Visual Interactive Simulations

Allen Cypher, David Canfield Smith, Larry Tesler, StageCast,,

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University April 2, 1999


Why can't Johnny program? Why is it that after thirty years of trying and dozens of languages designed for them, most people still cannot program computers? It's been estimated that fewer than 1% of computer users program their computers, even those who have taken a programming class. Is it that people don't want to program computers? Or is it that the approach of computer scientists toward programming hasn't worked? We will argue the latter position. We will discuss why those approaches haven't worked and, more importantly, why they can't work. Then we will show what to do about it.

Stagecast Creator (TM) is a radically different approach to programming. It is a new product that has just been released (last month) by Stagecast Software. It is the culmination of six years of research and development, first at Apple Computer and the last two years at Stagecast. It is designed to enable children and other nonprogramming adults to construct interactive visual simulations. Much of the talk will be demonstrating Creator and using it to illustrate why its approach to programmming works when other haven't.

Why did we pick the domain of visual simulations for its programming? Most importantly, simulations are a powerful teaching tool. They can make abstract concepts concrete. We want to make it possible for teachers and other educators to create simulations themselves, without having to go through an intermediary. Secondly, children love video games, almost all of which are interactive visual simulations. Children think of Creator as a video game construction kit. That's fine with us, since even the stupidest video game becomes an educational experience when kids program it themselves instead of just playing it.

Allen Cypher, Instructional Design, is a coinventor of Creator. Cypher worked for nine years as a senior scientist with Apple's Advanced Technology Group. His main interest is End-User Programming -- giving all computer users capabilities that have traditionally belonged to programmers. Cypher is the editor of the book "Watch What I Do: Programming by Demonstration", published in 1993 by MIT Press. Prior to his work at Apple, he was a consultant at IntelliCorp and created expert systems for corporations such as GM and Intel. Cypher holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Yale University and a B.A. in Mathematics from Princeton University.

David Canfield Smith, User Experience Architect, is a coinventor of Creator. The unifying goal of his life's work has been trying to make computers accessible to all people. Prior to Stagecast, Smith was a senior scientist in Apple Computer's Advanced Technology Group where he worked on a variety of software projects for future computers, including educational software with Alan Kay. Creator is the culmination of that work. Prior to that, he was a member of the Xerox Corporation's "Star" computer project in Palo Alto, which became the ancestor of the Macintosh. Smith was one of the principal designers of the Star user interface -- inventing the concepts of icons (from his Ph.D. work), the desktop metaphor, dialog boxes, and generic commands. Today all major personal computers have adopted these ideas, and more than 100 million people use them every day. Smith possesses a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University and a B.A. in Mathematics from Oberlin College.

Larry Tesler, President, provides Stagecast with over 20 years of executive and technical management experience in the computer industry. Previously, Tesler served as Vice President and Chief Scientist of Apple Computer, Inc., where he managed the AppleNet product division and various advanced development groups. He was the founding Vice President of Apple's Advanced Technology Group (ATG). There, Tesler nurtured innovative technologies such as MacApp, HyperCard, QuickTime, and AppleScript as well as education research projects like the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT). Tesler's prior technical career included seven years at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), primarily in its Learning Research Group. He contributed a number of ideas and techniques that have become common in graphical user interfaces. He holds a B.S. degree from Stanford University. Tesler is a member of the Board of Directors of Stagecast and a director of ARM Holdings PLC.


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