Research on how designers work

How designers work. I haven’t looked at lots of dissertations, but this one is a beaut. It’s Henrik Gedenryd’s How designers work: Making sense of authentic cognitive activities. Here’s the abstract: In recent years, the growing scientific interest in design has led to great advances in our knowledge of authentic design processes. However,… [IDblog]

More from the abstract

At the same time, there is a growing movement of research on authentic cognitive activities, which has among other things documented the central roles of action and the physical environment in these activities, something that existing cognitive theories have overlooked and cannot properly account for. This creates an explanatory gap analogous to the one found in design.

This is definitely something for the short term reading list.

More on Memex and weblog traces

The record of the race. Vannevar Bush: As We May Think. “Thus science may implement the ways in which man produces, stores, and consults the record of the race.” (397 words) [dive into mark]

Mark also picks up on this Vannevar Bush/Memex meme associated with the Google/Pyra announcement. More interestingly, scroll down to the bottom of his post for an interesting example of a weblog “trace.”

Memex construction nearing completion?

Google + Blogger = Stimergy. Matt Webb: Imagine, searching at Google, and then:

  • this trail is highly followed
  • do you only want to see what people suggest, or where people went?
  • here’s a worn track in the interweb. Follow the Google Pixie!
  • this trail is uncommon, but made by someone we see (by your weblog) that you value

Or, more succinctly, stimergy. [Sam Ruby]

Lots and lots of reaction to Google buying Pyra. This post plus another from Cory at Boing, Boing hit on the most provocative interpretation I’ve seen; that Google is building the Memex. Here’s Matt’s key observation:


They’ve got one-to-one connections. Links. Now they’ve realised – like Ted Nelson – that the fundamental unit of the web isn’t the link, but the trail. And the only place that’s online is… weblogs.

There are two levels to the trail:

1 – what you see
2 – what you do
(“And what you feel on another track” — what song is that?)

And the trail is, in its simplest form, organised chronologically. Later it gets more complex. Look to see Google introduce categories based on DMOZ as a next step.

What Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, weblogs, and now Google are all demonstrating is that the boundaries between organizations and disciplines are arbitrary. It’s the connections and the trails that matter. It’s just taken a lot longer to build it than we would have liked. With a bit of luck we’ll find out that we’ve managed to build it in time.

Mucking about with this site

I’m mucking about with some of the code and design for this weblog. Mostly trying to move in the direction of better use of css and more leverage out of tools such as “activeRenderer” and “liveTopics” I’m sure I’ll manage to break a few things along the way. Please bear with me. I have added a Change Log to keep track of what I’ve been up to

Bubbling blogs and emergent order

Fleming adds some very useful counterpoint to the evolving debate on blogs and power laws started by Clay Shirky. He picks up on Ross Mayfield’s post on Distribution of Choice that I picked up on yesterday, but takes it in a more interesting direction. He focuses on what can emerge from each of us thinking, writing, and then interacting with one another. The patterns that Shirky sees at the macro level are the end result of all of our activities at the micro level. Some of Fleming’s key observations:

Blogging allows us to work more openly and refer to each other’s work, while also sharing it with a bigger audience. …

Connections form. …float up and into the cloud of the web. Specifically they will end up in an assortment of directories and search engines, most notably in Google.

…the choices of many relatively ordinary folks become more visible than ever before. And they form emergent patterns that become very visible.

…The point is not at all whether I have unfairly more or less readers than some other weblog. The emerging democracy in blogs is in that we together leverage our choices in a way that normally isn’t possible unless you run a big corporation or you’re run by one. We’re a swarm of thought bubbles. [Ming the Mechanic]

What we have in blogging are tools and a process that let us participate in the kinds of messy, distributed, emergent process that will characterize work and life for us tomorrow. It’s the concrete instantiation of what Howard Rheingold is talking about in Smart Mobs and Steven Johnson described in Emergence.

If you only have a nail, every tool looks like a hammer

Like many bloggers I’ve been following the recent debate around Clay Shirky’s Power laws and blogs article with interest. At the same time, Lilia and Denham Gray have been carrying on a blog-conversation about blogs vs. threaded discussions and wikis.

Ross Mayfield adds some excellent observations about the multiple possible purposes for blogs from something resembling journalism to tools to support collaboration among tightly integrated teams.

Blogging software such as “Radio” or “Traction” has that wonderful characteristic of the best kinds of tools that can be warped and twisted to fit so many different needs. Think of Excel being used as a word processor or database manager, for example.

Couple that flexibility with lowering the barriers to entry so that you expand the universe of potential users by an order of magnitude or so and you get the blogging phenomenon. You don’t have to be any sort of technology expert to pick up a blogging tool and get started. Want to talk about your cats? Feel free. Want to become an instapundit? The name is taken, but there’s room for more if you have something worth saying. Want to improve knowledge sharing among a project team? That’s fine too.

The tools don’t put much shape on how you interpret them. That means you interpret and explain them from the perspective of your work. If the problem you have looks like a nail, than this must be a hammer I’ve just picked up. It’s the fundamental beauty of general purpose software running on general purpose computers. The limit is your imagination. No wonder the establishment is worried.

Defenestrating technology

Why I’m not a compugeek. While pondering some hypertext-related ponderings, I found myself thinking about how I approach computers, just because I don’t seem to be typical. You won’t catch me waxing rhapsodic about the latest chip speeds or wireless gizmos, much less the latest software. My laptop at home is a PIII/850, and it… [Caveat Lector]

Dorothea goes on to say:

Where I do seem to part company from other heavy computer users is that my most common response to the things is frankly adversarial—more than that, bullying.

Program crashes? I swear like a stevedore. Bug in something I’m writing? More swearing, coupled with grim determination to make the wretched machine do what I bloody well say it ought to. Something I’m writing runs clean? Ha! One spiteful victory dance, coming up!

I always considered that one of the defining characteristics of my relationship with all technology, especially computer technology. If I haven’t threatened one of my machines with defenestration during the day, I haven’t been working very hard.

For those of you Mac or Linux fans who think my threats are about uninstalling software, don’t be fooled. When I threaten out the window, I mean out the window, preferably an upper story one. I’ve worked with operating systems and technology back to OS/360 and it’s all been out to get me most days. I am in complete agreement with Dorothea here.

Traffic and traffic jams

One driver can vastly improve Traffic.

Traffic Waves [via Marc’s Voice, Smart Mobs, Werblog]

Science hobbyist William Beaty claims: “Sometimes one driver can vastly improve Traffic”

The basic principle is to “bring space into congested traffic” by slowing down and maintaining a large safety gap in front of you. Not only is this much safer for everyone, but it reduces the bunching up that causes the standing waves as shown in the animation above. Slowing down ahead of a traffic jam smooths the slow-then-go pattern. Further, leaving a large gap in front of you allows cars to merge into your lane. While aggressive drivers can’t stand the idea of someone “cutting in” on them, allowing merging can eliminate the traffic jams caused by lane reductions.

Especially entertaining is the FAQ, including, “Are you still alive? Haven’t the road-ragers beaten you up yet? ”

Note the subtle coupling that’s occurring in these traffic situations. Aggressive drivers contribute to traffic jams by causing the bunching up that creates standing wave jams. According to William Beaty, even individual drivers can prevent traffic jams because their slowing slowing down will affect other drivers and slow enough of them down to “bring space” to the congestion.

[Gary Boone’s Blogun]

A fascinating example of how people and systems interact in unexpected ways. If this kind of result interests you beyond its own merits you might want to look into Jay Forrester’s work on systems dynamics, starting with Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems (pdf). You might also want to take a look at Mitch Resnick’s Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds

Doc Searls stolen laptop

What’s Up, Doc?. Like many of you, I was shocked when I learned that my buddy Doc had his laptop stolen. What a crock! Well, it’s time to give back to the man who’s given so much to this community. I’ve set up a PayPal donation link. Let’s get that man a new friggin’ PowerBook! The 15″ SuperDrive model is only $2,799.00. If every regular Doc follower donates a few bucks to the fund, he’ll have a new machine in no time at all. I’m using for this particular campaign, and I swear (on my chest) that all monies will be given to him. If you’re going to pass the link around, please keep an eye on this particular blog post, as I’ll kill the PayPal item as soon as enough has been generated…. [C:\PIRILLO.EXE ~ Chris Pirillo]

These things happen, but at least we can do something useful about it.