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July 30, 2008

How to run a revolution, in five easy steps
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:10 PM *

My friend Emma Jane Hogbin has been building a plan to dominate the world (as soon as she finishes her latest knitting project). And like anyone with really well organized global domination plans, she has a slide pack and google video.

I finally sat down and watched them the other day. I mean, she’s my friend and future overlord, so it was of interest. She’s got a lot of thought-provoking material about how to take over the world with free and open source software (her aim), and how to get women more involved in its development and use (in furtherance of said domination). I gather that this latter subject is being heavily discussed on the linux community right at the moment (even in blog posts that reference us too, because it’s a small internet).

The last section of her talk, though, struck me for its general applicability. The five steps she describes can change the world, in whatever direction. (Note that the headers are hers, but the riffs on them are mine.)

1. Live in the future
As Alasdair Gray said, “Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.” Demonstrate how livable in the future you want to build is by doing it. This also means, of course, that you’re already walking the walk, and that makes the talk so much more believable.
2. Do one thing different
There is an old saying that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Don’t worry about the whole journey; just take that step. The second one will be easier, because you have momentum.
3. Ask for help
Lone heroes and villains are for comic books. You change the world by getting other people involved, so your effort grows from insanity and love, through organization and into movement.
4. Empower people [to make mistakes]
People learn more by the mistakes they make, and recover from, then by the ones they don’t make. Besides, if other people are allowed to screw up without fanfare, then you get to do so as well. And that’s always useful.
5. Clearly transfer authority
This, as phrased, is specific to the movements that enable previously powerless groups. At a certain point, you have to let the local security forces take over, or let women make childbirth choices you wouldn’t, or watch the students exceed the master.
More generally, you have to pick the time when your effort is no longer needed, and bow out gracefully then.

(Please note that if this thread turns into another pointless brangle, I am going to crossbreed it with the previous one and require all posts on the contentious subject to be in verse. Or something equally evil and oppressive.)

Comments on How to run a revolution, in five easy steps:
#1 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:14 PM:


Umm ... What's step two?

#2 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:17 PM:

pedantic peasant @1:
Umm ... What's step two?

Collect underwear differently?

#3 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:18 PM:


Sorry Abi,

I see now that two is nested in one .. i just missed it when skimming the headings.

Cool ideas ...

#4 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:21 PM:

Yes, there does appear to be a formatting error on 2.

Those steps make a ton of sense.

#5 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:23 PM:

Ah, I see it in the html.

My free and open source browser corrected for it in the display. (polishes halo)

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:33 PM:

Those are wonderful rules, but they wouldn't work in corporate America. Rather, management wouldn't welcome such rules. That doesn't prevent me from telling our users never to be afraid to ask me questions. It's far better for us all if they base their specs on correct assumptions, than on false assumptions they were afraid to question because of programmers who make them feel like idiots for not knowing.

#7 ::: Sajia Kabir ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:37 PM:

Sajia Heterodyne Dupree
wanted the whole world to be free
to sing unrehearsed opera in public
and recycle oil from plastic
to remix Captain Planet vids with old-school rap music
to dance like ballerinas on elastic
and hold college classes under oak and banyan trees
and make the polar caps refreeze
and learn each others' languages (not just English)
where the best of all cultures could flourish.

#8 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:46 PM:

Our dear overlord Emma Jane Hogbin
Will change the world we live in.
She will give us all new tools
Embedded in five clear basic rules.

(Clerihews: the cheater's way around limericks.)

Oh, wait -- here it comes:

Our dear overlord Emma Jane Hogbin
Will change the world which we live in;
Giving us all the tools
In five clear basic rules,
Then sitting back to watch us all grin.

#9 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 12:53 PM:

I can't decide whether there's no rule number six for the obvious reason, or whether rule number seven should be "Profit!"

Oh, hey...why not both?

#10 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 01:05 PM:

Ah, but profit as an objective is evil.

Profit -- as a side effect of some other objective, like 'manufacture better socks' or 'make commercial tomatoes taste like tomatoes' or 'make some really good bicycles' -- can certainly be necessary, but that doesn't make it good.

The increase in the realizable scope of choice is good.

#11 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 01:14 PM:


Is this at all related to this guy's Brief Guide to World Domination? It looks like the same kind of ideas.

IMO, one of the best ways to get fast progress in any area is to make the tools accessible and available for as many people as possible to tinker with and play with at every level of skill. This hits on 3, 4, and 5. The street finds its own uses for technology, and just like with biological evolution, cultural evolution is in some sense smarter than you are, and will have its own direction that may be quite different from what you had imagined.

The alternative model is that you have big, well-funded folks that try to get the best and brightest working on them--NASA building spaceships, Intel building new processors and fabs to make them in great quantities, etc. But the society will only manage to fund a few such large efforts at any given time, and realities of internal politics (the Peter Principle, Pournelle's Iron Law, the agency problem, broken information flow, messed up internal incentives) will break a lot of those efforts.

The second model has another problem: It's inherently based on gatekeepers. If NASA has to hire an engineer, they're going to have a very clear idea what a NASA engineer looks like. Maybe that's white Protestant men with a white shirt and a tie. Maybe that's anyone who graduated in the top 10% of their class at MIT or Caltech in EE. But it will inevitably be an imperfect image.

The first model has much less in the way of gatekeeping. You don't have someone deciding who is to be allowed to learn to program. ("Sorry, you can't be taught programming, you got a C in calc. Besides, everyone knows girls aren't any good at programming.") Instead, everyone who wants it gets access, as nearly as anyone can manage, and people gravitate to their interests, follow their talents and their loves. This permits the development of funny-looking meritocracies, and avoids the situation in which all the participants in some effort are cookie-cutter copies of one another, having been filtered to have the same education and background and life experiences and beliefs and assumptions.

#12 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 01:16 PM:

Shorter me:

cathedrals are static
times of progress benefit
from bazaars instead

#13 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 01:16 PM:

I, for one, welcome our new overlord-hating overlords.

#14 ::: Tracey S. Rosenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 01:45 PM:

I clicked back a few pages on Emma's blog but I don't see her latest knitting project. I think we need to know what it is because this could affect the global domination timescale. I mean, if she's knocking off a baby hat - wait, bad image - if she's knitting a baby hat, then world domination will probably happen by the time I finish dinner, but if we're talking knitted moss borders, I've got time to paint the bathroom.

#15 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 01:48 PM:

albatross @11:

I don't know whether Emma Jane has read, or was referencing, that. My riffs on her points didn't consciously do so, but I think that there is a level of collective and cultural consensus on these matters.

Of course, that makes me want to get all contrarian and do something else.

#16 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 01:57 PM:

Tracey @14:
Emma Jane has been doing lace shawls lately. Plan on double coating, and make sure you clean your brushes*.

* I met EJ through my bookbinding website. We're both big on brush care. And she's going to rule the world.

#17 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:06 PM:

(Please note that if this thread turns into another pointless brangle, I am going to crossbreed it with the previous one and require all posts on the contentious subject to be in verse. Or something equally evil and oppressive.)

Well you can just brangle
threads into a tangle
Well you can scream and shout
and fight it all out
But you won't fool with abi's revolution
No you won't fool with abi's revolution, no no no

#18 ::: Tracey S. Rosenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:10 PM:

Abi @16:

Lace shawls?? *worships* I'm still figuring out what 'knit into the back of the stitch' means.

#19 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:19 PM:

Tracey, 18: See how your stitch is sitting astride your needle? One leg is on your side of the needle, one leg on the back side. Now put your needle into the back leg of the stitch and knit it. See how it's twisted now? Cool, huh?

#20 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:28 PM:

Or, put the righthand needle through the stitch like you're going to purl, but behind the lefthand needle, then knit the stitch.

Don't worry, it's really easy. (If all else fails, this is probably covered in 'Knitting for Dummies'. Srsly. It's a handy reference.)

#21 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:28 PM:

#18, Tracey -

I knew how to knit for nearly twenty years before I learned that.* I still have the potholder I was knitting when I figured it out. The stitches go from slanty and corkscrewing around the piece (where I was knitting into the back of the stitches) to upright and parallel. It makes me smile every time I see it.

*I taught myself to knit at eleven and thought you knit in the back with the yarn in back and purled in the front with the yarn in front.

#22 ::: Tracey S. Rosenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:43 PM:

*pulls out needles and casts on with random stash yarn* Whoohoo! Now I can increase. Thank you, guys!

TexAnne @19 : that's a really simple yet eloquent way to put it.

PJ @20: Thanks, I'll look for KfD. As my completed projects have either been straight-back-and-forth (scarves) or rib stitch + decreasing (hats) it hasn't been a skill I was forced to practice.

R.M. @21: hee!

Er, sorry, Abi.

#23 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:51 PM:

RM @ 21

I taught myself to knit and had to have my mother teach me how to do it so the knit stitches weren't twisted. I think I was running the yarn wrong way around the needle. (Hey, it was mumble years ago, I don't really remember any more.)
I still hold the yarn in my left hand. The tension sucks, but it works for me, and I can't figure out how to do it with the yarn wrapped around assorted fingers - on either hand - before it gets to the business end of the needle.

#24 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 02:54 PM:

Serge @ 6

Those are wonderful rules, but they wouldn't work in corporate America.

That's a feature, not a bug. This way corporate America won't achieve world domination any time soon.


I really like Alan Kay's version of 1: "The best way to predict the future is to create it."

#25 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 03:01 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 24... Hmmm. I had not thought of that silver lining.

#26 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 03:03 PM:

A world dominatrix named Emma
created some rules as a lemma
for creating a movement that fosters improvement;
she'll be on the Colbert Report.

#27 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 03:06 PM:

Tracey @22

There's a less visible increase than the knit into the front and back of the stitch increase (though that's a useful one, too.) It's called a "make one" increase, and it's my default unless the pattern calls for something else.

Decent video tutorial here:

#23 PJ Evans

Have you tried combination knitting? It's how I was taught. I find it fast and easy, and it requires carrying the yarn in the left hand.

Abi--ummmmm....long live the knitting revolution?

#28 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 03:21 PM:

Knitting is on-topic, by definition, anywhere on this blog. The tagline trumps all. Besides, it's relevant to the thread (see revolution, timing thereof).

Really, it's like apologising for writing a sonnet.

#29 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 03:55 PM:

abi #2:differently?

Ok, which is it, "different" or "differently"?!

#30 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 03:57 PM:

@ 28... it's like apologising for writing a sonnet

If I wrote one, apologies would have to follow.

#31 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:03 PM:

It wouldn't be a proper revolution without tricoteuses.

#32 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:04 PM:


This is just to say

I have put knitting
into the thread
that was on

and which
you were probably
for serious debate.

Forgive me.
It is my obsession
so habit-forming
and so on.

#33 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:04 PM:

#23, P J Evans - What I've learned recently is that it doesn't matter which way you run the yarn around the needle, but if you run it contrary to expectations, then you have to knit in the back of the stitch to get an untwisted stitch.

