Now and Then


I’m teaching myself ActionScript, a programming language used with Adobe Flash. Unless I flunk myself, the reason will appear in a post not too far into the future.

ActionScript is an object-oriented language.

OK, I know that I just ran the risk of losing 90% of you. Trust me, there’s a funny story to follow…

The term “Object Oriented” today refers to a concept in computer science where a programming language is structured so that building block “routines” written in it have very well defined and tall “walls.” For example, if you write a part of your program to, say, draw a rectangle on the screen, all the other parts of the program interact with the Rectangle Routine in very well specified ways. They don’t get to muck around with Rectangle Routine’s internal bits. They can only tell it where on the screen to draw it, it’s dimensions, color, and that’s it. Each routine is like a little castle; what goes on inside is its business.

Well, while Object Oriented Programming was around when I was working toward my computer science degree from SUNY Stony Brook. We learned about it as a theory, but I never used it. It’s application in common practice lay a dozen or so years into the future. (It took hold in the 90’s.)

But, at the significant further risk of terminally dating myself, allow me to explain that there were objects that were very much involved in my programming, back in the day.

Punchcards.018 They were called punch cards. One’s pictured right over there on the left. Real time access to a computer was a platinum-precious resource in those days. The way you typically interacted with one was to write out a program’s set of instructions, sit down at a console like the one over there on the right (that’s not me), and type out a punch4506VV4002  card for each and every line of code in your program (the more complex the program, the more cards), and then take your “stack” of cards to someone who would feed them into a machine that would present them to the computer for processing. A few hour later, you’d get a printout (on “Green Bar” paper). If something didn’t work, you’d have to figure out what was wrong, fix your program, go back and type out the new cards, insert them in the right places in your deck (their order was as important and their individual contents), and hand it over to run again. Another three hours later, you’d find out if you’d fixed the problem.

Well, as you might imagine, this was pretty tedious stuff. Especially with very large, complex programs.

I labored through much of the fall and into winter of 1977 on one such large program, a Senior Project, with success in it a requirement for graduation. The program grew large, there were many, many retries to get it just right, and my stack grew larger and larger.

By the time I finally got it all right, on a particularly cold December afternoon, my stack of cards measured somewhere around eight inches tall.

When I looked down at the Green Bar printout, and all, excepting some minor formatting issue, was as it should be, I did some 70’s version of a Tiger fist pump, and rushed out of the building to drive home.

Mazfest04_mazdarx3 Finding my Mazda RX-3 in the parking lot, I tried to open the door. No luck — dead frozen. Fortunately, this was a known problem, and I had a can of spray de-icer at hand. I put the card deck and printout on the roof, and set about gaining entry to my car.

It took awhile, maybe 10 minutes. I was freezing and it was getting toward dusk. When my key finally turned turned in the lock, I jumped into the driver’s seat, flipped the ignition and cranked up the heat.

A few minutes later, I had warmed up enough to drive. I reversed out of the parking spot, turned toward the exit, and gunned it…

…only to see each and every one of my stack of cards fluttering behind, like their accompanying snow flakes, in the rear view mirror.

Never slowed down, even a little. When you screw up, you gotta move on.

The next day, I sat for God-knows-how-many hours, retyping each and every one of those objects. I passed the course.

Saturday Morning Musings…

Saturday morning turning afternoon, Carmel Valley. I’m working on “Create Something” alternatives, against the possibility that none of the several “Run Something” opportunities I’m now pursuing mature into a good fit.

The old saw about necessity and invention is prominent in my thinking. I have the former in abundance. I’m trying to summon up the later.

In an earlier post, I commented on how the boundary area between the realms of atoms and bits is an interesting place to do business. I still very much believe that. But I also see opportunity all across the flow of digital content, by adding value as bits are captured, stored, shared, aggregated, transformed, searched, output and acted upon. I’m thinking about those in particular that are software centric (and therefor likely the basis for a business that’s not too capital-intensive) and enhance the value of data streams through re-combination and presentation in new contextual frameworks designed to provide new insights.

The developments of the past decade or so present what I believe to be unprecedented opportunities for new business formation:

The ecosystem for creation, marketing and deployment of applications is incredibly rich, across environments and platforms. Think App Store and cloud-based computing paradigms. In addition, digital content is being created, shared and consumed in prodigious volume. Recent evolution in popular culture, worldwide, has paralleled and complemented enabling technology trends. Facebook’s rise depended as much on us deciding, en mass, that we wanted to share thoughts, photos, movies, location and online discoveries with extended networks of our friends as it did on any of its technology building blocks.

Throw in a global recession and its resulting liberation of talent from previous bindings, and the picture is complete: a rich brew of components for a new enterprise.

I’m thinking about how those elements might be combined to create the basis for something interesting and valuable. Stay tuned.

Looking back to look forward…

[Skip to Abridged Version]

Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living." My take on that observation: personal development is only possible via cultivated and concious self-awareness, and that without development and growth, life's not worth much.

It seems to me that one of the most important times to look inward at yourself, and backward over your past, is when contemplating new life directions. When setting new goals, and approaches toward their attainment, it's sensible to take a look back at past accomplishments (and failures), and to learn from them…

  • What made you happy, in genuine and lasting ways?
  • Which approaches worked for you, and which didn't?
  • What was it about the best times that made them so?
  • Which of your strengths really were, and which not?
  • In which circumstances did you grow, and realize best progress toward your potential, and in which did you disappoint?

Agree? Hold that thought… while I digress:

I enjoy discovering and using well-designed software, crafted with excellence in both utility and esthetics. I recently (via a Tweet by @GTDGuy) found an application fitting that profile. It's called PersonalBrain, developed and offered by TheBrain. (I know, branding may not be their strength.) While at first look similar to a simple mind mapping program, it's much more.

I've used MindManager for years as a personal brainstorming / idea development tool. It's great for that purpose, allowing a graphical / visual form of idea organization that seems to promote different modes of thinking than if working only with text outlining — which I also use regularly. When the web of relationships between the ideas you're working with becomes very rich however, MindManager and tools like it get cluttered and cumbersome, and simple outlining just can't cope.

Not so with PersonalBrain.

Its ability to handle very large, complex, and richly interconnected idea sets is outstanding. Add in its ability to further connect to external artifacts (web sites, files on your computer, email messages to name a few), and you have one powerful tool for organizing and analyzing information.

I believe that I'll find myself using it for many tasks. The first however brings us back to the point of this post…

I noted in various references its use as a means of organizing autobiographical information (people, experiences, places, life themes, etc.). So, when I downloaded my trial version (since upgraded to full license), that seemed like a good place to put the program through its initial paces. Not only did the program pass muster with distinction, I couldn't stop building on my autobiographical map. (I guess we all find ourselves interesting!) I recalled people and events not thought about in a long time. I found connections and themes I never realized existed. I had more than a few aha(!) moments.

That's when Socrates came to mind, and how just the kind of far-ranging retrospection made possible, and indeed even fun, by PersonalBrain might help toward the personal plans I'm now exploring and developing.

Snapz Pro XScreenSnapz001 While still early days in the process, I'm finding that recalling (often for the first time in a very long while) and exploring the events, themes and story lines of my past is providing an illuminating perspective on future alternatives.

We'll see where all this leads, but so far the journey itself is proving valuable. Socrates believed that it was folly, neigh dangerous (think Icarus, Adam and the apple…), to try to achieve "ownership" over the absolute truth, but that striving toward what is true (including about oneself) is the means of achieving our humanity and its manifold promise.

Enough deep thought for today. I am in Maui after all, and this is supposed to be a vacation too. Off to the pool…

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