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Re: [zigzag] Re: explanatory vars


(I just hit Reply in a list message, thread may not be relevant)

(If you don't like two or three screen loads of text, skip this message,
it's about my response to the phrase "activity traps".)

Down at the bottom of your marvelous "wearables" paper it says: "...and
best of all, no "applications"-- separated, imprisoning, proprietary
activity traps in which the commercial software vendors try to mire us."

I don't exactly disagree, but I am after all one of those commercial
software people. I also can say truthfully that I recognize you as one of
my best teachers. And this is a practical matter for me. 

I write Windows applications and sell them for a living. Almost a living.
What I started out to do was use a computer to do work that is repetitive,
boring, mistake-prone, and absolutely necessary to stay in the business I
was in then, which involved carving synthetic marble-like materials into
pretty and functional shapes, more or less by hand. 

The problem was bidding on new work. A proposal took an hour to write. When
all the bids I made were accepted, it was ok, but the acceptance ratio went
to 1:10 around 1986, for almost everybody. That meant an increase in
additional work *per job* to 10 hours. Without a computer system, I was out
of business, like a great many of my fellow small businesses. I solved the
problem by writing a Windows database program that derived pricing from
drawings, reducing the whole task to five minutes. That solved the problem
alright: if I'd stayed in that business I'd be a wealthy man. By then,
developing the solution had started to make my living.

This application does a necessary job, better, faster, easier and cheaper.
I'm not selling a trap, I'm selling a very sharp tool. Machines can't do
everything. A grinder grinds, a saw cuts. These are applications, and not
activity traps. The applications work better if they get good at one thing.

I think the trouble arises when we don't recognize an innovation that
transforms the work, the necessity for the work, and the life of the
worker; then, we try to use it like another of the machines we're used to.
Hence my little story about Og the Caveman and the new bow and arrow: he
takes this innovation, and runs down a deer on foot, the old way, and hacks
it to death with the arrow, and thinks this is just great.

Simply duplicating actions as they used to be done to make them faster,
like many accounting softwares do, is silly. Computers change the whole
problem so much that it's a completely different job from the ground up.
The original solution (accounting) was a solution to some previous problem,
centuries ago; but the mere existence of computers has dissolved the
original problem. We should be going back to the beginning. Accounting is
history, and was evolved because people had to add in their heads, and
write with a feather dipped in berry juice by the light of a tallow candle.
Accounting was designed to tidy up eventually, after the dust settled. It
was footprints. Now you have to work all that out beforehand, because you
can. Why do we still do Accounting? Cause we've done it that way for so
long... and there's an activity trap for you.

That's just why I think Zigzag (I still think you should spell it Xigxag)
is so timely and needed. Within the multidimensional matrix of Zigzag, a
problem even looks different when you start to solve it. Zigzag presents a
reorganization of problems (the real name for any "solution" as we all
know) that behaves more like a lense than a system. Instead of constructing
a solution that eliminates slowness or sloppiness from the same set of
motions, one simply plugs things in where they seem to go naturally, and
turns them loose to show up again when actually needed. 

In ascribing the trap to the app developers, I think you are sloganizing a
bit. That's forgivable, but I don't really think the trap was built, I
think it evolved. It did this in its proper time, in the schedule of
innovation. We're in the first wave of something. Now that I do this new
kind of work, I notice that the landscape is populated with charlatans,
hookers, barkers and mystics, like any other gold rush, selling the first
crumbs of fool's gold they pick up off the beach at exhorbitant prices, to
the next fools to arrive. Gates is not the first naked emporor. People like
him take advantage of us all, because that's what they do, they are
hustlers. They know that if you sell people what they really need, you'll
go broke; if you sell them what they want, you'll get rich. Gates has
learned how to tell them what to want, and sell that. But that has little
to do with the reality of computers. It's just another medicine show, a
Ponzi scheme. Gates is selling us arrows labeled as deer-stickers, or maybe
the other way around. But the technique of nocking the arrow and drawing
the bow will come, too, in its time.

You, very much on the other hand, are attempting to sell us what we really
need. Therefore, like me, you will probably not get rich in your lifetime.
But that is itself an activity trap. Without people who do stuff for its
own sake, there would be no music, no art, no science worth a damn. We'd
all be motherless, fatherless troglodytes.

This sort of thing, like love, behaves more like fire than water. If you
pour a bucket of water into other buckets, you run out of water. If you use
a candle to light other candles, you end up with more light. I suppose now
what we're seeing is somebody pouring candles out of Windows, and ending up
in deep water. That's why, in the middle of running a "serious" software
development company, I'm setting up Linux and playing with Zigzag.