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It’s been a while

It has been a long time since I have written here- over a year in fact. I can’t say that it is because any specific reason that I haven’t written, but I think that is more telling than if I could pinpoint a specific reason.

I have let my daily life consume me. I have found that I can more easily relate to Dilbert cartoon strips now, than I could have ever thought possible only a few idealistic years ago. This isn’t to say that my life has become devoid of purpose, pleasure, or meaning, but rather that it signifies that age earns responsibility.

It should come as little surprise that I will be moving in a few months. In fact, it is closer to a few weeks than months- August is quickly approaching and I have had to focus my efforts on the pragmatic, and immediate needs of living, and working rather than the greater purposes of life. Now, as these things line up and jobs are secured, leases are signed I find that I have lived a shell of a life these past few months.

I am an overtly practical person. These needs that come from a new experience are the first priority in my mind. Now that they have been mostly satiated, I feel that I can spend my energy and time on less immediate concerns, and more on the joys that can exist.

I didn’t go to TEDxUF this year.

It’s true- For the first time in three years, I didn’t go to the open forum of Technology, Entertainment, and Design hosted at the University of Florida that is TEDxUF. I went as far as to fill out the application and be ‘accepted’ to the event, but when the speaker list was announced, and the website updated, I lost all interest.

tedx_uf_name_badges

2014 won’t be added to my collection.

As with most things, there wasn’t a single event or reason that convinced me not to go. I’ll start with the most superficial: the website is appalling.

As a web developer, I can handily say that for an event that contains the word ‘Techonology’ it it’s acronym, the site is a poor example of technology.  It is a WordPress site (I have no problem with WP, in fact this very blog is in WP) but it was done in such a manner that I am convinced the author hasn’t a shred of understanding as how to use quite a few of the tools of the world’s most used, and simplest CMS. It breaks on resize thanks to their theme customizations, their SEO plugin isn’t customized, there’s no favicon, and for a site that would be having thousands of visitors in a very short time, there is no semblance of caching enabled. The most basic on tools are broken, or missing.

With my web dev rant over, I’ll attempt to focus on the substance of this years’ TED.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much substance. The speaker list was a spattering of people who could hop out of bed and walk to the event, bookbag in tow for their classes the next day.

I am not contending these speakers don’t have things to say, nor do I hope I come across as ungrateful that they would lend their voices to this event, but I feel like for an event that is held only once a year, with an attendance of thousands, a larger net could be used. While there is no ‘I” in TED, TED is implicitly defined as ‘Innovation’, and while Gainesville may have the capacity to innovate, it also has the ability to isolate us from the rest of our global society.

I’m reminded of a TEDx talk by Benjamin Bratton that is much more eloquent than I ever could be:

We need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are imbedded and which are imbedded in us. And this is not about personal stories of inspiration. It’s about the hard, difficult work of de-mystification and re-conceptualization.

There are plenty of quotable moments in those eleven minutes. What I get from the talk is that TED, and TEDx events specifically should not be about self-gratification, about selling a personal story in exchange for pseudo-encouragement, or about the next innovation that makes life easier for those that already lead a plush life.

This isn’t my first rant about entitlement and stagnancy, nor do I think it will be my last. I only encourage myself to do good, regardless of visibility or personal impact. I hope others are similarly motivated.

 

Can entrepreneurs do good?

My social life is a dismal affair. I work, and then retire to my abode where I work on small projects, and when possible spend some time with my understanding girlfriend. On the rare occasion I get out, I can be found looking for something dev related, or startup-ish. Tonight I found myself listening to Alexis Ohanian (co-founder of Reddit) speak at UF.  His talk was quick, but it reminded me of a question that rears its head when I attend these sort of events: can entrepreneurs do good?

The answer is yes, but it isn’t the norm, and it isn’t the express purpose of entrepreneurship today.

From my observations, the great bulk of entrepreneurs exist to create something that will quickly make their lives better(money, influence, power) but avoid thinking if what they are doing is good.

Good is not a flashy marketing term, but a word of substance in its simplicity. Good is not creating the next way for your dog to get a treat (by what I will  consider an ironically named company) or getting you coffee delivered in five minutes. These companies use words like convenience, comfort, and ease to describe their value. Doing good centers around providing tangible benefit to people, not fluffing their pillow.

Doing good is usually associated with altruism, with non-profits, and with kindhearted groups who find intrinsic value more compelling than capitalistic value. I contend, in our society where an entrepreneurs’ value is derived solely by their greed, an entrepreneur is not motivated to do good, and if they do it is accidental.

