Artículo “Theodore N. Vail en la Argentina”, publicado Revista La Ingeniería del CAI, Centro Argentino de Ingenieros, Nº 1068, ago.-sep.1999, Buenos Aires, 1999.
Article “ATT Leader’s Argentine Sojourn: 1895-1906″, published in Revista COMMENTS, AMCHAM -American Chamber of Commerce in Argentina-, Vol. 82, Nº 1, March 2000, Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires, 23 de junio 2003.
-Conferencia de Horacio C. Reggini el 26 de agosto de 1966 en el Department of Civil Engineering del Massachusetts Institute of Technology, descripción de la obra y exhibición de las ilustraciones que siguen. Proyecto arquitectónico y dirección general a cargo de los arquitectos Sánchez Elía, Peralta Ramos y Agostini (SEPRA) y Clorindo Testa, y proyecto estructural y supervisión de la construcción de la estructura a cargo de Fernández Long y Reggini.
Capítulo relativo a la Argentina publicado en el libro “Logo Philosophy and Implementation”, editado por Logo Computers Systems Inc., Québec, Canada, 1999.
Artículo “Theodore N. Vail en la Argentina”, publicado Revista La Ingeniería del CAI, Centro Argentino de Ingenieros, Nº 1068, ago.-sep.1999, Buenos Aires, 1999.
Ing. Horacio C. Reggini
Este trabajo trata de la intervención de Theodore N. Vail en la construcción de Casa Bamba, primera central hidroeléctrica en la Argentina, y en la instalación de la línea de tranvías eléctricos La Capital de Plaza Mayo a Mataderos de Liniers en la ciudad de Buenos Aires, dos significativas obras de ingeniería realizadas a fines del siglo pasado. Theodore N. Vail, famoso organizador estadounidense, fue el creador de la gigantesca empresa de telecomunicaciones AT&T de los Estados Unidos y en un largo ínterin fuera de la presidencia de esa firma, vivió en la Argentina. A ella acudió con su peculio y entusiasmo empresarial gracias indirectamente al afán de progreso promovido por Domingo F. Sarmiento y sus contactos en los Estados Unidos. Vail fue impulsado a viajar al país por Walter G. Davis, integrante del equipo de científicos de Benjamin A. Gould quien fue invitado por Sarmiento para montar y dirigir el importante Observatorio Astronómico Nacional de Córdoba.
De importancia similar a la invención del teléfono por Alexander Graham Bell en Boston, 1876, fue la invención del denominado Bell System -una estructura vertical integrada para brindar servicio telefónico en los Estados Unidos- realizada por Theodore Newton Vail. Vail fue el gerente general de Bell Telephone Co. en 1878, y creó en 1885 la llamada AT&T –American Telegraph and Telephone Co.-. Renunció en 1887 y después de un alejamiento que duró veinte años, retomó la presidencia entre 1907 y 1918. Vail defendió el lema “one policy, one system, universal service” (“una sola política, un solo sistema, un servicio universal”) e hizo de AT&T una de las empresas más importantes y poderosas del mundo.
Es poco conocida la historia de Theodore N. Vail durante su estadía en la Argentina entre los años 1895 y 1906. No se disponen de registros de antecedentes de intervención de Vail en negocios telefónicos locales durante ese lapso de tiempo, no obstante había participado antes desde Boston en la The River Plate Telephone Company que funcionó en Buenos Aires a principios de la década del 80.
La historia del inicio de la telefonía en la Argentina se remonta al año 1878 -dos años luego de los comienzos de Alexander Graham Bell en los Estados Unidos-, cuando Carlos Cayol y Fernando Newman, de la Policía y del Telégrafo respectivamente, realizaron diversas experiencias en Buenos Aires. A partir de 1880/1881 actuaron en competencia tres empresas que intentaron imponer comercialmente sus respectivos servicios: la Compañía de Teléfonos Gower-Bell de origen inglés (representante Benjamín Manton), la Société du Pantéléphone L. de Locht et Cie de procedencia belga, (representante Clemente Cabanettes) y la Compañía Telefónica del Río de la Plata -Continental de Teléfonos del Río de la Plata- estadounidense (representante Walter S. Keyser). Esta última compañía -denominada en inglés The River Plate Telephone Company- era subsidiara de la Bell Telephone Co. con sede en 95 Milk St. en el distrito financiero de Boston, que había sido organizada por Alexander Graham Bell y sus socios –entre ellos Theodore N. Vail-, al igual que otras similares, para prestar servicios telefónicos en distintas partes del mundo.
La Compañía Telefónica del Río de la Plata –de la cual Vail era miembro del directorio en Boston- se fusionó en 1882 con la Société du Pantéléphone L. de Locht et Cie; la nueva compañía resultante, con sede en Londres, adquirió en 1886 a la Compañía de Teléfonos Gower-Bell, operando desde ese año con el nombre The United River Plate Telephone Company en Inglaterra y Compañía Unión Telefónica del Río de la Plata en la Argentina. Esta compañía, conocida habitualmente con la abreviatura UT -Unión Telefónica- prestó servicios telefónicos en la Argentina bajo administración inglesa durante 43 años, hasta 1929 en que pasó a manos norteamericanas al ser adquirida por la International Telephone and Telegraph Company (ITT). Siguieron, luego, 17 años de administración norteamericana hasta la nacionalización de la telefonía en 1946. Transcurridos 44 años de administración estatal, el año 1990 marcó el compás inverso con el retorno a la operación privada.
Vail, después de su retiro temprano de AT&T en 1887, a los 42 años de edad, residía en su casa de campo Speedwell Farms, en Lyndonville, Vermont. Allí lo visitó, en 1894, Walter G. Davis, un bostoniano que había sido designado Director de la Oficina Meteorológica Argentina situada en Córdoba en 1885. Esta oficina, creada en 1872, dirigida en sus inicios por Benjamin A. Gould –el famoso astrónomo invitado a la Argentina por Domingo F. Sarmiento – funcionaba anexa al Observatorio Astronómico Nacional. Gould había invitado a Davis a trabajar con él en Córdoba en la confección de varios trabajos astronómicos y figura como ayudante en los Vols. VII, VIII, XI, XII, XIII, XV y XX de los Resultados del Observatorio Nacional Argentino entre los años 1878 y 1885. Davis le comentó a Vail sobre la posibilidad de construir una usina hidroeléctrica en la provincia de Córdoba aprovechando un embalse realizado sobre el Río Primero y realizar –según sus previsiones- un excelente negocio. Vail decidió ir de inmediato a la Argentina -vía Inglaterra-, acompañado del ingeniero James W. McCrosky, experto en obras hidroeléctricas.
Una central eléctrica en Córdoba
Con mucho éxito, Vail construyó una planta de generación de electricidad aprovechando las aguas del Río Primero. Esta obra, circundada por un maravilloso paisaje serrano, constituyó el primer aprovechamiento hidroeléctrico en Sudamérica e impulsó decididamente la luz, el transporte y la industria en Córdoba.
El 23 de diciembre de 1893 el Gobierno Provincial de Córdoba dictó la primera ley de concesión eléctrica. Llevaba el número 1893 y por ella se autorizaba a Federico Mackinlay y Cía. a usar las aguas del Río Primero “al objeto de utilizar la fuerza motriz que de ellas pueda obtenerse” y de transportarla a cualquier punto de la cuenca del río y del Municipio de Córdoba. Esta autorización fue transferida más tarde a la Compañía de Luz y Fuerza (Cordoba Light & Power Co.) con sede en New York que contaba con un capital de U$S 1.300.000 integrado en los Estados Unidos. El gobierno cordobés otorgó personería jurídica el 26 de septiembre de 1896 a la Compañía de Luz y Fuerza y le concedió licencia de explotación eléctrica según ley número 2042. Vail fue el artífice principal de esta compañía. El representante ante la provincia era Guillermo Morkill y el Dr. José del Viso era el asesor legal de la firma.
El primer dique San Roque –reemplazado en 1944 por uno nuevo-, que regulaba las aguas del Río Primero, fue inaugurado oficialmente el 8 de septiembre de 1891. Se trató de una obra singular para su tiempo en el orden mundial y dio origen a variadas controversias por muchos años. Los primeros estudios y proyectos sobre el dique San Roque fueron encomendados, según contrato del 12 de junio de 1883, al ingeniero Esteban Dumesmil, francés, y al ingeniero Carlos Casaffousth, nacido en Buenos Aires en 1855, alumno de Gustave Eiffel (1823-1832) en la Escuela Politécnica de París. La empresa constructora de Félix Funes (argentino, 1847-1904) y de Juan Bialet Massé (español, 1846-1907, autor del conocido estudio El estado de las clases obreras argentinas a comienzos del siglo, 1904, reeditado por la Universidad Nacional de Córdoba en 1968) tuvo a su cargo las obras.
Gracias al ingenio empresarial y financiero de Theodore N. Vail, y la supervisión técnica de James W. McCrosky, se construyó la usina de Casa Bamba, situada aproximadamente a 30 Km de la ciudad de Córdoba, entre el Dique San Roque y La Calera. Operaba con las aguas del Río Primero embalsadas por el Dique San Roque. Fue inaugurada oficialmente el 29 de diciembre de 1897 por el entonces Gobernador de la Provincia de Córdoba, el Dr. José Figueroa Alcorta, más tarde Presidente de la Nación en el período 1906-1910. Otra fase final de obra se inauguró el 19 de mayo de 1898. El apelativo Bamba proviene del nombre de un bravío y apasionado cacique de los indios comechingones de las sierras cordobesas, protagonista de una antigua leyenda.
El alternador de la usina acoplado a la turbina –prevista para funcionar con una caída de agua de 30 m- era de 1000 Kw, 60 ciclos y 700 volt que se elevaban a 10.800 para transmitir a Córdoba. En la Argentina, hacia 1890 comenzó a emplearse la corriente alterna monofásica con tensiones de 2000 a 2400 volt que era entregada al consumo a tensiones de 110 a 220 volt con frecuencias de 50 ciclos. Es probable que la primera instalación eléctrica con corriente trifásica haya sido la de la Central Hidroeléctrica de Casa Bamba. El Molino Enger en Alta Córdoba fue una de las primeras empresas que primero que utilizó la energía generada por Casa Bamba, junto luego con la Cervecería Córdoba.
Davis, cuando visitó a Vail en Vermont y lo convenció de trasladarse a Córdoba –según cuenta Albert B. Paine, en su libro In One Man’s Life sobre la vida de Theodore N. Vail- disponía de una opción de concesión del Gobierno de la provincia de Córdoba, para prestar servicios de electricidad y de agua. Es de suponer que se trataba de la otorgada a F. Mackinlay, posteriormente transferida a la Compañía de Luz y Fuerza.
Es interesante señalar el entusiasmo que Casa Bamba despertó en Vail. Al respecto, escribió: “Nunca existió nada que se apoderada tanto de mi imaginación como lo fue la obra de Córdoba. Construimos también en el lugar una casa con la planta inferior para al jefe de la usina y la planta superior para los que veníamos de visita. Disponíamos de un excelente cocinero de la zona y había espacio para varios huéspedes. El sonido de la maquinaria de la usina parecía acompasar el paisaje circundante. Desde entonces, cuando escucho el rumor de una máquina eléctrica, mi mente vuela de inmediato a las bellas noches cordobesas, donde la quietud de las sierras sólo era interrumpida por el andar de la usina. La construcción exigió dos años y fue un éxito desde el comienzo. Le pusimos Casa Bamba como nombre, y siempre fue uno de mis mayores placeres, cuando viajaba a la Argentina, permanecer allí unos días.”
Casa Bamba fue un singular exponente de la ingeniería de la época y un ejemplo concreto del dinamismo y la vitalidad de la Argentina al finalizar el siglo pasado.
Una sociedad de tranvías eléctricos en la ciudad de Buenos Aires
En su primer viaje hacia la Argentina, Vail conoció en el barco a Charles R. Thursby, interesado en electrificar los tranvías de la época tirados por caballos. Asociado con él convirtió a la empresa porteña La Capital de tranvías “a tracción a sangre” en un brillante negocio de tranvías eléctricos.
La compañía La Capital de tranvías a caballo perteneciente a Wenceslao Villafañe y Cía había iniciado operaciones en Buenos Aires en 1888. Vail la adquirió el 20 de junio de 1895 y de inmediato comenzó su transformación. Para ello, obtuvo de la Municipalidad de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires dos concesiones: una para prolongar la línea hasta Flores, y otra, para cambiar la tracción a sangre por la tracción eléctrica. Luego de finalizar la firma de los contratos respectivos el 22 de mayo de 1896, reestructura la empresa con la participación de inversionistas extranjeros. Según escritura oficial del 20 de noviembre de 1896, Theodore N. Vail fue el presidente de la compañía Tramway Electric La Capital Co., Charles R. Thursby, el gerente general, y James W. McCrosky, el ingeniero jefe. Un importante jurisconsulto argentino, el Dr. Luis María Drago (1859-1921) tuvo a su cargo las tareas de asesoramiento legal de la firma. Drago era nieto de Bartolomé Mitre; fue editor del diario La Nación en 1881, Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de la Nación en 1902, durante la segunda presidencia del Gral. Julio A. Roca y presidente del directorio local de la Unión Telefónica del Río de la Plata. A él se debe la doctrina que lleva su nombre, que afirma que la deuda pública no puede dar lugar a intervención armada.
Las obras comenzaron el 22 de enero de 1897, en la esquina de San Juan y Caridad (hoy Gral. Urquiza). Un primer tramo entre la Plaza de Flores y San Juan y Entre Ríos fue inaugurada el 3 de diciembre de 1897. En ese punto se estableció una combinación con los coches de tracción a sangre de la misma compañía que llevaban los pasajeros hasta Plaza de Mayo. La sección comprendida entre Paseo Colón y Entre Ríos fue inaugurada a fines de julio de 1898 con la asistencia del presidente electo Julio A. Roca, quien recorrió el itinerario hasta Flores en un coche especial llamado el Palace Car. Gracias a una nueva concesión, la empresa La Capital, continuó su línea eléctrica desde Flores hasta los Mataderos de Liniers. La parte de Paseo Colón entre la calle Comercio (hoy Humberto 1º) y Plaza de Mayo fue inaugurada el 26 de octubre de 1898. Los rieles de los tramways eléctricos llegaban entonces, hasta unas seis cuadras antes de los Nuevos Mataderos ya que se hallaba demorada su construcción total; finalmente fueron inaugurados el 1º de mayo de 1900.
