What I’m Missing

Wikipedia really lacks user interface.  I’m NOT talking about making it more pretty or something.  I like it’s subdued look that emphasizes the information.  I mean, for instance, the fact that it doesn’t have a memory of what I have viewed.  It doesn’t give an interface into my wikipedia forays.  But what I really want is something that overlays wikipedia and gives an interface that helps me drill down into specific areas while keeping track of the purposes of my research.

This context is not negligible.  I want an interface that allows me to actively collect information.  Something solid that I don’t feel is going to disappear just because I lose my computer.  Something that frames the knowledge I have explored and anchors it.  Finally, something that can almost be “held” in digitalia.  Probably will be able to be held one day.  And also, one day I imagine it not limiting itself to wikipedia.

I might even start calling it a “web browser”.  It’d be interesting if a popular browser maker actually went out of their way to offer something substantial in the way of “tabbed browsing” and “history”.  I mean, I’m looking at about 31 tabs on my browser:

my tabs

Chrome is nice enough whereby usually, when I shut down my computer and restart it, I can open my last tabs (inexplicably, sometimes, I cannot [when an update is installed?]).  I could laboriously search through my flat history to get lists of websites that match certain slices of interest… but I want more.  I want to create a layout, like windows 8 metro, but much more fluidly and variable.  I want to open tabs in categories.  Of course, it would be easy to get this wrong and make it cumbersome enough to be unused.

How can you beat “Ctrl-t” and “Ctrl-click”?  Why would anyone consent to another layer between them and their content?  Inherit from the parent.

But that’s only part of the problem, because often one thread contains what I would consider to be content belonging to a separate thread of interest, or maybe it belongs to both?

One thing I like about Chrome that is seemingly incompatible with the direction of my thoughts is the fact that it almost maximizes screen real-estate.  I know they’re talking about (or were, once) getting rid of the address bar (autohiding), but rather than simply, solely giving that space to the web pages, I would consider giving the option of allowing two rows of tabs.  And I’d let either users of one or two rows of tabs to group their tabs into rectangles (single story for the single rowers).  And tabs can easily be dragged back and forth.  They can scroll when there are too many tabs to reasonably view.  Each “category” can be viewed as a whole webpage, so that even within a category, categories can be created and navigated.

The address bar should be easily summonable from any tab header or by keystroke (trusty old “Alt-d” works for me).

That’s a good start anyway.  I would like to name these “categories” and be able to manage my history “by category”.  Perhaps even accessible by a dropdown that can be “dropped down” by interacting with the tab-containing rectangle in some undetermined but exquisitely natural way (like an arrow pointing downward that expands into an overlay tab of “category” related activities [such as history]).

I can imagine collecting this information for years.  But it is my information.  Not Google’s or someone else’s.

And that’s why the title of this blog has changed from “What Wikipedia’s Missing” to “What Chrome’s Missing” to “What I’m Missing”.  It’s not that I have a problem sharing the record of my noetic wandering.  It’s that I want to be able to innovate against my own information.  I don’t want to wait for “Wikipedia” or “Chrome” to update their interfaces.  What I really want is to manage my own information.  Become my own data miner.  It’s almost possible to write a web browser and I guess that is what Mozilla is working on.  So it seems I’ll have what I’m missing soon enough.  Gonna hold out for a Firefone.

Successor to Current OS’s

It might be built on the Linux kernel.  But visually, I would succeed all the present contenders.

An OS is two things: 1) a core of functionality for enabling programs to run on some hardware; 2) an interface enabling that core of functionality to be called upon.

The “core of functionality” is a complex black box to me (not knowing much about such arcane things).  But I feel I have some good intuitions about the “interface enabling that core of functionality to be called upon”.

There are two ryu concerning the interface: textual and visual.  Or maybe there are.  In any case, there are two primary means of working with a computer: the command line and the “desktop UI“.  So, we’re going to go with “textual” and “visual”, although, if you want, you can throw in “kinesic” as well (haptic, keyboard, mouse, et cetera).

Which is better?  Which is better?  Ahh… Sigh… I love them both.  It’s really too bad it’s just not possible to somehow optimally mix them together.  Really just too bad…

I really wanna be an input ninja but I feel like I’m trying to fly with a steam engine.