I hope to find that there are exceptions, but I have not found much. We are simply not motivated to do good. Rather, we find that monetary compensation is more valuable than the value that can be gained by positively affecting others or our surroundings. More specifically, I feel like the VC model does not allow for any thought beyond the short game(there is no thought put into how an entrepreneur and his product can do in a decade, only how quickly revenue can be generated so their investments can mature into profits).

Hopefully I can be proven wrong, and the creativity of entrepreneurs is not squandered on dog food and backpack coffee.

Meditation

I am not the type of person who believes in the healing power of negative ions or of crystals. If there isn’t hard evidence to prove that something is as described, or if there isn’t enough compelling evidence  I quickly dismiss it and cry ‘hokum!’. However, I have found that some form of meditation does something for me that I feel couldn’t be achieved by any other means.

I was skeptical at first. I had some very ingrained ideas as to what meditation was, and would continue to be. My conception of meditation took the most obvious of the stereotypes associated with meditation and hyper exaggerated them. Unfortunately, there were people who epitomized these stereotypes right here in Gainesville. I see crystals for sale (and being sold), some bits of metal that are suppose to channel your energies, and have been provided pamphlets that best describe the ideal positions in which one should meditate.

I overcame these pathetic misconceptions and began some basic meditation. It began with simply sitting in silence for an indiscriminate amount of time. I haven’t [progressed much further than this, but I feel that doing so isn’t necessary. I have found that the simple moments to myself are capable of removing external fears, compulsions, and whatever else is hindering more productive thought.

I couldn’t be compelled to pressure anyone else to attempt meditation- I had been politely informed(which is the most subtle form of pressure imaginable) that I could benefit from meditation, but that only fueled my maligned opinion of the subject.  I will only mention that it has helped me remember that our concerns are shallow, and within a broader perspective are manageable.

Twenty Fourteen

This past year has been good to me. I have had a big-boy job for the entirety of the year, and have done some contract work for some amazing people around Florida, have found that while Gainesville is a small place, there is plenty to be still discovered, and much more I won’t bore you with.

Looking forward. I have learned a lot working for UF. I considered myself a strict front-end developer before I started at UF, but the varied nature of my responsibilities have lead me to shift my focus to the darkened side of the server world. I have picked up useful skills with server provisioning and deployment and  several server-side languages/security. Unfortunately, I feel that because my focus has shifted, I have not given my front-end self room to explore.

So for 2014 I have made myself a short list of things I’d like to do. I wouldn’t consider these resolutions, merely things that I hope to do with what free time I have:

  • Build a full fledged web app that does something meaningful (meaning it positively impacts the world in a significant way, not just ‘the next X that will make your first-world life easier!’)
  • Build a web app that generates revenue using a front end JS framework
  • Contribute to several open source projects

I’m sure there is more to this list, but for now I am content with these three things. In fact, it is possible that the first two bullets will be the same thing, but I am not delusional enough to think that something meaningful could make a profit.

In my personal life, I intend to travel. Last year I intended to travel abroad, but those plans were dashed when I realized I was an adult that has insurance premiums and loans to be paid/repaid. Now that those have bitten the dust, I am left open to travel.

 

Disparity

Thanks to my employer, I was sent to San Francisco for a conference. Naturally, I couldn’t squander a free flight, so I extended my stay out and spent an entire week in the Bay Area. I traveled around the city, checked out the the scene in Silicon Valley, and rented a Tesla S for a day. Beyond measure I enjoyed my scant time in the area, and I especially enjoyed my time driving the car I hope to someday have in my life. My trip wasn’t without curiosity or introspection, and one thing I noticed more prominently in San Francisco than I have anywhere else I have traveled was the volume of homeless in San Fran.

I think it that any sentence that mentions San Francisco also mentions the homeless problem that plagues the streets of the worlds startup capital. However, even this nonchalant phrase says something about how we view the homeless. We easily disregard them, and forget about them being more than a nuisance- they are a plague that shake their cups at us employable people, pleading for coins that we don’t give.

But they are people, regardless of their fall from civilized society. The causes for homelessness vary, but the assumption that there is some underlying psychological disorder is outdated, and unfortunate. Homeless people are then people indiscernible from you are I, capable of functioning in a society provided the society is accepting and offers the ability for improvement. Some would say that acceptance is a hard thing to achieve. Our culture can be very shallow, and we are often quick to judge others based on their personal appearance and hygiene. I found this to be extremely obvious after I watched this short video– an unkempt alcoholic turns into an investment banker in a few time lapsed minutes.

So then, the homeless problem is a human problem and there should be no differentiation between us and them. There is little separating myself from the mass of people on the street, save for a job. I may be ignoring some glaring problems with this assumption, but from my pitiful research and personal experience this idea remains stable. As a functioning human in our society, I sympathize with these people, and I feel compelled to offer assistance.