Es interesante acotar que, Sarmiento –a quien les fascinaban los “wagones” y los rieles- había inaugurado con particular entusiasmo, el 1 de noviembre de 1871, una línea de tranvías a caballo perteneciente a Mariano Billinghurst y Cía. que unía a Plaza Mayo con San José de Flores. Los tranvías desaparecieron de la ciudad de Buenos Aires en la década de 1960, obedeciendo a un decreto del 24 de diciembre de 1962.
La construcción de la infraestructura para las obras de Tramways Eléctricos La Capital estuvo en manos del ingeniero Benito J. Mallol. El Centro Argentino de Ingenieros se fundó el 8 de marzo de 1895 denominándose Centro Nacional de Ingenieros y Benito Mallol fue uno de los dieciocho de los miembros fundadores principales. Formó parte de su primera Comisión Directiva para el período 1895/7 y tuvo su cargo los asuntos de la biblioteca.
La usina de la producción de la fuerza electromotriz se hallaba ubicada en Paseo Colón y Comercio (ahora Humberto 1º) con armaduras metálicas en el techo provistas por Berlin Iron Bridge Co. de Connecticut. Estaba equipada con tres motores a vapor Ball-Wood de 175 rpm y de 33.700 kgm/s -450 CV-. Recibían vapor a 140 lb/sq.inch de cuatro calderas Stirling. Dos de esos motores funcionaban continuamente y el otro estaba de reserva. Las dínamos generadoras de corriente continua eran marca Walker de ocho polos directamente acopladas a los motores. Producían 600 amp a 500 volt, o sea 300 Kw cada una.
La antigua estación Liniers de los coches a tracción a sangre, situada en Liniers y Europa (ahora Carlos Calvo) fue destinada a depósito de los coches eléctricos. Al lado se construyó una estación de distribución de carne –denominada más tarde estación Vail en homenaje a Theodore N. Vail-. La Capital, además del transporte de personas, hizo el servicio exclusivo del transporte de carne desde los lejanos entonces Mataderos de Liniers hasta la ciudad, utilizando tranvías especialmente adaptados. Desde la estación Vail se procedía al reparto de la carne a carnicerías y mercados.
En la calle Provincias Unidas (actualmente Juan Bautista Alberdi), cerca de los Nuevos Mataderos, se construyó un edificio destinado a albergar 250 acumuladores provenientes de The Electric Storage Battery Co. de Philadephia, con el objeto de regularizar la tensión eléctrica en el alambre aéreo y servir a la vez como depósito de reserva de electricidad. El conjunto tenía una capacidad de 100 amp por 7 horas a 520 volt.
En la estación Nuevos Mataderos se construyó un gran galpón destinado a la carga de las reses que se transportaban por los coches eléctricos construidos con ese propósito.
Los coches de pasajeros utilizados por La Capital eran de los llamados “imperiales” de dos pisos, cerrados abajo y abiertos arriba. Poseían capacidad para 54 pasajeros: 24 en el interior, 24 en el imperial y 6 en las plataformas. Fueron construidos por J. B. Brill & Co. de los Estados Unidos. Existía, además, un coche de lujo llamado el palace car. El conductor de los tranvías controlaba la velocidad por medio de una manivela que se hallaba sobre una tapa de una caja cilíndrica –“controller” K-10 fabricado por General Electric Co.- colocada verticalmente en cada una de las plataformas. A la derecha había otra manivela que servía para invertir la corriente y marchar así hacia adelante o atrás. Cada coche estaba equipado con dos motores eléctricos GE-1000 de General Electric Co. que le permitían alcanzar velocidades del orden de los 25 Km/h.
Se cuenta que La Capital preveía instalar un teléfono en cada coche de su línea para avisar inmediatamente a la usina de cualquier interrupción. El alambre telefónico se habría de colocar en las mismas columnas que sostenían el cable aéreo de contacto con el trolley, es decir, la palanca terminada en una polea de garganta que iba colocada en la parte superior y central del coche y que era el puente por donde pasaba la corriente del hilo a los motores. Para establecer la comunicación, debía detenerse el tranvía y pasar el trolley del alambre aéreo de alimentación eléctrica de impulsión al alambre de la línea telefónica.
Theodore N. Vail, artífice financiero
Theodore N. Vail fue el artífice financiero y el impulsor entusiasta de ambos emprendimientos que contribuyeron al desarrollo de la ingeniería argentina, el de la usina Casa Bamba de Córdoba y el de los tranvías eléctricos La Capital de Buenos Aires. Vail fue un viajero frecuente colocando en los Estados Unidos y Europa, acciones y bonos de estas empresas. Acostumbraba escapar de los inviernos del hemisferio norte y gozaba de los veranos del sur, y es sabido que recordó siempre con cariño a la Argentina, en particular, sus estadías estivales en la casa que construyó junto a la central eléctrica de Córdoba. Durante su período de negocios en la Argentina, se sucedieron los gobiernos de Luis Sáenz Peña, 1892/1895; José Evaristo Uriburu, 1895/1898; Julio A. Roca, 1898/1904; Manuel Quintana, 1904/1906 y Figueroa Alcorta, 1906/1910.
En 1907, a los 62 años, volvió a hacerse cargo de la presidencia y conducción de AT&T en New York, convirtiéndola en empresa gigantesca, hasta su retiro definitivo por enfermedad en junio de 1918. Había nacido el 16 de julio de 1845 y falleció el 16 de abril de 1920 a los 75 años de edad. En sus últimos años fue un activo filántropo; en 1913 compró una notable colección de 35.000 libros sobre temas de electricidad que donó al M.I.T., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, y que hoy se guarda en la llamada Vail Library en su honor.
Diario La Nación, 30 de julio de 1898, p. 3. Bajo los titulares PROGRESOS URBANOS, Nueva Vía Eléctrica, La inauguración de ayer, se leía el texto siguiente:
Con la asistencia del general Julio A. Roca, del intendente municipal y de otras personas de significación, tuvo lugar ayer la apertura del nuevo recorrido del tranvía eléctrico La Capital, a partir de la esquina de Comercio y Paseo Colón hasta la plaza de Flores. El servicio se hará cada cinco minutos. El primer coche sale del Paseo Colón a las 4.12 de la mañana y el último a las 12.50 de la noche. … Desde la plaza de Mayo saldrán desde hoy cada dos minutos, tranvías servidos por caballos en combinación con el eléctrico. … Al regreso de Flores la dirección de la compañía obsequió al general Roca, al intendente municipal y a los representantes de los diarios, con un opíparo almuerzo servido con esmerado acierto en los altos de la Rotisserie Charpentier.
Diario La Nación, 27 de octubre de 1898, p. 5. Bajo los titulares TRANVIA DE LA CAPITAL, La última sección, Los Nuevos Mataderos, se insertaba la crónica siguiente:
Tuvo lugar ayer la inauguración oficial de la última sección a tracción eléctrica de la línea de tranvías La Capital, que pasa por el Paseo Colón desde la calle Comercio hasta la Plaza de Mayo.
El representante de la empresa invitó a varias personas a efectuar un paseo por toda la línea hasta los Nuevos Mataderos de Liniers, a cuyo efecto se puso a disposición de la comitiva … (el presidente de la república general Roca, ministros Jofré y Frers, intendente Bullrich, … ) un lujoso palace car que partió de la esquina de Victoria y Balcarce a las 8 de la mañana.
A las 10.30 la comitiva emprendió el regreso, quedando muy satisfecha de la excursión y sobre todo, del adelanto que ha adquirido la empresa La Capital, que es la única que efectúa el recorrido de sus coches a tracción eléctrica de un extremo a otro de la línea.
El autor desea expresar su agradecimiento a los ingenieros Bruno Ferrari Bono, Sabas Luis Gracia Nuñez, José E. Monserrat, Carlos José Rocca y Miguel Angel Yadarola por su ayuda en la preparación de esta nota y al ingeniero Oscar Arca por la provisión de documentación y planos relativos a Casa Bamba. Las fotografías de la usina Casa Bamba provienen de CONEXION, publicación de EPEC, Empresa Provincial de Energía de Córdoba, Año IV, Nº 24, nov.-dic. 1997.
– Ameigh, Michael S., The Vails of Speedwell. They Turned Telecommunications into a Business, Annual Symposium on Telecommunications History, Canadian Armed Forces Museum, Kingston, Ontario, September, 1997.
– Berthold, Victor M., History of the Telephone and Telegraph in the Argentine Republic 1857-1921, AT&T, New York, 1921.
– Centro de Argentino de Ingenieros, Historia de la Ingeniería Argentina, Buenos Aires, 1981.
– Davis, Gualterio A., (Davis, Walter A.), Anales de la Oficina Meteorológica Argentina, Tomo V, Imprenta de Pablo E. Coni, Buenos Aires, 1887.
– Defelippe, Bruno A., La política energética argentina, Ed. Raigal, Buenos Aires, 1953.
– González Podestá, Aquilino, La electrificación de la compañía La Capital, Boletín de la Asociación Amigos del Tranvía, Nº 105, Buenos Aires, agosto de 1985.
– Gould, Benjamin A., Resultados del Observatorio Nacional Argentino en Córdoba, Vol. II, Imprenta de Pablo E. Coni, Buenos Aires, 1881.
– Mallol, B. J., Tramway Eléctrico “La Capital”. Usina, vías, material rodante. Descripción general, J. Peuser, Buenos Aires, 1898.
– Noll, A. Michael, Introduction to Telephone & Telephone Systems, Artech House, Inc., Boston, 1991.
– Oslin, George P., The Story of Telecommunications, Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia, 1992.
– Paine, Albert Bigelow, In One Man’s Life. Personal & Business Career of Theodore N. Vail, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1921. En la portada del libro, el autor escribió: “Bell created the telephone and Vail created the telephone business” (“Bell creó el teléfono y Vail creó el negocio del teléfono”). Paine fue también el autor de Mark Twain: A Biography.
– Pierce, John R. and Noll, A. Michael, Signals: The Sciences of Telecommunications, Scientific American Library, New York, 1990.
– Reggini, Horacio C., Los caminos de la palabra, Las telecomunicaciones de Morse a Internet, Ed.. Galápago, Buenos Aires, 1996.
– Reggini, Horacio C., Sarmiento y las telecomunicaciones. La obsesión del hilo, Ed.. Galápago, Buenos Aires, 1997.
– Reggini, Horacio C., “Presencia de Sarmiento en Boston”, Revista Historia, Año XIX, Nº 75, sept./nov. 1999, Buenos Aires.
– Tesler, Mario, La telefonía argentina: su otra historia, Ed. Rescate, Buenos Aires, 1990.
Ilustraciones – Epígrafes
– Plano de ubicación de Casa Bamba. En D-2, aprox. Lat. 31 g. 22 m. S, Long. 64 g. 25 m. O.
– Lago y dique San Roque luego de su nueva construcción en 1944.
– Vista general de la usina de Casa Bamba.
– Cañerías de presión y escalinata. Al fondo, la cámara de carga.
– Vista de la fachada de la vivienda
– Mapa donde puede verse el itinerario de la línea tranviaria La Capital. En él figuran algunas calles con sus nombres de la época. La mayoría de esas denominaciones se mantienen actualmente; otras fueron cambiadas a lo largo de los años. Así, Caridad, es la calle que hoy en día se llama Gral. Urquiza. Idem con las calles siguientes, donde en el mismo renglón, aparece la denominación antigua seguida de la nueva:
Loria Pres. Luis Sáenz Peña
Buen Orden Bernardo de Irigoyen
Comercio Humberto 1º
Europa Carlos Calvo
Río Cuarto Pedro Goyena
Provincias Unidas Juan Bautista Alberdi
Unión Cnel. Ramón Falcón
Polvorín Emilio Mitre
Silva Del Barco Centenera
Ferro Carril Cnel. Esteban Bonorino
Victoria Hipólito Yrigoyen
– Usina para la producción de la fuerza electromotriz ubicada en Paseo Colón y Comercio (ahora Humberto 1º).
– Sala de máquinas.
– Construcción de la vía a lo largo de la calle Río IV (hoy Pedro Goyena).
– Carro-torre empleado en la colocación del alambre aéreo.
– Coche eléctrico.
– Inauguración de la estación Plaza Mayo.
– Fotografía de Theodore N. Vail en 1919.
DE LA REVISTA CONEXION Año 1, Nros. 0, nov. 1988, 1, feb. 1989, 2, ago. 1989, 3, oct. 1989, 4, 1989.
En 1893 la Legislatura del Gobierno Provincial de Córdoba aprueba y concede a Federico Mackinlay y Cía. el uso de la fuerza hidráulica del Río Primero. En 1895, se firma el contrato respectivo otorgando la concesión por un lapso de 25 años con excepción de los Impuestos Provinciales. También, el 28 de noviembre de 1895, la Comuna de la Ciudad de Córdoba arrendó la usina municipal a la misma compañía, contratándola además para la atención del servicio del alumbrado eléctrico, entregándole todas las instalaciones, útiles, maquinarias y líneas. Este contrato fue aprobado por la ordenanza del 4 de diciembre de 1895, teniendo un plazo de 10 años, al término del cual la usina debía ser devuelta en perfecto estado de conservación. Federico Mackinlay y Cía. se hizo cargo del servicio un año después del plazo estipulado, tiempo durante el cual gestionó reformas que la beneficieron en las cláusulas del contrato, las cuales le fueron aprobadas el 21 de diciembre de 1896. En el Art. 4 de ese contrato, Federico Mackinlay y Cía. estaba autorizado para formar una compañía de explotación. Sobre esa base, firmó un contrato con Theodore N. Vail para que este constituyera el 30 de marzo de 1896 en Portland, Cumberland, Maine, la Compañía de Luz y Fuerza Motriz de Córdoba (The Cordoba Light and Power Company). El 2 de octubre de 1896, el Gobernador Figueroa Alcorta aceptó por decreto la transferencia de los derechos y accciones de la Federico Mackinlay y Cía. a la Compañía de Luz y Fuerza Motriz de Córdoba. Los trabajos en Casa Bamba comenzaron en noviembre de 1896?? y en junio de 1897 se abrió el tunel.
Article “ATT Leader’s Argentine Sojourn: 1895-1906”, published in Revista COMMENTS, AMCHAM -American Chamber of Commerce in Argentina-, Vol. 82, Nº 1, March 2000, Buenos Aires.
by Horacio C. Reggini
A leader in the newly founded Bell Telephone Company, and later the first President of the American Telegraph & Telephone Company, better known as AT&T, Theodore Vail’s is a name that figures prominently in the early history of the telephone. But, unknown to many, Vail also played a prominent role in the industrialization of Argentina at the turn of the 19th century, though, oddly, it was not in the field of telephony.
