Saturday, April 24, 2004
choose your style: neoclassical | blue | modern | nouveau

Texas A&M

Texas A&M
photo:Anna Zacchi
I had a great time at Texas A&M, where Frank Shipman, Andruid Kerne, Richard Furuta, and John Leggett are all doing fascinating work out beyond the frontiers of hypertext. I spent a delightful hour with Dr. Haowei Hsieh, who's currently the master programmer for VKB -- one of the systems that inspired Tinderbox -- discussing a variety of technical and implementation issues. And Luis Francisco-Revilla does things with Javascript you won't believe.

I spoke a bit about Software Aesthetics. We often regard aesthetic concerns as decoration, a quality to added onto software to make it more marketable or, if you play in that world, to make it more suitable to art museums. That leads to a host of mistakes. For starters, information architects and usability experts treat ornamentation as a violation of Louis Sullivan's famous adage, "form follows function", ignoring the great importance of ornamentation in Sullivan's own work. Then, there's the confusion of open source with social justice, the tendency to call any Big Bag of Data a "database", the morass of confusion and opprobrium that surrounds the the term "postmodernism".

The beauties of software come from within the software — just as do the beauties of drama and painting. Understanding this deeply generally does require direct experience of the medium. How much facility with computing does an educated person need today? I think you've got to be able to make the machine do your bidding — that is, you need to be reasonably fluent in designing and building.