The Act of Creation

I recently satisfied my Mac envy and purchased a new Mac mini. Consequently, I’ve been diving into the Mac world, learning the whole Mac vibe and trying to wrap my head around a whole new way of looking at not only my computer but technology in general. It’s been a wild ride from the start, and one of the best things I’ve done for myself in quite a while. I’d completely forgotten how much fun a computer can be.

Now, when I get interested in something I generally dive into it whole hog. I immerse myself in whatever new thing I’m learning until I have a good handle on it. Consequently, I added quite a few Mac podcasts to my podcatcher download list. On one of those I heard about Sinbad doing the keynote for some Mac expo that just happened recently, so I promptly went and downloaded it.

I like Sinbad, but this post isn’t necessarily about Sinbad, nor is it specifically about Mac computers either. I’m merely setting the story up so proper credit can be given throughout the rest of the story, because Sinbad said something pretty incredible during his keynote… something that made me stop, rewind the MP3 and screw my headphones in just a little bit tighter to make sure I didn’t miss it.

What was this world-shaking thing that he said? Well, it’s actually blindingly simple, as most good wisdom is. He was talking about how we, as geeks, constantly compare hardware. We ask each other “What do you have? How much RAM, how much this, how much that?” when in reality what we really should be asking is “What have you created? What have you made? What have you done?” I think this is brilliant and really cuts directly to the crux of what I want to write about.

I love technology. I love new toys. However, what I love most about technology isn’t the technology itself but it’s instead what that technology allows me to do, what it allows me to create. I’m a huge Open Source fan, mainly because I’m cheap but also because I really believe in the creative power of the community. I have made my own contributions to the Open Source community in the past and I plan on continuing that long into the future. I think the power of human creativity is where the real miracle of technology exists.

I’m extremely excited about my Mac and I’m quickly trying to learn as much as I can about it. I’m studying Cocoa and Objective-C, learning how to use the Xcode tools, writing little dashboard widgets and in general having a ball playing with the system. My pleasure really stems from the sheer act of creation that the system facilitates, though. I get a real thrill out of creating something new and sharing it with other people. I think this desire to create, this raw unbridled enthusiasm for sharing is what drives most of the really interesting uses of technology (such as blogging, podcasting, and even things like indie music). You don’t have to be a programmer in order to create something. There’s interesting things being created every minute of every day and only a small portion of those really require any sort of programming ability or knowledge.

So, how many times have you asked someone else what type of system they run or how fast a processor they have? How many times have you actually used the processing power and the tools you have to create something new? I hope you’ll join me in making the effort to instead start asking “What have you done? What have you made?” I also hope you’ll join me in coming up with your own creative answers to that question when other people ask you what you’ve done.

It’s time we got out of the never ending upgrade spiral. It’s time we stepped off the “Have to upgrade every single time a faster processor comes out” elevator and instead learned to master the tools we already have. Pick something you love, pick something you are passionate about, pick something you want to learn more about or explore deeper. Find something cool, make something new and share it with your friends. Write a story, remix a song, put together a photo collage, make a movie or a web page or even just a greeting card. Put your own little stamp of creativity on the world. You just might find it addictive.

More Sun Death Throes?

Sun has announced the outsourcing of what remains of their IT staff. This impacts around 770 people according to numbers I’ve heard. I’ve also been told that just over half of them will be absorbed into CSC and the remainder will be handed their walking papers.

This upsets me mightily. It’s been three years since I was shown the door at Sun and it still smarts… mainly because the company has fallen so far from grace in my eyes. I still have people on the inside at Sun, people I care and worry about, and it bothers me to see them struggling. Sun was my dream job for many years and it was very hard to let go of that dream. It’s even harder when the dream doesn’t die peacefully. Lately, Sun has been a lot like a ham actor doing his first death scene in a play… it keeps thrashing around, getting back up, stumbling into the furniture, spinning around clutching it’s chest and keeling over again. About the time you stop looking over your shoulder to see if it’s going to twitch again it moans really loudly, gets up and thrashes around a bit more. Makes you just want to take a crowbar to it just to end the misery.

