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Category: Book

Sections of the book ‘’ as they are written and edited, for comments and revision by you. A philosophy of better information tools & environments for life in a fully digital world

Urgent Complex Problems

Doug Engelbart used to say that mankind is coping with problems of ever increasing complexity and urgency. Here is is when we talked in the mid-90s:

This has now been measured: “Complexity Rising: From Human Beings to Human Civilization, a Complexity Profile”

I think part of Doug’s problem was that his intuition was just so keen that he saw so much as being obvious without necessarily having to bother with a lot of the data and communication about it. He also foresaw Moore’s Law, and told Moore about it. To Doug it was simply too obvious to put a name to it, he told me.

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Author & Reading Views

This is also the first post (I think) written with Liquid Information Author, though it was not posted from within Author. That ability will come.

I have decided to spend time and money on Author as I am also working on writing Deep Literacy because I keep getting pulled from working on the philosophy of Liquid, deep literacy and practical innovations.

For example, the amount of writing I have done up until this sentence, looks, to me, to be beautiful and very readable. Check out the screenshot below.

Looking at this and thinking stops me writing since I then focus on the tool I am writing with – Author. ByWord, which is a beautiful and simple word processor, and inspiration for the visual look of Author, makes text on top of the screen ‘blur out’ to keep a bit of a frame around the text. I like to have the space, but I don’t like blurred text, it doesn’t feel clean and I think there is a small amount of cognitive load in scrolling ‘just so’ that the new line is below the blurring. This is similar to the cognitive load of scrolling documents which you’d want to pin the top of what you are reading to the top of the screen, when reading with a traditional desktop/notebook device.

So how can I design a text environment which shows a large amount of text but in a way that makes you feel you are focusing on a small chunk of it, without feeling the need to often ‘change screen’? This is the kind of question that tugs me between the tool and the philosophy.

So far, answers to this in general include automatic outlining and simple typography, but maybe, maybe there should be a reading mode which is paragraph by paragraph?… Or is the idea of modes not a good idea? If we had a reading mode distinct from writing mode in Author then the user could also choose to invoke non-permanent Views more easily. Hmm…. It would likely work well and look good with Doug’s Augmenting Human Intellect but for web writing, that is, one thought per paragraph, as I do, it would leave some very small paragraphs…. How about using the headings as a ‘pin’ on top of the screen, with space to spare, as in the second screenshot?

This could be experimented with maybe in this way: User has cursor in a paragraph and does cmd-right arrow and only current paragraph is visible. cmd-right arrow again and next arrow ‘slides’ into view.  OR, the user can hold down the space bar and the screen turns into what the third screenshot below show: Top paragraph stays black. All other paragraphs becomes fray at 20% opacity. Space bar again to skip to next paragraph (hoisting next one up, heading always stats on top). Space and hold cancels this mode, as does esc.  (Use case that no-one will need to do many multiple spaces in Author. Do tap, tap, tap if they want to, but not tap and hold. Tap and hold space bar enters a more like web-read mode!).

Hmm.. I think we should try this.

(pause while playing around with screenshots of Author, then working in Photoshop and Keynote)

Initial Idea

So, this has now been been mocked up in:–Writing_to_Reading_Mode_idea_1

Talking with Emily this seems a bit extreme so here is another idea. People don’t read down more than about half the page on a scrollable document before scrolling but they/we have no problem reading all the way down on a ‘page’ documents in a book.

Revisiting Criteria

Taking a step back to clarify the criteria: I want the reader to read with space on the screen, as a nicely laid out book, with margins on the sides and also top and bottom. I also want to remove cognitive navigation-housekeeping-load of scrolling.

The idea then becomes to make reading on a notebook/desktop screen as pleasant as that of a tablet or printed book.

Second Idea

So here is the next suggestion, when in writing/‘normal’ mode hold-down the spacebar to go to reading/‘book’ mode:

1) Any paragraph which is visible at the bottom of the screen but goes off below the screen is greyed to 20% opacity, indicating that it is, in a way, a preview to the next ‘screen’.
2) The paragraph where the users cursor is currently is ‘hoisted’ to the top of the screen, if it is not there already, with about an inch of empty space above it.
3) The heading of the current section is shown in this top area. If there is no heading then the document title is shown. If there is no document title then this space is simply empty.

To navigate:

1) Press the space bar to flip the top visible set of (normal colour/black) paragraph(s) up and away while a next set of paragraphs from below jumps up (the one  you saw a bit of, greyed out) to the to of the screen.
2) Shift-space to go back a screen.

(Any new headings passed in this way would replace the one on the top of the screen)

Hold down spacebar to toggle to back to basic view:

1) The top heading and background fades quickly to show whatever text is above the currently top-pinned paragraph.

I like this one a lot. We shall have to try it. It would look like this:–Writing_to_Reading_Mode_idea_2 or Download the Keynote Presentation if iCloud doesn’t play the animations, which are a bit key to this.

It would need to be defined as a view so users can edit text in this view (edit: That would not work, since text needs spaces… I need to think this through a little more…). ONLY holding down the space bar would toggle it on/off.




Little bit of text in Author


Second Screenshot

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Deep Literacy & Continual Learning

Deep Literacy is about knowing the tools of your trade very, very well, supporting your ability to thrive immersed in your work, not skimming around superficially, while continuously learning new tools and skills through work and dialog.


So let’s start by looking at what learning actually is: Learning is the process of knowledge or behaviour beaming part of you. Learning changes who you are.

Old English leornian “to get knowledge, be cultivated, study, read, think about,” from
Proto-Germanic liznojan, from
Proto Indo European leis-“rack, furrow.”

Learning new ways of doing things is hard work, and there are good reasons for this, as can be seen from our inclination towards healthy eating and exercise:

Fat & Sugar

Why is it that fatty foods are so attractive to us but they are so unhealthy? The answer is of course that in the vast majority of our history as a species, and all the time of the history of our ancestor species, fat and sugars were hard to come by it was a good idea for us to develop a taste for the highly concentrated energy.

Biological evolution has been overtaken by social and technological evolution so now our craving for what was before hard to come by is the default option.


Why is it that running is so healthy but for most people it’s not pleasurable? It used to be that running was essential if we were to tire the beasts we needed to slaughter and bring home for the rest of the tribe. Humans are better at dealing with body heat than other animals so we can run for longer than any of the ones on our menu.

But why did we not simply fall in love with running and run all the time? Because we would simply not have enough food to support such an energy consuming lifestyle, so we developed a tendency towards laziness apart from when adrenaline pumped to spur us on to run and run, and with it, runners high for when we needed the long distances.

So here too, our evolutionary development put an activity within a spectrum of need vs. energy.


As a species humans are very good at doing what we have done before. Once we know how to ride a bike, we can ride a bike, we don’t need to learn how to do it again and again. Once we learn how to read, we know how to read, and so on.

If we want to learn a new sport or to read in another language, it takes significantly more time and real, hard mental effort to ‘get up to speed’, burning extra much sugar in the brain, to accomplish the change in our brains to ‘learn’, to ‘seat’ these new skills, these new behaviours, into our memories and processes.

This is for the same reason as it’s not really ‘natural’ for us to avoid fatty foods or run at leisure; committing something to memory comes at a cost since there is a chance it could disagree with something we already know: The older we are, the longer we have survived with the previous notion or skill, so the cost of changing is higher. We have acquired important life-lessons in childhood, when we know little and learn quickly but are supremely vulnerable as we have few automatic systems in place, only the very most basic ‘instincts’.

Let’s take this all the way to its logical conclusion, let’s see what it would be like if learning something new was not ‘backed up’ by the ability to learn and put the behaviour on automatic pilot: First of all, the decision overhead of deciding how to do anything since it can be done in any way would be huge. Imagine the simple act of going out to buy groceries; the way you walk could be completely different way from how you walked yesterday. You come across a door. What’s that all about? How about stairs? Or getting into, never mind driving, a car. The benefit of ‘automatically’ doing what you have done before would be lost.

Putting information, processes and perspectives into yourselves always be an energy and survival (for earlier evolutionary times) gamble. Putting the essentials on autopilot and leaving them as stable, slid behaviours and perspectives makes perfect sense in a world which is relatively static in your lifetime.

Today we live in an environment of daily work related change and massive, global change. We live in an environment where people who used to be separated are now coming together, with all the opportunity and friction that brings. We live in an environment where our social, poetical and financial interactions are so complicated that we cannot simply read a book or have a conversation and be confident we understand the issues in totality and in-depth.

We have to put learning front and centre.

This means treating continuous learning as a global priority. Not simply literacy of basic reading and writing, but continual literacy development of learning how to access, asses and share information as well as, crucially, how to discuss information with others, in continual, active dialog.

Whereas evolution, with it’s ‘blind’ optimisation of our survival based on our ancient historical environment, has optimised us for learning while young, then relying primarily on automatics, we now have to adapt or simply die, as a species.

The cost of sticking with what you have learnt when young is simply too high now.


And what is the point of this? If you feel you understand why something is the way it is, it might be easier to overcome it. That’s all. So go learn. And enjoy the ‘burn’ of learning something new, like you might enjoy the burn of a workout.


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