Input and Output Devices

I’ve been pondering the implementation of Dr. Engelbart’s NLS/Augment, and in particular the innovations he made in using new input and output devices.  I haven’t yet tried to generate an exhaustive list of all the ones he tried, but several in particular are obvious and stand out.  The mouse page at shows examples of several: the mouse, a (standard) keyboard, a chording keyboard or keyset, joy stick, light pen, and CRT display.

In the context of devices (tools) to augment a human’s ability to capture and interact with information, what options exist (so far), in what situations is each useful, and what makes sense for (either me, or most people) to use?

The mouse, light pen, and joystick could all be considered types of pointing devices.  We can contemplate other types of pointing devices as well: tablets (i.e. Wacom) using either fingers or stylii to point, touch tablets or touch screens (i.e. iPad or touchscreen laptop display) typically using fingers to point, track balls and other flavors of mice, trackpad and touchpads.  Some of the newer touch devices now allow gestures and multi-touch actions: for instance, the iPad/iPod/iPhone interface has two-finger pinch and expand motions, as well as others I’m not familiar with.  I believe Android and Windows platforms have similar multi-touch capabilities.

Each of these (pointing) devices has particular strengths and weaknesses, there is significant variation in which ones particular individuals find easiest to use, and there are some subtle distinctions in capabilities which need to be explored.  (Two-dimensional vs three-dimensional pointing, gross gesture vs very-fine-motion tracking, handwriting recognition, etc.)

Other input devices which easily come to mind include microphones, cameras, (image) scanners, fingerprint readers, head and eye trackers, and various types of proximity sensors.  Instrumented gloves or exoskeletons can be used for control as well as motion capture.  There are also devices such as the Kinect which can somehow sense positions of people and/or objects nearby.  That also suggests possible use of radar, sonar, infrared, and microwave sensors of various types.

For keyboards we normally think of a “standard” QWERTY keyboard.  There are other letter layouts such as Dvorak, and various “ergonomic” configurations and variations in key style and feel (chicklet, etc).  There are a handful of chording keyboards including the Twiddler and the Frog2, as well as a variety of DIY and Maker configurations.  As far as I’m aware, no one is currently marketing a 5-key chording keyset such as Engelbart used; a USB or MIDI keyboard with a small number of keys (usually 25) is the smallest I’ve seen.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to buy or build a chording keyset such as the one Engelbart used, so far with little success.  While there are several websites which describe various chording keyboards and how to build them, I’m not handy enough to fabricate one which looks and feels good enough to satisfy me.  I thought about buying a toy music keyboard for kids, and hacking the electronics to interface it to a computer, but found the prices were such it’s better to buy a purpose-built music keyboard with USB and/or MIDI interface.  Why buy a toy when you can buy a proper tool?

My current plan is to purchase a 25-key MIDI controller, which are available ranging in price from $60 to $150.  I tried several last weekend at a nearby music store, but didn’t like the feel of the keys on any of them. I’ll keep shopping until either I find one I like, or come up with a better idea…

Formal Logic – DiscussAmongstYourselves

On 26 July 2014, Jon Becker posted to Twitter “I think a course in formal logic should be a core/general education requirement on all college campuses. “.  I was watching for the discussion, but only two others [and Jon] have responded in that forum.  [If there was further discussion elsewhere, please point me to it…]  I have been pondering his statement since, and have some things to say.  [I’m finally pressing “Publish” after writing most of this in February 2015.  Wow!  Another year has gone by!]  There is much more than will fit in a Tweet, so here goes…

In general I strongly agree that learning key portions of formal logic should be part of the core/general education requirement.  Where I might disagree is whether [and when] it should be within an explicit [separate] course in logic, or whether it should be one or several units within another course having a more broadly-scoped focus.  I also think that in addition to being a college-level requirement, some elements should also be required at the high-school level [and perhaps even earlier.]

I derived much benefit from the Logic course I took as an undergraduate, and have applied elements of it in multiple contexts.  I was an Electrical Engineer with a Computer Science minor, so there were many EE and Comp-Sci applications of the formal logic material.  In particular, it prepared me for using Karnough Maps in Digital Circuits, and there were a couple constructions which were absolutely critical to memorize and have correct when writing computer software.  In particular, NOT (A AND B) == (NOT A) OR (NOT B), and NOT(A OR B) == (NOT A) AND (NOT B).  But what I learned about syllogisms and logic proofs and other topics has paid off handsomely in other areas as well, most especially in areas of systematic or structured analysis, and in reading and writing skills.  While I seldom have to write out statements in logical algebra, the thinking skills I learned in that Logic course are applied almost unconsciously every day in my work, and in all the reading and writing I do.

I think there are some undergraduate majors, such as Mathematics, Computer Science, several of the Engineering disciplines, and likely certain others [Lawyers? Communications majors?], for which a formal course in Logic should be required.  [Indeed, some Mathematicians or Scientist/Engineers may need SEVERAL courses of progressively more esoteric Logic and Logical Calculus.]  Others should be encouraged [but I think not required] to take a course focused upon Logic [perhaps especially Communications students and pre-Law students who need to prepare for (and use it during) their Rhetoric and Argument courses.]  But I think for many students, learning the basics of Formal Logic should be more at an “application level”, in bite-size chunks within other required courses.

A writing course [in particular] should have a unit [a week or two long] in which the students study syllogisms. Another short subunit should include some simple logical algebra, which includes at least those two “NOT” rules (NOT (A AND B) =, and NOT (A OR B) =), along with any other key rules which are typically applied in “normal” sentence structures.  The concept of a [logical] tautology is also important to convey.  In either the writing course or a reading course, students should have a short unit with some exercises in breaking down sentences and phrases into logical notation, and determining the validity of the logical argument being made.  [This could perhaps be most constructively and easily done during the unit(s) on syllogisms.]

