Ubi De Feo: From 0 to C
The Designer suggests to take this Pill with the song
From 0 to C
Amsterdam / The Netherlands
Photography courtesy Hello, Savants! / Simone Schoutens for Mediamatic
Writer: Alice Mela
From O to C: materializing bits
A programming language is an artificial language designed to communicate instructions to a machine, particularly a computer. Programming languages can be used to create programs that control the behavior of a machine and/or to express algorithms precisely. Nowadays being able to code has become an important skill for creative disciplines such as art and design. Today most innovative products or installations require a certain level of interactivity and the days of the prototyping outsourcing are long gone, since Arduino has invaded our workshops.
In this perspective new questions are rising, mainly focusing on the quest for a new medium to explain this very abstract concept to very practical and creative people. Many have tried to crack the nut, creating interactive toolkits to help non-expert diving into interactivity. Products like Lego Mindstorm among the first and more recently even MIT, with their sexy LittleBits interactive building blocks. But not so many people dared to go straight to the core of the problem, with the goal of grasping the essence of computing, understanding that the bigger problem is to translate an abstract idea and a strict logic into a clear concept.
Ubi De Feo offers an interesting solution to the problem with his From 0 to C workshops.
At the age of 6 Ubi had only one thing in mind: understanding how electricity was working and therefore how his batman miniature machine was moving.
Thirty years and many broken toys later he hasn’t changed much, still diving in the world of the unknown, trying to understand how things work. The only difference today (together with a thick beard) is that now he tries to share what he learns with others, trying to make it easier for them than it was for him back then.
A beautiful example of this is the From 0 to C series of workshop, that aims at teaching the essence of programming with visual analogue tools, by using a more creative and human approach.
The recipe is simple: take a bunch of common tangible objects and organic materials such as M&Ms candies, Ping-Pong balls and wood, mix them with a group of non-experts willing to learn how to program but not to spend 3+2 years in a computer science university, forget about computer screens and keyboards and bake it for 1, 2 or 5 days (depending on the type of workshop). Ubi tries in this way to establish a clear understanding of how a computer works and what a programming language actually is: nothing but an abstraction of what we can do as humans.
In this paradigm, Ping-Pong balls become bits in bytes made of wood (the numbers engraved on the wooden box’s side identifies the decimal value the bit corresponds to). Finally ropes and magnets connect alphabet letters to explain strings of characters.
From 0 to C’s goal is to create a thorough understanding of what a programming language actually is in terms of the mathematical and logic structure at its core. Making something that initially feels very abstract becoming clearer and more logical.
During the workshop the participants are asked to physically perform tasks involving a subject, an object and an action (to mention one), and afterwards to rationalize the logic of these sequences in order to translate them in code. This step is not so different from the traditional idea of translating a sentence from a language (the body language in this case) to another one (C coding language), as we would do from English to Italian, following the rules of a newly acquired grammar. In this way the users learn empirically the structure behind the program, rather than memorizing a list of text functions, embedding more firmly the knowledge in their brain (not to mention the related fun effect).
“…the last thing you need, when learning to program, is a computer screen.”
Ubi defines himself as a creative technologist; he hopes to take this approach into schools and universities, with the goal in the future of founding a complete new methodology out of it. Applying this mainly on kids and teens willing to learn the core basis of programming, he hopes to be able to train in the future better programmers, able to offer us greater products and engaging interactions.