Unprize.

Prize FactoryThey told me that I had to play their game to win prizes that they placed on pedestals as bait to go down beaten paths, but their paths held no interest for me. The prizes were as distant as my concern for their paths, and so I chose the paths as prizes.

They measure you. Today, someone seeing me clad in a uniform that they wear, asked me what I do – a trap of evaluation, of how much respect should be given, for anyone can wear the sad uniform of slacks and dress shoes and a nice shirt. Anyone can get a suit and parade themselves as someone who has attained something, wearing the apparel as a token of achievement, while I wear it as a matter of pragmatism, uneasy in this clothing, trapped within a uniform that does not define me.

The respect for position means nothing to me. The respect for appearance means nothing to me. Having things they consider nice means nothing to me.

220/365 - October 25, 2008To them, I am strange – a creature that they cannot define in a world that they always had defined for them, a matter of convenience, a path to follow to get prizes – and for their efforts, they get prizes. I have something that they consider a prize and they wonder the path I got there by and they have no frame of reference for a neo-generalist life.

To explain to them would cause them to question their own lives, and no one who has set out to win those prizes by beating those paths wishes to question their own lives.

I’m an aberration to them, the asynchronous life finally having reaped things that allow me to move forward.

I am not what I have done, I am not what I do, I am what will be done.

The stuffed animal is a landmark, not something to hit other people with.

Fragments.

Plant in dried cracked mud

…These fragments I have shored against my ruins…
T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

There are times in life when things shift from clarity to murk, where everything shifts based on new knowledge, new experiences, and value shifts.

Things considered losses in the past can easily become successes, and vice versa – assuming, of course, that the losses gave us new insight and knowledge, fragments of a reality that we all attempt to sew together in some semblance of a reality that we can be on terms with. The path seems never-ending.

When we are younger, we have less of life to re-evaluate with these changes in how we perceive the world, and how we perceive ourselves in it.

As we grow older, it becomes more and more difficult to re-evaluate our body of Life as we move forward. Some harden themselves against change, like a developing nation hiding behind bureaucracy to isolate itself from monumental changes in the hope that it will all just go away – a collective head in the sand. It’s unlikely that the sand around us will change, but the body remains subject to a world of accelerated change.

The world does not go away. In a stream of falling stones, some of us make the effort to push upward in the hope we will find solid footing, constantly looking for a perch even as we scramble to find purchase. At times we run into Others who help or hurt us, defining how we act toward Others in the future. So many groups seek to move forward by standing on the others below them, the concept of hierarchy as old as mankind itself.

Few look to pull each other up; trust is hard to come by, a currency of value that is best not spent.

Sometimes we find a perch and look down where we once were, shouting advice downward, perhaps guiding, perhaps hindering. Rarely do those on a perch look up to find the next paths, tired, exhausted from getting to that perch, they need time to rest and find solace in trying to guide others on their own paths to a perch that may not be theirs… because in all of this, we do not see the perches to the sides of us, perhaps hidden, perhaps because who we are blinds us to them.

Perches are not permanent. Falling fragments of life are permanent in their movement alone.

We cannot build on the fragments, they are only temporary places to be.

Divali/Eid/Christmas From An Atheist Perspective

DiwaliPeople are wishing each other a Happy Divali today, just as others wish others a Merry Christmas or a Happy Eid on other days. There are other religions I have missed, and I apologize, but I’m no expert on any of these things..

All of these religious observations are focused on being the best self you can be. Underneath all of these religious observations are fundamentals of good triumphing over evil, and that would be pretty subjective if it weren’t how people implement them through religion.

Being nice to other people is generally a good idea – but how we’re nice to people varies. On days like this, people open their doors to friends, family and even strangers and share their food, space and even gifts.  Some people use it as a time to demonstrate how successful they are, as you find in any religion, and still others try to out-devout everyone else – again, just as you find in any religion.

It’s the rare person with pure intent. It’s the rare person who is that light in the darkness, even on the most brightly lit of deepest darkness.

