[linux-elitists] Re: GNOME > you

Jeremy Hankins nowan@nowan.org
Thu Jan 1 08:22:47 PST 2004

Jeff Waugh <jdub@perkypants.org> writes:
> <quote who="Jeremy Hankins">

>> This is (honestly) a fascinating argument to make, and I'd love to
>> hear you substantiate it.  I.e., why do you believe people (normal or
>> otherwise) distinguish between how they do something and what they're
>> doing?
> Sandy is a nursing student. She has to write a report on effective
> rapid grief management techniques for hospital clients by
> tomorrow. She must hand in a printed copy. Sandy knows her spelling is
> pretty bad, and that she can save her report onto a disk to print a
> school. She uses the word processor on her Dad's work laptop.

You're not substantiating here, you're just proposing a case and
assuming it supports your position.  But the fact is that I can explain
this sort of behavior in other ways (let me know if you'd like me to,
but I'm presuming that it's fairly obvious).  Really your message here
is completely orthogonal to the position I pointed out above.

My position, which up till your previous post I hadn't realized you
didn't accept, is that distinguishing between how & what is completely a
matter of choice & context.  Language is an excellent analogy here[1]:
you choose a distinction between method and act that suits your purpose,
just as you choose a language (e.g., jargon) that suits your purpose.
By thinking hard about the interface (language) we can make getting work
done (expressing ideas) easier, and in many cases even possible.

To put it differently: getting a job done is just a matter of expressing
it in the idiom of the interface.  This applies whether the interface is
English or Python, basketball or MS Word.  Choosing the right idiom is
essential if you want to work efficiently.  Ignoring this fact is, as
far as I can tell, a mistake unique to the computer field.  This is all
the more ironic as with computers we have much more control over the
idiom we use.

> Sandy doesn't care about the tool, the technology or the process - she
> just wants to get shit done. Jeremy does - there are technical
> considerations that are important to him. They both have the same
> goal, but are undertaking it in very different ways.

Outside of the computer field people care deeply about the tools they
use to get their work done.  A commuter will debate the pros & cons of
public transportation.  A blacksmith will have several different
hammers, each with different crowns, and an even more impressive array
of tongs.  A runner will spend a lot of time thinking about the right
shoes to wear.  Back when railroads were laid by hand, workers would
carefully reshape the handles on their sledgehammers -- interestingly,
they made them very, very thin, thin enough that anyone who didn't know
exactly how to swing would probably break the handle.

[1] And symmetrically, as Wittgenstein showed, interfacing with
mechanisms is an excellent analogy for language.

Jeremy Hankins <nowan@nowan.org>
PGP fingerprint: 748F 4D16 538E 75D6 8333  9E10 D212 B5ED 37D0 0A03

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