"I don't have any prizes to give out, I'm just going to tell you how to live your life."
February 15, 2012 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Bret Victor (previously, previouslier) shows off some mindblowing tools he's created to demonstrate not only great insights in user experience, but also his philosophy: "Inventing on Principle"
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism (15 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

God damn do I wish smart people would stop putting so much effort into breaking the scrollbar.

I will now go back and pay more attention to the actual stuff.
posted by brennen at 2:43 PM on February 15, 2012

Watched it all the way through, which never. Excellent talk about personal vision and pathfinding. And some really nifty tools also. Thanks for the post.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:45 PM on February 15, 2012

Bret Victor is one of my favorite computer-type people, and I am not usually a computer-type-people person. He's really passionate about making sophisticated processes intuitive and accessible, and creating tools that let people who'd never do certain kinds of things do them anyway.

That iPad animation tool is incredible. I love the thought of making animation the way you'd paint, just sweeping your arms until you intuit the right feel for something. His is a rough demo, sure, but in two minutes he makes something using easily graspable rules that's smoother than something that would take an amateur half an hour to do in Flash. Probably longer.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:49 PM on February 15, 2012

I just read the two previous posts and threads on Victor. I was most interested in his "Kill Math" project and the underlying philosophy of it. I'm a bit annoyed by him because, to my mind, he's just the inverse of what he opposes. And I have a strong feeling that the chasm between his view and the view he opposes is an product of the failure to teach mathematics as a liberal art.

That is to say, math is now almost exclusively taught as a toolset for engineering or scientific analysis. It's very divorced from the intuitive monkeyeyes that Victor correctly believes is so important...and that's why very few students come to understand the limits of those monkeyeyes and how the symbolic abstraction and the resulting tools are allowing us to transcend those limitations. And, in the other direction, very few students are taught mathematics in such a way as to allow them to better integrate their monkeyeyes intuitions into these abstractions, to learn to leverage them when possible, question them at all times, and explore the implications of where our intuitions lead us awry and where they do not.

In his ladder of abstraction discussion, he is actually recapitulating and demonstrating the importance of what I just described. What's deeply interesting and powerful is what insight we gain when we transition up and down on that ladder of abstraction.

For example, lets go about as far down to the fundamentals of the modern mathematical tradition as we can go and consider just how deeply anchored, even blinkered, were the Greeks in their insistence on understanding math only with their "monkeyeyes", by which we really mean "spatial intuition" in conjunction with verbal reasoning. The Greeks famously were willing to only put into ratio things of the same "kind". In a way, you can think of this as the "it's invalid to compare apples to oranges" sensibility. In the domain of mathematics, they were unwilling to put length in a ratio with an area, for example. And this makes sense, doesn't it? They are two qualitatively distinct things.

And so Euclid and those who preceded him went to great effort to accomplish some very powerful insights while obeying that stricture, and others. The most important thing to understand here is that the Greeks were, in both math and other reasoning, wizards at reasoning that is deeply anchored in commonsensical human intuition. They were amazing at this—and this is both their greatest achievement and gift to the rest of mankind, and also their, well, Achilles Heel.

Because what if we abstract just a little bit and do put length and area into ratio? What happens when we let go of our monkeyeyes understanding of reality and play a bit with a more abstracted reasoning and see what happens? Well, the funny and amazing thing is, not only do we not immediately descend into madness, but we find that our tools still work, they usually continue to well-describe reality within a bounded domain (that is, where they worked before, they still do), but most importantly, they open up new domains for exploration and, even more importantly, they challenge us to reconsider our prior intuitive understanding of the domain in which we had been working.

It just isn't the case that human intuition and abstract symbolic manipulation are at odds, with one "better" than the other. They are best when the connections between the two are well-understood by the human who uses them; best when each is used to criticize the other.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:59 PM on February 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

Okay, but how cool is the development environment for JavaScript? The ability to see the execution live is available in several different environments. But to click on the output and have it trace it back to the code? To control time? I think it's "supper debugger++".
posted by bmorrison at 6:08 PM on February 15, 2012

Wow, Ivan, thanks for that.
posted by migurski at 7:51 PM on February 15, 2012

Now I have a better understanding of just how to go about my quest.

I want to eliminate the rolling of the dice that happens when you run a program. You need to be able to chose what resources a program gets, when you decide to run it.

This all or nothing way that Linux, Windows, Unix do it is just plain stupid.

I think it would be called NoDice (as in you shouldn't have to roll dice with your computer as the stakes)
posted by MikeWarot at 10:34 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

This was really good. The problem domain vs the tools. Making new tools is advanced problem solving.
posted by vicx at 5:54 AM on February 16, 2012

A friend pointed me to this guy's resume, which... is absolutely astonishing. Inspiring and completely demoralizing!
posted by billjings at 6:59 AM on February 16, 2012

> I think it would be called NoDice (as in you shouldn't have to roll dice with your computer
> as the stakes)

For Linux, check out AppArmor and Linux Containers.
posted by Coventry at 7:07 AM on February 16, 2012

Are the tools demonstrated in the video actually available? I tried looking at his website, and immediately disregarded the search in favor of reading the beginning of a treatise on graphical interface design for an hour. I need a budget for my attention and possibly also supervision before clicking that link again.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 11:29 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

bmorrison: "Okay, but how cool is the development environment for JavaScript? The ability to see the execution live is available in several different environments. But to click on the output and have it trace it back to the code? To control time? I think it's "supper debugger++"."

Supper Debugger?

"You have spaghetti code!"

(sorry, I couldn't pass it up!)
posted by symbioid at 12:07 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

"You know, the people in these towns, they're asleep. All day, at work, at home. They're sleepwalkers. We wake them up."
posted by titus-g at 2:48 PM on February 16, 2012

This video made me cry - and I'm not even a programmer. I have all these ideas for software and websites and animations and whatnot, but despite a lifelong affinity with computers I could not make head or tail of code (last thing I learnt was Pascal and that was ages ago). I just wanted to get my ideas out into the world - but it felt like having a disconnect between my brain and my hands. I could express what I want to make and how it should work; I just didn't know how to speak Code. Usually I'll just explain my idea to my web-developer boyfriend and let him have a go if he has time.

These software Bret demos are exactly how my brain works. ESPECIALLY the animation section: I gasped when I saw it. YES! THAT is what I have been trying to do for AGES and could never make happen! He got it, he really got it, and he made it happen.

God the things I would make if I had my hands on those software. About the only problem with this is that I wouldn't even know enough to write the intro lines of code (e.g. it wouldn't have occured to me to put things in an array) but other then that, if I could get the base down - I'd be on fire.

(Actually right now I'm especially interested in the webdesign/development version of this. I have a lot of website ideas but no idea how to translate visual/kinesthetic ideas into words and numbers. I tried out Muse but it was less intuitive than I thought it would be, and most WYSIWYG editors tend to not deal with interactive elements or be clunky. Any suggestions?)
posted by divabat at 3:06 AM on February 18, 2012

Discovered this just now and was about to post it. Amazing demos, great perspective. Guess I should be checking MetaFilter even more often than I do!
posted by ignignokt at 9:24 AM on March 4, 2012

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