We are all selfish, flawed creatures – some say we’re all sinners, and though the nomenclature is different the philosophical meaning is the same. We get caught up in our lives, doing the best we can within the confines of the prisons of our lives, and even with the best of intentions we’re imperfect.

There’s a part of me that wonders why people don’t strive to be the best that they can every day, and questions the need for such religious observations. There is another part of me that understands the need to pause and have some introspection on such things, which I believe the religious observations are truly supposed to be about.

So, to those going through their introspection on your religious observation, considering how to be better versions of yourself, refilling your cup with that which you think is good – I sincerely and without reservation, wish you the best, be it Divali, be it whatever your observation is.

For the rest of you – enjoy your day off. Try not to be too loud or make too much of a mess.

Blind

BlindedWherever I worked, I usually tested the hierarchy’s patience with my ‘going out of scope’. It started in secondary school, actually – I remember the day – when I had gone off wandering outside of the Chemistry curriculum (but within the textbook).

I’d been doing my own notes independent of the class – things that I found interesting. I didn’t understand a curriculum. I was just having fun learning, and so I had foolishly thought that my work would be appreciated when I showed my work to the teacher.

He wasn’t impressed, particularly since I wasn’t doing too well in his class. He wanted me to focus on the curriculum – but no one had given me a curriculum, they’d given me a book. He told me I would continue to get bad grades in chemistry until I focused on the curriculum.

What we both didn’t know at the time is that I didn’t care about the grade, I cared about learning stuff. This could have been a pivotal moment for me in formal education, but it wasn’t. That would come almost 2 years later when I decided I needed to pass their tests.

Similar stories followed me throughout my careers. I was never interested in what society thought I knew, I was always interested in what I could learn. At first, there was little benefit, but later on in my careers in Medicine (USN), software engineering (all over) and writing it came in very handy because I not only knew things that others didn’t, I also didn’t think like others did.

Since I wasn’t interested in their prizes, I didn’t have to play by their rules. And since I didn’t play the ratchet game of educational landmarks, I didn’t limit myself and didn’t stop studying things after I got to a certain point. So many people languish, letting the fluid education they have become concrete, set in stone.

In solving problems, this became my greatest strength – that I was immune to siloed knowledge. It drove managers and CTOs nuts at times, having a software engineer wandering around and talking to users and people who supported software, an unheard of thing in modern software development, but well within normalcy in the elder practice. Know the users, know the uses. Know how it’s used, know how it might break.

Plan for everything.

But sometimes it doesn’t work that way.

As a software engineer, I usually found myself in trouble with management because I was always doing things ‘out of scope’. I’d wander around at times, talking to people who supported or used software I was working on for a few different reasons. At one of the last companies I worked for, I was told repeatedly that upper management saw me wandering from my desk too much.

My Director at the time thought I was unfocused, and yet every project I was given was done on time despite my wanderings outside the building or over to other departments. He wasn’t wrong, he just wasn’t right, and in retrospect I think he wrote that to pacify upper management. Either way, I didn’t really care, but saying that was a great way to make sure I got a crappy raise.  I ended up getting a crappy raise anyway, but in a way that was my fault for not negotiating harder.

What had happened was pretty straightforward. The company had some complex software systems, and when I started the then most senior software engineer was on his last week. I learned as much about the systems as I could over that week, trailing him, getting to understand the big picture of the spaghetti code that interns had written. The few with true specialized knowledge held onto it as their job security.

I learned a lot in that week, but not enough. Nobody who was interested in solving the problems actually knew anything, nothing was documented, and so I began writing things down as I had been taught as a young Software Engineer at Honeywell. Some of it was accused of being wrong by those whose job security was threatened, and my response was that they should fix the Wiki. They never did, of course.

Things changed within the company, part politics, partly near revolt in the Software Department (another article there!), and so structures that were once fluid became siloed. This isn’t as much of an issue as people might think if people actually document what they do appropriately, and it’s shared with the department overall – so there were problems that arose because the software complexity, and entropy, had gotten to critical mass – and problems arose that required someone to be outside of the silos.

