some more possibilities which I have thought of but haven't attempted to implement yet:
  • Language Pintupi / Luritja: introduce some
  • App Inventor: dotted circle with one phone or many phones
  • Photography: Show some pics of dotted circle art, perhaps from overhead using a drone
  • Robot (which robot?) draws the dotted circle
  • Microbit: Use radio to send a message around a circle (what message, can it be interactive? A message about the Papunya art movement)
  • E-Textiles: dotted circles on a beanie
  • Circuit Playground Express: it’s already a circle
  • Chibitronics: circuits on paper
There are a lot of ideas here. I'm sure that more could be added by others with knowledge of the three themes: dotted circle art, the maths of the circle and theories which make the abstract more concrete.


Rattling Spears: A History of Indigenous Australian Art (2016) by Ian McLean
Ch 5 The Invention of Indigenous Contemporary Art outlines the history of the Papunya Art movement through the lens of “tribal modernism” (p. 121)

How Aborigines Invented the Idea of Contemporary Art: Writings on Aboriginal Contemporary Art (2011). Edited by Ian McLean.

For more background on Marx’s theory of ascending to the concrete to see:
Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx’s Capital by Evald Ilyenkov

Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete (1992) by Sherry Turkle and Seymour Papert

Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDT) by Ron Eglash and co
Many cultural designs show how math and computing ideas are embedded in indigenous traditions, graffiti art, and other surprising sources. These “heritage algorithms” can help students learn STEM principles as they simulate the original artifacts, and develop their own creations.
NB. The recommendation to study Andrew Pickering comes from a Ron Eglash article, so I am indebted to him for that as well.

The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency and Science (1995) by Andrew Pickering (download the whole book)
Andrew Pickering offers a new approach to the unpredictable nature of change in science, taking into account the extraordinary number of factors: social, technological, conceptual, and natural that interact to affect the creation of scientific knowledge. In his vie w, machines, instruments, facts, theories, conceptual and mathematical structures, disciplined practices, and human beings are in constantly shifting relationships with one another "mangled" together in unforeseeable ways that are shaped by the contingencies of culture, time, and place

Monday, December 23, 2019

Comparing Scratch with Snap!

Hal Abelson:
First, we want to establish the idea that a computer language is not just a way of getting a computer to perform operations but rather that it is a novel, formal medium for expressing ideas about methodology. Thus, programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute.
- "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs"
Scratch version (follow the link to see the finished product):

Snap version (follow the link to see the finished product):

From the experience of building these, some of the advantages of Snap which emerged are:
1) Hal Abelson's objective ("programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute") can be achieved with Snap. Because you can Build Your Own Blocks (BYOB) the overall structure of the code can be laid out far more clearly. It's tidy and you can immediately see the big picture of the overall program. This is because the extra blocks you build are tucked away into the Palette section.

Here is my main Snap procedure. The inner repeat stamps a fuzzy circle of dots. Then the radius and number of dots is increased and the process repeated until the specified number of circles are done. The structure of the code is relatively easy to understand, compared with Scratch.

I have written no less than 9 of my own blocks and by naming them meaningfully you have a good idea of what they do. Their names are:

LOOKS TYPE (purple)


These DIY blocks are not black boxes. The user can open them up in the Block Editor, look inside to see how they are implemented.
Here is set_dot_colour:

Here is move_fuzzy_radius:

2) Because of point one above it is possible, with Snap, for the user to easily see and tweak variables in the Scripting Area. You can see the values in the code of 4 variables: radius, radius_increment, dot_spacing and number_of_rings:

On the other hand with Scratch the whole code takes up lots of space, so it is not practical to tweak the variables in the scripting area. This means, in Scratch, it has to be done with prompts but with so many variable that becomes too arduous / time consuming and the user will become impatient. In the Scratch version I "solved" this problem by restricting the number of variables that could be tweaked to three: background colour, dot colour and number of circles.

3) Snap has extra features such as lists within lists which enable me to display colour selection more clearly and elegantly. See the pen_colour table. The user chooses the colour by typing in the matching number, eg. 10 for orange.

Previously, I reviewed an article about the design of construction kits by Mitch Resnick and Brian Silverman where they promoted the virtues of the KISS principle. Their point 2 was that wide walls took precedence over high ceilings. Their point 5 was "make it as simple as possible – and maybe even simpler". Those points are embodied in Turtle Art and Scratch.