Anyone that has read me in the past or followed my archive links to my old blog has seen my ramblings on corporate ethics so I won’t necessarily rehash them here. However, I will stop just long enough to say a hearty “I told you so” even though I take no pleasure in the misery of Sun (hey, I still own Sun stock… some day it may be worth enough to use as toilet paper). I’m not big on schadenfreude, but I do have to say that I do feel just a little vindication. Sun left their roots far behind, they started putting business above core values and they alienated the people that made them strong. It’s unfortunate, because Sun was an incredible company with strong revenues, strong product offerings, brilliant people and cutting edge development. All that got squandered somewhere along the way.

All that remains is to start taking bets on who will buy them out. Stock price is around $4-$5 a share at the moment and has been there for a while now. I wonder who will finally leap on it, snap up all Sun’s patents and IP and then put the company out of it’s misery? Wouldn’t it be poetic justice if it were Microsoft? Just the thought makes me shudder…

My Dirty Little Secret

I have a dirty little secret… don’t tell anyone, but I like to play online computer roleplaying games. Yes, that’s right, Everquest, DAoC, City of Heroes… those kinds of games. I also have to admit I played a lot of desktop RPG’s (D&D, Rolemaster, Aftermath, etc) when I was younger. There, I said it, now everyone knows I’m not just a geek but also a nerd.

Whew, glad to get that off my chest. I’m not ashamed of it, but I do know that a lot of people don’t understand the draw of these types of games and consequently end up classifying and labelling people who do play them. What they don’t realize is there are as many different reasons people play as there are people who play. When taken in moderation, these games can be quite fun and can provide a good social outlet.

Why do people play online games? Everyone who games has their own reasons for doing so but for me it’s the social interaction that means so much. I like people. I like the give and take of good social discussions, teasing each other, yelling at each other, relying on your teammates and friends, or just soaking up the atmosphere of being in a group of friends that “gets” you. These types of games, for me anyway, are a good way to expand my circle of friends and to get that social fix that I so crave. I’m not into the bar scene, I can’t go skating when it’s wet and cold and I can’t spend every day skiing in the winter so I use these games as a means to stay connected to a little bit larger chunk of the world than just my couch, refrigerator and television.

I know some people who game for the competitive aspect. They need to be the first to get some item, the first to max out in level or belong to the biggest uberguild. Sometimes these people turn to these games as a means to achieve status, power or even some measure of fame. They may be completely unknown in the meat world but when they log on everyone knows them and respects their accomplishments. They get the respect all of us need, they just get it in a different venue.

Other people like to solo. They consume the content of games in one huge gulp, racing from start to finish and trying to solve all the puzzles, raid all the content and finish every single quest. For them, these games are more like a single player CRPG, sort of a Morrowind that they have to log on to the internet to play instead of playing locally. Sometimes these people even go to the point of being annoyed when they have to rely on someone else (or worse yet an entire group of someones) to finish a specific piece of the game.

There’s also the classic explorers. These people relish in the thrill of discovering all the little bits of buried information, lore, experiences or adventures in the game. They may take forever to advance in levels but they will also end up knowing every tiny little nook and cranny of the game world like the back of their hands. They may be gregarious in nature and share the exploration with a group of friends or they may be solo but invariably their reasons for gaming revolve around the sheer thrill of discovery.

At times I dip into each of these categories. Some of them I may only brush the surface of and others I may get really deep into, but in general my reasons for gaming revolve around my own social and gregarious nature. It’s odd, though, because while my main reason for playing these games revolves around being involved with friends I also don’t go out of my way to make a lot of new friends this way. I’m not antisocial to new people, I just in general won’t go too terribly far out of my way to meet a lot of new people. This usually means that when my circle of friends shrinks or moves on (either they quit the game or move to a new one) I usually end up being through with the game as well.

