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regular talk.

Today i was challenged to write like i talk about the things that i wax academic about. so here’s an attempt to do that as much as i or anyone can do to write as i talk as i want to be heard. i still maintain that it’s not really a useful thing to go making a specific attempt to speak to an assumed audience in an assumed style of language (or whatever we mean by speaking to an audience). the advice to do this comes in these statements:

dumb it down
fit the audience
read your audience
speak like me
laymans terms
talk to regular people
don’t be exclusive
you’re elitist

and many other variations.

What i really think?

the truth of things are what they are. that is… you speak, write, paint, pant, act, dance, work, do nothing, exactly how the situation demands. to try to represent something as something it isn’t is just stupid and delusional.

don’t try to make a really fancy physics theory into a childish song. don’t make jazz into some crappy magazine article about music. things exist as they are. let the perceiver, ok, sorry, the AUDIENCE, come to it as they will, when they are ready.

not everything… in fact, most things… aren’t about selling a ticket or a download or monetizing an eyeball.

no bullshit.

Yesterday someone told me that science was contingent and logic necessary.

I struck the stone – at first lightly
Then I dug in and drew blood.

Fractured assumptions flared their flimsy premise
Crumbling before less than mighty blows

This someone warned me if you crack too hard
The stone carries impact damage
Scaring the surface
Forcing you to sand and polish

That is if what you care about is something smooth and approachable.

Will this stone yield to me?

Or am I yielding to it?

My logic battering it tink after tink
Forces my theory that no matter what I do
This stone will be what it is
And it is up to me, flawed and frayed, to ask
It questions

The response is Wittgensteinien. Silent and yet understood
A brooding proposition of certain doubt
That nothing yields everything.

I got into a discussion this week with a fellow technology focused person about whether CREATION is a thing. That is, do we actually create anything. My position is that there is no creative act. No source of creativity. There is search and selection by consequences. Everything in existence, and particular our lives from our gene code to our behavior to the software we write is a search through the space of possibilities and a relentless selection by consequences that maintains possibilities that survive more consequences. The creative act is a notion that’s perhaps useful to communicate unfamiliar or low frequency of occurrence possibilities but it’s not a fundamental thing into itself.

Why I care about this argument? Assuming CREATION as a thing leads to all sorts of false notions that anyone or thing is responsible or should get credit for what happens in the universe. And this practically played out is the source of most of our inequality and makes sure we don’t actually explore possibilities without bias. Exalting the “creative” and the “creators” blinds us to the infinitude of possibilities, most lurking right under our very confused senses and conditioned context.

The day of my first child’s birth (July 4th, 2003) remains one of the formative experiences of my life. Yes, it was a holiday and the day Barry White died and she was born as the sun was going down and the fireworks were sounding off (I swear this all happened as gloriously as you’re thinking). That’s all the pomp though it’s the instant change in circumstance that made it formative.

All the thinking and imagining before a child’s birth did not prepare me for the reality of the moment when your child screams her first cry and you realize as a dad it will be your responsibility to keep that child alive until she can fend for herself.

An instant romantic all encompassing wave of movie like love didn’t wash over me in that moment. A profound sense of fatherly protection did. We don’t have much control about what happens in life but I somehow felt and still feel I did have some say in that (and my other daughters) life coming to be. If I had the nerve to create I needed to have the courage to protect my child.

This sense of protection grows more nuanced as I age and my daughters age. At first it was just about feeding, sleeping, breathing and mom. Making sure that baby was touched and it’s body could grow. And now it’s still about those things and it’s about education and relationships and sensitivity and awareness and self actualization. And ultimately the biggest act of fatherhood is letting go. That time will come. It’s not here yet.

The love, O the love! Of my daughters is unbearably deep sometimes. It was never love in an instant for me, it’s been an extensive root system that as our lives become ever more intertwined I realize how profoundly their existence is in some sense my existence and that their protection is my own protection. They give to me not out of obligation nor some sense of knowing what I’ve ever been through (pity) but because children don’t have the baggage of a noisy world. They love me in such beautifully simple ways.

