Archive for December 2014

There’s a reason for this…

December 31, 2014

I’ve been lucky.

During the course of the past decade, I’ve had the good fortune to share a meal with some remarkable people – individuals with elastic minds, a generosity of spirit/purpose, and exceptional capacity for that high art of inspirational conversation – and a recent lunch with one of my colleagues at Cisco (Gordon Feller) is the most recent example, one that merits respectful mention for the implicit challenge it has inspired.  We covered many topics that day at Overlands in San Francisco (Smart Cities, the Internet of Everything, the future of the network as evidence of de Chardin’s Noosphere).

While pondering the dessert menu, Gordon asked about my path from a Liberal Arts background and a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing that led to a 25-year career in Silicon Valley.

My answer: I learned quite early that writing exceptional software code was not unlike writing an exceptional paragraph, that many of the same rules apply – words as objects, sentences as statements, the many hours of thinking and muttering that can lead to one clarified moment of sequential beauty – and that is when my new friend Gordon said, “That’s the stuff of a good TED talk, don’t you think?”

Crossing the rope-bridge between disciplines (the equation of a poem, storytelling as scientific inquiry) has been a guiding precept for many of these blog entries, based upon the prime theorem that we mirror ourselves in the systems we build.  For those who don’t have the time to locate and read my book, allow this image as summary.

There is a reason for this:

Reason4This We construct our world  in similar ways, we navigate between those structures in similar manner, with analogous challenges presented by traffic flow, commercial exchange, power consumption, and an ever-burgeoning need for additional storage in our neighborhoods and in our compute environments.  We are nodes on our networks at both the physical and digital level, and we are relentlessly revising our legacy architectures to accommodate the new and evermore sophisticated risks to our physical and digital security without excessively compromising our freedom to move from place to place.

And yet, we impose constraints upon ourselves at every turn, in part because of hubris: semi-conductor designers can’t imagine that urban planners might have something to contribute to the power distribution discussion, just as most software programmers would scoff at any advice from an English Ph.D, despite that writer’s ability to diagram the most daunting sentence (think Faulkner or Proust).  We are losing our appreciation for inter-disciplinary wisdom with each advance in technology, losing our appreciation for the contributions to social progress by the Humanities.  The unfortunate side-effect is a condescension in need of repair, because hubris kills innovation..

What’s needed is a simple set of rules to counteract the side-effect while nurturing inter-disciplinary collaboration.

Now, there’s the stuff for a TED talk, don’t you think?