[IAEP] How to Make Activity Designers Happy , Parts I and II

Costello, Rob R Costello.Rob.R at edumail.vic.gov.au
Thu Jan 1 23:25:39 EST 2009

I like the idea of minimising the path between effort and reward for as
many as possible 

as a time poor educator, albeit not in a developing country, the effort
of learning new technologies before I can contribute seems too steep,
much as I would like to 

(I had hoped to run some Sugar classroom trials, like Bill, but found
that too hard to schedule this year - I didn't have a suitable teaching
load in the 2nd half of the year when to make that work - too many other
new things occurring as well) 

While Flash is not open source it can usually be decompiled - I
decompile a few games with kids and we look at the maths etc - change
gravity in games etc; have hacked some extra things into LineRider from
the decompiled source code 

A lot of kids here are pretty interested in flash - having taught
themselves the visual side - and ask me about coding in it since they
know it's behind flash games etc  

On the other hand I don't know that learning the coding side of
actionscript is that easy(?)  for anyone who is also time poor(?)  - its
got quite java like in recent versions, for better or worse. I like it,
but it took a fair while for something like this www.brainshapes.com 

Developing an activity would definitely take more than visual animation
skills- important as they are -  so would need flash coding skills (and
the licensing issue is vexed - Gnash is a player only?  - could kids
even build a swf?)

And flash can certainly be a cpu hog if there is constant animation 

But I can see your pragmatic thinking - surf where the waves are - let
the visual and web skills sort of people play (those who have never
said, its a trivial hack to...)   :) 


Who is at zero points on the meritocracy of practical contribution, so
feel free to ignore