The most incredible pride I feel about being a father is that my daughters love each other so much. They are best friends and defenders of each other. They are very different persons but they go together so well. What more could I hope who above all as a dad wants his children to survive and thrive? I want them to have a life long companions who will love them and share the pain and joy and bumps and journeys regardless of all the mistakes they will make.

The more my daughters are able to integrate and shape the world of their own and need less of me and my protection the more of a father I feel I become. It’s one of those zen things. The more they become themselves and go out in the world the more love of them as themselves I experience.

And the birth of my daughters was also formative in that it softened my own view of my dad.

God do I love my dad. All those times he pushed me to “stop bitching and just do it” or got me up real early to go fishing or threw a football or earnestly played me in chess and didn’t just let me win. All these times he said get a job or eat your meat first… And ultimately, “Russell, you’ll be lucky to count close friends on one hand when you get older” to remind me that friends matter and you need to cherish them in this world.

All these things seemed here goes dad again. These sayings and actions making me uncomfortable as a kid. And once I had kids I realized that’s why dad did it. That’s why. He had to keep me alive long enough so that he could love me.

Happy Father’s Day to everyone.

I finally took the time to consume the “leaked” NYTimes Innovation Report.  (on scribd and their story on it here http://www.nytimes.com/times-insider/2014/05/30/we-met-the-story-and-it-was-us/)

It is a remarkable business and cultural document even though I found most of its conclusions and recommendations to be off the mark.  It starkly shows just how unsettled we are as a culture here in the US, especially because of media and technology.   The authors oddly make no commentary about a complete lack of engagement that majority of the population has in important topics even though the data in the report they so carefully analyzed clearly shows.   That it is this easy for media entities to lose and gain audiences is a clear indicator that no one really is doing anything other than arbitraging various mediums for traffic.

There are a few examples in there that represent important topics, such as the Snowden/NSA story (media won by The Guardian) and the Michael Sam story (which they draw out a use case).  Unfortunately they spend more time in the report analyzing and regretting how they didn’t better take advantage of that story to drive traffic.  No where is it mentioned that their mission is to drive civic engagement or improve knowledge in the population and that they analyzed their and the competition progress on those dimensions.  

I have no doubt that at the core of NYTimes there is a really big mission to do journalism that matters in ways that have the most impact.   However, this report almost demotes that concept totally.   And in doing so the report really suggests measuring and experimenting with gimmicks (SEO, social viral tricks, a/b testing image / headline selection) is more important than measuring impact on knowledge in the population and impact to policy making and the government.   You get good and stay good at what you pay attention to (measure).   Please NYTimes don’t get good at SEO above being the BEST at having an impact on the knowledge of the world.

An example that starkly shows this… the cooking/recipes work they are doing.  Why spend any time and money on that?  there are millions and millions of recipes on the web and in apps.  There are 100s of successful cooking apps out there.   What unique impact is NYTimes having by grabbing eyeballs for this “evergreen content” from the “archives”.   There is important work being done at the NYTimes so take the people working on Cooking Apps on focus on heart and sole of the NYTimes.

It’s very much a report about keeping the business growing.   Which is definitely an important thing.  However, the gimmicks of the day are not the answer.   Don’t worry about playing games trying to entice more readers into the Daily Report.  The language in the report already conditions the thinking – shows me that they aren’t yet grokking the situation.  NYTimes doesn’t have readers anymore.  It has users.

The NYTimes could be a platform, the platform for knowledge and impact.   Its competition isn’t general news media.   It’s the network of knowledge platform technologies.   The search engine and the social network and the app store – the platform technologies are what has disrupted them, not competitors with inferior products exploiting new technologies.  These info organizing, creating and sharing platforms are the technologies and services and products that are having an impact.

