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Category: Notes On…

This category is for writings I consider fuller articles than the very brief glossary terms or other posts.

Liquid | Author workflow: Write, Think Cite & Submit

This is my script for a demo/pitch for Liquid | Author which I have sent to a few friends, including what I am proposing to build to make it a smoother experience, marked [NEW] in the document. The point is simple, this is the workflow Liquid | Author supports and this is how simple and effective it is:

Write

In Author you can quickly change from focused full-screen to regular view with the ESC key. When you settle down to write you have no formatting options to distract you with but you have control over your typeface to choose bold and italic which appear as they should, not as code which is how they appear in markdown.

You can type away and tap ‘fn’ twice to dictate.

Please also note that Author uses a slightly warm background to reduce eye-strain. It looks quite strong to stat with but ceases to be noticeable in full screen after only a short while.

Think

Thinking is sometimes simply called ‘organising ones thoughts’ and in Author you can pinch to see only the headings in your document, which you can re-organize to reflect your growing understanding of the topic you are writing about.

[NEW-MAJOR] You can choose to view your headings in the companion application Liquid | View, where the headings become nodes in a free-form concept map view. Any changes you make there are reflected in your Author document and vice-versa. This application will also be able to use nodes from other sources so that you can visually think with nodes without leaving the power and long-form environment of your word processor or blog, for example.

Liquid | Author’s companion Liquid | Flow allows you to select any text and instantly carry out useful operations. For example, look up a word in Wikipedia. You can also translate, convert, search copy in different experimental ways and share via email, and more.

While you are writing a longer and more involved document you may wonder if you have used a word or phrase earlier. Just select it, cmd-f and only sentences with that text will appear-in full. Click on one to jump to it or ESC or click in the margin to return to your regular view.

Cite

To cite something you have read in a book you select the text in your document which contains the quote, or paraphrase, and cmd-t to get the citation dialog. Here you can press ‘a’ for Amazon and you can search Amazon for the book and it will auto-fill your citation.

When someone reads your document in the future they can click on the citation and choose to see the book in Amazon or [NEW] to search Google Books to see the cited passage in context, to better understand your citation and to check its veracity.

You can similarly search Mendely for academic documents.

If you copy something from a web page you will get the option when you paste to paste as Plain Text (default option, just press enter) or As Citation (hit ’t’). If you choose to paste as citation Author will capture additional information for you but you still need to type in the author’s name.

This brings up citing from a video on YouTube. You can ctrl-click inside the video to copy a URL to the exact time in the video you have frozen at and then in Author when you do cmd-t you have the option to cite using your YouTube URL. If you do, you will also need to enter the author’s name since different people can of course speak in a single video. Your reader can then click on the citation and the video will play from that moment of time right inside Author.

Submit

When you have written your work and you are ready to submit, you can cmd-p which does not bring up a traditional Print dialog but a series of options for how to Publish your digital document; to .doc, .pdf and also to paper via Print.

When you choose what format you want to Publish in, you can also specify whether your citations should be automatically appended to the end of the document under the heading of ‘References’ or ‘Bibliography’. You can also specify how the citations should appear in the body of the document; as superscript numbers or authors names and dates in brackets.

[NEW] You may already have entered your name and organisation at the back of your document. If so, Author will have remembered and you only need to fill in the name of your course. This information will automatically become the document cover sheet.

If you choose to Publish as an Author document your reader will have special controls in Read mode from what you had in Edit mode. You can toggle the modes at any time by clicking at the button at the centre of the bar at the bottom of the screen BTW. In Read mode you can use spacebar to jump down a screen and you can select text and spacebar to have the text read out to you.

If you like, you can even use Liquid | Flow to post your work to your blog, in about a single second.

And you are done.

But we at the Liquid Information Company are only getting started. These are early days and we thank you for your support in continuing to develop ever more powerful interactive text software: Thank you!

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Symbol Space

In Doug’s Capability Infrastructure Diagram the human system and the tool system are clearly shown as vertical columns with lines connecting in myriads of ways to create capabilities in the centre. For example, a tool system capability to ‘copy’ will only be useful if the user knows how and why to carry out the command.

What is missing from the diagram though are two things though: The technical infrastructure and the symbol space.

The technical infrastructure is document formats and network protocols. This is what either allows tools to give the user certain capabilities or constrain them. For example, the user cannot create a citation link to a specific section of a commercially bought and copy protected book, unless the vendor opens the software to allow this type of tool use.

The second issue is harder to explain and define and I’ve decided to name it the ‘Symbol Space’. What it entails is more on the Marshall McLuhan media side of things, it’s about the digital media; what it can enable–what the opportunities are and what the constraints are. The basic notion is that what a human manipulates thorough the computer is symbols.

This is where issues of symbol manipulation, view specs and high-resolution addressing comes in.

These are ‘things’ which can be implemented in technology, or ‘instantiated’ in many different ways, depending on what the infrastructures allow for. This is one thing I wish I had the opportunity to discuss with Doug.

I have put up symbolspace.info as a place to investigate this further from.

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Joe & Sally

The XEROX PARC chapter of personal computing explicitly changed the user from Doug Engelbart’s high-performance knowledge worker to the secretary, whom they called ‘Sally’.

As Alan Kay pointed out, and which Doug illustrated in his seminal ’62 paper with the user ‘Joe’, Doug was trying to make a violin but not everyone wants to play a violin. Today we have the Mac and Windows with their point-and-click ease and limitations, with scarcely an innovation in the last few decades worth mentioning.

This distinction was of course never in black and white and today the average computer user is much more experienced than in earlier decades and of course it is important to provide an entry to a user with a learning curve which is not too steep.

When Doug made the Keynote Address at the World Library Summit 2002 in Singapore, he pointed out that we have made ‘truly tremendous progress’ in using computer systems to help us solve problems. He continues:

But that is not what I am going to talk to you about. Not out of lack of appreciation – even a sense of wonder – over what computer technologists have developed – but because I can see that we are not yet really making good progress toward realizing the really substantial payoff that is possible. That payoff will come when we make better use of computers to bring communities of people together and to augment the very human skills that people bring to bear on difficult problems.
Engelbart, 2018

He clearly presented what he saw as the goal; ‘to get the significant payoff from using computers to augment what people can do’:

Furthermore, Doug discussed the “seductive, destructive appeal of ‘ease of use’ – A second powerful, systematic bias that leads computing technology development away from grappling with serious issues of collaboration – the kind of thing, for example, that would really make a difference to disaster response organizations – is the belief that “ease of use” is somehow equated with better products. Going back to my tricycle/bicycle analogy, it is clear that for an unskilled user, the tricycle is much easier to use. But, as we know, the payoff from investing in learning to ride on two wheels is enormous. We seem to lose sight of this very basic distinction between “ease of use” and “performance” when we evaluate computing systems.”

Sally is now well served by the software community’s continual, gradual improvements. Let’s give Joe another shot, let’s build knowledge work systems like bikes with rockets attached.

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