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Archive for the ‘computation’ Category

 

It’s nearly, if not totally, impossible to remove our deeply held biases, values and contextual history from our raw, sensory perceptions of the world. The difficulty to sense more objectively is what perpetuates so many non-truths about the world. Nearly everything we sense and think is distorted by the biological patterns shaped within us by the world and our interaction within the world. It is within this frame of reference I seek to put down, in an obviously flawed ways, what I think to be at least less non-truth than other theories and thoughts floating about out there.

Our most basic means of communication, the words, sounds, gestures and pictures, we use are so filled with bias it’s impossible to commit to their use in an objective way. The best hope I have is to present as many variations across mediums so that what emerges from these communications is perhaps, if not objective, at least more fully representative of various perspectives that at least the trap of obvious one-sided subjectivity is avoided.

And with that warning, let us proceed.

A first exercise is of definitions and clarifying of terms.

Everything is information. From the most basic particles of existence to governments to rocket ships to the abstractions of mathematics – everything is information. Information looped and entangeled within other information. Information trapped within patterns of information by other patterns of information. Particles trapped into behaviors dictated by the laws of physics. Proteins and chemicals replicating into biological entities by the encodings of genetic instruction. Objects of pure quantity expressed in combinations dictated by rules of provable logical inference. Symbols imbued with meaning combined to form words and sentences and stories that stick in the brains of people and come out of their mouths to be reinterpreted over the eons. Faintly remembered events strung together by stories to form history and imagined events of some time that has not come to pass forming a future hope.

More fundamentally… space and time and causality and logic and being itself. All are matters of information. The casual ordering of events in relation to what is different based on the difference of another entity forming the conception of time and space. The coherence within a frame of reference of words strung together with symbols for equal, not equal, for all, and the such coalescing into logic. What is and what isn’t in reference to what’s logically or causally sensible to us becomes the notion of being.

But this is not quite enough.

Recently various categories of research, science and/or philosophic discussion have added ’emergence’ and ‘complexity’ to the pantheon of fundamental concepts from which we can chart our maps of existence and meaning. The unseen in the parts that only shows itself in the collective – the multitude – the interactive, this notion of emergence.

All in – meaning. Meaning is a vague notion of symbolics and representation within the ontological dimensions of space, time, cause, logic, emergence and being. Meaning is proximal, local phenomenon of pattern. In totality, all things considered, that is all of infinity, there is no meaning – there is no pattern. That is, all patterns at play is pure entropy and no meaning is possible on a universal, infinite scale. (As if we can even imagine such a concept). On a local, limited frame of reference meaning emerges from patterns (people, computers, plants, etc) pattern matching (sensing, perceiving, transforming, encoding, processing).

I propose a phrase: existential equivalence. Every investigative thought, every scientific gesture, every act of art, every attempt to send a message, every ritual, every interaction at all with the world at any level is all of similar thing: the encoding and decoding of information within information. This is not a reduction or a reductionist exercise. Quite the contrary. The varieties of symbolic expression in all of existence is REAL, it is a thing. That existence is expressible in an infinite variety is necessary. and it can only be known, even in a limited way, by actual variety of expression. If anything is to exist, it must exist in infinite variety and multiplicity. Everything that exists has existential equivalence. The entirity of existence is relational.

For instance if there is such a concept and sensation of color it must have expression in physical and artistic and literary terms. It exists at all levels implicated there. If a wavelength of light is able to generate a visual and neuronal concept we called red, then red isn’t just the wavelength, nor the wave of light, nor the eye, nor the brain, nor the word… it is all of those things and all of the things we do not yet think or talk or gesture about.

Or consider a computer program. Its existence is a string of words and phrases transcoded into 1s and 0s and into physical logical gates transmitting electrons and back around and on itself into monitor LEDs into human eyes and brains into motor movements of mouse and keyboard and so on. A computer program is the interaction of all the information.

But surely there are such simple things that do not have a universal relationship – an existential equivalence? what is the simplest thing we can think or speak of? a boson? the number 1? a dot? just an abstract 1? It is impossible to wipe the complexity of existence from even these pure abstractions. We only conceive of their simplicity in relation to other concepts we find complex. Their simplicity must be weighed against everything that isn’t simple.

And so here we have a collosal contradiction. Patterns are a local phenomenon. They aren’t the entirety. And yet I’ve suggested that patterns are existence – all that exists. Unraveling this I am directly saying that patterns interpreting/transcoding/sensing patterns is what exists – creates th world – at all levels. Pure relation, which is only possible at a local level, is existence. Particles only exist in relation to other particles – a gradient. Humans to other humans, to animals, to the planet, to particles. Planets to other massive bodies… and so on, and on, up and down, left to right, back and forward, in and out….

herein lies a beautiful thing – mathematics and computation are a wonderfully efficient symbolic translation methods. This is why computers and mathematics always creep their way into our efforts to make things and make sense of the world. It is why our brains are so damn useful. complex abstract pattern recognizing patterns – these networks of neurons. It is why DNA is so proficient at replication. a “simple”, resilient substrate carrying everything necessary to generate and regenerate these networks of neurons that can then make synthetic networks of pure relation. Whether particles or quantum or digital or biological or chemical there is pure relation, pure patterns among patterns – there is math. It matters not and is completely the point that math and computation can be done in any substrate – between proteins, with pen and paper, on a calculator, in a quantum computer.

AND

why is that? WHY?

In a feat of complete and utter stupid philosophy and unlogic… because it cannot be any other way. Positing a god doesn’t escape this. Positing a multi-verse doesn’t escape this. If any of those things are to exist, they must exist still in relation – they are relation! It’s borderline mystical. Of course it is!

And why does any of this matter? is this just another sound of one hand clapping? a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound? Yes. yes indeed. Those, while used to dismiss the question from the outset actually do call attention to the entirety of the situation. What we conceive of as existence and existing is usually reductively done in by our discrete categorization and our failure to continuously review and revise our categories. The practical implications of this adherence to categories (zoology, isms, religion, gender, nations, science disciplines, etc) is what stunts our path towards knowledge and keeps us in fear.

If we don’t lean into the idea that everything has an existential equivalence we are simply deciding to be ignorant. And in that ignorance we trend towards non-existence. In every day terms if we see the human population only by the color of skin we diminish human existence. If we say and take for truth all of the -isms, reductions, and arbitrary definitions we snuff out relation. If we make any assumptions at all and refuse to question those assumptions, even what we think are so obvious and so simple, we move closer to entropy. If we want to exist at all, we must be mystical and fanatical about sensing relation, resensing it, re-interpreting it. This is not a moral argument. Existence is no more moral than non-existence – except as a local conception.

It really does come down to this (and this is very Camus-like):

If you care at all to exist as you, you must question/express/relate to everything as much as you can before your pattern is fully transcoded into something not you. (we are just food for worms…)

So yes, ask yourself and answer it in infinite variety over and over “if a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound?” This is life – it is your existential equivalence to everything else. You relate, therefore, you are. I relate, therefore I am. X is, therefore X relates.

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Computing Technology enables great shifts in perspective. I’ve long thought about sharing why I love computing so much. Previously I’m not sure I could articulate it without a great deal of confusion and vagueness, or worse, zealotry. Perhaps I still can’t communicate about it well but nonetheless I feel compelled to share. 

Ultimately I believe that everything in existence is computation but here in this essay I am speaking specifically about the common computer on your lap or in your hands connected to other computers over the Internet.

I wish I could claim that computers aren’t weapons or put to use in damaging ways or don’t destroy the natural environment. They can and are used for all sorts of destructive purposes. However I tend to see more creation than suffering coming from computers.

The essential facets of computing that gives it so much creative power are interactive programs and simulation. With a computer bits can be formed and reformed without a lot of production or process overhead. It often feels like there’s an endless reservoir of raw material and an infinite toolbox (which, in reality, is true!). These raw materials can be turned into a book, a painting, a game, a website, a photo, a story, a movie, facts, opinions, ideas, symbols, unknown things and anything else we can think up. Interactive programs engage users (and other computers) in a conversation or dance. Simulation provides us all the ability to try ideas on and see how they might play out or interact with the world. All possible from a little 3-4lb slab of plastic, metal, silicon flowing with electricity. 

Connecting a computer to the Internet multiplies this creative power through sharing. While it’s true a single computer is an infinite creative toolbox the Internet is a vast, search-able, discoverable recipe box and experimentation catalog. Each of us is limited by how much time we have each day, but when we are connected to millions of others all trying out their own expressions, experiments and programs we all benefit. Being able to cull from this vast connected catalog allows us all to try, retry, reform and repost new forms that we may never have been exposed to. Remarkable.

Is there the same creative power out in the world without computers? Yes and no. A computer is probably the most fundamental tool ever discovered (maybe we could called it crafted, but I think it was discovered.) Bits of information are the most fundamental material in the multiverse. Now, DNA, proteins, atoms, etc are also fundamental or primary (think: you can build up incredible complexity from fundamental materials). The reason I give computers the edge is that for the things we prefer to make we can make within our lifetime and often in much shorter timeframes. It would take a long time for DNA and its operating material to generate the variety of forms we can produce on a computer.

Don’t get me wrong there’s an infinite amount of creativity in the fundamental stuff of biology and some of it happens on much shorter than geological timescales. You could easily make the case that it would take a traditional computer probably longer than biology to produce biological forms as complex as animals. I’m not going to argue that. No do I ignore the idea that biology produced humans which produced the computer, so really biology is possibly more capable that the computer. That said, I think we’re going to discover over time that computation is really at the heart of everything, including biology and that computers as we know them probably exist in abundance out in the universe. That is, computers are NOT dependent on our particular biological history.

Getting out of the “can’t really prove these super big points about the universe” talk and into the practical – you can now get a computer with immense power for less than $200. This is a world changing reality. Computers are capable of outputing infinite creativity and can be obtained and operated for very modest means. I suspect that price will come down to virtually zero very soon. My own kids have been almost exclusively using Chromebooks for a year for all things education. It’s remarkably freeing to be able to pull up materials, jump into projects, research, create etc anywhere at anytime. Escaping the confines of a particular space and time to learn and work with tools has the great side effect of encouraging learning and work anywhere at anytime.

There are moments where I get slight pangs of regret about my choices to become proficient in computing (programming, designing, operating, administrating). There are romantic notions of being a master painter or pianist or mathematician and never touching another computing device again. In the end I still choose to master computing because of just how much it opens me up creatively. Almost everything I’ve been able to provide for my family and friends has come from having a joyous relationship with computing.

Most excitingly to me… the more I master computers the more I see the infinitude of things I don’t know and just how vast computing creativity can be. There aren’t a lot of things in the world that have that effect on me. Maybe I’m simply not paying attention to other things but I strongly suspect it’s actually some fundamental property of computing – There’s Always More.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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!)

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The iPad, like the iPod, iPhone, and iMac isn’t a revolution in computer science, design interface, consumer packaging nor ui. It’s a revolution of the economics of those things. Now that there’s a device on the market now at 500 bucks and an unlimited data plan for 30 bucks a month it’s almost assured that the iPad type of computing and media platform will be popularized and maybe not even by apple. The hype of the technology will surely drown out the economic story for some time but in the long run the implications of the price of this technology will be the big story.

Sure we have sub 500 dollar computers and media devices. they have never been this functional or this easy. Apple has just shown what is possible so now the other competitors will have to follow suit. It really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme if it’s apple or htc or google or microsoft or Sony who wins the bragging wars each quarter – the cat is out of the bag – cost effective, easy to use, and fun computing for everyone is possible in a mass producible construction.

There are some interesting side effects coming out of this. If a business can’t make huge profits from the hardware or the connection or the applications where will the profit come from? (I’m not saying companies won’t mark good profits I just don’t think it will be sustainable – especially for companies used to big margins.)

Obviously the sales of content matters. Books, movies, games, music and so on. This computing interface makes it far more easy to buy content and get a sense that it was worth buying. If the primary access channel is through a browser I think people aren’t inclined to pay – we all are too used to just freely browsing. On a tablet the browser isn’t the primary content access channel.

The challenge for content providers is that quality of the content has to be great. This new interface requires great interactivity and hifi experiences. Cutting corners will be very obvious to users. There’s also not really some easy search engine to trick into sending users to a sub par experience. That only works when the primary channel is the browser.

If advertising is going to work well on this platform boy does there have to be a content and interaction shift in the industry. Banners and search ads will just kill an experience on this device. Perhaps more old school magazine style ads will work because once your in an app you can’t really do some end around or get distracted. Users might be willing to consume beautiful hifi ads. Perhaps the bigger problem is that sending people to a browser to take action on an ad will be quite weird.

Clicks can’t be the billable action anymore. Clicks aren’t the same on a tablet! (in fact, most Internet ads won’t work on the iPad. Literally. Flash and click based ads won’t function)

Perhaps the apps approach to making money will work. To date the numbers don’t add up. Unless users are willing to pay more for apps than they do on the iPhone only a handful of shops will be able to handle the economics of low margin, mass software. So for the iPad apps seem to be higher priced. More users coming in may change that though.

In a somewhat different vein…. Social computers will be a good source of cold and flu transmission. If we’re really all going to be leaving these lying about and passing them between each other, the germs will spread. Doesn’t bother me, but some people might consider that.

Will users still need to learn a mouse in the future?

Should we create new programming interfaces that are easier to manipulate with a touch screen. Labview products come to mind?

What of bedroom manners? The iPhone and blackberries are at least small…

And, of course, the porn industry. The iPhone wasn’t really viable as a platform. This touch based experience with big screens… Use your imagination and I’m sure you can think up some use cases…

I do think this way of interacting with computers is here to stay. It’s probably a good idea to think through how it changes approaches to making money and how we interact with each other. I’d rather shape our interactions than be pushed around unknowingly….

Happy Monday!

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