MAS.110 Fundamentals of Computational Media Design

Fall Term 2007

TR3, 56-114

V. Michael Bove, Jr., E15-368B, x3-0334,

Glorianna Davenport, E15-368C, x3-2870,

Henry Holtzman, E15-312, x3-0319,

Barry Vercoe, E15-494, x3-0618,

Writing tutor: Nora Jackson,


Class Wiki:


Books (available at The Coop):

The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting, Darren Wershler-Henry

Typographic Design: Form and Communication, 4th ed., Carter, Day, and Meggs

Modern Art, David Britt, ed.

Learning Python, Lutz and Ascher (you may prefer to use some of the on-line Python references listed below instead of this book)


Python / pygame / pippy code samples:

Our example code should be installed on your XO by 10/30 class using the following instructions:
alt-0 to access the developer console, select the terminal tab and type,

[olpc@xo-00-00-00 ~]$ wget
[olpc@xo-00-00-00 ~]$ su
bash-3.2# tar xpvPf mas110pippy.tar
bash-3.2# exit
[olpc@xo-00-00-00 ~]$

alt-0 will bring you back to sugar


More information on resources, class policies, etc. appears below the schedule


Note that this syllabus is a "work-in-progress." Please check back often for changes.


Sept 6 Introduction. Paper and making marks on it.

Sept 11 More about typography, technology, and perception

Sept 13 Discussion. Reading assignment due today: Carter, Chapter 7

Sept 18 Looking at type, on hard- and softcopy. In-class exercise, "making letters." Reading assignment due today: Carter, Chapter 1. Please bring Carter to class today.

Sept 20 ESSAY 1 DUE (and discussed in class): 6-8 double-spaced pages describing a technological artifact with which you have a "relationship" (with or without quotation marks). Reading assignment due today: Wershler-Henry, Chapters 1-14

Sept 25 Continued discussion of type. Reading assignment due today: Carter, Chapters 2-4.

Sept 27 Continued discussion of essay 1.

Oct 2 How electronic displays work and why we care.

Oct 4 EXERCISE 1 DUE (and discussed in class): Use type/letters to convey some concept or message such that the arrangement of the letterforms visually represents/interprets/reinforces/the message. Reading assignment due today: Wershler-Henry, Chapters 16-25 (feel free to read the rest of the book if you like!)

Oct 9 NO CLASS -- Columbus Day break

Oct 10 (Wednesday!) Film Screening, Helvetica, Broad Institute audiorium (7 Cambridge Center, intersection of Ames and Main Sts.) 7pm

Oct 11 NO CLASS because of last night's movie

Oct 16 Guest lecture: Walter Bender (President, software and content, OLPC)

Oct 18 Color -- physics and psychophysics. Reading assignment due today: Britt, Chapter 1; explore Apple's color pages at

Oct 23 Modern art. Reading assignment due today: Britt, Chapters 2-3.

Oct 25 Discussion of the OLPC XO machine's design.

Oct 30 Discussion of first Python/Pygame example programs. Reading assignment due today: Britt, Chapters 4-5 (feel free to read further if you wish).

Nov 1 Discussion of sound under Python on the XO.

Nov 6 Continued discussion of sound on the XO. EXERCISE 2 DUE: Playing with Python/Pygame on the XO.

Nov 8 ESSAY 2 DUE (and discussed in class): 6-8 double-spaced pages describing a painting at the Boston MFA in one of the styles discussed in Britt. Look up an image of the painting on the MFA Web site and discuss the difference in its appearance from that of the actual painting. Discuss also the difference in your personal experience of viewing the painting at the MFA with that of looking at a picture on the computer screen.

Nov 13 More discussion of sound on the XO. More student presentations.

Nov 15 Modern art, continued.

Nov 20 Temporal and Sequential Art

Nov 22 NO CLASS -- Thanksgiving break

Nov 27 EXERCISE 3 DUE: Playing with Python/Pygame/CsoundXO on the XO, part II. Handout

Nov 29 3-D movies with Cary Kornfeld, E15-209 (Wiesner Room, Media Lab).

Dec 4 EXERCISE 4/ESSAY 3 DUE: Use any technological method/apparatus to create a visual image in the style of one of the art movements discussed in Britt. Write a 6-8 page essay on what you were trying to do and on the process by which you did it (and how you discovered/developed the process). FINAL PROJECT PROPOSAL (one page, text and or sketch) DUE.

Dec 6 "Final project clinic"

Dec 11 Presentation of student work


Some More On-Line Resources:


International Typeface Corporation




Pygame on the OLPC XO

CsoundXO manual (documentation, tutorials, etc.)

Python for the Inexperienced (a super-quick tutorial)


Class participation will count for 20% of the grade. The papers will collectively count for 30%, the exercises collectively for 30%, and the final project will count for 20%. Papers that are late will be penalized by one-half of a letter grade for each day late. If you need an extension, please tell the instructor at least one week ahead of time. You will select one paper for revision and resubmission, and the grade for the resubmitted paper will replace the grade for the original.

Class Participation:
You are expected to participate in class discussion throughout the semester. Participation includes informal class discussion of the readings, and in-class presentations/critiques of your work. Attendance is obviously a prerequisite for class participation. If you must miss a class, you should notify the instructor in advance. More than two unexcused absences will seriously jeopardize your class participation grade. Your own work will be regularly critiqued by your peers without emphasis on issues of formal qualities, but rather on issues of how well you have explored the areas of thought you might select. Thus your ability to express yourself visually (i.e. being a good illustrator and so forth) will not be as important as compared to how well you demonstrate the ability to clearly identify and define a particular idea. Developing your ability to orally defend yourself in the context of a critique will be the primary intent of these regular in-class exercises that occur in tandem with your writing assignments; the assessment of your oral communication component will depend upon your ability to navigate the defense of your own ideas.

Plagiarism Policy:
When writing a paper or creating any expressive work, you must identify the nature and extent of your intellectual indebtedness to the authors, artists, and designers whom you have read or to anyone else from whom you have gotten ideas (e.g., classmates, invited lecturers, etc.). You can do so through footnotes, a bibliography, or some other kind of scholarly device. Failure to disclose your reliance on the research or thinking of others is PLAGIARISM, which is considered to be the most serious academic offense and will be treated as such. If you have any questions about how you should document the sources of your ideas, please ask your instructors before you submit your written work. MIT's academic policy can be found at the following link: