“Sorcerers are convinced that all of us are a bunch of nincompoops. We can never relinquish our crummy control voluntarily, thus we have to be tricked.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Justin Searls: How to Program


I enjoyed this talk by Justin Searls who highlights what should be an obvious subject (for anyone who programs). There is a gap between knowing the semantics of a programming environment and being able to program with it to create something useful. Justin sheds some interesting light on this fundamental subject.

Though I still live in my intimate bubble with software at my fingertips, I am no longer actively involved in any “communal” making of software. When I do program it is because I want to do something and I have no one else who can program for me. Programming is an edgy experience for me. On one hand I appreciate the potential power of programming. On the other hand I don’t like doing it … and this talk touches on a lot of what I don’t like about it. (It is also another indicator to me that Ruby on Rails is … interesting).

How to Program from Test Double on Vimeo.

I am fresh off a year-long, focused programming effort. During this time I explored,  within my own private bubble, applying some of Christopher Alexander’s ideas about unfolding wholeness in the context of creating software. At the heart of Alexander’s view is that to achieve wholeness we need to create wholeness at every step of the way. Nature does not create separate parts which are then assembled into wholes. Am embryo in a womb is always whole, it is never in a temporary state where parts need to come together (fingers are not created and then attached to form a hand).

I found places to apply and express wholeness on many levels …  from code constructs (a single line of code, a function, a class) through to underlying processes and overall design. At every point I aspired to have something whole, sensible and working (even if not necessarily “producing tangible results”). It made me wish I’d known of these ideas when I was involved in software professionaly. I would want to explore these ideas in more depth and in the context of collaborative work.

For me, there is a subtle fault line in Justin’s talk. I sensed it when he qualified some of his choices as “personal preference”, evoking a sense of openness and pluralism instead of asserting “rightness” or “wholeness”. Alexander offers a parallel from his world of architecture using an example of a door. If we say a door is  3 feet wide, 8 feet tall, made of wood, painted green with brass hinges … these “facts” will not be disputed. But if I say that moving the door 3 inches to the left will give the room more life, that will be written off as opinion and just a matter of taste. Alexander’s work is an attempt to show that this is an error. That there is an empirical (thought not necessarily quantifiable) truth there, as true as the “more factual” attributes. If we are to get better at making rooms (or writing code) we need to learn to see and recognize this “wholeness” so that we can get better at creating it.

I feel that unfolding wholeness can be a meta-process that can embrace Justin’s observations and give them a deeper and more profound home.


Posted in Intake, Open Source, outside, Tech Stuff | You are welcome to add your comment

Paul Krafel – The Upward Spiral


I first came across Paul Krafel in the video of a conversation between Matthew and Arthur, where they mentioned his book Seeing Nature. I paused the video and immediately ordered the book. It felt like it could be a kind of nourishing experience (that is rare and precious) like I had last year reading Christopher Alexander’s The Nature of Order.

Then in one of the online Ceptr meetings, Art mentioned a video edit. When I went searching for it I came across this TED talk:

During my recent conversation with Jarod he mentioned the book again and also pointed me to this video edit that Eric made of a movie Paul Krafel produced. The video and audio quality is poort and it takes effort to overcome it,  but it is well worth the effort of watching. It is to me a precious gift from Ceptr, following closely in the footsteps of Daniel’s Emergence talk.

The rest of this post is written with the Ceptr project in mind and heart. Two clear things emerged for me, in the context of Ceptr, from this initial exposure to the video. The first is about storytelling, the second about breathing.

Cyclic Storytelling

One of my interests in the Ceptr project is to contribute to storytelling … the membrane with which the project meets the world. For me personally, the challenge is how to share Ceptr with others. The spirit of Ceptr is rich and profound, while its current manifestation is technical and complicated. As my interest and potential for involvement with the project increase I find myself wanting to tell others about it and hitting a wall. It is difficult to communicate Ceptr. That aspect of storytelling is well-recognized in the Ceptr team.

As I was watching the video, I realized that this is a one-directional view of story-telling, from the inside out. I believe that for the story-telling to be complete and potent the other direction of flow also needs to be considered. What role does story-telling play when facing inwards? What role does storytelling play in resonating from the outside world into Ceptr? I feel at ease saying this because Ceptr is saturated in storytelling (which is one of the reasons I find it appealing).

My impression is that Ceptr itself was born this way. Ceptr is a child of MetaCurrency. Storytelling seems to have been a key element of MetaCurrency. It is through that story-telling that I discovered MetaCurrency and then Ceptr. I believe that storyelling generated feedback for the team … a storytelling from the outside in. That, in turn, led to the creation of Ceptr.

