Conversations about life & privacy in the digital age

Mind in The Cloud

The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages outside the body; and there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a subsystem. Gregory Bateson

I believe that our consciousness has evolved within historical time. And that this evolution is chiefly based on external storage. This evolution is disruptive. There is a long period of transition.

We are entering an era of unprecedented access to external storage. I think that we are at the beginnings of a new mode of consciousness.

While our user’s information is inaccessible, SpiderOak spends a lot of time and resources making company information available.

Bruce Sterling (that smirking twit) imagines tracking objects: Spime. But we have the resources to track ideas. Who would have imagined Amazon Reviews becoming a literary form? A modern book is more than a physical artifact. It becomes enfolded in a cloud of comment and interpretation.

The book may surface on the net long before it is published, and may continue to interact with readers. The modern author maintains a conversation with his readers.

For a person of degraded sensibilities, as I am, YouTube becomes a primary repository of music. Incredible new forms are evolving:

Building Stuff From Kits

I grew up with the idea of making things. Homer Price building radios; old science fiction guys building space drives in their basements. The feeling expressed in Cory Doctorow’s Makers.

I’ve never built much myself. We didn’t have Legos when I grew up. I sucked at model airplanes. When I was ten or eleven, I begged the parental units to get me these kits. It was a fiasco.

My vocation is software. I build abstract structures in my mind and attempt to transfer them to machines. That’s what I wanted to do since I first heard about computers.

Over the years, I drifted away from the idea of making things. I’m strongly in favor of the Maker movement (as I am of free and open source software). But I haven’t seen myself as a part of the movement.

Then something changed. My friend Izzy gave me a Lego kit as a joke.

I work at home writing code for SpiderOak. I ended up building the kit in bits and pieces while working. Taking a break from coding, I would fit a few Lego pieces together.

The Lego kit worked really well for me. For one thing, instructions written for an eight year old are about right for me. But the real change is that I didn’t care how long it took to build the kit. When I was a kid, I would sit down, try to build something in one session, get frustrated and give up.

I discovered that it was really satisfying to me to build something with my hands.

I quickly tired of Lego kits. On feeds associated with the Maker movement, like O’Reilly and BoingBoing, I saw the Monochron Clock. This looked like more than I could handle. But when I saw the detailed instructions it began to seem doable.

So I gradually accumulated the equipment. Then I built some simpler kits to practice soldering and small muscle coordination.

Then I built the clock. It took several weeks, maybe more than a month. I was in no hurry. I would take a break from coding, solder in one little piece exactly right, then back to coding. I wasn’t trying to finish. I enjoy the process. I think it helps my coding too.

Here’s Sylvia building the same clock.

One day, there was nothing left to do. Now I have a clock and it works!

I built another clock (this one was much harder). And a watch. And a multimeter [Unfortunately this one didn't work. :-( You can't win them all.]

So something new has been added to my life, quite unexpectedly. A serious maker would create new things, or hack these kits into something unexpected. I’m not at that level yet. I’m just looking for another kit to build.

Any suggestions?

My Mother’s Journal

I’m gathered with the nuclear family for Thanksgiving. My eighty-three year old mother pulls her journal out of her capacious purse. This is a yearly record of the places my parents have gone and the people and things they’ve seen. The contents are pictures, pasted in, wiht annotations in pen. We all gather around to look at the book and get the story of the parental travels. My ten year old niece Claire borrows my pen to add the name of her dog to the description of a picture.

What’s particularly cool to me is that Mom uses Photoshop to prepare the pictures before printing them, cutting them out wiht a scissors, and pasting them in the book. She resizes, crops, cuts glare, blurs background etc. to get the picture right for her journal. She says she doesn’t really understand layers yet, but she’s working on it.

I love this: just enough use of digital technology to suit the purpose. Mom could use a SpiderOak share (the parental units have an account), but that wouldn’t suit her purposes. She doesn’t send people links, she meets them face to face. I’m sure this Thanksgiving gathering is going into the journal and will get reported to the folks back in Oklahoma. It works.

The lesson I get from this (aside from “don’t have your finger up your nose when Mom pulls out the camera”) is that software (and everthing else) should be designed so the user can take just enough to suit their needs. And that their needs are not usually what the devloper had in mind.

I’m afraid that a lot of times my approach to software development is ‘my way or the highway’. There’s one explicitly planned way to use this software and if you use it any other way, you suck. So I’m going to try to loosen up and make the software I work on more available for ‘just enough’.

Software Testing and the Nature of Reality

It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into
trouble.
It’s the things we know that just ain’t so. ~~Artemus
Ward (also attributed to Will Rogers and Josh Billings)

Ideally, software development expands the consciousness of the developer,
and ultimately of the user. Good software enables you to encompass aspects of
reality that were hitherto unavailable. (Bad software forces you into the
perceptual space of a hideous insect).

So testing software comes down to exploring the new facets of reality which
the software exposes. This is a path that every serious developer must follow
diligently. It’s not not enough to simply ‘throw it over the wall’ to QA.

This becomes a process of abandoning preconceptions. You must actually use
the software and accept the results, particularly when they are unexpected. So
you are testing himself as much as the software.

Test Driven Development is good, but not sufficient, because your
assumptions are built into the tests.