Better Life Through Knowledge,
Better Self Through Gnosis

Technology is the application of knowledge through physical means.

I had this epiphany this past year as I had to pause my product development to be a stay-at-home dad. I quickly learnt I had to wrap up product development because it was no competition to child development. I tied up loose ends, put the tech in a bubble and on the shelf. It was kind of funny “looking” at that tech bubble from the outside-in while I played with my daughter. It was easy to get caught up in the flash of tech and forget to be down-to-Earth.

In that moment, I think I reinvented myself and my world-view.

When my daughter started daycare and my lessons ended for the summer, I just picked up where I left off but with a fresh perspective. The tech will never be done – there is just too much knowledge to be applied through it. Tech is always catching up with knowledge and therefore tech’s always obsolete out of the box.

The big chunk of time that I had in the project management sense was all broken up into little shards of time scattered throughout the day in the child development sense. This was the reason why I had to put my tech in a bubble but it was also the reason I could take up guitar and university courses again and still be with my daughter. This is the reward of good time management in still staying productive! I could pick up a guitar and put it down right away – I didn’t have wait for it to boot up or boot down, and no damned alerts! I could do a quick song and learn its music.


The Internet is on Fire

Time. Countless philosophers and scientists discussed time. Cultures interpreted and re-interpreted it. Yet, I don’t think we have grasped its meaning or its nature.

Take a look at the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.

“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.”

The rabbit is running around in the story looking at his watch – for an important calendar date. He has contrasting frames of reference that is creating his tension! This rabbit needs to understand why he is tense.

I remember a quote I heard years ago that has lingered with me since,

“Time is what prevents everything from happening at once. Space is what prevents everything happening to me.” – John Wheeler.

What got me thinking about time? Well, it wasn’t time. I was thinking of the impact the internet has had on civilization and was just doing a thought experiment. What other human development has had as major an impact as the internet has had? The internet is accelerating change in civilization.

The invention of electrical alternating current by Nikola Tesla was a major development. Yes, that is comparable. The industrial revolution was also a major development. But both of these were developments in the revolution of labour. The steam engine and electric motors are of physical evolution, extensions of the human arms, leg and back, and the ability to do more work.

So, I kept going back, to the invention of the printing press, back, to the invention of the alphabet, back to cave painting until I got back to the harnessing of fire!

Controlling fire is the premiere development of the human species. It is the harnessing of fire that accelerated human brain evolution but it’s evolutionary effects were not just because of the physiological benefits of heat or protection from predators. It was the time that was afforded to early human ancestors. Fire extended dusk into the night.

It is theorized that the harnessing of fire introduced us to whole new sources of food that was not available to us before. Cooking as a form a pre-digestion provided extra calories and nutrients that were not previously present for the body nor for the brain which consumes 20% of caloric intake!

New skills were developed. Speaking developed as story-telling, singing, joking, playing. The brain developed new skills to fill the time that had expanded. Clans would gather around fires after eating and telling each other of the successes and knowledge gained during hunting and gathering.

And it’s this scenario that my thought experiments provoked by asking what development in history was comparable to the internet. The internet, an extension of the human brain, holds vast amounts of knowledge no brain nor clan itself can hold. It must be shared to remain active. Human memory has been externalized as the internet in the next step of human brain evolution.

This is why the internet is the modern equivalent of the harnessing of fire.

Code – The New Literacy

My daughter is like a magnet. She’s always attracted to her parents and now that she has learnt to walk, she orbits us like a little electron. I’ve picked up my guitar again after 20 years of hibernation so that she’s hopefully being influenced by music. It’s funny how she orbits me while I play guitar and occasionally strums a few strings. She generally allows me to play my guitar but if I’m on the computer she wants to tap away at the keyboard, mouse and screen preventing me from doing anything productive. I learnt that if I ask her, “How does a computer count?” she’ll back away if only for a moment. This way I can try to influence her early about digital and analog ways. She knows what rainbow (ASL) is, that it’s “duga” (SR). She knows the fridge magnet letter ‘M’. Music, colours and language is all analog.


She is “mamina mala maza.”

So, it’s interesting that there is a big push to bring computer literacy to school kids. Start them young. Here’s an interesting quote from the short video:

In China, every student learns computer programming. In the U.S., less than 5%.

Aside from the incomplete sentence, this is an astounding fact. Even if 100% of Chinese children aren’t learning computer programming there probably is a high contrast in computer literacy between the East and West.

I wonder why should we stop at children. We need everyone not to be just computer users but computer programmers. We need to add adult computer programming literacy to this effort. Every parent, business owner, entrepreneur, salesperson, and consumer should be taking computer programming one-zero-one. If we don’t then we will lose another generation of creative and technical producers, and not just borrowed against their future but lent out, with all due respect, to be “Made in China”.

So why wait? iTunesU has catalogs full of computer programming and other subjects, and edX ( features courses from schools such as Harvard and MIT, yours free for the taking. There’s also some courses spoken and taught in Mandarin if you know the language. Oh, and Duolingo provides free courses teaching many languages, too.

Life-long learning has never been so easy.

And if you know a programmer, reach out to them. It will make your life so much easier.

Edit: I forgot about Scratch programming language for kids 8 to 16 years recommended and parents of all ages.

Le web est mort, vive le web!

“Forty years ago, Bob Kahn and I did the design of the Internet. Thirty years ago, we turned it on. Just last year [2012], we turned on the production Internet. You’ve been using the experimental version for the last 30 years. The production version, it uses IP version 6. It has 3.4 times 10 to the 38th possible terminations. That’s a number only that Congress can appreciate. But it leads to what is coming next.”

This is a quote from Vint Cerf, one of the founders of the internet. What resonated with me was that he said the version we’ve been using the last 30 years had been the “experimental version.” In other words, we were not only the test subjects but the experimenters. We started learning what the internet was, learning the language and lingo, and the general ways of the web. Technologies came and went but everything gravitated back to the internet and web standards set out so long ago.

The Interspecies Internet: An Idea in Progress

What is “next” Vint Cerf alluded to is a couple of things. The quote is from a TED talk called “The interspecies internet? An idea in progress.” If you thought that Google Translate is really rough around the edges, just you wait until we are translating dog-human communication. Seriously, even though interspecies communication is really experimentation, human translation still is.

Apple’s ‘Siri’ voice assistant illustrates what may be the biggest problem facing AI

The web has been treated by many as a dumping ground of data. There is enormous data on the internet that is unstructured for which exists a web of links but little web of knowledge. The push to structure all this data in a meaningful way that can connect ideas, not words, but ideas to one another is called the “semantic web”. The “semantic web” was coined by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web.

The other thing Vint Cerf had mentioned was the astronomical number of terminations, ie. IP addresses. The vast number of modern sensors and devices that map to IPv6 will be known as the “internet of things” and that’s another mountain of data that will need to be analyzed.

The “internet of things” + “semantic web” will require a whole new way of thinking. We will have to think what data means to us, how does it connect to other meaningful data and in different contexts or cultures. Experimentation is over. Businesses and organizations will have to retool their websites and web applications, and even think differently. The time when we treated the web as a dumping ground is over. The web is dead, long live the web.