# 27, Sarah S -

Combination, or continental? I didn't think combination knitting (see the sidebar) had a requirement to hold the yarn in the left hand. (I held my yarn in the right when I tried it, but maybe I misunderstood?) Continental knitting is one of the names given to the style where you hold the yarn in the left hand. (P J, combination knitting would let you run the yarn around the needle the way you used to, but not get twisted stitches.)

#34 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:05 PM:

Of course knitting is relevant to revolution! What else are the citoyens to do while observing the ancien régime being retired?

#35 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:06 PM:

Can you have a revolution without winding up with a yarn's race?

#36 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:11 PM:

About 75 or 80° off topic: while writing my previous post, I accidentally told Hyperword to translate the entire post, comments, ads, Tom Cobley and all, into French. Now I want a Faire la lumière tee shirt.

#37 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:12 PM:

#33 R.M. Koske

I knit combination while holding the yarn in the left hand. I'm trying to envision (I am at the office, and without yarn) knitting combination with the yarn held in the right hand, but can't quite see it. I'm sure it's possible though.

For the first year that I knit, I thought I was knitting continental (because of the holding the yarn in the left hand thing), and was driven mad by instructions about knitting into the backs or fronts of stitches, and by the fact that my SSKs and my K2togs point the same direction, rather than opposite directions. When I found out that I knit combination, the mists parted.

(Incidentally, in all of Annie's graphics on that site, it looks to me like the working yarn is coming from the left hand, but I'm not great with visuals, so I could be wrong)

#38 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:13 PM:

Serge #35

Wool you stop it?
That's knot the point!

#39 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:22 PM:

Sarah S @ 38... Well, it seemed just plain wrong to have a knitting thread without at least one pun. Was my judgment warped?

#40 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:28 PM:

Serge #39: surely it was wefted? (or woofed, maybe, if the dog barked in the night-time)

#41 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:31 PM:

The notion "profit as an objective as evil" sounds to me akin to the Geek Social Fallacies: that is, I see it as a "nice" exaggerated derivative of a good idea that ultimately holds back the people that adhere to it.

Yes, pursuing profit to the exclusion of all else, or in a way that selfishly hurts others, is wrong. And nonprofits do lots of great stuff. (I work for one at present.) But for-profit enterprises, whether corporate or individual, do a lot more that nonprofits don't do.

I think that if we say to people "you should be ashamed of seeking purely personal rewards in what you do" we may discourage lots of folks who could be moved to do great things that benefit the rest of us as well as themselves. Part of empowering people (#4 in the list above) is giving them the okay to pursue their own interests, which can include profit.

Tor, Google, Red Hat, Six Apart, and the like all exist as for-profit concerns, and have done some great things for the world at large. I don't begrudge whatever profits they might gain from doing those things, or the ways in which profit has helped motivate and fund them.

#42 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:32 PM:

Serge #39

Enough of this ribbing!
Eyelet you get away with it once already.

(You've got me in stitches over here.)

#43 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:37 PM:

#37, Sarah S -

I agree, her graphics show the yarn coming from the left.

To me, combination knitting is all about running the yarn around the needle opposite the way is typically taught, whichever hand you use. The end result is that the leg of the stitch that sits nearest the needle point is in back, not in front.

So as I see it, you can be both a combination knitter and a continental knitter (which is what you do.) I am learning continental, and the only way I can get a purl stitch that I'm happy with is by using a combination method, but I do my knit stitches in the more traditional way.* I usually knit English style (throwing the yarn) and I tried combination knitting in that style. I didn't have any trouble accomplishing it, but it made my knitting unbalanced - the purl stitches weren't the same size as the knit stitches to a degree where it showed, so I gave up combination knitting when I'm throwing.

Maybe that means it does need to be done with the yarn in the left hand to get a good result. Hm. The annoying thing is that I can't remember where I learned it to check if I completely misunderstood or if this is something that depends on your gauge and balance to begin with.

*That means when I'm doing stockinette, I knit into the backs of my stitches and purl into the fronts, and end up with stitches aren't twisted.

#44 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:38 PM:


Thank you for that, John Mark. I've been wanting to say something like that in this thread, but every way I found to state it was less gentle, more annoyed, and less graceful than the way you put it.

I merely add, "Amen. Hallelujah."

#45 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:45 PM:

The moment I stepped away from the computer I realised that the first two lines of #17 don't work at all.

In apology I note that Lennon and McCartney said what I wanted to better and earlier.

(Also why is my bedroom featured in that slide pack?)

#46 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:53 PM:

Neil @45:
(Also why is my bedroom featured in that slide pack?)

Coulda been worse. You could have confessed to the necktie.

#47 ::: emmajane ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 04:53 PM:

response as haiku
I am humbled by your words
speechless, with much thanks

#48 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:05 PM:

I think discussion of the linked material may already be OT, however...

Good points. A social enterprise that's not attractive to women usually has something wrong with it. On the other hand it's hard to engage the the crafting types without simplicity and usability. Those are two of the big weaknesses of FOSS. (And marketing, but at bottom EJH's proposal is a marketing program.) Perhaps usability and appearance design would be areas that women could contribute to FOSS? Or that would engage women? Most of the men working on FOSS don't seem to care about them, or care only in certain narrow ways.

#49 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:16 PM:

Randolph @48:
What is this OT of which you speak? I know not the term.

I think that communities like the crafting community could have some interesting inputs to FOSS.

For instance, how about hijacking a crafting convention for usability testers? You want articulate naive users with a strong aesthetic sense and a deep sense of what makes a good tool. Last time I was in a scrapbooking store, I couldn't swing a cat without hitting three people who fit that description*.

On the other hand, I am hesitant to draw the line between women and men and say that only one side has aesthetic sense, or a priority on design. That's generally a geek/non-geek distinction in my book, and geekery crosses gender lines nicely. There are some women I've met who would stink at interface or interaction design.

* They were all articulate in Dutch, admittedly, but I could tell

#50 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:18 PM:

#48, Randolph -

Simplicity and usability aren't necessarily the same thing as appearance design. I ranted a while back about Linux (isn't that what FOSS is related to/about?) that I can't find the places to learn about it. I don't need a prettier OS, I need an OS that I can either figure out on my own* or learn from the internet using Google.

Which, heck, may be a bar Windows can't pass either, but Windows isn't in the same position.

Usability is the big thing for me and Linux. In a discussion I read recently about Linux and appearance, many people cited having to go to the command line as an issue, and several more said it wasn't the only option to solve the problems that were mentioned, just the one that people who answer questions tend to offer as a solution. If that's true, there may be something there to focus on. I don't want the shortest a to b route. I want the one with the easiest landmarks, and command line does not have easy landmarks, no matter how fast it is once you know it.

But I don't think that's a gendered issue. I can't say anything about Linux from a programming standpoint.

(Won't I feel dumb if FOSS has nothing to do with Linux?)

*No, you can't do that with any of them, but I ought to be able to poke at it and be successful at least occasionally.

#51 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:20 PM:

I left out my favorite thought about making Linux prettier. "I'm a Windows user, I don't trust pretty."

#52 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:21 PM:

RM Koske @50:

Feel not dumb. FOSS = Free and Open Source Software = Linux, OpenOffice, Firefox, etc, etc.

#53 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:23 PM:

RM Koske @ 50... Speaking of Linux, have you seen today's xkcd cartoon?

#54 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:23 PM:

Rule Four: common sense, and thus uncommon,
neglected, undervalued, forgotten --
submerged 'neath a sea of covered asses
who judge the lack of blam'ed error WIN.

"But wait!" cries a lonely, distant voice --
"this is batshit! makes no sense! are you mad?
Cov'ring the error, you won't find a fix.
Only more errors, and asses well-clad."

A bitter pill not dreamt of. Can't be done.
Something in corporate America hates
it more than lies. The PHB prefers
the lies; less work. No waves. And no debate.

So smile wide, and let the lies slip in
Lest ass-veil slip and force admitted sin.

#55 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:26 PM:

Aaah! Many thanks.

I did want to try to participate in the building of KnitML, but I couldn't figure out where to go to begin building the skills to play with it at all. Apparently that's my biggest peeve - if I can't even figure out *where to start*, then you've lost me.

Serge - I did. It isn't sufficiently scary to stop me from considering (don't look abi!) another tilt at the windmill but it does look like a what I'm afraid will happen. Especially the "her wireless hasn't worked for weeks" part.

#56 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:28 PM:

I should say, it looks like what I'm afraid will happen if I ever succeed with Linux. I don't really expect it to be any time soon.

#57 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:47 PM:

abi @46 - Not at all! My camera's missing in Putney, but it runs out if you stick your tie in a scanner, it comes out just fine.

(A friend was downplaying the formality of a supper last week; an online argument about the correctness or otherwise of tie-wearing lead to me wearing this beauty to the event.)

#58 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 05:50 PM:

RM Koske @ 55... My best wishes with the Linux Adventure.

#59 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 06:22 PM:

R. M. Koske @ 56

Munroe is having us on a bit. Unless you really need to dink around with the insides of Linux (and you certainly shouldn't need to, since all you want to do is load it up and use it), most of what you need to do is simple. Perhaps not as simple as it could be, but that's why we need some naive users to beat it up and see what happens.

#60 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 06:27 PM:

On continental and combined knitting: yes, you can do both, that's how I learned. Furthermore I'm a true lefty, so my yarn's in my right hand and the stitches go right needle to left needle. I stopped doing combined because I couldn't control the tension of my purls, so my stockinette was ridged in a manner which I found distinctly unpleasing. Lace is *so* much easier now, too. But I still do uncrossed purls when I'm playing with foofy yarn. The unevenness doesn't show and it's a lot faster.

#61 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 07:42 PM:

R.M. Koske, #50: There's a lot of Linux info online, though some things are only available print. An OS is different to different users; as a programmer I know a very different Mac OS X than as a designer or photographer, so the first question to ask is, "What do you want to do with it?" and that helps you find where to start. BTW, I generally don't recommend Google as a primary study tool; an organized curriculum is usually friendlier to beginners, and the problem of misinformation is much less.

abi, #48: "What is this OT of which you speak? I know not the term." It's an abbreviation for Off Topic. Hey, wait, did you just steal my leg? I think hijacking a crafting convention for usability testers is an excellent idea, but am uncertain as to what the test design would look like. With UI testing one must first have something with a UI for your testers to use, and I'm not sure what app one would try crafters on.

#62 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 08:24 PM:

R. M. Koske @ 55: I took the wifi thing to be a further joke on the switch to gentoo. Gentoo linux users being infamous for living on the broken edge and obsessively recompiling things just because they can.

Wireless is a sore spot with linux because wifi and 3d graphics acceleration are the two areas of mainstream hardware with the worst, obstructionist support. But "hasn't worked in weeks" implies it did work at some point, which suggests she broke it herself and hasn't gotten around to making it work again.

#63 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 08:32 PM:

Ralph Giles @ 62

which suggests she broke it herself and hasn't gotten around to making it work again.

