A primer for an abusive relationship

As I am going to a variety of recruiting processes these days, I happened upon one interaction that stroked me as particularly odd.

Many software companies have some kind of programming puzzle as part of their screening, sometimes before the first meeting, sometimes during the meeting. Most of the times it is a perfectly reasonable task, and I understand the necessity to find out of somebody has actually a basic knowledge of computer programming.

And as I solved one such programming puzzle, (and a quite intense one, it took me the better part of a day, to implement the solution according to my interpretation of the criteria) I submitted my proposal dutifully, and expected one of the following replies.

Either:

  • You solved the problem almost up to our expectations, there are a few minor issues that we disagree with, but we will invite you for a meeting anyways.

or:

  • Your solution was pretty good, but not es meticulous as we would have liked, therefore we are not going to invite you for a meeting.

Both of those answers I would have seen as fairly reasonable.

However, what I got as a reply, was something along the lines of: Your solution was quite ok, but there is one other thing that we would have liked to see, we won’t tell you what that would be, but we give you another chance to resubmit a revised solution.

Keep in mind, that this was quite a complex task, and coming up with the initial proposal took me almost a workday.

So I will tell you a few things that this replay contains for me.

First of all, I see a communication-pattern, that is an indicator of abusive behavior, and that pattern is telling people that they did something wrong, but not telling them what they did wrong.

So maybe, that was an oversight, maybe they thought of themselves as very generous for giving me another try at their puzzle. However, what I see is an organization that likes to assign blame, and prefers not to advance an interaction, but would rather hold back information and stall the communication. And either they do this intentional to include some test of submission into their screening process, or they are not aware of this dysfunctionality and are ignorant of patterns of abusive behavior.

I am not sure what is worse.

And exposing this kind of interaction already early in their screening process, will prime employees that go through this application in a certain way.

There appears to be no respect of a workers time, solving the task took me a day, and revising the solution, probably might have took me another day, and even then, I might not have thought of the issue that they would have liked to see. So they are willing to have a potential employee work for two days on a task, without an effective feedback loop.

And they knew it would take a day, because they announced that before sending me the task.

Telling people that they did something wrong without identifying what they did wrong, primes for insecurity. So anybody who goes through this process, will be prepared to endure quite some abuse, because everybody else probably did not go through all that.

Maybe this is the kind of employee they are looking for?

In any case, that should not have happened, what I guess went on, is that the programming puzzle is from engineering, and they gave it to HR, then HR forwarded the solution to engineering, and the evaluated it and send the aforementioned reply.

At this point however, HR should have spotted the tone of the answer and could have decided to alter the statement to be less of a hint of an abusive organization.

In the best case, HR was to inexperienced to spot the problem with this reply. And therefore I got an insight into the engineering part of the company, that should have been shielded from the outside.

However, when these are the communication patterns in engineering, I am in doubt whether I would like to work with such people.

What would you think?

Cheers
-Richard

Posted in Lifestyle Skills | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

How the Fossil DVCS solves the privacy problem of cloud based applications

If you do not know what a DVCS (Distributed Version Control System) is, just think of Git, the popular source code management system used by the Linux kernel.

But it is quite different from Git, and seems to solve a couple of problems, that always left me a bit unsatisfied when dealing with Git. In fact, it seems to give me the same nice and warm feeling I got from using the Darcs DVCS back in the days.

I will start out with a couple of issues I had when using git that I experienced recently.

1) For many developers today, when they say they are using Git, they are in fact using github.com a service that has Git in its core, but provides a number of additional services. A nice webinterface, a ticket tracker, a wiki and probably more that I am not yet aware of. However, while the product and concept is well executed, it is still a hosted solution, and while you are using it, you are dependent on an external company to provide this service.

