About RR & IF
Newsletter Home
May 2002
June 2002
July 2002
Aug 2002
Sept 2002
Oct 2002
Nov 2002
Dec 2002
Jan 2003
Feb 2003
Mar 2003
Apr 2003
May 2003
June 2003
July 2003
Aug 2003
Sept 2003
Oct 2003
Dec 2003
~~~ Ramana Rao's INFORMATION FLOW ~~~ Issue 2.6 ~~ June 2003 ~~~

Information Flow is an opt-in monthly newsletter.  Your email
address was entered on www.ramanarao.com or www.inxight.com.
You may forward this issue in its entirety.  
Send me your thoughts and questions:	     [email protected]

~~~ IN THIS ISSUE ~~~ June 2003 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Introduction
* Light Stories
* Why 49 revealed
* 49 Classics cont.

~~~ Introduction ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you are wondering what happened to the May issue, it's
possible that a spam filter ate it for use of unsavory language.
Shame on me for not anticipating this.  I'm suppose to be
tech-savvy.  I referred to Annie Lamott's expression, famous
among writers, that is a bit more direct than "Lousy First
Drafts."  You can find the May issue in the archives.

This month has seen lots of traveling for me, and so I have
focused on the 49 classics for this issue.  And a little light
story telling.

~~~ Light Stories ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Since I was otherwise in Boston, I went to my 20th college
reunion this month.  MIT was extremely fragmented by living
groups and departments, and I thought with only a portion of my
class, that I really wouldn't know that many people.  I was
surprised and pleased to connect with a dozen or so people that I

As the small world topic unavoidably came up, a man remarked that
"his wife believed that meeting people you knew accidentally
meant you were doing something right."  It's exactly the kind of
remark that one wants to ascribe to a spouse.  The perfect level
of closeness.


I've been demoing novel visualizations for over 10 years.  I've
probably heard 50000 gasps on the click that makes the Star Tree
move.  One more product manager asks me what I know.

Two things.  The first is don't let them be scared.  Ease the
fear that they won't understand.  Tell them what to see.  They
will see if it's there.  And maybe, even if it isn't.  The second
is that it always works better with their own data or content.
If they can see something they recognize, they will use it to
understand what they don't.

The trick for designing a novel widget into an application is to
whisper in the user's ear.  Even when you aren't there.


To my six year old daughter, I said, computers aren't like other
machines, you can do lots of things with them.  She looked at me
quizzically.  So I asked her what you do with various machines.

A refrigerator?  You put food in it to keep the food fresh.

A washing machine? You put clothes in it to wash them.

A car? You put gas in it and it takes you places.

And a computer?  She took a lingering look at the screen of a
Macintosh.  Then with a smile on her face, answered, you look at
things in it to find where to go.

~~~ Why 49 Revealed ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last month I asked if you wondered why I picked 49 for the number
of classics.  What ended up happening is amusing particularly
given how I set the survey:

    If you know me at all, you would know that when a choice
    seems like it could be arbitrary, I search all the harder for
    rhyme or reason, which ends up having the effect of
    generating a number of reasons and often a rhyme.

I got a flood of responses.  In fact, I got exactly two.  :-)
Both from friends that know me well.  One, Harley Davis (who was
shocked when I used a smiley in an instant message once),
responded with rhyme:

    "Seven plus or minus two is just fine,"
    said Ramana, "for the typical mind.
    But mine is much deeper
    Its a flow-er not a creeper
    I'll take seven power two - 49!"

And the other, Dan Russell, responded with reasons:

    You asked: "Why 49 classics?"  Of course you have a
    reason.. the question is what?


    1. It's a perfect square:  7^2 -- which ....
       1.a is the human memory chunking size in two dimensions
	   which....   ("Magical number seven..")  
       1.b.1 lends itself to interesting visualizations.  OR
       1.b.2 lets you present 7 classics a month for the rest of
	     the year (i.e., it gives a reasonable program for
	     your newsletter writing)


    2. It's Ramana gone meta: You do NOT in fact have a
       principled reason, but figure that you can leverage the
       reader community to find one for you.  It's a clever ploy,
       and it's so wonderfully meta that this is what I think
       you're doing.

Dan has guessed well.  In fact, strike the ORs, all reasons
apply.  It's been long enough since deciding to do 49 classics
that any account of why 49 is suspect.  That said, a few other
reasons came up in some order either before or shortly after I
picked 49.  (How often do you know some one has already made a
decision, though they would deny it until they actually declare
the decision?)

I live in San Francisco.  It's roughly a square of seven mile by
seven mile.  And there is a 49 mile scenic drive for tourist.
So, of course, you can imagine the fun of arranging 49 ideas on
the map or the tour.  Pictures would be fun, a Classics treasure
hunt, maybe?  What franciscan order or what golden gates might be
found this way?

And of course, San Francisco brings up thoughts of the
forty-niners of the gold-digging and the football kind.

Away from the apparantly whimsical to the apparantly rational.
Teacher, honest, I saw this as an exercise in capturing the
multiple kinds of realities that influence the design of human
information systems.  There are seven (or so) relevant kinds of
realities---I was thinking physical, cognitive, representational,
computational, social, cultural, economic, and political
realities---with seven relevant laws or so each.

As with the diagrams and almost all other design activities for
me, I'm realizing that there are a set of rough ideas that shape
the activity.  I called them motifs or themes in discussing the
diagrams last month.  Some times the rough ideas are like design
objectives, but not really.  These ideas act as shaping forms
that provide guidance when the activity seems to lose track.  And
sometimes, the activity completely transforms the original shape,
as is certainly to happen with the seven kinds of realities idea.

I'm not so sure what word to use for these rough ideas, so I'll
cheat and make up one: designerata.  I'll save for another time
designerata having to do with squares and circles, tables and
trees, question marks and exclamation points.

    Gurgling shapes, themes,
    flowing toward design's reach,
    enter the world's hold

Googling designerata, I find no hits whatsoever, which surprises
me, but Google does ask "Did you mean designers?"  Meanwhile,
it's hard to find anything other than the famous (now to me even)
prose poem when you search for desiderata.

~> Desiderata by Max Ehrlich
   ~> http://www.fleurdelis.com/desiderata.htm

   Look at stuff below poem on
   ~> http://marilee.us/desiderata.html

And if you're wondering, I like it.  I really do.