That's the way I interpreted it, and my guess is she's obsessing on something deep in the drivers or the kernel. People who don't do that usually don't break things very badly. People who don't obsess on details in the source code can uaually fix anything they break pretty quickly.

#64 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 08:33 PM:

#58, Serge - Thank you. It likely won't start up again for a while, but I can use all the help I can get.

#59, Bruce -
Munroe is having us on a bit. Unless you really need to dink around with the insides of Linux (and you certainly shouldn't need to, since all you want to do is load it up and use it)

I've lost track - who's Munroe?

What I wanted to do was install a program. I shouldn't need to go under the hood for that, no. Installing a program actually fits neatly into the category "should be able to figure it out by poking at it, with minimal help from Google."

#61, Randolph -
the first question to ask is, "What do you want to do with it?"

I want* to build a homebrew DVR using hardware I've already got. At one time, the answer included "...on an existing Linux box," but I think I'd be better off not putting my complicated and fragile toy on the same box with my husband's complicated and fragile MUSH. Besides which, I get the impression that forcing a DVR to use the hardware I have instead of buying hardware known to be compatible with the available programs is asking for trouble to begin with. No need to compound the issue by using some random flavor of Linux that is also only minimally compatible with the program.

I think I'll invest in a book (probably a brightly colored one whose title insults my intelligence.) I never considered a class. Any advice on how to choose one? Given my choice, I'd rather hit a class that's over my head than a class that's too easy.

The next time I play with Linux, I think I may just boot from a memory stick or CD and surf the web on it for a while. I'd do it tonight, but I can't find the bootable Linux memory stick that I thought I had. I don't know if I've lost it or if my husband reclaimed it from my desk.

*Well, wanted. Now that we've replaced the old, slightly buggy TiVo, my motivation on the project has gone way down.

#65 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 08:33 PM:

#58, Serge (again)

Now that I've thought a moment, I'm imagining a "choose your own adventure" book. But I don't know enough about Linux to make any jokes. Drat!

#66 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 08:40 PM:

#61, Randolph -

For the right crafting convention, you could probably have them swarming all over The Gimp and other image-manipulation programs. Many scrapbookers work digitally, and so do some fiber artists. Plus, taking photos of your work and sharing them on the web is popular with computer-savvy people in all crafts.

Other than that, my guess would be ordinary web applications (browsers, chat, email) and possibly a database or spreadsheet UI if you populated it with the kind of data that showed how it would be useful to crafters. The problem with all of those except chat and browsers is they wouldn't lend themselves well to a casual, drop-in UI test and feedback.

#67 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 08:44 PM:

R. M. Koske, #64: Ah. Look at MythTV. There are a couple of books--you might get them from your local library (possibly on ILL) before purchasing any hardware. MythTV is said to work on Ubuntu, which is said to be the easiest of the Linux distributions for new users.


#68 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 08:45 PM:

TexAnne@#60, THANK YOU. I'm trying to knit a scarf with an eyelashy foofy yarn and I've started, gone 'yuck", pulled it apart and started over about three times, the put it aside for some value of later.

I was taught to knit at 5 or 6 by my best friend's mom, and she was left handed. I've had a few people watch me knit and go 'WTF?" then,"oh,you are knitting left-handed, aren't you?"

#69 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 09:07 PM:

Paula, if you're doing the foofy bit, try garter stitch first. Stockinette will give you a lovely scarf, but you might not want it curled into a cylinder. Of course, if you have enough yarn, you can knit a tube in the round. Twice as warm, and no purling!

#70 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 09:09 PM:

#67 - Randolph -

Yes, MythTV was what I was planning on. And of course, someone bought me a tuner card already, so who knows if it will work or not.

The books are news to me. Thanks!

#71 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 09:10 PM:

RM Koske @ 65... I'm imagining a "choose your own adventure" book

I wonder if xkcd ever did a cartoon about upgrading one's computer as if it were a D&D game.

"The evil wizard is about to turn your O/S into Windows Vista."

#72 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 09:28 PM:

Serge #71:

I swear, I've been here. Fairly recently, in fact.

#73 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 09:39 PM:

albatross @ 72... A couple of weeks ago, the XP o/s of my wife's laptop was sent some upgrades, without being given any choice. I was allowed not to implement the improvements right away so I backed up what I could. With much trepidation, I then let the upgrades be deployed. Only after the reboot was complete did I allow my heart rate to decrease.

#74 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 10:05 PM:

(#64: "Munroe" is Randall Munroe, the creator of XKCD.)

#75 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 10:25 PM:

#74, Bob -

Ah, thank you.

In that case, Bruce, let me say that my fears of Linux being unmanageable have nothing to do with XKCD. I grew them all by my ownself. (And who's to say that I wouldn't learn to love it and be one of those crazy ones at the bleeding edge? Well, okay, probably not.)

#76 ::: Dori ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 10:47 PM:

Are the threads in further fear of collapsing if I point out that Randall Munroe also created

#77 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2008, 11:45 PM:

R. M. Koske, #66: well, the Gimp runs on Windows (sort of), after all. And my experiences with most free graphics apps have been pretty poor--I still remember how frustrated I got with Inkscape. There aren't good CAD apps on Linux that I am aware of, sigh. Rhino is being ported to Mac, but it's a pretty painful process (I know, I'm a beta tester). Linux might follow on...or might not.

Hmmmm. Tough problem.

#78 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 12:17 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) @34: Of course knitting is relevant to revolution! What else are the citoyens to do while observing the ancien régime being retired?

WWMDD: What would Madame Defarge do?

#79 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 01:09 AM:

#36, Bruce: And I want to design it! Just not sure when, though.
It's crunch time in the Death Star trash compactor of my day job.

#80 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 02:22 AM:

Patrick Conners @ 79

If you do a rough sketch, or even a verbal description, I could (in my copious spare time, of course) try to do a mockup. Or, if you can draw dragons (I do wiah I was a better illustrator), there's an idea I had for a Making Light tee shirt that I have not been able to draw well enough. Maybe we could trade.

Randolph @ 77

To be fair, Inkscape is an early beta, and has been for years; I think they use turtles for programmers. They actually do good work; I tried to break it, oh, must be a couple of years ago now, by feeding it a file with just shy of 100,000 vectors in a single path (on a Mac G3, at that). It wasn't fast, but it didnt break. Gimp on the other hand has a worse user interface than Photoshop itself, which must have take some skill.

R. M. Koske @ 75

You may not need to bleed to get what you want done. As Randolph said, Ubuntu is the easiest Linux distro to install and use, for values of "installation" that don't require you to modify the kernel or install exotic drivers, and values of "use" that don't involve running multiple virtual machines simultaneously in order to have several Linux an Windows systems all running together (I do that, and I suffer for it).

In most cases, installing a new software package on Ubuntu is as simple as picking "Software Package Manager" in a menu, picking the package(s) you want to install, and waiting until it's done downloading and installing the version that works on your version of the OS. It even installs the new package in the application menu.

#81 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 02:27 AM:

The first model has much less in the way of gatekeeping. You don't have someone deciding who is to be allowed to learn to program. ("Sorry, you can't be taught programming, you got a C in calc. Besides, everyone knows girls aren't any good at programming.") Instead, everyone who wants it gets access, as nearly as anyone can manage, and people gravitate to their interests, follow their talents and their loves. This permits the development of funny-looking meritocracies, and avoids the situation in which all the participants in some effort are cookie-cutter copies of one another, having been filtered to have the same education and background and life experiences and beliefs and assumptions.

Is there any actual data one way or the other?

There's at least one gatekeeper in the first model -- who has the free time to engage in such activities?

The gatekeeper is ultimately a function of limited resources (i.e, not everybody can be taught C, nor design rockets), and I'm very skeptical it can be got around by the bazaar model, especially given that the ISS is probably more gender and geographically diverse than most FLOSS projects.

The bazaar model hasn't been a great success when it's been put into practice in general, and actual literal revolutions tend to work on the Leninist/Jacobin method.

#82 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 03:55 AM:

Rather, management wouldn't welcome such rules.

Oddly enough, 4 and 5 are pretty much conventional business wisdom these days, though obviously honoured more in the breach than the observance. If you get interviewed for a job and they ask you to describe the biggest mistake you ever made, finessing the answer to sound like all your failures led to greater success is not what they want to hear.

Also, all the books on consultancy have a section about when and how to leave the project.

In practice, it isn't often like that, clearly, but they understand at some level that they'd do a better job if it was.

#83 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 06:55 AM:

#77, Randolph -

I didn't know that the Gimp was only Windows, but if we're talking FOSS in general, doesn't it still fit the mark - FOSS programs that crafters can offer constructive critism on?

If you're drawing this much of a blank it almost sounds like the problem is that there aren't any programs that people who aren't dedicated Penguin-heads can help with. But that doesn't seem possible so I must be not understanding the criteria you're applying to the problem.

#84 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 07:31 AM:

#80, Bruce -

Have we had this conversation before? I ranted about this a while back here, and I don't really want to bore everyone who was there back then. Short recap:

I had an existing Linux box my husband had set up. I needed to know if it would run MythTV. Therefore I needed to know what distro it was running. I spent 45 minutes surfing the web to try to find out how to get it to tell me. Eventually my husband told me what it was and I still couldn't figure out if the program would work because it seemed like his information was in imperial and the websites I was looking at were in metric.

Ubuntu does sound like it is user-friendly, but I don't tend to trust Linux to be that way as a whole*, and since the box I was planning to use wasn't mine, I couldn't install it anyway.

Don't worry about me too much, Bruce. I'm bitter over my bad experiences, but I don't think I'm incurably so. The only thing that will cure me is getting Ubuntu and playing with it. (The MythTV project is on hold until I build the box, and that won't be until September at the absolute, most unrealisitically earliest.) Until I have time to do that, talking with me is a waste of your effort, because all my experiences are still bad ones. You and others have convinced me to not give up, and that starting simple isn't a cop-out on this.

*As part of "Linux as a whole" I'm including "Linux stuff out on the web", which means that just because installing it is easy once I find it, I don't trust the installers out there to work as advertised. (That's happened to me, too. Maybe it's better with Ubuntu.)

#85 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 08:29 AM:

R. M. Koske @ #83: I didn't know that the Gimp was only Windows

It isn't; it's a Linux program mostly. What Randolph meant by "the Gimp runs on Windows" was that it can, in addition, be made to run on Windows. (And what he meant by "(sort of)" - well, you can probably work that one out, right?)

#86 ::: Fishwood Loach ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 08:32 AM:

#80, Keir -

I think part of the problem is that revolutions of the bazaar model in history are not necessarily recognized as such. No government or Church policy/doctrine authorized the Rennaisance or the Enlightenment. Certainly some of the consequences of those periods were large-scale political/forceful revolutions, but no one planned or authorized the changes in society that led to the events.

