Constructing Geometry on the Internet - sum95


Monday, July 10, 1995
A Visit from Michael Eisenberg and Ann Nishioka

This afternoon, before we all headed off for wonderful Vietnamese soups and noodle dishes, we were introduced to a program called HyperGami. The creators of the Macintosh program (Mike Eisenberg and Ann Nishioka from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Colorado, who were on hand for today's demonstration) describe it as a program "for the creation of paper sculptures of various types - particularly polyhedral models and the larger, multipart sculptures that can be created from polyhedra."

One of the most unusual characteristics of Hypergami is its user interface. In general, most Macintosh programmers try to shield users from things that look like scary programming languages, instead using lots of graphical interfaces and things. HyperGami, in contrast, was created with the intention of combining a graphical "point-and-click" user interface with an enhanced version of the ultimately more powerful text-based programming language Scheme. In the program, the user sees several windows with physical objects in them (containing objects like the 3-D paper sculpture, the unfolded version of the paper sculpture, and buttons for manipulating them) and a window or two of text-based interface (these windows are typically used for manipulating objects in ways that don't exist already in the point-and-click interface, or creating new objects to manipulate).

We first attended a demonstration of the program in our lecture hall, in which Eisenberg and Nishioka explained what the program can do and showed examples of finished products. They brought some very clever paper sculptures, including handsome penguins, a glass of pink lemonade, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and a big cute turtle. All of the sculptures are based on combinations of Platonic and Archimedian solids. Needless to say, the examples made our workshop participants eager to try the program and make some of this stuff.

We moved to the Math Lab and experimented with HyperGami. The program demands considerable computing resources: 16 Megabytes of RAM, preferably all non-virtual memory.

The unusual user interface took a little getting used to. Since few (if any) of the participants were familar with the Scheme language, most tended to first ignore the text-based interfaces and go straight to the point-and-click operations. Eisenberg and Nishioka provided us with a few tutorials that helped introduce us to Scheme manipulations, which was a nice way of sliding into that environment.

The workshoppers then spent the rest of the afternoon experimenting with the program. There was a tutorial that taught the user how to make the various parts of the penguin, and a few of the participants zipped through that. Since the participants are high school teachers trying to find ways of using technology to improve education, there was a focus on thinking of ideas of how to use the program in a classroom setting. Here are a couple of ideas that were generated:

Students could use the program to design and construct their own HyperGami objects; anyone want to try an aardvark? One of the main aspects of the program is to see the relationships between a three dimensional object and the piece of paper that you cut up and fold to make that object, and this could make a rich curriculum project.

The final products, whether they look like penguins or dodecahedrons, are objects that could be useful to study in their concrete physical form even if the students never see the program that created them.

This was a very fascinating and fun afternoon. If you'd like to know more about the program or what went on here, you can write to Michael Eisenberg and Ann Nishioka, or you can ask us.

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July 1995