It’s funny… I can sit down in any cafe or truckstop in America and within 30 mins be deeply involved in conversations with any number of people around me. I meet people easily, I enjoy people and can find something interesting about anyone. I love talking with new people, or just sitting back and watching them and being an observer of human nature. When I log on, though, I generally find myself a lot LESS likely to approach someone than I would if we were face-to-face. The anonymity of a keyboard usually encourages people to interact more freely but I find it works the opposite for me. I’m not sure why, but I do recognize that it happens.

Anyway, as usual I’ve gotten completely off the original topic I wanted to discuss but hey, that’s what’s fun about doing things like this! I guess if I had to find a point in here somewhere I would end up saying something trite like “Don’t be so quick to discount these games” or “non-nerds play these games too” but in actuality I’d just have to say do what makes you happy, reach out to people around you and above all try and stay balanced in everything you do. Life’s fun… live it to the fullest!

Answering the Siren Call

Ok, I am beginning to think the apocolpyse might actually be drawing near. First, I register as a Democrat, now I decide that I want to buy a Macintosh. If I were you, I’d start storing water, candles and ammunition immediately.

I’m not sure exactly why I want to buy a Mac. Ok, I’ve got a few ideas, and there are some pretty valid reasons for it but I’ve been pretty firmly bigoted towards Linux from very near the beginning of it’s life. I’ve had the occasional PC loaded with Windows in order to stay abreast of the requirements of my profession and I’ve used the PC to run the games that I like to play, but I’ve always relied on a Linux box to do my “real” work. You’d think if I was getting frustrated with my current Windows machine I’d simply just tear it apart and reload it with Linux, running the OS that God intended for us to run instead of that demonspawn from Redmond.

I have to admit, though… I want a new iMac. I want to run OSX and I want to get all geeky about Mac stuff. Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t know anything about Macs except that they are pretty and slick, maybe it’s the fact that they run a real operating system now based on Unix or maybe it’s just the fact that I slipped and smacked my head when I got out of the shower. All I really know is I can start to feel that irresistable pull to the… well, I can’t really say to the dark side because that would be the demons of Redmond whispering in my ears. Let’s just call it the “other” side for now I guess.

Ok, let’s stack it all up and look at it closely. First, there’s the important thing to remember which is my very first computer was an Apple, an Apple ][+ to be specific. I loved that thing. It was my first indoctrination into geekdowm and I knew that thing like I knew the back of my hand. I treated it like a beloved kit car that I was constantly tinkering with, extending, enhancing or repairing. I’ll never forget the look on my poor mother’s face when she walked in, saw me hunched over the open carcass of my Apple with smoke curling softly up from my soldering iron and valiantly did her best attempt at not freaking out and murdering her child on the spot.

As I grew older the Apple line and I parted ways. Apple marched towards elitism, expensive GUI’s and what I call “toaster” computing. They became a system for people that simply wanted their computer to “work” without having to tear it down and rebuild it all the time. It became less of a geek computer and more of a workhorse and that just wasn’t where I wanted to be at the time.

Of course now they have started to return to their geeky roots. I mean, what ultimately is more geeky than Unix? Ok, well, learning how to sing a Klingon opera in morse code might be slightly geekier, I guess, but I’m not really interested in going down that route just yet so I’ll settle for Unix in the interim.

I’m much less interested in hardware geekery nowdays and much more interested in OS, application and usability geekery. There’s some really incredible tools available for the Mac, and if you’re even marginally inclined towards the “spend three weeks writing a tool to save yourself five minutes worth of work” mindset (as I am, unfortunately) you can spend years twiddling, fiddling and geeking out with all the clever hackery available with a robust and well supported Unix OS on top-notch hardware.