I’m more bullish on NYTimes than it seems they are.   I happen to believe that NYTimes has far more impact on the world than all the competition they named combined.   Getting mentioned on Buzzfeed does nothing for a person or business or policy issue.   If most of the competition they mention went away tomorrow no one would bat an eye, the Google index would easily replace the link bait with something else.   If the NYTimes went away we would lose a major cornerstone / market maker for knowledge and depth and truth.   The NYTimes still shapes the world around it.  It has the unique position, because of it’s long held mission and depth to make the platform of impact in the future.

This is wild stuff, i know.   But really… all its media competition isn’t even close in impact nor resources nor value as Google or Facebook or Amazon….  the really foundation of our information existence.

The next big knowledge platform isn’t yet here, why couldn’t NYTimes be the one to build it?

 

 

We all are programmers.   And I want to explain what programming really is.  Most people think of it as a writing instructions that a computer will then interpret and go do what those instructions say.   In only the simplest sense is this fully encompassing of what programming is.

 

Programming in the broadest sense is a search through computational universe for interesting patterns that can be interpreted by other patterns.   A few definitions are in order.   A pattern is simply some set of data pulled from the computational universe (from my own investigations/research/logic everything is computational).  Thus a pattern could be a sentence of English words or a fragment of a program written in Java or DNA strands or a painting or anything else.   Some patterns are able to interact with other patterns (information processing) such as a laptop computer can interpret Microsoft Office documents or a replicated set of DNA (a human) can interpret Shakespeare and put on a play.   A program is simply a pattern that interacts with other programs.

 

When we write programs we are simply searching through the space of symbolic representations in whatever programming language.   When a program doesn’t work/doesn’t do what we want, we haven’t found a pattern of symbols that’s interpreted the way we prefer or the processing pattern can interpret.  We sometimes call that “bugs” in the software.   Underneath it all it’s simply another program, just not the one we want.

 

I call it a search to bring particular activities to mind.  When we say we write a program or create a program it seems to engender only a limited set of methods to find programs by a limited set of people, called programmers.   Calling it a search reflects reality AND opens our eyes to the infinite number of ways to find interesting patterns and to interpret them.   The space of programs is “out there”, we just have to mine it for the programs/patterns we wish to interpret.

 

Programs/patterns that become widely used owe that use to the frequency that those patterns can be interpreted.  For example, Windows or MacOS have billions of interpreting machines in which their programs can be interpreted.   Or on an even bigger scale, DNA “programs” have trillions of interpreters on just this planet alone.

 

Using a program is nothing more than interpreting it.  When you type a document in MS Word the OS is interpreting your keystrokes, refreshing the screen with pixels that represent your words, all while MS word itself is checking for grammar put in place by programmers who interpreted a grammar reference and so on and so on.   For sufficiently complex programs we aren’t able to say if a program “does the right thing.”.  Only simple programs are completely verifiable.   This is why programs exist only as patterns that are interpreted.

 

Humans have become adept at interpreting patterns most useful for the survival of human genes.  With the advent of digital computers and related patterns (tech) we are now able to go beyond the basic survival of our genes and instead mine for other patterns that are “interesting” and interpretable by all sorts of interpreters.  I don’t know where the line is on good for survival and not, but it’s really not a useful point here.  My point is that with computers we’re able to just let machines go mining the space of existence in much grander ways and interpreting those results.   Obvious examples include the SETI project mining for signs of aliens, LHC mining the space of particle collisions, Google search mining the space of webpages and now human roadways, Facebook mining everyone’s social graph and so on.  Non obvious examples include artists mining the space of perceptively interesting things, doctors mining the space of symptoms, and businesses mining the space of sellable products and so on.

 

Let me consider in a little more detail that last one.  Every business is a program.  It’s a pattern (a pattern of patterns) interpreting the patterns closest to it (competition and the industry) and finding patterns for its customers (persons or government or companies or other patterns) to buy (currency is just patterns interpreted).   Perhaps before computers and the explosion of “digital information” it wasn’t so obvious this is what it is.  But now that so much of the world is now digital and electronic how many businesses actually deal with physical goods and paper money?  How many businesses have ever seen all their employees or customers?  How many businesses exist really only has brief “ideas”?   What are all these businesses if not simply patterns of information interpreted as “valuable?”.  And isn’t every business at this point basically coming down to how much data it can amass and interpret better/more efficiently than the competition? How are businesses funded other than algorithmic trading algorithms trading the stock market in high frequency making banks and VCs wealthy so their analysts can train their models to identify the next program, er, business to invest in…..

