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January 31, 2021

Navigation in the OS of the future

Let’s start looking at the bigger picture.

The next of my Lab Notes dives into how we might navigate around the operating system of the future.

Dive in:
LN 004: Browsing contexts & recent paths

Now that the Lab Notes are settling in conceptually, I’d like to start sharing a bit more in these weekly columns in addition to the week’s linked lab note.

Part of my transition to making research my core work has involved learning more about research itself.

Richard Hamming taught a course at the Naval Postgraduate School that has been both inspiring and informative for my evolving work. Paraphrasing from part of his introductory lecture, “In science, if you know what you’re doing, you shouldn’t be doing it. Science is the exploration of what you don’t know. In engineering, you shouldn’t be doing it unless you do know what you’re doing.” He adds, “Nothing is pure. Science involves a great deal of engineering, and engineering involves a great deal of new material.”

This is an informative insight: these are very different modes of work, which require different backgrounds of understanding, styles of working, and motivations toward the result. Further, the two require learning different sets of techniques.

In my work, I am both the researcher and the practitioner; I work in both theory and application, devising many experiments and insights in search of fundamentals, and building out software for a community of users to try for themselves. These are two very different modes.

One key insight from Hamming: Though sometimes the activities within the two are the same (for me — ideating, writing, developing), always knowing when you’re doing science versus engineering is critical to being effective. In independent research, we may flip between the two regularly, and though the context switch is not always easy, it should be done intentionally.

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