Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘business strategy’ Category

This week my 11 year old daughter asked if she could download and join snapchat. I immediately nixed that idea. I haven’t nixed her getting involved in much else technically where the EULA allows it. Snapchat touched a chord and got me to thinking (again) about identity – how we identify ourselves – who we think we are – and who others think we are. I think about this deeply every so often, sometimes becoming unglued when I think too hard about it. It’s a complicated concept.

Who?

So many things contribute to the patterns that are what we are. Our identity and sense of place in this world – undoubtedly conditioned by the modern world – is built around physical place (and now virtual places) and social circles (and now virtual social networks) and status within established networks of influence. This was probably not always the case when people were far more nomadic and identity wasn’t tied to a hometown or a home school or a 150 person social network. But now, more than ever, identity is a thing.

I personally have moved residences over 20 times in my life. 13 of them different cities (social networks) and 5 across state lines.

Non Existence -> Born (don’t remember)
Littleton, CO (don’t remember, sorta remember)
Colorado Springs (k – 2nd grade)
Aurora, CO Laredo Circle House (2nd grade – 3rd grade???)
Aurora, CO Laredo Court House (4th grade??? – 7th grade)
Miami, FL Kendall House (8th grade)
Miami, FL Baptist Hospital House (9th grade – 10th grade)
Aurora, CO Salsaleto House (11th grade – 12th grade)
Aurora, CO Some Apartment I Forget Where (Summer before college)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Freshman year college)
Aurora, CO Buckingham Mall House (Summer between Freshman and Sophomore Year)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Sophomore year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Apartment (summer between sophomore and junior year)
Chicago, IL Blackstone Building/University Chicago (Junior year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Co-Op Apartment (summer between junior and senior year)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (1999)
Chicago, IL Roosevelt and Michigan Apartment (2000 – 2002)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (2002 – 2005)
Playa Vista, CA Fountainhead Apartment (2005 – 2006)
Venice, CA Abbot Kinney House (2006 – 2010)
Austin, TX Travis Heights House (2010 – 2011)
Austin, TX Deep Eddy House (2012)
Marina Del Rey, CA (2013 – present)

My own children have now moved 5 times (the oldest one) and twice across state lines.

And these are just the residence moves – not all the jobs, schools, social circles, life phases and other changes that go into making up our context and our history. I have 692 friends on facebook, a couple hundred followers on twitter, tens of followers on instagram, one attempt at snapchat, fifty pinterest followers and so on. Sometimes I think of this all as an audience, which is quite insane to me as a concept but I doubt I’m the only one that feels like they have an audience online. I’ve done speaking engagements at conferences, I’ve written 8 years of blogs, somehow I authored several whitepapers, I think i have a patent or three, I’ve performed in 40+ live theater shows, I built hundreds of websites and mobile apps with between 1 and 50 million users a month…. WHAT THE F*** DOES IT ALL ADD UP TO? WHO AM I? and WHY IS THAT EVEN A QUESTION?

It’s a question because my daughters keep finding new ways to “express themselves” and “connect to others.” They “identify” with my wife or myself by saying “oh, i’m so like mom!” They intellectually get the ideas of genetics and art and fashion and learning and the delineation between it all.  They are very keen at telling me I don’t “get” them…. I keep waiting for the day when the TSA finally says they are full human identities and require proof of the case (driver’s license/passport).

It’s also a question because everyday the Western world bombards each other in ways such as:
“what am I worth?”
“tell me about your past.”
“are you this ism or that ism?”
“what party are you?”

and every other variation of class, job history, race, culture, language, outward appearance…

Anchors is my best guess at identities. Us, limited beings, pattern creating and recognizing beings find ways to lay anchors and say THIS IS ENOUGH – THIS IS WHERE I’M DROPPING ANCHOR and REMEMBER THIS. We drop these anchors – which are complex patterns we simplify – and label them as classes, races, job titles, cultures, state lines, political parties, etc. We drop anchors to save energy. That is, we hope the anchors keep us from having to remember all of the context and history that lead us to here when we are in the heat of the moment of making a decision. We want to save time when working out who we hire, with whom we partner, with whom we commune, with whom we war…

Unfortunately.

Identity is an illusion.