General Manager of the Bell Telephone Company in the late 1870s, Vail was named AT&T’s first President in 1885. Vail served as AT&T’s president for only two years, though he would eventually reassume the position for 11 years beginning in 1907, following his sojourn in Argentina.
And though the Bell Telephone Company played a role in the development of Argentina’s early telephone system, through its ownership in one of the country’s privately held telephone companies that sprung up in the 1880s, Vail’s contribution to that undertaking was negligible – even though he served from Boston on the Argentine affiliate’s board — compared to the endeavors he would eventually undertake in the country.
Following his withdrawal from AT&T in 1887, Vail lived in his country house Speedwell Farms in Lyndonville, Vermont. But the recluse’s life was not for him, it would seem.
In 1894, he received a visit from Walter G. Davis, a Bostonian who served as Director of the Argentine Meteorological Office. Created in 1872, and initially headed by the famous astronomer Benjamin Gould, who had been invited to Argentina by Domingo Sarmiento, the Meteorological Office was located in Córdoba next to the National Astronomical Observatory.
On his visit, Davis made Vail a bold proposition: to travel to Argentina and build a hydroelectric power plant on the Río Primero, taking advantage of a dam that had already been built. It would be an excellent business opportunity, in Davis’s estimation.
Vail apparently thought so too, because shortly after Davis’s visit, Vail headed for Argentina, accompanied by James W. McCrosky, an expert in hydroelectric works from England.
Situated to the west of the city of Córdoba in a magnificent mountainous setting, Vail’s undertaking was the first hydroelectric power plant in all of South America. It also played a key role in the spread of electrification and industry in Córdoba.
The project’s start actually pre-dated Vail’s arrival when the Córdoba provincial government granted a concession in 1893 to F. Mackinlay & Co. to use “the power that may be obtained” from the Río Primero and transport it to Córdoba. A few years later, Mackinlay authorization was transferred to the Córdoba Light & Power Company, a New York-based firm headed by Vail.
Work on the first San Roque Dam (it was replaced in 1944) began in 1883 and was completed in 1891. The initial studies for the project were completed by the Frenchman Esteban Dumesmil and Carlos Casaffousth, an Argentine who had studied under Gustavo Eiffel in Paris. When completed, the San Roque Dam was considered a world class engineering feat.
The power plant Vail built with McCrosky’s help was named Casa Bamba and was built 30 km. from the city of Córdoba on the Río Primero between the San Roque Dam and La Calera and officially inaugurated by the Governor of Córdoba, José Figueroa Alcorta, who would go on to be President of Argentina, on December 29, 1897. The name Bamba was derived from a famous chief of the Comechingo indians, a tribe that inhabited the Córdoba sierras.
Small by today’s standards, Casa Bamba had a generating capacity of 1000 KW. The mill Molino Enger in Upper Córdoba and the Córdoba brewery were among the first companies to use power generated by Casa Bamba.
Though Vail no doubt cherished his accomplishments in the telephone business, it appears as though Casa Bamba held a special place in his heart. “There was never anything that quite took hold of my imagination as Córdoba did,” he wrote.
Even after the power plant was finished, Vail visited it frequently on his trips to Argentina. “I never hear today the hum of an electrical machine that my mind doesn’t instantly revert to those long beautiful nights, with a stillness unbroken except by the purr of the dynamo from the station….The spot where the first plant was located we called Casa Bamba, and it was always one of my great enjoyments while in South America to run up to Córdoba for a few days’ picnic at Casa Bamba.”
Modern Transportation for a Growing City
But Vail’s hydro-electric project was not his only contribution to Argentine industry. On his first trip to Argentina, Vail met Charles B. Thursby on board the ship that carried them both to Buenos Aires. Thursby was a businessman interested in converting the city’s horse drawn trams to electric cable cars.
Once again Vail smelled a business opportunity.
Shortly after arriving in Argentina, Vail purchased the company La Capital, an operator of a horse drawn tram line owned by Wenceslao Villafañe, and began the process of converting it to a tramway company. In addition to receiving permission from the city to convert to electric power, La Capital was granted permission to extend its existing line, which ran east-west across the city beginning on Paseo Colón, to Flores.
According to official documents dating from 1896, Vail was the president of La Capital, Thursby was general manager, and the handy McCrosky was chief engineer. The newly acquired firm was advised by Luis María Drago, a grandson of Bartolomé Mitre.
(During a distinguished career, Drago served as editor of La Nación, Minister of Foreign Relations, during the second Roca administration, and chairman of the Unión Telefónica del Río de la Plata. However, Drago is best known for the doctrine, which still bears his name, which states that public debt does not justify armed intervention.)
Work began on January 22, 1897 at the corner of San Juan and Caridad (now General Urquiza). A first section, between Plaza Flores and the corner of San Juan and Entre Ríos, of the new line was inaugurated on December 3 of that same year. From there passengers continued on to Plaza de Mayo via a horse drawn tram.
The section between Paseo Colón and Entre Ríos was inaugurated on July 29 of the following year. Argentine elected-president Julio A. Roca attended the inauguration, travelling the new line in a special car called the Palace Car, it was reported in the following day’s edition of La Nación.
Under a second concession, Tramways Eléctricos La Capital, built an extension of its line from Flores to the Liniers slaughterhouses. That extension was completed in May 1900.
The extension to Liniers was intended to provide more than passenger transportation. La Capital also provided exclusive service for transporting meat, using special cars, from the slaughterhouses to the meat markets in the city center.
Construction work for La Capital’s tramway lines was overseen by the engineer Benito J. Mallol, one of the 18 founding members of what was then called National Center for Engineers but is now known as the Argentine Center of Engineers (CAI).
The cars were stored in a yard at the corner of Liniers and Europa (now Carlos Calvo). Adjacent to the storage yard, a meat distribution station was built. The station was later renamed Vail Station.
The passenger cars used by La Capital were doubled decked “Imperial” cars, with the lower deck closed and the upper deck open. Each of the cars, which were built in the U.S. by J.B. Brill & Company, had room for 54 passengers.
Each car was powered by two General Electric GE-1000 electric motors and the cars could achieve a maximum velocity of 25 kilometers per hour. Power for the vehicles came from a power plant in Paseo Colón and Comercio (now Humberto 1º). The design also anticipated a telephone set, which would enable the conductor to notify operators at the power plant immediately of a power outage.
Vail Picks Up the Telephone Again
Vail’s visits and business in Argentina ended by 1907 when, at the age of 62, he took the presidency of AT&T again, a position he held until 1918, when illness forced him to retire. He died two years later at the age of 75.
In addition to building AT&T into the corporate giant it remains today, in the final years of his life, Vail devoted much of his time to philanthropic endeavors. One of his most noteworthy accomplishments was the purchase of a 35,000 volume collection of books on electricity which he donated to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That collection is still housed in MIT’s Vail Library.
Vail’s philanthropic efforts did not go unnoticed either by his company. Following his death, AT&T established the Vail awards which are given to employees in recognition of outstanding public service. Since the awards’ founding, 2,700 AT&T employees have been honored.
Vail represents one of a distinguished line of U.S. entrepreneurs who have contributed to Argentina’s development. At a time when hydro-electric power plants and tramways were as novel as the Internet is today, he traveled to a faraway country and built his dreams.
Por Horacio C. Reggini
Buenos Aires, 23 de junio 2003
En ocasión de una charla que Fernández Long mantuvo con un grupo de sacerdotes terminó sus conceptos reclamando con sorprendente humildad a ese auditorio que precisamente había ido en busca de consejo, orientación para sí mismo: “¿Y ustedes qué piensan sobre lo que debe hacer un cristiano a quien se le ha asignado la misión de conducir la Universidad?”. En los hechos, el gran maestro demostró, consigna Monseñor Casaretto, que para él “la vía democrática era la mejor impostación del Evangelio en la construcción de la sociedad”.
La muerte de un ser querido de ninguna manera significa el cese de la intensa relación que con él tenemos. El que ya no está sigue habitando nuestros sueños e iluminando nuestra vigilia, vive dentro de nosotros. Cuando se trata de un gran maestro y amigo, como es el caso de Hilario Fernández Long, el deudo que ha sido su alumno y a la vez amigo siente la urgencia de recordarlo justamente como maestro y amigo. Los demás méritos y títulos de Fernández Long –que son muchos y reconocidos– vienen después, a mi juicio, de esa condición primera que, en general, se da por descontada y nadie se detiene a revisar. En realidad no es cosa de todos los días: sólo un maestro de veras puede ser maestro y amigo. Hasta sería posible conjeturar que si el maestro, en el lapso en que es maestro no es amigo, no es maestro. Hay unas líneas muy elocuentes de un gran escritor de nuestra América, el guatemalteco Augusto Monterroso, desaparecido poco después de Fernández Long, una pequeña pieza literaria que en su brevedad expone ejemplarmente el nudo de esa relación dialógica y fundamental.
La voy a leer al pie de la letra:
AÚN HAY CLASES
Mis alumnos de la Universidad, in illo tempore:
–¿Podemos tratarlo de tú, maestro?
–Sí; pero sólo durante la clase.
Como ven ustedes, Monterroso tiene el don de la síntesis. Pero mi corazón quiere explayarse, contar de alguna manera cómo la amistad que suscitó el maestro me permitió volver a mi interior y aprender ahí lo que él enseñaba, es decir, encaminarme hacia un mí mismo que se iluminó y entibió por obra de ese otro que me conducía. Tengo la absoluta certidumbre de que, de los puentes que construimos entre el ingeniero Hilario Fernández Long y yo, el que se tendió primero gracias a su mano de maestro y a mi complicidad de discípulo, es un puente primordial a prueba de correntadas.
El maestro construye un espacio, entonces, donde comparte con el alumno. El maestro Fernández Long no se quedó afuera, “frente a”, sino que construyó ese espacio y estuvo cerca, en una vecindad privilegiada. De ahí que quien fue su alumno sienta el mandato de prolongar su voz, tarea que no se lleva a cabo con discursos vacíos, sino reformulando en un modo de vida transmitido a su vez a los discípulos de este ex discípulo la heredad recibida. Esa heredad, entonces, no será jamás un paquete aséptico de contenidos eruditos, el “erario de difuntos” del que hablaba un filósofo, sino de alguna manera la “voz de la verdad y la vida” de Aquel que señaló la ruta a Fernández Long en todo momento y le otorgó la facultad de gran maestro.
Otro gran maestro que vivió 40 años en la Argentina y formó a generaciones, el filósofo italiano Rodolfo Mondolfo, les decía a los jóvenes a quienes enseñaba en la Universidad de Tucumán alrededor de 1950: “Cuando sean ustedes profesores y los estudiantes les planteen dudas y preguntas, nunca se olviden de que todos somos mortales”. Doy fe de que, por su lado, Hilario Fernández Long tuvo presente siempre su condición finita.
Monseñor Jorge Casaretto, en un artículo de la revista Criterio, a la muerte de Fernández Long, exalta precisamente la humildad del gran maestro. “Todos sabemos –dice– que fue su autoridad moral en el mundo de la ciencia y de la ingeniería lo que le valió llegar al Rectorado de la Universidad por la vía más francamente democrática de la Asamblea Universitaria.” Y prosigue Monseñor Casaretto narrando cómo en ocasión de una charla que Fernández Long mantuvo con un grupo de sacerdotes a pedido de ellos, siendo él rector, charla en la que los esclareció –dice– sobre la misión del sacerdote en momentos de crisis, terminó sus conceptos reclamando con sorprendente humildad a ese auditorio que precisamente había ido en busca de consejo, orientación para sí mismo: “¿Y ustedes qué piensan sobre lo que debe hacer un cristiano a quien se le ha asignado la misión de conducir la Universidad?”. En los hechos, el gran maestro demostró, consigna Casaretto, que para él “la vía democrática era la mejor impostación del Evangelio en la construcción de la sociedad”.
La fuerza de una voz, entonces, se verifica en la ética de la acción. El discípulo que ha participado de las enseñanzas y ha sido testigo del comportamiento del maestro, se consolida activamente en la deuda. Este mundo ansioso y ávido donde estamos metidos nos alerta a cada paso sobre el compromiso que sellamos en la amistad de nuestro maestro. Ahora nos toca asumir su cuidado, ser sus “curadores”.
Tarea nada fácil, si se piensa que el caso de Hilario Fernández Long es el de alguien escueto, ajeno a la sensualidad del poder y la tentación de la riqueza. Él sabía que la acumulación de bienes materiales entorpece el desarrollo del ser humano. En esto era profundamente sarmientino, una persona incorruptible y que supo jugarse por sus convicciones sin alimentar ulteriores resentimientos ni expresiones de rencor. Austero y profundamente tierno bajo la severa corteza, mi maestro no me abandona y me desafía todo el tiempo. En él espejea el primer Maestro, que es Jesús, sobre quien el hombre de ciencia que era Fernández Long escribió un libro, cuyos manuscritos llevó antes que a nadie a su amigo monseñor Casaretto: “Usted me pidió que escribiera sobre la clave de mi vida –parece que le dijo–. Aquí está: un libro sobre Jesucristo.”
Sólo que a mí me gusta también, mundanamente, pensar a Hilario Fernández Long como una especie de Quijote, convencido de sus ideas y diciendo lo que su conciencia y saber le dictan sin inquietarle la singularidad de algunas de sus opiniones ni la extrañeza que puede despertar en los demás. Era afecto a actividades poco comunes, como por ejemplo estudiar el idioma chino, tocar el clarinete y jugar al go.
A mí, les iba diciendo, quizá por estas cosas que, junto a su talento y conducta, lo hacían único, me evoca la figura de aquel hidalgo “de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor” que, como maestro y amigo supo decir inolvidables palabras al hombre de bien “pero de muy poca sal en la mollera” que fue su escudero. Le dijo por ejemplo en una ocasión, para levantarle el ánimo: “Sábete, Sancho, que no es un hombre más que otro si no hace más que otro.” O cuando le dio consejos como futuro gobernador de la ínsula: “Mira, Sancho: si tomas por medio a la virtud y te precias de hacer hechos virtuosos, no hay para qué tener envidia a los que los tienen príncipes y señores; porque la sangre se hereda, y la virtud se aquista, y la virtud vale por sí sola lo que la sangre no vale.”
Fernández Long defendió las causas justas y la excelencia humana, y seguramente esto, junto a su capacidad de soñar, enciende en el alumno que fui yo la imagen de don Quijote, lo cual no quiere decir que no lo valore también como un modelo de ingeniero abocado a la práctica de su amada profesión.
