There have been more than a few reports outlining a decline of empathy, but did you know (or maybe forget that) reading literature can help you experience another person’s life through reading? A recent study found that it is true (wow, I actually wrote that sentence here and probably deserve some shame.. anyways…).
While the story in Psychology Today is centered on business, it must still be true that the stories we tell our children have impact. Read with them, and read them stories that help them see the world for what it is and can be.
If you are in financial distress and can’t see the immediate value, know that in addition, literature can provide a gateway to other humanities, which is leverage that help navigate the world. Earl Shorris, who recently passed away, and whose book, “The Art of Freedom: Teaching the Humanities to the Poor” will be published in 2013, said the following:
Numerous forces—hunger, isolation, illness, landlords, police, abuse, neighbors, drugs, criminals, and racism, among many others—exert themselves on the poor at all times and enclose them, making up a “surround of force” from which, it seems, they cannot escape. I had come to understand that this was what kept the poor from being political and that the absence of politics in their lives was what kept them poor. I don’t mean “political” in the sense of voting in an election but in the way Thucydides used the word: to mean activity with other people at every level, from the family to the neighborhood to the broader community to the city-state.
Read the whole article: Harpers: Earl Shorris: As a weapon in the hands of the restless poor”
We focus so much on teaching concrete skills in school, as a means to an end, to get a job, but having that as the lone purpose of education is a mistake. I don’t know where I’d be without the books I’d find myself reading way back when. I had thought they were a means to escape whatever was going on my life thru my imagination, and sure, they were, but it turns out they helped me immeasurably in every day life and still do to this day.
I went on an interesting journey online last night that led me to the source of the above phrase, a poem on mortality, entropy, memory… and databases. Yes, you read that right.
I read Tor.com’s wonderful blog almost once a day to check up posts on books, favorite sci-fi and fantasy TV Series, and more. Yesterday they had a post featuring a striking photograph by Cat Valente of some haunting graffiti with the title of of this post scrawled out. She had recognized the line from an earlier post in Tor.com’s Poetry Month series, “John M. Ford’s sonnet ‘Against Entropy'”. Reading the comments in that post led to the original source of the poem, where it was written and shared for the first time.
In 2003 Patrick Nielsen Hayden posted about how moved he was by Andrew Brown’s writing about the slow and terrible death of a friend’s wife. He lamented,
If I were a better writer I’d conclude by yoking the trivial to the tragic, relating the twin inevitabilities of death and database error by means of a rhetorical figure involving worms.. In the comments of that post, John M. Ford, the writer Neil Gaiman said of,
my best critic … the best writer I knew, wrote the following:
The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days —
Perhaps you will not miss them. That’s the joke.
The universe winds down. That’s how it’s made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you’ll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.
A poem, written in a blog post comment in 2003, shows up on a physical wall in 2012.
The poem speaks loudly about the ends of things, our role, and even the work I do, which has everything to do with building systems that can adapt and grow in the face of bit rot and lack of attention.
Damn it, I don’t care if it isn’t hip, I still love the Web.
James Shore’s post in 2006, “Quality With a Name” summarizes clearly what I try and express and practice in my systems design work.
This is something to not only read and bookmark, but print out to remind folks who are building systems what exactly is good software design.
A good software design minimizes the time required to create, modify, and maintain the software while achieving acceptable run-time performance.
If you’re interested how a number systems I’ve helped design have had such long lives and have grown from small teams to support large ecosystems, “Quality With a Name” is a great place to start
Recently he gave a presentation on evolutionary design that is a good watch.
I’m looking forward to seeing his presentation at Philly’s Emerging Technologies Conference.
The famous quoted passage from John Donne below has been brought up a few times the past few weeks. Here is the whole: “Meditation 17”:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Read his post on O’Reilly Radar: “The feedback economy”:
In a society where every person, tethered to their smartphone, is both a sensor and an end node, we need better ways to observe and orient, whether we’re at home or at work, solving the world’s problems or planning a play date. And we need to be constantly deciding, acting, and experimenting, feeding what we learn back into future behavior.
We’re entering a feedback economy.
“Learning to program teaches you how to think. Computer science is a liberal art.”
“In my perspective … science and computer science is a liberal art, it’s something everyone should know how to use, at least, and harness in their life. It’s not something that should be relegated to 5 percent of the population over in the corner. It’s something that everybody should be exposed to and everyone should have mastery of to some extent, and that’s how we viewed computation and these computation devices”
YouTube: WGBH: “Steve Jobs 1990 Lost Interview Part 1”:
Reddit.com: “Want: a non-technical description of CS”
Jean-Baptiste Queru, on his Google+ profile, posts a poetic and doozy of a post, “Dizzying but invisible depth”:
Today’s computers are so complex that they can only be designed and manufactured with slightly less complex computers. In turn the computers used for the design and manufacture are so complex that they themselves can only be designed and manufactured with slightly less complex computers. You’d have to go through many such loops to get back to a level that could possibly be re-built from scratch.
Once you start to understand how our modern devices work and how they’re created, it’s impossible to not be dizzy about the depth of everything that’s involved, and to not be in awe about the fact that they work at all, when Murphy’s law says that they simply shouldn’t possibly work.
For non-technologists, this is all a black box. That is a great success of technology: all those layers of complexity are entirely hidden and people can use them without even knowing that they exist at all. That is the reason why many people can find computers so frustrating to use: there are so many things that can possibly go wrong that some of them inevitably will, but the complexity goes so deep that it’s impossible for most users to be able to do anything about any error.
When you’re building software, it is probably best to look at things half-Buddhist. Kent Beck writes about building software that won’t be around longer than him in a recent Facebook note:
…nothing I am doing now with software will remain in a hundred years. Indeed, there was a time not long ago when the only software I had ever written that was still running was JUnit. Thousands of programs started, and my work was in danger of becoming extinct.
I could try to achieve timelessness in my designs and encourage others to do the same, but in the end nothing I program will outlive me. It would be easy to despair over this, to go into my shell and settle for “good enough”. To do so would be to ignore both the immediate impact of my work, used by hundreds of millions of people today (one of the great things about working at Facebook), and the second order effects of my work on the lives and attitudes of others. No, my programs won’t be here in a century, but my work still matters.
Michael Mehaffy and Nikos Salingaros: “The Pattern Technology of Christopher Alexander”: “We have to remember that software engineers, by nature of their work, have a big problem. Their job is not to solve problems for computers, but for human beings; the computers are only tools in that process.”
Case Statement: “Articulate Coding” – his first post – a good one – keep it up!
InfoQ: Kent Beck: “Responsive Design” 1hr Presentation. Worth it!
My boss back at Bell Atlantic, who became my friend and mentor, Pat Trongo, had the following quote from Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline” on his cube wall in big bold letters.
I found it inspirational back then. But now I am blessed to see evidence of this pattern in life daily – Great teams committed to a purpose accomplish great things.
The committed person brings an energy, passion,
and excitement that cannot be generated if you
are only compliant, even genuinely compliant.
The committed person doesn’t play by the rules
of the game. He is responsible for the game.
If the rules of the game stand in the way of
achieving the vision, he will find ways to change
A group of people truly committed to a common
vision is an awesome force.
They can accomplish the seemingly impossible.
I am as blown away by this as I am with the OccupyPhilly protest teamwork I saw today, as I am with my co-workers who are one of the greatest teams I’ve seen in my career.
Great teams are everything. They don’t just ‘happen’ and require investments in trust, empathy, accountability, honesty, and crazy foolishness to grow. And when you see them you can’t help but be in awe.