> -----Original Message-----
> From: iaep-bounces at lists.sugarlabs.org [mailto:iaep-
> bounces at lists.sugarlabs.org] On Behalf Of Bryan Berry
> Sent: Friday, 2 January 2009 12:51 PM
> To: iaep; sugar
> Subject: [IAEP] How to Make Activity Designers Happy , Parts I and II
> This is a draft of a multi-part article I plan to post to OLPC News.
> It is very long but I would very much appreciate your opinions and
> feedback. Your input will make it a better article once published.
> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
> This OLPC project seems to be going pretty well as of late December
> 2008. G1G1 v2 is well underway, there are a number of successful
> going on, and a number of larger-scale pilots will come online this
> spring and coming summer.
> Still, there is a big gaping whole in the middle of our little
> project. There just aren't enough activities. Mind you, we have some
> seriously awesome activities such as Etoys, Scratch, TamTam, and
> We have tremendous depth but very limited breadth.
> By breadth, I mean interactive activities for language, history,
> geology, health, etc. In order to expand the range of activities, we
> need to recruit a lot more activity developers and make it dead-simple
> for them to contribute.
> <strong>But Which Developers?</strong>
> Let's think about who we want to recruit. We're talking about breadth
> here so we need experts on Nepali grammar, Pashto vocabulary,
> history, and Andean  geography. The good news is that there are
> technically-oriented people out there that know these things and want
> help.
> We already have a hardcore team of dedicated hackers. We need them for
> the work that hackers excel at: building infrastructure, testing the
> limits of new systems. But now we need a different class of developer,
> those that are focused on the presentation, game play and not system
> internals.
> Based on these characteristics, let's call these people
> <u>designers</u>. The good news is that there are lots of
> designers-particularly in developing countries-that want to contribute
> to OLPC. The bad news is that they don't know python. or GTK+. They
> not even be familiar with linux. They do know HTML, CSS, Javascript,
> Adobe Flash. Allow me to explain.
> Due to rise of the Internet and related boom in outsourcing, the vast,
> vast majority of programmers in developing countries are web
> (according to my own grossly unscientific survey). The rise of the
> Internet has also led a lot of talented graphic designers in
> and developed countries to learn web technologies. I even
> wager that CSS/HTML/Javascript will become the de facto GUI
> in a few years time. <a
> href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygtk">PyGTK</a> won't take over
> world nor will VB.net.
> The popular term for this triumvirate of technologies is <a
> href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AJAX">AJAX</a>, with the difference
> that AJAX applications typically require communication with a remote
> server. I propose using web technologies for completely offline
> activities. Adobe's Flash is basically a variant of AJAX that uses
> dialects of Javascript (<a
> href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actionscript">Actionscript</a>) and
> XML (<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MXML">MXML</a>).
> Very few programmers in the developed world get paid to write desktop
> linux apps. Still, open-source developers find learn and build pygtk,
> mono, and KDE apps in their free-time. Developers in the developing
> world are extremely enthusiastic about FOSS but not nearly as prolific
> in creating open-source software due to a phenomenon I
> call the "FOSS-Nepal Paradox."
> The <a
> FOSS Nepal</a> community has <a
> href="http://softwarefreedomday.org/Competition2008">won the award</a>
> best celebration of Software Freedom day for two years in a running.
> Despite all this enthusiasm the FOSS Nepal community is not very
> in producing open-source code. The reason for this is that Nepal is
not a
> wealthy country and that Open-Source is
> <em><strong>expensive</strong></em> to produce.
> <strong>Open-Source is Expensive</strong>
> Open-source software voraciously consumes a resource even more
> than hard cash, programmer time. Linus Torvalds could afford to spend
> some of the most productive years of his life working without
> financial benefit. He could slack off in his classes without fear of
> unemployment upon graduation. I doubt his parents were counting on him
> to support them financially once he got a job.
> Most talented Nepali programmers I know do not have those luxuries.
> are under a lot of pressure to support their parents and extended
> families, financially and otherwise. So Nepalis, Bangladeshis,
> etc. certainly have the passion and ability to contribute to
> but their free time is significantly more limited.
> This doesn't mean that we should rely on developers from rich
> We simply need to radically lower the amount of time required to
> learning activities. I believe that many, many developers in the
> developing world can contribute 3-5 hours per week. To make those few
> hours productive we need to rework the default activity framework.
> >From what I can tell, the primary design goals of the default PyGTK
> activity
> framework are as follows:
> <ol><li>Give the programmer maximum flexibility</li><li>Fully exploit
> the XO's hardware features </li><li>Mesh nicely with Sugar</li></ol>
> These three goals are laudable and their hacker roots are obvious. The
> problem is that these goals maximize the technology's potential rather
> than programmer productivity. We need reach beyond the vi/emacs crowd
> (Note: I wrote this article using emacs) to thos folks that the
> of Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Eclipse, and GIMP.
> I propose a new set of design goals:
> <ol>
> 	<li>Allow activity designers to quickly build activities
> widely-used tools.</li>
> 	<li>Quickly reward effort with working behavior</li>
> 	<li>Mesh nicely with the Sugar UI</li>
> </ol>
> <strong>It's OK to be Opinionated</strong>
> We need an opinionated activity framework that makes infrastructure
> choices for the designer so that she can focus presentation and
> gameplay. Some may recognize this as the principle of <a
> on Over Configuration</a>, a principle that two of the most popular
> frameworks, Django and RubyOnRails, adhere to. Now a lot of geeks
> like Convention over Configuration--perl hackers especially--but they
> do allow you to create nice applications very quickly.
> Establishing an "opinionated" activity framework will in no way limit
> the freedom of those hackers who want to go their own way. They can
> always build their own activities from whatever tools they choose. The
> whole point of a framework is to help people get started quickly but
> doesn't constrain anyone.
> This concludes part I. Here are some tantalizing morsels from Part II
> of "How to Make Activity Designers Happy,"
> <ul>
> 	<li>Where it's at: HTML, CSS, Javascript, and *gasp* Flash</li>
> 	<li>Nepal's Content Development Experience</li>
> 	<li>Aren't Kids going to create all learning activities so we
> have to?</li>
> </ul>
> <em>
> Bryan Berry is the Technology Director of <a
> href="http://www.olenepal.org">OLE Nepal</a> and deadbeat co-editor of
> OLPCNews.com. Christopher Marin contributed his knowledge about all
> things web to this article</em>
> In part 1, I talked about the paradoxical
> nature of open-source communities in developing countries, flaws in
> the current default activity development framework, and the urgent
> need for a new framework that makes activity designers <em>happy</em>.
> By happy, I mean that the framework rewards their efforts almost
> immediately (roughly 15 minutes of effort) and it lets them focus on
> presentation and gameplay rather than infrastructure. Last time I
> offered some vague ideas how this framework might function. This time
> I will provide more details how this framework could work and why.
> Let's Ride The Internet Wave
