Friday, December 28, 2018

an old quote from 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."
~ Hal Abelson
Or, in the video, "a computer program is a way of expressing ideas and communicating ideas and only incidentally about getting a machine to do stuff" (at 35min 55sec)

In the new language some things can be expressed that couldn't be expressed so well, or at all, in previous languages. The technology, the code is secondary; the new way of expressing something is primary. I think that sort of motivation has the potential to push people to persevere through the technical, difficult to understand stuff. But in computer courses people often get so caught up in the code itself (because it is complex, hard) that the underlying driving force can disappear, in the way it is taught, boring technical stuff divorced from real life drama.
youtube link
See his answer to the question asked at 35 minutes, about Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, with additional insights up until 39 minutes, 20 sec. He calls this the linguistic approach by which I think he means reframing or reformulating the programming language to make it easier to understand. One huge breakthrough here since the early days of logo has been block languages. Another issues he mentions is that in solving a problem by programming we are really building a special purpose machine, within the machine.

Hal Abelson is one of the driving forces behind the amazingly good MIT App Inventor.

ps. very funny anecodote about Richard Stallman's password begins at 27 minutes.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Mparntwe Dreaming, part two: wild dog creators

In this Dreaming story much of the west side of Alice Springs has an association with a dog fight. After reading a little booklet about this I initially climbed Anzac Hill and took some photos. But, subsequently, I found I could get better shots of the features I wanted from Billy Goat Hill and Annie Meyer Hill, so I'll show you those pics.

Most of the features of the Mt Gillen ridge were formed by the activities of the wild dog.

Mt Gillen or Alhekulyele from Billy Goat Hill (Akeyulerre)
There was an extended battle between a local dog and an interloper from the west, or in some versions from the south-east. They fought over a female.

Various features of the ridge are named after the resting place of the female, dog hair released during the fight and intestines from a wounded dog. The fighting raged to Heavitree Gap, where the intruder was finally beaten and buried.

Heavitree Gap (Ntaripe) from Billy Goat Hill (Akeyulerre).
To show how things are connected this one shows Heavitree Gap (Ntaripe) from Anzac Hill with Billy Goat Hill (Akeyulerre) in the middle ground
The next one shows the relation between Mt Gillen and Heavitree Gap. I took this from Annie Meyer Hill, which you access through the Olive Pink Botanic Garden:
After defeating his antagonist at Heavitree Gap, the wild dog creator being metamorphosed into a boulder embedded near Billy Goat Hill. I looked for that boulder but couldn't find it.

At various locations nearby are rocks that represent the puppies of the adult wild dogs. Some of the puppies are at the back of Beaurepaires, which is near Anzac Hill.

Puppies outside Beaurepaires (two pics)
There is a large sacred rock in the Anzac Hill (Atnelkentyarliweke) car park
Choritja, where Charles Creek flows into the Todd River is regarded as the real central point of Mparntwe (Alice Springs)

No water today, but this is where Charles Creek flows into Todd River. They say you are not a true resident of Alice Springs until you have seen the Todd flow three times!

The stone below is associated with a great, white, dog man who came from Latrika (away to the West) and wanted to kill the dog men at Choritja (Stuart or Alice Springs).

When they saw him the local Gnoilya wild dog men sang out, wunna, mbainda erinna, numma - This is your camp, sit down

So he sat down quietly and remained there, the stone arising to mark the spot. If the stone is rubbed by old men all the camp dogs begin to growl and grow fierce. The last man to rub it was one of the old inkatos (headmen) who did so soon after the white man came in order to try to make the dogs bite them.
- from The Arunta Volume 1 by Sir Balwin Spencer and F.J. Gillen

Reference: A Town Like Mparntwe: a guide to the Dreaming tracks and sites of Alice Springs by David Brooks, illustrations by Shawn Dobson (first published in 1991)

Part one was a novice discovers the caterpillar

Saturday, December 22, 2018

a novice discovers the caterpillar

For the past week I’ve been venturing out before it gets too hot and visiting some of the traditional sites here in Alice Springs or Mparntwe in Arrente language. If you visited me in Alice, then here are some of the places I would take you. This has been part of my own self education. I hasten to add that I’m still a beginner when it comes to the local habitat and cultures.

Casual visitors or tourists will notice the Yeperenye shopping centre in the heart of town and perhaps also Yipirinya School (spellings are not standardised), which is not far from the town centre. Pronounced Yep-ah-rin-ya. Yeperenye is the most important of three caterpillars that play the major role in the local Dreaming stories.
Delving more into that we discover the caterpillar dreaming of the Arrente people. The caterpillars are the major creative ancestors of Mparntwe.

After this introduction, I might take you to the Araluen Cultural Precinct to view the giant caterpillar sculpture.
There are informative plaques inside the caterpillar. One of the caretakers writes:
“My name is Kwementyeye Rice Furber, I am one of the kwetengurles (caretakers) for the Yeperenye Dreaming. The Yeperenye Dreaming is a totem of my mother and my grandfather (that’s my mum’s dad) and her grandfather (her father’s father). In a cultural way they are the owners of the Yeperenye Dreaming.

I am very proud to see the sculpture being built here on Mparntwe land. I feel the Yeperenye story should be known and told to the locals and visitors alike, and I hope Yeperenye Dreaming will be respected in the land of its Dreaming. I am very glad and happy for the youngsters who are involved in building this Yeperenye Sculpture and I am very glad of all who took part in it and I thank you for it.”
A section of another plaque provides us with some information about the caterpillar itself and how strongly it is represented in the Arrernte language:
“The Arrernte language includes a unique name for every stage of development for yeperenye caterpillars, ie. egg, lava, pupa, emerging moth, moth etc. The name yeperenye derives from ayepe (tar vine) and arenye (belonging to).

The yeperenye are the best known of the sacred caterpillars. They encompass at least two different species and a rich diversity of colour forms. Yeperenye caterpillars burrow into soft soil to depths of about 10cm, sometimes forming a small underground chamber. The fully developed intelyaplyape (hawkmoths) emerge with 12-24 days from their pupal cases underground or beneath leaf litter to feed, mate and lay their eggs in the space of a few days.”
Next up we might take a 10 minute drive to Emily Gap (Anthwerrke).
It’s really special down there, well that is, apart from the damn flies. It is the majestic site where the caterpillar beings originated. Photos from inside the gap, where there are rock paintings illustrating the story, are not permitted. So, I guess you’ll have to come to Alice if you want to see it.
After they created Anthwerrke the caterpillars spread out towards the town area and produced the topographical features that we now see.

The Yeperenye was just one of three species of caterpillar involved. The other species were Ntyarlke and Utnerrengatye.

On the East side of the Todd River, there is a small ridge where the Ntyarlke caterpillars crossed the river.

In 1983 the government began to construct Barrett Drive in order to facilitate access to the casino. But, they had a problem: The ridge created by the Ntyarlke registered and protected under the government’s own Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act extended into the desired path of the road. There was some discussion with the Aboriginal custodians about how to protect the site. In the beginning, the government appeared to be listening.

Then at Christmas 1983 one of the custodians walked out on the site and saw that the tail of the caterpillar had been bulldozed. The government, running out of patience, had done this in the quiet of holiday time. The photo shows the ridge which represents the caterpillar, that used to extend to where the road now is. My back is to the Todd River.
Barrett Drive has since been referred to as Broken Promise Drive among the Arrernte people of Mparntwe.

Well, I still don’t know much about the caterpillars but that is a beginning. And there are more than caterpillars to this story. Next up, I’ll tell you about the wild, creator dogs.

A Town Like Mparntwe: a guide to the Dreaming tracks and sites of Alice Springs (first published in 1991) by David Brooks, illustrations by Shawn Dobson

Monday, December 17, 2018


As a non aboriginal person I won’t have access to this app. I understand why. Whenever the issue of digital connection for remote indigenous is raised there are immediately concerns raised about online safety. By restricting access to members of the indigenous mobs by a registration process this concern is allayed.

The developer group is headed by Christopher Lawrence, an indigenous PhD with very strong background in health issues assisted by other impressive experts at the University of Technology, Sydney, mainly in the fields of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Health. Details here.

The promotion floats the novel idea of digital land rights, which asserts the right of Indigenous peoples to a safe online space that they control.

Indigenous mobs are approached one by one and invited to participate. Currently the app is being tested and trialed with the the following 5 mobs:
  1. Eora – NSW
  2. Jumbunna (UTS) – NSW
  3. Bard – WA
  4. Tiwi Islands – NT
  5. Gunditjamara – VIC
Ngemba and Wankumurra man Michael Mieni, an IT honours student on the team, said actually going out to communities and employing their input has been integral to creating the app.
“The response has been quite amazing. Whenever we’ve been out to communities there's always been a sigh of relief,” he said.

“People say to us, 'we've [been] waiting for something like this!’,” he added.

“We’ve just been taking butchers' paper and markers out there and drawing up plans.

“Then we bring it back to Sydney, and translate it into coding and programming.”
In an interview with NITV, Christopher Lawrence said that the app includes an ‘Elders feature’, for users to contact Elders for advice or support. “A person may not have their Elders anymore, so we’re creating a substitute mob for people who can be Elders for others around the mob”

It is planned to soon create a ‘Deadly Mob’ as a temporary space for people who want to connect on the #thismymob app. The ‘Deadly Mob’ will be used for the mobs currently not listed.  Over the coming months in collaboration with local Indigenous communities they plan to introduce more mobs as their aim is to connect all Indigenous Australians.

Another feature is a digital portal that connects Indigenous users with government, industry and organisational information. Prof Lawrence hopes this feature helps Indigenous users overcome some of the barriers impeding access to important services

On their website, the #Thismymob team also hint at some of their longer term strategic goals, to:
  • inform the development of post-secondary curricula for Indigenous software engineering
  • create pathways towards an environment that supports Indigenous developers, entrepreneurs and start-ups to manage the development and ongoing operation of Indigenous-owned technology
#Thismymob: The first ever app connecting Indigenous people digitally
#thismymob Establishing Digital Land Rights and Reconnecting Indigenous Communities through Emerging Technologies

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Help Desk

I recently heard a story about a young student who was asked on a test the meaning of PTO. In the end he wrote Postal Transport Officer. This reminded me of one of my favourite YouTubes from years ago where a monk encounters a new technology, the book, and calls the medieval Help Desk:

Sunday, December 09, 2018

indigenous icons activity

I've uploaded some indigenous icons (mainly gifs) with transparent backgrounds, suitable for incorporation into a Scratch activity.

I prepared these icons from the original sheet using GIMP.

The activity which I set my class, which is roughly 50% indigenous, was to make up a story based on these icons. Initially I gave them a printout of the icon sheet and asked them to do the story with pencil and paper. I found that all the students preferred to draw the icons themselves rather than cutting and pasting, which is an option I provided.

The next day we went into a computer room. I had taken one of the student sheets and had begun to duplicate their icons into a Scratch page. I made the icons available in the common drive and told them to put the folder onto their Desktop, since Scratch offer an import from desktop feature.

I added a few extra icons to the folder (of kangaroo, emu and honey ants) based on reading their stories.

I asked the students to put the relevant icons onto the page, to name them (that makes it much easier to follow what you are doing) and then program an icon click that would display the name for 2 seconds. I also suggested they put a pale coloured background on the Stage. For some of the icons that were hard to click because of their transparent spaces I suggested they edit and add an unobtrusive colour.

I showed them more work I had done on my exemplar by adding an introductory page with the words of the story. This page had a button which when clicked hid the page and revealed the icons underneath. I showed the class how to hide the page when the button was clicked and how to show the page when the green flag was clicked to start the program again.

The class hadn't done much Scratch before and there were some teething problems. The main one was that some students didn't realise that they had to make a new sprite before importing each icon. They were putting multiple icons onto each sprite. This was easily fixed with some extra instruction.

I felt the indigenous students engaged strongly with this activity, just by getting on with it without any fuss.

One student on his own initiative added the waterdrop sound to the button when it was clicked.

This was a last week of school activity. If I had more time I would have shown the class how to animate one of the animals relevant to their story.