A history course [especially a history of writing course] could have a reading or two on the history of argumentation and syllogisms and the use of logic and logical fallacies.   A course on Rhetoric or Speech should also include a unit on syllogisms, perhaps in a bit more depth than was covered in the writing course above.

From an administrative perspective, the easiest way to ensure that all undergraduates get an appropriate intro to formal logic is to require they take a particular course covering it, and then verify that course is in their transcript.  But I don’t think that’s the best approach: it would be much better to weave the most important and useful concepts into the other required core curriculum courses, distributed among them as appropriate for each major.

I think it’s the APPLICATION of the concepts which are most important, and the significant applications vary by major and topic area.  In addition, many students will be “turned off” by a somewhat-sterile mathematical approach to logic, while teaching the material within a writing and speech/rhetorical context, within a reading and analysis context, and within a computer literacy/(simple computer programming)/spreadsheets course, will communicate the key ideas and concepts in context(s) which appeal to students, helping them both latch onto and grasp the important ideas, as well as learn how to apply them effectively.  A key part of the appeal is the understanding of why they are learning logic, and what it is good for.  A pure-mathematics approach to formal logic will effectively communicate the rules, but not the varied and wide applications of it.

That’s my contribution to the discussion.  🙂   (So far…  Who’s next?)


P.S.  Regarding syllogisms, I remember a seeing a reference on Tom Van Vleck’s page to The Figures of the Syllogism.   There are probably better and more informative references, but that provides a good starting point for further study…

P.P.S.  for any “language lawyers” out there.  Jon used the hashtag DiscussAmongstYourselves.  There’s also one DiscussAmongYourselves.  What’s the difference (usage and connotation) between Amongst and Among? seems to have a decent description basically saying both are correct, but I suspect I’m still missing something important or interesting about the difference…

My Goals for ThoughtVectors / Why I signed up

[Drafted in mid-2014 during the first part of the Summer 2014 UNIV 200 course, just publishing now…]

When I first heard there would be a summertime MOOC which would study the works of Engelbart, Bush, Lickleder, and others, I was very excited and searched for more details. I had heard of “As We May Think”, and have been following (for many years!) several related efforts to rehost NLS/Augment and/or reimplement portions of it using current computer technology. I am particularly interested in software which facilitates and enhances my ability to perform “knowledge work”, and which facilitates my ability to collaborate with others in that work. I am also very interested in building tools which help others perform knowledge work and collaborate with each other.  So the opportunity to study the writings of these visionaries (especially Dr. Engelbart), to learn in depth about their key concepts, and to get my head around where they were pointing and why we haven’t yet fully implemented their visions, was too good to pass up. So I followed pointers from Dr. Gardner Campbell’s blog to the other early “conspirators”, to determine details of the course and how to join in.

At the same time, I took a new 5×7 paper journal off my shelf, and began making notes of ideas and questions to explore, things I want to say and share, people and software and ideas which I associate with knowledge work and teamwork, and concepts and writings I’ve come across over the years which have been very valuable to me in this area. (I’ve made 40 pages of outlines so far, and am really just getting started.)

When I discovered that this course wouldn’t be a focused deep-dive into the technical concepts, but rather a 200-level “writing course”, I was somewhat disappointed. However, I realized that a) practicing and learning more about writing and argument won’t do me any harm, and b) I can focus my Inquiry Project on the aspects I care about, and accomplish my learning goals that way. Also, I noted from the “DS206” links from Tom Woodward, Alan Levine (CogDog), and others, that it was likely I would be learning to include graphics and multimedia in my compositions. That’s going to be a huge stretch for me, but a very valuable one.

[Added February 2016.] The goals above are still good.  I’m leaning much more strongly toward the aspects of deep-dive study and discussion of the source materials (Engelbart, Kay, etc.), with less emphasis (but still some) on the pedagogic and multimedia presentation aspects of UNIV 200.  I also plan to work in (where appropriate) some semi-related material from other topics I’ve been studying over the past year and a half.

Life Happens / Continuing

My last ThoughtVectors post was in late June 2014, and I have been silent since.  Family activities and vacation trips, work, summer and fall activities, children’s homework and band/sports activities, etc. have taken priority over “finishing” the course.  This is just as it should be: it is very appropriate for my family life and work to take priority over my (open) participation in the summer 2014 UNIV 200 course.  But my interest and purpose in participating have not ended, I still have lots to learn and contribute, and I haven’t yet fully grasped the knowledge and material I wanted to explore.

Many times since Fall 2014 I’ve considered restarting, yet I have hesitated and failed to resume posting, in part because I fear I’ll be interrupted again by higher priorities, or not be able to post “often enough”, or want to explore and post on some other topic instead for a bit.  It’s time I simply pick up where I left off, post what I can when I can, and recognize that in large part I’m in this on my own at my own pace: “often enough” is whenever works [which is much better than never or delayed for years].  I’m not (and don’t have to be) on a college semester-synchronized schedule as are VCU UNIV 200 students.  I suspect that instead, I’m on the “#ThoughtVectors4Life” plan: my participation  will of necessity span several semester-iterations of the UNIV 200 course, and my interest in key parts of the material will likely continue for decades.

There have been several ThoughtVectors-related topics I’ve drafted lately, about which I want to post.  So I plan to get those out of my way and off my mind in the next couple posts.  That will help me prepare to dive back into exploring the specific areas which interest me, as well as “finishing up” the UNIV 200 learning exercises.

— John

P.S. Re “#ThoughtVectors4Life”: see and (for instance) and  However, note that what I’m talking about is Thought Vectors and Bush’s memex and Engelbart and Nelson and Kay and so forth, NOT (just) a 200-level(sophomore) “UNIV 200 [writing course]”-4Life.