I'm arguing here that Snap!, a program with more powerful features is better suited to designing more advanced tools / applications. And surprisingly, with respect to, presenting tidy code it does adhere to the KISS principle. Returning to the Hal Abelson quote I was struck by how I could reduce clutter in the Scripting Area by Building my own Blocks and design code that expressed its intention more clearly than in Scratch or Turtle Art.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

dotted circles version one

My idea was to build an application that indigenous students would find interesting which in turn would interest them to learn coding in Scratch. I'll write a more detailed educational rationale later, although I have written some before too.

You can find the application, written in Scratch3.0 here

Some more screenshots of what it can do:
There were a number of design challenges.

An earlier version had far too many variables to be set by the user before they could make anything. I felt the users would lose patience with it. This version has only three variables: background effect, dot colour and number of circles.

I was tempted to introduce a second dot colour, to have one colour for the inner and outer rings and a different colour for the inbetween rings. But for the sake of simplicity I rejected that. The end product would be richer but the user interface would be more complicated.

Other rejected variables include dot size, dot spacing, inner radius, radius increment.

I like the lumpy dots effect, which goes in all directions.

With the backgrounds I had to find a way to do them quickly so I opted for randomly large to small dots of a particular colour with shade variations stamped onto the page.

Earlier rationale: Proposal for an Australian indigenous version of Culturally Situated Design Tools

Monday, December 16, 2019

how to create a great background in Turtle Art

The backgrounds I was creating in Scratch for my dotted circle project were too slow (here for now). So I went back to Turtle Art to see how it was done there.

What features do you want for a great background. I would say:
  • speed of creation
  • no gaps
  • distinct brush strokes
  • artistic curve and wave
  • subtle colour variation
Here is how:

A circle moves rapidly across the screen from left to right while curving, waving and changing colour.

The speed is created by long and wide brush strokes,
pensize 7
arc angle = 360 (full circle), radius =500

With a diameter of 1000, this takes us outside the edges of the screen (680 x 550), which also means there are no gaps (nearly always)

The right amount of curve in the strokes is caused by the radius setting. If the radius is too large then there is not enought curve. If the radius is too small (eg. 250) then there are gaps at the top and bottom

The brushstroke effect is caused by the subtle colour changes, not the pensize (as I first thought)

The wave effect is achieved with right random(1 to -1). This outputs a value of 1, 0 or -1 creating an unpredictable wave.

The subtle colour change is caused by random ((-100 to 100) / 100). This outputs a decimal between -1 and +1 causing slight changes in the colour at each iteration.

In Turtle Art the number 0 represents red and as this changes through to 100 the colours vary according to the colour spectrum ROYGBIV.

I experimented with altering the start colour and achieved these effects:

Start colour = 0 (red)

Start colour = 15 (yellow)

Start colour = 50 (cyan)

I then thought I might want browns for background. To achieve that I set the colour to orange (10) and introduced shade, making it 30 (0 gives black and 100 gives white). I also tweaked the random colour variation to random ((-25 to 25) / 100) so it didn't alter so much. Here is one result:

Then I thought a vertical wave rather than left to right would be interesting so I further tweaked the code for that. Here is how that one looked and the new code is underneath:

Thursday, December 12, 2019

measuring the cooking and cooling of your microbits

This represents the educational equivalent of sensor analytics, which commercially is a killer app. Not advocating commercialism here but learning from it.

The micro:bit can be part of a data rich educational pathway. I didn’t realise this until I googled microbit data and discovered the microbit app (Windows 10 only) as well as some great tutorials at Data Collection and Data Analysis

This app has a few extra features over the online editor at The important extra feature here is you can directly read serial data from your micro:bit for data logging.

For this experiment I need 3 microbits, two for transmitting temperature data at different locations and one to receive it. I placed one sender near a hot plate and the other was taped to an air conditioner.

The receiver microbit transmits the data, through a USB cable, to the microbit app running on my computer. In turn, the microbit app displays the data and graphs on a data console.

I’ll show both the block code and the corresponding JavaScript. I’ve added the explanatory comments to the JavaScript. You can add comments to the block code but it quickly becomes cluttered.

This code was flashed to the two separate micro:bits, one near the hot plate and the other near the air conditioner.

This microbit was connected to my computer and the data is displayed in the microbit app console as both scrolling results and graphs.