> The Internet is the 300-pound gorilla in the software-engineering room
> it will eat virtually everything, including your favorite desktop GUI
> framework. All of the IDE's bend over backwards to support coding of
> webapps, whether it is emacs, eclipse, or even vim. The software
> industry is making huge investments into web technologies that support
> the triumvirate of HTML/CSS/Javascript, witness Google's investment in
> <a href="http://code.google.com/p/v8/ ">V8 javascript</a> compiler and
> Apple's investment in <a
> href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WebKit">Webkit</a>. I speculate
> that there are many, many more developers working on GUI toolkits for
> the web browser- such as JQuery, Prototype, Script.aculo.us-than for
> GNOME or KDE desktop frameworks.
> The web will keep innovating at a breakneck pace. We need to ride that
> wave of innovation.
> In the early days of OLPC, we all had a lot of grandiose and
> impractical ideas. The educational systems of developing countries
> would change overnight into constructionist hotbeds. Kids would build
> their own activities, eliminating the need for large investments in
> content development. A million PyGTK apps with built-in collaboration
> and "View-Source" key would spontaneously bloom . . . Well, we're
> older and wiser now. School systems anywhere are not blank slates that
> we can redraw from scratch using cheap laptops and Etoys. Similarly,
> we cannot expect thousands of developers to flock to a framework
> (PyGTK) that is not commercially popular.
> Developing Country Developer Economics
> As I wrote in Part I, the economics of open-source in developing
> countries is quite different than that in the developed
> world. Developers there have ample enthusiasm for open-source but much
> less time to contribute.
> We need to lower the barrier of entry significantly in order to use
> their talents. In fact, we need to entice non-programmers such as
> graphic designers. In my limited experience, graphic designers are
> much better at designing learning activities than programmers. They
> better appreciate aesthetics and visual story-telling.
> Web designers layout their work using CSS and (X)HTML. They implement
> user interaction and animations using Javascript. They design their
> work using Photoshop, GIMP, Adobe Illustrator, and sometimes
> Eclipse. They know the features and dark areas of the Firefox web
> browser. Sugar infrastructure developers, these people are your
> customers. We need KARMA to enable them to quickly buidl activities
> for the XO without having to learn a whole new skillset. From a
> programmatic point of view, Browse needs to behave as much as possible
> like Firefox. Any discrepancy will distract activity designers from
> the more rewarding parts of activity development.
> Building Good KARMA
> Before we get too far, let's give this new activity framework a name
> so I can save us all a lot of excess verbiage. I call it <u>KARMA</u>,
> because the word is loosely-related to Nepal, my current residence,
> and I like to think creating open-source learning activities gives an
> individual good karma. Coincidentally, it is also the first two
> syllables of Rabi Karmacharya's last name--an individual put a ton of
> hard work and personal sacrifice into the OLPC project in Nepal.
> Well, I haven't actually made up my mind what the core technologies of
> should be. I need your help to work it out. Before I get into the
> technologies, here are my priorities. 1) These tools maximize
> programmer productivity and 2) are open-soure. Priority #1 is much
> more important than #2. 100% purely open-source activities that don't
> exist don't help kids learn. The current pygtk framework is purely
> open-source but you have to become a unix programmer to use it. As I
> noted in Part I, the vast, vast majority of programmers in the
> developing world are web developers and a successful activity
> framework will allow them to re-use their existing skills and tools.
> I have settled on HTML and CSS for the presentation but it is tougher
> to decide on the scripting toolset and on persistent data
> storage. Flash handles animations really well and it is easy to
> integrate audio into the animations. Adobe sells some really nice
> WYSIWYG tools for editing animation and adding audio. A lot of
> developers know flash so there is a large pool of talent we can draw
> from. Did I forget to mention that Flash is proprietary?
> The closed-source issue not withstanding, Flash is the tool to
> use. Some may be upset that Flash doesn't lend itself to "View Source"
> functionality but learning programming is not the sum total of
> education. Kids can do all the programming they ever want to w/ the
> excellent Etoys and Scratch. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but
> Afghani kids won't be able to view the source of Pashto grammar
> activities that don't exist, let alone interactively learn the rules
> of Pashto grammar.
> Flash Ain't Open-Source
> Flash is not _as_ closed-source as other software applications like
> Windows. The Adobe has published the specification for their SWF file
> format and the ActionScript 3.0 compiler is open-source.  However, the
> Adobe's development tools such as Adobe Animator, Illustrator,
> Photoshop, etc. are not open-source. Nor is Adobe's flash player
> plugin. There is the open-source Gnash player but it does not fully
> support Actionscript 3 or Flash version 9. Rob Savoye and his team at
> Open Media Now do a great job but they seriously lack resources. Note:
> Rob
> Savoye, please correct my egregious errors.
> Javascript Isn't Ready
> I put in a good number of research hours into this article. I really,
> really wanted to find a pure javascript framework that could compete
> with Flash. I couldn't find one that does. There are libraries like
> DOJO, JQuery, and Processing.js
> http://ejohn.org/blog/processingjs/. Unfortunately, there aren't any
> IDE's that provide WYSIWYG animation editing for these tools. Every
> try to edit photos from a text editor? It's painful, really
> painful. So while real programmers use emacs (or vi, joe, sam, etc.),
> designers use WYSIWYG GUI's.
> Sadly, Javascript can't use the Graphics Processing Unit like Flash
> can. Ouch, it's a pain in the ass to couple animations with sound
> files. Based on my research so far, pure javascript won't be able to
> compete with Flash for at least the next several years. Please prove
> me wrong. Please post a comment to this article linking to some
> Javascript wonderfulness that pulls even with Flash.
> I will continue with the assumption that KARMA will use flash. I will
> happily revise this article ex post facto if someone in cyberspace
> points me to a pure javascript solution that makes activity designers
> happy.
> Building Momentum for Gnash
> I believe that the best way to increase interest in fully open-source
> flash is to make Flash more central in the evolving open-source
> education stack rather than minimizing its role. We definitely cannot
> wait for Gnash to fully support every feature of the proprietary flash
> before we begin using it. Open-Source starts when a single developer
> "scratches an itch" as the proverb goes. It follows then that the best
> way to bring Gnash up to speed we need to create a nasty, festering
> sore that irritates the open-source community into action.
> Moving the Conversation Forward
> Many people will likely hate my promotion of Flash for learning
> activities. It's OK if you hate me and Flash. I do hope you recognize
> that we need a more developer-centric activity framework that uses web
> technologies.
> I have a lot more to write about Nepal's experiences developing
> learning activities and my ideas on Convention over Configuration in
> sugar activities. I will save those for another day.
> --
> Bryan W. Berry
> Technology Director
> OLE Nepal, http://www.olenepal.org
> _______________________________________________
> 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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