At around that time, I was asked to a meeting about some issues and I stayed quiet the entire time. One of the company’s officers asked me to stay after the meeting, and my Director was there too. He asked me, “Why didn’t you say anything?”

So I explained to him that since everyone was off doing their own things, and that I had no insight into how things were actually changing in the software across multiple teams, I felt blinded. Where once I had a working knowledge of the systems, I no longer had it because I wasn’t able to see what was changing, and how it would affect the systems on a larger level.

There was a silence. Nothing changed. And after a few system screwups that brought the entire system down, caused by undocumented and sometimes ill advised changes in the code by people, including myself (mine were documented)… I gave up.

I knew we were working blind. However, people who had never peered behind their version of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave couldn’t see, and because they couldn’t see, they didn’t care.

Innovation vs. Specialization

Solutions KeyPeople look at things through their perception and what their experience have taught them.

We live in an era of specialization, where people are expected to continuously refine their skills in a smaller and smaller area of expertise. We sacrifice width for depth, thinking that more specialized knowledge will somehow allow us to innovate ourselves out of dilemmas.

Innovation typically doesn’t come from people who specialize in only one thing. For instance, the Theory of Evolution is known to have been introduced by Charles Darwin – but very few people know that without the help of James Gould, Darwin would not have found out the 13 species of bird obtained in the Galapagos Islands were related. Gould was an expert, Darwin not so much.

Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity upturned physics and the world not because he had studied Physics, but because he went beyond what was taught and came up with his own theory.

When you look at any true innovation, you’ll likely find that someone with enough knowledge of different fields came up with ideas that solved problems, be they world views in science to implementations of technology.

Unfortunately, there is no direct reward for that.

Divides.

DivisionIt was the first day of the flooding in parts of Trinidad and Tobago. I had been keeping up to date on things as best I could since I no longer have the 4×4 to roll in with. It was really bad in some areas, so I went out to handle some errands close to home and get back so I wouldn’t be unnecessarily on the road.

I stopped at the local Starbucks, walking in on a scene of some children at the register looking awkward.  Suddenly, a woman rushes in front of me, flustered, handing over some cash and complaining about her bank loudly. That her bank had sent out a notice earlier through social media that their network was out of service because of the flooding hadn’t made it into her busy life.

She was embarrassed and inconvenienced because her card didn’t work. She continued complaining about the bank to the point where it was interfering with me moving on with my life, so I gently made my presence known by waving my cash toward the register. She moved on with her children, awaiting their drinks.

Meanwhile, not far away, people had slept on the roofs of flooded homes. Not far away, people had lost the things that they had worked hard to get. Supplies were just beginning to get in from people not unlike her, though perhaps squawking less.

A snap judgement would have defined her as someone divorced of the reality of the flooding, but that would have dismissed the children in uniforms. I could question why schoolchildren needed Starbucks coffee, but I would be creating a prejudice from one data point – which is wrong. Maybe the woman had a hard morning. Maybe things weren’t going well, maybe the kids didn’t get breakfast. Maybe she was worried about something.

To many people there, that snap judgement would stick, perhaps unfairly, creating a division where there might not be one. Or maybe there is.

The moment sticks. We need to remember the power of moments.

Finally, The Right Entertainer.

A memory has haunted me for years, coming back to me now and then.  I was a toddler, alone – I know this because the light blue kitchen was enormous for me, and it took great effort for me to climb up onto the counter. I simply had to get closer to this song as it played.

It was this exact rendition of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” playing on the radio – which I just found. It’s a joyful memory. I laid my head against that old mono-speaker radio, delighted at the sound, with no care in the world.

For years, I found various renditions that could have played on the radio during that period. It wasn’t any of them – you can tell if you listen carefully.

But this was it, I found it 46 years later thanks to that memory, YouTube, Wikipedia, and a lot of trying to figure out exactly where I was when it happened.

And now I know.

Finally.