Kids should learn programming!

Blogger Nico Lumma recently published a rant on Handelsblatt about Germany (and probably other countries) are wasting time by not letting children learn to program in school.

There have been initiatives like http://code.org/ to promote »coding« as a basic skill of the future:

… or a recent German version »Jeder kann programmieren«

And maybe in 20 years from now kids will be creating interactive toys like these gloves of musician Imogen Heap:

Some even provide interactive tutorials for starters (more here).

Actually there are not many things that you can learn so well online like coding…

But why coding?

In the information age, being able to code turns you from a consumer into a producer. If software defines what you can do, then creating software is a way to of doing things for your own way.

This is not meant to be turning kids into software developers: Programming is a way to be able to experiment with information and data. In a world of data it teaches how to think about machines, processes, data and communication. It makes you aware of what technology can do and thus could become. Maybe for your personal profit, maybe for the profit of many.

A society where only few people can program a computer is unthinkable!

Fargo: Outliner for Bloggers!

Finally! Fargo is an online tool for writing in outlines to a WordPress blog.

Very good. Outlining has been underestimated as a writing tool – but there was barely any way to edit content without a desktop software – like OmniOutliner – this way. I was using Userland Software (Frontier with Manila – later Radio) for blogging … but switched to WordPress a while ago. Dave Winer continued the core software with the OPML Editor – and has begun to mix it with web technologies.

The stuff Dave Winer usually is working on isn’t always usable by everyone. But it is original and nerdy. And it always is an inspiring playground. He writes software for himself. But it does things that others like also. Like outlining.

Update June 2014

Dave Winer talked about the mechanics of change in the web at the State of the Net conference in Trieste last week.

I am following Dave’s work since 1996. He is a developer. He tends to say he is a software developer, but that doesn’t really explain it well. He does not develop software — I’d say he develops through software.

I am very glad to hear that his former employee Brent Simmons wants to resurrect Frontier. Frontier was an application invented by Dave in the early 1990ies that integrated a database with a scripting language in a way that allowed to be creative with code (and later the web). It was not a tool accessible for an average user, but nevertheless it took away a lot of complexity made you able to solve complex problems with it yourself.

Frontier allowed to create a completely own understanding of what you regard as data and text and work the web with it. You could take anything from anywhere to anything with it and transform it into what ever you wanted… and keep a record of everything along the way. One could to this today, but it became much harder. Too hard. Looking forward to a new version.

I finally switched to WordPress

I finally switched to WordPress

wordpress_logoAfter a long time of consideration I turned over to WordPress for this weblog and I will not be using Tinderbox to blog here anymore. Tinderbox is a great software for thinking and writing – and I love to have a more graphical/visual note taking approach to weblogging. But it was getting too clumsy to update my weblog or simply correct a typo. It also is a client side application – thus requiring me to use Tinderbox to blog (so it didn’t work with other clients or other computers).

feed-icon32x32  RSS Feed

Now I just need a slick design for this site.

Personas? Yes… influence group thinking!

Jason Fried from 37signals argues against the use of Personas.

Personas don’t talk back. Personas can’t answer questions. Personas don’t have opinions. Personas can’t tell you when something just doesn’t feel right.

This is a pretty sketchy definition of what personas are supposed to do as a tool: The foremost reason for personas is to have people from all departments think about their product from a customer perspective and with a mindset that can be shared. Personas are not meant to “talk back” – they are meant to align imagination and create labels for »common thinking«.

It makes a difference if people talk their ideas pretending to be someone else or not. Personas drive positive groupthinking. It also forces to anticipate users. It also makes deriving marketing stories from that easier.

Eye-tracking websites

Eye-tracking websites

The statistical output of the eye-tracking survey is colelcted into “heat maps”, where hot zones are those areas people tend to look at more often:

Heatmaps of three websites

Nielsens concludes, that most users employ some kind of F-pattern when scanning a page. He concludes:

The F pattern’s implications for Web design are clear and show the importance of following the guidelines for writing for the Web instead of repurposing print content:

  • Users won’t read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner. Exhaustive reading is rare, especially when prospective customers are conducting their initial research to compile a shortlist of vendors. Yes, some people will read more, but most won’t.
  • The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. There’s some hope that users will actually read this material, though they’ll probably read more of the first paragraph than the second.
  • Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior. They’ll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words.

Getting Things Done tools

The book »Getting Things Done« by David Allen is a bestseller. It offers a strategy of how to prioritize things you have to do. It is a combination of a tracking device (like a box of notes) and a routine of how to use that device. I am running my own Tinderbox tool to keep track of projects and actions in Tinderbox. But in principle you could use almost anything as long as you are able and willing to use it almost anytime you need to record a new task. Here is a page describing GTD. It also contains a link PDF with a diagram that shows the routine that needs to be learned.