Once again I’ve added the explanatory comments to the JavaScript file

The data can also be downloaded as a csv file and processed in Excel. I made a graph as follows:
Other ideas for remote data collection with the microbit:
  • measure the acceleration of a dropped microbit or one attached to a rocket
  • check soil moisture of a pot plant
(checkout the links in the first paragraph for more detail about other projects)

Note that the temperature experiment was done without any extra data collectors, just the microbit app. I think that this app extends the range of what can be done with the microbit tremendously.

Related: Making sense of the microbit

Footnote: explaining the "killer app" statement in the first paragraph
Persistent identity is the "killer" feature and sensor analytics and mobile payments are two "killer" apps, while more immersive first-person videogames and live event experiences could become another “killer” app for some wearables
Wearable Devices The ‘Internet of Things’ Becomes Personal by Morgan Stanley Research 2014

Sunday, November 24, 2019

donate to the Kumanjayi Walker fundraiser

How to donate to the Kumanjayi Walker fund: Justice for Yuendumu: Inquiry on Police Shooting

The police appear to be commenting on this case (here) although others have stopped or have been told to stop since murder charges have been laid

More information about who might represent the Walker family

It's time to brush up on your history if you are not aware of it:
(1) Coniston Massacre 1928
(2) Cameron Doomadgee killed on Palm Island while in police custody, 2004 (wikipedia account). Read The Tall Man, a magnificent book.

UPDATE (27/11/2019):
Read Rolfe bail application under exclusion of the public by ERWIN CHLANDA.

This article points out how this police charged with murder obtained bail without public scrutiny, whereas an aboriginal person, Julian Williams, charged with murder in 2009 (and later found to be innocent) was locked up for 2 years awaiting trial.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Kumanjayi Walker rally

I've posted it below but best to watch on YouTube: Walker Rally 14th November. For commentary by the producer, Erwin Chlanda, see Mass rally shows fury, distrust for police, government

More: Scott McConnell is the Independent Member for Stuart (formerly was Labour Party but quit following disagreements with the Chief Minister)

Government fails bush on health, police: McConnell
The under-resourcing or closing of bush police stations and the shutting down of clinics over the summer period in several communities of the NT, including Haasts Bluff, west of Alice Springs, need to be examined.

The two failures are clearly inextricably linked: If people don’t feel secure they will not take jobs in remote health services, a problem Health Minister Natasha Fyles has failed to cope with “from the get go” of this Parliamentary term, says Mr McConnell

The killing of 19-year-old Kumunjayi Walker by a police officer last week was immediately preceded by the evacuation of the entire NT Government health service from the 800-strong community. And this in turn had been caused by the alleged attempted break-in into the home of a health staff member earlier last week.....

A long-time Yuendumu resident, speaking to the News on the condition of not being named, says the break-ins, car thefts and stealing from the stores, mostly by young people, some operating as gangs, have been out of control in Yuendumu for months.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

The Three Game Changers and Disadvantaged Youth

This is my response to the Mparntwe / Alice Springs Youth Action Plan 2019-2021, see some extracts from this plan below.

The computer revolution powers ahead and conventional institutions, such as the education system, struggle to keep up.

The goal here is to identify the 3 game changers in modern computer technology and outline how they can be used to engage disadvantaged youth. The 3 game changers are coding, physical computing and maker spaces / fabrication. All of them have become far more accessible to users.

Coding: Block coding languages such as Scratch or MakeCode are far easier to use than text based languages. The ready access to multimedia (simple animations and sounds) in the design of Scratch allows a lot to be achieved quickly and engages new users.

This writer has developed outlines for a variety of projects with indigenous themes (1)

Physical computing: New microcontrollers such as the micro:bit (2) or Circuit Playground Express are inexpensive and combine programmable sensory input and output in an appealing, portable / wearable package.

Maker spaces and fab (fabrication) labs: Maker spaces can be constructed relatively cheaply. Buy a few craft items from Mad Harry’s and a few tools from Bunnings, do a little coding, connect with the Hummingbird Bit robotics kit and you can make a variety of projects that are both educational and entertaining (3, 4)

Fab Labs are more expensive. The underlying idea here is to provide the tools, such as laser cutters, for users to be able to make (almost) anything. Fab Labs are growing exponentially around the world. Some of them have been developed to operate in Disadvantaged communities. A Fab Lab can be used for training, making things useful to the user or for making things commercially.

Some extracts ...