I think there is some evidence that we are in the *beginning of a similar period. We have had a massive flowering of creativity and private artisanal work/play (increasing exponentially over the last 20-30 years) that has been made possible as unintended side effects of the policies of top-down hierarchies. Governments created and encouraged computers and computer networks, and the extreme wealth of the developed world allowed ordinary people historically unprecedented amounts of free time to engage in personal, non-profit motivated projects (i.e., hobbies).

*Admittedly it is probably next to impossible to see/understand/grok such historic-scale events from inside them. Everyone wants to believe there is something special about their period of time -- makes them special too, right?

#87 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 09:00 AM:

In the interests of making this be not a Linux-only thread, I'm trying to think of other places the five steps can be applied.

The various subsets and versions of the green movement are one place that occurs to me right away. Green movements* that seem to be eligible for the five steps: bicycling, recycling, composting, home gardening, line-drying clothes, electrical conservation, alternative fuels, alternative electrical generation.

Hm. My original thought was that the green movement doesn't like to allow people to make mistakes. recently had an article criticizing some green celebrities for their un-green behavior,** for example. But many of those activities are ones where step four is easy or an obvious thing that you just do. Composting, gardening, drying your clothes - if you make a mistake in these the costs are trivial, and I know that advocates of composting in particular stress that the best way to learn is just do it with a few guidelines and see what happens.

The main issue I see with the others is that either the cost of mistakes is utterly unacceptable (mistakes can kill bicyclists) or else they're systems where the feedback loop is slow or inaccessible to the mistake-makers. If a pizza box in the recycling bin can ruin a batch of paper but the office workers don't ever see that, then letting them make mistakes might be counterproductive. The wrong choice for investment in new electrical generation won't be visible for years, and correction for it is not going to be easy.

No conclusions, sorry, just trying to seed the thread a bit. *grins*

*For some of these "green movement" isn't really accurate in various ways, but I can't think of a better lumping header.

**I think it was intended to be a "no one is perfect" piece, but it didn't seem to be generally received that way, and really, do we need to be told that no one is perfectly green?

#88 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 09:05 AM:

Keir #81:

You're right that there are still filters on participation. But the filters are organic and distributed and often relatively flexible. For example, there's a certain way of thinking and looking at the world that does well with programming, which I think explains why programmers tend to be visibly different from the general population in some areas (such as politics, literary tastes, movie tastes, and sometimes even sexual tastes). I don't see how to fix that in general, though it's worth trying to in specific areas.

But think about the flowering of art in the Renaissance, or the flowering of science in 17th-19th century Europe, or the flowering of tinkering and industry in 19th-20th century Europe and the US. Think about the biotech and computer revolutions now. All these had/have some elements of support from the powerful institutions of their societies, but no boss, nobody really in charge and driving them, no person or small committee deciding who is to be permitted to do art or who is to be permitted to do science.

One aspect of this that's important is that millions of experiments run in parallel. No hiring committee or credential requirement can select geniuses for you, and if you let a million people work on something in parallel, you've a much better chance of getting that one in a million genius (probably just the right person to work on this one problem) than if you first filter the participants down to a few hundred who've gotten the degrees, jumped through the hoops, impressed the hiring committee, and passed the background check. Those few hundred will on average be smarter and better prepared than the million unfiltered participants, but they most likely won't contain the one-in-a-million genius.

#89 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 09:18 AM:

#85, Paul A -

My experience with the Gimp is that it runs just fine on Windows, but I'm usually not doing heavy image manipulation. Since I know it runs on Windows, when he said it "was Windows" I assumed I'd misunderstood and it was not also Linux.

But I'm even more confused about his point now. I interpreted "hijacking a crafting convention for usability test[ing]" as "setting up a station where you can have users sit down and play." Whether you have hour-long panels with small groups of users or a booth in the vendors hall for drop-ins, it seems like a good plan. What difference does it make if the Gimp also runs under Windows if you sit them in front of a Linux box running it?

#90 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 09:30 AM:

RM #87:

If you think in terms of, say, addressing global warming/greenhouse gasses, I think these steps are pretty sensible. Get people involved in discussing what they can do differently, make the tools to work on interesting parts of the problem widely available, and accept that people will do weird crap with those tools that often isn't what you would have done.

I keep thinking that if you want to help along a flowering in any area, the best thing to do is to find a way to put the tools needed to tinker with it into lots of peoples' hands. Write a popularization of the field that leads the small fraction of really interested people into the literature. For example, Bruce Schneier's book Applied Cryptography is a much-criticized popularization of crypto. It encourages lots of amateurs to play around with crypto ideas. It surely has led to a lot of mistakes and bad systems designed by people who didn't know what they were doing. But it's also probably brought thousands of people into the field, and gotten tens of thousands to understand enough of the field to recognize when they need to find a cryptographer to solve some problem, or to recognize that some problem is addressed in the crypto literature. I think most fields tend to have a certain disdain for popularizations. And yet, a good popularization probably drives a great deal of progress in a field.

Similarly, tools, even toys, that put the technology in a lot of hands can drive amazing progress. Probably 99%+ of the cool technical stuff we see on the net today is the direct result of putting personal computers on the desks and kitchen tables of millions of Americans 20+ years ago. Those computers kind of sucked, the tools to use them were often crude and poorly thought out. But Turbo Pascal on a Win 3.1/DOS box running on a 33MHZ 386 was a powerful programming environment, and you could *do* stuff with it. So, for that matter, was the built-in BASIC interpreter on a Vic-20, on which I learned to program as a young teenager.

Similarly, blogging tools, spreadsheets, image processing/photo editing tools, math programs like Maple and Mathematica, statistics programs, all these things put the tools in thousands or millions of hands, without anyone needing to make it past a grant review panel or a hiring committee or even past graduation. *Anyone* who bothers to learn what's going on can take part, and for the good tools, there's a nice progression of learning--you can quickly do your work, and as you use it longer, you can do more and more impressive stuff. The best tools reward play. If we could develop tools and popularizations to help people work on sustainable energy[1], we'd likely do more to get quick progress than by funding a few more multimillion dollar grants. (But those are important, too.)

Sorry, I'm ranting on this because it's important to me. I wouldn't be in my field if I'd had to ask anyone's permission to learn about it or study it.

[1] I suspect these already exist, in which case pointers to them would be worthwhile. This isn't something I've spent a lot of time on.

#91 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 09:40 AM:

#90, albatross -

Maybe I'm trying to apply the steps to a too narrow movement or idea. Not "bicycling" but "reducing greenhouse gases" (or even "getting Americans moving more".) Hm.

I can't quite see how to apply your points to some of what I was thinking of (how *do* you get the tools for improving how much Americans move into the hands of the people? What are those tools?) but that's not because your point doesn't apply. It's a failure of my knowledge and imagination.

I don't think it was an excessive rant, no worries.

(And I don't really know what the tools are to help people work on sustainable energy other than "the web." There's info out there on building solar or wind installations for homeowners, and probably fora and groups talking about it in more large scale ways, but I don't play in those sandboxes so I can't offer specific pointers.)

#92 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 11:07 AM:

I wonder, how do those of us who crochet fit into the revolutionary hierarchy?

#93 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 11:17 AM:

Dawno @ 92... Haven't you ever heard of Crochet Guevara?

#94 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 11:39 AM:

Serge @ 93 -
Dawno @ 92... Haven't you ever heard of Crochet Guevara?

Lieutenant Serge, your Agonizer, please.

#95 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 11:41 AM:


#96 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 11:49 AM:

R.M. Koske waaaay back @ 50 (I was typing a reply last night when my battery died, which was also when I realized I'd left my power cable at work):

I totally agree, usability and interface design is not the same thing as appearance design. Something can be pretty and a huge pain to use, if the way you actually need to use it wasn't taken into account. Conversely, though, I find that anything designed to take into account exactly how people will use it, is almost always beautiful. It may not be ornamented but it's elegant.

It really is important that the software bend to serve the needs of the user, not the user bending to serve the software. Making it explore-able and learnable by experimenting is part of that.

It seems to me like a lot of FOSS doesn't consider the end user, or not well. If it can be made to work, it's considered done, even if making it work takes a considerable amount of time and energy. In fact, there's often a certain kind of elitism -- if you know enough to make it work, then you're in the club of people who are good enough to use it, and if not, well, you're just not good enough.

And if something is easy to learn and use, that automatically means it's "dumbed down" and can't be worth anything.

This particular view tends to drive me up a wall, and I find it implicit -- often unintentionally -- in lots of FOSS. I think it's because, well, the whole idea of FOSS is that the users can also be developers. So stuff gets developed for users who are developers, and not for the much larger group of users who are not developers. And there's an underlying expectation that if you use FOSS, you should learn to be a developer, dammit.

I do see this starting to change -- Firefox is a great counterexample. But I also still see it there.

And John Mark Ockerbloom @ 41, yes yes yes. The CEO of the company I used to work for used to say, "Do good while doing well." Money is how this society places value on work, and you have the right to place monetary value on your work. Especially as a woman -- raised to always put others first -- I've had to get through my head that it is not selfish, greedy, or bad to expect that a fair value will be placed on my work, skills, and knowledge. What's not okay is to lie, cheat, steal, and hurt people to get money. But making money does not automatically mean you are lying, cheating, stealing and hurting people.

#97 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 12:14 PM:

#96, Caroline -

In fact, there's often a certain kind of elitism -- if you know enough to make it work, then you're in the club of people who are good enough to use it, and if not, well, you're just not good enough.

I haven't used enough rough-edged FOSS* to know from experience, but I mentioned this thread to my husband this morning and got a rant about exactly this. (He's been fighting with Ubuntu for the last two or three days, and he's pretty irate about it.)

And if something is easy to learn and use, that automatically means it's "dumbed down" and can't be worth anything.

This may not be only an FOSS problem, it may be more society-wide. I specifically didn't go for the easy, all-in-one-disc distros of Linux when I started looking at it, because I didn't trust them to not be too simple or lacking features. I've changed my mind, but it took a while.

*I use Firefox, Thunderbird, and the Gimp but I don't have to fight them to get them to work.

#98 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 12:20 PM:

Serge, thank you. I now feel I can proudly take my place in the upcoming uprising, size 10 crochet hook in hand. ¡Viva la Revolución!

#99 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 12:22 PM:

Oh. At first I thought you were actualy talking about revolution. Like the Durruti Column or the Makhnovshchina. In which case, these excellent rules are radically incomplete because the counter-revolution strikes before the revolution is self-sustaining.

What you are talking about is a subculture strongly biased toward certain personality types. Who, in turn, tend to be strongly biased against certain truths incompatible with their emotional comfort. e.g.:
Most people already have jobs and hobbies and very much do not need another.
"User" does not begin with the letter "L".
Users pay the bills.
If it was hard to write, it should be hard to read. NOT


#100 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 12:30 PM:

#86 Fishwood Loach
I think there is some evidence that we are in the *beginning of a similar period. We have had a massive flowering of creativity and private artisanal work/play (increasing exponentially over the last 20-30 years) that has been made possible as unintended side effects of the policies of top-down hierarchies.