2) I’ve been trying to replicate a similar service that github.com provides on my own machines, and experimented with software like indefero and phabricator, but those solutions leave quite a lot to be desired. InDefero for example provides both a wiki and a ticketing system, but now I have the following problems: I have to provide a MySQL Database for the wiki content, and the ticket system, that needs to be maintained, updated and backuped. Which is kind of a headache, especially considering the nice solution that Fossil is providing.

3) There are various variants of git based wikis that I’ve tried, but installing them and keeping them running is almost always a nontrivial issue.

4) Overall, using git without relying on 3rd parties to manage various aspects of the deployment, is almost impossible, or creates quite a lot of busy-work. I only quite realised that when I came across the ingenious solution that Fossil came up with.

So lets see what Fossil does that makes it so nice. It is quite simple:

Fossil stores Tickets and Wiki data within the repository. And not only that, it comes with an integrated web interface, to conveniently use this ticket system and wiki. And said web interface can be easily made available on a public website.

These choices enable a couple of convenient side effects. Whenever you have a checkout you automatically can easily use wiki and ticket system offline, and once you push to the shared repository everything is update again. Great for using it on the road without internet access. Also, makes keeping a backup of the complete project way easier.

Makes for a much more resilient and independent tool, way better suited for the lone hacker and his small crew. Hosting is trivial, you can setup a private server, or use any kind of virtual server hosting.

In fact, I like that concept so much, I am already thinking about what kind of webapps could be “unclouded” with such an approach as well. Using a distributed versioned database that keeps a complete local backup and only needs to resync periodically to the master host.

Maybe it would be possible to extract some of the Fossil infrastructure and bake it into a general web framework. Or build something similar for different kinds of webapplications.

Have fun,
Cheers
-Richard

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A new way of thinking and risk assessment

If you haven’t started reading the ribbonfarm blog I strongly urge you to consider reading it, because I find it to be on of the most pleasurable blogs right now. Venkats writing is very precise, and he manages to explain even very difficult concepts clearly and easily understandable.

But he is not the only lonely writer to be working on these ideas. There seems to be quite a trend of going into systems thinking and finding ways to incorporate risk and probability into every day decision making.

"The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb started that discussion in popular literature, followed by "Antifragile", by the same author.

But also "The World Until Yesterday" by Jared Diamond devotes a chapter to discuss the topic of risk assesment. And then most recently, Scott Adams published his book: "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big", which goes on to discuss the idea of systems thinking on a more practical level.

And to be frank, I feel that I can apply this kind of thinking at a lot of situations. It is as if everywhere I look systems thinking could improve something or indeed does improve things for me already.

Have fun,
Richard

Posted in Discipline and Knowledge, Lifestyle Skills | Leave a comment

Engineering Managers Should Code

Hi Everyone, in this post I just want to direct your attention to the following article at Dr.Dobb’s:

Engineering Managers Should Code 30% of Their Time

Of course I really like the article, and I agree to that statement. And I want to keep this as a reminder for myself on this blog. ;-) And I also think it fits really well with some of the articles that I have written recently.

Have fun,
-Richard

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Building a virtual Software Company

Roles and Infrastructure
So let’s build a virtual software company. That is, a company that creates and sells software. While this kind of effort might be possible to do alone, to make it a bit more interesting it will be designed as a collaborative effort.

One idea of collaboration is to pool resources, and exploit the removal of redundant effort. This will be one motivation of that idea, but the other part will be that of a learning/teaching opportunity. Knowledge transfer if you want to call it that.

So in a highly structured effort which software development is, lets define a few roles, that might be worth considering.

Plumbing
Sets up Servers, installs operatingsystems, configures the routers. Eventually DNS, Firewalls, etc.
However, as cloud services, vservers, etc. are somehow a commodity, I’d prefer to keep these tasks to a minimum or outsource them entierly by using some service.

Mail Master
That role will be neccessery, even if it is decided that the company will use an external service for email. But someone has to add new teammembers, so this role will be admin for Email. The role could include setting up an email server on some virtual machine. Eventually the company will be sending out some kind of newsletter to customers, so somebody needs to take care that mail gets out. If a Newsletter Service is used, that role will include configuring that service.

Additionally, that role will likely include setting up and maintaining test-email accounts at various freemail providers, to make sure that mails go through to them unharmed, if custom email systems are deployed.

Web Master
That role will essentially do the same thing for web as the mail-master does for email. It will include setting up webspace, provide ftp-accounts, eventually installing and setting up apache, etc. If some kind of external Hosting Provider is used, and that should be done, this role will take care of manning the web hosting control panel.

Eventually the Web Master will also make sure that there is webspace available for having some kind of testing stage, when web application changes are rolled out.

And if the kind of software that the company is providing is web based, then there will be close collaboration with the next role.

Devops
Development operations is kind of the glue between web master and programmers. Devops basically provides and maintains tools for programmers. This role will be doing nightly builds, will make sure test suites are run, will make sure git repositories are available. They will be packaging applications, upload them to the file area, etc. They will also install the applications that the programmers create. They will maintain the tools to continously collect code metrics.

They will install development tools on virtual machines, and set up images for build servers.

Web-Programming
This role will be doing the actual programming, and that is for web applications. This means both, public facing widgets that are on the web site, signup-forms, databases, cms-tools, crm-tools. The application that is being sold, and internal tools that will support other parts of the business, may it be a company adressbook, wiki, or whatever.

The job of that role is to commit stuff to a git repository. Whatever is being used as development environment is up to the individuals, as long as coding conventions are followed, unit-tests are maintained, etc.

App-Programming
While related, the advent and wide spread adoption of smart phone app markets has probably made it necessary to have some of those as well, so this group will be working on that. Devops will be creating packages and submitting them to app-markets. App-Programmers will submit code and tests to git.

Design
This role will make sure that programmers do not lose focus. Here Application workflows will be created, and layouts will be sketched out, and later refined. This role will probably work closely with programming. Much of this role will also include making sure that the programmers go all the way through and implement clean validations for forms, that everything is pixel perfect and not thrown together.

Last words
And finally, don’t get me wrong, every role will be programming, mail-masters, web-masters and devops won’t be doing their tasks by hand, they will be creating scripts and control panels to streamline whatever they find themselves doing. May it be shell-scripting or automating a service via an API.

The idea here is to have some “easier” tasks, that youngsters can get their hands dirty, while creating some automation that will allow them to move up from their roles and graduate into more interesting fields.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Using magical practices to work with large code bases

A large and legacy code base, can sometimes be like a collection of mystical documents, they are riddled with number magic, cryptic references, mysterious rituals and descriptions. Some are are guarded and governed by old masters, that are grumpy and quick to dismiss any newbie asking for access to their code. They answer in muffled mumbling, and are easy to anger.

Also, the habits and customs with which the guardians of the old code work with the code, interpreting it continuously, rewriting it, trying to understand it, very much matches which how I would expect a magical order to be working through old manuscripts trying to recreate ancient rituals.

However, many of the maintainers of old code do not necessarily indulge into this kind of self reflection about their work. They tend to be governed by fear, from failures in their code, from changes in certain “mythical” parts, from confrontation by their superiors, or by the choleric masters of certain rooms. The strategy to deal with those challenges is often a form of rationalizing, which includes denying how emotions and relationships might influence the code. Communication is often channeled into ineffective rituals, including meetings with no results, and throwing around jargon that aims to hide, what needs to be said, because of lack of a common vocabulary. The value of deep and completely open communication in such endeavors is often completely neglected, and there exist no mechanisms to facilitate such communication.

Part of this phenomenons is often a very deep focus within the programming community on “rationality”. The programming community prides itself on its reliance of “facts” is composed largely of atheists, and in general people who keep a high nose, in respect to religious, mystical, esoteric practices. Everything that carries even a scent of “softness”, is immediately thrown into the corner with hocus pocus and fairy tale magicians.