Just for shits and giggles, I wonder what an interface would look like that would enable both peak input bandwidth as well as sustainable input bandwidth?  By using more of my body, more intensely, how could I speed up interfacing with information?

It’s an amusing byway of thought to combine the idea of a sequence of yoga asanas with a sequence of commands, each transition between postures modifying the previous like a macro.  But that’s fanciful, for the most part.

Let’s get to the point.  First of all, there is the keyboard.  I like the idea, but I think it can be improved.  Let’s combine the standard 104-key keyboard (or whatever) with the idea employed in cell phones of stacking letters on a key. Then you can take a keyboard like Microsoft’s “pressure-response keyboard” and depending on the pressure, based (dependent on) on real-time visual feedback, you can visually indicate the letter being typed.  That way you can really just create a type pad and eventually you can do away with the keyboard altogether, in favor of gesture input that detects depth of finger movement along the “surface” of a virtual keyboard and visually indicates the key being typed.

You could “clip” the “keyboard” halves (virtually, obviously, since the “keyboard” is a 3d orientation of touch-sensitive input zones oriented in your visual field so as to appear “in perspective” with whatever you’re seeing around it, as well as your hand-orientation), one to each hand, so that you could move your hands around, maybe doubling the index fingers as “cursors”, so that you could move the keyboard around with your hands invisibly as you gestured in the interface and then immediately “gesture in” the keyboard, wherever your hands, are to start “typing”.

“Typing” becomes activating symbolic representations, as input to programs, by gesturing at touch sensitive regions that “are owned by” the particular symbol we are intending to type.  Probably the app itself has the option to define its own mappings or use some predefined mapping.

Then there’s the mouse.  We’ve already dealt with it, really.  The mouse and the keyboard end up combining into a single input stream: gesture.  In the end, that’s all the keyboard and the mouse ever were, abstract gestures done over ([relatively] clunky) physical devices designed to register those gestures.

Now we can take advantage of improved input devices.  And we can keep improving them.  The end game, of course, is interfacing with the computer directly, without needing to employ any sort of muscular contraction.  Or, a special muscle could be developed if it were so important.

Once we’ve discussed input, what does that leave?  The (visual) metaphor employed by the OS.  I like “reality”.  By reality, of course, I mean “augmented reality”.  I would like a physics-aware OS that injects its representations into my visual field in my immediate environment.

Ultimately, I imagine that the best OS will be an AI with a human layer.  Getting there will involve representing in code what comprises the human layer, both in terms of internal dynamics and in terms of social behavior.  Ideally that code would be useful in the sense of being descriptive as well as functional.  I like code that has a dense core of functionality that expands out a looser description of some particular instantiation of the domain.

In this view computers and “interfaces” would in many senses vanish as a distinct activity.  Digital media would be navigated by being presented information by our OS.  This information would be distinctly virtual, yet physically manipulable.  Perhaps we would have complete visual fields to interact with information with.

Blah blah.  Now I’m babbling.  What’s my point?  Modern OS’s suck.  I want something better.  But input has to grow in tandem with output.  I’m waiting on contact-lens monitors (or something similarly non-intrusive) along with very fine gestural input (as well as intelligent API for interpreting/describing/referring-to those gestures).

Both of these things are in the pipeline.  Hooray.  It’ll take a good 10 years to figure that phase out.  Then I’ll be clamoring for biophysical integration.  And that’ll come, too.  And that’ll take a while longer to “figure out”.

And others’ll try to stop it.  Of course, it is technologically inevitable, but movement can be arrested, for “the short timesies”.  And there are many iterations that are not at all attractive.  And if they were eminent, I too would resist.

Of course, there is far more to say about all that.  Purpose is the deciding factor.  And at some point, humanity, we’re going to have to come to a decision about it, globally.

But, I suppose most haven’t even realized the question yet and so will not hear it if it were posed.  What is the human purpose that all this increasingly powerful technology is going to be put to the use of?  Implicitly, our answer right now is: “consumer happiness”.

I’m not saying it’s wrong, but I do think it would probably look different if it were written up in a global “Declaration of Human Purpose”.

