Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction

Date: Mon, 5 Sep 2011 00:13:30
To: DH

I've been feeling like a creative failure lately. There's an essay in my head, it seems like an important one, and I've been trying to push it out of my head and onto a computer screen, and it's clawing at the walls and biting my hands when I come near. Blegh blegh blegh. I can't work. I can sort of force myself to work, but it's not flowing the way it flows when it's actually flowing. (And then the little demons crawl in and ask whether the final product will even be worth all of the effort, or if I'm just wasting my life and nobody will care etc etc..)

Today I ended up seeing Midnight In Paris and then the Pixar documentary, and the back-to-back Hemingway and Lasseter made me want to go Create Great Things, and then I thought about how my Great Things are going and instead I just want to bury myself in the backyard.

Date: Tue, 6 Sep 2011 22:16:28
To: CG

I'm still in Bolinas. It's windy and lonely. I'm taking a break from Flux Garden to work on a crazy interactive essay thing, which has been going excrutiatingishly, as these sort of projects tend to go, but it's slowly progressing, and I think it might be a good/important one? Be warned that once it transitions to the "coherent draft" stage (from the current "hideous pile of sobbing" stage) I will send it to you, whereupon you will gladly drop everything you're doing to read it and give me feedback. I'd like to think that this might happen next week, but I'm probably deluding myself. Maybe the week after. Who knows.

Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2011

Spent the last two days trying to write a paragraph. WHY CAN'T I WRITE PARAGRAPH.

Date: Mon, 03 Oct 2011

Currently murdering my darlings. It's a goddamn darling massacre over here.

Date: Mon, 10 Oct 2011 22:40:46
To: DH

I've been polishing up the essay over the last week. I "publish" tomorrow, and then the pain will be over. At this point, I have no idea what to think about it, other than that it's dangerously close to the bottom-left in Kyle-space.

Date: Mon, 11 Oct 2011

The massacre.

A Brief Rant On The Future Of Interaction Design

Date: Thu, 10 Nov 2011 19:19:44
To: DC


I wrote that over the weekend while feeling sick. Until the last minute, I was debating whether or not to post it, because there aren't any ideas in it and that's not the sort of thing I want to be known for writing. At one point I had committed to throwing it out, but eventually my I-made-this-and-I-want-to-confirm-my-existence-by-having-other-people-see-it instinct won out. Mostly because I had made it look pretty, I guess.

Now it's exploding all over the internet and it's freaking me out. *** sent me an email about it. *** sent me an email. I've turned down four interview requests. It's been translated to Spanish and Hebrew. It's just a bunch of pictures of my hands. What the hell is going on.

Inventing on Principle

Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2011 20:43:55
To: CM

After much uncertainty and doubt, we've decided to renew Bret Victor for the 2011 winter season. He's clearly jumped the shark, but we can probably pull decent ratings until the inevitable cancelation.

Which is to say, I think I've converged on two projects to occupy the next couple months.

1! I agreed to speak at a conference in January. I didn't know what I would say until yesterday. Yesterday, I was reading some responses to one of my tweets, and the response I was composing in my head grew from a tweet, to a multi-tweet, to an essay, to an Engelbart-like Presentation Extravaganza, wherein I would unload upon the poor audience a dozen or so Amazing UI Ideas that have been half-baking in my head for years. The ideas are all based around a theme, which feels very distinct in my mind but I don't know how to describe it or even name it yet. So the talk will be a good excuse to extract these ideas and clarify the theme. Maybe I'll essayify it afterwards.

Date: Mon, 5 Dec 2011 21:19:04
To: DC

The intent is to blow their minds in the first five minutes, and then get blowier from there. I'm currently going through the everpresent "I can't do this" phase.

Date: Sun, 11 Dec 2011 23:20:41
To: DH

My talk in a month is going to be the greatest talk that's ever been talked. I'm really excited. I've got six prototypes in various stages of existence, and each one is going to be the most amazing thing the world has seen. Also, I'm totally going to swindle you into drawing some pictures for them.

The demos are the first half of the talk. In the second half, I tell them how to live their lives, sort of. It'll be intense. Or cut for time.

Date: Thu, 29 Dec 2011 17:07:57
To: DH

The title as of this afternoon is "Inventing on Principle", yesterday it was "Invention as Activism", before that it was "Invention as a Moral Choice". Hopefully it'll be better tomorrow.

The audience will take away a feeling of inspiration so powerful and all-consuming, they will probably get hit by a car when crossing the street.

Maybe I should work that into the title.

Date: Sat, 11 Feb 2012 23:09:39

In other news, the edited video of my montreal talk has been uploaded to a secret corner of Vimeo, and I'm going to release it on Tuesday. It's not perfect -- it's far from perfect -- and I'm kind of freaking out about it.

