Of Stationary, Ebooks, and Writing Tools

Stationary has always been a weakness of mine. I love having notebooks of various sizes and weights of paper. I love the smell of printer’s ink. I love loose leaf binders and rulers, pens and pencils, and stencils like the flow chart template that used to be popular in college book stores. Do colleges even have book stores any more? I know they do but with so much of our information being delivered online, the advent of the electronic book, and the relentless competitiveness of online commerce, it is hard to believe that the campus book store will survive per se much longer.

My fetish for writing tools extends to computer programs as well. I have a huge collection of different text editors, word processors, outliners, mind mappers, and other programs for capturing ideas on a computer. Just this weekend, I installed a program called Instiki that allows me to easily create my own private Wikipedia-like hyper-linked collection of notes.

I still like the feel of physical books but I have to admit that I can store a whole lot more books on my iPad than I can in all the bookshelves in my two bedroom apartment. And so the trade-off has begun. I only buy my favorite author’s books in paper editions. The rest I buy ebook editions of. I sometimes buy the ebook edition of books that I also own the print editions of. That way I can carry it with me where ever I go without hauling around all that extra mass.

Physical books don’t take batteries. They survive power outages. That may be solved in the near future as we keep producing batteries with longer and longer lives. We may eventually build an ebook that can derive power from the environment without having to be explicitly charged.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Generational Acceleration

We have changed a lot as a culture in recent years. It seems that these changes keep happening at an ever faster pace. In my grandfather’s day, things were pretty much the same as they were in his father’s day. There were a few new inventions, I few social norms that were being challenged by rebellious youth but that was as it had been from time immemorial. The automobile was invented in my grandfather’s lifetime. He could remember a time before they existed.

In my father’s day, things were beginning to change faster. We had been through one major world war and the threat of the Nazis were looming large. There were automobiles everywhere and my father embraced them. He and his pals bought an old model A Ford an fixed it up.

Dad used to go to automobile auctions and get jobs driving cars for the dealers. He was twelve years old at the time. They would give him money for a bus ticket home. He said he would keep the money and hitch hike home. This was a very different society than we have today.

Television was invented when my dad was a teenager but it didn’t really become a major force in American culture until he was grown. I on the other hand never knew a time when there wasn’t television.

For me, computers were the exciting new technology. There were big computers before I was born but when I was in high school, Intel invented the microprocessor. That was the chip that made personal computers a reality. I wanted to own a computer so bad I could taste it.

When I couldn’t find a job during the recession of 1975, I joined the army for computer training. I learned to fix and program small computers in the army. When I got out of the army, I immediately got a job working with computers.

My daughters never knew a time when there weren’t computers. We always had computers around the house when they were growing up. Computers were a part of their daily life. They didn’t learn to program them but they did use them to write papers, to balance their bank account, and especially to play games.

My grandchildren never knew a time without cell phones. I wonder what the next technology is going to be. Is it going to be virtual reality? Is it going to be 3D printers? Is it going to be self driving cars? I know. It will be all of these and things we can barely imagine now.

Revolutionary Ideas Rediscovered

I have rediscovered a video that has profoundly influenced my ideas about how we think and use computers to help us learn about the world. The video is a presentation by a programmer and rather deep thinker named Bret Victor.

In this video, The Humane Representation of Thought, he imagines a new way of communicating. He talks about a concept that he calls the direct manipulation of dynamic behavior. This is a different approach to getting a computer to support the thought process. He emphasizes the use of all the senses and all the capabilities of the human body.

He talks about the fact that we have constrained our communication to words and numbers and drawings that are all represented in two dimensions using ink on paper or pixels on a flat screen. Not that these are bad ways of representing ideas but rather that they ignore the other senses other than sight that we have to perceive and interact with the world. Senses such as hearing and touch. The ability to perceive depth through visual and auditory clues. The sense of touch. The sense of proportion that comes from standing next to something and walking the length of it.

I highly recommend watching his video and exploring his web site to better understand his brilliant concepts. Any descriptions that I write are insufficient to communicate his vision and I think that is just more evidence for his point.


So after watching the reality distortion field (the video of Steve Jobs announcing the iPad), and sleeping on it, I think I may have a solution. I can afford an iPad if I replace my MacBook with a 21.5″ iMac and use the difference between the price of that and the price of a 15″ MacBook Pro and a 24″ Viewsonic external display to buy a 32GB iPad!

I’ve noticed a bunch of people nay saying the iPad today. One person that agrees with me is Steven Fry. I knew he was an Apple fan boy but I was surprised at how astute he was. I think the key fact here is not that the iPad is the best tablet there could ever be. It’s just that it is the first one to “get” what sets a tablet aside from a laptop. It has certainly captured my imagination.

There. I think I’ve got it out of my system now. And now back to your regularly scheduled blog posts.