Adventures in the library

2 October, 2008

My inter-library loan arrived, so I strolled over to collect it. I was slightly disappointed to discover that my book on Software Visualization has a remarkably plain and boring cover, considering its subject matter. It could have had UML poetry, or something. Still, 11 out of 14 chapters look good and relevant, so that should keep me busy.

I browsed tomes by Knuth while I was there, in a ‘I really should read this properly someday’ kind of way, and this caught my eye:

Seminumerical Algorithms (3rd Edition), ch. 3.1 p2. Addison-Wesley Professional.

D. E. Knuth (1997). Art of Computer Programming, Volume 2: Seminumerical Algorithms (3rd Edition), ch. 3.1 p2. Addison-Wesley Professional.

I wonder if this mathematically-generated aesthetic idea applies to engineering diagrams like UML or circuit diagrams, or if they are clearer with perfectly straight lines. What ‘certain contexts’ is he alluding to? The referenced article doesn’t shed much light on it. Any ideas?

I also looked around, in a nonchalant I’m-not-causing-trouble-honest style, for the legendary 2.5th floor of the library, but all the likely looking doors to it are (allegedly) alarmed.



  1. It’s all geek to me!

  2. Seriously though – hand drawn circuit diagrams are always more intelligible than schematics (ghastly American expression) generated by CAD programs.

  3. It’s the same in UML, in my experience. But why? Is it more coherent placing of components/classes to create recognisable chunks and ‘tell stories’? Is it a visual processing barrier caused by artificially straight lines (the eye starts to confuse the lines because they all look the same)? Is it too much detail, or the wrong detail for the task? Is it that hand-drawn diagrams tend to be in close proximity to the person who drew them and you can just go and ask them about it? Why aren’t the tools helping?!?

  4. (some thought later) Are there even hidden cues in the hand-drawings: unimportant and obvious details can be sketched quickly, giving different pen strokes to the parts drawn slowly and thoughtfully?

  5. There is a biennial UML poetry contest whose winner is determined by Google ranking? The world is made of awesome.

    Diagrams are a funny thing. I don’t know how much philosophical reading around semiotics would be relevant, but a lot of what underlies what I’ve been looking at in college is the way a reader interact with a text (in a Death of the Author, Barthesian kind of way). Actually, this may or may not be of interest to you in your efforts to examine (close?) the gap between the person who draws the diagram and then the person who interprets it.

    I had a seminar on Tuesday in which, among other things, we were discussing the way you approach texts – the presuppositions you take with you and how they differ depending on what you’re looking at. We look through typed words to immediately extract their meaning (though this in itself causes problems), whereas with the handwritten, drawn, or in your case diagrams, we treat them less intimately. We look at the overall shape on the page (screen) as well (first?), in a way it never would occur to us to do with typed text. I don’t know whether this is habit – a function of our being immersed in typed text day in, day out – but I think this is where your problem lies. Your interest in making this universally accessible to developers does my noodle. I feel like it should be possible but every time I think it through it requires the teaching of a new visual language which, correct me if I’m wrong cos I’m in a totally unfamiliar field, is the problem with things like UML… cos no one uses them properly.


  6. […] a hidden floor in between floors two and three of the library. Not found it yet but the elevator between them is suspiciously long; I intend to befriend a librarian and ask them. […]

  7. […] what’s your PhD about? First I was happily unsure. Then I was more sure and less happy. Then there was a fit of gloom and despair. This sort […]

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