summing up 65

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

  • rage against the machines, in many ways, we are our greatest technological constraint. the slow and steady march of human evolution has fallen out of step with technological progress: evolution occurs on millennial time scales, whereas processing power doubles roughly every other year. our ancestors who lived in caves would have found it advantageous to have very strong, perhaps almost hyperactive pattern-recognition skills - to be able to identify in a split-second whether that rustling in the leaves over yonder was caused by the wind or by an encroaching grizzly bear. nowadays, in a fast-paced world awash in numbers and statistics, those same tendencies can get us into trouble: when presented with a series of random numbers, we see patterns where there aren't any. we have to view technology as what it always has been - a tool for the betterment of the human condition. we should neither worship at the altar of technology nor be frightened by it. nobody has yet designed, and perhaps no one ever will, a computer that thinks like a human being. but computers are themselves a reflection of human progress and human ingenuity: it is not really "artificial" intelligence if a human designed the artifice. highly recommended
  • the sixth stage of grief is retro-computing, technology is what we share. i don't mean "we share the experience of technology." i mean: by my lights, people very often share technologies with each other when they talk. strategies. ideas for living our lives. we do it all the time. parenting email lists share strategies about breastfeeding and bedtime. quotes from the dalai lama. we talk neckties, etiquette, and minecraft, and tell stories that give us guidance as to how to live. a tremendous part of daily life regards the exchange of technologies. we are good at it. it's so simple as to be invisible. can i borrow your scissors? do you want tickets? i know guacamole is extra. the world of technology isn't separate from regular life. it's made to seem that way because of, well... capitalism. tribal dynamics. territoriality. because there is a need to sell technology, to package it, to recoup the terrible investment. so it becomes this thing that is separate from culture. a product. highly recommended
  • worse is better is worse, the real quarrel with the paper i have is about what it teaches people. it warps the minds of youth. it is never a good idea to intentionally aim for anything less than the best, though one might have to compromise in order to succeed. maybe richard means one should aim high but make sure you shoot - sadly he didn't say that. he said "worse is better," and though it might be an attractive, mind-grabbing headline seducing people into reading his paper, it teaches the wrong lesson - a lesson he may not intend, or a lesson poorly stated. i know he can say the right thing, and i wish he had (pdf)
  • airport codes: a history and explanation of airport abcs

networks without networks

doug engelbart:

I need to quickly sketch out what I see as the goal - the way to get the significant payoff from using computers to augment what people can do. This vision of success has not changed much for me over fifty years - it has gotten more precise and detailed - but it is pointed at the same potential that I saw in the early 1950s. It is based on a very simple idea, which is that when problems are really difficult and complex - problems like addressing hunger, containing terrorism, or helping an economy grow more quickly - the solutions come from the insights and capabilities of people working together. So, it is not the computer, working alone, that produces a solution. But is the combination of people, augmented by computers. Doug Engelbart

once again, doug engelbart hits the nail on the head. yes, we humans are a very collaborative bunch. not for nothing we were able to hunt mammoths, build cities and fly to the moon. and still after half a century, this idea of augmenting human intellect with computers gets little attention. i recently found this magnificent piece by paul ford, subtitled networks without networks:

Technology is what we share. I don't mean "we share the experience of technology.” I mean: By my lights, people very often share technologies with each other when they talk. Strategies. Ideas for living our lives. We do it all the time. Parenting email lists share strategies about breastfeeding and bedtime. Quotes from the Dalai Lama. We talk neckties, etiquette, and Minecraft, and tell stories that give us guidance as to how to live. A tremendous part of daily life regards the exchange of technologies. We are good at it. It's so simple as to be invisible. Can I borrow your scissors? Do you want tickets? I know guacamole is extra. The world of technology isn't separate from regular life. It's made to seem that way because of, well... capitalism. Tribal dynamics. Territoriality. Because there is a need to sell technology, to package it, to recoup the terrible investment. So it becomes this thing that is separate from culture. A product. Paul Ford

the world of technology isn't separate from regular life. it isn't. but all too often technology is reduced to the man and the machine. i hope this line of thought changes. soon.

summing up 64

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

  • the collapse of complex business models, when ecosystems change and inflexible institutions collapse, their members disperse, abandoning old beliefs, trying new things, making their living in different ways than they used to. it's easy to see the ways in which collapse to simplicity wrecks the glories of old. but there is one compensating advantage for the people who escape the old system: when the ecosystem stops rewarding complexity, it is the people who figure out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future. recommended
  • notes on present status and future prospects, every new conceptual idea (unlike a mathematical one) must go through a phase of facing opposition from two sides - the entrenched establishment who thinks that its toes are being stepped on, and a lunatic fringe that springs up, seemingly by spontaneous generation, out of the idea itself. those whose fame and fortune are based on their very real accomplishments using previous methods have a strong vested interest in them and will raise strenuous opposition to any attempt to replace them. this phenomenon has been very well documented in many cases. in contrast to the establishment which is protecting something that has some demonstrated value, the lunatic fringe has no vested interest in anything because it is composed of those who have never made any useful contribution to any field. instead, they are parasites feeding on the new idea; while giving the appearance of opposing it, in fact they are deriving their sole sustenance from it, since they have no other agenda. the establishment and the lunatic fringe have the common feature that they do not understand the new idea, and attack it on philosophical grounds without making any attempt to learn its technical features so they might try it and see for themselves how it works. many will not even deign to examine the results which others have found using it; they know that it is wrong, whatever results it gives. there is no really effective way to deal with this kind of opposition; one can only continue quietly accumulating the evidence of new useful results, and eventually the truth will be recognized (pdf)
  • sequelitis - mega man classic vs. mega man x, games are supposed to be fun, and reading manuals isn't fun; it's pretty much the opposite of fun. but it is also true for software in general. manuals are pointless when we can learn about the game in the best and most natural way imaginable: by playing the actual game. you learn by doing, provided you have a well designed sandbox that lets you safely experiment as you're starting out in the game
  • trivial, the word "trivial" offers many opportunities to inappropriately reduce an item to its most basic components; allowing us to ignore the beauty that lies in the process. the value of a network is greater than the sum of its parts, but a simple misstep in vocabulary undermines it all
  • the fastest man on earth - the story of john paul stapp, stapp was promoted to the rank of major, reminded of the 18 g limit of human survivability, and told to discontinue tests above that level

summing up 63

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

  • is there love in the telematic embrace? by roy ascott. it is the computer that is at the heart of this circulation system, and, like the heart, it works best when least noticed - that is to say, when it becomes invisible. at present, the computer as a physical, material presence is too much with us; it dominates our inventory of tools, instruments, appliances, and apparatus as the ultimate machine. in our artistic and educational environments it is all too solidly there, a computational block to poetry and imagination. it is not transparent, nor is it yet fully understood as pure system, a universal transformative matrix. the computer is not primarily a thing, an object, but a set of behaviors, a system, actually a system of systems. data constitute its lingua franca. it is the agent of the datafield, the constructor of dataspace. where it is seen simply as a screen presenting the pages of an illuminated book, or as an internally lit painting, it is of no artistic value. where its considerable speed of processing is used simply to simulate filmic or photographic representations, it becomes the agent of passive voyeurism. where access to its transformative power is constrained by a typewriter keyboard, the user is forced into the posture of a clerk. the electronic palette, the light pen, and even the mouse bind us to past practices. the power of the computer's presence, particularly the power of the interface to shape language and thought, cannot be overestimated. it may not be an exaggeration to say that the "content" of a telematic art will depend in large measure on the nature of the interface; that is, the kind of configurations and assemblies of image, sound, and text, the kind of restructuring and articulation of environment that telematic interactivity might yield, will be determined by the freedoms and fluidity available at the interface. highly recommended
  • on the reliability of programs, by e.w. dijkstra. automatic computers are with us for twenty years and in that period of time they have proved to be extremely flexible and powerful tools, the usage of which seems to be changing the face of the earth (and the moon, for that matter!) in spite of their tremendous influence on nearly every activity whenever they are called to assist, it is my considered opinion that we underestimate the computer's significance for our culture as long as we only view them in their capacity of tools that can be used. they have taught us much more: they have taught us that programming any non-trivial performance is really very difficult and i expect a much more profound influence from the advent of the automatic computer in its capacity of a formidable intellectual challenge which is unequalled in the history of mankind. this opinion is meant as a very practical remark, for it means that unless the scope of this challenge is realized, unless we admit that the tasks ahead are so difficult that even the best of tools and methods will be hardly sufficient, the software failure will remain with us. we may continue to think that programming is not essentially difficult, that it can be done by accurate morons, provided you have enough of them, but then we continue to fool ourselves and no one can do so for a long time unpunished
  • "institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution", the shirky principle
  • if no one reads the manual, that's okay, if you think about it, the technical writer is in an unusual role. users hate the presence of manuals as much as they hate missing manuals. they despise lack of detail yet curse length. if no one reads the help, your position lacks value. if everyone reads the help, you're on a sinking ship. ideally, you want the user interface to be simple enough not to need help. but the more you contribute to this user interface simplicity, the less you're needed
  • 44 engineering management lessons
  • the grain of the material in design, because of the particular characteristics of a specific piece's grain, a design can't simply be imposed on the material. you can "go with the grain" or "go against the grain," but either way you have to understand the grain of the material to successfully design and produce a work. design for technology shouldn't be done separately from the material - it must be done as an intimate and tactile collaboration with the material of technology.

