by Jack Seay

Oct. 3, 2005

I want tools that allow me to do what I want quickly, logically, without what I consider unnecessary steps.

I am currently re-learning Flash to do some web pages. I have learned to use this program in the past, but it is so non-intuitive and complex that it is taking much of my spare time for a month to just get back to where I can use it again. Many things that I could do in a few seconds using a better designed tool such as Rebol View or Revolution take a large chunk of an hour to accomplish in Flash. It is a powerful program, but so non-intuitive that it hinders the creative processes going on in my head. Instead of taking a few seconds to add an interface element and then going on to the next step, I have to go through 50 steps to do something simple, and by then I have lost track of what I wanted to accomplish. It is maddeningly frustrating to use.

But due to the fact that it is on nearly everyone's computer, for commercial web design it is practically required. I wish the Rebol browser plug-in and/or Rebol View was on almost every computer, and then I would use it instead. There are a few things that Flash can do easily, such as simple 2D animation, but trying to do something like a pop-up menu is a nightmare of complexity. Some programs let you drag one onto the page, fill in the details, and you are done. Not so with Flash. The tutorial that shows how to just get it set up (not including the actual links, just the menu items) takes over 50 minutes of movies. Ouch! That's just to make something that other tools let you drag onto the page in one swipe of the mouse. And many, many other things are almost as hard to do in Flash.

Then there is cgi (server programming). It is even more frustrating than Flash. I have never been able to install and run a Perl program. Several times, with the help of a monstrous set of PHP programs, I have managed to get a form working. But God Forbid I should ever need to modify it. Just thinking about that scares me. I have Filemaker and have spent a considerable amount of time learning it. It is easy for creating personal databases to use on my computer. But when it comes to creating a multi-user database-driven website that will require a SQL database, Perl scripts, CSS style sheets, Flash animations and scripting, HTML pages created with Dreamweaver, graphics with Javascript created with Fireworks, setting file permissions and other Unix stuff on the server, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad naseum; it makes my head spin with the complexity of it all. And worst of all, it is completely unnecessary that it be this hard. Rebol can do many of these nightmarish tasks with a line or two of simple code. Since Rebol is so different, it takes a while to learn, especially since I have yet to find a good tutorial for anyone new to programming. But I am determined to learn it and write a simple tutorial if I have to.

Python looks interesting, but much of what I have read about it just involves creating HTML forms and using Python to write the cgi scripts. Not what I had in mind for the limitless creativity I had in mind. I am still dissatisfied with anything less than the combined features of Xanadu and zigzag. I use other tools, especially Thinker for personal use (I am writing this in Thinker). It has transclusions (see-thru links), but not some of the other main features of Xanadu. But very useful in the meantime.

I am constantly wishing that we could just start over with better tools and do it right this time, but the tools just aren't there yet. Abora gives you a feel for what it is like to do side-by-side text editing of versions in Xanadu, but doesn't have graphics. David Jones is working on making the Xanadu code accessible for programmers, and I hope that yields some tangible results soon. Gzz and zz give you a thrilling feel for what it is like to work in n dimensions, and I can't wait to see a full-blown n-dimensional Xanadu. I day-dream about it, and software like Second Life gives me a chance to create 3D objects and, after I learn scripting, to animate them in a multi-user online game. But I want to swap out one of the 3 dimensions with another in my dimension list, link anything to anything, pull in the content of web pages, books, movies, and music, and annotate them for myself and others to see and annotate, edit new versions, and much more. And I want it all to happen at the speed of thought, not the glacial rate of creating with Flash.

None of the languages I have looked at yet have all the features I am looking for. But ones like Rebol and Revolution seem to have started at a higher level than Flash did, so I think will become more prominent in the near future. I am hoping that one of them can become the language to write Floating Worlds in. But it may take a completely new language or operating system to do the job. But since Rebol is extensible with dialects and Python has much potential, maybe one of them can get it done. But realistically, it may take something like a new version of Second Life, scriptable with a more powerful language like Rebol or Revolution. I hope it doesn't become a 50 headed monster like the web has become, so it will take a lot of careful thought and experimentation to get it right. It will be important not to set it in stone too soon, or it could become encrusted with useless legacy hindrances, which I think is what happened to Flash.

Keeping content separated from format; using transclusions instead of copies; building in a simple secure payment system; having everything linkable with 2-way unbreakable, typeable, point/span to point/span links; having everything in n-dimensions (viewable 2 or 3 at a time); will give us the solid foundation to build the information system of the future - Floating World (the combination of Xanadu and zigzag).

The operating system of the future, instead of having a bunch of individual files inside folders inside folders; will have documents consisting of portions of other documents, with sections of a document linked along (for example) 12 dimensions, with 6 types of links, and containing various alternate 2D and 3D views, several format sets, capable of being re-organized in many ways non-destructively, and always editable into any number of new versions and variations.

Let frustration be replaced by exhilaration.

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