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-   -   [OT] "Pre-announcement" of Python-based "computing appliance" project. (http://www.velocityreviews.com/forums/t336125-ot-pre-announcement-of-python-based-computing-appliance-project.html)

Richard Hanson 09-23-2004 02:46 AM

[OT] "Pre-announcement" of Python-based "computing appliance" project.
 
While this post is primarily off-topic, I'm using Python to test
ideas, and hopefully, to develop a prototype for the project. I've
noticed that this group is frequented by some of the finer minds in
compsci; this post relates to HCIs and possible improvements to such.
But, be all that as it may, if this project can be shot down -- this
is where I'd prefer it to be done. :-)

(I've been very impressed with the civil adult behavior here. Polite
*and* humorous -- my kind of people! In any event, I apologize if
anyone is offended by my posting of this, here.)

I had hoped to not announce until I had a minimal prototype ready.
However, my quickly disappearing time resources are being "devoured by
locusts"[1], some time-resources spent just trying to keep online
access, what with my current stable of failing Windows-based (alas)
computers and the current trend towards complexity rather than
simplicity in the world.

(Python is the epitome of complexity-controlling languages; I think it
appropriate that this project which aims to markedly simplify the
complexity of the user interface [no lofty aspirations, here :-) ], be
done in Python.)

---

My project, "code-named" Pathfinder, is planned as a computing
appliance with "all batteries included" which answers 95%, say, of the
typical user's computing needs. It would be convenient for both the
"power user" and Grandma. Such arcana as harddrives, directories,
files, OS vs. apps distinctions, etc. would be hidden from user view.
(Some of these items wouldn't even need to exist under-the-covers.)
Something like Pathfinder could ultimately be, perhaps, the Model-T of
the not-yet-here Computer Age (with lots of help designing and
implementing such, of course).

(If you think I'm deluded -- you may well be right <wink> -- but read
on. HCI was my main area of interest back in my active [i.e., under
employment] programming days. Laziness, and now "mouser's arm," have
been, and still are, my main sources of inspiration. :-) )

---

One of the goals of Pathfinder is to have an integrated OS and system
on flash ROM, say, totally separated from user data (user data being
automatically and redundantly backed up transparently to the user)
with the system supplying the more commonly needed functionality in an
integrated manner. For example, Pathfinder would not allow apps to be
added by the user -- no need, as virtually all batteries are provided.
Authorized upgrades of the system ROM would still be allowed by the
spec.

Another part of Pathfinder is a perhaps better HCI -- no need to steer
a mouse all around the screen just to arrive at some point which could
have been immediately gone to. And no need for sixteen ways to do
everything. Instead, a touchscreen-and-stylus, and an array of
dynamically labeled buttons in a panel on one side of the
browser-detail pane, would be the primary *one way* (other than the
keyboard) to interact with the system. (Detail views in the adjacent
browser-detail pane *may* need to have additional controls depending
on the object type: AV, text, PIM, etc.)

The dynamically labeled buttons would either evoke some action as a
"leaf," or evoke a new "sub-menu" of newly labeled buttons (ala the
"softmenu" keys of the HP28 and HP48 series calculators).

The browser-pane view, using only the dynamic button-panel and a few
screen-taps, could be "narrowed-down" from the all-objects, global
view to a very select, subset view through filter, sort, and attribute
selection. In this way, the desired "needle in an increasingly more
humongous haystack" could be found with only a few screen-taps of the
button-panel. Once an object (user or user-configuration data), or a
set of such, is in view, a few more button-panel taps could add (or
modify) the object(s) attributes as desired to "add value" for future,
further ease-of-use.

Basically, the current windows-icons-mouse-pointer interface would be
entirely replaced by the "button panel" and touchscreen. (A mouse
could substitute for the touchscreen in the interim as the project is
being prototyped on conventional platforms.) No more menubars,
taskbars, Start Menus, endless series of dialog boxes, steering around
cascading menus, etc. With only a few dynamically labeled buttons,
say, properly nested in a sensible but easily changeable tree,
"zillions" of leaves of tasks, filters, orders, attributes, etc. could
be reached with only a few screen-taps.

The project would be open-source, of course. (Not sure how any
eventual hardware could be open-sourced...?) I have more to say about
the specs and philosophy of the project if anyone is interested. (I've
had this project on the back burner throughout a seven-year-long
family reunion book undertaking; only now can I apply my available
resources without *that* distraction, however.) Contact me off-group
if you've a mind to.