We are not the isms, the races, the classes, nor the anchors we drop. We all are ever evolving changing masses of organs, cells, and atoms that respond to the changes around them. We are connected – to each other, to the Web, to the world, to nature, to everything that passes gamma rays into us – EVERYTHING.

And this isn’t a ZEN kind of thinking i’m talking about. It’s a very simple, real concept that *WE* don’t EXIST. and the idea that WE EXIST is a major reason why “we” all end up fighting and destroying and gloating and taking credit and paying dues and every other manner of paying homage to an illusion. We do this because the delusion of singular identity is efficient in many respects. Capital markets reward identities. Democracies, despite their conceptual idea of the masses, reward identities. Social media and the internet reward identities.

And in all this efficiency created by identities we actually end up destroying things. Identities are the most efficient destructive concepts we’ve collectively devised. They shut everything down. They allow entire populations to be ignored. They tune our attention out. They tune our own senses out.

It makes sense this is so and that it persists.

Can it be resisted? *I* don’t know. Can we live without it?  I don’t know.

Read Full Post »

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?

 

 

Read Full Post »

In Defense of The Question Is The Thing

I’ve oft been accused of being all vision with little to no practical finishing capability. That is, people see me as a philosopher not a doer. Perhaps a defense of myself and philosophy/approach isn’t necessary and the world is fine to have tacticians and philosophers and no one is very much put off by this.

I am not satisfied. The usual notion of doing and what is done and what constitutes application is misguided and misunderstood.

The universe is determined yet unpredictable (see complexity theory, cellular automota). Everything that happens and is has anticedents (see behaviorism, computation, physics). Initiatial conditions have dramatic effect on system behavior over time (see chaos theory). These three statements are roughly equivalent or at least very tightly related. And they form the basis of my defense of what it means to do.

“Now I’m not antiperformance, but I find it very precarious for a culture only to be able to measure performance and never be able to credit the questions themselves.” – Robert Irwin, page 90, seeing is forgetting the name of thing one sees

The Question Is The Thing! And by The Question that means the context or the situation or the environment or the purpose. and I don’t mean The Question or purpose as assigned by some absolute authority agent. It is the sense of a particular or relevative instance we consider a question. What is the question at hand?

Identifying and really asking the question at hand drives the activity to and fro. To do is to ask. The very act of seriously asking a question delivers the do, the completion. So what people mistake in me as “vision” is really an insatiable curiousity and need to ask the right question. To do without the question is nothing, it’s directionless motion and random walk. To seriously ask a question every detail of the context is important. To begin answering the question requires the environment to be staged and the materials provided for answers to emerge.

There is no real completion without a constant re-asking of the question. Does this answer the question? Did that answer the question?

So bring it to something a lot of people associate me with: web and software development. In the traditional sense I haven’t written a tremendous amount of code myself. Sure I’ve shipped lots of pet projects, chunks of enterprise systems, scripts here and there, and the occassional well crafted app and large scale system. There’s a view though that unless you wrote every line of code or contributed some brilliant algorithm line for line, you haven’t done anything. The fact is there’s a ton of code written every day on this planet and very little of it would i consider “doing something”. Most of it lacks a question, it’s not asking a question, a real, big, juicy, ambitious question.

Asking the question in software development requires setting the entire environment up to answer it. Literally the configuration of programmer desks, designer tools, lighting, communication cadence, resources, mixing styles and on and on. I do by asking the question and configuring the environment. The act of shipping software takes care of itself if the right question is seriously asked within an environment that let’s answers emerge.

Great questions tend to take the shape of How Does This Really Change the World for the User? What new capability does this give the world? How does this extend the ability of a user to X? What is the user trying to do in the world?

Great environments to birth answers are varied and don’t stay static. The tools, the materials all need to change per the unique nature of the question.

Often the question begs us to create less. Write less code. Tear code out. Leave things alone. Let time pass. Write documentation. Do anything but add more stuff that stuffs the answers further back.

The question and emergent answers aren’t timeless or stuck in time. The context changes the question or shape of the question may change.

Is this to say I’m anti shipping (or anti performance as Irwin put it)? No. Lets put it this way we move too much and ask too little and actual don’t change the world that much. Do the least amount to affect the most is more of what I think is the approach.

The question is The Thing much more than thing that results from work. The question has all the power. It starts and ends there.