Those prejudices are unfortunate, because some of the techniques of working with mystical and old manuscripts and ancient rituals, might be quite well suited to deal with old and difficult to understand code.
There might be complicated code bases, that deal with legacy functionality and complex algorithms, that are quite well understood by their teams, and those teams might dismiss this quite “esoteric” approach. And maybe for those well oiled and effective teams, it might not make any sense indeed.

However, there are teams, where I believe much healing needs to be done, misunderstand needs to be cleared up, and honesty as well as understanding needs to be fostered. Often this also goes along with a feeling of exhaustedness, mistrust, and aggression. Team members tend to withdraw, and build walls around them. And in such cases, I believe magic practices and experiences might come in useful, to help resolve those situations.

I also believe, that industry practices, which are often described in books and are believed to be easy to apply by practicing the theory often fail to work. Which is because the required self transformation does not take place. Those industry practices often even fail to mention the necessity of transformation, rather the indulge into detailed descriptions of their “rituals” and artifacts. And therefore they fail to create a conscience for spiritual development in the industry.

This actually is a common pitfall of many industrial and developed nations in which the dominant mainstream consciousness is based around the notion of consumerism. The consumer-culture, that often promises happiness and success, to be tied to objects and artifacts that can be bought. Like to better computer, or the faster bicycle, or any kind of more effective product. However, the fact that growth results from discipline and from transformation of the inner self, and not from buying arbitrary artifacts is seldom communicated and highlighted.

Even advice that goes into building teams and software companies always starts at the point of selecting people based on their psychological qualities and their ability to work and communicate together. It start with the notion that some people simple are mature enough to engage in the art, and some are not. Without elaborating on how people, who might not yet have the required maturity might acquire it. It deals more often also with the suggestions of how to remove “poisonous” team members rather than how to inspire them to grow. Sure, some people might effectively work against such efforts and sabotage them, but those that can be reached, should be.

And here comes in what I believe magic (or magick) could do for the development of programming as a craft and art form. Especially, because something that is seen as “wishy-washy” and arbitrary and be members of the programmers community, and especially because it would evoke quite an emotion and foster discussion. In a sense it is a provocation. It would rattly things up.

And therefore it would require quite some questioning and reflection about ones art.

What I failed to mention in this article is mentioning some concrete techniques. This is intentional, and the entire point, what I suggest should not necessarily and even could not be learned by reading an article on the Internet. It should be developed, and learned in communities, by reflection, coaching, mentoring, and self discovery. We are just at the starting point of this journey. How could I know where it ends?

Take care,
Cheers
-Richard

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Conquering rising youth-unemployment, applying lessons learned in hacker communities to the “real” world.

A gap is widening, on the one hand, unemployment among young people is on the raise, on the other hand, it is getting more difficult for companies to find qualified works. A paradox it seems? I don’t think so, neither is it coincidence.

Two factors are coming into play here.

1) The “kind” of job that companies are offering, are not very compelling. The values, benefits and problems that are prevalent in the job marked are no longer in line, with what young people expect. Growing up with open source software, social networks, Wikipedia and the Internet, makes young people expect a much higher level of transparency, than is currently lived in “old world” businesses. Old world businesses are a lot about projecting an image, about hiding information, about political bickering etc. A system that fundamentally relies on an asymmetry of knowledge. If however, all of the worlds knowledge is available in seconds, relying on an asymmetry of knowledge is simple not a sustainable business model. People will find out, eventually sooner than later.

So a young person gets to start at a job, and some higher up tells him this and that. She looks it up on the Internet, and its obviously bullshit. Well, she will find that situation unacceptable, and if she’s a high performer, she will take her business elsewhere, and “old world” businesses will have to do with the worst of the crop.