En este acto tan peculiar que estamos realizando todos juntos aquí, en Santa Catalina de Siena, he pretendido acercar, vívida, la figura de un pionero en la ciencia y la educación de nuestro país. No he enumerado sus títulos, sus obras, sus distinciones –en una palabra–, voluntariamente no he desplegado el currículo de Hilario Fernández Long. Quise traerlo palpitante y cálido, que es algo diferente a mostrar una fotografía desvaída o certificados de erudición. Quise convocar, como ya les dije, al maestro y amigo desde mi ángulo de alumno y amigo. Me gustaría haber involucrado en este vínculo a cuantos han venido a este lugar y sé que tengo a mi favor precisamente el ámbito en que nos encontramos y asimismo la ocasión –el acto de homenaje– que favorece la presencia de un alma y la comunión con ella.
Un escritor norteamericano que leí tiempo atrás, un poeta que también escribió ensayos hermosos, refiriéndose al acto de homenaje como a un acto poético, dado que enlaza lo irreal con lo real, dice que justamente este acto, este avecinarse de personas evocando o congratulando o acercando algo que no está visible a la realidad visible y compartida, es iluminador y “ante todo es un nuevo compromiso con la vida”.
Creo que el maestro y amigo Hilario Fernández Long está aquí, muy cerca, abarcándonos a todos en su abrazo. Gracias.
Palabras en el acto de homenaje a Hilario Fernández Long, en la Iglesia Santa Catalina de Siena, el 23 de junio 2003, al cumplirse seis meses del fallecimiento, convocado por las Academias Nacionales de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales y de Educación. Celebró misa el Pbro. Rafael Braun y habló también el Dr.Guillermo Jaim Etcheveverry, rector de la Universidad de Buenos Aires. Publicadas además en los Anales y los Boletines de las respectivas academias. Reproducido en el Item 5 de la Sección VII, Ingeniería e Ingenieros, del libro El Futuro no es más lo que era. La Tecnología y la gente en tiempos de Internet, de H.C.R., pág. 336.
-Conferencia de Horacio C. Reggini el 26 de agosto de 1966 en el Department of Civil Engineering del Massachusetts Institute of Technology, descripción de la obra y exhibición de las ilustraciones que siguen. Proyecto arquitectónico y dirección general a cargo de los arquitectos Sánchez Elía, Peralta Ramos y Agostini (SEPRA) y Clorindo Testa, y proyecto estructural y supervisión de la construcción de la estructura a cargo de Fernández Long y Reggini.
-Una segunda conferencia similar en homenaje a Hilario Fernández Long fue pronunciada el 16 de septiembre de 2004 en las XVII Jornadas Argentinas de Ingeniería Estructural, Buenos Aires.
-Una tercera conferencia similar con el título “Ingeniería y Arte en la obra de Clorindo Testa”, fue pronunciada el 26 de mayo de 2005 en el Pabellón de la Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina, Buenos Aires.
Descripción breve de la estructura resistente
Las características arquitectónicas de la obra han requerido una solución estructural especial. Un aspecto fundamental del proyecto es la amplitud de su interior: no hay paredes ni divisiones que interrupan el espacio abierto. La ausencia de esos elementos que son en general utilizados para disponer los entramados usuales de vigas y columnas, se ha logrado haciendo que la arquitectura y la estructura se complementen mutuamente. La estructura no es un elemento agregado o escondido y se convierte en parte integral de la arquitectura gracias a un trabajo simultáneo de los ingenieros y arquitectos intervinientes. El edificio está sostenido por un perímetro transparente, a lo largo de las calles Reconquista y Bartolomé Mitre, por tres y dos grupos de columnas curvas de gran altura, que sostienen en parte una gran placa ortotrópica. Cada grupo se compone de seis columnas, las dos extremas alabeadas o gausas, todas arriostradas entre sí. Para dar también apoyo a la gran placa y proveer la necesaria rigidez lateral al edificio, se hallan tres núcleos o columnas de circulación vertical (escaleras y ascensores), que sostienen otros niveles superiores. Los dos niveles ubicados por encima del nivel de la calle están constituidos por estructuras independientes, tipo puente, de losas y vigas en voladizo, apoyadas en pocas columnas. Por debajo del nivel de calle, el edificio está rodeado por paredes de hormigón armado que junto con las losas inferiores conforma una caja rígida. Esta obra, terminada en 1966, fue uno de los primeros trabajos de nuestro Estudio Fernández Long y Reggini, Ingenieros Consultores, y fue sin duda la que mayor satisfacción profesional, social y personal nos deparó.
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Capítulo relativo a la Argentina publicado en el libro “Logo Philosophy and Implementation”, editado por Logo Computers Systems Inc., Québec, Canada, 1999.
This is my experience on Logo in Argentina, involving judgments of its value and development, an appreciation of its beauty and techniques and an interpretation of the present situation.
No author can escape from his singular first memories on a subject. I learnt about computers many years ago, in 1959, at the IBM Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory in New York on the occasion of having a scholarship at Columbia University. On one hand the subject seemed tedious as the only possible way of programming the computer was through machine language. On the other hand through this experience I became fully aware of John von Neumann’s genial ideas which he clearly explained in his wonderful book The Computer and the Brain (1958): “… since the orders that exercise the entire control are in memory, a higher degree of flexibility is achieved than in any previous mode of control. Indeed the machine, under the control of its orders, can extract numbers (or orders) from the memory, process them (as numbers!), and return them to the memory (to the same or to other location); i.e., it can change the contents of the memory -indeed this is its normal modus operandi-. Hence it can, in particular, change the orders (since these are in the memory!) -the very orders that control its action-. Thus all sort of sophisticated order-systems become possible, which keep successively modifying themselves and hence also the computational processes that are likewise under their control”. The preceding concepts enthusiastically enraptured me and I decided that I was going to be part of the new computer era.
Back in Argentina in 1960, I became a professor in several universities and carried out different projects in the computer field. Among these projects I set up the first Computer Center for Undergraduates at the School of Engineering in Buenos Aires University on the basis of an IBM-1620.
In 1963, as a member of the MIT Interamerican Civil Engineering Program I started to travel frequently to Boston and Cambridge. I was lucky enough to be a witness of one of the most wondrous phases of the advance of computer ideas: the MAC Project at MIT where I met Marvin Minsky, J. C. R. Licklider, Robert Fano, Ivan Sutherland and many other founders of the new world. Lately I met Seymour Papert and my passion and advocation to Logo was ignited.
My awareness of the power of computers pushed me to get involved with the MAC Project in 1964. I was able to log in MIT IBM-7094 time-sharing system from Buenos Aires, Argentina, -thousands of miles away- via a radio teletype link. This experience deeply influenced me and was the onset of my research and commitment to the role science and technology can play in its relation with society and education.
In the seventies, visiting Papert’s Logo projects like the Brooklin Public Schools in Boston and Computers in City Public Schools sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences, my concern was focused on how the information technologies could help kids find new and better ways of learning. In 1980 I was also present at the pioneering Logo experience at the Lamplighter School in Dallas, Texas. I was delighted to see the happiness of kids and teachers when writing and executing Logo procedures on a lot of Texas Instruments TI-99 Home Computers spread along the building. The Logo software then available had still certain drawbacks: the turtle could not draw too much as it “run out of ink” and decimal numbers were not accepted. At the same time it had wonderful colored “sprites” and many people who were expecting to run Logo in a personal computer adhered to it promptly.
Immediately, I agreed with the Texas Instrument Argentine branch to prepare a Spanish Logo version for their TI-99 Home Computer. Soon the Spanish Logo became available in Argentina and neighboring countries, particularly in Uruguay. At that moment, I considered it essential to have Logo’s ideas printed in Spanish; so, I set up Ediciones Galápago, which published in 1981 the translation of Mindstorms by Seymour Papert, under the title Desafío a la mente. Computadoras y educación. Ediciones Galápago also translated and published The Second Self -El Segundo Yo- by Sherry Turkle in 1984, The Society of Mind -La sociedad de la mente. La inteligencia humana a la luz de la inteligencia artificial- by Marvin Minsky in 1986, The Media Lab -El laboratorio de medios. Inventando el futuro en MIT- by Stewart Brand in 1988.
In 1982, I wrote Alas para la mente. Logo: un lenguaje de computadoras y un estilo de pensar -the corresponding title in English would be Wings for the Mind. Logo: a Computer Language and a Style of Thinking- which has been extensively used in Spanish speaking countries. As an example of the spirit of the book, I include a dialogue among children that simulate “walking” on the computer screen, showing their involvement with the situation, the enrichment of their original idea while advancing in the project and their feelings of achievement, all key factors in a genuine learning process (Annex 1). Alas para la mente was translated into French: Logo, Des ailes pour l’esprit, Cedic/Fernand Nathan, 1983, and into Italian: Logo, Ali per la mente: il linguaggio di programmazione ideato per l’educazione e il gioco creativo, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.a., Milano, 1984.
Counting with the availability of Desafío a la mente by Papert, and my own book Alas para la mente, together with the fact that personal computer were becoming popular in Argentina, I organized a great number of workshops, courses and seminars for teachers all over the country. Three enthusiastic assistants helped me at that time: Teresa Carabelli, Mercedes Torino and Paula Bontá -presently Director of Design at LCSI in Quebec. My involvement with Logo ideas led me to frequently publish articles on national and local newspapers, and attend interviews for well known local magazines and TV programs, trying to help spread the Logo spirit. Teachers and professionals from the educational field showed great enthusiasm and eagerness to participate in the new digital world. Most of what has been done with Logo in Argentina grew out from the interest, investment and dedication of small groups of persons. They were frequently headmasters and teachers often accompanied by parents from family school associations.
There was one school in particular, the Instituto Bayard (Bayard Institute), that led the way. With the support of the headmaster and owner of the school, Annelise Henriksen de De Forteza, I could train all her teachers and, soon, all the kids from the school started to develop Logo projects. The Instituto Bayard became a Logo “lighthouse” for many educators who were looking for positive changes in learning.
In 1982, a group of people inspired by the new winds brought by Logo to Argentina decided to join efforts and created the Asociación Amigos de Logo (Friends of Logo Association). This was a non-profit organization which main goal was to plant the seeds and promote the growth of Logo ideas. Asociación Amigos de Logo grew thanks to the effort and hard work of its members. We rarely got any support from outside. The first big step was the organization of the Primer Congreso Internacional Logo. Las Computadoras en la Educación y la Cultura -First International Logo Congress. Computers in Education and Culture- which was held on September 16/18, 1983, at the premises of the Instituto Bayard in Buenos Aires. (Annex 2).
None of us, not even the most optimistic, would have imagined the success and the response it would achieve. One thousand participants attended from Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, U.S.A., France and Spain, and it was sponsored by the I.B.I. Intergovernmental Bureau for Informatics (Rome), the UNESCO (Paris), Subsecretaría de Informática, Ministerio de Educación, Secretaría de Cultura, and Secretaría de Educación de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires. There is something I would like to emphasize about this event: it was not a mere cluster of magistral presentations, but a real exchange of experiences and ideas. It is worth noticing the sincerity of several lecturers who, understanding that the Logo modality was in full process of evolution, did not hesitate, when answering the requests of the attendants, to say “We haven’t thought about that yet”, or “It had not occurred to us”. Many children also participated actively in the meeting showing their own Logo microworlds, adding fresh and spontaneous remarks that promoted deep thoughts in the adults. “This meeting has been an extraordinary blend of a seminar together with a weekend party” said Julián Marcelo, who represented the I.B.I., at the closing ceremony.
Unfortunately, who should be our key speaker, Seymour Papert could not attend. Robert Mohl from MIT was highly demonstrative of the latest progress of Logo at worldwide level. The Primer Congreso Internacional Logo. Las Computadoras en la Educación y la Cultura 1983 of Buenos Aires strengthened the situation of Logo, not only in Argentina, but also in all Latin American. Many of the attendants of the Buenos Aires participated later at the Logo-84/85/86 Conferences at MIT.
New Logo versions and new personal computer models became available in Argentina like LCSI Apple Logo and LCSI IBM Logo. Texas Instrument Argentina, taking into account the success of its Spanish Logo version for TI-99, asked Harvard Associates of Boston and my team to develop a Spanish Logo software for its TI-PC model. We also prepared, in 1986, the Spanish Logo vocabulary and documentation for a MSX computer -assembled by Telématica S.A. in Argentina- following the MSX-Logo developed by LCSI in Canada. This computer became quite popular and was used by lots of schools. Lately, LCSI commissioned us a translation and adaptation into Spanish of its LogoWriter software.
During 1984 and 1985, I worked in the development of 3D-Logo and published the book Ideas y formas:. Explorando el espacio con Logo (Ideas and Forms. Learning to Build in 3-D Space with Logo). It deals with the virtual construction of three-dimensional objects following the powerful and elegant Logo intrinsic geometrical approach: the shape of any object can be described by defining the necessary movements of a turtle to trace its edges. Given an initial position of the turtle -location and orientation-, with regards to a viewpoint in front of the screen, 3D-Logo renders the corresponding image. This book was translated into French, Logo dans l’espace, ACT-Informatique, Cedic/Nathan, Paris, 1986, and into Italian, Idee et Forme. Explorando lo spazio con il Logo, Edizione Sisco Sistemi Cognitivi, Roma, 1987. The construction of 3D-shapes captured the imagination of many children and adolescents, to the point that it was quite natural to see all kinds of 3D-objects on the computer screens of many schools.
I also carried out a research on the geometrical generation of polyhedra using intrinsic geometry implementing my 3D-procedures in ObjectLogo -Paradigm Software Inc.- for the Apple Macintosh. Results, including the determination of the number and the structure of all possible different paths of traveling along all the faces of a regular polyhedron without passing more than once by the same face, were published in my paper Regular Polyhedra: Random Generation, Hamiltonian Paths and Single Chain Nets (Annex 3).
In 1988, I wrote Computadoras ¿creatividad o automatismo? Reflexiones sobre tecnologia (Computers, Creativity or Automatism? Thoughts on Technology). It brought together a collection of articles and conferences on Logo, stressing the premise that only a wise use of new information technologies can help us to become freer and more creative persons. The book also included an analysis of the ideas of Karl Popper and Seymour Papert (Annex 4).