Read Full Post »

The aim of most businesses is to create wealth for those working at it. Generally it is preferred to do this in a sustainable, scalable fashion so that wealth may continue to be generated for a long time. The specific methods may involve seeking public valuation in the markets, selling more and more product directly profitably, private valuation and investment and more. The aim of most technology based companies to make the primary activity and product of the business involve technology. Most common understanding of the “technology” refers to information technology, bio technology, advanced hardware and so forth – i.e. tools or methods that go beyond long established ways of doing things and/or analog approaches. So the aims of a technology company are to create and maintain sustainable, scalable wealth generation through technological invention and execution.

Perhaps there are better definitions of terms and clearer articulation of the aims of business but this will suffice to draw out an argument for how technology companies could fully embrace the idea of a platform and, specifically, a technological platform. Too often the technology in a technology company exists solely in the end product sold to the market. It is a rare technology company that embraces technological thinking every where – re: big internet media still managing advertising contracts through paper and faxes, expense reports through stapled papers to static excel spreadsheets and so on. There are even “search” engine companies that are unable to search over all of their own internal documentation and knowledge.

The gains of technology are significant when applied everywhere in a company. A technological product produced by primitive and inefficient means is usually unable to sustain its competitive edge as those with technology in their veins quickly catch up to any early leads by a first, non technical mover. Often what the world sees on the outside of a technology company is The Wizard of Oz. A clever and powerful façade of technology – a vision of smoking machines doing unthinkable things. When in reality it is the clunky, hub bub of a duct taped factory of humans pulling levers and making machine noises. If the end result is the same, who cares? No one – if the result can be maintained. It never scales to grow the human factory of tech facade making. Nor does it scale to turn everything over to the machines.

What’s contemplated here is a clever and emergent interaction of human and machine technology and how a company goes from merely using technology to becoming a platform. Consider an example of a company that produces exquisite financial market analysis to major brokerage firms. It may be that human analysts are far better than algorithms at making the brilliant and challenging pattern recognition observations about an upcoming swing in the markets. There is still a technology to employ here. Such a company should supply the human analysts with as much enhancing tools and methods to increase the rate at which human analysts can spot patterns, reduce the cost in spreading the knowledge where it needs to go and to complete the feedback loop on hits and misses. There is no limit to how deeply a company should look at enhancing the humans ability. For instance, how many keystrokes does it take for the analyst to key in their findings? How many hops does a synthesized report go through before hitting the end recipient? how does the temperature of the working space impact pattern recognition ability? Perhaps all those details are far more of an impact to the sustainable profit than tuning a minute facet in some analytic algorithm.

The point here is that there should be no facet of a business left untouched by technology enhancement. Too often technology companies waste millions upon millions of dollars updating their main technology product only to see modest or no gain at all. The most successful technology companies of the last 25 years have all found efficiencies through technology mostly unseen by end users and these become their competitive advantages. Dell – ordering and build process. Microsoft – product pre-installations. Google – efficient power sources for data centers. Facebook – rapid internal code releases. Apple – very efficient supply chain. Walmart – intelligent restocking. Amazon – everything beyond the core “ecommerce”.

In a sense, these companies recognized their underlying ”platform” soon after recognizing their main value proposition. They learned quickly enough to scale that proposition – and to spend a solid blend of energy on the scale and the product innovation. A quick aside – scale here is taken to mean how efficiently a business can provide its core proposition to the widest, deepest customer base. It does not refer solely to hardware or supply chain infrastructure, though often that is a critical part of it.

One of many interesting examples of such platform thinking is the Coors Brewing company back in its hey day. Most people would not consider Coors a “technology” company. In the 1950s though it changed many “industries” with the introduction of the modern aluminum can. This non-beer related technology reduced the cost of operations, created a recycling sub industry, reduced the problem of tin-cans damaging the beers taste and so on. It also made it challenging on several competitors to compete on distribution, taste and production costs. This isn’t the first time the Coors company put technology to use in surprising ways. They used to build and operate their own powerplants to reduce reliance on non optimal resources and to have better control over their production.

Examples like this abound. One might conclude that any company delivery product at scale can be classified as a technology company – they all will have a significant platform orientation. However, this does not make them a platform company.

