Friday, May 4, 2018

What makes a hands-on trade?

My RSI is kicking in again, so I'll try to keep this short.

I'm reminded of a college suitemate who arrived as a freshman with RSI already, because he had spent so much time coding in high school. He installed dictation software and got a foot-powered mouse. It was still a big struggle. I would hear him in the lounge outside my room laboriously dictating code at 1AM. I heard from another friend he eventually got foot RSI.

The short of it is, coding is still inconvenient without your hands, despite the perception that it's the opposite of a "real" hands-on trade. It's likely easier to be a writer with RSI than a programmer. Or rather, a writer of conventional pieces: sentences and paragraphs that move from top to bottom and consist of the standard words in the language. Things that might still be hard: writing Finnegans Wake or concrete poetry. In both the cases of programming and unconventional writing, the hard part is not actually getting the characters out (if you knew exactly what to type before you start), but the process of editing.

At the same time I think it would be pretty manageable to do something like write equations in a spreadsheet, or write Instabase Flows, both of which are a type of simpler programming. The difference is there are clear standard building blocks and relatively little custom 'glue' for the programmer to deal with. These are both more constrained environments, overall more declarative than imperative. It makes sense that when the 'blocks' of an environment are defined, it's easier to create tools to make it easy to work with those blocks.

On the other end of the spectrum there are artists—painters. I can't imagine that becoming a non-manual job until we have true brain-machine interfaces.

Those seem to be the two ways we can approach making manual jobs not manual: making them as declarative as possible (abstracting away complexity), then building tools around them; or creating better ways to translate the intent in our minds into action. Even cars can been viewed this way: cars translate our intent to move in some direction into action. In this example, the fidelity of this translation is limited by the vehicle's turn radius. For a painter of fine still lifes, that fidelity would have to be very high.

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