We are at the end of the period of ultra-cheap energy for the masses of the favored few countries. The United States economy peaked in "The Sixties"*, and it has been harder and harder to support a family ever since. Now the decline appears to be accelerating.
In this week's news alone, Starbucks is culling and Bennigan's is shuttering.

*I date the end of "The Sixties" in '73 with the first OPEC oil embargo and '74 with Nixon's resignation. (Yes, those are a year apart. Historical periods don't usually begin or end on exact days.)

#101 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 12:34 PM:

#98, Dawno -

Size 10? Have you by any chance done any flying with such an object? If I'm remembering right, that's one of the fine steel ones that will poke right through the weave of your jeans. I'm curious if the TSA has noticed their weapons potential. (Or is that a metric size, which would be a different thing?)

(And someone asked if there was a Ravelry group for ML. Did we get an answer? I'd start one, but I am not moderator material.)

#102 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 01:10 PM:

No, haven't taken crochet needles traveling for ages - definitely pre 9/11 was the last time. I only crochet sporadically now.

My current o/b/s/e/s/s/i/o/n/ hobby is beaded badge lanyards. I even finally broke down and got a reseller's license - the hobby started making me some real money and I want to eventually show at more cons - I did really well at BayCon's Artist's Alley back in May.

I just pack the stuff I want to work on in my checked luggage and if I need anything I didn't bring, I'll run off to a Michael's and pick it up. I have picked up a few extra pliers that way.

#103 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 01:12 PM:

R M Koske @ 101 - Sorry, I didn't answer the question about the size - yes, the #10 (Boye) hook is one of the smaller ones - I use it for a number of things other than crochet and keep it in my pen mug at my desk.

#104 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 01:22 PM:

R. M. Koske @97 / Caoline @96
There's an old joke, "Unix is very user friendly, it's just picky about who its friends are."

Also relevant is Neal Stephenson's _In the beginning ... was the command line_ ( or ) which attempts to explain why some of the things that appear to be user experience bugs are actually features.

#105 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 01:42 PM:

R.M. Koske,

Hilary Hertzof asked last Fall, but no one seems to have started one since then.

I don't know that we need a satellite group on Ravlery. We do talk about knitting and such here, and I wonder what a Ravelry group would add - perhaps a place exclusively to talk about making stuff?

I would be willing to start one if enough people are interested, and I am willing to try to mod it, though if someone else is willing as well, that would be good.

(I looked at group creation, and one can invite people to join when starting the group. If you are interested in joining, please post your Ravelry name so that I can invite you!)

#106 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 01:57 PM:

Serge @ 95 -

[Marvin the Mirror-Martian]
Where was the scream? There was supposed to be a soul-shattering scream?!?! Ooooooo this makes me very angry!! Very Angry indeed....[/Marvin the Mirror-Martian]

#107 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 02:06 PM:

#105, Nancy -

Maybe we don't need one. I've gotten a bit spoiled about the ease of posting and looking at projects there, so I was thinking I'd like to be able to see what others are working on. But that doesn't mean it is a good idea. *grin* Maybe all we need is a roundup of Ravelry names so we can find each other.

My Ravelry name is essentially the same as my handle here. "RMKoske."

#108 ::: Fishwood Loach ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 02:12 PM:

100: Neil,

Yes, we are at the end of cheap energy.

I think that we will *innovate our way out of the crisis, and I doubt that all or most of the innovations will come from businesses or governments. Some of those changes to our society are going to come from millions of people making gradual changes and/or creating new ways to maintain the old+ standard of living with less energy.

I said I thought we were in the beginning of a new era -- I was talking on the grand sweep of history. Like the examples I gave, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, I'm talking of a global change that may take a century or more.

In the shorter time horizon, I think I agree with you -- we are facing a crisis that could easily disrupt/destroy our entire way of life. I just happen to think it is a bottleneck that we will come out of better, stronger, more egalitarian (globally), and smarter.

*innovate = not necessarily all technological innovation, though, we will need societal reforms as well.

#109 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 02:25 PM:


I am redrose, and I have just friended you!

#110 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 02:54 PM:

Nancy, back at you! (And am I the only one who immediately goes and looks at new friends' groups for new places to hang out?)

#112 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 03:40 PM:

Re: flying with crafts implements

They're paranoid about knitting needles, even circs over 30" as someone could be strangled with the loop. HA. On the TSA site, I found NO restrictions on crochet hooks. They even suggest you tuck in an extra length of yarn and a hook so you can sit off to the side (mumbling darkly) and at least transfer your work before they dispose of your needles for you, should they be having a snarky day.

I live in Denver, will be at the ML gathering, and have another event in the central part of town at 6 p.m. on Thursday. So, if people are in by that afternoon and need to be picked up for a quick jaunt to a store, let me know.

No promises. Let me know what kind of shop. There's a good yarn one not too far out. Most crafts stores are further afield. Also the Argonaut, a big, competitively priced liquor store.

Knitting needles are also good for sneak attacks on plates of goodies. With care, cherry cordials. "Oh, it couldn't have been her, despite the smears of chocolate on her face. She's quietly knitting."

#113 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 03:46 PM:

I flew a *lot* Jan-May, and I never had a problem with my bamboo DPNs. I startled a few flight attendants with how I could make a sock with satay skewers, but that falls under the heading of "evangelism."

#114 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 04:32 PM:

Nancy @105 and other Ravelers -- I'm Chatelaine. Contact with other Fluorospherians in other venues would be neat.

#115 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 04:46 PM:

I think I may put a note in my Ravelry profile that I hang out here, if I can find a way to phrase it that doesn't sound too self-aggrandizing. (Also, Debbie, I friended you.)

#116 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 04:57 PM:

As I alluded to obliquely in point 5, one good example of this sort of revolution is the change in childbirth and baby care that has taken place in the US and the UK since the 1950's. (The natural childbirth movement, having fathers present, the return of breastfeeding, etc).

Its important to remember that when you work with a group of people, you get more ideas out of it than you went in with. New people bring them in, and they breed as you go forward. So although RM Koske doesn't see any way forward for bicycling in this context, others may: anything from changing laws so cars are more at fault in accidents to creating better cycle paths in local areas. Much of the revolution is about changing priorities and values (the "what"). "How" comes later, and often from left field.

Note, though (and this is to Neil in Chicago among others) that a revolution may not be the same as a rebellion. The Industrial revolution, the Arts and Crafts movement, and the various evironmental movements have all been revolutions. It's just that the things that they overturned were not governments.

#117 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 05:09 PM:

abi @ 116... New people bring them in, and they breed as you go forward

The new people are breeding in public? Have they no decency?

#118 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 05:21 PM:

On encouraging change, and the "tools" people need:

First, this whole thread has been a welcome optimism boost. It's so easy (for me) to get fixated on government, and institutions, and tending to see both problems and solutions coming from the top down, and that's just discouraging.

But it also occurred to me that one of the basic tools people need is an atmosphere of permission to bat around ideas and try things out in the first place. True brainstorming explicitly avoids attaching values to ideas in the first stage of the process. A lot of our interactions end up being very value-laden, however. But I don't know of any way to encourage more openmindedness than to try and practice it myself.

(RM Koske and Nancy C. Mittens -- thanks! I've friended you back.)

#119 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 05:22 PM:

Serge @117:
The new people are breeding in public? Have they no decency?

Who said anything about public?

But (being briefly serious) breeding, yes, if your movement lasts long enough. There is no grouping of people that does not lead some subset to desire, or go ahead and have, romantic and sexual relationships. Shared obsession is a powerful aphrodesiac*, after all. And some of those relationships are going to lead to breeding, unless your movement is a single-sex one†.
* I don't need to tell you this, since you met your wife in fandom.
† Then someone will adopt, probably.

#120 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 05:26 PM:

But think about the flowering of art in the Renaissance,

Yes, think about the way in which economics meant that most artists were forced to work on commission, and were therefore at the mercy of the wealthy patrons in Italy at that time -- that is the Church and the State.There's a reason we know the names of Pope Sixtus and Lorenzo il Magnifico, the Medici and the Sforza. The Renaissance really was a small elite of patrons funding another elite of artists, with massive gatekeeper effects in that most people in quatrocento Italy were peasants or comparatively poor town dwellers, who had neither the funds to patronise artists themselves or the time to do it themselves.

Likewise with the Enlightenment, although not so strongly, but still with the important underlying fact that most people in Europe at that time were dirt poor peasants, and the Enlightenment was built on their exploited labour.

Again, if you look at the computing revolution, the really seminal work was done by a small group of ridiculously smart people selected by universities with strong gatekeeping functions. Gottingen and the two Cambridges produced the modern computer. Yes, they opened it up later, but, at the point of revolution, it was Alan Turing being paid to do nothing other than think, at a time when most people in Britain were more concerned to avoid the poorhouse's help.

#121 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 05:26 PM:

abi @ 119... I don't need to tell you this, since you met your wife in fandom

"Yes, kids," says Serge doing a Gabby Hayes impersonation. "That was in the days when there were no intertubes."

#122 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 07:05 PM:

Steve Downey, #104: As Stephenson knows very well, in the beginning was the loom.

More thoughts on the issues presented here later, my computer-fabricated piece of costume jewelery needs another coat of paint. Meantime, people might want to look at a very different take on UI

#123 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2008, 11:39 PM:

Dawno, #103, I keep a size 10 crochet hook and a set of tweezers in my desk for removal of cat hair from the keyboard and trackball. I do, every couple of months, take them apart and clean them well (although the crochet hook gets used then, too), but I do interim cleaning every week or so.

abi, #116, then are you suggesting we rebel in the US? HHS is setting forth a rule where medical/pharmacy personnel can refuse to handle/work with things that violate their religious belief. It's just a back way into forbidding abortion, birth control pills, and Plan B.

Ibid, #119, and when the obsession isn't shared?

#124 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 12:42 AM:

Debbie, RMKoske, Nancy - I friended you. StPaulJuli

#125 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 03:27 AM:

Caroline @96: [..] usability and interface design is not the same thing as appearance design. Something can be pretty and a huge pain to use, if the way you actually need to use it wasn't taken into account. Conversely, though, I find that anything designed to take into account exactly how people will use it, is almost always beautiful. It may not be ornamented but it's elegant.

In my previous decade, I had been working with Alias|Wavefront software (Power Animator, Maya)[1] which utilized an interface technique they called 'marking menus'. When your cursor rested over a modeling panel (as it is 3D modeling and animation software our story describes), a quick tap on the spacebar would expand that particular panel into a full-screen view; holding the spacebar longer would bring up a radial menu centered right where your cursor was currently, with all of the menu options you would find on the menu bar at the top of the screen (this main marking menu in Maya was called the 'hotbox').

The interface was highly customizable: once you got used to this technique, you could turn off the menu bar at the top, and use the 'hotbox' entirely; it was much quicker than jumping to the menu bar every time you needed something. Quadrants of the 'hotbox' had their own marking menus[2]. Various tools had hotkey marking menus. And you could design your own marking menus to assign to hotkeys of your own choice[3].

I had heard this attributed to Bill Buxton[4]; found his address and wrote[5]:

I've been using Maya since it first came out, and Power Animator before then. Marking menus were one of the unusual (but effective) interface contrivances; I'd heard your name associated with their design. I'm curious why their use isn't more widespread; is there a licensing issue?

Frankly, Maya has spoiled me... I keep on hitting the space bar in Corel Draw trying to get the marking menu [..] would Microsoft (or Corel) have to pay you a fee to use the marking menu concept? Or is it just that they are not paying attention?

His reply:

The story of Marking Menus is pretty long. The short version is that we did not invent the basic idea. It came from someone named Wiseman who used them in a system called PIXIE back in the 1960's. A lot of the recent work was done by Gord Kurtenbach, while he was my PhD student. A lot of this work is covered in the papers at:

I don't think that anything published in the papers written by Gord and me while at the university has any patent protection.

So, I think that the real answer is that the rest of the industry either has not seen them in A|W products, have not used them, do not understand them, or just don't care.

For the basic idea, there is little to prevent someone else from using the techniques.

A|W does have a patent or two related to marking menus, so one might get into trouble if they were copied directly, but again, as I said above, Gord's UoT papers cover work that I believe to be in the public domain.

[1] Now owned by Autodesk.

[2] Shown here, the hotbox with a sub-marking menu in the upper quadrant. The center is also an active zone. The 'main menu' looks cluttered, but you can limit the display to the active toolset.

[3] Discussing custom marking menus, this page is a fair introduction to the marking menu concept.

[4] His current home page describes him to be a principal researcher for Microsoft, and is promoting a book on interface design.

[5] This had been about five years ago; maybe marking menus have been incorporated elsewhere by now. I did see this in some Logitech mouse software; unfortunately, their implementation got in the way of what I was doing in Maya, and I had to turn it off.

#126 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 03:55 AM:

Rob Rusick, #125: Buxton is one of the major figures of in HCI; he started as a musician and composer, moved on to designing electronic instruments and computer music composition tools, and continued as an HCI designer and researcher. SIGCHI has given him a lifetime achievement award.

And, yeah, marking menus--even just simple pie menus--are a really good idea. (Reading the papers is worth it, if you are interested.) But it takes understanding to know why they're a good idea and, well, basic UI kinesics and graphics don't get touched much. Really, things haven't changed very much since Apple developed the basic Mac.

Rant, to be continued when I'm more awake.

#127 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 04:09 AM:

And here (PDF) we have Buxton himself, writing about an early computer music system, and I hope everyone here who cares at all about music or computer interfaces reads the article and pays attention. ...or you might look at it just for the picture of the system, and reflect that this cranky machine with 24K was a system that as Buxton puts it, a "mathematically illiterate hippie musician" could learn to use in a few hours! Well, that musician was Bill Buxton, after all. But I read at that, and I know we're on the wrong track, and moving fast.

#128 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 04:35 AM:

"Revolution is like a bicycle. If it doesn't move forward, it falls over."
"Karl Marx?"
"No. Eddy Merckx."

(from Louis de Funès's movie The Adventures of Rabbi Jacob.)

#129 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 08:26 AM:

Nancy @#105 - I actually just asked that about two weeks ago. I wasn't saying there should be one, just wondering if there was one. I thought of it because of all the teams popping out of the woolwork in the Ravelympics2008 group.

And I'm hhertzof at ravelry.

#130 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 12:08 PM:

Wait wait wait. "Make one" increases as less visible than "knit through front and back"? We are talking about knitting into the bar between stitches, right? I mean, OK, it doesn't lean to either side, sure, but I always get this honking great hole under the bar I Made One into.

My favorite increases right now are described in the Viking Knits book (which needed special increases to adjust around the cables) and also the New Pathways for Sock Knitting - I think both authors sort of made the stitch up independently of each other. It involves knitting into the stitch of the row before last. It comes in left-leaning and right-leaning flavors. And it's pretty dang invisible.

Left side: After knitting a stitch, take not the loop it knit into but the one under that and slide it onto the to-be-worked needle. (I'd say "left" but I just learned today, oh, somewhere, that some people move stitches from the right needle to the left rather than vice versa. Which is darned cool.) Knit that through the back loop.

Right side: Looking at the stitch you would be just about to knit into, lift up onto the to-be-worked needle the loop that it is knit into, and knit it normally.

Cat Bordhi (author of New Pathways) has a YouTube vid about these increases. Apparently I should have watched it before writing the above paragraphs, because she introduces useful terminology for identifying which loop exactly we're talking about here: the stitch, the stitch's mother, the stitch's grandmother, etc....

For those coming to Denvention and contemplating buying knitting supplies when they get here, I would like to plug the Boulder store Shuttles Spindles and Skeins. It's worth the trip. For about $3.75 each way, the "B" bus goes straight there from downtown Denver (16th/Market, about 6 blocks down from the Convention Center). Also, if you're going to be in Boulder, the Purl Knit Cafe on Canyon between 28th and Folsom is a lovely, lovely place to while away hours.

#131 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 12:21 PM:

Marilee @ #123 - I haven't used my hook for keyboard cleaning, but what a good suggestion. Mostly I use it to pull through snags that cat claws make in my clothing. I have a smaller one (Boye 13) for fine fabrics in the same mug. I don't think I've ever crocheted with a #13 and probably never will now that my eyes are growing weaker for close work.

#132 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 12:27 PM:

Nicole: when you make-one increase, are you twisting the loop? If you just lift the bar, it's the same as a YO. The direction of twist is what gives you the slant.

#133 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 12:43 PM:

Speaking of looms (Randolph @ 122), anyone ever do card (tablet) looming? I'm going to try using beaded threads to make some woven pieces. I used to do a lot of card weaving when I was in college in the '70s. You can get some great patterns with card weaving and I'm hoping that adding beads will add interesting detail.

#134 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 01:06 PM:

Rob Rusick and Randolph, #125-127 --

Thanks for all that!

I really appreciate the stuff you've pointed to. A little under two months ago, through an odd series of coincidences, I discovered that the stuff I think about instead of thinking about what I'm actually supposed to be doing -- how to make the things I use more efficient, easier to learn, more natural to use for the things I actually need to do -- is actually a field unto itself, interaction design (of which human-computer interaction is a part).

(The odd series of coincidences was that I first made myself a list of 100 Things I Want To Do In My Job, on which were many interaction-design related things, although I'd never heard of it before. Then a friend of mine mentioned Edward Tufte to me. Then, while looking for a Harvard Business Review article about women in science, I ran across an article by IDEO's CEO, describing what they do. At that point I got really excited.)

Yesterday I got out of the library the book Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction. I've read the first chapter so far, and am having great fun.

And now, thanks to you, I have more fun things to read about and think about.

Randolph, do you think that the current development of multi-touch interfaces -- such as the iPhone -- are further down the wrong track, or heading back towards the right direction? I tend to think they're heading in the right direction.

The iPhone interface is intuitive because pointing to or poking at something is a very natural way to interact with it. Scrolling motions are natural, physically just like flicking through a sheaf of papers. Zooming in and out is a natural stretching/squashing motion. There are certainly some that are more abstracted -- swiping horizontally across an email message to bring up a Delete button, double-tapping to auto-zoom -- but even those feel like a fairly easy gestural code. I feel like it can be interacted with much more naively than most computer interfaces.

#135 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 01:57 PM:

#19 TexAnne
See how your stitch is sitting astride your needle? One leg is on your side of the needle, one leg on the back side. Now put your needle into the back leg of the stitch and knit it. See how it's twisted now? Cool, huh?

I found out the hard way that only works if the knitter is not doing combined knitting. (The knit stitch always goes through the back of loop, the purl stitch always goes through the front of the loop.)

The down side? I have difficulty getting my stuff to look like the pattern.

The up side? I don't have to watch my hands when I knit -- especially with repetitious patterns. How the thread wraps around the needle tells me all I need to know.

On the whole, I find that following a pattern 100% is not nearly as important as being able to multi-task.

#136 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 02:11 PM:

#37 Sarah S
For the first year that I knit, I thought I was knitting continental (because of the holding the yarn in the left hand thing), and was driven mad by instructions about knitting into the backs or fronts of stitches, and by the fact that my SSKs and my K2togs point the same direction, rather than opposite directions. When I found out that I knit combination, the mists parted.

Boy do I know how you feel. I thought I was a knitting moron for the longest time. (I'm mostly self-taught.) I found out just what I was doing while duplicating an annotated swatch of increases and decreases I found on-line. The site had a footnote-sidebar-thingy explaining that while there were two types of knitting called Contiental and English there was this rare, third kind called "Combined". It made me feel a lot better. I still kept on making swatches, though.

#137 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 02:14 PM:

Knitters! has fantastic resources, including many useful videos. This page shows how various increases look, and links to vids on how to do them. (Sadly, not for combined knitting, but you still get to see the essential motions.)

#138 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 02:17 PM:

137: Only if you're a right-handed knitter. For lefties, written-out instructions are better--that way, we can read things out loud, substituting "right" for "left" and vice versa, and run our fingers through the ear-hand link instead of the eye-hand link. (That's the royal we. Dunno if it works for other people.)

#139 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 07:20 PM:

As a lefty knitter, I'd have to agree with TexAnne @138, I find that it's a combination of that and having a mechanical mind/knowing what result I'm trying to get and then doing what I need to to get it. I didn't really take to knitting until I started from what the result was supposed to look like and worked backwards.

I think I've now friended all the ravelers here.

#140 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 08:00 PM:

I'm at work, so I don't have time for a real rant, but the subject of user interface design deserves one. So unless you guys* beat the subject to death before I come back, I will rant later. For now, let me say that I've used Maya, and I like the menu setup. Pie menus are an old idea, as several people noted; if you want to play with them, try downloading Squeak.

The multi-touch interface on the iPhone is an interesting case; I think what makes the iPhone interface so easy to use isn't multi-touch itself; I guarantee I could create a truly dreadful interface if I tried, and I'm sure others will. What makes it work is the careful attention to making it minimalist, because of the limited screen real-estate. So there aren't a lot of deeply-nested menus (bad Windows and Mac applications, no treats for your), or cutesy icons or strange modalities and interactions between modes. Give the application designers time; they'll figure out how to screw it up.

* I use "guy" as a genderless non-specific term; it could include AIs and aliens with 7 sexes as far as I'm concerned. If that bothers anyone, please let me know.

#141 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2008, 09:20 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 140, I think you're right on. I was sort of having a related train of thought writing my above post, but it was long enough already, so I didn't get into it. Because the screen is small, they have to keep it simple and clean and keep everything fairly top-level.

And yeah, I have already seen a few apps that manage to screw it up.

(Also, "guys" doesn't bother me. I call everyone "guys" and "dude" -- as in "Dude, this is awesome.")

