[lively-kernel] Waving the red flag

Alan Kay alan.nemo at yahoo.com
Sun Apr 11 20:16:09 CEST 2010

History sometimes disrupts good stories, and this is one of those times.

The first really good zooming interface was done many years before Raskin by Nicholas Negroponte's Arch-Mac group at MIT in the 70s. (It was called the Spatial Data Management System) Raskin was greatly taken to task by the community for somehow not mentioning this in his book. Another zooming interface after Negroponte and before Raskin was done by Vaughn Pratt at Stanford. And yet another by Randy Smith at PARC. 

And so it goes ....

Best wishes,


From: Richard Karpinski <dickkarpinski at gmail.com>
To: Lively Mail List <lively-kernel at hpi.uni-potsdam.de>
Sent: Sun, April 11, 2010 11:08:01 AM
Subject: [lively-kernel] Waving the red flag

Hello Dan and everybody,

Smalltalk is wonderful. Making it work in virtually every browser by coding the base system in Javascript is very clever and could be marvelously useful. Enriching the current code to make Lively Kernel suitable for awesome presentations well beyond what PowerPoint could dream of has much appeal for me. I love neat things that are useful and can be acquired inexpensively in money and time. When such things have unbounded utility, Pavlov sets in and I slather and drool. Keep it up, man. I don't mind that my shirt gets wet.

But wait. How long does it take for someone to be comfortable navigating around in a Lively Kernel world?

I'm sure it's not one of those things that takes weeks to get into, but I worry that it might take an hour or two. What I want is a system that computer experts can become competent with in only a few minutes. It would be truly great if novices could get there even faster. But who knows how to build such a system?

Today, I think no one knows how to do that. However, the late Jef Raskin, father of the Macintosh and author of "The Humane Interface", did. Given a charter to assist in getting around in a patient's chart which was impossible to read when fully displayed and awkward to navigate when magnified to be readable, Jef used zooming to good effect. He wanted to call it a Flying User Interface, not only because he liked flying and it felt like that, but especially so he could call it (phonetically) a Phooey. He was like that.

Anyway, he discussed the system in his book, but he left out some details. When computer experts were trained to use the system. they became comfortable and competent in less than TWO minutes. But when utter novices, who maybe recognized the mouse as a thing to push around, not speak into as Scotty did, they became fully functional with the system in less than ONE minute. 

I really like that. I want that. With such a system I could teach a three year old to use it, or a 93 year old, or even a college professor. I am NOT kidding, the first and second examples may have time to spare, but the prof does not. 

Why does it work so well? My theory is that for tens of millions of years, our ancestors made it back to the nest, or we would not be here today. Thus the talent for geographic navigation is built into our DNA. We do not forget where the fridge is or where the couch is. Often we can get to such places in the dark. If our computer world is so arranged, people won't get lost so often. If we can follow links by rolling into a thumbnail and can return by recrossing that border it will seem natural to us.

What would it take to make it easy to construct and navigate such a zoom world in Lively Kernel?


Richard Karpinski, Nitpicker extraordinaire
148 Sequoia Circle, 
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Home: 707-546-6760    

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