Before there were maps

Back then, I would describe the place I traveled to with a linear narrative. I would describe what I saw as I walked along ... a grove of trees to my left, further along a cliff to my right ...

Frustration with communicating via linear narrative resulted in picking up a stick and making marks representing a visual model of the landscape in my head. These scratches evolved into the world of cartography and GIS we now enjoy.

We deal with a lot of complexity today, cognitive complexity, complexity rooted in relationships between concepts. We explain these complex relationships via linear narrative, describing a journey along a path, pointing out the landmarks. The audience must build this cognitive landscape, registering each component and they way each connects to each other. Given the difficulty of this exercise, many get lost along the way.

We need maps, visualizations which place the concepts in space such their relation to each other is understood at a glance.

This is a fairly well known concept, and currently implemented as marks with a stick. My conviction is that it will evolve into tools which spatialize knowledge such that more is more quickly understood by more of us.


On linking

The Unix filesystem concept of ``links`` is quite wonderful. I remember a couple conversations with my father which touched on the question "is anything possible". For some reason my example to prove that, in fact, not all things are possible, was to state that I can't be both here, downstairs, and upstairs at the same time. It seemed irrefutable that a thing can only be in one place at one time.

That may or may not be true, but filesystem links offer cool magic.

However, the quality of explanans offered by Unix could be improved, and
the Python equivilent is flat out confusing.

$ man ln
ln [OPTION]... [-T] TARGET LINK_NAME (1st form)
ln [OPTION]... TARGET (2nd form)
ln [OPTION]... TARGET... DIRECTORY (3rd form)
ln [OPTION]... -t DIRECTORY TARGET... (4th form)

Target and link_name are reasonable names, although a bit of a mixed metaphor, target implies an arrow or bullet, not link name. I also don't like the order, I approach the link and arrive at the target, why put the target first?

Python is much worse:

>>> help (os.symlink)

symlink(...) symlink(src, dst)

Create a symbolic link pointing to src named dst.

Huh? the destination points to the source? Just Plain Nuts, Don't Make Sense, Oh Puh Leaze.


I've been for some time futzing with code to wrap link management, eventually want a buildout recipe which describes link wrangling, particularly the ``gather`` idiom, which moves a file to a managed location, replacing it with a link. Useful for versioning configuration.

I like the following spelling to describe links and files:

['ln1', 'thefile'] or ['ln3', 'ln2', 'ln1', 'thefile'] which could also look like: "ln3 -> ln2 -> ln1 -> thefile"

I think it would make me happy to specify links this way, both in arguments and and reports.


That is so wrong!

Since I seem to be settling on 'Gumpa' as my primary brand* it seems only right to act my age and channel some codger energy. Hey you kids, GET OFF MY LAWN. This is my first post which will be tagged TISW.

The metaphors used to discuss hierarchal data organization are SO wrong.

Take the file system.

It's often described as a tree, a tree with the root at the top, you descend to the files, which I've seen analagized as leaves.

Im my world trees don't have roots at the top and leaves at the bottom, in my world 'to descend' is to go down.

No wonder I've always felt somewhat slow in understanding explanations of file hierarchies, a small matter of their up being my down and visa-versa. Not to mention that file systems are not tree-like, they are container-like. Files are 'in' directories, not 'attached to' as leaves are to a branch.

I don't currently have suggestions for improvements, but it seems like it should be possible to provide a mental image that doesn't require hanging upside down to resolve the cognitive dischord.

Maybe the original work on this was done by bat-geeks at night, when they are upside down. No, they tend to be in caves, no trees in caves. I Know! it was the sloths. Of course, sloths live in trees, upside down, trees with roots at the top would make perfect sense to them.

Darn you sloths, TISW

* TODO acronymize gumpa