Logo grew in Argentina through groups of people who believed in Logo more as a philosophy than a mere computer language. I can recount on hundred of wonderful and extraordinarily rewarding small experiences all over the country. I can even give the names of Logo kids who clearly realized about the meaning and importance of computers and followed their careers at MIT, or some that have successfully found a place in the information society, but, unfortunately, I can not recount on valid experiences supported by local or national governments. Most official projects on the field have dealt with the idea of using doubtful “educational software” and trusted on the computer companies for support and training. The present Logo situation is more or less the same as it was years ago. There are many schools that permanently seek and work hard to find better ways to understand Logo and make wonderful use of it; others, as in God’s flock, scarcely realize about the philosophy underneath Logo. One school, among the first ones, is the Colegio Las Cumbres in Buenos Aires. There, Mónica B. Coni -in charge of staff development under the slogan Digital Learning– is continuously training teachers and giving innovative cues for imaginative Logo applications.
I want to end with a comment about one of the essential natures of Logo, not very clearly understood in educational areas. Logo was enthusiastically received in Argentina as a big innovation but -as it has also happened in other countries- the force and dynamics of the beginnings decayed with the years. I believe this circumstance can be explained by different reasons. The main reason had to do with a way to look on Logo just as a mere technological auxiliary tool to be applied principally to what has been done up to the present. That vision overlooked or denied the delicate Logo approach that implies selfsconscience -to be oneself-, to be in control -to be the owner of oneself or to be oneself- and selfdecision -to act from oneself or by oneself-. These human attitudes require “personal reflection” and demand “thinking about thinking”, but -unfortunately- these traits are not the ones that prevail in influential groups and are simply not encouraged enough. We are in a situation in which some of the Logo approach virtues are, at the same time, a barrier to overcome as the society in general does not comply with them. Better Logo versions and explanations of its meaning, the ascending power and spreading of persons that had the experience and pleasure of thinking using Logo in their childhood, the evolution of society to better human life conditions, will gradually produce the necessary changes for its due appreciation and success.
Alas para la mente. Logo: un lenguaje de computadoras y un estilo de pensar, by Horacio C. Reggini, Ediciones Galápago, Buenos Aires, 1982. Winds for the mind. Logo: a computer language and a style of thinking.
From the prologue
This book is addressed to all those people who want to know about the new roads laid down by computers as mind auxiliaries; it attempts more specifically to introduce a different way to using computers and to contribute to establishing new links with personal thinking. The election of the title Alas para la mente (Wings for the Mind) was a difficult aspect to solve. The first titles that I considered were the following:
– The computer: a prodigious instrument of the mind
– The blooming of computer in the field of intelligence
– Computers: an intellectual revolution
All the above sentences contain the ideas that animate the book but I want to avoid the word “computer”. I have used it many times in articles and conferences. Moreover, and this is what really counts, that term and the other one “computation” so often used, immediately insinuate complex and esoteric matters. I believe it should not be that way. In the past, persons who professed esoteric doctrines wanted their knowledge to be shared only by a few ones. This situation must not be repeated nowadays because of cultural as well as social reasons. Scientific progress brings us to the world of computers. To restrict or to propagate the knowledge of science and technology are two alternative paths which are up to us. Alas para la mente (Wings for the mind) chooses the second one: it aims to demystify the allegedly mysterious and complicated computer and make it accessible and simple to everybody. These and other beliefs have also influenced the book so that it continually analyzes educational issues and often refers to children with respect and love.
Reflection, critical thinking and dialogue are essential aims in education. Young people live interested in real problems, and they want to fly up to them. But sometimes their wings are not powerful enough, like those of Icarus who, in escaping from imprisonment, fell into the sea when the wax of his wings melted as he flew near the Sun. This book intends to provide real and effective “wings” to thinking. The “wings” this book dreams of are meant to be powerful and amiable ones, capable of taking us where we choose to go: far away in the analysis of external phenomena or deep inside ourselves in the study of our own way of thinking.
The book describes and uses the wonderful Logo language created by Seymour Papert. Logo or Logo-like languages will be used in all future computers. Logo is powerful and natural tool for procedural description. It can be understood by everybody and it is an excellent vehicle for exploring multiple phenomena. A lot of achievements in the past, carried out times where the present science and technology did not exist, proved the effectiveness and power of imagination. For taking real advantage from a computer it is necessary to follow the intuitive path as well as the logic-mathematical one. The Logo language eliminates the severe barriers that prevent most people from using computers creatively on the basis of essential knowledge and resources, following the sage proverb that says that nothing must be done with many elements if it can be done with a few.
The book is mainly related to the ideas by Papert in Mindstorms. I often refer to children in the way I am going to do immediately. But, I want to make it clear that the same concepts and points of view also apply, with more similitude than we may imagine to adults. What happens is that we adults believe we know everything and so we do not want to learn anymore. I wish we adults were more like children so as to enjoy more the beauties of life, to laugh or sing and to listen without mistrust or prejudice. Moreover, I firmly believe that a more just and worthy society will be built by children tomorrow on condition that adults today generously provide them with the possibility of achieving an authentically better education.
Some of the basic premises of the book-closely related to Seymour Papert thoughts and the Logo approach are the following:
– The computer becomes an outstanding learning tool.
– The computer acts a way of making “learning mathematics” natural an enjoyable.
– The process of learning how to think and the understanding of the way they think, allow children to grow up intellectually.
– Instinctively, almost without help, children develop inductive and deductive reasoning.
– Since children find their learning meaningful, they get interested and so learning goes on naturally.
– Children learn to see numbers from a different point of view: since numbers begin to be comprehensible, they start to be appropriable; since numbers are useful to carry out their purpose, they become personally meaningful and even, necessary. Number are alien objects no more.
– A very special kind of affective relation is quickly established between person and computer which resembles more a dialogue of friends than a prepared lesson. In this way learning becomes an irresistible temptation to everybody, and so we can see groups immediately interacting and trading ideas, as soon as they face the computer.
– Reality becomes a representable object. They can divide it into approachable and comprehensible parts and so they begin to understand it, and what is more: they feel prepared to interact with a new and friendly world.
– The computer is personally meaningful to the user.
– Both body syntonic and ego syntonic learning develop.
– Children are allowed to see what they think. They see their thoughts come to life on the screen.
– The aesthetic dimension is continually placed in the forefront.
All the comments above involve self-conscience, self-control and self-decision, which are principal objectives of development and acquisition of personality:
– Self-conscience means to be in oneself, to assert oneself.
– Self-control means to be the owner of oneself or to be oneself.
– Self-decision means to act from oneself or by oneself.
The book intends to be understood by children, adolescents and adults. It also wants to be useful to specialists, often used to considering computers from other points of view. I do hope that someone will venture and enjoy the intellectual flight proposed by this book.
Chapter 26. Fifth Scene
Five scenes with dialogues between children are inserted in the book Alas para la Mente. Logo: un lenguaje de computadoras y un estilo de pensar, which the author uses either to give examples of the ideas stated in previous chapters or just to explain a new subject. The content of these dialogues, besides its reference to formal aspects of Logo language, reveals, as is the intention of the whole book, the characteristics of a genuine learning process.
What follows is a translation from Spanish into English of Chapter 26, entitled Fifth Scene. It is a short story of a group of children using a computer. The conversation furthers the general habit of relating mathematics to personal knowledge. Observe how Claire looks at her feet; …see how all are involved with the situation; …the variable RHYTHM (the use of a symbol to name an undefined value) is presented as a means of “walking faster or slower”. The group works out different alternatives, enriching the original idea and making the first model more complete. The scene ends with everybody happily looking at what is happening on the screen, “something” that they, by themselves, planned and achieved with self-decision.
Ximena rushes into the room because she has had an idea and she wants to make sure it is not to be lost. Everybody loves her a lot, so they save what they are doing in the diskette and say:
– Logo is all yours, so long as you give us an explanation about what you’re thinking.
Ximena sits down, and begins touching keys. Then she explains:
– My idea is to make the right foot and the left foot appear on the screen and tell them to walk upwards without leaving footprints.
Peter likes the subject and says:
– Of course you’ve thought of an agent for each foot. Each one will have to “carry” different “shapes”, which will be very much like real feet.
To begin, Ximena writes MAKESHAPE 11, and a grid of 16 x 16 little squares appears on the screen. Touching keys with signals she makes some squares become black and so a form similar to the left foot is obtained.
SHAPE 11 SHAPE 12
When she writes MAKESHAPE 12, another grid, completely clean, appears on the screen; she touches the “drawing keys” once more and makes a figure representing the right foot. Everybody takes part in the drawing. Claire takes her shoes off to look at her feet and to compare them with those Ximena is drawing on the screen.
Now, Ximena writes the procedure FEET:
CALL [1 2] “PAIR
SETXY [-8 (-5)]
SETXY [8 5]
TELL : PAIR
– I use the order TELL to communicate with each agent. It’s like telling them to “wake up” or to “listen” to me. I order agent 1 to carry SHAPE 11 and agent 2, SHAPE 12, and I place them near the center of the screen. When I need to tell the same thing to both agents 1 and 2, I address to PAIR, which is the “list” formed by their numbers. So, I tell them both to dye yellow and to point upwards.
Claire keeps her breath when Ximena writes WALK, and bursts into enthusiastic shouts when the feet begin to WALK on the screen. Peter claps and Ximena seems moved.
Jules, who leads the group, suggests that they make the feet walk more or less quickly, for which it is necessary to change WALK into a “procedure with an input”.
Ximena changes the procedure in this way:
TO WALK :RHYTHM
and she tells the feet to make a “quick walk”:
Peter, sparkling, remarks:
– Well, I’m leaving now. I’m so pleased for all we’ve done today.
The feet, in the meantime, walk for ever on the screen, at the rhythm that Ximena, Claire, Peter and Jules have decided by themselves…
First International Logo Congress: Computers in Education and Culture. 1983.
Opening speech (by the President of the Congress, Horacio C. Reggini, September 16, 1983, Buenos Aires, Argentina).
“Dear ladies, gentlemen and children:
In behalf of the Asociación Amigos de Logo, I welcome you to this Congress. Many people, from neighbor countries and from other ones of the world have come to be with us in this occasion, as well as numerous delegations and visitors from other cities of our country.
Some time ago, when we were seeking a place to hold the Congress, we regarded theaters, auditoriums and other places often used. But we wanted a different congress. We fancied about trees, and plants, and flowers. We used to have our Association meetings in the director office, very close to this place. And, as it often happens, the nearest, most loved and familiar things are those that we often disregard, those which we do not notice. Only sometimes, when they are missing, we take them into account. One day we noticed this patio, the patio of a school, which has a tree, plants and flowers and where there is always joy, play and love for life. This patio thus became a symbol for this Congress. I hope its spirit is among us these days.
We are here because we have some points of coincidence. To some, these coincidence are strictly scientific: the study and the deeper knowledge of a new kind of computing, Logo, which may imply a different use of computers in many fields, professional as well as commercial and industrial. For others, the Logo mode is intimately aimed to open new ways in education. So, Logo acquires social and cultural characteristics that make a mere technological innovation become a potential factor of authentic progress.
We are confident that the lectures, the papers, the children works and the fruitful exchange of ideas will be valuable contributions to the Logo International Community that is growing day after day. This congress is a challenge to all of us and undoubtedly will help achieve a more convenient use of computers and an improvement in education.
In behalf of the Association I thank you all for your presence, and all those who, in one way or another, have lent us a hand. Specially we want to thank the children who have devoted many of their hours preparing their creative works for us to see them.”
On Logo as an educational philosophy
“The purpose of Logo is to contribute to the complete development of human being, which is the goal of all authentic education. Through Logo, computers can improve the conditions for such learning, while still respecting the learners linguistic and cultural identity. I will discussed these ideas and how Logo is sometimes erroneously introduced in schools as a technique; just as another computer language, instead of a philosophy with implications for the very structure of the educational system.
From a very early age the child draws from the material around him to develop coherent theories about the world; “naive theories” through which she explains and understands the real world. The knowledge she acquires is limited by the limitations of her environment. She lacks the material to turn some concepts into concrete ideas.
The computer -a new Aladdin’s lamp, with its capacity to become any object through a kind of metamorphosis- provides the child with those models she does not find in the real world. Because the machine can turn formal thinking into concrete thinking, computers can help the child learn this type of knowledge more quickly, and so stimulate her intellectual development.
What usually happens, however, is that once the child enters school her previous theories about the world clash with the information supplied by her teachers. The child doesn’t understand why her theories are incorrect or incomplete, nor why they are discarded. Students learn lessons by rote without understanding what they are saying. Latter, they reject what they have been forced to learn. In addition, the system of reward and punishment produces and intellectual paralysis in the learner, who does not dare to hold views different from those of her teacher for fear of committing a mistake and receiving a low mark.
An effective learning process requires certain strategies in order to resolve these conflicts. In an ideal education system:
1. The child reflects on what she knows and expresses it in a coherent, and orderly way so that she may be understood and also be able to defend her ideas. Thus, she will gain self-confidence and an awareness of the power of her ideas.
2. The child participates in a well-developed, qualitative approach to knowledge.
3. The child is not afraid of making mistakes -it is not important whether what one does is right or wrong, but whether mistakes can be corrected and improved.
4. The child is encouraged to be creative and allowed to personally appreciate the world. Each person interprets things from her own viewpoint.
5. The child is offered the opportunity of being like an adult in relation to her intellectual product.
Putting such an educational system into practice is extremely difficult in ordinary classes. And in this sense, computers -provided with a suitable language-, can help.
A Logo procedure -teaching the machine how to do something- is the formalization of a piece of knowledge. This formalization can be tested, executed and verified. For the computer, a procedure is a sequence of intelligible and executable phrases. For the computer user, the procedure is the expression of the understanding of a concept. As that understanding can change, a procedure is also subject to change, improvement and permanent revision. In Logo environments, the students discusses their work with their teachers and classmates. This verbalization is vitally important. For the student, building a procedure is not only naming a series of instructions: it is an initial passage into abstractions and the subsequent concrete manipulation of an idea. With Logo, students learn to analyze problems, develop abstractions, formalize solutions to problems, and break down the solutions into a series of solutions to sub-problems.
Students also acquire the habit of verifying general solutions in particular cases: of considering errors not as disasters, but as temporary obstacles which must be overcome; and of developing constructive self-criticism. Frequently, success in learning largely depends not only in intellectual factors, but also an emotional ones. Whether a child likes an area of study depends on her ability or inability to assimilate this special type of knowledge into her own set of models. These intellectual models, different for each person, are acquired in the course of a lifetime. It is easy to learn what one likes or understands, but hard to learn what is unpleasant or incomprehensible. What a person learns depends on the models available to him.
Because the computer is capable of adopting innumerable forms and of supplying widely varying models to suit individual interests, it helps to overcome such barriers to learning. Also with the computer, knowledge acquires a recognizable personal purpose: The child can do things with it. The steps of learning are inverted; the computer allows students to come into contact with the practical uses of knowledge, before coming into contact with its formal enunciation.
