Tables and Spreadsheets

In the beginning there was the unsorted set, then the List and, when many lists become unmanegeable, the Table appeared. Made of intersecting lists conforming either rows or columns, they are used as boards, guides, matrixes and files. Let see an example:

Calendar Rune

Calendar Rune

Making a big jump in time, we can find one of the first electronic versions of tables: the spreadsheet application:

Multiplan for DOS

Multiplan for DOS

Notice that numbered column titles instead of the now common letter based style.

As data and information management growth and as computers provided more powerful and flexible tools, there was a new paradigm: The Cube (AKA: Hyper-Cube or OLAP Cube). Although still represented on a two-dimensional surface, the general idea is to represent a third dimension, time, and also show the information in a more efficient an useful way by grouping/nesting, sorting, filtering and “drilling” up/down on the same visual interface.

OLAP Cube

OLAP Cube from ContourComponents

Today, these tables/spreadsheets/cubes are not just presenting data, but also providing navigation, formatting, validation and simulation capabilities, all in integration with other visual and processing paradigms. Nice evolution.

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Drawing: A picture is worth a thousand words.

Communication is a basic need for almost any being. Either for amazon’s ants transmitting chemical messages to announce presence of food, or for primitive humans painting caves to tell stories about hunting or register their cattle property.

Cave painting

Cave painting

Then, as society growth and evolved into more complex relationships (tribes to nations), settlements (villages to cities), housing (hut to houses, buildings or palaces), and so on, the need to register and share also increased. In the visual aspect, the using of paper (or its ancestors: leather and papyrus) gives the painting or writing the ability to be mobile and replicable.

Egyptian papyrus

Egyptian papyrus

 Of course the more obvious use of drawings are the representation of things, such as animals, people, machines or buildings, inherently linked to art, literacy, engineering, sciences, architecture, religious depictions and historic or politic topics. Appart from these, there started the need to associate information and drawing for use in such documents like genealogy trees, maybe the first kind of diagrams.

Medieval denealogy diagram

Medieval genealogy diagram

Again, centuries passed until the first formal diagrams were conceived. In turn, these more elaborated diagrams, were result of more sophisticated management techniques and science advances, mainly in the Scientific and the Industrial revolutions.

Thinking Helpers

Since the early development of intelligent life, through the evolution from caves to our modern society, the conscious pursuing for productivity, efficiency, outcome generation, and any other way of “be better than the competitors”, have become a key factor in survival. In today’s world the most valued capabilities are these of: Analysis, problem solving, innovation, communication and management. In other words: A good, balanced, proactive and effective thinking.

As human beigns, we have limited resources (such as personal capabilities, time or money). So, the very basic and common task of thinking must be helped. The many ways we can help our thinking are related also to the many types or styles of thinking. I can think of…

Remembering: We have some set of “fresh” memories or knowledges that are commonly and easily accessed as we need them. But also there are the almost forgotten memories, these of far times or less relevance that sometimes we are in the urgency to get back. Then, I see these alternatives:

– Associating things. If we have a cue from where to start we can reach a context, from there we can enumerate things of that context and touch the required memory.

– Using an stimulus: It can be a sound (like a sound or the voice of somebody), an odor (I remember Dr. House trying to refreshig his memory by sniffing clothes) or and image or scene (a sunset, a rainy night). Maybe an hypnosis session?

Dr. House remembering

Dr. House remembering

Problem Solving: There is a problem and we must to find or make a solution for it. We can…

– Find a previous similar problem, then use an extrapolation of the solution into our problem context.

– Stimulate our creativity by: Making a brainstorming meeting, drawing a Mind Map, play with didactic toys like Legos or Meccanos.

Brainstorming session

Brainstorming session

 Communication: There is an audience to listen, and we must to convince or educate them. Possible ways of doing this…

– Presenting Images, either for analysis or solution proposal: Using drawings, diagrams, photographs and some text (not too much).

– Storytelling: This works by extracting the metaphores.

Storytelling

Storytelling

For each kind of problem, like these just exposed, there have been invented methods, techniques, artifacts, tools or intruments to help in their solution: Writings, drawings, storing (first by hand, then by the press and later with machines), and so on. I hope, in the next posts of this blog, make a trip through the “Thinking Helpers”.