As We May Think Response


In July 1945, Dr. Vannevar Bush published an article entitled “As We May Think.” It was prompted by the volume of new information being created by the scientific community. Due to advances in publishing, more and more scientific literature was put out, at an ever-increasing rate. With so much information, the need to improve its organization was looming. Dr. Bush feared that a researcher would be unable to keep up with “current though” and discussed several solutions which may be developed in the future. The result is a version of the desktop computer and also, arguably, of the internet; the presentation is science-fiction at its best.
Dr. Bush discusses how much information we have and how much more we will have in the coming years. He also details several techniques being explored in the field of photography, which will enable the rapid recording and development of photographs; miniaturization technologies using microforms, for space-efficient storage; and several other upcoming technologies which will increase the speed and efficiency of recording, storing, and retrieving information. After describing these technologies and their inevitable improvements, Dr. Bush envisions a device dubbed the “Memex”.
In essence, it is a tool to display recorded information. In addition, it has the ability to link pieces of information together into trails which the user can call up at will, in order to resume a train of though. The Memex becomes an extension of the human mind, and a user may find that “his excursions may be more enjoyable if he can reacquire the privilege of forgetting the manifold things he does not need to have immediately at hand, with some assurance that he can find them again if they prove important.” With the help of trails, he can record whole trains of thought and be assured that he can recover them.
Some readers may come to the conclusion that Dr. Bush predicted the internet. In some sense, he did. He certainly envisioned a system for storing information, but that is not the main purpose of the Internet as we see it today. What makes The Web so powerful, is how interconnected it is. The Memex is a device which relies on an isolated local storage of information, so it is mostly tied to one user; although Dr. Bush does give us a hint that a means to manually transfer information among users exists.
Knowing what we know about the power of shared information we may wonder why Dr. Bush didn’t emphasize this aspect of information despite recognizing it? He grasped the general benefit derived from sharing information and even the means by which it could be done, namely, via digital signals; or, in his words, transforming information “to the form of varying currents in an electric circuit in order that they may be transmitted.” Nonetheless, Dr. Bush decided not to pursue this idea further. He stated that “it is a suggestive thought, but it hardly warrants prediction without losing touch with reality and immediateness.”
I think this statement needs scrutiny. A simple way to envision the Memex was through photographic technologies, if only because it is much easier for us to predict ideas using tools that already exist. The practicality of electrical circuits in 1945 was limited, while photography was a mature and well-known field. Since Dr. Bush is well-versed in advances in the fields of photography and microphotography, he devises an ingenuous system based on these technologies; however, the system is limited by the limitations of these technologies. For instance, it is fundamentally unwieldy to transfer microfilm. On the other hand, sending a digital signal is rather convenient. Had the advantages of digital signals been more obvious and established, maybe he would have envisioned the Memex as a device using electrical circuits, whose fundamental properties lend themselves to distribution of information.

So it’s 2010 and the question is, do we all have a Memex? For the most part, yes. We have general tomes of knowledge, like Wikipedia, which provide us with the storage and retrieval services of the Memex; we also have version control systems, such as Git, which provide some of the same function of the thought-trails of the Memex. In some aspects, we have even advanced past Dr. Vannevar Bush’s vision: we can share and distribute information through the internet and we can use our computers for what we commonly refer to as applications – and Dr. Bush calls roomfuls of girls doing computation. Applications are programs that take advantage of the computational powers of machines for aiding humans in the completion of various tasks. Bush makes several mentions of the computational powers of machines, but does not emphasize their potential as devices which can return input for the user. Today, we rely more and more on computers doing work for us and the many subfields of Artificial Intelligence are working diligently to reduce the amount of routine work we need to do.
This is really the essence of Dr. Bush’s vision: to use the Memex as a memory extension to the human mind, freeing it from routine thought. This, I don’t think we have accomplished. In fact, we may be straying more and more from that idealistic path and instead relying on our tools to be the impetus for thought. If our machines not only aid our thoughts, but also guide them, does this lead to better ideas than those that come from a mind not burdened by feedback from the tools it uses to think? Do you even think this trend is real or accurate? What examples can you bring to the discussion?

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Getting Real Review

When I read the Zen of Programming, I loved it: very amusing, and very insightful. It reinforced many ideas I’ve found to be integral to programming in my limited experience. However, this summer, as I began to practice Agile Development, I found that the tenets taught in Zen of Programming were no longer applicable; programming as espoused by Zen of Programming was no longer relevant when developing with Agile Development methodologies. It’s not that there is an inherent contradiction between the two philosophies; each is merely concerned with its own topic, namely, programming and development. Which is where Getting Real, by 37 Signals, comes in. If you want to learn about Agile Development, start with Getting Real.
The book covers all the topics involved with creating and maintaining a product. The book starts by helping you define the idea for your product, funding it, and differentiating yourself from the competition; it continues through feature selection, staffing considerations, coding, and many more topics; it even covers pricing, promotion, and post-launch considerations. Each chapter is a collection of related essays; each essay covers its own topic and may be read independently. The essays are marked by practical advice, based on 37 Signal’s own experiences of creating products; at the end of most essay are a few quotes, with hyperlinks, from other books that cover the topic. These hyperlinked quotes are Getting Real’s biggest strength. Instead of being isolated, the book can serve as a portal to the rest of your journey to learning Agile.
The book is written in a style befitting of its message; it’s sleek, without waste, and overall feels like a series of stories. I would liken the experience to sitting down to take an interview with a true master, but instead of just one or two hours you have enough time to ask all the right questions to extract all those little nuggets of sage advice that he has stored in his head from years of perfecting his art. Best of all though, if you pay close attention you’ll leave with a fresh outlook on life.

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Murtaza Jafferji: Getting Real Book Review 28b

The book, Getting Real, by 37signals is filled with principals that application developers should keep in mind whenever they are building an app. It contains many great rules that someone should follow in the Web 2.0 world

Due to time constraints, I have not read the entire book yet. However, I will definitely finish sometime in the coming week because it is really informative and I feel that the advice that is given is extremely helpful. When reading this review, keep in mind that I haven’t finished reading the book.

A theme of the book seems to be simplicity. Developers should “underdo” the competition instead of trying to outdo them. They should also keep releasing features. They should not wait for their product to be perfect before they release it. This advice really affects me because up until this point, I have wanted to get everything as perfect as possible before I showed anyone my incubator project. From now on, I will probably start putting in features in their initial stages and see if anyone would like for me to improve them or if I should remove it altogether. The application and features should be easily adoptable. It is less likely that someone will use your app if it requires a lot of learning.

Another theme is an emphasis on being small. This book is about how to run a successful business and not about how to get big so that your company can be sold. It shows the advantages that being small has over the big companies.

If you are reading this post and having read Getting Real yet, I would suggest doing so. It’s easy to pick up and read because the essays are short and you can read it for free online.

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Getting Real

‘Getting Real’ is a great book about developing software and running business. One of the important concepts discussed in the book is about the concept of less. The authors believe that the days of beating the competition with more (features, meetings, abstractions, people) are over.  I really liked the idea of doing less and making more.

Another useful concept discussed in the book is about iterative processing.  Launching of a product in iterations results in real feedback and real guidance. It allows the developers to focus on a specific problem and keep them motivated about the future releases.

The primary challenges in Project management are time, budget and scope. Getting Real focuses on paying attention to launch the product on time and within budget, even if developers have to scale back the scope.

The concepts discussed in the book falls in line with an agile development approach. After using the Agile concepts for 8 weeks, I completely agree that most of the time you do not know what you really want until you are developing it and know the product better.

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Crossing the Chasm

Geoffery Moore ‘Crossing the chasm’ is about the specifics of marketing high tech products during the early start up period. There is a big difference between people who are willing to try new technologies and the rest of population who are conservative and are looking for improvement. Since early adopters represent a very small percentage of the population, hence to build a real business one has to cross the chasm and reach to the early majority.

Alex Iskold’s response ‘Rethinking the Chasm’ doesn’t contradict Moore thoughts. He recommends that the theory needs to be adjusted. I agree with the fact that today with a plethora of technologies, one cannot rely on early adopters to cross the chasm.

“You can’t make a leap and bring on board the masses if the very foundation you are standing on, the early adopters, leave to do other things.”

So the challenge is being valuable enough to entice the early-adopters,   maintain and grow their presence in the face of adapting the product/service for the early-majority crowd, and then crossing the chasm to that mainstream market.

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Chasm-crossing – 26a ngordon

I think I am not qualified to give any real opinion on how to cross the chasm, or even to really pick both books. I think Crossing the Chasm is probably right – it is a major issue for any sort of start-up to go mainstream. Many products probably do fail at that point. However, like many things, moderation is important. If you do not get to the chasm, you also cannot cross it. With Rethinking Crossing the Chasm I do not think that the author is actually disagreeing with the importance of the chasm and bridging between early adopters and the early majority. The real problem is that Crossing the Chasm has become such a seminal book and so much emphasis gets placed on the “chasm” that VCs (and some entrepreneurs) forget about getting there, killing the start-ups before they even have the possibility of failing at the chasm.

As in almost everything, moderation is bliss (or whatever your favorite phrase about that is). Crossing the chasm is an issue, but there are also other problems that you will run into when building a product – like getting the early adopters, or having a product.

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gbw 28a: As We May Think

As ever, hindsight is 20/20 (or better), but it’s still amusing to read about Bush’s prediction of a walnut-sized camera that can take 100 pictures and only needs to be wound once. Not amusing because he was wrong, but because we have computers in our Nexus Ones that are smaller than a walnut, can take thousands of photos (with an SD card) or even video, and never need to be wound. We really are living in the future.

It’s odd to think that Bush probably thought of the various devices (walnut-camera, voder, math machine, etc.) as probably at least somewhat unrelated, since my thought on reading every example was “We have computer programs that do that now” – not even “We have computers now”, since I take that for a given.

The memex, obviously, is the internet: “It is exactly as though the physical items had been gathered together from widely separated sources and bound together to form a new book. It is more than this, for any item can be joined into numerous trails.” In the example, a user browses through humanity’s collective wisdom, creates his own notes on the material (blogs) and sends his “trail” (links) to a friend (social networking). Yet this was 1945. This is an incredibly prescient article.

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