What distinguishes a platform technology from simply a technology company is one in which the platform is provided to partners and customers to scale their businesses as well. These are the types of companies where their product itself becomes scale. These are the rare, super valuable companies. Google, Apple, Intel, Facebook, Microsoft, Salesforce.com, Amazon and so on. These companies often start by becoming highly efficient technically in the production of their core offering and then turn that scale and license it to others. The value generation gets attributed to the scale provider appropriately in that it becomes a self realizing cycle. The ecosystem built upon the platform of such companies demands the platform operator to continue to build their platform so they too may scale. The platform operator only scales by giving more scale innovation back to the ecosystem. Think Google producing Android, offering Google Analytics for Free and so on. Think Facebook and Open Graph and how brands rely on their facebook pages to connect and collect data. Think Amazon and its marketplace and Cloud Computing Services. Think Microsoft and the MSDN/developer resources/cloud computing. Think Apple and itunes, app store and so on.

It’s not all that easy though! There seems to come a time with all such platform companies that a critical decision must be made before it’s obvious that it’s going to work. To Open The Platform Up To Others Or Not? Will the ecosystem adopt it? How will they pay for it? Can we deal with what is created? Are we truly at scale to handle this? Are we open enough to embrace the opportunities that come out of it? Are we ready to cede control? Are we ready to create our own competitors?

That last question is the one big one. But it’s the one to embrace to be a super valuable, rare platform at the heart of a significant ecosystem. And it happens to be the way to create a path to sustainable wealth generation that isn’t a short lived parlor trick.

Read Full Post »

As I watched some of the Republican National Convention, gear up for the DNC, get through my own daily work, read essays, strategize about business, talk to friends and family and synthesize all the data, I just come back to this question What Are We So Afraid Of?

I decided to write this post today specifically because I saw this ridiculous commercial yesterday for ADT Pulse.   http://www.adtpulse.com/  This commercial made it clear that if you aren’t monitoring your home in real time with video all the time everything you know and love was in grave danger!    So, I’ve decided to figure out just how afraid of everything I should be.

Here’s some of what we seem to be afraid about as a culture.

Our jobs: 

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/08/31/public-says-a-secure-job-is-the-ticket-to-the-middle-class/

http://www.cnbc.com/id/29275784/People_Fear_Losing_Job_the_Most_Poll

 

Our economy: 

http://www.conference-board.org/data/?CFID=20758670&CFTOKEN=9d689c13bda4ed14-4C556B63-968C-7A5F-C9BBEBCC03AA5B5E

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2306/global-attitudes-economic-glum-crisis-capitalism-european-union-united-states-china-brazil-outlook-work-ethic-recession-satisfaction-gloomy

 

Our government: 

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/direction_of_country-902.html

http://www.people-press.org/2012/06/04/partisan-polarization-surges-in-bush-obama-years/

 

People different than us: 

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6083/853.short

http://www.nyclu.org/news/nyclu-analysis-reveals-nypd-street-stops-soar-600-over-course-of-bloomberg-administration

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/books/unfounded-fears-167413105.html

 

Murder:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-narcissus-in-all-us/200903/mass-murder-is-nothing-fear

 

Food:

http://www.amazon.com/Fear-Food-History-Worry-about/dp/0226473740

http://shop.forksoverknives.com/Forks_Over_Knives_The_DVD_p/5000.htm

 

Technology and Media:

http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child/

http://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Not-Gadget-Manifesto/dp/0307269647

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/12/5-things-we-fear-new-technologies-will-replace/250545/

 

Cancer, Disease:

http://www.lancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2810%2960610-1/fulltext

 

Medicine, Shots, Vaccines:

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/ff_waronscience/

 

God, Heaven and Hell:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0039048?imageURI=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0039048.t001

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-08-07-love-wins-afterlife-hell_n.htm

 

Terrorism:

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/13262/london-olympics-2012-the-odds-of-dying-in-a-terrorist-attack/

 

Our Children’s Safety:

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-07-17/news/ct-met-walk-alone-20110717_1_free-range-kids-abductions-york-writer-lenore-skenazy

http://www.denverpost.com/ci_16725742

 

Tattoos:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2032696/Now-tattoos-cancer-U-S-regulator-probes-fears-inks-contain-carcinogenic-chemicals.html

http://professional.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303933404577505192265987100.html?mg=reno64-wsj

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/01/when-tattoos-hurt-job-prospects/

 

Large Hadron Collider:

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1838947,00.html

 

Everything else:

 

Nothing to Fear?

So is there anything to fear?   are the fears valid?  well, I guess they are valid fears if you don’t have information.   So here’s some information.

 

Most fears drilled into us aren’t founded on evidence – at least not at the level we fear them:

http://www.amazon.com/False-Alarm-Truth-About-Epidemic/dp/0471678694

http://www.amazon.com/The-Science-Fear-Culture-Manipulates/dp/0452295467/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_2

 

Unemployment isn’t really that high in this country (or most western countries), especially if you get an education:

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=unemployment+rate+USA%2C+England

 

You’ll probably have 5-10 employers in your working lifetime so assume you’ll get laid off, fired or go out of business.  There will be other businesses to hire you or you can just make something yourself:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704206804575468162805877990.html

 

Economy will have short term blips but ultimately continues to churn ahead:

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=gdp+usa

 

You’re unlikely to be murdered

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=crime+rates+in+austin%2Ctx

 

Children aren’t taken very often (at least in Colorado)

http://www.denverpost.com/portlet/article/html/imageDisplay.jsp?contentItemRelationshipId=3433817

 

In fact, violence has long been on the decline:

http://edge.org/conversation/mc2011-history-violence-pinker

 

It’s ok if you forget to pray, chances are it probably doesn’t change outcomes:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/23/AR2006032302177.html

 

And humans have been getting tattoos for a long time and the world hasn’t ended:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/tattoo.html

 

Oh, and, humans aren’t that different from Bonobos or Chimps, much less other humans.  So, maybe we should rethink that worrying about people that aren’t just like us:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2159027/Humans-share-genetic-code-endangered-ape-species-bonobo.html

 

Almost every one of common fears are unwound through perspective changes aka education aka realizing it’s not black and white.    Again, see the S. Pinker History of Violence link above to get an idea of the real impact of just literacy and access to information and what it does to fear.

Is it a big deal that people fear the wrong things?   Yes!   Especially if it leads to suicide bombing, racial profiling, not getting an education and so on.

 

But, c’mon, aren’t there some things we should fear?

Maybe…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-ropeik/fear-of-climate-change-ma_b_1665019.html

and maybe this too

http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2010/09/20/student-loan-debt-surpasses-credit-card-debt/

well maybe this too

http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-628194.html

 

In the end, methinks fearing too much is a waste of time because in the end we just don’t know what’s going to happen, right?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory

Knowing you can’t predict it all (thus prevent it) what’s the point in worrying to the point of being truly scared?

http://mathworld.wolfram.com/ComputationalIrreducibility.html

 

So, no, ADT, I won’t be buying your Pulse product.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Anyone that has worked with me is tired of me suggested that everyone in business should know how to program.   This thought is met with a variety of rebuttals that have only a slight shred of a validity.

Everyone programs.  If you get out of bed in the morning and go through any sort of routine (everything is pretty much a routine) you are programming.   This is not semantics. Programming is nothing more than organizing things in such a way that they transform into other things.   Everyday life is programming, it’s just not the uber-formal (re: very restrictive) programming  we think computer programmers do.

When people reject my statement about everyone programs and should get better at what they are actually rejecting is the specific implementations of computer programming – the syntax, the formalities, the tools, the long hours in front of a headache inducing screen.

If you speak, write, draw or communicate at all you have learned a set of rules that you apply to various inputs and produce various outputs.   If you work in spreadsheets, at a cash register, with a paint brush, in a lecture haul, in a lab, on a stage, you are programming.   If you make yourself a sandwich, eat it and go for a jog, you are programming.  Everything you do is taking inputs and transforming it into outputs using various rules of a system.   The system is more or less formal, more or less open.

I don’t see there being any room for dispute on this observation or rather this definition or axiom.

