Solving Things Visually

Point of View Is Worth 80 IQ Points

— Alan Kay

  • we can create point-of-views in software through (data) visualization

Sanjay had a neat trick of using GraphViz to debug his compiler by outputting and laying out various compiler graphs (e.g. CFGs). It is obvious when you think about, but a normal compiler dev wouldn't think to do that.

visibility is everything. In many cases the most effective person isn't the smartest or even the most qualified, it's the person who has visibility into the problem. Learning to make things visible gives you a superpower.

  • visualization is a bicycle for the mind - it can give us additional IQ points
  • dynamic medium is great for solving things visually
  • Bret makes a point that programming is currently blindly manipulating symbols - visualization is a solution for this blindness

    the author sees and manipulates indirect symbolic representations, and must imagine how they give rise to dynamic behavior

    • imagination can be a limited by the minds "horizon"
    • that's why Bret tried to build easier visualization software - to allow users to see the issue
  • visualization is a macroscope
  • this could be helpful when Solving Things Visually - data is a something that user has tangible access to, it occupies space instead of being ephemeral
  • Solving things Visually - and Alan Kay's anecdote about drawing a circle - when thinking "visually" one wants a compass, and not a sin(x), cos(x) equation
  • interaction is important part of abstraction - being able to interact with the visualization (and see other visualizations change) helps us build mental model of the solution space (solving things visually)
    • human brains are good at matching visual patterns, but slow and bad at logical inferences
    • it makes sense to turn those inferences into visual representations so we can reason about them
    • it makes sense to be able to play with them to gain even better understanding of them - static visualization is not enough, interaction with living system combined with visualization is important
  • I'm also not sure if any tool will be able to give me more IQ points (although a point-of-view can - solving things visually)
  • this seems to tie often into inventing notation and/or visualizations to solve things - but instead of using these visualisations as one-offs for explaining a concept, they could be used as tools for thought in a sense of being an interface for mathematics and other concepts
Szymon Kaliski © 2021