Education, when properly understood, must always try to help the child to use her freedom in the most authentic way, a responsible freedom. From an early age the child must progressively exercise her right to choose -under her parents and teachers help- from among the different options offered to her, and to assume the responsibility for and the consequences for her actions, celebrating her accomplishments and correcting her errors. It is this sense of freedom that Logo environments hope to achieve. The child feels free in the formulation of her work, in the steps she will follow to reach her goal and according to her own rhythm: she freely organizes her microworld, but she assumes responsibility for what happens within it.
Working with Logo, children may form a mental image and then design ways to create their image. Or a child may start working with no definite goal, and she discovers something new with each step she takes. Her activity resembles scientific research and artistic creation, as the artist often looks in amazement at the result of her own work. Thus, learning becomes a personal adventure. Also with Logo, children conquer a world which they create and own, and into which they project not only intellectual ideas, but also their own desires. They discover the pleasure of creation without external demands nor absolute truths. Freedom and creativity are not suppressed by fear of punishment. Mistakes are not bad and it is possible to learn from them. Thus, freedom is used with responsibility.
In Greek philosophy, the teacher is the one who guides, who helps the spirit to discover essential truths. The teacher does not show the truths but instead encourages the learner to discover them. Same concept applies to Logo”.
Ideas y formas. Explorando el espacio con Logo, by Horacio C. Reggini, Ediciones Galápago, Buenos Aires, 1985. Ideas and Forms. Learning to Build in 3-D Space with Logo
From the prologue
This book aims to bridge the gap between the traditional ways of describing and representing three-dimensional objects, and those ways offered by modern computers to accomplish that objective. Examples are given and projects are developed to stimulate interest and encourage the exploration of the structure and composition of geometrical shapes. By teaching the computer to produce three-dimensional objects, the reader may achieve greater understanding and comprehension of the elegance and complexity of shapes in space. A capacity to appreciate and understand the beauty of everyday life is important not only us a source of aesthetic pleasure, but also as a medium of knowledge. To know is to delve into things to discover their meaning. The study of shapes is one of the ways of unraveling mysterious natural designs and designing new ones.
The book deals with the creation and manipulation of spatial figures with Logo. The computer is not considered an object of study in itself or used to teach a specific problem or to make a step by step demonstration of a given exercise; instead, it is a tool or chisel that allows people to behave like experts in a field in which they are not, making it possible for them to play creatively with the chosen subjects. The computer is used here as a medium for human expression, intellectual or artistic, offering the user the chance to experience the emotion and joy of the creative act.
The knowledge required to use the Logo language is minimal: only the capacity to define new words or procedures. The commands that make possible the construction of three-dimensional figures are simple and are shown gradually.
The Logo implementation of primitive commands to enable us to use the turtle in space is based on the idea of organizing a microcosm in which the knowledge and the design of spatial objects could become part of natural and egosyntonic process. Through these commands it is possible to draw easily a three-dimensional object upon the computer screen. The image is generated by the movements of the turtle in the space; the representation of the image in the plane of the screen -through a central conic perspective- is performed automatically by the system.
Corporal syntonicity is one of the powerful ideas that makes possible the drawing or graphics with the Logo turtle. This idea of corporal syntonicity allows us to use corporal knowledge to describe any object. To draw a spatial object it is not necessary to know the laws of representation, only the movements that should be made to describe it. In other words, the description of a succession of movements results in a drawing on the screen.
Moreover, the incorporation of a spatial dimension in the Logo microcosm implies an important qualitative jump in the conception of the turtle as “an-object-to-think-with”, as it movements, not only limited to displacements and rotations on a plane surface, reach a more realistic approximation to true corporal movements.
There are many similarities between the methods of technological production, scientific research and artistic creation: fundamentally, all consist of creating order from chaos. The production of a work of art and the concretion of any scientific project requires intense dedication. Both are highly complex tasks demanding resourcefulness, planning, knowledge and debugging. Michelangelo studied anatomy at night, and the result of those studies can be seen in the perfectly molded lines of his Moses or his David. In the same way, professionals, researchers, and artists, spend much of their lives on tests, explorations and studies. The contents of this book signal a road; the rest is in the hands of those who may want to go along it fully.
Logo: Not just for kids
Note by Margaret Grammer, published in magazine Argentine News, ps. 21-23, Buenos Aires, December 20, 1985.
For those who know Logo, the computer language, the image of a Logo environment is of children playing with designs on a computer intersecting spirals, squares, or more complicated plane drawings. But for those who know Horacio Reggini, the image is different. Some of Reggini’s “Logo Kids” are architects and engineers and the designs they play with are skyscrapers of Buenos Aires: past, present and future. Indeed, in Reggini’s hands, Logo has escaped the two-dimensional plane and moved into space. Three-dimensional Logo may change the way we use computers and, with time, it may even change our way of life.
Logo as a computer language has been understood as a tool for education. Easy to learn, understand, and use, Logo is taught in schools around the world. But Logo, says Reggini, is not just for kids. “With Logo, you can tackle any kind of problem,” he told Argentine News recently. “Anything you can do with another computer language, you can do with Logo…” The difference, says Reggini, is that with Logo it’s better. “It’s easier and more natural.” What makes it so attractive for educators and for children is that from the very beginning, Logo user can create procedures that are interesting and satisfying.
In the sixties, Reggini taught and wrote about other computer languages, but when he met Seymour Papert, who created Logo with other researchers in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it was the beginning of a long relationship. “Logo was the first computer language adapted to the natural conditions of intellectual development”, explained Reggini in a publication of the Friends of Logo Association (Asociación Amigos del Logo), of which he is president. “Today, Logo can also be considered a philosophical approach to education, which adds an important social component to its powerful capabilities in the computer field.”
“Reggini’s first book on Logo, Wings for the Mind (Alas para la mente, 1982) presented the Logo system in Spanish for the first time. Translated into French and Italian, Wings for the Mind is a step-by-step introduction that shows the fundamentals of Logo. With it, Argentine children use Logo for computers graphics, driving a tiny, triangular “turtle” around a computer screen, and writing procedures for increasingly complex geometrical designs. When Reggini introduced several new procedures, building on the existing software, those designs could become three-dimensional and, especially important, be moved in space.
For many years, Reggini has been interested in visual perception and in the construction of spatial shapes. He explains in the prologue to his new book, Ideas and Forms (Ideas y formas: Explorando el espacio con Logo): “From a practical and professional aspect, I have been involved in designing resistant structural elements and supervising their construction.”
His book published in September 1985, provides the framework for three-dimensional Logo. In it, Reggini uses his own designs as examples. He shows buildings from above and below, and from different viewpoints around it. He draws spectacles and watches (Reggini’s own, he says), chairs and even his bicycle in three-dimensional Logo. Reggini’s first models were simple. He was testing the idea. But it wasn’t so long before he and his team were writing data for the Catalinas complex -a set of buildings on the Buenos Aires waterfront that includes the Sheraton Hotel, the IBM building, and the UIA building. Reggini’s office on the Leandro N. Alem Av. overlooks the complex, and he and his engineering partner, Hilario Fernández Long, originally designed the structures for several of the buildings. In those days, says Reggini, a perspective drawing could take days, at least, to complete. His Logo perspective took just a few minutes.
Reggini’s work surprised even Logo’s creator. “Horacio has created a new microworld for Logo which must rank among the two or three best that we know” said Papert recently, queried specially for Argentine News. “The real brilliance is that he took an idea, namely the three-dimensional turtle that’s been around for a long time as an abstract piece of mathematics, and turned into a living piece of mathematics that can be used in the same spirit as the classical (Logo) turtle.”
Reggini brought architects and engineers to his office. Soon they were drawing buildings and city blocks. One architect, when she heard that no other Logo researchers were as advanced in three-dimensional Logo, wondered about other Logo users: “If they don’t use 3-D Logo, what do they do with it?” she asked. Most recently, Reggini’s Logo team has been working on a three-dimensional drawing of Piazza San Marcos in Venice. They drew the plaza, and turned it, looking at it from all sides. But they’re not stopping there: “We’re working on a way to see it from inside the plaza,” says one of the team. “Next time we’ll have coffee in the Piazza San Marcos…”
For Reggini, the applications for three-dimensional Logo go beyond engineering or architecture. “You can apply three-dimensional geometrical Logo to any design of any kind… The computer becomes a tool, he says -the means to an end, and not the end in itself. The user must be more interested in the idea he or she wants to develop than in the machine or the computer language… I feel that with computers, you can also experience the joys of being, of doing, of realizing that you are thinking. And you are interacting with your thoughts and putting form to them”.
In addition, says Reggini, those using computers could begin to see themselves as artist or artisans: “in the same way that the artist or the artisan, starting from inspiration, elaborates his idea both in his mind and in the material until obtaining the final shape, so (three-dimensional Logo) describes a similar process in which the computer serves a tool and Logo as a mean of expression.” The artisan, working with tools, creates objects by hand for daily use, he explains. The tool used are not complicated, nor do they required special knowledge to use, except for the skills, judgment, and aesthetics of the artisan. “The artisan may change his mind, because of the work in progress… the material itself may guide his hand, his mind.” Reggini sees Logo as just such an uncomplicated tool, easily mastered, that offers a new means of expression to the “artisans” of our day.
“The process a person follows to define a form with Logo resembles the work of an artisan”, says Reggini: “The integration with the machine is intense and straightforward, with trial and error, and consequent modifications throughout.” Logo offers a tool that designers of all kind can control completely. On receiving an award from the Argentine Academy of Exact, Physical, and Nature Sciences, Reggini said: “The creative engineer will be able to experiment with his ideas unhampered by current restrictions. He will once again be the absolute master of his work, as were the great masters of the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci mixed his own paints and Michelangelo made his own chisels. Today, with our sculpturing done on a computer we have a full range of new instruments and tools. Total control could eventually lead to a new kind of engineering.”
“It bothers me when people say computers tend to develop a more analytical or mechanical way of thinking”, says Reggini. The computer has entered every area of our lives, besides its more common use in science, business, and industry, he explains. But as a vehicle for human expression, either technological or artistic, the computer also offers the opportunity to experience ideas and emotions. “Art, architecture, and engineering bring together, in some way, intelligence with intuition, basic pillars of all design. Technical resources do not limit human activity: on the contrary, they can widen human intuition, reason and decision greatly if they are conveniently used. When I see children with Logo, they learn, they learn new things, a way of being. They choose subjects that are significant to them and they make mistakes and they correct their mistakes… and that is not just to develop an analytical mind. They are feeling that they are living.”
Several children in Buenos Aires schools are already using three-dimensional Logo. “We are watching them, trying to see what they are doing and learning from them… Adults tend to do old things with new tools, applying what they already know… But children will find new uses for the computer. This is important, so we must have the courage and the generosity to let them do it.”
Creación y representación de formas tridimensionales. Creation and Representation of Three-Dimensional Shapes.
An Inaugural Lecture by Horacio C. Reggini delivered at the Academia Nacional de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales (Argentine Academy of Mathematics, Physics and Natural Sciences) on November 27, 1987. Anales, Tomo XL, 1988.
The first part of the presentation deals with the geometrical description and computer generation of three-dimensional shapes. The importance of intrinsic geometry and modular techniques is evident in the construction of a set of basic designs: diverse and intricate forms can be created from simple building blocks, their complexity arising from the combination and interaction of a large number of small elements and processes. Using a three-dimensional Logo system developed by the author, several architectural examples are reproduced and displayed from various viewpoints. The most important aspect of three-dimensional Logo is its use as a rigorous and intuitive language for describing and generating objects. The same system may be applied to robot guidance. Thus computers become a versatile means of expression, providing computer users with an opportunity to feel the emotion and joy of the creative act.
The second part of the presentation deals with the two-dimensional representation of three-dimensional shapes. It has been noticed that classical rules of perspective -which govern orthodox drawings and photographic images- are not always satisfactory. Artists have dealt with this problem in different ways. In this presentation, a perspective system based upon curved projection rays is introduced. This new system reduces certain distortions and rigidities observed by some people in classical perspective. The curvature of the rays is controlled by an image index, which can be selected at will by the user in another three-dimensional Logo system also developed by the author. Examples of images generated with different indexes are shown. The possibility of adding such an option to new visual devices, such as television, is raised, whereby the users can choose among alternatives according to taste. This opportunity to select the proper index would be possible in the near future thanks to modern techniques of computerized virtual reality and digital image processing. It is concluded that these ideas are rooted in the belief that it is essential to give people adequate resources for thinking and acting freely.
Regular polyhedra: random generation, Hamiltoniam paths and single chain nets
Paper by Horacio C. Reggini, Monografía nº 6, Academia Nacional de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales, Buenos Aires, 1991.
Computer simulations are carried out using the Logo language in relation with the number of trials necessary to create each regular polyhedron by a random method. Statistical results (distributions, averages and standard deviations) are calculated and analyzed, relating obtained values to face paths and plane nets of each polyhedron.
All the possible different paths of traveling along all the faces of a regular polyhedron, given two initial faces, without passing more than once by the same face -called “Hamiltonian face paths”- are determined: 2 for the tetrahedron, 10 for the cube, 6 for the octahedron, 1264 for the dodecahedron and 54 for the icosahedron. The number of paths that arrive at a neighbour face of the departure face are respectively: 2, 8, 4, 512 and 20. The number of paths that arrive at the opposite face to the departure are: none, 2, 2, 144 and 2.
If it is possible to travel around without re-entering a face, this means that the polyhedron can be cut along its edges so as to make it into a single chain of polygons. Thus, Hamiltonian paths are associated with corresponding single chain plane nets that by folding along common edges generate the regular polyhedra. It is deduced that the total numbers of the different single chain nets are: 2 for the tetrahedron, 8 for the cube, 5 for the octahedron, 680 for the dodecahedron and 36 for the icosahedron. If mirror-image nets are not counted the corresponding numbers become: 1, 4, 3, 340 and 18 respectively. Drawings of the nets are included.
Finally, the problem of the face circuits is related to the dual problem of the vertex circuits (1, 1, 3, 2 and 33 different routes for each regular polyhedron, or 1, 1, 2, 1 and 17, if mirror-image circuits are not counted) studied by Hamilton a century ago. Divisions of the polyhedra into two segments by respective vertex are shown.
Note: Other articles on 3D-Logo by Horacio C. Reggini:
1. Exploring Three-Dimensional Space with Logo, Logo-85 Conference, Plenary Session IV, M.I.T., Cambridge, MA, July 1985.
2. Explorando formas espaciales con Logo, Summa, Architecture Argentine Journal, Nos. 221-222, ene.-feb. 1986, Buenos Aires.
3. Generation of space shapes with a computer, The Argentine Engineering Institution Bulletin, 370, dic. 1986, Buenos Aires.
4. Exploring 3-dimensional space with Logo, Micromath, Basil Blackwell Ltd., Vol. 2, N° 1, Spring 1986, London.
5. Towards an Artisanal Use of Computers. Their application to the design and study of three-dimensional forms, Logo-86 Proceedings of The Third International Logo Conference, M.I.T., Cambridge, MA, July 1986.
6. Exploring 3-Dimensional Space with Logo, Logo Memo 102, The Media Lab, M.I.T., Cambridge, MA, July 1986.
7. 3-Dimensional Logo Commands and Procedures, Logo Memo 103, The Media Lab, M.I.T., Cambridge, MA, July 1986.
8. Projects with 3-Dimensional Logo, Logo Memo 104, The Media Lab, M.I.T., Cambridge, MA, July 1986.
9. Geometría computacional: generación al azar de poliedros, caminos hamiltonianos y redes unifilares, Anales de las Conferencias del II Encuentro Hispanoamericano de Historia de las Ciencias, Real Academia de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales de España y Academia Nacional de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales de la República Argentina, Buenos Aires, 10/16 de septiembre de 1990.
10. Three-dimensional Logo, Journal of the International Council for Computers in Education, Special Interested Group for Logo-Users Educators, April 1990, Vol. 8, No. 8.
11. Tree graph representation of Hamiltonian paths, Computers & Mathematics, vol. 27, n. 5, ps. 101-114, Pergamon, Elsevier Science Ltd., Oxford, 1994. Paths along faces of a polyhedron can be assimilated to paths along the branches of a tree graph. This paper shows the “pruned” trees corresponding to all Hamiltonian paths of regular polyhedra.
Computadoras: ¿creatividad o automatismo?, by Horacio C. Reggini, Ediciones Galápago, Buenos Aires, 1988. Computers: Creativity or Automatism?
From the prologue
More than three decades ago I first had the chance to make contact with the machine that, without fear of overstating, can be called the discovery of this century: the computer. The first computers, at that time, were not only extremely expensive but almost inaccessible. A few years later, I became close to the MAC Project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which since the early ’60s, has researched how technology can enhance human beings intellectually and creatively. “MAC” comes from “Machine Aided Cognition” which was the general goal of the project, and also from “Multiple Access Computer” which meant its operative mode. Since then, I have remained tied to computers as a consulting engineer, a professor and a researcher.
During this time, the initial surge of the new technology has not declined and enthusiasm remains high all over the world. Today, new discoveries, like fiber optics and parallelism techniques in new computer design allow us to foresee technological marvels that go beyond yesterday’s fantasies. The future, wich once seemed so far away, becomes reality every day.
I have always believed that computers should be placed in people’s hands as a means for growing, no matter what their activities are. But it was only in the ’70s and -much more intensively- after 1980, with the invention of small personal computers, that informatics could escape from the narrow limits imposed by the setting of the laboratory or large organizations. Today, millions of people around the world have a fluent dialogue with their computers, which permits them to work, create and study independently and autonomously.
However, real interaction with computers is just beginning. Technological humanity has just stammered its first words and it is still too early for evaluations. What role will computers play in the next decades? We must search together for the answer. Those who succumb to “computer magic”, that unthinking enchantment by the technological novelty, anticipate golden years when technology will provide us with thousands of material benefits.
On the other hand, those who reject, also unthinkingly, anything new, warn of the dangers of a coming “cybernetic slavery” that will end up turning us into robots and stripping us of our more genuine values. I believe that only a thorough understanding of their significance and an ample freedom of application will allow us to find new and more human uses for computers, so their enormous technological potential does not turn us into mere passive receivers of information.
The road divides and we must choose: creativity or automatism? This book responds to the first premise as I am convinced it is scientists’ responsibility to contribute to the most harmonious introduction of the new technologies into society. I also believe that the more we learn about technology, the deeper we can perceive the essence of our humanity. The articles, lectures, presentations and interviews, etc., that comprise this book have one common thesis: only a wise use of the new technological tools can make us more complete, creative and freer people. This thesis is applied to the different areas I have been interested for years: computers in general, computers in education, artificial intelligence, the design and construction of forms in space, the psychology of learning, and the development of scientific knowledge. It is also the basic concept which gives unity to the book and to the variety of areas dealt with. I have revised and made minor changes in some of the chapters to avoid unnecessary repetition and to make the marginal superpositions among them more acceptable; although, in some cases, I have allowed some repetitions so that each chapter may stand independently.
I believe the ideas concerning computers are new and important and of vital significance for the process of human evolution. That is why, more than ever before, a sensible integration of the new technology is necessary at every level, while avoiding the fragmentation of culture and without leading towards undesirable institutions or life styles. In my contribution to all this, I have chosen two paths: on one hand, to influence education, trying to make of computers tools to enable more creative, less dogmatic personal growth; on the other hand, to investigate, develop and diffuse through mass media, proper methods and means to apply computers in various areas of daily life.
These pages express my thoughts as well as many of the alternatives that mark out the road yet to be traveled.
From the epilogue
Shall we advocate creativity or automatism? It would be an erroneous and artificial classification to imply that the two words are mutually exclusive. Instead, I intend to indicate two possible alternatives as well as two complementary aptitudes. We tend to use the word creativity to refer to the production of artistic or new ideas, and to use automatism to mean a sequence of actions produced so mechanically that they can be carried out without interfering with any other activity. I believe that both processes are vital and necessary. In that sense, the title of this book could have been creativity and automatism. Automatism as a result of previously acquired action scripts -which required creativity when first used- is beneficial, as it sets free other parts of the mind. Automatism in the use of computers must not be neglected, but it will be insufficient if it is not combined with sparks of creativity which allow us to change or modify our routines, giving birth to previously unknown goals or imagining new destinies.
Chapter 12. Popper and Papert
“I must not search for my dignity in space, but in the government of my thoughts… through my thoughts I embrace the world”, Blaise Pascal wrote more than three centuries ago. Even then, Pascal considered intelligence as the only way to freedom, and education as the only way to intelligence. But, like any human gesture, education and learning theories suffer the influence of the cultural and philosophical ideas of the age. Today, perhaps more than ever before, education holds a privileged position but… what sort of education?
In the light of new ideas, influential thinkers of our century, coming from different currents of thought, coincide in characterizing learning as a process of acquisition and practice of new methodologies, skills or aptitudes necessary to face new situations. They formulate a new emergent paradigm in education based on lack of dogmatism, respect for individual freedom and critical thinking.
Among those who stand out for their contributions to the reform of educational theories, are Karl Popper and Seymour Papert. The former, born July 28, 1902, in Austria, is considered one of the most important philosophers of science, whose ideas about methodological fallibility, conjectures and refutations, and the evolutionary theory of knowledge, among others, constitute a valuable contribution to universal thinking. The latter, born February 29, 1928, in South Africa, is a mathematician and epistemologist widely known, for over a decade, for his research and development into the use of computers in the classroom. His activities, following Piaget’s ideas, his contributions to artificial intelligence and the creation and worldwide distribution of the Logo computer modality have earned him a privileged position among modern educational reformers.
Both have merited authoritative articles published previously by this medium (1,2); and some time ago, I also referred to the educational approach of Logo modality (3,4). On this occasion, however, I attempt to point out some similarities and coincidences between Papert’s ideas, embodied in his unique computation system, and Popper’s ideas regarding education implicit in his extensive philosophical work.
The error as a source for understanding
For a long time it was believed that education is essentially a transmission of knowledge from teacher to student in which knowledge is received from the outside; we accept it as long as it can be adequately justified and we increase it through the inductive method, beginning with individual cases to arrive at a universal rule. This was the position held by such outstanding philosophers as Locke or Hume. However, already in this century, Karl Popper, among other authors, was concerned in his philosophical research with the growth of knowledge, both in the individual and society, and criticized the theories that considered the child as a blank page and the mind as little more than a file of impressions gathered by the senses. Refuting one by one the logical foundations of that position, Popper established the hypothesis that knowledge is only increased by means of conjectures and refutations, and learning only takes place through trial and error, where this method becomes a source of knowledge: “To learn how not to commit errors, we must learn from our errors” (5).
For Popper, “the learning process consists mainly in correcting expectations that are not satisfied” (6) and these expectations are just what generate the process of trial and error.
In “Mindstorms”, Seymour Papert describes the fundamental ideas of his educational philosophy. Much of his work is devoted to evaluating the role of error, which is not considered an imperfection that must be eliminated but a functional element that participates in the process of achieving an objective. He asserts: “Many children are held back in their learning because they have a model of learning in which you have either ‘got it’ or ‘got it wrong’. But when you learn to program a computer you almost never get it right the first time. Learning to be a master programmer is learning to become highly skilled at isolating and correcting ‘bugs’, the parts that keep the program from working. The question to ask about the program is not whether it is right or wrong, but if it is fixable. If this way of looking at intellectual products were generalized to how the larger culture thinks about knowledge and its acquisition, we all might be less intimidated by our fears of ‘being wrong'” (7). Later he explains that much of the work with Logo is devoted to strategies of debugging, such as developing autonomous subprocedures so that errors can be easily isolated and corrected. The priceless by-product of learning these skills is a new attitude about errors. “Errors benefit us because they lead us to study what happened, to understand what was wrong, and, through understanding, to fix it” (8).
Learning through trial and error shapes a behaviour that works. The debugging process –search for and correction of errors– in Logo procedures plays, for Papert, a fundamental role in the understanding of any subject: “School teaches that errors are bad; the last thing one wants to do is to pore over them, dwell on them, or think about them. The debugging philosophy suggests an opposite attitude. Experience with computer programming leads children more effectively than any other activity to ‘believe’ in debugging” (9).
An evolutionist theory of learning
This concept of error as a tool for the growth of knowledge harmonizes with Popper’s idea about the selection of ideas. Just as in the world of living organisms, evolution takes place through natural selection of the fittest, Popper believes that, in the world of ideas, theories evolve through trial, where incorrect theories are eliminated. This concept can also be applied to education. H. J. Perkinson writes: “Karl Popper has done more than destroy the transmission theory of education. He has also given a new theory of evolutionary epistemology, upon which it is possible to build a new theory of education, a Darwinian theory of education. This theory could perhaps be called learning from our mistakes. According to this theory, the learner is active, not passive, not a receptor of knowledge; a seeker of order, not needing motivation or control in order to learn. The learner learns from making mistakes” (10).
Natural learning: active, autonomous and critical
“The best learning takes place when the learner takes charge” (11), writes Papert. The Logo creator believes children are active builders of their own intellectual structures and “innately gifted learners”, acquiring long before they go to school a vast quantity of knowledge by a process he calls Piagetian learning: “learning without curriculum… supporting children as they build their own intellectual structures with materials drawn from the surrounding culture. In this model, educational intervention means changing the culture, planting new constructive elements in it and eliminating noxious ones” (12). “Piagetian learning is typically deeply embedded in other activities. For example, the infant does not have periods set aside for ‘learning talking’. This model of learning stands in opposition to dissociated learning, learning that takes place in relative separation from other kinds of activities, mental and physical.” (13).
Papert uses the term constructionism in reference to two aspects of education. From the constructivist theories of psychology he adopts the thesis that considers learning as a reconstruction rather than a consequence of the transmission of knowledge. From educational experience, he draws the evidence that learning is particularly effective when it is immersed in an activity in which the student feels he is building something significant and meaningful (for example, an artistic piece, a machine that functions, a research project, or a computer program). In this case the student builds a meaningful entity instead of acquiring facts and data devoid of a context in which they can be immediately used and understood (14). Besides, Papert includes within constructionism social and affective aspects that go beyond mere cognition. The fact that the child is dedicated to building something, and the particular circumstance that he is doing something he feels and in which he believes, adds new dimensions to the learning process. He believes that certain learning takes place early and spontaneously, because the child as builder finds the materials with which to build. Others do not develop because of the relative poverty of the culture in those materials that would make the corresponding concepts simple, and concrete, and not because of their complexity or formality. Therefore, his insistence on giving children adequate access to learning environments or microworlds. “The educator must be anthropologist. The educator as anthropologist must work to understand which cultural materials are relevant to intellectual development”, Papert says (15).
Popper defines the human being as an active seeker of knowledge so much so that he remembers his first years of school with the following words: “I will always be grateful to my first teacher, Emma Goldberger, who taught me how to read, write and the basic rules of arithmetic. These three subjects, I believe, are the only essential things that must be taught to a child; and some children still do not need to be taught anything at all so as to learn them. Everything else is a matter of atmosphere and continuous learning by thinking and reading” (16).
Logo, on the other hand, is a synonym of self-education: each person establishes his or her own goals, recognizes his or her mistakes, analyzes them and learns from them. Papert writes, with reference to the use of Logo: “…when a child learns to program, the process of learning is transformed. It becomes more active and self-directed. In particular, the knowledge is acquired for a recognizable personal purpose. The child does something with it. The new knowledge is a source of power and is experienced as such from the moment it begins to form in the child’s mind” (17).
Karl Popper refers to this topic in a dialogue with John Eccles on the occasion of the preparation of their book “The Self and its Brain”, when they spent time together in Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio, Italy. There, in lovely and stimulating surroundings, beside Como Lake, in the morning of September 20, 1974, he comments: “I think that it is terribly important that, throughout our whole life, we should avoid being mere passive receptors of information. There is a special danger in childhood: that our schools may treat children like the gondola kitten*. This was especially true when children had to sit in a confined way so as to reduce the possibility for the children to move, so they shouldn’t disturb other children and, especially, the teacher. In other words, our children were once like gondola kittens. While it would not matter as much if people our age spent their time staring at television screens, I think it is undesirable for television or teaching machines to be used as a means of instruction such that children play a passive role: they just sit and learn. I don’t deny that television has its good side if used sparingly, but a growing young person should be stimulated to face problems and then to try to solve these problems, and should be helped in solving these problems only if help is needed. He should not be indoctrinated, and should not be fed with answers when no questions have been asked: when problems don’t come from within” (18).