It’d be interesting for a purpose to unite and drive humanity as a whole.  Lot’s of the entrenched would be against such a thing.  And anyway, lots of others too, because nothing’s ever going to be unanimous.  What would constitute a global “voice”?

I just bet we’d know it when we heard it.  Lennon, you poor bastard.

In any case, can I propose a “worthy” “Human Purpose”?  Hey, I got one.  Total PR stuff, but it might contain a nugget of truth anyway: “human happiness”.

It’s all in the distinction between “human” and “consumer”.  But, if you get down to it, isn’t “consumer” just one half of a coin with “creator” occupying the other side?  Does getting rid of the “consumer” simultaneously rid us of the “creator”?  Tough one.  We all want to get paid.  That’s fo’ sho.

I guess we’re just going to have to wait for the “manufacturing” and “service” industries to become trivially replaceable with some sort of IT infrastructure.  There’ll still, in this version, be the “smart” jobs.  But I don’t know of any population comprised of 80% smarties.  I mean, what’s our acceptable unemployment rate?  What’s our equation for determining the “unemployable”?

If you want to get ahead of the curve you have to ask yourself “what is important [to human’s]?”.  The answer is meaning and pleasure.  You could even say “nostalgia”.  “Nostalgia” will be an important commodity in the future.  The possessors of it will be “rich”.  “Nostalgia” will be the ambrosia that nourishes a diminishing core all the more hungry for it.

I’ll leave defining “nostalgia” in computer science as an “exercise for the reader”.  I’d give the definition, but the answer won’t fit into this type font.

I’d like to end with something substantial.  For instance, as we program matter to conform to the shape of the expectations of the functioning of our brains, we in fact bleed mind out into the world and expand the sphere of “mindship”.

Minds will one day hunger for barrier free access to raw information everywhere.  They will understand what that means and will ache for it.  In such a way minds will connect.

Metadata will be a sort of currency.  Metadata will take part in a flow of transformation and elaboration.  Metadata is an artifact of interpretation.   It is like the calcification of an interpretation.  The interpretable calculus formed by some dynamic flow behind the scenes.  An interpretation that grew out of and was once connected to a flow of meaning while also informing interpretation-forming flows of meaning.

Generally speaking, it is a system that is expanding outward through the evolution of “technology”, which is just engineered matter used in the service of the aims of life.  Which is to say that techno devices and the systems that promote their refinement and manufacturing are part of the bodies of modern human beings.

Antique Perspectives!  Beautiful building blocks for use in any future identity.  Opensource philosopherstones.  Look at how the surface has cracked with age.  But still, iridescent meaning sometimes still shines through!

Total Desk Idea

Sit Japanese style with monitor in front and keyboard resting on knees.  Monitor is angled and the BACK of the monitor is a touch surface corresponding to the surface of the front facing monitor.  Moving your fingers over the surface moves a cursor for each finger.  Pressing into the slightly malleable surface performs the equivalent of “click”, except with modifications based on number of fingers used, configuration, etc.

Requires some thought into the subtleties of the posture and the angles and heights.  But ingeneral I consider it to be a sound mid-term interface to interact with information.

But, longer term, the best strikes me as sitting upright (lotus or seiza) with some sort of direct visual feed (Google Glasses, et cetera) and gesture based interfaces in a 3d operating system/”desktop” workspace.  Gesture, being, ideally, eye movement, slight finger movement, etc.  A scenario tweaked to maximize the bandwidth between user and used.  For instance, towards achieving an ideal marriage between kinesthetics and vision, I would position the “visible field” as always being between the hands.  This might actually be physically disorienting at first, like a fever, because sitting upright and looking somewhat forward, your visual field would be filled with the “user interface” which would itself be surrounded by some “virtual hands” that do exactly what your hands do yet are up as if you were holding your arms out (gorilla arms), except your arms will themselves be hanging at your sides and your hands will be working with a small (chi ball) space in your lap.  I don’t know if you can get a feel for what that would feel like, but I sense it would take some getting used to.

And in just the same way, I imagine the OS would be adapting itself to the user.  Ahh, it’ll be nice to get out of these Dark Ages of inferior interfaces with information.  Imagine how bright the world will be when our curiosity can directly frolic in meaning itself.  This will be possible when the OS and the technology disappear entirely [and socially antagonizing factors] and the reality of the thing bakes itself into our very bodies (DNA, et cetera).  But then, we’ll be radically different too (those socially antagonizing factors will doubtless rear their heads here [and against many dystopias, thankfully!]).

How we’ll be different is the really difficult thing to predict.  It’s the same as wondering how will this process change us as we drive its change?  From the process’ perspective, it is “wondering” (oriented towards) how will these people change me as I change them?

Anyway, little bit passed the “Total Desk Idea” now.  Or, am I?…  In the post-PC era, perhaps the old “desktop” metaphor for OS UI’s is a little outdated, but that’s not even approaching whether or not the idea might be antiquated in terms of those “wooden desks”, too.  A desk is a workspace for “information”.  Just as a workbench is a workspace for “wood and metal”.  As the information media changes, our workspace changes accordingly.  I think it’s probably been said before, but even as traditional desktops were ported into electronic virtual spaces, electronic virtual spaces are replacing desktops.

As paper shuffling wanes and traditional bit shuffling waxes one wonders what comes next in the cycle.

Wizardry, perhaps.  Which, today, for me, means something like: Socratic sign language programming.  And our desk becomes an embodied API we’ve built with the world that we carry around “in our minds” as a representation and its infrastructure (in quotes, because really our minds will be partly composed of it, not containers of it [but also accurate, in my reckoning, because to be of something is to contain that something, which is to say, with Aristotle, that A is A and that “of” and “contain” in this sense are equal]).  Like a neuron sending out dendrites, we’ll “code” or buy “ready-made” implementations of public-resource interfaces (information, computation, reasoners, 3d printing, et cetera).

And in this sense our identity will further extend outwards while also solidifying internally.  But that’s an esoteric angle concerning wave/particle duality and the nature of “what is“, so I wouldn’t worry about it just yet.

Spellcaster Programming

Programming:

Embedding your intention towards a world of data structures in that world of data structures.

Magic:

Embedding your intention towards the world of matter in the world of matter.

So, you could say, that as computers become more efficacious in the world of matter programmers become more like wizards (or, more boringly, “engineers” [the problem with “engineers” is most of them have no appreciation for the own-tail-eating principle {self-reference 8}]).

But would-be wizards need not wait to start spelling magic.  Semantic Wizardry is really revin’ up.  It may not be your final destination but at least it’s a visible path.

Semantic Wizardry

Embedding your intention to embody meaning in meaning.

So… what’s the purpose of semantic wizardry?  What are semantic wizards after?  Buildable experience (BE).  I use that phrase instead of artificial intelligence (AI) and its ilk so as to emphasize just what I mean.

But if “buildable experience” is what a semantic wizard is wandering towards, then what does programming bits and pixels today have to do with that?  By programming an interface over information the programmer is in fact “building an experience” with/for the user.  Each user will themselves construct their own experience withe interface as some product of the collision of their nature withe interface’s nature (8).  ‘Course, “interesting” accelerates when you’re user and programmer.  Indeed, it must be quickened thus.  Hear, ken.

But isn’t all this abstract?  Actual programming doesn’t have the texture of “casting spells” does it?  It couldn’t!  Dealing with all that math and whatnot.  Hmmph!

Calm down.  The feeling of casting spells comes down to sensing the mystery (or whatever, YMMV) in defining things in terms of other things meant to represent them in such a way as to enact “do worthy” intentions.

Managing communication between wizards is just as important as the hurling of fireballs and often amounts to the same thing and is always just as opentomagic.

Enabley

The Enabler enables the Enablee in the Enabley Academy of Enabling, founded circa 10,000 BCE.

By what sort of things does the Enabler enable the Enablee?  For example:

Enablee (Ee): “It hurts when I type and mouse all day every day.”

Enabler (Er): “Show me you type and mouse.”

Ee: (typing and mousing)

Er: “There are many details you can do differently to minimize the pain of chronic computer interaction based on what I just saw.  We’ll get to that.  First, I offer an orienting perspective.  The difficulty with sitting in a chair for hours a day while interacting with the computer through mouse and keyboard or whatever is that to hold ourselves upright we have to tense all sorts of muscles across our entire body.  Add to that the strain of pressing the keys or clicking and flicking the wireless mouse with two heavy AA batteries 1000 times a day.  As chronically called upon muscles fatigue and overextend themselves they are damaged.  Since the pattern of seated mousing & typing is repeated each day with infrequent exception, the muscles never completely heal in the midst of being damaged further.  This can happen for a long while while being unconsciously compensated for.  But eventually the automatic decision makers can’t hide from the “user” (that’s us) the fact that there is damaged tissue.  Something always hurts when I move like this.  The idea is to become very conscious of our bodies, area by area, surface by surface, so that we can feel, in real time, the pain flare and subside as we consciously tense & relax.  Simultaneously we can find/engineer postures (for our usual environments) that create the least overall neutral strain while also enabling free, less effortful movement within the range of the keyboard and mouse or whatever.  Then, once we can remain in this posture for 20-minute tomatoes, let’s work on moving with our breath while in the less effortful place.  Many people don’t realize that the breath moves the body, or, more directly, breathing is movement of body.  If we are still while we breath it is because we are resisting the motion of the breath (middle, lower back).  Or we’re breathing very shallowly (shoulders).  Tantalizingly, I can imagine successively activating muscle groups in ascending patterns that mimic a musical scale, so as to “wear level” requests for enabling movement.  Lastly, we’ve all somehow gotta find ways to occasionally string together 2 and 3 day spans wherein we aren’t typing or mousing or sitting in chairs overmuch.  The ideal, so far as I’ve ranged, is to divide time into 20 minute (or whatever) blocks of time where I try to keep the posture and move with my breath while lightly engaging top-of-the-line input devices, seated comfortably, with everything at an appropriate height.  Between the 20 minute (or whatever) intervals, I get up, do a forward bend, or whatever.  I mean, I just do something, whatever my environment permits.  I switch it up throughout the day and days.  If set patterns are your thing, try and make a big planned out thingamajig.  There are only 27 slices of 20 mins in a 9 hour period.  Which, with all things considered probably only amounts to 20 or fewer actual opportunities for a “20-minute tomato”.  That’s 20 post-“20-minute tomato”es to string together into Mon-Tues-Wed-Etc specific arrangements.  Maybe follow a 10 minute tomato with a 20 minute tomato with a 30 minute tomato with a 20 minute tomato with a 10 minute tomato.  Mix it up.  You’re the director, Ee.  Now to those details specific to you.  On our way, let’s discuss the general principles of human anatomy, especially in relation to posture, to build a frame for communicating an adequate analysis and set of recommendations…”

Er: “Bonus enabler!  We are our own Enabler (mind) enabling (being) our Enablee (body), if you will.”

Windows 8

Another problem with Windows 8.  So, I had a Skype meeting.  I loaded Skype, was asked to update to “improve my experience”.  Okay.  That sounds like a great deal!  Woohoo!

It installs and opens and the icon I had pinned to the taskbar disappeared.  Probably something to do with the icon cache?  Blah.

If that were it, that’d be nothing much.  A minor blip.  Course there is the death by the thousand cuts and there are a lotta “minor blips” in my Windows experience.  But whatever, I have a high platelet count, so I don’t bleed to death from these little cuts.

Then I quite Skype because I was going to reopen with a different account.  I coulda logged out, but I closed it.  I still had the iconless taskbar pinned item.  So I clicked it.  Program can’t be found.  Obviously Skype put the executable in a new location.  So I go to my desktop.  Not there either.  I go to Windows 8’s “Start Screen”.  Not there either.

So, how do I open Microsoft’s Skype now?  Imagine I’m not a computer expert that knows to look in either “Program Files” or “Program Files (x86)”.  How do I open Microsoft’s program on Microsoft’s operating system since they had the “foresight” to get rid of the the Start Button???  That useful repository for what was actually on my computer that I care vaguely about.  Makes me realize Windows 8 really is just an experiment.  “We’ll get it right in Windows 9, and be damned to all those who are stupid enough to pay to be our bug testers.”

I get so sick of dealing with these naiseries by billion dollar companies.  And they constantly happen.

God I can’t wait until I can vote with my dollar and give money to a company that comes along that is actually able to manage the complexity of a software ecosystem.  Microsoft and Apple suck.