True Blood in 4 sentences

The episode of True Blood where Sookie is saying, SAYEM MER-LOTTE, over and over all sassy-like, while staring into Bill’s fangs-bared mouth. Bill makes the standoff romantic by saying Sookie Stah-house, Sookie Stah-house with a lot of breath. They later convert to Mormonism. Eric moves to Chelsea and is well looked after by an older gentleman.


Class 4 Cellular Automata from Stephen Wolfram


Class 4 Cellular Automata from Stephen Wolfram

Currently in the legal system there’s this myth of equality. And the assumption is if you are over 18 and you have an IQ of over 70 then all brains are created equal. And, of course, that’s a very charitable idea but it’s demonstrably false. Brains are extraordinarily different from one another. Brains are essentially like fingerprints; we’ve all got them but they’re somewhat different. And so by imagining that everyone has the exact same capacity for decision-making, for understanding future consequences, for squelching their impulsive behavior and so on, what we’re doing is we’re imagining that everybody should be treated the same. And, of course, what has happened is that our prison system has become our de facto mental health care system. Estimates are that about 30 percent of the prison population has some sort of mental illness.

Why Everyone Should Learn to Program


About a year ago I told a friend of mine that I had started to learn the Python programming language.  He asked with a raised eyebrow why it was I wanted to do this at age 34.

“Take it from me as someone in the industry,’ he said disparingly.  ’We only hire guys who know their stuff.  Python is fine, but you’ll need to know C, C++ among other things.  A couple of years of work and you’ll still only be a novice.  If you’re looking to change careers this aint the way.’

His advice is almost certainly correct from the point of view of trying to get a job as a programmer.  It highlights nicely the perception most people have of programming.  It’s a career path.  It’s something you do to earn a living.  It’s something you specialise in – or you don’t do it.

This perception is so widespread and ingrained in our culture that it defines just about all our institutionalised work place structures.  A company will either buy its software, or if it’s in need of specialised software to automate particular processes, then it will high a specialist to create that software.  None of the other employees will be expected to know how to program.  It is the cultural default that an employee is expected to passively receive the interfaces with which she must interact on a day to day basis.

But this is our cultural reality not just in our work lives, but in all facets of our lives.  We passively receive ALL the various interfaces that we deploy to manipulate our environment:  the stove top you use to cook your food, the knife you use to cut your meat, the piano on which you play your music, the steering wheel you use to drive your car.

Just think about that for a moment and let it sink in.  EVERY interface you employ on a day to day basis is likely created by someone else.  And since our own creativity is necessarily constrained by the various interfaces we employ then an absolutely crucial dimension of creativity is denied to us.

This fact of our existence enslaves us to reality in a way that most people are completely unaware of until they are shown how they can break free.

Approaching work with the use of automation and APIs subverts an established paradigm of modern work - that we need to rely on others to free us from the tedious processes that constrain us. But we don’t.   It’s this possibility that should be blowing your mind right now – if programming is something new to you.  If you use a computer in your day to day work – it’s very likely that your processes have developed to a point where they could benefit from some degree of automation.  And the only person really qualified to provide that automation ultimately will be you and YOU alone – because you may well be the only person who knows the process.

Blocking you from pursuing this course of action is your belief that learning to code is a massive investment of time that defeats the reward on investment.  This may have been true once.   When there were only lower level languages to use, there was a great deal of complex manual work that higher level languages have now automated.  What’s more, due to the wonders of open source – there is a practical infinity of libraries that further automate much of the grind work in programming.  Such are the virtues of Python and many other scripting languages.  In learning to program, your access to the varying kinds of interfaces out there increases beyond imagination, as well as giving you the power to craft your own.

In my own case, within three months of learning python part time I had enough knowledge to perform the sorts of tasks I described above.  I’m not an expert in the language.  I’m not an expert in programming – far from it.  But I don’t need to be for it to make a material difference in the quality of my existence.  I will likely never get a job as a programmer.  But that was never the aim.  It was never about being able to build interfaces for other people in a contractual fashion (i’ll be happy to do it in an open source context, however) – it was about building interfaces for ME.

Given the relative ease in learning the basics of programming in scripting languages like Python, the time has come to challenge the assumption that programming is a specialisation.  If you need an analogy:  is learning to read and write in a spoken language like English – a specialisation?  No, it’s a fundamental tool needed to navigate your contemporary existence.  It’s easy enough to learn that you devote some of your early years to the task – and then it stays with you for life.  You could go on to specialise in language use.  Maybe you’ll go on to become a writer.  But you don’t need to specialise for your language skills to provide you with an incredible level of life-improvement.  Well – so to with programming.

What’s more – I now feel cured of an affliction I never realised I had.  If I had to name this affliction, I’d call it –defaultism.  Always did I just default to the way of things as it was handed to me.  Now I look at every aspect of my life with a hacker’s eye.  How can I free myself of this task? – is the question now at the forefront of my mind at all times.  There is no need to throw out every interface with which we are presented.  If it fits our needs and desires then fine.  But how often do you subvert your own desires and needs because of the constraints imposed by the limitations of the interfaces with which you have been bequeathed?

I look at the world around me and feel almost disgusted by the entrenched defaultism that I see everywhere.  For instance, when the internet came along there was a sense of liberation from the passivity of watching television.  We learnt to talk back.  We learnt to create our own blogs and express ourselves as opposed to merely imbibing the thoughts of others in a mass daily dose of benign hypnosis.  Clay Shirky informed us about the great cognitive surplus that would result from being so freed. And yet here we all are – facebook members all – allowing one site to define the structure of our social relationships.  Yes we can comment.  Yes we can poke.  It’s more than television allowed.  But it’s the whole world still watching one tube, one interface – just as it was before.  As always we accept the tools on offer without ever questioning whether or not our desires and needs extend beyond it.

Many of you can’t imagine this because you’ve never had the experience of having your desires open out in the sort of way I mean.  The way the interfaces with which you interact constrain your awareness of those desires, because as far as you are concened – they exist outside the realm of imaginability.

My favourite example of this was when I showed one of my work mates a simple bit of javascript that could be used to extend the functionality of a particular google docs document that we were using.  Her reaction was along the lines of:

‘OMG  That’s AWESOME – I want to learn to code!”

And she felt this way because she had been given a glimpse of the way possibilities expand when freed from the constraints of the default interface.  Her immediate reaction was:  ”I WANT THIS”.  Hence her desires opened outward in a way that was scarcely conceivable to her before.  In this way does learning to code literally change your life.  It frees you from the defaultism you likely never even knew you had.

Imagine applying this perspective to the interfaces like Facebook which currently define many of your social relationships.  Imagine having the desires to reshape these experiences in a variety of new dimensions.  Imagine meeting people with similar desires.  Imagine the creativity you could bring to bear in the development and progression of those relationships.  The default processes of ‘friendship’ would become positively depressing to you.  You’d see your former life as a barren, grey void of routine and habituation.

Learning to code is about the best antidote to the defaultism of our modern age I can imagine.  It’s time it became a fundamental pillar of our cultural lives.  For most of those in the hacker community – such sentiments I think will be old hat.  But the hacker community remains relatively insular.  It needs to learn to engage more outwardly.   The hacker sensibility needs to spread beyond its elite origins and mainstream.  Many won’t like that idea – because it will muddy the ease of self-identification that hackers currently enjoy.  But the value to the world at large will be immense – so it needs to happen.

Hopefully it will.