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Vn004.01

The Clever Hack (2)

5/12/77

At dinner this evening we talked over some of the incidents of the day. It had been one of novelty for Robby. His friend John (the son of a former naval officer with whom Robby shares an interest in naval battles and model building) came to Logo with Robby as a stopping point on a visit to the Hart Nautical Museum (a museum of models) in MIT building 5. Miriam stayed at Logo with me (the events are recorded in Logo session 7) while Gretchen took the boys to the museum. By the time the boys had returned, Miriam and I had finished our work for the day. While we played otherwheres with a hula hoop and some tennis balls, Gretchen and the boys went into the music room where Robby introduced John to SHOOT. When Miriam heard of this at dinner, she said, “I should have shown John the clever hack.”

The immediate surfacing of this suggestion to Miriam’s mind made me curious about what role, if any, it had played in Robby’s introducing John to SHOOT. These selections, from the transcription made by the chance of the tape recorder’s having been left running, are extracted from Logo session 7.

GretchenWhy don’t you play SHOOT?
Robby That’s a good idea. (To John) Let’s play SHOOT.
John What is this SHOOT?
Robby [Robby logs into Logo, reads the file “SHOOT from secondary storage] You’ll want to see SETUP. Are you looking at the screen?
John Yeah.
Robby [executes the procedure SETUP. The procedure clears the terminal display, then puts a message on the logging portion of the display and creates a ‘screen’ (a movement domain for the turtle); the procedure increases the screen size in steps until it reaches the standard size, thereby pretending to simulate the distant first appearance of something coming into view. While the screen size increases, messaged are printed on the logging portion of the display. Robby reads them.]
Robby Look in the sky!
It’s a bird — it’s a plane.
No, it’s super turtle.
(The SETUP procedure then draws a bull’s eye on the screen and sets the turtle at random location and heading.)
Gretchen I never saw that before. Why don’t you explain to John what you are doing? (When Robby fails to respond, Gretchen continues), The object. . . this is the turtle, and the line in the middle shows which way he is pointing. The object is to get the turtle pointing towards the target. And then say SHOOT-
Robby Something.
Gretchen A certain distance. . . and see if he stops, if that gets him to the target.
Robby [keying]
GretchenRobby has just made a turn of 90 degrees. You try to get it lined up. Now he has to figure out how far to tell it to go.
Robby Yes! (meaning his shot hit the target)
Gretchen Just made it. If it’s a hit, the turtle says ‘ouch’. [exits]
John(laughs) . . . Can I try?
RobbyNo. I want to show you something. [keying] H . . . (then realizing he has omitted the carriage return) Oh . . . Now SHOOT O. It worked! Isn’t that a great trick?
JohnYeah.
RobbyIt’s sort of easy.
JohnHow do you do it? Show me how to do it. I want a turn.
Robby(after shooting successfully at the target, but in no way describing what he did). Here, John. You do everything now.
John Well, you have to help me.
Robby O.K. Right or left?
John Right. I want to do right . . . What do I do?
Robby I want to go home.
John What button do I push? This one? To aim it at this?
Robby Oh, . . . just do Home, SHOOT O.
John No, I don’t want to.
Robby [keying in Home, carriage return, despite John’s preferences] Just say SHOOT O. He’s already at Home . . . I want to go to my house, do you?
John What would we do there, Robby?
Robby Play soccer . . . play in the tree fort.
John SHOOT O. Oh, come on. (shortly after this point, the tape ran out)

Out of three cycles of SHOOT (from setting the target through hitting it), the clever hack was used for two, the basic turtle commands being used for the first cycle. In the second cycle, Robby clearly paraded for John a solution to a problem John could not appreciate. The second use of the clever hack was to short-circut John’s interest in finding out “how to do it”; by appealing to John’s interest in achieving the objective, Robby attempted to circumvent the more time consuming process of showing how to play the game. The mark of the clever hack in both uses is its salience; whenever little time is given to the problem solving process, either through motives of setting a dramatic effect or simply to reach a quick solution, the clever hack comes into its own.

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