 

When you get down to it, everything is programming.  Everything we do in life, every experience is programming.  Patterns interpreting patterns.  

 

The implications of this are quite broad.   This is why I claim the next major “innovation” we all will really notice is an incredible leap in the capability of “programming languages”.   I don’t know exactly what they will look or feel like but as the general population desires to have more programmability of the world in a “digital” or what I call “abstract” way the programming languages will have to become patterns themselves that are generally more easily interpreted (written by anyone!).   The more the stuff we buy and sell is pure information (think of a future in which we’re all just trading software and 3d printer object designs (which is what industrial manufacturers basically do)) the more we all will not want to wait for someone else to reprogram the world around us, we all will want to do it.   Education, health care, transportation, living, etc. is all becoming more and more modular and interchangeable, like little chunks of programs (usually called libraries or plugins).   So all these things we traditionally think as “the real world” are actually becoming little patterns we swap in and out of.  Consider how many of you have taken an uber from your phone, stayed at an airbnb, order an eBook from amazon, sent digital happy birthday and so on…. Everything is becoming a symbolic representation more and more easily programmed to be just how we want.

 

And so this is why big data is all the rage.  Not because it’s a cool fad or some new tech thing… it’s because it’s the ONLY THING.   All of these “patterns” and “programs” I’m talking about taken on the whole are just the SPACE OF DATA for us to mine all the patterns.   The biggest program of all is EVERYTHING in EXISTENCE.  On a smaller scale the more complicated and complex a program is the more it looks indistinguishable from a huge pile of data.   The more clever we find our devices the more it turns out that it’s an inseparable entanglement of data and programs (think of the autospell on your phone… when it messes up your spelling it’s just the data it’s gleaned from you….).  Data = programs.  Programs = data.   Patterns = patterns.   Our world is becoming a giant abstract ball of data, sometimes we’re symbolizing but more and more often we’re able to directly compute (interpret natively/without translation) with objects as they exist (genetic modification, quantum computing, wetware, etc.).   In either case it’s all equivalent… only now we’re becoming aware of this equivalence if not in “mind” then in behavior or what we expect to be able to do.

 

Face it. You are a programmer.   and you are big data.

There will be no understanding. There should be no blame.

Our section of the world is confronted yet again with unexplainable suffering taking the shape of so many other recent events. A person, a lonely agenda, a gun, a manifesto, a set of targets, an “obvious” back story, a chance to intervene, the event, the scramble, the rage online, the blame, the investigation, the pontifications, the closing, the moving on, repeat.

The narrative is too simple. Every aspect of it hides complexities that would reveal at almost every turn that we are not in control and we cannot predict. Our easily tricked pattern recognizing brains piecing it all together try to draw connections and signs and ways it could have been different. It couldn’t. Not this event.

Any solace drawn from conclusions and blame is hollow and destined to be violated.

And yes the question is a valid one and one worth investigating: how can this be different?

It’s answer, which should NEVER settled down to THE answer, is not a simple narrative about a single event and a single person. The question should spawn a web of questions and should forever.

The meta issue is conclusion.

When we conclude we have reduced the world and the situation. We do not consider all the factors. When we conclude we have decided we know far more than we possible can.

Peace comes not from a false conclusion (police should have known, young white males with money do X, gun control, …). Peace may never come. Maybe that’s part of the ongoing issue is that we seek concepts and ideas and states of being that aren’t anything, can’t be obtained.

Sometimes when these events exist I have extreme sorrow. I’m sorrowful when light of lives are snuffed out. This happens every day all over the planet in all sorts of senseless ways. Though I’m not sure you can call any life or death full of sense.

In the face of inconceivable complexity I am left only to ask questions and through those questions love and honor this brief experience of life. It’s not usually peaceful but it is living.

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