Friday, January 24, 2014

That Time I "Met" John Cleese

I am a huge Monty Python fan and, as for many fans, the cast are like unto gods to me.  Without meaning any disrespect to the others Mr. John Cleese is my favorite.  He is also something of a hero to me due to that time he hurt his knee while helping lemurs by going to where they live and looking at them.  My mom was so impressed with him that she donated to the wildlife fund associated with the Lemur Viewing.

In any event, this is the story of how I "met" John Cleese.

I was working at a movie theatre in Santa Barbara.  There was a movie playing about some Irish guys who were wrongfully accused of setting a bomb and put in prison.  The movie was called "In the Name of the Father".  Bono wrote a song for it.

So there I am behind the concession counter.  It was a slow night and the lobby was deserted except for me and a co-worker, a girl named Tali, who was also behind the counter.

A couple walked in and approached to get some goodies for the movie.  The man was quite tall.  They arrived at the counter and I was stepping forward to help them when my eyes reported an astounding sight:  The man was JOHN CLEESE!!!

At that point my brain exploded. BOOM!

The "conversation" that ensued is etched indelibly in my mind:

Me: "You're John Cleese!"  (Ooo Captain Obvious!)

Cleese: Stoic silence.

Me: "You're the funniest guy I know!" (Oh no! I don't "know" him!)

Cleese: Stoic silence.

Me, stammering now:  "N-n-not that I know you.. I mean.." (Trainwreck!)

Cleese: Stoic silence.

At this point I gave up trying to use words, and my sole mission was to see that Mr. Cleese and his date got their popcorn or whatever in a timely fashion.  Since I was totally unable to talk and barely able to stand, I just sort of staggered back and waved Tali forward to help them.

She stepped into the breach and Mr. Cleese and Tali, who had no idea who he was, proceeded to have a brief and pleasant little conversation as she served them some popcorn and drinks, while I leaned up against the popcorn machine trying not to hyperventilate and basking, just basking, in the Presence.

After that Cleese and the lady with him went into the theatre, and time started up again, passing along in its customary way as if nothing extraordinary had happened.

I'm pretty sure that after the movie they left through a side door.

The coolest thing was the very British and unprepossessing way that Mr. Cleese ignored my antics.

It's hard to explain, but it a was very polite way to acknowledge my worshipful attitude without pretense or conceit, by way of totally ignoring this kid having a near-breakdown just from being near him.  He sort of looked straight ahead with an air of "Yes, well, these things happen. It's not a bother."  I'm sure the lady with him was very impressed by his effect on me (she did smile a bit) but he managed to act like he was waiting for a train or something.  It was totally cool.

He was very gentlemanly and, as soon as I had retired from the field, he had, as I said, a very normal and pleasant conversation with Tali, undisturbed by me gaping and gasping like a fish out of water just a few feet away.  A class act.

So that's my story of how I "met" John Cleese.  I only hope I get to meet him again someday and ask him if he remembers that incident.  How cool it would be to be part of a memory in the mind of John Cleese!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Love is a Power

Re: "In the Name of Love"

Oooo! That got under my skin!

The author is picking on a tenet that I hold dear so that accounts for my emotional reaction.

But I find the thinking here fundamentally flawed, and, ironically, it seems flawed precisely because it displays just the same privilege-bias that the author decries!

The author seems to be saying that only privileged people get to choose their work, that if you are poor or otherwise unprivileged you are doomed to work at unlovable jobs and never have freedom or dignity.

That is just wrong and it's an example of the very bias the author is complaining about.

Now I am not saying that there are no exploitive jobs.  Obviously, there are people who will exploit you and your labor if they can.  Some of them are that way because they are jerks, others are simply misguided.

What I am saying is much deeper and more "radical" than that.  I'm telling you that even a prisoner on a chain gang, or the people of N. Korea, can have dignity and work with love and enjoyment.  It's not always easy, but to deny this plain and universal fact is to head down a path denigrating to the inherent humanity of the very workers that this article is (sort of) championing.

Dignity and freedom are not external "things" that can be granted or taken away by someone else.  They are intrinsic Universals that are always available to every human being regardless of their external circumstances.

Dignity and freedom come from inside you.  You cannot be separated from them because they are aspects of your own deeper nature.

It is possible to forget this, to put your power outside of yourself, to give it to your "boss" or "the machine", and to succumb to the illusion that you are exploited and mistreated by powers beyond your control.

But this is not a real thing, and always in the end dignity and freedom re-assert themselves.  No physical condition can trump the very real inner power of dignity and freedom.