#142 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 02:44 AM:

Caroline, #134: You're very welcome. Sharp et al is a good introductory book and since you are at a major university (I think you said somewhere), I suggest you also seek out and read some of the seminal papers in the field. Both Sutherland's 1963 Sketchpad movie and Engelbart's 1968 Mother of All Demos are available, if you have the bandwidth. Notice the dates—it took a long time for these ideas to make their way into practice, and you can argue that some of them still haven't. It's been said that no-one knows what Silicon Valley will do when it runs out of Engelbart's ideas, and there is considerable truth to it.

The iPhone...there's a lot of good ideas in the iPhone—Bruce Cohen also pointed out the value of the size of the screen and the "flattening" of the menu system. I think multi-touch is a winner and we are going to see a lot more of it. The iPhone still suffers from the central problem of too much complexity, however. Time was, computers were large and expensive, so we wanted to make them do as many things as we could. Computers are now small and cheap, but we still design systems and software as though all that were available were giant central servers. The basic attitude is a problem, but In this case the cell phone service provider is aiding and abetting; ATT charges $30/mo to use the iPhone to connect other devices to their network, so there's a considerable incentive for users to do everything in the iPhone itself.

#143 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 05:37 AM:

Aka the GUI death...

Serge, #71: see The Adventure Shell

Bruce Cohen, #80: Sure, but that's all the Linux graphics apps. On the other hand, the Windows is excellent, though limited.

R M Koske, #84: the big problems with MythTV seems to be more hardware compatibility. Integration is the issue here. This is the stuff that Apple resolves by simply selling a whole system.

--, #89: user testing means a good bit more than sit down and play. &, oh, one of the problems is that programming is such a blasted slow process. This is one of the big wins of the modern interpretive languages, tools like Python and Ruby. (Which aren't heavily used in Linux, gods know why.)

Caroline, #96: "I find that anything designed to take into account exactly how people will use it, is almost always beautiful." You clearly haven't seen some of the architecture schools I've seen! ...and yet...and yet...people have fallen in love with some of them. After you've lived with something for a while appearance is less important; people tend to concentrate on their relationship with it. Still, it helps if it also looks "good". One of the best things about marking menus is that they have both a visual and a kinesic element.

--: "the whole idea of FOSS is that the users can also be developers". See Guido van Rossum, Computer Programming for Everybody, also Randy Pausch's Alice. (Except Alice has been focused around Java, which I think will become an impediment.) From my cranky old designer perspective, most FOSS is too much focused on hard-to-use tools, and too weak on applications environments that do interesting things. Perhaps more women working with FOSS would help that.

Debbie, #118: "But it also occurred to me that one of the basic tools people need is an atmosphere of permission to bat around ideas and try things out in the first place. [...] But I don't know of any way to encourage more openmindedness than to try and practice it myself." Mixing the sexes in teams helps a lot.

Perhaps if FOSS developers want to engage the craft community, a focus on craft-related applications environments would be a good place to start. UI problems could be solved for a definite group of users, and development could proceed from the UI down, rather than by attempting to assemble a lot of random pieces into a system which might be usable. My intuition says that a simple UI development library would be a huge win; perhaps also CAD and graphics libraries. Hmmm...would perhaps Alice provide a place to start?

#144 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 10:31 AM:

Keir #120:

The invention of the computer was a bit more distributed than you make it sound. Pieces of it came from pretty far back (automated looms, automated tabulating of census data). Much of the progress that made it possible took place in a massively distributed fashion, with widespread tinkering and experiment. (As with motors and electrical systems.) And the subsequent progress in software and networking was and is massively distributed.

That doesn't mean that every person on Earth is included, of course. If you're starving in a shanty in Sao Paolo, you're probably not going to be involved in much progress on anything other than trying to eat. In fact, even with no such barriers, most people won't be interested, won't want to spend the time learning the stuff they'd need to know to be helpful, won't be bright or talented enough to do much useful, won't have that much spare time, etc. We're not ever going to get all six billion people on Earth involved in one endeavor. And that's a good thing. But moving from the point where ten people can work on some problem to the point where a thousand people can work on it is huge progress.

Now, sometimes, research in some area is very hard. We aren't going to be able to let everyone with a serious interest run remote-controlled experiments on Mars, because they're too expensive. The big telescopes can only point in one direction at a time, and they're limited in number. If you want to experimentally unravel the structure of the universe, you're apparently going to need gazillion-dollar gadgets that will only be under the control of a tiny number of super-carefully-selected experts.

But when we can get that widespread tinkering level of improvement and learning, I think we win as a planet. And I think there are many fields in which that can be supported, and should be supported better than it is. Making the information available and understandable with minimal background, spreading the tools around, etc., can have a big impact on progress in some fields.

#145 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 11:05 AM:

Randolph @ 142, yes, I have access to a university library so I can look up papers. (Great invention: making papers electronically searchable and available, so that I can get them right on my computer, while sitting at home or in my office, and not have to juggle photocopiers.)

I have grabbed the stuff you link, and am also collecting from Bill Buxton's site and from the citations and Further Reading lists in the book I mention.

(Recommendation for anyone running Mac OS X who deals with any amount of papers: get Papers. It is like EndNote, only ten times less annoying to use.)

#146 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 12:12 PM:

Caroline @ #141: I'm with you on the "guys" and "dude" thing. I use 'em for/to everybody.

#147 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 01:39 PM:

I still don't have time for a rant; have to spend some hours dogproofing the house so we can get the new dogs next week. Maybe late this afternoon. But I do need to get one major annoyance off my chest.

A lot of the things that help in the improvement of user interfaces or the rapid development of software have been at least prototyped, and many are available for download, some were created decades ago. But, strangely, the software development community, including (maybe especially including) the FOSS community, are very conservative about some things.

Integrated development environments? First invented for Smalltalk (early 1980s) and Lisp (late 1980s). Late-binding interpreted languages? Smalltalk, Lisp, ML ... Python is relatively new, but has some nice features (some of which had to be shoved down Guido's throat, but that's another matter), but why isn't there a widely-used development environment? Debugging Python is an annoyingly tedious process, compared to even Java when using the Idea or Netbeans IDEs.

Kinesic interfaces? How about multi-sense-mode interfaces like Put-That-There, a voice and 3D pointing interface which was developed in the late 1970's. Watch a video of that (it's easy to find by searching youtube; I don't want this comment hung up in the moderation queueueueue for too many links) and you can't help but wonder why we don't do that with our off the shelf computers right now.

Software development in anger tends to produce a kind of tunnel vision in engineers that limits their ability to think about the fundamental requirements of the application, or the limitations that the standard components enforce on the applications. I think of it as the Procrustes school of engineering; anything you need to do that doesn't fit the development paradigms you use gets lopped off.

#148 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 03:29 PM:

This conversation has been interesting to follow. Hopefully this rant doesn't become too much of a derail.

Caroline's original comment:

[..] usability and interface design is not the same thing as appearance design. Something can be pretty and a huge pain to use, if the way you actually need to use it wasn't taken into account. Conversely, though, I find that anything designed to take into account exactly how people will use it, is almost always beautiful. It may not be ornamented but it's elegant.
also made me think of Kai Krause designs. As an example of pretty, ornamented, and mostly a PITA.

Working with his apps made me think of playing MYST. While I liked MYST, when I'm using an app, I don't want it to be a puzzle (although most apps are to some degree); I want it to be as obvious as possible.

He obviously has had fans; the wikipedia page I linked to refers to "[u]ser interface elements like soft shadows, rounded corners, and translucency, which are today common in Mac OS X, Windows XP and Linux", as first appearing in his designs. The wholly iconic approach of his designs avoids the problem of language translations for different markets.

But for more in this (mostly complaining) vein, you can follow up this MetaFilter link.

Okay, one last passing snark. In Star Trek TOS, Spock was always able to deduce how to work some alien piece of technology (as the plot required). I imagined some scene as he worked over an alien computer console, Kirk breathing down his back for results *now*, and Spock complaining that it was hopeless: the interface was designed by Kai Krause...

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. Please continue with the intelligent conversation you were having earlier.

#149 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 03:36 PM:

Caroline - I've recently found Bill Buxton's book, Designing User Experiences to be extremely helpful in understanding what to do in improving or developing new software. It gets you focused on the process of trying out new ideas in low-cost ways, as "sketches" in various forms, rather than prematurely committing to one idea.

One major source of problems in s/w is that people naturally fall in love with whatever they coded, which was usually the first thing that occurred to them. Then they don't want to change it for something better. One problem which compounds this with FOSS is that usually there's no manager/mentor to patiently tell them "I know you really like how this is, but I need you to try it this way."

#150 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 03:46 PM:

Kai Krause's philosophy sounds like the same one that was driving Broderbund's Family Tree Maker: looks nice on screen, it's ready for use. (Oh, you want notes and sources and actual genealogist-type stuff? We can't make it look pretty, so we won't do it.)

I have 'Family Archive Viewer': it looks like a book with shaded 'pages' and side tabs. But on individual CDs, maybe there's a search-string field and maybe not; maybe you can access content from the index and maybe not. And sometimes there's stuff shown in the index that you can't access because it isn't actually indexed (thanks ever so much).

As for architecture: choosing designs based on competitions may get you dramatic exteriors, but it doesn't necessary get you usable buildings. I'd like to see stuff where architects get chosen not only based on their exterior designs, but also on the liveability of the designs, a rating done by the users and updated over time (not controlled by the architect). Example: the new Caltrans building in downtown LA has perforated sunscreens outside the windows ... and no way to access the windows to clean the glass. That architect gets points for flash, but extra demerits for liveability (the people who work in the bulding hate it).

#151 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 03:47 PM:

I've got scads of chores to do & I'm back to playing costume jewelery maker as well, so I'm putting this on hold for a while. A few brief notes:

Caroline, #145: Thanks for the recommendation for Papers; I've been using Jabref, and that looks a lot better. If you want more reading in the field (hah!) you might try looking through the proceedings of the 2008 SigCHI--it's available through ACM's Portal, and would give a sense for the current state of the art.

Bruce Cohen, #147: hmmm. hmmm.

#152 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 04:55 PM:

Randolph @ 151: Glad you like Papers. EndNote had been driving me up a wall for a while (a million little windows everywhere!), and I started sketching out an alternative, only to find that a) someone had already made it, and b) they had won Best Mac OS X Scientific Computing Solution for it at WWDC 2007. Ah well. I at least feel mildly gratified that the rough sketches I made look almost exactly like Papers. (I didn't think of using tabs, which was a great move on their part.)

I love it; my favorite part is being able to import PDFs along with citations from PubMed directly in the program, rather than having to go separately to the browser, download the PDF, and manually link it with the citation.

And I always want more reading!

#153 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 06:47 PM:

Rob Rusick @ 148

Oh, good Ghod, Kai Krause. I'd finally managed to forget him. I had copy of one of his programs, IIRC I got it on some special deal along with an upgrade of a program I used to use made by a company that his company bought (Raydream, was it? Not sure). I really hated that user interface; the damn buttons were huge, and the control panel took up the whole screen, so it was basically modal; you switched between the control panel and the image you were working on. It annoyed me so much I used to say V pbhyq fuvg n orggre hfre vagresnpr.