The youth survey and summary data …. show that 30 percent of participating youth surveyed in Mparntwe / Alice Springs are disengaged from school

  • Provide learning opportunities for disengaged young people through the evenings and night. Investigate funding options to support community based education responses in both the urban and remote context
  • Build collaboration between the youth sector, NT Government, Department of Education and schools to support professional development of staff and case management support for young people
  • Consider gender issues when developing strategies for re-engaging young men and women in schools and education pathways
  • Improve access to education and training for young people in detention
  • Strengthen pathways to real local employment opportunities such as … Aboriginal and Islander Education Workers ...
Other goals of the plan which could be impacted by these ideas are:
Goal 2: Improve outcomes for young people in the youth justice system
Goal 3: Better support for remote communities
Goal 4: Support the development and implementation of mentoring programs for aboriginal young people
Goal 6: Develop integrated programs for young people who are out late at night

Mparntwe / Alice Spring Youth Action Plan 2019-2021

Bill Kerr articles
(1) Integrating the digital technology curriculum with indigenous knowledge systems
(2) making sense of the microbit
(3) bee waggle project with the Hummingbird Bit
(4) would you like to see a toilet roll dance?

Dougherty, Dale with Conrad, Ariane. Free to Make: How the Maker Movement is changing our schools, our jobs and our minds (2016)

Gershenfeld, Neil; Gershenfeld, Alan; Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld. Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution (2017)

Graves, Colleen and Aaron. The Big Book of Maker Space Projects (2017)

Graves, Colleen and Aaron. 20 Makey Makey Projects for the Evil Genius (2017)

Martinez, Sylvia and Stager, Gary. Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom (2nd Edition, 2019)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

integrating the digital technology curriculum with indigenous knowledge systems

This is a draft overview of exemplars some of which are being developed and others being project ideas in embryo. Please get in touch if you want to help develop these ideas further, or, alternatively, just do it!

It assists teachers in implementing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority from the Australian Curriculum, further integrating ideas from Science, Maths, Art etc. into the Digital Technologies curriculum.

The method employed here is to identify powerful ideas, usually from indigenous culture and express them using Digital Technologies. Initially this is done using Scratch coding to develop algorithmic thinking. I anticipate that this can be further extended into physical computing utilising such devices as the micro:bit, drones, Hummingbird:bit or programs that run on android phones (QR codes, app inventor). I have identified a substantial number of project ideas here but far more could be done.

Some ideas have been adapted from the Melbourne University Indigenous Knowledge site, whilst other ideas have been culled from various media reports or developed by this author.
A note about indigenous icons, animations and sounds: Scratch 3.0 comes with its own prepackaged icons, animations and sounds / music, which makes it easy for new users to quickly develop multimedia applications. What I have done / am doing is compiling a set of indigenous icons, gif animations and sounds / music more suited to indigenous cultural expression. Indigenous icons have been obtained from the web and tidied up (transparent backgrounds) using GIMP. Animated gifs can be imported into Scratch and utilised frame by frame. In this way a library of animations suitable for indigenous themes can be developed. Free sounds is a great source for sounds.

The words identifying the functions of Scratch tiles (move, turn etc.) have been translated into many different languages. I’m making inquiries as to what process would be involved in developing an indigenous language version of Scratch. It would be a tremendous boost to encourage indigenous multimedia coding if this could be achieved.

The Project themes include Navigating Through Country, Fire, Dotted Circle Art Work, Kinship Systems, Indigenous Languages, Drones, Phases Of The Moon, Seven Sisters, Rainbow Serpent and Photography.


The rainbow serpent creates springs, creeks, wetlands. It can also be associated with extreme weather, lightning, thunder and destruction. Either of these themes could be developed in Scratch.

Book reading story link: ‘Warnayarra: the rainbow snake’ by Pamela Lofts

For the images / gifs I’ve been looking for scary serpents or fascinating rainbow effects rather than cute and friendly snake images. Some scary serpent sounds have been downloaded.


A schematic map is available from the Indigenous Knowledge site. A good starting task would be to duplicate this map in Scratch using the indigenous icons.

I’d encourage students here to then incorporate bilingual features into the project, their preferred native language plus English, using the Scratch pop up messages and text to voice features.

The picture shows some of the indigenous icons (not the map).


Smoking out a kangaroo or emu is one of the many uses of fire used by aboriginal people.