summing up 62

i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle, it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions here.

  • capturing the upside, by clayton christensen. the notion here is that if you create a new business that tries to position itself at the point in a value chain where really attractive money is being made, by the time you get there it probably will have gone, and you can tell where it's gone in a very predictable way, and that's what i want to try to get at here. over on this side of the world, the money tends to be made by the company that designs the architecture, the system, that solves what is not good enough. because it's functionality and reliability that's not good enough, the company that makes this systems that is proprietary and optimized tends to be at the place where most of the profit in the industry is made. because the performance of that kind of a product isn't dictated by the individual components, of which it is comprised; this is determined at the level of the architecture of the system, and that is where the money is made. but on this side, when it becomes more than good enough and the architecture becomes modular, where the money is made flips to the inside of the product. how are you going to do this? anything you can do, the competitors can just copy instantly because in a nonintegrated word, you're outsourcing from a common supplier base, and when the architecture of the system is modular, and it fits together according to industry standards, the better products are not created through clever architectural design; the performance of the product is driven by what's inside. highly recommended
  • seth godin's startup school (transcript), in the summer of 2012 i had an amazing opportunity to spend three days with a group of extremely motivated entrepreneurs - people right at the beginning of building their project, launching their organization. during those three days i took them on a guided tour of some of the questions they were going to have to wrestle with, some of the difficult places they were going through to stand up and say, "this is me. this is what i'm making". highly recommended
  • snowden and the future, by eben moglen. when there is no collective voice for those who are within structures that deceive and oppress, then somebody has to act courageously on his own. someone has to face all the risk for a tiny share of the total benefit that will be reaped by all. such a man may be walking the pathway from slavery to freedom. but any such man worthy of the effort will know that he may also be digging his own grave. when there is no union, we require heroism. or we perish for want of what we should have known, that there was neither collective will nor individual courage to bring us. it takes a union to end slavery because a man who decides that the will of the righteous commands us to free slaves will be called a traitor, and they will hang him-more than once. highly recommended
  • frank sinatra's 1963 playboy interview, i think i can sum up my religious feelings in a couple of paragraphs. first: i believe in you and me. i'm like albert schweitzer and bertrand russell and albert einstein in that i have a respect for life - in any form. i believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything i can see or that there is real evidence for. if these things are what you mean by god, then i believe in god. but i don't believe in a personal god to whom i look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice. i'm not unmindful of man's seeming need for faith; i'm for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of jack daniel's. but to me religion is a deeply personal thing in which man and god go it alone together, without the witch doctor in the middle. the witch doctor tries to convince us that we have to ask god for help, to spell out to him what we need, even to bribe him with prayer or cash on the line. well, i believe that god knows what each of us wants and needs. it's not necessary for us to make it to church on sunday to reach him. you can find him anyplace. and if that sounds heretical, my source is pretty good: matthew, five to seven, the sermon on the mount