I believe that the story-telling effort can be just more than “explaining Ceptr to the world” but also about “shaping Ceptr into a story that the world can hear”. Any effort to build something within Ceptr resonates outwards through storytelling. Any effort to tell the story of Ceptr can resonate with feedback into what is being built. This feels to me like a potential spiral worth exploring

Breathing & Wholeness

As I listened to Paul Krafel’s description of the upward spiral that created the natural world, I thought about the sentience of nature and the sentience of human beings. Every water flow, evey fallen leaf, every stone, every beaver is responding to a web of forces acting on and around it and “making a choice” that reflects an integration of all those forces.

Then came to me a question I’ve lived with for some years: how can we (as human beings) learn to live, be and act in the world in this way? Our evolved consciousness can have both an upward and downward spiral effect on how we experience the world. Our evolved consciousness is more susceptible to both confusion and insight.

During my conversation with Jarod we talked about intuition. Robert Pirsig’s words created good context:

“Any person of any philosophic persuasion who sits on a hot stove will verify without any intellectual argument whatsoever that he is in an undeniably low-quality situation; that the value of his predicament is negative. This low quality is not just a vague, woolly headed crypto-religious, metaphysical abstraction. It is an experience. It is not a judgment about an experience. It is not a description of experience … The value itself is an experience … It is verifiable by anyone who cares to do so. It is reproducible. Of all experience it is the least ambiguous, least mistakable there is … Later the person may generate some oaths to describe this low value, but the value will always come first, the oaths second.”

Robert Pirsig – Lila: An Inquiry into Morals

For the last few years I’ve had the privilege of being in what I like to call my “Yogurt Practice.” My first few years living in the village were demanding and required that much be done, sometimes with urgency, to make basic living possible. After that first stretch I found myself at a doorway to a new kind of experience. I was able to ask myself “what do you want to do now?” and only do things I wanted to do. Yes, wood needs to be chopped by winter, but there can be plenty of time to do it so I can only do it when I want to.

And so I settled into a practice.Constantly asking myself what I want and listening for answers (sitting on a hot stove). Learning to discern between those answers and my opinions about them, opinions that can appear in a blink of an eye, so close to the answers that it can be difficult to discern between the answer and my thoughts about them. Finally, acting on those answers (sometimes going against my better judgement of them).

The Yogurt example is one event that demonstrates the nature of this practice. I was filling a wheel-barrow with some wood-bark to move it from a pile into place to be used as mulch. The barrow was half-full when a question appeared “What do you want?”, followed by an answer “Yogurt.” Sure enough, thoughts quickly came: Yogurt? really? now? that simple? I can go to the fridge and get some yogurt … but maybe finish just this wheel-barrow and then … When the thoughts had passed I still had access to the original answer, left the wheel-barrow, took off my gloves and went to have Yogurt.

Living this way is  fascinating experience. To constantly witness a gap between cutting-edge experiences and answers, and the echoes of thought processes that follow. I am exploring trusting and following that edge of experience – my intuitive voice. I believe it is a voice of integration of the kind of rocks and grass and fallen leaves. Though it sometimes seems to be in contradiction with my “reasonable thought processes”, I believe it integrates them too.

I have found that waiting to want requires patience and trust (that wanting will come, what laziness will not emerge, etc.); that when I act from wanting I act with more clarity, motivation and vitality; that I do get around to doing everything that needs to be done; that I do not get around to everything that I think I want to do; that the overall rhythm is finely tuned to me; that I get a lot more done then I think I can; that the things that in retrospect the things that don’t get done didn’t need to.

Christopher Alexander describes a “Fundamental Differentiating Process” that describes how he believes living things come into being. This is the closest description I’ve found to what rocks, grass, leaves and beavers “do”. To me it resonates strongly with the Paul Krafel’s observations:

  1. At any given moment in a process, we have a certain partially evolved state of a structure. This state is described by the wholeness: the system of centers, and their relative nesting and degrees of life.
  2. We pay attention as profoundly as possible to this WHOLENESS – its global, large-scale order, both actual and latent.
  3. We try to identify the sense in which this structure is weakest as a whole, weakest in its coherence as a whole, most deeply lacking in feeling.
  4. We look for the latent centers in the whole. These are not those centers which are robust and exist strongly already; rather they are centers which are dimly present in a weak form, but which seem to us to contribute to or cause the current absence of life in the whole.
  5. We then choose one of these latent centers to work on. It may be a large center, or middle-sized, or small.
  6. We use one or more of the fifteen structure-preserving transformations, singly or in combination, to differentiate and strengthen the structure in its wholeness.
  7. As a result of the differentiation which occurs, new centers are born. The extent of the fifteen properties which accompany creation of new centers will also take place.
  8. In particular we shall have increased the strength of parallel centers; and we shall also have increased the strength of smaller centers. As a whole, the structure will now, as a result of this differentiation, be stronger and have more coherence and definition as a living structure.
  9. We test to make sure that this is actually so, and that the presumed increase of life has actually taken place.
  10. We also test that what we have done is the simplest differentiation possible, to accomplish this goal in respect of the center that is under development.
  11. When complete, we go back to the beginning of this cycle, and apply the same process again.