To insist that "the unprivileged" are not able to "do what they love and love what they do" is to deny their own humanity and power.  Every human has the ability to choose freedom and dignity. (In a sense that is what it means to be human.)

Certainly external circumstances can ease or hinder your ability to reach the inner wellspring, and that is the motivation to improve working conditions (globally, for everyone.)

There is very real need for improvements in working conditions in many many places all over the world.  But the idea that it is important to find love, happiness, dignity and freedom in your labor is NOT in conflict with this, in fact it is a primary reason for insisting on good working conditions!

We must work.  As Krishna told Arjuna we cannot help but act.  Living is action (karma) and we must take care that our actions are guided by wisdom and done well.

The idea that you can and should "do what you love and love what you do" arose as a counter to the misguided idea that work is something you hate that you do just to get the money to pay your bills and keep the lights on and the pantry stocked.  To confuse the basic concept with a sort of bromide for the blind egos of a privileged elite is a terrible mistake.

Let me wrap up by dissecting a specific passage from the article:
Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise. But why should our pleasure be for profit? And who is the audience for this dictum?
Where to begin?  So worng. Wow.

I'll take it in reverse order:
And who is the audience for this dictum?
Everybody.  The intended audience is all of humanity everywhere.  The great promise of technology is not in enriching Zuckerbergs and Jobses but in getting out from under the burdens of our past and creating a world where everyone has the best opportunity to express their inner dignity and freedom and love daily, all the time, not excluding their working hours.

But why should our pleasure be for profit?
The premise is wrong.  "Monetizing" your leisure is not what "do what you love, love what you do" means.

Love and labor are much deeper things than pleasure and profit.

We must work.  Society has benefited us and we are obliged by love and duty to give back, to contribute from ourselves to our fellow humans, to carry out our responsibilities and keep things going and getting better and better for the next generations (our posterity.)

To call the satisfaction and gratitude that is engendered by performing your work well and with love and dignity merely "pleasure" is to cheapen it.

And to work merely for profit is to fall into a kind of hell.  "He who desires the fruits of his labor is a miser." (Krishna again.)  Loving work done well is its own reward.  That it grants the means to live is one of the aspects of working for love that makes it so miraculous and wonderful.

Sweeping up, washing dishes, picking fruit, collecting garbage, none of these are inherently undignified, none of them are beyond the possibility of being done with love and enjoyment, done for the benefit of the people around us whom we love and care about.  I know from experience that this is true.

It is terribly prejudiced to insist that someone working a "menial" job cannot experience love and deep satisfaction from their work.

Again, I am not denying that there are exploitive jobs in the world. Obviously there are.  But I insist that this is counter to the spirit of DWYL/LWYD.  It is vitally important to mold our technology and economy so that working conditions allow for and even foster wholesome labor, done freely with dignity and love.
Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise.
No. it is not a "piece of advice".  It is a rallying cry in the face of all injustice and suffering and exploitation in the world and it challenges us to remember, to never forget, that life is labor is love.

Search yourself: find not what you "most enjoy" (superficial sensory gratification), but what gives you the deepest and most moving and important work (karma, action) that you can do to improve the world and express your own deep inner being.

This is something that anyone can do, at any time, in any circumstance.  It is a privilege that everyone has and it can never be taken away.

Love is a power.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Getting your Workers to Subsidize the Hiring Process

The thing about programs like HackReactor is that they are methods for the big tech companies to gain access to a kind of super-technician programmer.  There is a huge problem in finding and hiring competent programmers.  I've seen it myself.  There is typically no good way for a company to really know if a given candidate is really a capable programmer or not.  There's also a huge downside to hiring someone who then turns out to be not very good.  In fact people speak of "negative productivity" and it's a real phenomenon.

In order to combat this issue, and to take advantage of the folks who want to want to try to catch the brass ring (of a well-paying career in the software industry), they've come up with this idea of a programming "boot camp".  They basically get people to pay for their own probationary term and then filter them for those people who are likely to do well as junior "technician" developers.  The students are, in effect, subsidizing the hiring process.

In this case, the reason why HackReactor can boast of such high rates of their "post-grad" hiring is that they are very very careful up front about who they let in.  That "interview" process they talk about is designed to vet people based on how well they can pick up tech and software stuff.  It's openly acknowledged that there are people who "just get" computers and people who really struggle.  HackReactor are very careful about only accepting people who are already strongly biased toward being able to "hack it" (no pun intended) and then teaching exactly what they want them to know, so that they come out of the program already proven (to some degree) and trained.  Of course they get hired. :-)  That's what the program is really for: finding and supplying a work force.

I would recommend attempting the "interview" because you will learn a lot just from that, however, unless you are just wanting a job as a mid-level software technician the actual program would probably be a waste of your time and effort.

As a counter-example you could learn everything they are teaching from a community resource such as the Mozilla Developer Network.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fostering Good Character

Given the advent of ultra-powerful technology (fusion power with nanotechnology) the crucial problem before us today is the fostering of good character.

Religious folk (the ones who are doing it right in my estimation) understand this as the continual obligation and joy of remembering God and living in a goodly fashion.  Atheists, agnostics, and non-religious but spiritual folk can understand that only wise and good people can be trusted with such tremendous physical power.

We must discover and use whatever means we can to foster good character and wisdom.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Oh Sailing

OooooOOOOOOooOOoOOAAAaaaah!  NOW I get it. Sailing.

The first passage I made on the Adios was from South Beach Harbor just south of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco to the Berkeley Marina in, you guessed it, Berkeley.

I wasn't sure of my sailing chops so I figured I would just motor over and I left the sail under wraps. At first I tried to go around the west side of Treasure Island but as I got closer to what they call "The Slot" (the way between Angel Island and Treasure Island which faces the Golden Gate directly and catches all the wind and current) the waves became just high enough to give me pause and I went back around the east side of the island.

After that it was fairly smooth sailing (I should say motoring) until I got out towards the Berkeley Marina and was approaching the ruins of the old Municipal Pier, which stretch west through the water off of the marina for a surprisingly long way.  I came out from the lee of Treasure Island and the waves picked up again. They were not a danger to the boat but they kept raising the stern high enough to bring the prop out of the water and cause the engine to rev uncomfortably.

I got in to the protection of the breakwater and things calmed down, but it left me with the jarring feeling that I might also have gotten into more than I could handle.

It turns out I was doing it wrong.

In fact, the trick to travelling in a sail boat is to sail it. Who knew?

The next passage I made was from Berkeley to the Emeryville Marina, just next door and within sight of each other.  Kids go sailing there in tiny little sailboats for fun and practice, so I figured it would be safe enough to try to actually sail there myself.

I readied the mainsail but left it furled because the wind was astern (coming from behind) and making it difficult to raise it in the berth.  I left the headsail down. One thing at a time.  (You don't have to have the headsail up to sail, it just helps you go faster.)

I cast off and used the motor to get out into the main open part of the marina then hoisted the sail, letting the motor push us very slowly into the wind and towards the main opening from the harbor into the bay.  With the sail up and ready I motored out from behind the breakwater and into the bay.  I went south through the gap at the end of the still-accessible part of the Berkeley Municipal Marina, which process they call "threading the needle", and switched off the motor.

Now I was sailing, and it all made sense.

You pay attention, then you think, then you set the sail and the maybe the tiller, and then...  then the very forces of Nature herself carry you and your boat gently along.  It's quiet, it's peaceful, it's transcendent.

It's sailing.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Everything's Okay: DON'T PANIC!

As if living(-ish) on a sailboat and getting paid to work on robotics isn't cool enough, I am now learning Blender (the cool open-sourced 3D system) as part of my job. (I'm going to do mock ups of the robots using it!)

Now there's an interesting thing that my screwed up nervous system will do. All afternoon I have been on the edge of panic.  Weird, right?  I should be stoked.  I'm getting paid to learn Blender which is awesome and will enable me to do more awesome stuff, and this is totally okay.

Except my nervous system keeps trying to freak out and tell me that there's something really important that I'm forgetting that I need to do and I can't just sit here lighting up metaballs and rendering them all day! Dude, you have to get a job!

Whoa there neurotransmitters! Steady on, little glands! I've checked and re-checked and we're all okay.  There is, in fact, nothing I can think of that I should do today (it's Sunday afternoon) that I've left undone. Maybe call my mom. But it really is the order of the day to sit here and mess with Blender, and that will pay my bills.

Wow.  Just breath deeply. Everything's okay.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

If you don't know what you're doing, stop doing it...

I just wrote this to a friend and it resonated with me enough to want to post it here:
Really the issue is not so much coding as "policy", i.e. figuring out
exactly what the client wants and typically educating them as
to how they can actually achieve it with computers.

I'm reluctant to work with people these days because no one seems to
want to know how things work, they just want to have you (me) "make
things go".  I just don't respect that anymore.

Despite being in a fairly desperate situation here I have been turning
down work rather than committing...
People are not getting it...