2) The second factor, is the education system. While people who are driven and have learned to educate themselves have thrived, those that got tangled up in the education system have unfortunately lost. The world of business is evolving faster than the educational system. That is, the knowledge, habits and attitudes that people leave the educational system with, are nowhere near what is required in the business world of tomorrow. They won’t learn it on their first job either, because as they are already behind, they will only be able to get work in an “old world” business of yesterday. And habits learned in those jobs will only further their unemployability.

What to do about it? Well, unfortunately many of the businesses of the future are not yet even created. Because it will be the top crop of our generation to build those businesses.

What will the future business look like?

It will probably be about diversity and automation. Many of the basic necessities of our life are already automated. What are the most fundamental pillars of wealth, luxury and comfort: shelter, energy, water. Look around you in your own home. What couldn’t you do without? Most of the stuff you pile up is probably expandable, but electricity and tap water are probably the most defining achievements of the first world countries. All other kinds of wealth are mere afterthoughts. And those amenities are available to almost everyone already.

And large parts of this infrastructure are already automated. So there is little workforce needed in the field of utilities. So, the mass market is already saturated. This brings us to the long tail. And the long tail means diversity. So now, that we as a civilization no longer need to focus on the fundamentals, we can spread our interests.

And this brings me to another observation, that I’ve made during my life. That is, if you take a specific and narrow field of interest, and you try to find all of the top performers/researches in this field, you will find that there are no more than about 50 people in this group worldwide. That’s it.

And to be quite honest, if you cannot be in the top 50 of a field, it is probably not worth pursuing at all. That may sound harsh, but the good news is, there is an almost unlimited amount of fields available at any given time. That is, there are enough fields worldwide, so that everybody can find and work in his/her specific top 50 field.

And that I believe will be the future of the workplace. To provide an environment, where everybody can strive to enter the top 50 of his/her personally preferred field and do the best work of his/her life!

Think about it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Software Engineering: Workflow Pipeline

Building Software is difficult, it helps to have the best tools available though. One such Tool to have is an integrated development pipeline for your workflow though. Especially if you are planning to work as a team.
And since there are not really many “pre-made” tools, for this, you are probably going to need to create your own. Of course, depending on what kind of software you are working on, you will also need to choose the components your pipeline is based on.
Also, creating such a pipeline can be a bit of a chicken egg problem, because you might not to start working until you have the setup ready, but you are not going to know what setup you need, unless you start working on your problem. It might be easier though, if you’ve already done a few similar projects, and you already know what you need.
Choosing a tools for a pipeline might also depend on your budget, there are commercial tools available that integrate into certain development environments. But as I like to go “raw” in most of my development efforts, I am going to present you mostly with open source software, that is free to use, even for commercial projects.
I might not be a big fan of “over engineered” tools, but I am a big fan of mendaciously planned workflows and processes. And by process I mean everything that happens from the line of code entering the editor, to the click of a satisfied customer into the gui, or whatever it is that has been delivered. There needs to be a way from my line of code to get under the customers mouse cursor, that is working as smoothly and as reliably as a Swiss clockwork.
Many of those tools, the average software engineer or programmer probably is already familiar with, but I believe that is also of value to be aware that these tools and workflows, don’t just appear magically. They are conceived, built and it takes great care and determination to get them set up just right.
Also, I believe that especially “non technical” managers, if there is such a thing, need to have some idea about what is going on in software development. Startup founders that are building software based businesses also come to my mind here.
But lets get to the beef, the 3 basic building blocks of the set are, the source code repository, the build server, and eventually the test environment. The source code repository is where all the work of the team gets together. Here the integration happens, here the source code is backed up, should one of the developer workstations crash, and lose all its data. Here all the changes are recorded, here is where older states of the software could be restored.
The source code repository is also the key hole, through which the build server connects to the developers. Depending on what your development philosophy is, everything that you need to build the software should be in the repository. So that the build server can get it to build the software. When a developer wants to have something in the built, he needs to put it into the repo, so that the build server can get it from there. There should be no shortcuts, no tampering with the build server. No pressing buttons on the build server, no adjusting files, etc. once the process is in place.
The build server itself, should have a standard installation of the development environment you are using. However, in a way that a build can happen fully automated. If that means a few scripts here and there are needed, then be it so. Whatever your final product is, the build-server should be able to create it autonomously. The product could be a finished windows installer, for example. So then the build server creates that installer from the information he gets out of the repository.
The last role of the build server should then be to push the finished product into some kind of test-environment, be it whatever it is for your product. It could be a virtual machine if you have some rich client application, it could be a webserver, if your product is web based, or it could be some device, like tablet, smartphone, etc. if this is what you do. Could be in emulator of some kind too. Or an app-store, if you are publishing to your users directly from your workflow.
The point of this being is that whoever is testing your product, especially if the testers are not the same people as your developers, and they should not be, need to “sit” as close to development as possible. Without actually needing to disturb them constantly of course.
Source Code Repository
As for the source code repository, I do prefer git these days, although probably any distributed revision control system will do. With distributed meaning, that working with the repository does not require a permanent connection to the repository server, allowing the developers to work offline, which is generally convenient because local operations are faster, they can work offline, on the train, the plane, etc… also there is no single point of failure, such as the server being offline for maintenance, etc.
However, a word of warning, git has a ton of features, and you ain’t gonna need all of them. So don’t get too comfortable applying clever tricks. In certain developer cultures there is a tendency to advocate the use of branching for example. Others tend to shy away of using them. I am firmly in this camp. Of course, it all may boil down to a matter of judgement, and situation, bit in general, don’t use it. That is branching allows to keep several streams of development in parallel, which I believes fragments the development efforts unnecessarily, and I use other techniques to introduce “larger” changes, mostly on the sourcecode level, rather than the repository level.
In my process, the role of the source code repository is simple and limited:
  1. Bring developers code together
  2. Record history
  3. Feed to build server
There are some features that are convenient, like for example using a rebase pull to keep the history clean and avoid superfluous merge-markers, etc. But I again, I like to not get to clever about that.
As for branching in the source code repository, I mentioned using other techniques, one of them being modularising the code and have it communicate via fixed interfaces. This should allow it, if applied reasonable to implement even larger enhancements, in small increments, without confusing the other developers, as you can work mostly in your own newly created module.
That means however, that the core of the application has to be already relatively stable. So only few devs can work on that, but that is probably the nature of software development, and having branching in your version control system ain’t gonna change that anyways.
Build Server
As for the build server, I’d recommend to use the open source build server Jenkins, these days, but in a way it is just the scaffold for your actual build tools. It is java based, but can be used for any kind of environment, I use it for C++ for example. Eventually it will just trigger some scripts, to do what ever it is you have to do for a build of your software. If your process is already well developed, and you can do all your build and delivery steps via a script, you can already hook it into Jenkins, add a trigger based on commits to your repository, and have a go.
There are different philosophies about how to go about your build. Some people like to have everything from compilers to libraries, etc. in their repository, and basically keep all the build tools in version control too. I for one prefer a rather “vanilla” environment, based on a standard Linux distribution, with all dependencies out of the package system, with as little customization as possible. This makes it more convenient to what I do. If however you have specific requirements on your gcc version, a cross compiler, etc. because you do work for obscure embedded platforms, then the other philosophy might do you better.
Depending on your process, and the infrastructure you have, the build server might be a good place to run your unit tests, code metrics, static analyzers, etc. Jenkins has all kind of capabilities to record and archive your results. You might also be able to do a setup that pushes releases based on tags in your repository. That includes possible uploads to your homepage, an appstore, posting updates to shareware software news sites, beta areas of your user community, etc. If you are in anyways like me, you want to get updates out to your users as fast as possible, and this is your secret weapon, to spread as quickly as you can.
That is I am mostly talking about apps, if you are doing web development, well, then you probably need to adjust that recommendations to your specific needs.
If however you are in a more corporate context, you might not just push software into the wild, but rather into a test sandbox first. So this is what we do next.
Test Environment
This shouldn’t be to difficult, so, whatever kind if device it is you run on, set up an installation that is as close to vanilla as reasonable, and make sure, either the build server pushes regularly to it, or the device can fetch updates in a reasonable time frame. Preferable again, installation of your test environment should be automated and not require much tinkering.
The take-away here being that as I said, you want to have a tight feedback loop between testers/users and developers. And that feedback loop should be automated, because if it is not and setting up test devices requires developer intervention, then it is doomed to distract your development crew, and it is doomed to deteriorate. That is, bit rot will set in, people will complain, developers need to fix it, so then they cannot do their actual job, and things will deteriorate further, a deadly spiral.
However, if you have a large user community, you can also push updates to selected beta testers, and have them report back for example. The details of which is beyond this article though.
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Only that which can be copied is truly unique

