“My worrying, for instance, was a scene in which I looked at myself while I had the sensation of being boxed in. I call that worrying, It has happened to me a number of times after that first time.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Designing an Engine

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This post is also dedicated to Mark and the guys at Diaspora

When I was working as a software designer – we would sometimes run into clients that would ask for a “per-screen” quote. My partner would then answer that we aren’t Samsung – we don’t manufacture screens. Usually when people, especially developers, hear “design” they think about screens, graphics, usability, user experience. While all these are a part of design they don’t touch on the most important part of design (which also happens to be the part I do best and love doing). This post may hopefully shine some light on what that is.

If you’re a developer (especially an open-source developer), you’re reading this and you haven’t yet read “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum” then get the book now. It’s easy & fun to read, and may open up new avenues of thought for you. If you were to read only one book on software design – this should be the book!

Update: I came across a comprehensive preview of the book.

Here’s a quote of one relevant paragraph:

“It might be counter-intuitive in our feature-conscious world, but you simply cannot achieve your goals by using features lists as a problem solving tool. It’s quite possible to satisfy every feature on the list and still hatch a catastrophe. Interaction designer Scott McGregor uses a delightful test in his classes to prove this point. He describes a product with a list of features, asking his class to write down what the product is as soon as they can guess. He begins with 1) internal combustion engine; 2) four wheels with rubber tires; 3) a transmission connecting the engine to the drive wheels; 4) engine and transmission mounted on a metal chassis; 5) a steering wheel. By this time every student will have written down his or her positive identification of the product as an automobile, whereupon Scott ceases using features to descibe the product and instead mentions a couple of user goals: 6) cuts grass quickly and easily; 7) comfortable to sit on. From the five feature clues not one student will have written down ‘riding lawnmower’. You can see how much more descriptive goals are then features”

I am guessing the guys at Diaspora are going to start by building an engine. The question is do they know what kind? For a private car? jet airplane? semi-truck? tractor? generator? Or something else altogether? They’re all “engines” – but they have different purposes and different qualities designed to fulfill their purposes.

How can you know you are heading in the direction you want to go? What do you do to stay on course when you reach an obstacle that forces you to take a detour? You need a lighthouse or a north star – something that calls to you, something that shimmers for you in the dark, something you can look to, something you can aspire to.

You may get there and rejoice. You may get there and realize you really wanted to go somewhere else. You may only get close and realize that is enough for you. You may have to move away from it in order to get closer to it. You may find new places on the way. You may lose interest and decide to go somewhere else. All these movements gain a coherent and supportive context when you have an anchor, something steady to which you can relate, something that can be perceived as getting further or nearer.

Initially WordPress had this going for it big-time. It’s north star was “blogging” – that idea kept driving it forward until it pretty much realized it. Then it reached for “CMS” and is realizing that too. Now it seems kind of lost as if it’s not going anywhere, it feels like it doesn’t know where it’s heading. WordPress is stuck on asking people “What do you do with WordPress – CMS or Blogging?”… and it gets a pretty even 50/50 result. Instead it shoulding be asking “Where do we go from here?” – otherwise it may continue to move around making at best small improvements to what already works.

You may also want to read: [Design]ating Purpose

Posted in Open Source, outside, Wordpress | You are welcome to read 2 comments and to add yours

Melange

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In Frank Herbert’s “Dune” world there is a substance called “melange” or “spice”. It is said to have life-extending and consciousness-expanding qualities upon which most of the foundations of humanity’s existence depend. As a result it is also the most powerful currency in his universe.

This morning I came across this quote from the “Children of Dune” and as I read it I made two replacements: (1) I replaced “melange/spice” with money ; (2) I replaced “God” with good.

“It is commonly reported … that there exists great natural virtue in the melange money experience. Perhaps this is true. There remains within me, however, profound doubts that every use of melange money always brings virtue. Meseems hat certain persons have corrupted the use of melange money in defiance of God Good… they have disfigured the soul. They skim the surface of melange money and believe thereby to attain grace. They deride their fellows, do great harm to godlinnes goodliness, and they distort the meaning of abundant gift maliciously, surely a mutilation beyond the power of man to restore. To be truly at one with the virtue of spice money, uncorrupted in all ways, full of goodly humor, a man must permit his deeds and his words to agree. When your actions describe a system of evil consequences, you should be judged by those consequences and not by your explanations.”

Posted in AltEco, outside | You are welcome to add your comment

Depression, Suicide, Freedom

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Depression

When the perceived world becomes to ominous for an individual to bare – depression is a popular solution that appears. Depression is sophisticated. It is a strategy of freedom through surrender. To the outside world it appears to be a collapse, and as such it disposes of almost all expectations. A depressed person is not expected to function and partake in the workings of the world. A depressed person is not held accountable emotionally intellectually, and even biologically (sustaining the body by eating and drinking). On the inside a depressed person is therefore free from responsibilities, even though on the outside this person may be completely dependent on others.

This internal place of freedom is a place of healing. Cumbersome chains of life are replaced by emptiness and unknown – by an opportunity for re-framing thoughts & emotions. Unfortunately it isn’t usually this idyllic because of interruptions from the outside world. Depression is frightening for observers, probably much more then it is to the depressed. Depression is not a pleasant sight, it isn’t intended to be. It doesn’t cater to outside expectations and norms – it is by it’s nature an escape from all these into a private, intimate and isolated place. It is as natural for observers to fear and misunderstand depression as it is for a depressed individual to embrace it.

When observers aren’t capable of containing their fears, they naturally act on them, they work to dispel them. Unfortunately, when it comes to depression they engage not themselves, but another, and not just any other – a depressed other, an other that is depressed because of similar previous unwanted engagements. They insist on helping, but their thoughts and actions are systemically perceived as threatening and aggressive by the depressed individual they are trying to help.

When observers are capable of containing their fears, they can create and facilitate a supportive experience. They can create a supportive, embracing, protective, light and spacious bubble in which a depressed person can rest and depression can do it’s job. They can help a natural process of healing take place. They can transform their fears into giving, understanding and love – and in doing so better themselves to.

When outside intervention interferes with depression the healing process is compromised. The process of getting better is interrupted. This is what happens with most medications for depression. Medication is easier for the observers because it reduces symptoms and promises “recovery”. Medication robs depressed people of their internal freedom. Medication is intended to pull them back into the reality they are trying to escape. As a result many people live their lives in a place of compromise, with a backdrop of depression that sometimes resurfaces, but is mostly contained & sustained. There is no way to completely uproot a inherent urge to change.

Sometimes when outside intervention interferes with depression it leads to suicide.

“The intelligence of the mind can’t think of any reason to live, but it goes on anyway because the intelligence of the cells can’t think of any reason to die.”

Robert PirsigLila: An Inquiry into Morals

Suicide

Professionals often cite (though it is rarely public knowledge) suicide as one of the leading causes of death in societies – many times outnumbering and outweighing car accident deaths, terrorism, smoking & other life-threatening illnesses. In the dominant spirit of scientific thought this gives birth to the question of what can be done about it? What can be done do battle this disease?

But what if suicide is not an individual illness but an illness of society itself? A society in which so many individuals are choosing an extreme and deadly change needs to ask itself (if such a thing is possible) what are we doing wrong? How can we get better? What is it about our society that makes so many individuals prefer an unknown death over a known life? What is it about our society that makes it so difficult to even admit that we may be having a problem – that we don’t even dare talking about it?

People & societies are strongly affected by the adversities they meet and how they meet them. Terrorism is a prominant example of a force that shapes our lives – it fosters in us fear and violence. What would happen to our societies if we were to acknowledge and allow suicide to affect us? People who wield swords against a society need to be met with violence – hence violence manifests. People who shy away from society need to be met with love – is it not therefore reasonable to expect love to manifest?

Freedom

When depression calls out to you there is very little you can do to resist it. Once inside it is an amazingly peaceful and addictive experience – you really don’t want out. If you follow it through you will change. It is a liberating presence that takes you away from everything you know & despise to something that is unknown & unpredictable. Depression is a process of creating new life – a kind of rebirth.

The pursuit of creativity, inspiration, personal expression  & freedom is a sign of our times. It indicates that something is missing. People are looking for magical keys that will open magical doors to magical realms. What if for many people depression is/was their doorway & opportunity to this elusive salvation? What if they had been given the opportunity to go through it – would they have found what they are looking for? What if depression is another example of blindness to what is right before our eyes? What if depression is another example of a miraculous natural phenomenon we discard and trample because we don’t understand it?

It is naive to expect a life transforming experience to be a pleasant session of sitting in a group of people in a circle, all dressed in white, holding hands thinking positive thoughts decorated with tears of joy. Life transformation is a difficult and painful process of letting go of superficially comforting and familiar patterns and standing naked before the unknown. Depression is not a disease. Depression is a natural sedative that makes it sanely possible to enter an insanely terrifying change.

Posted in Expanding, inside, Quality | You are welcome to read 8 comments and to add yours

Spirituality

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Spirituality is my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. It is the way I am. It is about asking and challenging my own perceptions of what better is and then moving in that direction. It is about engaging life with a sense of purpose. It is about being clear with my intentions. I can now acknowledge that I have gravitated in this direction almost all of my conscious life. But only during the last 10+ years have I become aware of it.

I now feel like I am riding one of those trains that can’t be stopped – there’s no going back, only moving forward. It is with this awareness that I meet everything I do. I am still very protective of this quality. It is, ironically, one of the only things left that can make me aggressive and violent. I have very little tolerance to what I perceive to be spiritual compromise. It is also therefore the source of my greatest frictions. I believe it to be the reason I now live in what seems like a growing (or shrinking) isolation.

I teach Yoga rarely because I am uninterested in the “popular & entertaining” qualities expected of it. My teachers have taught me to teach with a quality of “Give them what they you want so you can give them what you want”. I can do that, but only to a limited degree. I can be creative in tailoring tools and practices to meet individual needs (in one case I’ve even had to prohibit a student from actually doing Yoga in order to make a space for it). It is very difficult for me to teach generic/weekly Yoga classes for people who want to feel good about themselves by associating with Yoga superficially. There are plenty of teachers who do that, so I leave that to them.

Another, less obvious, example is creating websites – I don’t do much of that either. On a rare occasion that I do it is a wonderful process. For me it is very similar to teaching Yoga where instead of asana, breathing and meditation there is personal expression & discovery through writing. I have very little interest and patience for superficial aspects of “designing a website” – which is where most people get caught up. While I do appreciate good great design, it is, in my eyes, an empty & false shell unless it is anchored in a deeper sense of personal purpose & communication … or at least a craving for one.

My spirituality paints/taints everything I engage. You can have a flexible body and a good looking website – I just can’t help you with that unless I sense a deeper & spiritual connection. I assume this connection is always present or close by, and I always seek it out. But many times people don’t want that – and it becomes a source of friction. “Just make it look nice” they say, to which I usually reply “I wish you a pleasant and inspiring journey”.

On the face of things it seems that my spirituality has placed me in a place of separation rather than integration. This seems to be in contradiction with the spirit of Yoga, a spirit of union and integration. I can embrace the world around me as an observer, less so as a participant. My emotional body is hoping this will change. I sometimes wonder if I may be crazy? But the existence of a few rare & precious relationships in my life indicate that I am not.

Posted in Expanding, inside | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-05-09

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