With that basic assumption as a starting point let me make the case that honing your more formal, strict and, yes, traditional “computer” programming skill is a must do for anyone participating in modern society.  (yes, if you do not participate in modern society and do not wish to do so, you don’t need formal programming skill, but you will always be programming within the universe…)

Without getting too out there – our lives will never have fewer computers, fewer programs, fewer gadgets, fewer controllers monitoring, regulating, data exposing, recommending, and behaving on our behalf.   Cell phone penetration is near ubiquitous, every car has computers, trains run on computerized schedules, more than 50% of stocks are algorithmically trade, your money is banked electronically, the government spends your taxes electronically and so on.   So in some sense, to not be able to program formally leaves you without any knowledge of how these systems work or miswork.  Some will have the argument that “I don’t need to know how my car works to use it/benefit from it.”   This is true.  But computers and programming are so much more fundamental than your car.   To not be able to program is akin, at this point, to not being able to read or write.   You are 100% dependent on others in the world.  You can function without a working car.

Before you reject my claim outright consider the idea that learning to program is quite natural and dare I say, easy.   It requires no special knowledge or skill.  It requires only language acquisition skills and concentration which every human i’ve read about or know has these two basic capabilities (before we go on destroying them in college.)

Why do I make this claim of ease?

Programming languages and making programs that work rely on a very small language.  Very simple rules.   Very simple syntax.   Frustratingly simple!   The english language (or any spoken language) is so much more ridiculously complicated.

It does not surprise me that people think it’s hard.  It’s frustrating.  It’s the practice and the simplification of your thoughts into more simple languages and syntax that’s hard.   And so is writing a speech others will understand, or painting a masterpiece, or correctly building a financial accounting book, or pretty doing anything you do for a living that requires someone else to understand and use your output.

I firmly believe each persons ability to translate their lives into useful programs is a differentiator of those that have freedom and identity and those that do not.  Either you are programming and able to keep watch over the programs you use or you are programmed.

Sure, companies and people are busy at work making easier and easier tools to “program” but that doesn’t change the fundamental problem.   The programs you layer on top of other programs (web page builder guis to HTML to browser parsers to web servers…) the more chance of transcription problems (miscommunication), unnoticed malicious use and so forth.

Beyond the issue of freedom it is fun and invigorating to create, to mold your world.  This is the part that’s hard for adults.  Having spent probably from age 10 to whatever age we all are following rules (others programs) and being rewarded (program feedback loops) we all don’t really do a great job molding our world.  Kids are so good at experimenting (playing).   And playing is essential to really great programming.   Programming that will fill you up and make your life better is the kind that generates wonderfully unexpected but useful results.   It’s not always about getting it right or spitting out the answer (though for simple programs that might be the point).  It’s about creating, exploring, and finding connections in this world.

I can replace the word programmer (and programming) in this post with Artist, Mathematician, Reader, Writer, Actor, etc and it will be essentially the same piece with the same reasoning.   All of these “occupations” and their activities are programming – the only thing that differs are the implementations of language (syntax, medium, tools).

When people are rejecting my argument that everyone should learn to program, they are rejecting the notion of sitting down in front of a blinking cursor on a screen and having a piece of software say “error”.   Reject that!  I hate that too!  For me, correcting grammar in my posts or emails or journals is as painful! (but it doesn’t prevent me from wanting to write better or write at all, i *need* to to survive and be free!)

Don’t reject the notion that you shouldn’t be always trying to communicate or understand better – taking inputs from the world and transforming them into useful outputs.  To reject that is essentially rejecting everything.  (and that is now the annoying over-reaching philosophical close!)

Read Full Post »

If you haven’t read Cory Doctorow’s Makers you should.

A couple years after reading it I’m reminded of it daily.   The march of technology, culture, business, education towards a future in which large organizations simply can’t withstand the tide of individual creators creating on a small scale and networking upwards.

creative destruction, as it were, little tiny piece by piece.   all on the backs and hands of people who probably wont make a fortune on these creations.  They will get by enough.

I don’t know if it turns out that everyone gets what they need and this is the new economy capable of supporting 300+ million people.  It is the new culture.  and maybe we’ll do with less. or we’re have a larger and larger income gap.

artisans, craftmakers, app developers, youtube stars, self employed…

then again, we need infrastructure.  roads, info networks, cellular towers.  can a world of makers fully exist on top of a large commercial infrastructure?  the network is the thing and the network is still owned by huge, controlled, controlling organizations.  The pipes and search engines and the social networks, owned by perhaps 10-15 organizations.

Perhaps the rise of 3d printing will make it so that eventually makers can print the necessary network at a scale that removes the requirement of these big infrastructures.

Not sure.

hard to sort out.

i’m too busy making.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »