Clojure Gazette 1.41

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Bret Victor

Clojure Gazette

Issue 1.41 — May 28, 2013

Bret Victor


Editorial

"One of the 4 or 5 greatest user interface design minds in the world today."

— Alan Kay

Back in 2008, I read Magic Ink. One needs a little imagination to understand what this essay was like back then. It was sparsely and tastefully designed, had margin notes, a floating table of contents, and beautiful information graphics. There was no fluff. There was only deeply researched goodness—with citations. The writing was publication-quality. Where did this come from?

The look and feel of the essay still shines, but now there is more competition for stellar design on the web. At that time, it was—or seemed to be—a message from the future where web publishing could be more expressive than print. You don't need to read it (though you should) to understand the visceral effect this essay has on the reader. The message is clear: it is the medium.

The essay touched a place in me and continues to inspire me whenever I have to build an interface or write an essay.

Bret Victor has gone on to write more essays and give several talks, each of which causes excitement and inspiration. In my mind, he is one of the few pointing the way to a long term vision of the new medium of computers.
 

Sincerely,
Eric Normand <ericwnormand@gmail.com>


P.S. Feel free to email me any time. I love hearing from readers.


Essay

Magic Ink: Information Software and the Graphical Interface


Interaction in software is often unnecessary and frequently used as a crutch to make up for bad information design. The concepts are presented based on deep principles of human psychology, with many examples and example redesigns of existing software interfaces. If you haven't yet, you should read it. If you have, you should read it again.

A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design


Indeed a rant, this essay attempts to show how most interaction design concept videos fail to look farther than mere incremental steps. Along the way, Victor teaches us about our own humanity.

Simulation as a Practical Tool

This tool would eventually displace many symbolic forms of math, in the same way that the pocket calculator has displaced manual arithmetic methods.
Couched in a criticism of educational methods, this essay really is a call for computers to enable a new kind of mathematics and with it a new kind of thinking. Mathematicians don't think in symbols, so why should we solve problems symbolically?

Learnable Programming

Traditional visual environments visualize the code. They visualize static structure. But that's not what we need to understand. We need to understand what the code is doing.
This amazing critique of programming learning environments is also an example of inventing the future he would like to predict. The essay is full of interactive examples which illustrate what a programming learning environment could be.

Kill Math

Kill Math is my umbrella project for techniques that enable people to model and solve meaningful problems of quantity using concrete representations and intuition-guided exploration. In the long term, I hope to develop a widely-usable, insight-generating alternative to symbolic math.

Software

Tangle

Tangle is a JavaScript library for creating reactive documents. Your readers can interactively explore possibilities, play with parameters, and see the document update immediately. Tangle is super-simple and easy to learn.

Video

Inventing on Principle

Inventing on Principle


This video inspired Chris Granger to build Light Table. On the surface, Bret Victor shows how visualizations can help a programmer understand his/her code. The deeper message (which seems to get lost amid the oohs, aahs, and applauding) is that one can see farther by choosing a principled perspective from which to look. What principles do you live by?
Drawing Dynamic Visualizations


Drawing Dynamic Visualizations


Bret Victor presents a tool for drawing pictures that can change in response to changes in the input data. The tool provides scientists with a more expressive way to visualize their data. In essence, Victor has created a programming language whose statements are direct manipulation of pictures (like drawing in a vector graphics tool). The notes are invaluable.

Stop Drawing Dead Fish

Stop Drawing Dead Fish


Bret Victor explores what makes interactive art different from previous media. He uses his own interactive animation software to demonstrate an implementation of his ideas.

Media for Thinking the Unthinkable

Media for Thinking the Unthinkable


Victor breaks down several examples of symbolic communication and shows how using visual, interactive models clearly communicate the intent better than the purely symbolic version. Multiple visual representations take us a step in the direction of thinking new, previously unthinkable thoughts. You may want to read the notes before you watch the video.
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