19 June 2007

I also met with Robbin Chapman

I really enjoyed meeting and talking with Robbin. She's excellent. From this meeting, lots of good ideas and a vague plan.

Things that she wishes could've been implemented with pearls of wisdom
*string of pearls. the ability to visualize a user's pearl activities. i feel like this is a little along the idea of glorianna's path based stuff. but where you can see the path someone took through the pearls instead of creating a path intentionally.
*history of edits. so you can see how people change their work over time. seeing how they learn to explain themselves via this tool

We talked about her pearls of wisdom a lot, and how the questions they asked came out of cognitive science. They're questions that are simple but that lead to rich answers. She suggested having an icebreaker before working with the kids. And also stressed the importance of talking with the people who work with the kids and working with them before working with the kids. Which is something I try for, already.

Vague plan:
1) get something working by end of month. i'm working on this. if all else fails with ruby, there's the wiki.
2) narrow down a population (i'd say 12-16 year olds? narrower?)
3) ask people in MITERS if they'd like to help populate the information space/site. Also get ML'ers and the teachers of the kids feedback before the kids.
4) spend 2-3 weeks in july working with kids and getting feedback.
5) in the meantime, write all i can on my thesis.
6) finalize and turn in.

Anyway. That's the gist of things.

meeting with arthur

i met with arthur ganson a while back (before i was miserably sick for over a week). and here are my thoughts from that.

I think one of the good ideas to come out of this, and something that describes my motivations for wanting to make this website is, in Arthur's words, that "the best ideas are triggered in unlikely ways." I want to help make a tool/application/website that helps trigger ideas -- by seeing other people's ideas, by explaining your own ideas, by being surprised, etc.

Another good idea is that with something like this, the bigger it is, the more valuable it is. The more projects, ideas, experiences to travel between, the more likely you'll find something that triggers an idea in you.

We discussed the fact that neither of us ever really got the whole electronics thing, that "every time [we] try to build electronics [we] just follow a recipe." And that maybe if you could understand, say, resistors, in a more general sense, then see their various uses in specific cases, maybe this would help encourage an understanding.

We talked about how the internet is good for something like this... thinking of it as a network of interconnected nodes. And we discussed features that might help make this more valuable =>

Searching by:
*basic principles (e.g. ratio/power)
*pure ideas/thoughts
*eureka moments/learning moments

so, basically, from this, I will try to have three main types of content that can be added.
1) basic wiki. general knowledge. editable by anyone
2) projects (like pearls of wisdom, or instructables). people talk about what they made and how they made it
3) experiences (more like a blog... personal). people talk about their own experiences in the more personal. eureka moments. etc.

IMP updates and stuff.

on imp so far:
*basic wiki add/edit pages
*basic projects add project
*add user
*basic login
*password authentication

to do in the next few days:
*save/edit projects with user
*save/edit wikis with user
*link login to main page

and the days after that:
*add/save/edit experiences with user
*tagging on all pages
*searching via tags
*image embedding
*video embedding
*sort out the main view

12 June 2007

website/wiki/blog planning

thinking about page flow

so far up and running on rails:
wiki - add pages/edit pages
projects - add projects

to do: a whole bunch more.

11 June 2007

rails-based wiki


it doesn't seem like much
but it's a first step, i guess.

(and in the meantime, another more real wiki
http://scripts.mit.edu/~nicholsl/imp/index.php?title=Main_Page )

07 June 2007


When I was a young kid, LEGOs were a big part of my life. I used to love sitting around, building random cars and buildings. Unfortunately, there were only so many LEGOs my parents could afford, much less my own LEGO robotics set. Since I didn't have a good organization system, either, I used to spend the majority of my construction time looking for little parts that I was sure had to be there, but that I often couldn't find. But my desire to build never stopped at LEGO. Throughout my childhood, I never lost my fascination for building with wood blocks, scraps of wood, nails, rocks, hay twine, bits of wire, etc. Basically, I would build with whatever I had around.

Originally for my thesis, I had considered making a low-cost and appropriable construction kit, but for some reason, that never set quite right with me, never inspired me to work for it. After running two sets of workshops in Scotland centered around constructing with wire and other local materials, I realized that it wasn't the materials and parts I wanted to supply, but the ideas and knowledge with which to work with whatever materials were locally available. From this realization, I came to the idea of creating a sort of wiki/blog hybrid, a way to have both the sort of project-based how to combined with a construction encyclopedia. Here are some of the thoughts that went along with this change of idea.

First, I've always been frustrated with what I've been able to find on the internet construction-wise. Either there is a sort of how to, or there is the encyclopedia/textbook. If you end up working with the how to community, it can be rewarding, especially if you're the type of person who already has a good grasp on how to make things. For the beginner, though, this can be intimidating, and one sometimes has trouble knowing where to start. If you end up going to a construction encyclopedia/textbook, it can also be rewarding, but if you lack the assumed vocabulary of talking about these topics (fatigue, creep, moments, force, leverage, torque, power, etc), sometimes it's hard to grasp how the general ideas can be applied to projects. I propose that there should be some sort of way to traverse between these two worlds, between the specific and the general knowledge. The most logical and obvious way I can think of doing this is to have some sort of community/database of projects centered around making things which links back to a database/wiki/encyclopedia which talks about the general ideas (and vice versa). In doing so, you could, for example, read about a mechanism type and then see how it's used in various materials/machines. Or maybe if you had a large quantity of, say, cardboard, you could see how other people have used cardboard in their projects. By providing different ways of searching through projects and information, the user can build up an intuition about how things can be used and get ideas of how new concepts can be used in their own projects. Tentatively, I'm calling this the Idea Melting Pot, or IMP for short. My hope is that this website will function as just that, as a place where people can put their ideas and get ideas from other people, as a place where ideas can combine and meld and lead to new ideas.

Second, although I played with LEGOs, model rocket kits, Erector sets, etc., as a kid, the older I got, the more frustrated I was with these kits. The kits would come precisely with what you needed to make what the instructions said and you could make that, but it never was quite yours, you know? Say, for example, you bought a LEGO kit, no matter how large, you'd construct it with their instructions, and it would be beautiful, and you'd be so proud that you could follow instructions and make such a nice thing. Then you'd take it apart and try to make something of your own from the parts, and it would suck. You'd be disappointed and think that your ideas were no good. And then you'd give up for a while until you got a new kit. At least, that happened to me all the time as a kid, and is one of the reasons I didn't think I could build things well most of my life. From a learning perspective, ease of construction does not always equal greater learning or even greater accessibility. It seems that so much time and energy is spent on making kits that are easy and intuitive to use, easy to assemble, easy to buy and consume, with easy to follow instructions for an easy to grasp experience. It's not in the ease where you learn, it's in the struggle. When kits constantly provide you with good builds following their instructions, you learn that your ideas are not as “good” as their ideas. When the TV constantly shows “talented” people who are instantly good at things without having to work hard, you learn that failures are bad and that if you fail you aren't “talented.” When school constantly emphasises good grades, you learn that there's always a “right” and “wrong” and that you should be embarrassed when you're wrong. And I think this is completely ridiculous. You learn when you fail. “Failure” should be encouraged. Experimentation should be rewarded. We should learn the value of starting sloppily.

Third, again from a learning standpoint, by having the parts supplied for you in these kits, you never have to think of how to design the parts yourself. When kits are designed with connections and spacings in mind, users of these kits never learn how to reason their way through the design process from material to part. By not going through the thought process from material to part, builders miss out particularly on concepts in geometry, in joining, and in material choice. More generally, users don't always grasp how concepts can be transferred from one material to another. In addition to addressing new content, the ability to design your own parts also allows for the inclusion of aesthetic considerations into the part designs and the design of the whole.

Fourth, the older I become the more anti-consumer culture I become. Why do we need these construction kits, anyway, when there is tons of usable material being thrown away each day? Why not, instead, provide people with a way/resource to use the materials they have available, to encourage people to do so? In addition to easing the barrier to exploring concepts that were previously thought incapable of being explored (either by something being unavailable or too costly), this potentially provides for the knowledge of local uses of various materials to spread to places where these materials are also found. I think that we should enable and encourage creative re-use instead of encouraging the purchase and consumption of pre-designed construction kits.

Anyway. Just a few of my thoughts.