Thursday, April 12
My problem with GUIs is that they all blow chunks.
That is not to say that I believe this to be inherent. However, contemporary
GUIs are all too obviously created to allow the user to carry out just those
operations that the GUI designer foresaw.
Commandline interfaces and text editors for heavy lifting such as vi and Emacs,
on the other hand, are rather abstract. They offer powerful and generic tools
for manipulating text streams, leaving it up to the user to combine these tools
into a chain of actions that accomplishes his task. This way, given tools free
of artificial restrictions, it is possible to achieve effects never foreseen by
the authors of any of the tools involved.
Artificial systems are everywhere, right? In the sense of classificatory
apparatus? Yeah, I know
classificatory is an appalling word, but it
stuck in my head the first time I ever read the phrase
us say in the sense of ways to arrange things, and understandings of the ways
that things are arranged, and the deep confusion between the two.
Yesterday I had this moderately useful moment of recognizing that broken
schemata and bad abstractions are just everywhere. This isn't uniquely, or
even especially, a software problem. It's just that thinking about software -
or, god help you, actually using most of it for a non-trivial task - sure
brings it out in sharp relief.
Human thinkers have a staggering capacity for bad empiricism. Think about
design. Think about education, religion, philosophy, and the available
categories of political classification. Or the actual process of science, even
in fields with a tight coupling to bedrock physical quantities.
As a species, it seems like we always try first to make the data fit the model.
In fact, we go to endless lengths to avoid substantially revising or discarding
a bad model. It causes us tremendous pain - whether the model in question is a
religion, a piece of physics, or something as (apparently) trivial as a
I think this tendency may be, after sex and death, the third essential component
of the human tragedy.