It doesn’t help that the price point between Apple hardware and PC hardware has finally started to lessen. Sure, the basic Apple system is still quite a bit away from the low end PC systems but if you trick out a PC you’ll end up spending comparable amounts of cash. The Apple overlords have finally switched on their homing device and are trying very hard to call me back to the flock. Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated…

I have tried valiantly to resist the siren call of the Apple.com website but I also know it’s only a matter of time before I run down to the store, offer up my debit card as a sacrifice to the gods of Cupertino and at long last rejoin the Apple fold. I wonder if they will be handing out grape koolaid and black nikes at the reunion meeting?

Will This Be the Year?

The last few years have been miserable… personally, professionally, for myself as an individual and (in my opinion) for society as a whole. The new year is here, though, and it has the slightest hint of promise to it; the faintest whiff of healing, recovery and renewal. If you stop, remain very quiet and listen very closely you can hear that faint sound of laughter creeping back into the world on little cat feet.

We’re still embroiled in a horrible situation in Iraq. We have another four years of a lunatic president in office, and the country has undergone a rather massive tilt to the right. A tsunami has ended the lives, fortunes and hopes of hundreds of thousands of people. Hungry and homeless people live right outside my apartment building.

All these tragedies still exist, yet I really do believe we’re reaching the end of the slow ponderous swing of the pendulum and are poised to bring things back from the brink. I can’t really put my finger on why, nothing specific leaps to my mind except an overall feel to the air and the first faint hints of a pattern coalescing out of the chaos that our world has been as of late.

Maybe I’m just happy because my long draught of unemployment is over. Maybe the fact that my own agonizing trainwreck over the last three years has finally come to an end and I’m finally feeling like a normal human being again. I’d like to think, though, that my own personal recovery is just an internal reflection of the external forces that seem to be working towards fixing things in the world. It’s time for me to be healthy and whole again and Lord knows it’s time for the world to be healthy and whole again as well. I don’t think the latter hinges on the former, of course, I’m certainly not significant enough to reflect the hurts of society. I do think, though, that many of the things I have undergone in the last few years are symptoms of things that have gone wrong with society at large… unemployment, economic downturns, failures in life, love, loss of dreams and of hope.

I’m seeing things change, though. I’m seeing people working at coming together instead of tearing each other apart. I’m seeing people focus on issues and problems bigger than themselves. There’s a quietness about it that defies an easy analysis, though. Maybe it’s a reflection of society or maybe it’s just a reflection of my own wishful thinking but I’m really beginning to see a resurgance of people simply “caring” about things outside of themselves.

In the long run, the greatest thing we can do as a society is to care for each other. When we place someone else’s needs at least equal to our own we grow ourselves. We stretch our limits and we begin to see how much we have in common instead of how different we are.

I watched an interesting television show last week that focused on interviews with teens and young twenty-somethings in the Middle East. These kids were just like our own kids; they had dreams, fears, ambitions, goals and desires that closely mirrored us as a society. One shot showed a young Iranian girl studying the play Hamlet, and I couldn’t help but think how appropriate it was to see that Shakespeare and his keen insight into the human condition could be food for thought no matter the culture.

The show taught me an important lesson in understanding and in compassion. It reminded me that we are all laboring to get through this life the best way we know how and we all face many of the same big questions. It really helped punch home to me the awareness that we are so badly in need of compassion and acceptance.

One of the problems we face, though, is entrenched ideologies interfering with our need to reach out to one another. Our governments across the world don’t generally encourage us to view each other as the same so much as they encourage us to focus on our differences. We look at someone from another region or culture and we focus on their different skin color or religion instead. We view them as our “enemy” or as a commodity to be dominated or exploited instead of as a fellow human being who when push comes to shove is probably a lot like us.

I’m hoping that 2005 will bring a resurgance of compassion. I’m hoping that we as a nation will begin to rebuild some of the bridges we’ve burnt down over the last few years. I’m hoping that some of the countries that hate us so passionately can also learn to put aside their hate. It has to start somewhere; someone has to be the first one to put down the guns and the whips. Someone has to be big enough to turn the other cheek and seek out healing instead of hatred. I’m hoping that someone will be us and I’m hoping that it will be soon.