Nugget for Man-Computer Symbiosis

Marginal Notes

Marginal Notes
Photo by Bill Smith CC-BY

In reading through the Licklider article, it was easy to get sidetracked noting the changes in technology that followed a decade or two after he wrote it. With the development of integrated circuit technology and microprocessors, there is no need to think about time-share systems allowing multiple users access to the central computer. While server systems have some similarity to the time-share concept, they are in fact different and are used for access to resources, not computing capability (until we have large-scale cloud computing, anyway).

What caught my attention, for a nugget, is the changing employment roles brought on by computer technology. Licklider states “In large part, the interest stems from realization that one can hardly take a military commander or a corporation president away from his work to teach him to type.”[emphasis added]. This turned out to be just plain wrong. If anything, commanders and corporate leaders need to type more than ever before. And nobody had to teach them. If they couldn’t, they wouldn’t be successful with email and other communications.

I recall a few years ago (in the Windows 3.11 era) helping a campus president who refused to move from DOS to Windows. Someone had written scripts for him to navigate to his email and word processor, which was about all he thought he needed. Eventually, he needed more, and once he had a Windows operating system, I and others had to train him on getting around the GUI. My office was nearby, so I would get snagged to help him do some very minor things; but, eventually he learned to work on his own.

I’m sure more has changed, as well. There no longer is a need for rooms full of “girls” typing away on typewriters, transcribing dictated messages and documents. While there is still much gender differentiation in the workplace, all are capable of adapting to the use of computers and don’t need to be taught to type. I bring up the gender role issue because of the unconscious references in these dated articles we are reading. Like any historical document, the authors were products of their times, and we can read sociological ideas into their writings. Being careful not to ascribe more modern views to them, we can see that times have changed, and the use of technology is part of that change.

Room full of Keyboards

Room Full of Keyboards
photo by Bill Smith CC-BY

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Week One Progress Report

#thoughtvectorsLaunched and in orbit.

As an open participant, I have tried to complete assignments like everyone else. Read the article (a couple of times), posted nugget and concept experience, commented on a few posts. And tweeted here and there. And watched some archived video.

But mostly, I’ve been digging into the odd corners of the Thoughtvectors site, trying to see all it offers and how it works. It’s the corners and edges I like to hang out in. Here are some of my findings.

Blog syndication seems to be working well. It’s an hour refresh cycle, so don’t look for your post to appear on the main page right away. But, there are so many blogs, so many posts, I need some sort of index to remember what I read and where it was. The list of all the blogs helps, unless I don’t remember the name of the blog. [Also, not everyone has put their name on their blog anywhere, so either it is unknown, or I guess.]

The link to find a random post is cool and interesting and of merit, but unfortunately is stuck on the same post. Alan, I think it’s somehow related to the randomization function. I see you have made groups, but each group that I have tried (if it works) goes to the same post (I think within that group) each time.

The Twitter visualization and related functions is cool, but again it isn’t quite real-time. And the linkages for tweets, retreets, mentions don’t show up all the time – might be browser related. Also, at the bottom of the page, the link for showing all tweets vectorized, though it seems to have 39 pages to show, each page selected merely repeats the first page of tweets.
Thought Vectors
Let’s see, what else? I wanted to use the logo in the upper left corner (Doug Engelbart and “Thought Vectors in Concept Space”) for an image I was working on. Screenshot didn’t work, it grabbed the main part of the body with vectorized blogposts instead. But I was able to use view source and find the actual image used…which is the hard geeky way of doing it, since I could have right-clicked and save picture as.

OK, what have I been learning about people and thought vectors? Looking at several posts this week, I see that some folks are unsure and wondering why we are using all the technological tools. Yet, this is part of the point, I think. The concept space is the augmentation to our communication, and our memory, and our thinking that the Web promotes. We need to develop a fluency and literacy in the use of various tools in this concept space, else our thought vectors fail to make connections. Writing papers, compositions, essays is so twentieth century.