Thanks very much if you have read all the way through this... uh...
something or other.


for-posterity-in-an-ever-increasingly-complex-world'ly y'rs,
Richard Hanson
_______________________________________________
[1] "Borrowed" from Jerry Pournelle's frequent usage.

Note: I could edit this forever, but I'm punching SEND, now -- ypoes
and such are thrown in for free. ;-)

--
sick<PERI0D>old<P0INT>fart<PIE-DEC0-SYMB0L>newsguy<MARK>com

Carlos Ribeiro 09-23-2004 12:02 PM

Re: [OT] "Pre-announcement" of Python-based "computing appliance"project.
 
I really like this kind of stuff. Information management, knowledge
management, complexity management, you name it -- it's a increasingly
interesting topic. Appliances also are relevant, as it is seamless
networking.

I heed you to check Microsoft's documents on "how Longhorn will be
great" :-) Seriously, they're working hard to create a new paradigm
for the Windows desktop, and some of the things that you talk about
are discussed there too -- namely, they're hiding folders, drive
names, etc, from the user view, and creating a new and much simplified
user interface. Google is known to be working on something similar --
your computer will be just a big Google-indexed repository of
information. No more trying to file things into folders, Google will
categorize and locate things back for you in a snap.

A project of this size is really big and ambitious. A suggestion is to
create a new mailing list and to start discussing it there. If it's in
Python, I'm sure you can thrown baits here at c.l.py from time to time
to hook new people :-)

--
Carlos Ribeiro
Consultoria em Projetos
blog: http://rascunhosrotos.blogspot.com
blog: http://pythonnotes.blogspot.com
mail: carribeiro@gmail.com
mail: carribeiro@yahoo.com

Ksenia Marasanova 09-23-2004 09:56 PM

Re: [OT] "Pre-announcement" of Python-based "computing appliance"project.
 
> I heed you to check Microsoft's documents on "how Longhorn will be
> great" :-) Seriously, they're working hard to create a new paradigm
> for the Windows desktop, and some of the things that you talk about
> are discussed there too -- namely, they're hiding folders, drive
> names, etc, from the user view, and creating a new and much simplified
> user interface.

Fortunately, Apple has been working even harder and is already there
with Tiger:
http://www.apple.com/macosx/tiger/spotlight.html
http://www.apple.com/macosx/tiger/search_finder.html


> My project, "code-named" Pathfinder

Just be aware, there is also a Mac program called Pathfinder, in case
you wanted to keep the name...


Ksenia.


Richard Hanson 09-23-2004 10:06 PM

Re: [OT] "Pre-announcement" of Python-based "computing appliance" project.
 
Nice to find that my off-topic post was taking seriously even if I
*did* use lots of smileys and such -- as well as positing a possibly
seemingly grandiose set of ideas. :-)

Carlos Ribeiro wrote:

> I really like this kind of stuff. Information management, knowledge
> management, complexity management, you name it -- it's a increasingly
> interesting topic. Appliances also are relevant, as it is seamless
> networking.


Check on all the above -- and many thanks for the kind words and vote
of confidence.

It is my thesis that the world is experiencing a "complexity bomb" if
you will -- a combinatorial explosion of complexity in all things --
and that compsci has been dealing with managing complexity for
decades, and that if the world doesn't turn to the complexity-control
experts (compsci folks), then things may well be grim in the coming
years.

I've long been frustrated, though, that even in the computer industry,
the mainstream has gone the WIMPy way :-) -- instead of continuing to
innovate re HCIs. While I have personal, selfish reasons for working
on my project (such as finding that I am spending more and more time
trying just to *find* stuff on my harddrives, and being increasingly
hampered by a diminishing ability to drive mouses all around the
screen :-) ), I also realize from helping many of my non-computer-type
friends that they are mostly totally bewildered about such
distinctions as harddrives-directories-files, OS-apps, etc. Commonly,
I get frantic calls asking for help to fix their computers, often
with, "I was cleaning off my harddrive and now my computer doesn't
work." Usually, this sort of problem turns out to be that they deleted
the Windows directory, or perhaps that the Program Files directory
seemed a wee bit too cluttered, and so on... :-) The blame points
towards poor design and quite misleading marketeering on the
industry's part, I respectfully submit. The public thought they were
buying a microwave but got a space shuttle... :-/

I realized in my original epiphany perhaps seven or eight years ago,
that something like Pathfinder was possible which would be safe and
easy for Granny, and yet allow me to be much more productive, as well.

