[OLPC Brasil] Why call tools "activities"?

Albert Cahalan acahalan at gmail.com
Thu Apr 5 19:58:26 EDT 2007

On 4/5/07, Don Hopkins <dhopkins at donhopkins.com> wrote:
>  Albert Cahalan wrote:

>  Actually no. Teachers are comfortable with homonyms, at least if
> they are already in common use and there is little chance of conflict.
> The problem with "activity" is that you're introducing a completely
> new meaning for a word that is already used for something else in
> the same contexts.
>  In what way is "activity" any more confusing than any other homonym
> teachers have to deal with when talking about computers, like "desktop"?

I never suggested "desktop" was OK, nor do I even think the XO
should have one, so don't compare "activity" with that.

"activity" is more confusing than "app".

>  If a teacher asks "What activity do you want to do?", they sure
> don't specifically mean a computer program. An activity is
> something you do with playground equipment, with the cafeteria, etc.
>  Is the Brazilian word for "activity" even more specific than the English
> word "activity", only used for physical activities in the real world but
> never computers? My understanding of the English word doesn't necessarily
> exclude activities on the computer or have any physical connotations. But
> then again, I went to public schools.

It was suggested that the Brazilian word is more specific, but
the English word is bad enough.

The English word "activity" does not exclude computers. This is
an even bigger problem than the non-computer use though. Examples:

* Using the word processor to write a story.
* Using the word processor to write a book report.
* Using the word processor to write a letter.

As you can see, one app supports numerous activities. It can not
logically BE an activity then.

> don't understand why "activity" is so confusing, unless there's a
> fundamental difference between the meaning of the word "activity" in English
> and Portuguese. Is that your point, or do you think "activity" is just as
> confusing in English?

As I understand it, the Portuguese equivalent is more confusing.
I also think the English term "activity" is quite confusing.
Activities are things you do with apps, or even not with computers.

>  The standard words in English are "app" and "program". Pick one.
> Either will be far less confusing than "activity".
>  I think the whole point of using the word "activity" instead of
> "application" or "program" was to purposefully AVOID the unfortunate
> connotations of the well understood words for desktop applications and
> programs. One of the goals of Sugar is for monolithic "applications" to be
> broken down into reusable components, and integrated into task oriented
> "activities" (like eToys or HyperCard stacks), instead of requiring the user
> to switch between monolithic single-purpose applications, like editing an
> image in Photoshop, formatting text in Word, and composing images and text
> them into a web page in Front Page. Of course there is a text editor
> "activity" and a book reader "activity", but ideally those are reusable
> Python components that can be integrated together into other activities
> (eventually by the casual user, like eToys and HyperCard), instead of
> locking them up into separate "applications".

Woah! This is software architecture stuff that users shouldn't
need to care about. An app can be a monolithic blob or a bunch
of reusable components, but it's all the same thing to the user.

>  Activities are task oriented, instead of being tool or
> application or document or window or desktop oriented.
> I like the word "activity" better than "task", because
> it sounds like an "activity" could be more entertaining
> and amusing than a "task" which sounds more like hard work
> or an unpleasant ordeal (like a "sysiphean task").
>  None of those is suitable. It's "app" or "program" in English.
>  To my mind, "applications" are commercial products designed to be sold in
> cardboard boxes, to take up shelf space and attract the consumer's eye with
> flashy colors, to become obsolete and require upgrading every time a new
> version comes out, to slow down the boot process by several seconds by
> calling home and checking to see if the new version has come out yet, to run
> a background task that polls for a new version every five minutes, to run a
> license manager that cuts you of if you haven't payed your subscription, to
> be bloated with useless features demanded by marketing managers, only
> intended to be compared against the competition by grids of checkboxes in
> pandering computer magazines and sycophantic review web sites. I do not like
> to use the word "application" to describe activities for the OLPC, which
> demands a fresh way of thinking about the way people use software.

Sugar "activities" can't be sold in oversized cardboard boxes?
Sugar "activities" can't become obsolete?
Sugar "activities" can't refuse to run without phoning home?
Sugar "activities" can't have evil license managers?
Sugar "activities" can't have subscriptions?

It sounds like you've been burned by really bad apps, probably on
the Windows platform or on commercial UNIX in the bad old days.
What will you do when you've been burned by evil Sugar activities?

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