March 2021

Saturday, March 27, 2021

A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savour of it. #

Nicolo Machiavelli #

Avoiding the Final Death

I talked to a friend yesterday about all the artifacts I collect and want to collect. #

I have a growing collection of software from Living Videotext, a complete set of Mondo 2000 magazines, and I was debating whether or not I wanted to spend $500 on Origins of Cyberspace. #

He asked, “Does having these things make you feel good?” #

After thinking about this more, I’ve realized that it simultaneously makes me feel good but also incredibly sad. I mean, I guess that’s the definition of nostalgia. #

I feel like everything is so ephemeral, especially regarding technology. Software from 20 years ago might not run anymore on modern computers. Douglas Engelbart spent his entire life pursuing a mission that was never fully realized. He had so many ideas that people dismissed because they didn’t understand or didn’t think it would be profitable. #

I’m digging through old videos and documents to piece together what he was thinking, but it’s challenging. It would be better if he were still here, and I could ask him questions, show him my demos and ask for feedback. #

It reminds me of the movie Coco where Miguel witnesses someone dying and fading away. When he asks what happened he’s told: #

He’s been forgotten. When there’s no one left in the living world who remembers you, you disappear from this world. We call it the final death. #

Final death is not only for people but for ideas. What dreams and visions died with Engelbart? We can try to learn from what he left behind, but it’s still a sample of what was in his head. What had he figured out but was unable to communicate to others? #

That’s why I try to connect with as many super-smart visionary people as I can. I want to share their vision and help make it a reality. #

Douglas Engelbart and Linked Data

In this video, Douglas Engelbart answers a question about issue-based structured argumentation. #

I’m very interested in the idea of structured text. I’ve referenced Dorian Taylor’s The Symbol Management Problem before, which is where I first learned about an IBIS (issue-based information system). #

This type of linked data, in conjunction with an outliner-wiki (like Roam), could be interesting. #

Roam improves on a traditional wiki by showing a more contextual backlink. It does this by leveraging the note’s outliner structure. #

It also allows you to link and embed specific headlines from other outlines. #

Contextual Backlinks in Roam #

The missing piece, of course, is adding meaning to the link. Links and backlinks say nothing more than “here’s a link” and you infer meaning from whatever contextual clues you might have from the surrounding text. It would be awesome to have pages and links labeled (like in the IBIS example.) So I could (in a human and machine-readable way) say, “This is an issue, and it concerns this thing, and it questions this argument, and this argument supports and opposes these positions.” #

You could then build systems on top of this knowledgebase to generate a chain of logic and try to find ideal solutions to problems. #

Dorian’s IBIS tool is useful and interesting, but imagine this idea embedded in an outliner-wiki. I could create a page of notes that I took in a class or from reading a book. Then as a phase of progressive summarization you could label individual blocks of text as issues, arguments, and positions and formally link them to the other appropriate concepts, both within the current document but also other notes on your site. #

Links might be a regular link, contextual link, or embedded content from other pages. The system could generate new pages based on the known metadata. Hopefully, there would also be ways to leverage what Ward Cunningham is doing with Federated Wiki and allow you to pull other people’s content into your view seamlessly. #

My brain is working on this problem a lot these days. I just woke up in the middle of the night with ideas I needed to write down. #

FedWiki Demo

This is the first of a series of screencasts I want to do demoing different writing and collaboration tools I find interesting. #

FedWiki Demo #

Published by Andrew Shell on and last updated .