* The most elegant and delightful example of the role of activity in visual learning is provided by the experiments of Held and Hein (19). Kittens from the same litter spend several hours a day in a contraption which allows one kitten fairly complete freedom to explore its environment actively, just as a normal kitten. The other is suspended passively in a gondola that, by a simple mechanical arrangement, is moved in all directions by the exploring kitten so that the gondola passenger is subjected to the same play of visual imagery as the active kitten, but none of this activity is initiated by the passenger. Its visual world is provided for it just as it is for us on a TV screen. When not in this contraption both kittens are kept with their mother in darkness. After some weeks, tests show that the active kitten has learned to utilize its visual fields for giving it a valid picture of the external world for the purpose of movement just as well as a normal kitten, whereas the gondola passenger has learned nothing.
The spirit of scientific method in learning environments
The fact of learning has much in common with building a scientific theory (20). Papert emphasizes this idea in reference to learning a physical skill. He considers programming as a source of descriptive mechanisms, that is to say as a means of strengthening language. When a child learns to program with Logo, he uses the bricolage or tinkering method, a technique often used in scientific research or in artistic creation. It is a road with a beginning but which holds many surprises (21, 22, 23).
Popper describes the human being as a fallible creator of knowledge through conjectures and refutations. Consequently education should emphasize the process of problem solving rather than obtaining results. Popper believes it is impossible that knowledge is derived only from observation. Observation, he asserts, comes after expectations. And this applies to the baby who tries to grab everything he sees as much as to the scientist who creates new theories about the universe: both proceed by trial and error, correcting their theories in the light of unfulfilled expectations. Popper says: “If I perceive a sofa, I immediately think one can sit on it. This is part of perception. That is why perception essentially surpasses the content of the signs” (24). “The process of bringing, by means of mutation and selection, the cognitive structures to the real world is not so much a process of adaptation as a process of active construction of theories and of testing them through the difficult process of examination” (25). Papert adopts a similar criterion for the application of Logo and explains: “…when a student, or anyone, sticks with the drive to make an actual connection, an actual program actually run (in a computer or in life), then rigor grows. Discipline flips from the external and oppressing ‘get it right’ to the internal and intellectual ‘make it work'” (26). When programming with Logo children get used to the idea that, in most cases, it is better to find a quick, simple, economic, solution to a problem, and then debug it until it works properly, than to insist on a definite, slow, and complex solution, apparently without mistakes. And he adds: “What an individual can learn, and how he learns it, depends on what models he has available” (27).
Thus, the classroom –just as the laboratory– provides a context where theories can be built and refuted, a place where errors can be committed… and where one can learn from them. The teacher is not a judge but a person who provides the proper environment where the child can recognize errors and correct them. Autonomy is a goal of learning that can only be achieved when learning itself becomes an exercise of autonomy.
The child as protagonist of the learning process
These theories about the learning process impose changes in the teacher-student relationship. In the new learning settings teachers learn and students can create complex theories. Karl Popper considers that a new ethics is necessary based on a new kind of fallible, uncertain knowledge, as he believes that errors are unavoidable. And he explains: “Any new discovery, or new concept, falsifies a theory established up to that moment; a theory that does not produce it, that can not produce it. The theory, for example, that one can not speak with someone in a distant place, therefore telephones can not exist, is constantly verified till the telephone was invented. The same is true for the theory that says that people can not fly. Thus, this means that any theory that has been built based on the fact that anything like that does not exist, has been up to that moment constantly confirmed” (28). That is why, the importance given to the development of critical thinking oriented to the discovery of error; a concept shared by advanced researchers like Marvin Minsky who asserts: “To understand how something works, it helps to know how it can fail” (29).
Although Karl Popper never dealt specifically with education, H. J. Perkinson shows “his system of conjectures and refutations may be fashioned into a model of education –an approach which views the teacher not as someone who injects predigested knowledge into the passive minds of students, but as one who elicits student responses, creates environments in which ideas can be criticized freely and mistakes made without humiliation: in short, a classroom in which the student is respected as a solver of problems and originator of ideas” (30).
For his part, Seymour Papert, as was pointed out by Cynthia Solomon, a researcher who carried out a comparative evaluation of the use of computers in education, follows Piaget in his assertion that people have different theories to explain the world, and that those theories keep changing as long as they learn, and, what is most important, that they learn while doing (31). Papert’s ideas rest upon the educational theories that sustain that learning environments must be focussed on the student and not on the teacher.
Two educational utopias
So far, I have pointed out some coincidences that arise from an analysis of Popper and Papert’s ideas. I don’t intend to say this is all but, I want to emphasize some premises that have gained increasingly wide acceptance in different educational circles. Both thinkers propose less authoritative education, based on human fallibility and on the search for freedom. And it is in their dreams where they coincide once more. Popper writes: “In 1917, I understood very clearly what I had been feeling within since long ago: In our famous high schools… we were wasting our time miserably, although our teachers were very learned and endeavoured to make of our schools the best in the world. The fact that part of their teaching was extremely dull –hours and hours of agony without hope– was not new for me. At school one was exposed to discovery when one’s own thoughts were engaged with something disconnected from the lesson; one was forced to pay attention… I dreamed of creating a school where the young could learn without weariness and where they were stimulated to present problems and discuss them; a school where one should not have to listen to undesirable answers to unasked questions”(32).
Papert writes: “…the classroom is an artificial and inefficient learning environment that society has been forced to invent because its informal environments fail in certain essential learning domains… I believe that the computer presence will enable us to modify the learning environment outside the classroom so that much -if not all- the knowledge schools presently try to teach with such pain and expense and such limited success, will be learned in the same way the child learns to talk, painlessly, successfully, and without instruction” (33).
These concepts could be regarded as utopias to many people. We instead consider them as necessary beacons for today’s education.
1. Zanotti, L. J., “Papert: un desafío que debe aceptarse”, I.I.E., Revista del Instituto de Investigaciones Educativas, Nº 43, Buenos Aires, noviembre de 1983.
2. Darós, W. R., “Concepción Popperiana del aprendizaje”, I.I.E., Revista del Instituto de Investigaciones Educativas, Nº 61, Buenos Aires, abril de 1988.
3. Reggini, H. C., “Irrupción de las computadoras en la educación”, I.I.E., Revista del Instituto de Investigaciones Educativas, Nº 35, Buenos Aires, abril de 1982.
4. Reggini, H. C., “Revisión del aprender y del enseñar” I.I.E., Revista del Instituto de Investigaciones Educativas, Nº 43, Buenos Aires, noviembre de 1983.
5. Popper, K. R., “Sociedad abierta, universo abierto (Conversaciones con Franz Kreuzer)”, Edit. Tecnos, Madrid, 1985, p. 156.
6. Berkson, W. and Wettersten, J., “Learning from Error, Karl Popper’s Psychology of Learning”, Open Court Publishing Company, Illinois, E.E.U.U., 1984, p. 8.
7. Papert, S., “Mindstorms, Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas”. Basic Books, Inc., Publishers. New York, 1980, p. 23.
8. Ibid. p. 114.
10. Perkinson, H. J., “Education and Learning from Our Mistakes”, en “In Pursuit of Truth, Essays on the Philosophy of Karl Popper on the Occasion of his 80th Birthday”, Edited by Paul Levinson, Humanities Press, Atlantic, Highlands, N. J., 1982, p.141.
11. Papert, S., Op. cit., p. 214.
12. Ibid., p. 32.
13. Ibid., p. 48.
14. Papert, S. “Constructionism: A new Opportunity for Elementary Science Education”, NSF Proposal, M.I.T., November 1986.
15. Papert, S., “Mindstorms, Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas”, p. 47.
16. Popper, K. R., “Búsqueda sin término: una autobiografía intelectual”, Edit. Tecnos, Madrid, 1985, pág. 43.
17. Papert, S., “Mindstorms, Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas”, p. 21.
18. Popper, K. R., And Eccles, J. C., “The Self and Its Brain”. Springer International, Berlin, 1977, p. 435.
19. Held, R. and Hein A., “Movement-produced Stimulation in the Development of Visually Guided Behaviour”, Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psichology, 56, 1963, ps. 872-6.
20. Papert, S., “Mindstorms, Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas”, p. 96.
21. Ibid., p. 173.
22. Reggini, H. C., “Alas para la mente”, Ediciones Galápago, Buenos Aires, 1982, p. 91.
23. Reggini, H. C., “Ideas y formas”, Ediciones Galápago, Buenos Aires, 1985, p. 15.
24. Popper, K. R., “Sociedad abierta, universo abierto (Conversaciones con Franz Kreuzer)”, p. 92.
25. Ibid., p. 99.
26. Brand, S., “El laboratorio de medios. Inventando el futuro en el M.I.T.”, Ediciones Galápago, Buenos Aires, 1988, p. 126
27. Papert, S., “Mindstorms, Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas”, p. VII
28. Popper, K. R., “Sociedad abierta, universo abierto (Conversaciones con Franz Kreuzer)”, pág. 40.
29. Minsky, M., “La sociedad de la mente”, Ediciones Galápago, Buenos Aires, 1987, Cap. 14.2, p. 142.
30. Levinson, P., “In Pursuit of Truth, Essays on the Philosophy of Karl Popper on the Occasion of his 80th Birthday”, p. 9.
31. Solomon, C., “Computer Environments for Children. A Reflection on Theories of Learning and Education”, The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1986.
32. Popper, K. R., “Búsqueda sin término: una autografía intelectual”, ps. 43, 54.
33. Papert, S., “Mindstorms, Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas”, p. 9.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 1998.
Prologue by Horacio C. Reggini for the book “My Dear Sir”, Mary Mann’s Letters to Sarmiento (1865-1881), written by Barry L. Velleman and published by I.C.A.N.A. in 2001.
(Prólogo escrito por Horacio C. Reggini para el libro “My Dear Sir”, Mary Mann’s Letters to Sarmiento (1865-1881), Barry L. Velleman, I.C.A.N.A., 2001.)
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, President of Argentina from 1868 to 1874 and a great literary presence of the nineteenth century, is renowned for his unique voice as politician, educator and critic. His Travels in the United States in 1847 is still one of the best portrayals of the joy of living and progressive spirit of that North American country, and reaffirms his genius. The letters that he wrote and received -as has happened with many great personalities- are impressive in quantity and quality. The rich correspondence between Sarmiento and Mary Peabody Mann reveals two outstanding characters of the period. Barry L. Velleman has compiled in this book virtually all the letters that Mary Mann wrote to Sarmiento, as held in the Mary Mann files of the Museo Histórico Sarmiento, Buenos Aires. In a brilliant introduction, Velleman describes the circumstances of the close intellectual relationship that lies beneath the words of the two parties. Mary Mann, an extraordinary woman of her time, admired Sarmiento’s intelligence and will. In her letters, she respectfully addresses him with the heading “My Dear Sir”, which Velleman has fortunately enough chosen as the title of the book. From Mrs. Mann’s correspondence, richly expressive of her strong beliefs in democracy, education and equal opportunities, there emerges a memorable view of the social and political contemporary milieu.
In 1888, Sarmiento died in Asunción, Paraguay. The same year, T. S. Eliot, a Nobel laureate poet and a prolific letter-writer himself, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Eliot once said: “The desire to write a letter, to put down what you don’t want anybody else to see but the person you are writing to, but which you do not want to be destroyed, but perhaps hope may be preserved for complete strangers to read, is ineradicable. We want to confess ourselves in writing to a few friends, and we do not always want to feel that no one but those friends will ever read what we have written”. 1 We wonder what Mary Mann or Sarmiento would think of Eliot’s thoughts in relation to their letters.
With this book, Barry L. Velleman (Marquette University), a Professor of Spanish language, linguistics, and the history of ideas in Latin America, has made an important contribution to the study of the cultural products and practices of the United States of America that Sarmiento brought to Argentina during his administration. Velleman’s detailed annotations to and commentaries on Mary Mann’s letters give us an exceptional portrait of her and also of the Sarmiento’s goals and actions, which she understood, shared, and even intuited.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh crossed the North Atlantic Ocean in the Spirit of Saint Louis, a solo flight that took thirty-three hours and started the successful air bridge between America and Europe. The same year, ICANA -Instituto Cultural Argentino Norte Americano- was founded as a private non-profit organization with the purpose of establishing educational and cultural links between Argentina and the United States. Since then, ICANA, through its extensive involvement in language teaching and social, artistic and scientific activities, has helped each society to better understand the other, to create indestructible ties of mutual friendship and respect, and to build a more harmonious relationship between the peoples of both nations.
Jorge Luis Borges was an active supporter of ICANA’s purposes, and in a dialogue with Rita Guibert, he expressed this powerful and original opinion: “It would be extremely useful if in our [South American] countries, English were taught in all primary schools, as well as Spanish in the United States and Canada. Thus, we would have a bilingual continent (…) I believe it would be very important for the history of the world, for every man born in America to have access to two cultures, the English and the Spanish (…) It is important to learn in two different ways and to have access to two literatures. If a man grows up within a single culture, if he makes a habit of considering other languages as hostile or arbitrary dialects, then his spirit will shrink. If instead he becomes accustomed to thinking in two different languages and to believing that his mind has in its past two great literatures, that has to be beneficial to him”. 2
Since in its judgment this book is consistent with ICANA’s cultural and social program, the Institute has sponsored with great interest the publication of My Dear Sir. ICANA’s Board of Directors -under its president Alberto Mondet- and this writer wish to congratulate and thank Professor Velleman for his enthusiasm and dedication in producing this book, thus assisting us in fulfilling the objectives of ICANA in order to strengthen the permanent and necessary cooperation between our two beloved countries.
Horacio C. Reggini
Miembro de ICANA, del Instituto Sarmiento de Sociología e Historia, de la Academia Nacional de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales, de la Academia Nacional de Educación y de la Academia Argentina de Artes y Ciencias de la Comunicación.
1. From English Poets as Letter Writers, a lecture given by Thomas S. Eliot at Sprague Memorial Hall, Yale University, 23 November 1933.
2. From Borges habla con Borges. Diálogo con Borges, by Rita Guibert. In Spanish: “Sería utilísimo que en nuestras repúblicas se enseñara el inglés en la escuela primaria y que en los Estados Unidos y en Canadá se enseñara español. Entonces tendríamos un continente bilingüe (…) Creo que sería muy importante para la historia del mundo el hecho de que todo hombre nacido en América tuviera acceso a dos culturas, a la inglesa y a la hispánica (…) Lo importante es que uno aprenda a pensar en dos modos distintos, y tenga acceso a dos literaturas. Si un hombre crece dentro de una sola cultura, si se habitúa a ver en los otros idiomas esa especie de dialectos hostiles o arbitrarios, todo esto tiene que estrechar su espíritu. Pero si un hombre se acostumbra a pensar en dos idiomas, y se acostumbra a pensar que el pasado de su mente son dos grandes literaturas, eso tiene que ser benéfico para él”.