Stop Drawing Dead Fish

Date: Tue, 1 May 2012 22:08:16

Friends --

On the evening of May 16, I'll be giving a talk in SF. See, it says so on the internet:


It's not really a talk, so much as a demo, and then another demo, and then a "live performance". Entirely new material. At the present time, the existence ratio of this material is suboptimal, and I'm not sure what sort of miraculous intervention will occur over the next two weeks to convert these vague fantasies in my imagination into something fit to show the world without shame. BUT DON'T YOU WORRY ABOUT OL' BRET HE'LL BE JUST FINE MAYBE

If you are free that evening, you are invited to come cheer me on and/or cringe compassionately.

If nothing else, you can come play Q&A bingo:

Date: Sat, 5 May 2012 08:56:24
To: SS

Will you be in town on May 16? You should come to my talk.

It's currently in shambles, but maybe it'll be less shambley by then.

Anti-shamble measures have been deployed.

Date: Sat, 10 May 2012

It's scary to watch a project converge. Hundreds of vague possibilities resolve into a dozen solid ideas...

... which merge and split and fall away until they are somehow born as three fully-developed themes. Just in time for the deadline.

... I don't feel like I'm controlling the process. It just happens, and I watch in surprise and relief every time.

... The end result feels inevitable, but there so much else that could have been.

CDG Research Agenda and Floor Plan

Date: Fri, 8 Nov 2013 18:05:58
To: DC, CG, CM, DH, CX, PC, DF, TS, AR, DD, LR, AK

Friends --


I've been thinking about the lab.

I guess it's all I've been thinking about for months now. Have you ever watched a cat before it makes a big jump, say, from one tree branch to another? It just sits there, hunched up, twitching, estimating the jump and playing it out in its mind, over and over and over. Eventually it actually jumps though, which I guess is where the analogy fails to hold so far.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, some of us were walking around the new space, and I was thinking about how the space would be designed, and also thinking about all the projects I had been writing down in my notebook, trying to make sense of them, and I guess it was too many things for me to think about because they all mushed together into the same thing. I wrote it down.

You'll probably recognize a lot of the things I've been working on, or at least mumbling about, for some time now. Here it all is in a coherent (or at least cohered) framework. You can think of this as a plan for the next 30 years. Except I'll probably make another plan like this next year and it will be totally different.

This is a draft -- please don't share with anyone yet. It's not public, and might never be public -- it's more grandiose than I'm comfortable appearing right now -- but I'll send out a revised version later which you'll be free to pass around, with discretion, if you feel like it. Patrick called it a "samizdat research plan"; I kind of like that.

If you have any comments and suggestions about clarity of presentation -- things that could be explained better, phrases that don't mean anything to you -- they would be very welcome. I'm not really looking for criticism of the content right now -- these are my precious fantasies, after all, and I'm too worn out from the writing to muster a defense.


Every creative project is a forced march through despair, that's just the way my compass points, but this one was particularly grueling because of the ethereality of the source material. It's not really a research proposal so much as an attempt to condense into words an emotional sense of longing and desperation. I hear that the NSF prefers research proposals to emotional senses of longing and desperation, so thank goodness they're not involved.

The words don't work. I can describe attributes and requirements, but I can't capture the potential, the result, the thoughts that will be possible once this exists; I don't have words for instincts. I gave up on persuasion entirely; either this resonates with you or it doesn't, this won't convince you. Every line offers a dozen misinterpretations, I just have to live with that.

There are too many words, they dilute. It reads like a bunch of different projects, but it's really just one thing, seen from a bunch of different angles. I can't explain the one thing.

But this is probably the closest I've come so far to explaining/understanding it.

Thanks for being here with me.


What can a technologist do about climate change?

Date: Fri, 25 Sep 2015

Write, write, write all day
Come back in the evening to look over what was written
Oh my god what is this drivel how did I even manage to type these words in

Date: Fri, 25 Sep 2015

I need to stop looking at it, it's like picking through a car wreck

Date: Fri, 2 Oct 2015 18:19:27

Hi. I'm writing a thing about climate change. I don't know why I thought I was qualified to write this, and it's probably terrible.

Date: Fri, 19 Oct 2015

It looks like it's going to take six weeks. It's always six weeks! Why does every essay and talk end up taking six weeks?

Date: Tue, 17 Nov 2015 21:24:43

Ok, it's been a rough trip, but time to start backing this truck into the driveway. I'm aiming to publish next Tuesday (a week from today) after which I will crawl off somewhere and crumble into dust.