Sunday, February 21, 2016


For a short while, I, like so many other reckless young men, flirted with the idea of becoming a mathematician. Luckily I was pulled from the brink by a faculty advisor and an intervention by friends who weren't so fortunate. (Intro to Organic Chemistry was their downfall. I got out just in time.) Anyhow, one of the few things I took away from those fateful months -- other than the nagging sense that I used to know how to do things like find an integral, three times a week at 8:00am -- was the notion of dimension and projection. This is hopelessly mingled in my mind with the other classes I was taking at the time, including a few philosophy courses, so Professor Polt is likely to grade me on this. I'll try to get the essay done while he's still lagged from travel.

In essence, when you're losing a dimension, you're losing information. You're seeing, in essence, the shadow-of-a-thing, projected there on the cave wall, and not the Thing itself. This came up a bit in those forgotten math courses of mine, and tragically for me, in a later computer graphics course when we talked about representing three-dimensional figures on a two-dimensional screen. (This was tragic because it threw me back into linear algebra again, after I'd worked so hard to stay clean.) You lose something, of course, when you try to show a 3D ball on a 2D monitor: the "back" of the ball is gone, flattened out and masked by the "front" of the ball. After the projection, there's no going back. The information is lost.

This is a very long-winded and rambling way for me to rant about trying to copy and paste something off my tablet, which I'm actually typing this upon, with a fingertip, which was a disaster. Left on its own, a single finger is a poor substitute for all ten working together, and I genuinely do have empathy for my fellow comp-sci graduates (and math refugees) for trying to write software that can properly derive user intent from a wobbly fingertip. I certainly got to see this in action, as I watched the poor tablet sweep through menus and settings while I tried to highlight a small section of text to email to somebody. It was a UI disaster, no matter how I tried to sneak up on it.

And that's why I broke out the keyboard, and took a second to do what I wanted with minimal fuss -- each key mapped to the action it represents, not projected down into the pitiful low-res representation. It's no wonder I cling desperately to my keyboard-enabled phone, after comic text-attempts from my wife's keyless phone "Pick up egos, molt, and very from store" is her phone's shadowy projection of "eggs, milk, and bread." The ideas are flattened out by the process, and information is lost. And personally speaking, the fingertip-on-screen barrier is annoying enough that I won't try to do that again.

I wonder if this will turn us into flat-thinkers, too? I see it, to some extent, with my eldest child. He and his friends have marathon chat sessions, but they're largely photos and short bursts of video (a technology we would have loved, back in school, no matter how much information was lost.) Text and words are a dimension that single-fingers alone are poorly situated to navigate.


Ted said...

I agree about the keyless phones. I had to give up my 4G Slide last upgrade and the carrier no longer offered keyboarded phones. I have since adapted by scooping up small bluetooth keyboards at thrifts (oddly, often they work fine, sometimes they're even new in box) and picking up a bluetooth adapter for my Neo. Now, anytime I need to type on the phone, I usually have a handy keyboard I can just turn on and use.

In the case of the Neo, I can pre-type and just pipe the file to the phone over BT using the "send" key.

Steve K said...

I was pleasantly surprised by the virtual keyboard on my Samsung Galaxy 6 and use it with Google Docs quite a lot. The pop-up word suggestions save a lot of one-finger typing. It's still slow compared with a proper keyboard of course. Interesting stuff about "dimensions".