Paradox it seems, does it?

Lots has been written about the cultivation of an abundance mindset, in contrast to the more widely adopted scarcity mindset.

One mindset, the one that is often cultivated by shady advertising material, and publications aimed at the uneducated, adopts and promotes a standpoint that is based on fear. Based on the notion that there is not enough for everyone. That there are people that have ‘more’, that there is not enough to eat, not enough money, not enough love, not enough material possessions, not enough time to enjoy etc. It instills a worldview into each and everyone that allows him/herself to be infected that there is race going on, and that you will lose it unless you do whatever is in the interest of the entity controlling this information stream. Unfortunately, there is no winner in this worldview. Because, even if you were in the position of authority, you are afraid too, because why would you make such claims, unless you are afraid that those listening to you, below you are out there to get you and take your position away?

But there is a different mindset, one that is only cultivated by knowing circles, although this knowledge sifts into the mainstream consciousness occasionally, yet slowly. And that is the abundance mindset. It is the idea that the world is rich, and can provide for everyone, the idea that everyone can live comfortable, without being afraid. Its an idea that can, and is being, cultivated among a minority. Yet this minority is growing as I already mentioned. It is an idea that is scary and uncomfortable for those that are still deeply enrooted in the scarcity culture. It is an idea that appears dangerous to the scarcity culture. It is an idea that is being violently fought, ridiculed and laughed at, by those that live in the illusion that they are in control. By those that think of themselves as having power. An illusion though.

So much for an introduction, but how to we get to the conclusion that “Only that which can be copied is truly unique”? Well lets start with an example.

I’ve been to a movie this week, which kind of inspired me to this article. But lets start with something different. I’ve been to a party last week, at a club, and I arrived early with my friends, so we got in easily, Later in the evening though, the place was already getting crowded, and outside the venue a long row of people started to line up.
Would I have arrived this late, I would have probably skipped this party, because I cannot be bothered to wait in a long row. From my mind something that I have to wait for, a resource that is only so scarcely available that I have to wait for it cannot be worth much. Most likely, it is a scam. A common advertising slogan: “Come on, get it now, it is unique, it is only available this time, it is only available for a limited time” already puts me into the perception that the good being advertised is probably boring, and not worth bothering. For example a pair of trousers or any other piece of clothing is never truly scarce. I can buy it today, if I want to or I can get something equivalent next week, next month, next year, and most likely also in ten years. So when someone creates an aura of exclusivity, I am already bored to tears.

And actually, this applies to almost any kind of physical good. Food, clothing, houses, cars, computers, smart-phones, etc…

But in fact there is something that I assign a much greater value. Something that is much more interesting to me, and that I can get excited about much more. And those are immaterial goods. Information, so to speak. And judging from the increasing amount of huge data-centers popping up around the world at centers of wealth, this appears to be a trend. Those are more or less physical factories bound to process, store and interact with immaterial data.

Why is this? What is information? How is it created? Distributed? Valued?

