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Ian Bicking
Works at Mozilla Corporation
Attended Earlham College
Lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Ian Bicking

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Seeing Through the Net, part 3 of 4; he reflects some on computation here...
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Is it worth it to use Express when writing for Node.js?  I'm allergic to frameworks, but that doesn't mean it's the right choice to let a weird ad hoc framework develop in my code.  And Node.js without a framework can be kind of brutalist.
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Yeah, it's worth it. Don't bother writing your own ad hoc mini version of express, which you'll end up doing. :)
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A blog post, As We May Discuss: http://www.ianbicking.org/blog/2015/05/product-journal-as-we-may-discuss.html (a reaction to https://hypothes.is/ and other annotation overlays)
In a presentation The Revolution Will Be Annotated, Dan Whaley begins with a very high-minded justification for annotation: that it is essential for our existence that we act wisely, and that we can achieve that through deliberation, and that annotation is a building block for open deliberation.
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This is ridiculous: https://hypothes.is/team/
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I wish there were more debates between alternative educational approaches.

For instance, I'm watching a video where Adele Goldberg mentions that Seymour Papert was very anti-curriculum, that you should give children materials and let them play with those without the kind of directives indicated by a curriculum.  And I remember in the OLPC project that curriculum was a bad word – there would be no curriculum!

And I see what he was getting at.  But having more familiarity with Montessori now, there is a somewhat different notion – yes, you have these manipulable materials and children have considerable autonomy, but the entry to those materials is generally guided by a presentation, where an instructor or sometimes another student demonstrates a way to use the materials.

I'm not convinced the Montessori way is right.  There's autonomy of a sort, but enough structure that children don't seem to typically mix and match materials.  Experiences are partitioned according to a tradition.  But there's also benefits to this structure.

I'm sure Papert was influenced by Montessori.  But the kinds of approaches he has suggested are certainly not a Montessori approach.

These alternative educational approaches are so often compared just to traditional education – the educational approach that has no particular name, often perhaps a strawman.  Instead I wish they were more often compared head-to-head, in detail.  We can perhaps put aside curriculum projected by the teacher onto the students, and still ask about what structure we might want.
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My daughter is still too young for school, but my current impression is that it will be mainly a place where she will socialize. The rest of the learning will have to happen within the family. I'm maybe too idealistic :)
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Thinking more about the Remembrance Agent... what if linking wasn't just an author concern, but also a user agent concern? What would it mean to automatically hyperlink content, maybe based on history?
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Yeah that seems to rely on a binary in usr/local/share/emacs/remem but I can't find any source repos for that...
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Some wandery thoughts...

Watching a little video about APL I was reminded about the Wolfram Language, and a little about the difference of = in math vs = in programming, the idea of expressing truths vs expressing instructions. I think there's some analog between a live expression vs a traditional programming function, and call by reference vs call by value. That is, you don't get access to the expression contained in the function, like you don't get access to the state underlying an object in call by value.

Maybe this analogy doesn't hold. There's this sense about whether something is of a moment, or more universal. The copied value in a call by value call is the state as that moment, a local playground. The return value of a function feels similar.

Strict functional programming erases the difference between call by value and call by reference.  You can't tell an object from its copy if you can't change it. Erlang can toss objects around as a result, shared state or not shared state doesn't mean much. It works similarly for functions: a purely functional function, given an immutable input, the expression is deterministic, memoized or not the result will be the same, there is no sense of whether an expression is always live or only invoked on demand.

But functional schmunctional.  It can erase the need to think about time in our computation, but the importance of time and coordination and change is still essential. Functional programming feels like avoidance. Which can be fine, partitioning the problem space can be useful, but you can't get a solution through partitioning, you only hope to make the solution easier to find in that smaller space.

So what if we thought less about imperative instructions? Maybe it would be more like using "when... then..." instead of "if... then...". (Maybe I'm just circling around functional reactive programming.) And also making functions less opaque. What can we know about a function? In a sense can a function answer why? To be able to introspect dependent state would be a kind of answer. But we might also be able to answer questions like: if this changes, what else will change? Can we reverse functions? We do that for properties, "obj.foo" vs "obj.foo = bar". Maybe it doesn't even have to be magic – getters and setters aren't magic, you just write two functions.