~~~ 49 Classics cont. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This month's group of tentative classics will seem a strange
brew.  The first few look at the larger moral ramifications of
information technologies.  The next set are apparantly about
software or programming languages, but also a lot more to me.
And finally I include a paper on hypertext from the year before
HTTP was defined.  BTW, I've fallen onto the idea that when the
classic would require a purchase, I'll provide some links that
provide review, refinement or revelry related to the referred.

~> The Human Use of Human Beings, by Norbert Wiener, 1950
   ~> Connections between Pink Floyd and Norbert Weiner.
      The Division Bell Concept

   ~> The Matrix: MEME 2.09 
      [ a side note: what happen to David S. Bennahum, who had a
        newsletter for 5 years?  The site and its content seem
        frozen since 1999 ]

   ~> Review by Unknown Student (why is he or she unknown?)
~> Why the future doesn't need us, Bill Joy, 2000

   This article created an avalance of responses, many I remember
   as being quite interesting themselves.  [ ... to be found ... ]  

~> One Half a Manifesto, Jaron Lanier, 2000

   intro: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/lanier/lanier_index.html
   whole: http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge74.html

~> The GNU Manifesto, Richard Stallman, 1985

~> Perl Culture, Larry Wall, 1997

   Also worth looking at:
   ~> 2nd State of the Onion

   ~> 3rd State of the Perl Onion

~> Personally, I prefer Python, contrast the thinking by its
   designer in the following pieces:

   ~> Forewords for "Programming Python" (1st & 2nd ed.), Guido
      van Rossum, 1996, 2001

   ~> Or read these articles by the infamous Eric S. Raymond, and
      by Lars Marius Garshol

~> Lisp: Good News, Bad News, How to Win Big, Richard P. Gabriel, 1990
   history: http://www.dreamsongs.com/WorseIsBetter.html
   html:    http://www.dreamsongs.com/WIB.html
   pdf:     http://www.dreamsongs.com/NewFiles/LispGoodNewsBadNews.pdf

   Also Interesting:
   ~> Mob Software by Richard Gabriel and Ron Goldman

~> Reflections on NoteCards: seven issues for the next generation
   of hypermedia systems, Frank Halasz, 1988

   ~> http://www2.parc.com/spl/projects/halasz-keynote/

Ramana Rao is Founder and CTO of Inxight Software, Inc.  
Copyright (c) 2003 Ramana Rao.  All Rights Reserved.
You may forward this issue in its entirety.

See:  http://www.ramanarao.com
Send:   [email protected]
Archive:  http://www.ramanarao.com/informationflow/archive/ 
Subscribe:  mailto:[email protected]
Unsubscribe:  mailto:[email protected]