> I heed you to check Microsoft's documents on "how Longhorn will be
> great" :-)


Heh. When they announced such a few years ago, I felt a bit validated
that my ideas were not psychotic. :-) But also, I felt an urgency to
get an open-source version out. As I said in my original post,
however, I had no time at that time, to devote to Pathfinder while I
was involved in another project.

(I also note that MS has recently announced that they are dumping the
database file system from Longhorn as they scramble in the Sysiphean
task of "fixing Windows." :-) )

> Seriously, they're working hard to create a new paradigm
> for the Windows desktop, and some of the things that you talk about
> are discussed there too -- namely, they're hiding folders, drive
> names, etc, from the user view, and creating a new and much simplified
> user interface.


I am somewhat familiar with MS's theoretical work. However, it is also
my thesis, that open-source software (with a suitable BDFL -- likely
not me, as I'm getting too old; perhaps I could be a pope or
something... ;-) ) won't... uh... screw things up as badly as a
profit-driven megacorp. (MS *does* have the ability to solve the
hardware platform problem -- something OSS may have greater difficulty
dealing with.)

> Google is known to be working on something similar --
> your computer will be just a big Google-indexed repository of
> information. No more trying to file things into folders, Google will
> categorize and locate things back for you in a snap.


Now Google is a horse of a different color. :-) Yet, with their
incredible success, one wonders if profit-motives could possibly
squelch innovation? And now that they're going public, they'll have to
answer to the stockholders -- now *that* cannot be good... ;-)

I know the founders of Google are some big branes, and that Python was
used originally, and still is, in their shop. That's a good sign. :-)

(By the way, ideally, Pathfinder would not use trees of directories --
"flat is better than nested." [Indeed, initial prototypes would have
to kludge a flat structure on top of the directory trees used in
Windows and other file systems, as Windows in particular, really bogs
down with a dir containing ten of thousands of objects, say. And we're
talking about hundreds of thousands of objects, at least.]
Pathfinder's "button-panel" menu-structure *could* be a
"simply-connected" tree, but wouldn't have to be -- the menu-structure
could just as easily be "non-simply-connected" [presuming I have the
nomenclature correct]. Additionally, the menu-structure would be
easily changeable by the user: some may want the same leaf to be
located in several or many branches, or that a leaf be found via
several different routes. I would think that there would be some
standard menu-structures provided, but also that the users may well
want to change the dynamically labeled button-panel menu-structure,
themselves, and such should be made easy to do.)

---

There also is a developer in Italy with an open-source project that
features many of Pathfinder's ideas. While his work is good, and his
work further validated mine -- indeed, some of his writing reads
eerily like my own copious notes on Pathfinder -- his project is not
the complete "paradigm shift" that Pathfinder is envisioned to be,
particularly re accessibility issues.

> A project of this size is really big and ambitious. A suggestion is to
> create a new mailing list and to start discussing it there. If it's in
> Python, I'm sure you can thrown baits here at c.l.py from time to time
> to hook new people :-)


Thanks for that suggestion!

(Perhaps I should also hook up with the Italian developer mentioned
above...? I've lost the link to his website, but maybe I'll find time
to relocate it via Google.)

But back to your excellent suggestion: My concern is that I may not be
around along enough to even get the project launched in the envisioned
direction. (Thus, my "dumping" of my off-topic post in here,
yesterday.)

But, you have *greatly* encouraged me; perhaps I *can* get a prototype
working -- such would speak volumes louder (to mangle metaphors :-) )
than just a posting of some ideas by a newcomer to c.l.py
(active-posting-wise; I've been lurking here and elsewhere for years).

If I am successful in getting some reliable hardware rebuilt (I use
laptops, preferably with touchscreens, due to physical handicaps), I
may well be able to get a prototype of Pathfinder implemented. Python
makes the development of even big projects so much easier than the
myriad of languages I've used prior, that there is a slight chance
that I could get something working, perhaps...