Others (maybe most of us) express some personal details of our lives, our hopes, our plans. This is good! We need to think about our use of the open concept space in relation to what we reveal of ourselves. We also need to think about how we curate and archive our own digital identities. Personally, I have created a mess. I have two google accounts that keep getting mixed up so both have joined the thoughtvectors community. I have started and abandoned several blogs. I should step back and reorganize them, but probably never will.

Scottlo & Alan Levine

Scottlo & Alan Levine
photo by Bill Smith CC-BY

Alan & Dr. C

Alan & Dr. C
photo by Bill Smith CC-BY

On a personal level, I am enjoying this whole experience along with some friends from previous experiences. In particular, I am grateful to and always learning from Alan Levine (creative use of technology and openness), Gardner Campbell (things to think about), Scottlo (using audio for thinking), Talky Tina (Ninja fun), and several others. And getting to know all the other participants (students all) is a great way to appreciate the variety of people.

Talky Tina

Talky Tina
photo by Bill Smith CC-BY


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Trails within Trails

Last night I was proctoring final exams for my Computer Organization class. The students were quietly busy, and I was able to work on a variety of things on the computer. Later, I took screenshots of my browsing history (thinking of the associative trails concept experience). Here are the results:

Associative Trails

Associative Trails

Now, as I review what I did, I see that I was primarily working on one thing, but took various side trails. Sometimes, those side trails were the result of external influence. I had received an email from the Internet Society concerning a new member area and I needed to update my profile. Took care of that, but also looked at some of the current discussions on the forum. Some of my trails were spurred from the mainline, in which I was following Alan Levine’s tweeted suggestion to leave comments on a random student’s blog. There were problems with that, so I tried a few alternatives. I think I left three comments, but I also think they disappeared (maybe waiting moderation, maybe I wasn’t logged in to my own appropriate account, maybe I did something wrong).

And, during all of this time, I was watching for email notifications that my own students were submitting their tests.

One thing I notice in this experience is that my mind keeps working on the thoughts that have highest priority. This Thoughtvectors course is of high priority because it is a new, high intensity experience of great interest to me, requiring many mind-based products. Even so, my mind still functions on other topics, daily tasks, attention to the needs of the moment, and just plain randomness.

Trails in the Sky photo by Bill  Smith CC-BY

Trails in the Sky
photo by Bill Smith CC-BY

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Nugget that I stumble over

Data servers at Jefferson Lab, Newport News, Virginia

photo by Bill Smith CC-BY

The golden nugget of technology is not a solution to problems of the heart.

I skip over the points that could be made concerning the change of information storage technology from Bush’s beloved analog to digital, giving wide access to nearly all of the world’s knowledge nearly instantaneously. The associational trails are created by search engines, hyperlinks, and tags.

I skip over the increased scale. Bush’s scenario of 5000 pages crammed into his memex every day for a hundred years equates to about a third of my terabyte hard drive. I’ll get there by the end of this year (but will it do me any good?).

I’ll even skip over the societal indicators in this essay, Bush speaking of “the girls” in office work, and scientists and mathematicians as “men”. Certainly we are beyond that now.

The nugget that grabs my attention is the thought expressed in the final paragraph, “(the applications of science) may yet allow him truly to encompass the great record and to grow in the wisdom of race experience. He may perish in conflict before he learns to wield that record for his true good.”

I don’t really want to be pessimistic, but I see no evidence that the bulk of humanity has changed in wisdom and concord along with the growth in technology of all sorts (and especially information technology). Yes, we now have better access to “the record”. Yes, we create more new data than ever before. But along with that we still have conflict on the national and global levels and on the personal individual levels. The technology aids in conflict resolution, and the technology aids in conflict escalation.

Yes, I would hope we can increase our personal and our global wisdom. Yes, Dr. C, wisdom should be a learning outcome! How can we do that? How can education not only prepare individuals for careers, but also for thinking and living wisely? How can we live in peace, both individually and globally?

I suspect that the answers involve choices and practices that many of us will refuse to consider. To go to the roots of conflict might mean seeing “enemies” as humans. I am not prepared to give any broad-stroke answers.

OK, these are big questions, and probably not what will lead to the final inquiry project. But I think (associational trail alert) that my own pursuits over the coming weeks and years may be related to these questions. There is some reason I am participating in this course beyond having fun with friends on the Internet.

Nugget #1

photo by Bill Smith CC-BY

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Thinking Feeling Vectoring

The Feeling of Thinking

Tap Here

photo by Bill Smith CC-BY

Sometimes, when I am thinking on a topic of interest, creating an image or writing for an assignment (ds106 Daily Creates, for example), or even reading a novel with interest; sometimes my nervous system seems a little bit more charged, my heart is pumping more blood to my brain, I might even be a bit unaware of my surroundings. The physical/emotional feeling involves excitement, speeded-up sense of time, lack of concern for bodily comfort, and maybe even lack of sleep. If I’m really in hot pursuit of a thought topic, I’ll even dream of it, with recurring little snippets in some kind of unusual sleep mode.

In the process, and in line with our current reading, the associational trails come flying from all directions, pointing in all directions. Thought vectors in concept space.


If I need to write a new test or research assignment for my students, in just the right mood, perhaps with just the right music in my ears, I can create quickly and accurately. My brain seems to automagically go from one statement to the next. In creating multiple choice answer distractors, I think of all kinds of puns and strange choices along with the good ones. My feeling is absorbed, focused, high-functioning.

A few years ago, for National Novel Writing Month (write a 50000 word novel during November) I wrote an autobiographical non-novel. The process of forced recall of the events of my life provided me with much more material than I could use, faster than I could type. Every time I sat down to think and type, more thoughts and memories and stories and images would rise to consciousness. Just try it. Think of some event or conversation from years ago, and think about how you would describe it. I bet the thought vectors will lead to memories of the other people involved, their reactions, similar settings on other occasions, perhaps alternate solutions/actions/statements that could have been implemented.

I don’t know how a three-pound blob of organic material can have all these thought vectors, and why billions of them seem to work more-or-less the same. It’s fun to think about…


photo by Bill Smith CC-BY

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Search in yourself

Today's fortune cookie

Today’s fortune cookie
photo by Bill Smith CC-BY

Today, I searched in myself to find out about thinking. What I found was what I already knew. Lots of associative trails!

It seems that our brains are repositories of all kinds of data, a lot input from our senses over the course of our lives and a lot created by what we might call imagination. And, as Vannevar Bush alludes, the organization is not alphabetical, or time order, but associational. One thought leads to another…

Dr. C, in his recently posted video, says that he finds the first word of the last paragraph of “As We May Think” to be significant; so significant he has memorized it. Ok, I’m always up for a search challenge. Turns out that the Life Magazine version that I was reading is a condensation, and the word is “Man.” When I found the version currently available from The Atlantic, I found a strange thing: “Man” had been inserted by the Life editors, to replace “He”, which was actually in the middle of the penultimate paragraph.

So, what is the great word that Dr. C loves so much? Well, it appears to be the word “The”, as in “The applications of science have built man a well-supplied house…” [I suspect that Dr. C really means some other word.]

Now, for my associations. Once I saw “The” as the word, my first thought was the ending of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, the last phrase being “along the” to lead back to the opening of “riverrun past Eve and Adam’s.” Why did my mind jump to that association? Maybe because of the year I spent reading the Wake, making suitable annotations, looking up references, etc. Even before Ted Nelson coined the word hypertext, Joyce was up to something similar out of his own mind.

What does this all mean? When I think, I relate new data to old, new ideas to others that are embedded somewhere and indexed associatively. Chances are pretty good you didn’t associate “the” with Finnegans Wake, but you might have. Now you will!


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Vectoring In



Thought vectors in concept space.

I am an open participant in this course, and hope to learn and stimulate learning.

Read the labels!

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