Alright, enough wandering.
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I'm only very vaguely aware of it, gotta read up on it.
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I should use a better note-taking system.

I've realized this for a while, I have a lot of ad hoc things to remember now.  Text editors aren't working well, the granularity of notes are too small, the retrieval doesn't match files.

Then I was listening to this podcast, part one where they talk to +Thad Starner (around 14:30): http://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/385792677/our-computers-ourselves – and he talks about the Rememberance Agent (http://alumni.media.mit.edu/~rhodes/Papers/remembrance.html), where as you enter notes, the agent shows you past notes that have related terms.

Thad talks about this all in the context of wearable computing, but working remotely, at least as far as work is concerned, I always have my laptop with me as I work.  Including during all conversations.  So it seems sufficiently ubiquitous.  And indeed it's the notes about people that feel most valuable to me – what did we talk about last, when else have I referred to this person I am now talking to, etc.

Any simple tools I might start with?  (I keep being reminded of http://tiddlywiki.com but haven't yet tried it.)
Are computers changing human character? Is our closeness with computers changing us as a species? Alix and Lulu look at the ways technology affects us.
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I'm liking workflowy. Android client works decent. Offline is important for me. Data export and backup is sensible. Only big downside is you can't attach photos or other binary files. However for notes it has replaced all my other disjointed systems.
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Ian Bicking

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Another blog post about PageShot, Community Participation

Are there people who might be interested in participating? What for? What would make it more valuable for you?
Generally at Mozilla we want to engage and activate our community to further what we do. Because all our work is open source, and we default to open on our planning, we have a lot of potential to include people in our work. But removing barriers to participation doesn't make participation happen ...
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Ed S
 
Thanks Ian. I think combating web rot is the obvious use case for me: we have archive.org and archive.is but something more immediate and personal could be useful.
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I remember happening upon this book while perusing the oversized section of the college library – an area dominated by people who put aside politeness and reasonableness when publishing.

It was delightfully imaginative, though also shallow in a way too – built in the form of something detailed and specific, but it was only poetry and art in the form of engineering.
Paolo Soleri's Arcology: The City in the Image of Man is a techo-hippie dream of deep mid-century modern futurism.
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+Ian Bicking Thanks for the link! A few of those Paulo Soleri images were in an art history book we had when I was a kid. I was obsessed by them. Never thought about them since, until your post. 
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Another post in my series, As A Building Block, thinking a little about what the larger possibilities of PageShot might be.
I teeter between thinking big about PageShot and thinking small. The benefit of thinking small is: how can this tool provide value to people who wouldn't know if it would provide any value? And: how do we get it done? Still I can't help but thinking big too. The web gave us this incredible way ...
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Another blog post in my series: What Are We Making?, where I at least describe a bit of what we're trying to do.
I've managed to mostly avoid talking about what we're making here. Perhaps shyness. We are making a tool for sharing on the web. This tool creates a new kind of thing to share, it's not a communication medium of any kind. We're calling it PageShot, similar to a screenshot but with all the power ...
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Have him in circles
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Work
Occupation
Computer Programmer
Employment
  • Mozilla Corporation
    present
  • Imaginary Landscape
  • The Open Planning Project
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Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
Currently
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Previously
Minneapolis, Minnesota - Richmond, Indiana - Chicago, Illinois
Story
Introduction
I'm a programmer.  I work in Mozilla Labs, where we try to figure out new ideas for the web and browsers.

I've been doing open source programming since sometime in college.  All my actually important contributions (and many projects) have been in Python: Paste, WebOb, WebTest, pip, virtualenv, FormEncode, MiniMock, and a bunch of others, quite a few of which no one else ever cared about ;)

Since moving to Mozilla, and because of events in my personal life, I've stepped away from most of those old projects.  Hopefully it will leave room for new projects, but I also find myself in a period of reinvention, moving from server to client, from Python to Javascript, and frankly I'm just older.  I remain dedicated to free/open source software; and while that is practical and has been professionally rewarding, I am more motivated by the principle and politics of open source than the engineering.

I work remotely out of my home, in the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Education
  • Earlham College
    Computer Science and Math, 1995 - 1998
  • South High School, Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1991 - 1995
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Male