[sugar] [IAEP] Sugar benefits

Edward Cherlin echerlin
Thu Oct 30 18:20:31 EDT 2008

On Thu, Oct 30, 2008 at 6:16 AM, Bill Kerr <billkerr at gmail.com> wrote:
> from walter, in the recent digest  2008-10-27:
>> 2. What would creating a Sugar Activity require from me and what
>> benefits would it bring?

>> I was asked this two-part question from a software developer. The
>> Sugar Almanac is a good starting point for answering the first part
>> (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Sugar_Almanac). The second part is complex
>> and rather than giving a glib answer, I want to take some time to give
>> it some thought. The obvious answer, the chance to touch the lives of
>> hundreds of thousands of children, is OK, but I think we need to
>> develop more of a case.

In addition to Bill's points below, we should point to

o Collaboration built into Sugar Activities
o Enhanced language support through an open development process
o Teaching programming through source code
o Allowing children to customize software for their own needs
o The economic and social value of Free Software

The value of Free Software is hard to explain in conventional economic
terms, because there is almost total confusion about what the word
"value" means, or should mean. Is it the cost of production of
something, the market price, or what it is good for? This confusion is
commonly illustrated by the near infinite value of water for
sustaining life, with a near-zero price, on one hand; and the inherent
uselessness of gem diamonds, with an extremely high price as a luxury
good. (See Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, for an
explanation of the value of luxury goods in use to their buyers.)

One way to look at this confusion is to separate the value to the
producer (measured by marginal cost of production, normally the
minimum prices at which each producer will create more of it, and thus
the amount supplied at any given price), the value in use to the
buyer, relative to the buyer's means (the maximum prices at which each
possible buyer will want to increase purchases of it, and thus the
amount demanded at any given price), and the value in exchange between
them (the market price of the moment, set by the balance of supply and
demand). Then when we remove cost and price from the equation, we get
the maximum value for users.

Free Software has an extremely low cost of production, commonly the
labor of one or a small group of developers, divided by the number of
potential users. The market price is near zero, except for the cost of
media and distribution in some cases, and possibly support. But the
value in use is inestimable, particularly if it succeeds in
eliminating poverty, degradation, and excess death in the next
generation or two.

> from my reading of some of alan kay and john maxwell's history of the
> dynabook, I developed this perspective:
> What sort of user interface is suitable for learning?
> We have become very used to a certain style of user interface, one which is
> "user friendly" and which gives us access to the function of the computer.
> The user friendly user interface has been designed by experts to not demand
> too much of the end user. Some systems take this a step further and actively
> discourage the user from becoming curious about how things work under the
> hood.
> It is not just a matter of "user friendly", in itself that is not serious
> grounds for complaint. It is the idea of users as users of clearly defined
> applications that have been developed by "experts". In large part this state
> of things has arisen through commercialisation. A marketable commodity
> requires a clear definition. So proprietary applications are developed as a
> black box as an expression of "efficient software engineering". In this
> commercial vision the "personal computer" is not really personal because
> most of its interfaces have been standardised which transforms the actors
> into docile agents who respond in predicatable ways to stimuli.
> "my life belongs to the engineers ... we hesitate to exist" (Latour)
> "The self evident state of the art blinds people to other possibilities"
> (Andy diSessa)
> If you start from a more philosophical perspective of amplifying human
> reach, of computer as a meta medium for expressing the creative spirit then
> the attitude to the user is different. The user, as well as being a user, is
> also a potential constructionist designer and developer who eventually will
> be able to create their own tools. So, the tools for exploring the system
> should be powerful and easily accessible. This is one of the features of
> Smalltalk.
> The ethic is one of mutability and simplicity. Every component of a system
> is open to be explored, investigated, modified and built upon. The tool /
> medium distinction is blurred and so is a lot of other false clarity. Rather
> than a world of reified "experts", "engineers", "designers", "end-users",
> "miracle workers" and "plain folks" it would be better to blur these
> boundaries, particularly for learning environments.
> http://learningevolves.wikispaces.com/alanKay+talk
> more succinctly:
> Sugar offers a creative pathway without some invisible person trying to
> control you
> reference:
> Tracing the Dynabook: A Study of Technocultural Transformations (PhD
> Dissertation) by John W. Maxwell
> This pulls together a lot of scattered information about Alan Kay into one
> place, very valuable from that point of view. Start with Chapter 4 to obtain
> an overview of Alan Kay's educational vision. Maxwell correctly stresses the
> importance of a historical perspective, going back to the 1960s, in order to
> understand how educational computing got to the place it is now.
> _______________________________________________
> IAEP -- It's An Education Project (not a laptop project!)
> IAEP at lists.sugarlabs.org
> http://lists.sugarlabs.org/listinfo/iaep

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