[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: Emacspeak, Open Source Software, Free Software And Blind Users

>>>>> "A" == Ann K Parsons <akp@eznet.net> writes:

    A> <smiling broadly> Ha, but Gary, this guy knew the concept.

No, he had no such concepts, only tasks.  The original requirements
for DIC was "Email, surf the web, write letters, write my lyric
sheets, print things" with a confession that he really didn't have a
clue what the first two meant, but so many people had sent him email
addresses and asked about his web page that he figured it was time to

Cursors, points, marks, buffers and all those concepts where
completely alien; as Ben also observed, he did not equate "show files"
and "show my disk" (come to think of it, neither did my mother)

    A> I admire your use of function keys to achieve a result.  Does
    A> this mean that the old set of commands will not work any more?

No, and that is a primary goal: Because the books, online docs and all
the other tutorials will talk about things in standard places, it is
essential that any 'simplifications' of the interface do not pre-empt
the standard.  We had a situation where we broke the .emacs file and
lost the function keys, and that's when he first learned that dired
was also C-d and email was also C-x m.

One current problem now is we've run out of function keys; my initial
prototype ran inside a bare fvwm in X so I could prompt for a login,
but we now run in console mode with a bare beep for the login prompt.
I know I can modify the console to see Control function keys (maybe
shift as well?) but haven't looked into it.

Another example of a confusion: "How do I print?" led to an awkward
answer of "it depends".  In YaTeX, printing is C-c C-p, but with no
concept of LaTeX, it meant "in the following tasks" which eventually
settled on "when you are typesetting a pretty doc..." In VM, printing
is a different command, and every where else, we bound ps-print-buffer
to a two-key command.

    A> What if the program gets corrupted or if the student wants to
    A> progress beyond the function keys?  Is that possible?  

Absolutely.  DIC is meant as a subversive lure.  The webpage says
"There are no limits" and I intend to retain that.  "Dumbing down" the
interface is not a correct description.  It's more accurate to say we
want to level the learning cliff to lead people to discover the power
of unix.

    A> ...  I know that I much prefer to get a short list of steps to
    A> take in order to do something, as opposed to reading a long
    A> section of man pages.

I have been professional involved in bringing newcomers and non-tech
people to computing and to the internet since 1988.  In 1991 I was on
the Ottawa-Carlton Freenet project. From 1996 to 1999, I helped design
much of what is now Sympatico, Canada's answer to AOL, which bills
itself as "Internet for Everybody Else".  One thing I can tell you
about interfaces is that _very_ _few_ people outside the digital
trades will tolerate the instructions of "sift the man pages" or "join
the mailing list".

This is a large part of what I mean by "de-geeking": Everyday people
do not want to know about RFC 822, they want to send a thought to
their friends.

Working on access for the disabled is only a special case of this;
they are (after all) just people.  The problems of DIC's interface are
general problems, just as valid with a sighted user.  Microsoft and
Apple solved the problem by removing things from their computers to
create an easy to learn interface, but as you grow, you find their
interface grows _against_ you.  Because Emacspeak is Emacs, it is a
lisp machine under the hood, it knows no limits.

When I taught my kids Emacs (at ages 7 and 9) there was no XEmacs or
"carpal tunnel mode" menus, so I'd created templates and high-level
commands for them to manage their webpages.  My wife (a social worker
who specializes in teaching developmentally challenged adults) opened
a new world for me in bringing computing to people with severe
physical and psychological handicaps.  May will only use Emacs with
the carpal-tunnel mode turned on, and physically challenged must use
these large buttons to do what they want to do.  Under the human's
hood, however, they are all humans, they all have real-world task
requirements which are pretty much identical.

    A> One caveat, Gary.  Do not change the lingo.  Why?  Because if
    A> your student gets on the net and someone says, can you FTP that
    A> file, whether he types m-x ftp and follows that with a host
    A> name and so on ...

True only if I am training people to speak with geeks.  There is
no "computerese" save for ix86 machine code.  The jargon is just as
alien to the computer, it is an invention of the programmer class,
nomenclature to keep them distinct as a subculture.

My mother has been online for 4 years. She still does not need to know
what FTP is, and most certainly would never think to download software
(we have instead warned her not to).  My wife has been using computers
since before we met, and she only learned FTP last month when she
started her web page; she could have just as easily used FrontPage
(except we us Linux). My local veternarian, who is also a town
councillor, has been online for 3 years and has had his operations
computerized since the days of the 286, but I can guarantee he thinks
FTP is a brand of motor oil. In the real world, outside of the digital
trades, you will never hear the term "FTP" --- go ahead and do a grep
of the New York Times archives.  It doesn't occur.