The greatest challenge, I have expereinced, to applying such a process is my ability to perceive wholeness. I believe that wholeness is that which is brought to me in my “Yogurt practice”. It is something that I place more in the realm of “somewhere I arrive” instead of “somewhere I can go” … or “something that happens to me” instead of “something I do”. However I do believe that the odds of “me arriving” or “it happening” can be improved 🙂

I believe that much of what I was taught and practice in Yoga supported me in this direction. It is in that spirit that I offer the Ceptr residency program a practice of breathing. It it something I believe I can offer effectively remotely and is closest to my gifts and my heart. My wish is to:

  1. Create a shared opening where fundamental breathing technique can be introduced.
  2. To offer personal guidance to individuals who wish to experience a systemic yet magical evolution and change in their practice over the residency period.
  3. To periodically connect as a group and talk about the experience of breathing.


Posted in Ceptr, Enjoy, Expanding, inside, outside | You are welcome to add your comment

Glacier Calving


Amazing to simultaneously hold the sense of awe and beauty of an event like this and the implications of it happening. If nothing else, it give a taste of nature’s force and a realization that, given a choice, I would want to be aligned with those forces not opposed to them. It took the glacier a hundred years to retreate 8 miles, then another 10 years to retreat 9 miles more.

From the view count I am late to discovering this video … still …

“We are just observers … it is a magical, miraculous, horrible, scary thing”

Posted in Enjoy, Expanding, inside | You are welcome to add your comment

The Notion of Time in Computing


Anyone who has done any programming that has elements of persistency (not just adding two numbers, but recording when that addition was performed) has experienced the challenge of time. It is a problem that exists on any scale, from human relevant scales (which online shopping order was placed first) to machine-relevant scales (which network packet was sent first). It is a problem that escalates as computer systems get larger (scale up) and faster.

This is an intruiging talk by Paul Borrill about the notion of time how it reflects on how we do computing (and how what we do is still shaped by the linear tape that was used when computers were born).It suggests that our linear approach to time is unfounded and causes much of the complexity we have to deal with in computing. Human beings are required to deal with this complexity. The result being that scalability is limited by what human beings can oversee / manager / administer. What if it was possible to create software (and hardware) in a different way. What if computing could be created without a “God View” – a sense of overseeing centrality, without monolithic source-of-record storage?

via Matthew Schutte and Arthur Brock – Ceptr / MetaCurrency

Posted in AltEco, Design, Intake, outside, Tech Stuff | You are welcome to add your comment

Being a part of … nothing


I started this video in a tech-mindset. I had already known about most of what is displayed in it, but the conclusions drawn in the last seconds gave me chills. Yes feeling a part of something, community, sharing, etc … are precious experiences that we are drawn to. But does it not matter what underlies that shared experience? If it is a void, devoid of even physical reality let alone meaningful purpose … what kind of shared being will emerge?

During winter I watch some alpine ski-racing. It is the only sport I consume and that too, I feel fading away from me. I do consider it a sport. I watch Eurosport UK where, over the years, I have been amused by the side-by-side presence of things like snooker or darts or poker, which lack a physicality that defines sport for me. Also over the years I have noticed a clear shift in (UK related) advertising where two themes seem to have come to power: private money loaning and online gambling.

My opinion on this evolution of “sport” is inconsequential. However I do believe that we are lying to ourselves, and that matters. The labels we attach to things matter. They highlight some fatures and obscure others. They can connect us with others who share in the higlight, and alientate us from others who share in the obscure. Politics is not the only domain in which isolated social bubbles can be formed. What is described in the video is entertainment, creates a sense of relatedness (even if fleeting and superficial), commerce, business … but sport?

Once we agreed that an overweight man throwing 3 darts (many times!) a distance of a couple of meters is a sport, we opened a door. That door is now leading to a bunch of people sitting together with googles on watching robots (smart ones!) race being called a sport too. I don’t deny the fascination and entertainment of it. But when we call it a sport we are opening another door … a meta-door. This is a door that leads into mental ambiguity and laziness. Where will that door take us? Does it matter? Do you care?

Posted in Intake, Intellect Run Amok, Money, outside, Tech Stuff | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours