[Sugar-news] Sugar Digest 2009-02-03

Walter Bender walter.bender at gmail.com
Tue Feb 3 12:43:28 EST 2009

=== Sugar Digest ===

Baselines, Part 1: A few months ago, Tomeu Vizoso set a baseline for
the Sugar "view source" functionality that had largely gone unrealized
in most Activities. In the upcoming (March) release of Sugar, the
default behavior of all Activities will be to have their source code
opened inside of Pippy, the Python editor written by Chris Ball and
maintained by C. Scott Ananian. (This is already the default behavior
of Chat—try it, you'll like it.)

While this is a baseline, it is clear that for many Activities, it is
not sufficient. In some Activities, such as Browse, view source is
geared towards the content being browsed, rather than the Browser
itself. In a manner similar to the Mosaic web browser—and most
browsers built since—view-source shows the HTML content from which the
page is created. Browse puts a copy of the HTML content into the
Journal from where it can be viewed and modified by the Write

It has often been argues by me (and many others) that view source is
what made the web transparent and enabled any consumer of web content
to become a producer. Indeed, this was the threshold through which a
generation has passed—remix is a part of our culture, not just
something for Trekkies and other fringe groups as observed by Henry
Jenkins in the mid 1980s.

I have been thinking about view source within the content of Turtle
Art lately. I had gotten immersed in Turtle Art when some teachers on
the Sur list began asking for some extensions. At the time I tried to
get them to make the extensions themselves, but the floor was too
high. I jumped in in order to document the process of modifying an
Activity and also to try to understand first hand where the
difficulties laid. My early attempts are described in the wiki
([[Patching_Turtle_Art|Patching Turtle Art]]).

Between Bill Kerr's subsequent questions
([[Talk:Patching_Turtle_Art|Talk:Patching Turtle Art]]) and my own
experiences, I was awakened to the fact that we have a long ways to go
in terms of making view source meaningful to the teacher, the student,
and the potential Sugar contributor.

View source was central to the discussion I had with Bill Kerr and
Tony Forster last week in Melbourne. We agreed that it worthwhile
exploring the impact of the addition of some more steps between using
an Activity and viewing the project's Python code; indeed, it would be
necessary if any but the most dedicated would venture forth. Tony has
braved the GNU/Linux shell to try to modify Turtle Art; he has been
documenting his efforts ([http://tonyforster.blogspot.com/ Tony
Forster blog]) Previously I had added an export function to Turtle Art
so that the psuedo Logo generated in the graphical interface could be
viewed inside a text-based, fully featured Logo environment—a one-way
path towards more sophisticated programming concepts.

As a result of the Melbourne discussion, I decided to take a slightly
different approach. I have added two new blocks to Turtle Art
(actually, at the moment, just to Turtle Art Portfolio, a fork of
Turtle Art).

One block lets you try Python code directly into it. It can be used
for simple, in-line extensions, such as added new functions from the
math library. It uses a simple set of assumptions: there is one input
(int or float) and one output (float), e.g., typing sin(x) into the
block turns the block into the sine function. It is similar to the
programmable extensions found in may environments, such as
[http://rupert.id.au/schoolgamemaker/morethan.htm Gamemaker]. While I
expect that this will satisfy the needs of many of those who are
looking for simple extensions to the Turtle Art environment, I don't
think it addresses the question of how to provide a stepping stone
towards modifying Turtle Art itself—in fact, it may discourage many
from every bothering to view the source code because they can make
changes without having to "look under the hood."

I have higher hopes for the second block I introduced. Internally it
calls a Python procedure, myblock, that is currently a "nop"—it simply
returns without executing any code. The idea is that myblock, which is
loaded as a separate module, will be modified by the end user. When
Turtle Art Portfolio is launched for the first time, it makes a copy
of myblock in the Journal. It can be opened in Pippy, where it can be
modified and saved back to the Journal. From within Turtle Art, you
can reload the myblock module by selecting a new module from the

I've put some commented-out examples of what you can do with myblock
into the Python code: a dotted line; some string manipulations; and
the extension of the Turtle Art color space to include chroma (gray)
in addition to hue and value.

In using myblock, my typical work cycle is to switch between Turtle
Art Portfolio, Pippy, and Log Viewer (so that I can see the error
messages from the Python interpreter—I make a lot of mistakes as I
code). The major limitation I face in the current implementation is
that within Pippy I don't have access to the Turtle Art environment. I
need all but rudimentary syntactic debugging in Turtle Art itself and
I need to know what resources are available within that environment,
which I can only find out by looking at more of the source code. (I am
hoping that enough examples will help in regard to the latter issue.)
Nonetheless, I hypothesize that the barrier to entry into making real
modifications to Turtle Art is much lower now. I cannot wait to get
feedback from the field to see if I am heading down the right path.

I am hoping that other Activity developers go beyond the baseline set
by Tomeu. I am sure that there are many creative ways to engage in the
appropriation of the tools we are creating.


Baseline, Part 2: There has been an interesting discussion this week
about setting a baseline for Sugar collaboration. The discussion
began, ironically, when James Simmons, author of the Etexts and View
Slides Activities asked how he could turn off collaboration, as it too
bandwidth intensive. He got a number of replies in regard to
mechanisms for removing the sharing menu on the toolbar, e.g.,

 # Hide the sharing button from the activity toolbar
 activity_toolbar = self.tbox.get_activity_toolbar()
 activity_toolbar.share.props.visible = False

But Carol Farlow Leche took the discussion in to a different direction.

"I'm guessing someone has already suggested this on some list or
other, but in my experience kids like to watch over each other's
shoulder, and a default collaboration of "everyone watches, one person
types" VNC would in my opinion be the 80 of a collaboration 80–20
rule.  I think this ought to be implemented in the Sugar
infrastructure, and then let activities that have an obvious extended
collaboration (such as two person games or shared authorship
documents) do something more."

This led to a (renewed) discussion of using VNC as a default
collaboration baseline for all Activities. Chris Ball has already done
a lot of the ground work necessary to make this happen (See his great
demo at [http://blog.printf.net/articles/2009/01/26/multi-pointer-remote-desktop
multi-pointer remote desktop]). With a bit of UI glue, we could have
shared desktops in Sugar, although I don't think we'll land this
feature as part of 0.84 in March.

Many others joined the discussion, including Eben Eliason, Wade
Brainerd, Andrés Ambrois, Gary Martin, Martin Langhoff, C. Scott
Ananian, Morgan Collett, and Ben Schwartz. Together, they came up with
a nice model where by any Activity that was already "full" from the
perspective of joining would be available for watching—by default
through VNC.

As with view source, collaboration is a core Sugar affordance for
learning. Much of the original inspiration for the Sugar collaboration
comes from observing how people collaborate on the Web. But also in
the classroom. As Carol observes, looking over shoulders represents a
large portion of the collaboration that happens in the classroom.
Undoubtedly, we should support simple mechanisms for this, although I
would argue that we should not lose sight of the fact that the easiest
way to look over someone's shoulder is to get out of our chair, walk
over, and look. Much of the time we don't need to impose technology
between children or their teachers.

So how should we be thinking about the VNC model? A common use of VNC
in classrooms is for the teacher to single out several students to
share their work with the entire class for discussion. Often a mosaic
of up to 16 screens are projected in front of the class. A less
common, but in my opinion just as interesting model is one that was
developed in Chile: the children are assigned to small groups to work
on problems. Each group is tasked with coming to consensus. The
teacher then asks different groups to present their work and their
hypotheses to the class as a whole.

The simplest, and arguably most powerful example of Sugar
collaboration is peer editing in Write. To always be just one "click"
away from inviting someone to edit your work is revolutionary. When
Ben first demonstrated the Distance Activity (aka Acoustic Tape
Measure) it was a revelation. It is great to see a new wave of
interest in Sugar collaboration. I look forward to more awakenings.

=== Community jams, meet-ups, and meetings ===

The minutes of the most recent meeting of the Sugar Oversight Board
are posted in the wiki (See

There will be a Sugar gather in Brussels at FOSDEM, the free and
open-source developers' European meeting (See
[[MarketingTeam/Events/FOSDEM_2009|FOSDEM 2009]]). The Fedora booth
will feature a create your own Sugar-on-a-Stick station.

While I was unable to recruit a Sugar representative to
[http://scale7x.socallinuxexpo.org/ SCALE], there will be several
community members. Send email to the list if you will be attending.

=== Help Wanted ===

We continue to advance towards the release of Sugar 0.84 in March.
Testers are critical at this time. Please see
[[BugSquad/GettingInvolved|the BugSquad page]] for more information on
how you can help.

I had a conversation with a colleague at the World Bank yesterday. We
discussed their textbook efforts and how it would be worth exploring
some remixing ideas within the context of Sugar. Infoslicer, a tool to
enable teachers to quickly and easily select web-based content to
edit, package, and distribute as teaching materials, comes to mind
(See [[Activities/InfoSlicer|InfoSclicer]]). Let me know if you'd be
interested in participating in a follow-up conversation.

=== Tech Talk ===

New versions of [http://sugarlabs.org/wiki/images/9/9f/InfoSlicer-1.xo
Turtle Art], [http://sugarlabs.org/wiki/images/6/60/TurtleArtPortfolio-11.xo
Turtle Art Portfolio], and
[http://sugarlabs.org/wiki/images/9/9f/InfoSlicer-1.xo InfoSlicer] are
available for testing.

=== Sugar Labs ===

Gary Martin has generated another SOM from the past week of discussion
on the IAEP mailing list (Please see
[[:Image:2009-January-24-30-som.jpg|SOM]]). He is also looking for
feedback on his algorithm:

"I've been putting in some more time on the SOM code the last couple
of weeks (high resolution contour lines being one improvement). I
wanted to bounce 2 (low-res) maps of this weeks IAEP content off the
list for feedback. The first (2009-January-24-30-3-mean) uses the same
fully normalized procedure as per the last month of maps (i.e height
== term link density); the second (2009-January-24-30-3-corrected) has
an identical cluster layout, but has its topographic height
re-adjusted to bring back in the term frequency (i.e height == term
link density * term frequency). I think this 2nd map gives us the
undistorted term layout as seen in maps of the past month, while
allowing term frequency to have some influence again over the
topography (maps last year all had term frequency frequency)."

See [[Sugar_Labs/SOM|the SOM overview page]] for more details.

Walter Bender
Sugar Labs

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