Lets take literature for an example. I’ll take James Joyce’s “Ulysses”, even though I haven’t read it. A work of fiction that is probably widely distributed, and a copy can be most likely acquired for a price that is affordable by a wide range of this planet’s individuals. There might have been a time where reading and the access to literature and libraries has been restricted to an exclusive minority, but in many parts of the world those times are over.

So the material wealth to acquire such an information piece is neglectable. However, few would probably argue against that the text in question is a valuable piece of art.

And even though, many many books are being written as you are reading this. And even though there are many topics and genres where authors repeat the same patterns and thoughts again and again, nothing that is exactly equivalent to James Joyce’s “Ulysses” can ever be produced again. So the idea, the piece of information is that which is unique, even though, its representation can be copied indefinitely.

And therefore we arrive at the conclusion:
“Only that which can be copied is truly unique”

Posted in Discipline and Knowledge | Leave a comment

Going Nude: Learning Skills that require no Tools and Equipment

Currently I am quite obsessed about the idea of doing things “nude”, that is not necessarily without clothes, but rather without much preparation and equipment. That might range from entertaining a crowd with just being yourself and showing a few tricks. Just look at Bobby McFerrin at TED for an example.

He has fun, involves the audience, and everyone feels the magic. But it does not stop there, your body is a powerful tool, but being surrounded by equipment and machinery, diminishes our perception of what is possible without crutches and prosthetics.

There are many sports and forms of entertainment, that require equipment like skiing, biking, golfing, etc. but have you experienced the pure joy of just running through the woods, jumping broken trees and grown out roots, smelling the nature, feeling your feet adjusting to the ups and downs of the ground? Yeah, that might require running shoes, but there is even a growing movement of barefoot running proponents. And as a middle ground, there are lightweight shoes like Vibram Five Fingers and Nike Frees.

Or enjoying activities with other people, that do not require gadgets or consumption. Feel the pure and raw energy of human bodys crushing together in some martial arts lessons. I’ve taken up dancing recently, and alas, physical interaction with a person does posses quite a different quality than holding the handles of your bike or pounding away on the lifeless plastic of your computer-keyboard. The mechanical interface to satisfactorily satisfy the precise quality of the human ability to perceive tactile information is still to come. Learning a skill that involves physical interaction, is like learning a new language. A language to often neglected I believe, when interacting with people not yet trained in a language of physical expression, their movements being imprecise, uncontrolled hard and inhuman. Like the’ve become the plump machines themselves that were supposed to make our lives more pleasurable.

Physical movement can be a language, there are even deaf people that “think” in gestures.

And stying with language learning, of course this is another skill that requires no tools. Books maybe, to get you started, but once acquired, the skill is yours, embedded in your soul, ready to be applied.

Being the Movie Buff that I am, I rewatched one of the “Jason Bourne” movies yesterday with a friend, and it always fascinates me how Jason Bourne is able to “act” nude in almost every situation. Just imagine yourself, drifting on the ocean, no money, no tools no equipment, yet being able to deal with everything that comes thrown towards you. Being able to speak every language, being able to fight, improvise, understand technology, etc.

btw. technological understanding is an important nude skill in itself. Being able to use found equipment, computers that you’ve never used before, can alleviate the need to carry your own familiar technology with you all the time. And also, technology is built by humans, so by understanding technology you understand humans, and vice versa ideally. ;-)

And the last, and eventually most important nude skills is that of being able to build tools. ;-) And here I am mostly thinking about the entrepreneur. Imagine yourself stranded in a foreign country, no identity, no money, no job, nothing. How long will it take you to indulge into the local economy, build networks, found organizations, provide value to the community and work your way to a joyful existence?

Knowledge is the new capital, and I have good news, there is plenty and its free for everyone. I’ve learned more from the internet and from interaction than I ever could from a university.

Have fun,
Cheers
-Richard

Posted in Lifestyle Skills | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment