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The Question of Computers

9 The Question of Computers

Ah, my favorite chapter. {:)}=

This is where the future is. Not just the DISTANT future- but the near future as well.

But face it: Computers suck at giving us the detailed and speedy drawing capabilities we need to think fluidly on paper. It just takes way too long to diddle with selecting text, changing font size and colors, quality, and lets not even talk about drawing, even IF you are armed with a WACOM.

For anything that requires small levels of drawing power, you're pretty much going to have to ignore the computer.


What are the most tedius parts of the system?

Of those three, the first two take up about 90time, and are major pains in the ass!


Maps is a little more difficult, because it requires some drawing power. However, I believe that map construction too can be safely taken over by the computer.


During the day, you use the ultra-convenient (but in the present pure paper notebook system, dangerous) pan-subject speeds. You don't number them, you just keep them.

Then, at night, you go to your computer, and, with your mad 133t typing skills, quickly transcribe the pan-subject speeds (which are 90went our icons and images...). You run the magic program, and bam!

It spits out updated pages over your printer.

You take out the pages, hole punch 'em, and put them into your binder. Yah!

The speed lists that come out are ULTRA-DENSE, but in a READABLE size (that you chose). With columns, you're fitting 100 speeds to the page!

And when you want to split a subject into pieces, you just tell the computer where you want your speeds to go:

   13 Eth
   19 Spt
   43 Eth
   44 Eth
   49 Imgn
   51 Imgn
   62 Eth
   93 Eth
   121 Spt

That could mean, "In Mental Technique, regarding the Speed thoughts, send #13 to Ethics, #19 to Spirit, #43 to Ethics, #44 to Ethics, #49 to Imagination, #51 to Imagination, #62 to Ethics, #93 to Ethics, #121 to Spirit..."

So much Faster!

Right now, doing that work will require at least 10, maybe 20 minutes, as you write the speed thoughts allllll over again.

Such speed! Such automation!

And the best part is:

This isn't complicated AT ALL!

A programmer of 1 YEAR could do this!

Do it in C# or Python. Hell, you can use ``using Word;'' and command Word to write the text in, and perform the printout.

I've thought a little about the architecture of such a program, I'll describe it in just a moment, in a ``Geek Block''. If you are not a programmer, just skip it when we get there. If you ARE a programmer, and you think you might want to implement this, READ THAT SECTION.

And it's NOT just about the Speed Lists-

Put your POI titles in there too!

And put your REFs in there too!

If there's a TOC for it, put it in there!

It can print out high quality laser printer ultra-info-density tables for us. Just imagine having all of that power on a single page, and so quickly!

Let me tell you something:

I LOVE my notebook system. You already know that. And I wouldn't switch my paper notebook system for my old computer systems, ever.

But the hybrid I am describing- the hybrid will tap the incredible power that the computer system has. What's that power?

RAW SPEED. It's Low on Quality, (and sadly, for POI's and RS's and REF entries, that's the real killer, despite the speed.) but it's FAST.

I used to capture HUNDREDS of thoughts per day, EASILY, with my weird file. It's just so damn easy to control-tab into a text buffer and start yakking away. Next thing you know, you've control-tabbed back and you didn't even notice you were gone. You DIDN'T have to fish out a page. You DIDN'T have to open a binder. You DIDN't have to pick up a pen. You just started yacking. And it was stored. You didn't even think about it afterwards.

So many thoughts.

The problem was that you couldn't make diagrams and stuff, and there was no way to map.

But we have an interface to those capabilities, namely, the Printer.

So I have high hopes for THE HYBRID.

But WAIT! There's MORE!

After that- After we have this system going, which will get rid of just ENORMOUS quantities of the LABOR of the systemm, and bring in SO many missed thoughts-

It gets even better!

After this is going on- We can build something cooler.

We've already taken the TOC's and Speeds of our hands. Next to go is:

The MOCs!

...(breeze and tumbleweed)....

The MOCs? But aren't they ... Graphical?

Doesn't that mean... Graphical input? Isn't that what the computer can't do well?

Well, yes, that's true.



That is, we are drawing LINES, and changing the signs of TEXT, and using a FEW STANDARD ICONS.

With some UI work, I believe strongly that we can make this program, and make it easy to use to boot.

It'll be easier to use than Dia or Visio. How can that be? Because we are performing a LIMITED set of STANDARD operations on our maps.

I believe those operations are VERY finite, and can be mapped over key combinations very easily. It shouldn't be hard.

AND IT CAN BE MADE TO INTEROPERATE WITH THE PRECEEDING SYSTEM- that is, they system that just maintains TOCs and Speed Lists.

Imagine this:

You open up the ``mapping'' program, and are faced with the GSMOC.

You see the GSMOC, and in the distance, in the distance are floating the ``unplaced'' ideas, in a long list. But you aren't concerned about that right now; Your strategy tabs are reminding you that it's really important that you are focusing on Global Knowledge Infrastructure right now. ``Ah, yes.''

You click on GKI and find yourself within the next map, the GKI. You see the front page map, and you see a bunch of unplaced thoughts in a list.

You start clicking and dragging the thoughts through the map. You can even doubly or tripply place them, if you have multiple views on the same subject, and naturally thoughts apply in multiple places.

You can build wormholes in empty space pointing to other worm holes. You can access a clipart library, and place clipart in.

You can hide or show text for speeds. If you roll your mouse over an iconified speed, the entire text of the speed appears in a window. You can click the speed to switch between ``titled'' and ``iconified'' form.

With this tool, you never have to redraw a map, because the blemishes have built up.

And when you are done with a session, the printer will print out the updated pages, so that you can keep the physical notebook current.

If you are carrying a subject with you, you can then access your beautiful maps, and show them to people, and quickly use them in the heat of a conversation.


I think that's awesome!

I want to do it!

I want it!

The first program is EASY. The second one is a LITTLE MORE DIFFICULT. A UI Master could really help build the 2nd.

But the first: A First Year Programmer could do it, ALONE, without too much trouble.


If this was done, the notes system may take so little labor, that we might not even be paralyzed by it.

Or not. After all, I don't necessarily know that it's the LABOR of the system that induces paralysis. It may very well be that "map switching" is still cumbersome, and induces mental paralysis, or that the mere fact of taking the notes is interruptive enough to induce mental paralysis.

I don't know.

But, I'd like to DO this improved system, and we can FIND OUT for ourselves, first hand.




Let me know if you start a project to implement this system.

I may start implementing it myself, I may not. Who knows what I'll do after I finish this version of this book. I may revise it. I may go on to work on the programmed system described here. Or I may go on to work on organizing a Visual Lanuage conference here in Seattle.

We'll see what happens.

Finally, (well, not ``finally''- there's still the ``GEEK BLOCK'' to write,) I want to briefly describe this system, as applied in the far future- maybe a decade or two away.

In this far future, we have ``magic paper.'' We have paper that we can roll out, and it has a computer system in it, and we can write on it as if it were paper, and it would work just like paper.

So there would be no difference between physical paper and this magic paper, except that the magic paper is better.

What would the notebook system be like?

Well, it's a little hard to say. I hope the hybrid system, once completed, and then once evolved beyond what I can see right now, will have more to say about that.

But basically, the binders could be eliminated completely.

Here's my wish list for the future system.

In turn:

Multi-categorization: I am ASTONISHED by how many ``MODERN'' notebook systems allow you to write your thoughts, and then...

...throw them into a category tree.

Really. You should be able to throw them into zillions of category trees and maps.. And not by a ``directory tree'' mouse navigation system, but with speedy tab-completions and smart DWIM (to handle typos and stuff). And you should be able to navigate to all of the maps that the thought participates in quickly.

Because UI mechanisms are in their infancy these days, it's understandable that you can't throw thoughts into maps. But there's poor excuse for not being able to throw them into multiple tree structures. It's just so EASY to implement, and yet ALL of these ``award winning'' computer notebook systems don't let you do it.

I mean, I've done it. I made the weird file. And a casual Internet browser (and later friend) made a simple program that interpreted my weird fine, and drew up the category trees. It was neat: I downloaded his program, and could navigate my thoughts! Wow! Cool! So it's definitely not complex.

So dammnit; If they put in all these cool features in the next decade or two, the least they can do is allow very simple multi-categorization..!

Scroll Wheels:

Call me a luddite, but I do believe there are times when physical things ARE better than just drawings of them on a computer screen.

I'd like a nice physical scroll wheel on the left side and on the bottom side (or whatever- just pick two perpendicular sides) that I can scroll to move about the screen.

Maybe not my brightest idea. Maybe it'd be better to put the "hand grab" button on the pen itself.

INFINITE Canvas and Zoom Dial:

Okay- again- maybe the zoom dial isn't the best idea.


If you can pan and zoom easily, then there is no reason to limit the size of a paper.

Now, slightly more radical:

I'd like to be able to zoom in and out infinitely.


I'd like to be able to fit an entire world in the dot of a lower case ``i''.

Or I'd like to be able to zoom in, and the GIGANTIC words fade away, and are replaced with the zoom in of the contents beneath.

I really want this, because I'd like to pack LOTS of detail. I'd like to have a big 2d diagram that is an overview of a system, and then zoom in on a portion, and see THAT system in it's entirety. You should be able to say, ``Visible within depth range 1000-100'', and then content smoothly alphas into oblivion outside of that zoom range.

So there.

The color wheel may have been dumb, but THAT wasn't.

* Multicolor/font selections on the pen.

I don't know why the Wacom pen doesn't have any buttons or a selector on it. Wh o wants to move the the pen over to the side of the screen to change color? Just flip a switch. You can switch between 4 settings, perhaps: Red, Blue, Green, and Black. (Whoah! So original!)

* Text OCR to dimensions, font, quality, italics and bold (style)

The OCR needs to discriminate the DIMENSIONS of text that it is ``nice-ifying'', and try to match font as well. It should recognize italics. If you are pressing hard on the pen, it should be bold.

If possible, it would be neat if it could simulate distortion- if you write sloppily, the text would come OUT a little sloppily.

People assume that we want all text to look nice. In reality: WE DON'T! Most don't know it consciously, but when you are thinking about something seriously, YOU WRITE BETTER. And when you are thinking offhand, YOU WRITE SLOPPILY. And when you look at the page, YOU CAN DISCRIMINATE GOOD FROM BAD by the QUALITY OF THE TEXT.


Thus, it would be good if the OCR system can detect "degree of sloppiness", and then simulate the sloppiness after it's done it's OCR thing.

Of course, there is going to be text sooo sloppy, (or context sooo unsure), that the OCR system can do nothing but leave the input as it was. Se la vi.

Sometimes I can't read my own handwriting. How could OCR? Se la vi.

* square<-->sloppy niceness tools.

Finally, I want a setting on the pen for when you are drawing. On the pen, you flip the switch, (or maybe it's on the paper, whatever), and now the system knows to ``nicify'' what you are drawing.

You draw a sloppy square, it renders a square square. Sloppy circle to circle circle. Sloppy oval to oval oval. Sloppy poly to nice poly. Nice nice nice. Even sloppy text to nice text. (It would turn off the ``distortion detection''.)

That helps you build maps and stuff.

* Icon Programability.

As our visual language grows and grows, our references to icons and clip art will likely grow and grow.

You will need to be able to say, "When I draw a sloppy circle with a sloppy arrow pointing roughly to the right inside of the sloppy circle, I want you to replace it with this nice pre-established green pristine circle with a precice standard arrow pointing exactly to the right inside of the green pristine circle."

Or, ``If I draw the kanji for a man in here'' (-that's just two subtle strokes-), "I want an nice icon of a man to appear here in it's place, sized to the dimensions of the kanji, and line balanced evenly with the rest of the nice text on this page."

Okay. So. You've seen my laundry list. That's the far future. With luck, it's within the next 2 decades.

When these days arrive- what great things we can do! What coordination we will be capable of! What collaboration!


We will be able to THINK with NEW CLARITY, and GAIN from the THINKING OF OTHERS.

Finally, at the end of the chapter, is the Geek Block.


A possible architecture for TODAY.

I would code it in C# or Python.

               system resources
                    |             TXT XML YAML SQL
     by file        |           ___/___/___/____/
         \          |          /
          INPUT----()---Database Access--+-- Lists
         /         |                     \-- Entrees
    by GUI/CLI     |                     \-- Subjects/IDs
                   |                     \-- Output Configuration
                 |    |                      .
          changed    duplicates
           pages |    |                   '
                 |    |                .
         --------------------       .
          Page Output System  -  -
           |           |
         .doc        .txt

You can input by file (changes), or by GUI/CLI (invocation, diognostics, output requests).


Change requests:

Output requests:




Abstract the database system. May want to use pure interfaces, or a bridge pattern.

Can use XML, YAML, SQL, TXT file, or whatever, to be the form of the database.

I myself would go with YAML.

The database keeps track of your lists (TOCs, speed lists), the entrees in the lists (Speeds, TOC entries; their contents, hints, and titles), the subjects and their abbreviations, and the present output configuration (txt? doc? rtf? font? size? color? blahblahblah?).


START SIMPLE. While you could do a lot of cool tricky output things, I'd start dirt simple. For a word.doc output, just say "2 columns, point 8 text, tabbed, fit 70 to the page."

Don't worry about making optimal use of space for now- that gets tricky when you start updating speeds- making some longer- and then text rolls over onto the next page, and then that page might roll over, and you have to keep track of which pages need reprinting and which don't- yadda yadda yadda.

Just keep it dirt simple for this first trial.

And that's about it!

It's really a VERY simple program!

And it helps you out SO MUCH!


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