The Kinkless GTD System is a freeware outliner, that probably does much of what I do with Tinderbox. I have also seen a wiki-style implementation of this with TiddlyWiki: GTD TiddlyWiki (and there is also a page that even includes a Dashboard version).

I am sure there are a lot more tools available to start a fine GTD system with.

9 out of 10 Features undiscovered in MS Office

According to this article at heise.de Microsoft learned from a study that 90% of the features users would think as being “nice to have” in a future release are already included in the current application – but just haven’t found by them yet.

There couldn’t be no better proof for the fact that »functionality« is not an aspect connected to the software itself but rather an aspect of usage context. Microsoft is said to completely rework the user interface of MS Office.

Update: Here is a video of the new Office 12 prototype and also some screenshots.

Actually there are two important changes:

First they’ve sort of got rid of pull-down menus replaced these with much more visual explication of how the given option might affect the document. Second they work with much more predefined styles from which you pick visually instead of crawling through the dialogs and defining all the details of a style manually.

It is similar to what Apple has begun with Keynote and Pages (“Damn! Cupertino ahead again!?”) with using a tool bar with just the most important often used functions. But Microsoft took it much further by getting rid of the properties inspector almost totally. So the quick summary is: less menus, less typing values, more live previews and tool-tips, more predefined styles.

From what I see from the video, it seems like the first time Microsoft really did not only focus on new features but really tried to come up with a good user interface that stands out and is unique. They’ve been better at ripping UI ideas and mashing things up quickly. I have the feeling that the step Microsoft ist making with Office 12 is at least as important as the release of Windows Vista itself.

Navigation blindness

This article by Henrik Olsen suggests to design navigation systems in webistes to be much more prominent:

Most web development projects put a lot of effort into the design of navigation tools. But fact is that people tend to ignore these tools. They are fixated on getting what they came for and simply click on links or hit the back button to get there.

Olsen quotes the studies of the Visual Cognition Lab of the University of Illinois where people attending certain features where unable to recognize unusual things properly (inattentional blindness). There is a follow-up to these experiments by Ronald A. Rensink.

Knowledge tools

I think it is pretty remarkable how many applications have appeared that could help people to capture creative thinking. Here is a selection (I restrict it mostly to OS X applications):

Graphing

Outlining

Here is a comparison of NoteTaker and NoteBook.

Managing notes

  • Tinderbox: notes organizer, hypertext writing, mind mapping, personal content management (this site is done with it)
  • KnowledgeTank: another tool to collect notes (seems to be an early release but has a promising roadmap)

Personal databases and structure creation

  • DEVONthink: a freeform database to store and query information pieces
  • Haystack: a personal desktop information portal/dashboard
  • ZOE: a search system mostly for the personal e-mail repository (creates a browsable hypertext of the mailboxes)

Groupware

  • IHMC CmapTools: a groupware client/server concept mapping tool
  • Groove: a groupware tool on a peer-to-peer network base with pluggable modules for outlining, whiteboarding
  • Near-Time Flow: networked aggregator for adresses, files, RSS feeds
  • SubEthaEdit: the concurrent writing feature makes this text editor a very interesting groupware application

Other

  • Curio: organize a scrapbook hierarchically and publish it online in one go; add structured dossiers to projects
  • Keynote: an easy to use slideshow application (easier compared to PowerPoint)

I am sure this list is just the tip of an iceberg. But keeps me thinking though is that there is no developed practice yet to really deal with all that power. These tools train their users on the fly. They allow structuring things only if a systematic strategy is applied. But where does this strategy come from?

Sometimes the question is how to tell the application what the user wants (and he/she needs to know what he/she wants) – sometimes the application suggests how to do it (then the user needs to know if which approach aligns best with the goals).

Here are some skills, that users need to care about if they want to become powerful action researchers with these tools:

  • Simplification: do not collect everything (be willing to hide/delete too narrow sideways); writing with simple wording if structure is the main actor in the scene
  • Keeping goals: always re-iterate on the goals you want to achieve, ask wether or not the document will serve the final purpose
  • Educated decisions: make informed decisions on structure and relations instead of hoping that the tool will suggest one or let one emerge
  • Explicate intention: Keep record of your intentions when doing chances if there is one; ask if new goals emerge and prioritize goals
  • Use hypothesis: experimentally ask questions and try to answer them with your document;
  • Epistemological twists: use falsification; remodulate questions to reveal new answers; try to become better in asking revealing questions

Findability.org

Peter Morville on findability.org:

Ambient findability describes a world in which we can find anyone or anything from anywhere at anytime.

And Al Abut posts a comment on that site:

You know what would help me with the findability of your site updates? An RSS/Atom feed!