(I have hesitated to mention my physical limitations even though I
hinted at my age, and obtusely to health problems, in my email
address, as such can often be taken for whiny complaining. :-) But,
ultimately, my physical limitations have been a blessing in disguise
for many, many reasons. Indeed, it is the arthritis in my arms and
hands which has been some of my main impetus for the "button-panel"
replacement of the WIMP interface which I elaborated on more in my
original Pathfinder posting, yesterday. And, in many other ways, I
have found much silver within the clouds. So I am decidedly *not*
complaining, nor even remotely bitter, nor whining, etc. about my
limitations. I want to be absolutely clear about *this* point.
However, accessibility issues *are* related to HCI issues, so perhaps
it *is* appropriate that I mention my own situation at this juncture.)

---

The more I think about it, the more I like your mailing-list idea.
I'll see if I can figure out how to start one which is mirrored-by and
postable-to the newsserver Gmane -- I like their resistance to
disclosing private email addresses which spammers could harvest.

---

I'm more of a generalist; it is slightly possible that I am not
deluded in my thinking that my background in programming *and* art may
well be the requisite background that folks bent on improving the HCI
will need. My being intimately familiar with the accessibility issues
of physically handicapped folks may also be of benefit in improving
the HCI situation. (And, of course, laziness is a *very* good
motivation for innovation... ;-) )

Well, I've rambled way too long, again. :-)

I will post any notes pertaining to this project's progress, i.e.,
becoming more concrete, even if it's just an announcement of a
mailing-list as you suggest, here in c.l.py.

Again, thanks very much for your comments. I shall continue to forge
ahead as time and energy allows. At least now, some distillations of
my notes from years of work (mostly back-burner stuff till very
recently) is in the public record.

And, once again, thanks very much if you or anyone has read through
this far.

(I'm afraid if I keep posting, I *could* turn into a "postingbot"
rivaling some of c.l.py's best-loved and most-prolific writers. :-) )


the-grandeur-of-delusions'ly y'rs,
Richard Hanson

--
sick<PERI0D>old<P0INT>fart<PIE-DEC0-SYMB0L>newsguy<MARK>com

Richard Hanson 09-24-2004 12:53 AM

Re: [OT] "Pre-announcement" of Python-based "computing appliance" project.
 
Ksenia Marasanova wrote:

> > My project, "code-named" Pathfinder

>
> Just be aware, there is also a Mac program called Pathfinder, in case
> you wanted to keep the name...


Thanks!

As it happens, I had googled quite a while back and found more than
several apps (and other things) named Pathfinder -- seems it's rather
a popular name. So it remains merely a convenient "code-name."

If the project gets off the ground, I *will* have to pick a name from
my growing list of possible candidates, though.

(I've already thought of Doors... -- doors are more useful than
windows, aren't they? ;-) )


names-can-be-fun'ly y'rs,
Richard Hanson

--
sick<PERI0D>old<P0INT>fart<PIE-DEC0-SYMB0L>newsguy<MARK>com

David Lees 09-24-2004 03:25 AM

Re: [OT] "Pre-announcement" of Python-based "computing appliance"project.
 
Richard Hanson wrote:
<snip>
You might want to skip doors. There is already an overly complex
requirements tool by that name:
http://www.telelogic.com/products/do...oors/index.cfm

David
>
> (I've already thought of Doors... -- doors are more useful than
> windows, aren't they? ;-) )
>
>
> names-can-be-fun'ly y'rs,
> Richard Hanson
>


Jack Diederich 09-24-2004 04:02 AM

Re: [OT] "Pre-announcement" of Python-based "computing appliance"project.
 
On Thu, Sep 23, 2004 at 05:53:16PM -0700, Richard Hanson wrote:
> Ksenia Marasanova wrote:
>
> > > My project, "code-named" Pathfinder

> >
> > Just be aware, there is also a Mac program called Pathfinder, in case
> > you wanted to keep the name...

>
> As it happens, I had googled quite a while back and found more than
> several apps (and other things) named Pathfinder -- seems it's rather
> a popular name. So it remains merely a convenient "code-name."
>
> If the project gets off the ground, I *will* have to pick a name from
> my growing list of possible candidates, though.
>
> (I've already thought of Doors... -- doors are more useful than
> windows, aren't they? ;-) )


Hmm, you could go with Daleth, the Hewbrew letter that means Door.
A glance at the first google page shows no software with that moniker.
As a logo it isn't terribly sexy, but you could work on it (the current
trend seems to be dropshadow, dropshadow, dropshadow). It also sounds
vaugely "Dr Who."

-Jack

ps, to any whackadoodles: no neocon conspiracy here, it just happens that
when I was young my parents sent me to a place called "a school"

Richard Hanson 09-24-2004 06:01 AM

Re: [OT] "Pre-announcement" of Python-based "computing appliance" project.
 
[Top-posting rearranged -- it helps me to follow the flow; I'm an old
guy... :-) ]

David Lees wrote:

> Richard Hanson wrote:
>
> > (I've already thought of Doors... -- doors are more useful than
> > windows, aren't they? ;-) )

>
> You might want to skip doors. There is already an overly complex
> requirements tool by that name:
> http://www.telelogic.com/products/do...oors/index.cfm


Interesting. You're quite right, though; that's the opposite way I'm
a'heading. "Simple is better than complex," and all.

Although... uhh... I *was* typing with my tongue firmly planted in my
cheek in my line you quoted, above. Perhaps the recent "naming
threads" for another project should have alerted me to be more obvious
that I was merely kidding about "Doors" -- sorry about that! (Why
peer through murky Windows when you can walk through wide-open
Doors?... ;-) )

[Nota bene: There's a "winky" after that last line, immediately above,
too. :-) ]

In any event, before this thread gets *too* out of hand with names,
let me say explicitly that I'm concerned with getting the project
going -- names can come later.

Thanks very much, though!


what-*have*-I-started'ly y'rs,
Richard Hanson

--
sick<PERI0D>old<P0INT>fart<PIE-DEC0-SYMB0L>newsguy<MARK>com

Richard Hanson 09-24-2004 06:12 AM

Re: [OT] "Pre-announcement" of Python-based "computing appliance" project.
 
Jack Diederich wrote:

> On Thu, Sep 23, 2004 at 05:53:16PM -0700, Richard Hanson wrote:
>
> > Ksenia Marasanova wrote [about my project's "code-name"]:
> >
> > > Just be aware, there is also a Mac program called Pathfinder, in case
> > > you wanted to keep the name...

> >
> > [...]
> >
> > (I've already thought of Doors... -- doors are more useful than
> > windows, aren't they? ;-) )

>
> Hmm, you could go with Daleth, the Hewbrew letter that means Door.
> A glance at the first google page shows no software with that moniker.
> As a logo it isn't terribly sexy, but you could work on it (the current
> trend seems to be dropshadow, dropshadow, dropshadow). It also sounds
> vaugely "Dr Who."


As I just replied to David Lees -- I didn't signal adequately that I
was not soliciting names for the project at this juncture, but was
merely attempting some levity. :-) I *should* have realized from the
recent "naming threads" what might happen... -- my bad! :-p

However, I *like* Daleth -- you're right, it is a bit Dr Who-ish.

Thanks! Non-English words will be a fruitful pool to fish for names in
-- when the time comes.


oops!-now-I've-done-it'ly y'rs,
Richard Hanson

--
sick<PERI0D>old<P0INT>fart<PIE-DEC0-SYMB0L>newsguy<MARK>com

Alex Martelli 09-24-2004 06:58 AM

Re: [OT] "Pre-announcement" of Python-based "computing appliance" project.
 
Ksenia Marasanova <ksenia@ksenia.nl> wrote:
...
> > are discussed there too -- namely, they're hiding folders, drive
> > names, etc, from the user view, and creating a new and much simplified
> > user interface.

> Fortunately, Apple has been working even harder and is already there
> with Tiger:
> http://www.apple.com/macosx/tiger/spotlight.html
> http://www.apple.com/macosx/tiger/search_finder.html


Even more fortunately, Apple has learned some lessons over the last 20
years, so its systems, while quite usable for grampa, do also appeal to
power users and geeks -- Tiger will seamlessly let you use its wonderful
search facilities _together_ with good organization of your materials
(if you take the bother of the latter). Consider Mail.app: its search
functionality works across all mailboxes or on a single mailbox --
you're _still_ encouraged to do a little decent filing of your mails,
though the search does make it more feasible to survive with the popular
"one big inbox and never bother filing" paradigm;-). Consider Google:
it doesn't eliminate the advantage of well-organized, navigable sites,
even though it gives you a chance of surviving the typical "designed by
marketing, what's this ``usability'' newfangled thing?!" ones...


Alex


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