Other uses of fire (as well as smoking out animals) include promotion of plant growth, reduction of fuel loads, social (campfire), cooking, communication, funerals, warding off evil spirits, insect repellant and burning spinifex to make glue

A story from the Martu, a central West Australian tribe is how, initially, the blue tongue lizard kept fire to himself. The chicken hawk stole fire from the lizard and gave it to the Martu. The Martu carried a fire stick from camp to camp.

A burn area makes it easier for hunting. New food grows after fire and rain (desert raisins, bush potatoes). Different burns are used for different foods. A small burn for skink, a long burn for a hill kangaroo and a round burn for a mala.

Some Martu art works show patches of fire

Reference to this section: Burning, bushfoods and biodiversity (film, 41 min)


There are dreamtime stories connecting the spotted quoll with the phases of the moon. The moon spirit loses its breath, dies and is reborn.

Mityan’s earthly counterpart is the Quoll or native cat which used to inhabit parts of Victoria and New South Wales. Its white-spotted brown coat is clearly reminiscent of the various phases of the moon, from the slim crescent through to the full moon.

The Scratch cloning feature could be used effectively here, for dramatic effects of the moon.


The Seven Sisters song series stretches across Australia. The videos at the National Museum page Tracking the Seven Sisters are incredibly good

Some features of the 7 sisters video could be emulated in Scratch: metamorphosis of sisters to different forms; art work (circles); background music etc.


Culturally Situated Design Tools is an approach pioneered by Ron Eglash et al and adapted for aboriginal central desert art motifs (dotted circles with textured backgrounds) by this author. The picture below shows one variation of a myriad of possibilities (developed with Scratch):

Using Scratch or Snap! we can code the circle in various ways. The code enhances our understanding of the circle and how it can be represented in this medium. This can be done with dots or an unbroken line. To build tools that will do justice to the indigenous art work does take a lot of thought, research, collaboration and design effort. The tools also have to be usable initially by a novice to computer coding. To design all of this becomes complex, so the designer needs to be a good coder with a good understanding of the cultural form too.


Taking Arrernte people as an example. All Arrernte have skin names. There are 8 skin names: Kemarre, Perrurle, Penangke, Pengarte, Ampetyane, Angale, Kngwarraye, Peltharre. They get their skin name at birth based on the skin name of their parents. But they get a different skin name from both of their parents. For example, if a woman is Peltharre then, according to culture, she should marry a Kemarre man and their children will be Perrurle.

Using Scratch or SNAP this can be coded using lists, conditionals, input and outputs. It’s a good way to introduce data structures and conditionals to anyone interested interested in this feature of indigenous culture.


An ABC report, Aboriginal Gathang language brought to life for Taree school students, from May 2018 describes how a NSW indigeneous teacher, Jaycent Davis, has installed Gathang language signs throughout the Taree High school and primary school

He has embraced digital technology, using QR codes on the signs, so students can scan them with their smart phones and hear the Aboriginal word spoken aloud.

This great idea could be adapted to any indigeneous language.


I have used Scratch to make a tiny multimedia dictionary (voice, pictures / animation, words) for the Australian indigenous Alyawarre language. See the Scratch project here.

Peter Ruwolt had the idea of making template programs using Scratch to support teachers in teaching reading and writing of Pitjantjatjara.

For example: Unmarked object on screen which when you click on it plays a sound of a Pitjantjatjara word, eg. Punu (tree). Another object on screen which contains the word spelt out, punu. The user drags the spelt out word icon onto the sound playing icon and the program generates a reward of some type. Students could then proceed to making their own sound and word objects, creating their own word – sound dictionary


With App Inventor students can develop phone apps for android phones. For example, I have developed an Arrernte Language app, with the help of a friend in Adelaide, to help those learning the language to pronounce the words. With this app someone learning the language can sit with a fluent speaker and if they mispronounce the words the fluent speaker can record a better version.

IDX Manager Grant Cameron was invited to present at the World of Drones Congress to talk about IDX's work in regional and remote communities across Australia ...

Grant spoke about the importance of skilling up mob across the country in using technology, and how communities are benefiting from using drones to map and monitor their own country and keep sacred sites, cultural and intellectual property safe.
- from IDX Facebook site, September 27

Overhead time lapse photography as indigenous artists make a painting (Kim Mahood, Mapping and minding shared lands, The Monthly, July 2017 )
“Wallworth used overhead time-lapse photography to film the making of the painting, and the immersive multi-screen result shows the painters materialising, disappearing and reappearing as they create the landscape, dot by dot, on the canvas”