SpaceLace: An Interactive Kaleidoscope

  In high school and college, I was not particularly good at science and I was terrible at math. When I took algebra in high school, I wondered why it was necessary, why put so much effort into a seemingly useless subject, which required so much abstract thinking. In retrospect, I did badly at math just because it seemed so useless. I had a similar experience taking logic. I couldn’t see how either applied to everyday life, but when I saw the computer, I knew why I needed math and logic.

  That day in 1979, when I first saw the Apple II computer running Color Soft Demo, the program that generated kaleidoscopic patterns, I knew that one day I wanted to design my own patterns. Bob spent the several years teaching me to program to generate patterns. As it turns out, generating patterns requires learning many important computer concepts. In 1987, Great Wave Software published our educational program, SpaceLace: An Interactive Kaleidoscope.

  In 1988, I told Bob that watching patterns on the screen was great, but I wanted to be immersed in infinite patterns. Bob Bishop suggested we build a huge kaleidoscope. He understood mirrors (of course, they are used in telescopes) from his work at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The mirrors we used were front-surfaced, which means that when you put your finger on them, there is no space between your finger and its reflection. When you put your finger on top of regular mirrors, there is a gap between your finger and its reflection, because regular mirrors are surfaced on the back. Front-surfaced mirrors are used in telescopes and certain cameras. We designed a five-foot kaleidoscope with a triangular nine-inch peephole. When I looked inside the kaleidoscope it appeared that the patterns extended out almost into infinity.

  When we put SpaceLace together with the five-foot kaleidoscope, the effect was transcendent. Some people who interacted with the kaleidoscope would type the letters of their name and proclaim that those were their kaleidoscopes. One of the great enjoyments of working on software is watching how people will interact with it.

©Lucia Grossberger Morales 2015