Jargon is a means by which a subculture re-inforces its delusion that
it is justified in retaining its identity; it is intended only as a
means to define those inside the subculture from those outside, ie, it
is exclusionist and elitist, so I am opposed.  

Paul wanted to look up the Guide Dog Foundation; he had the URL.  Why
on earth should he need to know (or type) http:// ?  Someday, maybe,
if he changes from a songwriter to a programmer. But to start?

Now, there is no reason to _prevent_ someone from growing into the
"techie lingo", but that is a far-future thing and should not be a
requirement for the beginner.  There is nothing new under the sun, and
there is nothing essentially new about communicating with other

Is Internet about people and communications or is it about learning a
new language so we can appear hip?  In the television commercial for
the Sympatico ISP, the "old uncle" uses the term "surf the web" to
which the "hip and with it" young kid remarks "he's already using the
techie lingo".  There is a big jump between "surf the web" and "FTP".

Those I have brought onboard over the past 12 years were resistant to
knowing what RAM was, or the difference between RAM and disk memory,
and they should be: In the parlance of systems architecture's UML,
those are implementation details of deployment, not requirements

If you can get a copy, Alan Cooper's "The Inmates are Running the
Asylum" is an excellent short intro book on the issues in the human
factors of computer interface design.  I don't say this because Alan
convinced me, I say it because I agree with him ;)

For those who suspect as much, while I have done a lot of programming
(too much) to pay the bills over the past 25 years, I am, in fact, not
a CS graduate, but a failed cognitive psychologist with some AI
credits, and with a few years research experience in the human factors
of computing and telerobotic control interfaces ;)

    A> ...  You can't say "gato" when you mean "chat". You have to
    A> say, "chat" because that is what it is called in French.

In English, FTP is called "fetch the file" and in the visual world it
is done by (at worst) right-clicking instead of left-clicking on a
link.  The protocol is irrelevent, a Trivial Pursuit question.  The
real question is "How do I fetch your file" and the answer should be
"go to my website and click the link".

The _only_ reason we inside the digital divide say FTP and URL is
because there is a general penchant to widen the digital divide, to
make a clear distinction between those "in the know" and those who are
not.  The practice is perhaps based in the general theory of cognitive
dissonance, the principle by which we inflate the value of our meagre
gains to justify the pains of our struggles to get them.

These terms are intrisically meaningless in the secular world and
their concepts are totally within the ability of English (or any other
natural language) to express.  The only person who needs to know that
files are transfered according to RFC 2585 is the network engineer or
the browser designer. It is not unlike those who jibe someone for
saying "Linn-ux" instead of "lee-nooks.  The only purpose is to draw a
line between "us and them", to make someone else seem excluded, to
label them ignorant when they are not.  Instead, the network should be
invisible and files should be simply "copied"; with ange-ftp through
dired, this is essentially how it is done in Emacs.

Have you read Dr Seuss's "Sneetches"?

Another relevent text is Michael Bandler's "Using your Brain, for a
change". In any learning situation which requires a change of
paradigm, you must leverage what people already know, and take only
small steps towards changing their world model.  This is why the
metaphor language of the Apple and Windows ran like a wildfire through
the non-techie world; I don't know about you, but I hated the idea
when it came out. "It is _not_ a folder!" I would rail "and it is not
a desktop!".

Today, I am older and wiser.  I may say "directory" first, then, if
there is no immediate illumination, I might try "folder" and then add
"except you can have folders inside folders" ... neither metaphor is
really appropos if you stop to think about it.  FTP also does not
"transfer" files, it copies them without loss of signal.  These terms
obfusticate what is really happening, but it does not matter, they are
_both_ useful metaphors, and both valid but only to a point.

My mother will probably live out her days never knowing FTP, and my
kids already think the distinction between all browser protocols is
"quaint" and "dumb".  You will probably live out your days never
knowing what is _really_ said in RFC 2585, and I will never know what
the allowable voltages and pulsewidths are on the wire that implements
FTP within the TCP/IP.  Useful metaphors: We live our lives by stories.

    A> P.S., I expect to see you two arguing in some corner of a
    A> restaurant at some future convention, then.  <smile>

Absolutely.  We will be selling tickets ;)

Gary Lawrence Murphy <garym@linux.ca>: office voice/fax: 01 519 4222723
T(C)Inc Business Innovations through Open Source http://www.teledyn.com
M:I-3 - Documenting the Linux kernel: http://kernelbook.sourceforge.net

To unsubscribe from the emacspeak list or change your address on the
emacspeak list send mail to "emacspeak-request@cs.vassar.edu" with a
subject of "unsubscribe" or "help"

Emacspeak Files | Subscribe | Unsubscribe