However I am not an idealist. I know what money I may hand a homeless person will not go to better their lives- by the time many homeless find themselves truly destitute and broken a bottle or a needle seem like greater salvation than employment and contribution. This is a condition of being homeless, not of becoming homeless. I also am not a wealthy person, capable of influencing great change with what spare coin I do offer.

What I am is an idealistic coder, capable of typing a pseudo-foreign language that can be used to do something. I am attempting to make something in my free time that may help someone, hopefully. If you read this, you are capable of opening a web browser and reading, both of which lead me to believe you are capable of thought. I challenge you to do something as well, anything that may benefit society in ways that don’t just benefit yourself.

Change something wrong, not tweak something that you can then make money off of (so many startup ideas revolve around this shallow and unimportant concept).

Startups and creativity

I saw a picture on facebook that disparaged what happened Founders Pad after UF took over the space. What only weeks before had bean bag couches, ping-pong tournaments and had a distinct lack of cubicles turned into a farm of cubicles and meeting agendas. There was quite a long thread that all agreed that what was done was quite unfortunate and was the very opposite of what a good startup needed- the corporate culture was not conducive to the embodiment of a startup. I contend that by limiting what you think is conducive to your startup, it is not the space that limits your fledgling idea, it is your own bias.

A little history: I was once an intern for Grooveshark in the very room that is so very disconcerting. It was a full year ago, and I visited very rarely, but I have at least spend an amount of time there. After the internship at a startup incubator, I did the antithesis of what I had at GS: I wrote a resume, cover letter, applied for and eventually got a job at UF, the largest employer in Gainesville by far. This about-face has taught me a lot, and changed my opinion of a few things, one of them being that a space defines your level of creativity, collaboration, and/or ability to be productive.

Now I have a desk in an environment with a half-dozen developers and a designer. I have a workday that starts at 8am and ends at 5, and I have meetings. Lots of meetings. Yet I am able to be productive, collude with other developers, invent and innovate. I have managed to be the driving force behind the UF official app, and the continuing development of new additions to it thanks to student feedback, as well as jump into a new phonegap app with angular(amongst actual web developing).

Then I take a look at startups today, or at least the ones I can glance at here in Gainesville. My situation is the nightmare many in this society, and they have been granted full license to do as they please with the space they are provided. I see ideas half-baked, apps that are bogged down longer in a lack of bureaucracy than any project I have worked on(which is rife with paperwork), and implementations never finished, only talked about.

Naturally there are opposite anecdotes to all of this but my point remains: the space should not define the product. If I were to guess what makes a good space is not the atmosphere defined by the things, or the walls, but the people. It shouldn’t matter if you are in a cubicle farm or an ever-hip abandoned dirigible hangar if the people that you surround yourself are kind, open, honest and helpful.

That all said, I still find that most of my best development moments and breakthrough happen at a coffee shop. There must be something about the smell of beans, terrible music and the drone of a dozen conversations that shoves my brain in a higher gear.

Captivating

It is the summer in Florida and as it is known to do here in the Sunshine State, it is raining. I doubt that there has been a time in my history that I did not find the rain to be captivating, and I am so captivated now. While the droplets fall, I strip my windows of their blinds, and pry open the glass. Even with a road close by (the primary reason I am moving next month) the sound of it all is more appealing to me than I can properly register in words.

Which brings me to my point: is there a proper way to describe thoughts and emotion? If so, is there an ideal way? I am not a poet, a painter, a photographer, a dancer, or any one of a bevy of creative titles that can be used to describe a person or profession. I think that if there is a way to properly convey emotion and feeling, it would be done in one of these mediums. Surely there are examples of each of these titles where the emotion of the moment is captured entirely. Without searching too far it is easy to find such an example:

Image by Daily News Journal, Aaron Thompson, File / AP

Image by Daily News Journal, Aaron Thompson, File / AP

Without context it is easy to tell what is happening, and what has happened. A captured face, raw and with all emotion is power. But is it enough to capture the full spectrum of the events of that moment? Could the nervous agitation of the boy be missing from this portrayal? Or, could there be a soft hum of a trumpet playing taps be missing from this photo?

I don’t know. What I can know can be seen in this two dimensional portrayal of a boy and his grief. Such a powerful moment, but there might be much more I can never know. I would wager that I am missing much of this event, and I don’t think there is anything(short of a mind-meld) that would bring me such understanding. I can empathize with this child, but I will never be able to fully live in this moment with him.

So then if there is no method to capture a true moment, should we even try? Should I be content with looking at a Picasso’s “Weeping Woman”, and seeing all the conveyable sadness that he was attempting to portray? I m under the personal impression that regardless of mastery and skill we can never truly express we as humans are feeling. What we can convey is shallow compered to the full breadth of what we are feeling and experiencing.

Or I lack the mental capacity to truly immerse myself in the creators’ experience. Perhaps a canvas and paint is more than capable of translating expression. Unfortunately I cannot test this idea- I am not capable of translating my emotions entirely because of my ineptitude with any number of medias. It doesn’t stop me from trying:

With unknown care or grace droplets fall,
padding down on green and black alike.
Prisms wobble and refract,
collect and disperse.
A thick golden beam slices through the canopy, as fat an thick as the rain that spits thought its path.
Golden light and spheres of none but all,
through benign power.
A bluster comes to the act,
Pushing and pulling tree and bead in kind.
The swirling vortex of dry and wet, all only known by the grace a lighting blaze.

If it wasn’t apparent (because of my inability), above is my attempt to catalogue an event that maintained my focus for no short length of time.

Temple of the universe.

I went to what is called the “temple of the universe” yesterday night. Before I continue forward, I feel compelled to mention that my next entries will not chronicle my descent into a cult, regardless of what images the name “temple of the universe”, or the fact that I willingly went to it of my own free will may procure. No, I went because I am willing to listen to ideas, as long as I am provided the option to come  to my own conclusions. I don’t think that is what I found while after Mickey Singer spoke for over an hour.

The first thing you may notice when you search that name is the website of the “temple”. The second is probably and article about how his company defrauded investors. I will ignore this part of his character, as I cannot speak to it any more than you can read about it. Rather I can speak to my understanding of what he mentioned last night.

What I took from his hour was inconclusive. If I could distill what he said it he mentioned there is no good or bad: those are our concepts of reality, a reality that we cannot change. The concept of dharma was mentioned. All of what he mentioned made me think, but he drew conclusions from what he mentioned and eluded that he knew the truth of the matter. This was one of my two points of contention.

The other was because I was not presented enough information to come to my own conclusion. He had the power to come to conclusions because he had the knowledge, experience, or something that I can not presently quantify(if such a thing exists). If I wanted to understand that conclusion, I would have to attend again to hear more of his knowledge. If I were a cynic (which by the wikipedia definition I just may be) I would say that this was breeding a dependency.

Still, what he mentioned wasn’t outwardly idiotic. It was reasoned, and was at times based on popular scientific understanding of the universe. Despite what you may have taken from my rambles, I do not judge what I heard as anything but inconclusive. I was not presented with enough information to draw the same conclusions that he did so I cannot dispute or accept any finality.

Mickey speaks of zen, bhuddism, yoga, religion, god, spirituality, amongst much else. I see seeking knowledge and understanding as(which all of these things attempt to do) as a positive thing. However, I am a quantitative thing: I need to be able to test a hypothesis, and make sure it stands up to all scientific rigor.

Also on an only slightly related note, a slim pillow on the floor  as a seat is not confortable for any extended amount of time.

What the hell, guys?

I spent a few hours in a library yesterday. I generally find that these palaces of paper, these bulwarks of bindings are a wonderful place to spend some free time. I sat in a chair as I did some work (being int he same room as a hundred thousand books is enough to draw my wonder) as hundreds of college students were studying for upcoming tests, reading or listening to lectures, or finishing assignments due in scant few hours.

What I first noticed was the noise. I have been in a few server rooms in my few years associated with technology, and when my music stopped playing for a moment, or when my companion inquired about whatever her mind wandered to I was struck with a noise that rivaled the hum of a room full of racks of servers, and the massive turbines that cool them. It was horrific. I was told that this was only indicative of the first two floors of this library, but even that I couldn’t readily accept. There was a time when I was chastised for getting too excited about a book, or walking too quickly over the creaking floors of the small North Bennington library. Somehow, people were studying in this racket.

But once I manage to hurdle over this observation, I found myself smacked in the face with another: there were no guys in the library. I did a quick count from my chair and found that out of the 68 people that were within my field of vision, there were only 16 males including myself. Less than a quarter of the rooms’ occupants were of the genetically masculine nature. I can add some leniency to my figures, and I can perhaps assume that this sort of place is outside of the norm for guys, and maybe assume that they spend their study time away from this library. Maybe if I went to another library on campus I would have found that the figures were reversed.

My evidence my be anecdotal, but there is plenty of evidence that is not. Males are now the minority in college, and the trend continues higher degrees are attained. Perhaps I can understand- I was not the best student by any stretch of the imagination, and I cannot reasonably remember going to the library to study while I was FSU. I only visited the USF library a handful of times, and each time is was appalled by how loud the study areas were. Regardless, I had still assumed that the numbers wouldn’t be so obvious.

So, what the hell. Guys, let’s not rest on our laurels.