Balanced Technological Development

My wife and I went to The Seagull performed at the Royal Court Theater near Sloane Square last night- great show by the way.  In fact, it was the first time I really wanted to talk about a theater performance afterwards, but that’s a tangential topic to the thought at hand.  In the Tube on the way there, a thought hit me regarding balanced technological growth and development.  I think there is something fundamental to be found in it.

Imagine the critique of a city slicker who may know all the best restaurants in town, and is a pro with his iPod, but if he finds himself out in the wilderness without electricity he’s utterly lost.  He has no clue what to do.  All his skills and interests are completely non-applicable in the wilderness/survival situation.  Now, imagine if someon developed some insane EMP device that effectively knocks out all electronic equipment.  The tempatation is the say that we’d all be screwed because since the development of electricity and computers, we’ve largely lost our collective survival knowledge.

However, we all know someone who gets a kick out of survival knowledge and what to do in an emergency.  In such an emergency that person’s survival skills would be quite relevant, though outside of that emergency his skills would be, well, as useless as the programming skills of an uber geek in a no-computer world.

In each person’s case- the survivalist and the uber geek- his or her skills have been developed because that’s what interests them, what they are passionate about.

I think everyone has a limited supply of “brain processing power”, as it were, specifically referring to one’s ability to “juggle” only a limited number of bodies of knowledge.  A good portion of this capacity is taken up by basic day-to-day existence- eating, drinking, sleeping, dressing, bills, etc.  The remaining capacity is then available for one’s interests and what amount to hobbies.  I think it’s this remaining capacity that allows us to differentiate ourselves from others.  Interestingly, given each person has a desire to be unique, this would imply in a sufficient population size, any body of knowledge will have at least one person interested in it.  Of course, cultural issues like taboos can screw this distribution, which would suggest some interesting lines of sociological study.

About cultural issues messing up the even distribution of a population’s knowledge, that’s exactly the point.  If we do anything but simply let people follow their interests and passions, we end up with holes in the collective knowledge base.  If we “encourage <insert topic> development” there will be some people who will spend their time in that direction who are really more interested in some other topic.  If we institute social programs to influence behavior, then there will be people who will spend their time doing things they are not as passionate about as they would be for something else.  And, since the best discoveries and contributions typically come from people who are immensely passionate for whatever it is they were doing at the time of the discovery, then there will be less discovery and development precisely because there are fewer people doing what they are immensely passionate for.

This all hinges on the notion that a person gets the most accomplished when they are working in an area about which they are very interested and passionate.  Going by Strengths Theory from Donald O. Clifton, a person’s passions will likely entail a physiological “brain wiring” optimization for that specific passion.  As a person’s brain develops, it consolidates information processing into a smaller and smaller set of neural pathway “T1 lines”, if you will, until there are somewhere around 5 of them that are used most often for moment-to-moment processing.  Clifton calls these “strengths” or “innate talents”, and their development is largely determined by negation- things like bad experiences, thoughts of “I don’t want to be like that”, etc.  These optimized neural pathways are the easiest routes through which that person’s brain can process information.  “Doing life” according to these strengths implies either less mental effort to get through the day or getting more done during the day.

Tying back into the balanced tech. development thing, with our strengths and interests being [largely] determined by what we don’t want, we are virtually guaranteed that there is at least one person out there who knows what is criticial given any significant setback.  Also, since many of the greatest advances are made when advanced knowldege in differing fields is synthesized, we should be encouraging every individual to follow their true interests and passions because the more people we have doing things they are truly excited about the more bodies of knowledge will be growing faster, and in the end the more huge discoveries we will see.

The kicker though is that we can’t mess with people’s interests.  If we do, by way of wars, social programs, and even national technological initiatives, we will simply be making an off-balance technological advance front.  In the end, the overall progress will be slower than if we had just left it alone.  Interestingly, this would judge the 60s Apollo program to have caused more harm than good, but since the Cold War was its impetus and the Cold War was more influential on social development, one’s critic of the Apollo program would have to be significantly tempered.

Of course, the “follow your passions” call must be accompanied by “don’t be a jerk” and “don’t hurt others”.

This is getting too long.  I’m sure I’ll write more about it some day.  I’d be interested in what anybody thinks.

HDD Crash… whee

I got up this morning to discover my hard drive had crashed, complete with that pleasant clicking noise.  I’m sure I lost a number of things, and I’m sure I will be wracked with regret at having not set up more backup processes.  I had not thought to back up the scripts I had been working on as part of the creature populations project, so I’ve experienced a bit of a set back there.  Since I’m in the UK and I am not keen on spending 35% extra for a replacement hard drive, I’m going to have to wait a bit for a friend to bring one from the States.  He just so happens to be coming out for a visit this weekend.  Or, maybe I’ll locate something here in the mean time.  Likely I’ll just get one here.  I’m impatient like that

Anyways, backup your stuff.  If you have a web hosting plan that allows for more storage space than you strictly need for a web site, I’d recommend SyncBack.  It’s a great program that will back up and synchronize in all kinds of ways.  I had several profiles set up to do daily backups to an FTP server.  I didn’t, however, have profiles set up for all the things I really should have.  To think how simple it was to do and I didn’t do it.  But alas, such is life, and at worst it’s just money lost and time spent.  I can guarantee you I will be a pro at data backup now.  Well, if not operating at a professional level at least I’ll do it 😉

update:  This is odd.  After looking around online for replacement hard drives, I decided to put this one back in and try it out- just for the heck of it.  And it worked.  Why, I don’t know.  It was making clicking and kachunk noises as the message “could not locate boot disk” showed up on the screen.  I don’t get it, but a few checkdisk programs didn’t even find any problems.  Whatever the case, I’m ordering a new one, but I’m counting my blessings.  And yes, I’ve backed up everything important and with SyncBackI’ve set up automated backups of the most important.

Elegant Solutions

Juice Analytics posted a synopsis of an article  on “Elegant Solutions” from the Change This web site.  Here’s a quote that sums up the “elegant solution” ideal:

Elegant solutions avoid the traps of: 1) Swinging for the fences; 2) Getting too clever — i.e. too many bells and whistles; 3) Solving problems frivolously.

…An elegant solution is one in which the optimal outcome is achieved with the minimal expenditure of effort and expense…[and is] is recognized by its juxtaposition of simplicity and power.”

It strikes me that game design, especially MMO and Virtual World design, has as its goal elegant solutions to everything.  The breakthroughs I experience in a challenging design problem are most often a result of asking things like “What are we already doing that has something to do with this system?  Can that already-existing sytem or mechanic be the solution to the problem at hand?  How can that already-existing system be extended to solve the problem at hand?  Let’s take a step back and restate what exactly we need to solve in this case.”

I think the best solutions are [nearly] categorically elegant in nature.  And besides, there’s something so very satisfying to creating an elegant solution.

First Post

I’ve tried blogging in the past, but in each case I didn’t have any kind of enthusiasm for it.  I was just trying to do what all the cool kids were doing.  I think that may have changed on this go.

About 1 month ago, after a prolonged series of “what do I want to do” crises, I finally justified to myself that enjoying life, enjoying how you spend the majority of your days or at least having a passion for the goals toward which you spend the majority of your time working, is rationally the most fundamental rule one can hold on to even in the midst of absolute uncertainty about anything and everything else.  Inherent in the “enjoy life” rule is a compatibility with every school of thought that I am aware of, whether it be religious, atheistic, economic, etc.  I suppose you have to add in there a certain awareness that ”long-term” enjoyment will generally yield better results than “short term” enjoyment.

I think the tipping point, as it were, came when I read “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, and incidentally, I think everyone should read this in high school.  The premise is that we tend to describe ourselves in terms of negations and abnormalities:  “I’m not good at sports.”  “That person is agoraphobic.”  “I have a problem with math.”  As a result of this negative-based vocabulary, in general we have developed an ability for astute identification of weaknesses, and that skill, combined with the ideal of the “Renaissance Man”, brings us to focus on our weaknesses and how to improve them.  The problem with this “weakness-fixing” is that we tend to ignore our strengths.  The theory goes that by the time you’re around 16 your brain has largely “wired” itself, and as part of that “wiring” process it has pared down the diversity of neural pathways to a handful of primary ones, around 5.  Those primary neural pathways entail the easiest and quickest ways your brain can process information, implying that when presented with information that needs processing your brain tends to send it down one of those 5 processing pipelines.  Combined with the fact that endorphines are released when neural connections are executed, use of these pipelines allows for quite a lot of “feeling good”.  In short, the book says each of us has around 5 of the roughly 34 known “innate talents”, and instead of trying to develop new ones, which physiologically won’t happen after your brain has finished “wiring” itself, we need to identify these innate talents and play to those strengths.  Then, you can take their “Strengths Finder” test that will help you identify your specific set of strengths.

All that to say I finally have a good reason to fully embrace design.  It’s something I have tended towards since I was quite little, but until now I have resisted it out of some misguided sense that I should keep “improving my weaknesses”.  Specifically, I’m into virtual world design.  The context within which players exist inside an MMORPG.  And I’m not talking about cursory ideas, I want to dig deep, considering every possible angle on how to appropriately simulate reality.