Krause is an example of a class of designers who think of themselves as artists rather than engineers, instead of artists and engineers: their art is ever so much more important than mundane questions of usability or even structural integrity*. The result is that every part of the interfaces he designed is obtrusive and screams "Only Kai Krause would have designed me!", rather than effacing itself by being so easy to use that you don't notice it consciously.

* My own canonical example of the breed is Frank Lloyd Wright. One of his best known houses is Falling Water, where a stream runs through the house. Aside from livability issues (ever scrape mold off the electric cord of your toaster?), he couldn't be bothered to properly compute the stresses on the steel beams that cantilever the house over the fall itself, and it's been sagging and settling since it was built. Had to have a major rebuild in the early '90s to keep it from falling into the water.

#154 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2008, 08:39 PM:

It's been a while since I've been out to Fallingwater-- after we moved across the state, it became a substantially longer trip-- but I recall the last time we went one of the guides saying something like "Well, he didn't design the cantilever thinking it'd have hundreds of tour groups a month walking over it." I have no idea offhand if that actually makes a significant difference-- the structure is heavier than the crowds, of course-- but he was at the very least playing close to the limits of the structure.

It's clearly designed more as a showpiece than as an optimally functional house. (As a showpiece, it's quite impressive, and to be fair it was well enough designed as a house that I'm told that the son of the client did live in it year-round for a while, even though it was intended as a weekend getaway rather than a primary residence. And the stream really runs under it rather than through it, so the moisture problems, while significant, aren't as bad as they could be.)

For anyone planning a visit there, I recommend allowing enough time to also check out another house he designed nearby-- Kentuck Knob, a privately owned house that opened for public tours 12 years ago. The website photos don't do it full justice, as its most impressive views, in contrast to Fallingwater's, are looking *from* it rather than looking *at* it. It's nestled into the top of a hill in the middle of the woods, and from a number of the rooms, especially the living room, you feel like you're in the midst of the woods with little or no mediation. (We visited in the fall, when I suspect the effect is strongest.)

If you do take the implicit visual invitation to walk out into the woods themselves, a short stroll will take you to the top of the hill, or to a wide open view over the Youghiogheny Valley (a very different view from the ones you see from the house itself).

Kentuck Knob was commissioned late in Wright's career (he was 86 at the time), and it's an interesting contrast to its better-known neighbor. It strikes me as considerably more livable, if less showy, than Fallingwater. (I gather part of this may be due to the inhabitants insisting on specific functional requirements to a greater extent than some of Wright's other clients.)

#155 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 12:12 AM:

P.S. to Bruce: That Bill Buxton book I mentioned cites your Tektronix experience with paper UI mock-ups as an important influence. Been meaning to say that.

#156 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 12:58 AM:

I had a lot of fun with Kai's Power Tools.

#157 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 02:03 PM:

Bruce C #140, caroline #141, elise #146:

I've always assumed that "guys" (as in "you guys") was simply the northern version of "y'all". Which is about as gender-neutral as you can get.

#158 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 02:08 PM:

caroline #152:

EndNote eventually proved to be a problem for me too, as it does not (well, my 10-year-old non-upgraded version) play nice with goScreen, a virtual screen manager on which I rely heavily; if you change screens, EndNote crashes horribly.

My solution as an XP user was to switch over to Zotero, a citation management Firefox plugin. So far, so good.

#159 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 06:48 PM:

One of the subthreads in the dicussion on user interface design is about the question, "Why do user interfaces for most FOSS software suck?" (I paraphrase, perhaps a little more bluntly than it was originally stated). Here is a link to a recently posted and very thoughtful and detailed answer to that question. An excerpt to whet your appetite:

Software tends to be much more usable if it is, at least roughly, designed before the code is written. The desired human interface for a program or feature may affect the data model, the choice of algorithms, the order in which operations are performed, the need for threading, the format for storing data on disk, and even the feature set of the program as a whole. But doing all that wireframing and prototyping seems boring, so a programmer often just starts coding — they’ll worry about the interface later.

#160 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 02:46 AM:

Clifton @ 155

I'm flattered you remembered that I'd mentioned that, and thanks for pointing out Bill Buxton's remarks.

Buxton has had a very large effect on my understanding of user interface issues, especially in regard to defining "user", and categorizing the kinds of users who need different kinds of interface. He was one of the first designers to point out the need for what he called the "virtuoso interface", the kind of interface a musician like a violinist or a reed player has to her instrument. This is not the same as the "power user" or "guru interface" that coders are so fond of, where the state of the system is hidden behind a plethora of command for querying it. Rather it is an interface which is extremely simple and transparent, but whose expert use may require years of experience to become proficient at. Virtuoso users make much use of the capabilities of the human sensory-motor nervous system and its ability to make decisions with the conscious mind out of the loop. Watch an expert Maya user fly through the menu system to set up and modify complex animation models, and you'll see what I mean.

#161 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 02:55 AM:

Getting back to the original topic of this thread, however briefly, I want to mention that interface design is one of the few areas of computer engineering that has not pushed hard against the routine inclusion of women. It's unexceptional to find a woman in the field, and something close to half of the interface designers (not to be confused with web designers) I've worked with have been women. Part of the reason may be a lingering feeling on the part of men selecting a field of specialization that interface design is "arty" rather than scientific, and thus a natural area for girls and gays, not "real" men, but I hope not. And if it is, they may change their minds when the industry starts internalizing the understanding that good interface designers are rarer and more valuable than good coders at the current state of the art.

#162 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 09:46 AM:

I'm MissPrint at Ravelry. I think I've caught everyone who listed themselves here. Come say hi if you're in the neighborhood.

#163 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:20 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 160, it's interesting. My boyfriend is very, very fast and good at Photoshop, and he does play it like an instrument -- even though Photoshop is, in my limited knowledge, not a good example of the kind of interface you're talking about. He's memorized a lot of keyboard shortcuts and that materially changes the character of the interface for him. Instead of having to click through menus and submenus to choose a mode, then use it, he chooses the mode by typing a key combo with his left hand, and draws with his right hand on a Wacom tablet. He's previously described it as being like playing a guitar -- where the motions of your left hand modify the effects of the strumming of your right hand.

The problem, of course, is that a new user of Photoshop --like me -- would find it painful or impossible to learn all the keyboard shortcuts that make that kind of use possible. He's been using Photoshop for ten years and has learned as it's built in complexity.

There may be no better way to do it -- Photoshop is a massively complex program by necessity, and it's hard to know how to organize that many different functions and make them all easily accessible. But the interface could still be improved, to make it more simple and transparent for a beginning user.

I always think of that sort of thing as being like the game of go. It's a simple game rules-wise, and easy to start playing immediately -- but the strategy takes a lifetime to master.

Now I'm going to go and do real work -- teach my data analysis software to show me the original signal trace at the same time as it shows me the two-levels-abstracted plots of the parameters I'm interested in, so that I can quickly ascertain whether an outlier is some artifact in the signal, or whether it's real. I continue to be frustrated by the fact that there's not time to do this sort of thing properly.

#164 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:48 AM:

Caroline @ 163

Yes, I'm a casual intermediate user of Photoshop* and I can attest that the interface has some major suckage. The issue is only partly how they've laid things out, since, like Maya, they've made it possible to customize the interface somewhat to suit your needs and workflow. But not as much, and not as flexibly. Also, the breaking of functionality into seperate applications, Photoshop proper, Bridge, and ImageReady, which was intended to make things more flexible, actually gets in the way, in my experience.

I'm not sure the issue is years of experience, though that probably helps. Real virtuosity requires constant practice; you have to use the interface every day for at least a few hours to achieve that level of competence. That's why Buxton compares that kind of interface to playing an instrument.

Now I'm going to go and do real work -- teach my data analysis software to show me the original signal trace at the same time as it shows me the two-levels-abstracted plots of the parameters I'm interested in, so that I can quickly ascertain whether an outlier is some artifact in the signal, or whether it's real. I continue to be frustrated by the fact that there's not time to do this sort of thing properly.

Now that's exactly the kind of task that interface design should be aiming to facilitate, but it requires an interface designer who either knows a great deal about the application domain, or one who can work very closely with a domain expert. Either way, they're rare.

* That is, I'm not a novice, but I don't use it often enough for the commands to be become built into muscle memory.

#165 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 11:01 AM:

One thing I think needs some emphasis here: An important way to get more people involved in designing useful stuff for others is to allow more ways to design things (and share them) than just traditional programming interfaces.

Think of a spreadsheet. I think it's only a tiny fraction of people who write any nontrivial programs for the spreadsheets. And yet, a smart person can (and many do) build a spreadsheet which freezes their knowledge about some problem in a useful and portable way. It's not programming, but it's a wider version of the same idea. It's easy for us, as programmers, to get hung up on the idea that "creating something useful that you can share" in software must mean "writing some code" in some form. That's way, way too narrow.

The two critical things here are:

a. You have to be able to use your knowledge, preferences, tastes, expertise, etc., to change how the program works in some persistent way that lets you "freeze" knowledge/preferences/etc. for use later.

b. You have to be able to give those to other people, in ways that are usable. (That is, you can send me a spreadsheet or a program or a plugin, but you can't easily send me a subset of the preferences you set on your browser which do a specific thing I might like done.)

(And ideally, you need to have some notion of how to limit the security risks and potential addition of flakiness from these things. Spreadsheets offer a kind of example of this, with macros offering some serious risk of malware embedded inside the spreadsheet, but normal spreadsheet functions being pretty benign.)

I'm having a hard time thinking of widespread examples of this kind of non-programming frozen thought/effort. Spreadsheets and Mathematica notebooks (which do use some programming, too) are two big examples. Smaller examples involve stuff like word processing or slide templates. What else? I wonder if this is an area where good programmers could have a huge impact, by making tools that enable folks who aren't and will never be programmers to still contribute that kind of "frozen thought" to the world, as powerfully as they can with a spreadsheet.

#166 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 09:59 AM:

BTW, folks, I've dropped out of this discussion because I'm off at Worldcon. Perhaps to be continued, perhaps over at Caroline's blog.

#167 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 10:19 AM:

I use a database program called Sesame. It isn't Access-compatible (although it exports into formats Access can read), but it's a whole lot easier to set up a database, and modify it, in Sesame than it is in Access. You design by creating forms: put in a box, and you have a field. Tell it what kind of data is in it and give it a label (which isn't necessarily the same as its name) outside the box. Drag the box somewhere else on the screen. You get the picture. It's programmable , and it allows links to images, too (a database with pictures inside it!).

#168 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2008, 08:50 AM:

Speaking of looms (Randolph @ 122), anyone ever do card (tablet) looming?

I had a brief flirtation with the craft, which ended abruptly after a bad experience at an SCA A&S* competition. I keep thinking about getting back into it.

I'd never thought of beading it, though, probably because I was approaching it from an SCA perspective and beads wouldn't be period.

* Society for Creative Anachronism Arts and Sciences

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