The All Mighty Green One

Non sense, whining and stupid unfounded comments from the green.

Google is not Making us Stupider!

A very compelling argument was recently presented to me: “Google is Making us Stupid!”. “Why?”, I responded with a confused face. “Well it’s simple”, my interlocutor replied. He went on to make his point. For the sake of brevity I will sum up his reasoning. People don’t try to remember anything anymore. They just load up their browser, where Google is set as the default homepage half of the time. They type in a couple of keywords they can remember are associated with the element in question they want to interact with. And BAM! Just like if it was the all knowing, all wise, Galactic AC responds with the answer.

At first this seems like a very convenient tool. The Internet has a wealth of information on just about every topic there is. With the new advances in social networking and user generated content, the amount of information grows exponentially. Weather the quality of this content is good or not is another subject all together. Yet this information is not very well categorized. Even if it was, there is so much to go through that it would be humanly impossible to actually find what you are looking for if you don’t already know where it is to begin with. In short, Google is the best thing since individually wrapped sliced cheese.

Where lies the problem? People no longer are using their brains. They are not trying to remember everything. They assume Google will always be available to them. It will always give them a zippy response with accurate results. Why bother remembering anything to begin with. I must admit, there are a lot of sites I visit frequently which I don’t even bother bookmarking, whenever I doubt how to spell a word correctly I use it, it’s my first stop for any investigation no matter it’s size, scope or objective.

This argument is true. It is true but only under a traditionalist context of education based on memorization. For the folks reading from the good ol’ U.S. of A., your education definitely has been influenced by this, but it is not so bad. If I am so lucky to have readers from other industrialized nations, it’s pretty safe to assume your education level is superior (if not at least equal) to that of the U.S., so again, you were probably exposed to it, but not in extreme measures. I had half of my education in the lovely Caribbean paradise some call the Dominican Republic. Creativity, spontaneity or problem solving or not high on the priority lists of most teachers. Their method is very simple. The teacher speaks, the student listens. Rinse and repeat. Eventually, the student will have the lesson scarred to his brain, and use this valuable “learning experience” in the walks of life where it may become necessary. This is applied for every subject, from math and science (where some of this could necessary due to the nature of the disciplines), to religion and music (where it simply doesn’t make any sense at all).

The student would repeat, memorize, and spit out everything they stored the next day. This is essential in order to please the teacher and achieve acceptable grades. The better you are at memorizing yesterday’s lesson and spitting it out with as little help or resources as possible, the better grades you got. It was never about your skills in a certain science, or your understanding of the complexities of a certain circumstance, or reflexion on how the elements work. It was repetition. If you can repeat, you are an excellent student! Needless to say, this caused me more than my fair share of frustration while at school, but that’s another story.

What is wrong with this approach? The student is given a task. That task is to repeat what he/she has been order to bottle up. Once this is done, the student has proved his/her worth, and their is no need to maintain this so called “knowledge”, so it is simply thrown out for more relevant information. It is the natural order of things. You remember how to eat and sleep. They are essential to your survival. You might not remember the name of that guy you bumped into last week, if it didn’t make much of a difference in your experience. If that “knowledge” is simply replaced with the next week’s lesson, then what is the whole point of the education system in the first place? By the end you leave high school, you will simply remember the last lesson of the year, if that at all.

The tendency to think that if you cant remember a URL that means that you are stupid comes from a base in education under this system. It is only natural. That is what has been defined as “being smart”. If you can’t do it, it means you simply do not posses that quality. And stand back! Because the person scolding you has harvested their unique memorization abilities for years! He/She will put it in just to impress you. Have no doubt.

It’s very simply to see at a glance what is wrong with this system, but, what do we replace it with? It’s called “critical thinking”. The important thing to teach is not the Who, Where, When, or What. The important things are the Why and the How. The value of PI = 3.1416. You insert that into the formula, and it will give you the answer. Great! You can even pass the trigonometry test if you can remember the number, but did they bother to explain to you, why that value? Why not 5.2345 or 9.18938? Where did it come from? What does it mean? When an interest is sparked in knowing what happens behind the scene it is assimilated as a valuable lesson. This sticks with you because you understand the concept. The understanding of a concept is several orders of magnitude more powerful than the memorization of a constant.

Does Google make me stupider (pun intended)?  No. It doesn’t. It relieves me of the necessity of remembering things. Since we’ve already covered the topic detailing that remembering things does not enhance your abilities, we can draw upon the simple conclusion that it does not affect your intelligence. I would even go as far as to counter argue that it is a stimulant to make you smarter. You don’t have to dedicate time to memorization, it does it for you. You can dedicate your time to what’s really important. Finding out the Why and the How.

In my wet dreams I become appointed the Secretary of Education of my country. I lead an education revolution which emphasizes critical thinking in schools from kindergarten to PHD’s. In the long run this change makes my country more competent in it’s  economical, cultural and social contexts. There is more probability of me winning the lottery with a couple of million dollars than that happening. Now a days I limit myself to try to teach this to the people around me. I do believe that if we all try we can make a difference. The question is how long will it be until a favorable impact on society as a whole can be perceived?

June 16, 2007 Posted by | internet, software, technology | 2 Comments

Why does Steve Jobs insult us?

Like many others I am nervously and anxiously awaiting the last couple of weeks that remain until the iPhone is released in all of it’s glory. I am keeping up with the blogs, podcasts, news, keynotes and every little bit of information that I can gobble up on the subject.

One of the most interesting things I found from the initial demonstration of it, is that King Jobs insisted that this was NOT carrying a stripped down version of Mac OS X. This was the full fledged, complete with bells and whistles version of Mac OS X. They did some work for the user interface and a couple of custom applications to fit the form factor, but in essence the underlying operating system were the same. As a developer (and nerd) I immediately had a vision: I could run all of my favorite applications on this slim and sexy device. I could have all of the stuff I wanted on the go. It was almost something out of the page of a science fiction book.

Lessons have been learned in the past about third party software. Sadly they tend to break and ruin the experience which was very carefully developed for the base platform. And mobile computing platforms are not the exception. Anyone that has had a Palm or Windows Mobile cell phone can probably concur and share a couple of horror stories. There is simply no way to control this 100%.

As a new product, it is utterly important for Apple that the iPhone make the best impression possible. They have an unbelievable amount of hype behind this device. Once you promise the moon and the stars it is impossible to deliver upon that promise, but you try to get as close as possible anyway. Doing as much as possible to maintain the usability and stability of the phone itself is a very important factor in this respect. If third party applications are permitted unto the phone, this could (and probably will) lead to some crashes here and there. Jobs has publicly stated a scenario where part of ATT’s network would come tumbling down due to an application on one of the phones. I think this is a drastic exaggeration. Yet, it may become troublesome for them. This will lead to higher support costs, due to applications that don’t generate them any income. Not to mention the legions of unhappy customers which will probably blame Apple for the frustrating experience.

On the other side of this discussion, the iPhone is an excellent platform for delivering a wide range of applications. While the applications that Apple distributes are always very sexy, have an excellent user interface and are generally very popular, they don’t fulfill all needs. The phone will come with 11 pre-installed applications. All developed by Apple. It is fairly safe to assume that in the near future Apple will continue to release other applications which can be executed on their product. What if I want something else? What if I want to consume media in a format that is not supported by the available applications? What if I just want to tinker away at it?

This would also contribute to adding more developers to the Mac platform. If it really is the same base operating system, applications could be easily ported from the mac pc, to the phone and vice versa. You could interest developers in developing for the phone, and have them stick around for the other platforms. It would only help the Mac developer community to grow. Not that there is a small group of Mac developers, but their numbers are easily dwarfed by Microsoft’s group in comparison.

It would also help to make their phone platform even more popular. I could make any distributed system I want using the phone as the client interface. This gives me great flexibility. I can already dream up a couple of scenarios where this could help out tremendously.

There have been some recent rumors stating that there might be a possibility of an SDK for the device. Sadly King Jobs or Apple PR have never taken a solid stance on the matter to begin with. This just added to the rumor flames.

Then the day arrived. The day of the WWDC conference. Where we have been promised to get more enticing details on the beloved phone. Let me jump straight to the point: Regarding to this much anticipated issue Mr. Jobs responded: “We have been trying to come up with a solution to expand the capabilities of the iPhone so developers can write great apps for it, but keep the iPhone secure. […] we have the full Safari engine in the iPhone. […] And so you can write amazing Web 2.0 and AJAX apps that look and behave exactly like apps on the iPhone, and these apps can integrate perfectly with iPhone services. […] They’re secure, and they run securely sandboxed on the iPhone. And guess what, there’s no SDK you need! You’ve got everything you need if you can write modern web apps”. (From Gizmodo. For full article click here).

I’ve heard opinions on this matter that qualify this statement as “patronizing” or “condescending”. Let me add my own two cents. How about INSULTING?! Tell me that you will not develop and SDK for security reasons, but I can always run web apps on the phone. I will feel bummed out, but will ultimately understand their posture and try to make the best of it. Sticking a web app in my face, assuming I’m stupid, and telling me this is just as good as and SDK? Sure, let’s make a web app! I can access the phone’s wi-fi, bluetooth, multi touch and other hardware on it, right? I can have applications that run offline right? My app can live independent from the cloud, right? I can consume media that is not supported by Apple’s application standards, right? WRONG. They gave me Flash and AJAX (with whom I’m already pissed off to begin with), and told me it’s better than an SDK. At a develpers conference no less. Where people with half a brain, that actually understand half of the specs that are put on the slide show sit. C’mon Jobs! I expected more from you.

Yes, there are a bunch of great web apps. Innovation in web applications is great. Yes, Google Gears is the coolest thing sinced individually wrapped slice cheese for web developers, because it might automagically turn them into real application developers. So please don’t comment saying these things. They are old news. The fact of the matter is simple: A web application is a web application. It does not replace my local counterpart. I don’t care how cool, or fast, or interesting it looks.

Jobs has done an unparalleled job in the past of swaying the masses in his favor. He has a cult following like few other communities in the industry. He is a master in the art, and I will not try to chip away at that. One simple miscalculation though. It’s one thing to assume your users are stupid. That is very necessary for application development. I do it with every new application I build. It is quite another to say it in their face.

Will less iPhones be sold? I highly doubt it. Will I still buy mine? Sad, but probable. Yet Apple has one more unhappy camper to add to their list.

June 13, 2007 Posted by | apple, software, technology | 11 Comments

Making a Dent in the Universe

Something very interesting happened recently. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs attended an interview. They discussed many topics, ranging from the current state of their projects, how they viewed the other person and company, and their position on the near future and evolution of the industry, amongst other topics. We even learned that they have been secretly married for the past decade. There have to be dozens, if not hundreds of mainstream media venues and blogs talking about this event, so I wont go into detail. If you want to know more always remember: Google is your friend.

This reminded me of “Pirates of Silicon Valey”, which is a top movie for any nerd, and yet I have not seen it. I took it upon myself to utilize the occasion and watch the land mark film, since these two behemoths will probably not rejoin any time soon to offer me inspiration, or for any other reason. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie it tells the tale of the surge of Apple and Microsoft, although that’s not really important right now.

I was very surprised at how Steve Jobs was portrayed in the movie. He’s eccentric to say the least, and some of the things he did were unreasonable to say the least. I don’t really know how much of the movie is fact and how much is fiction. Again, unimportant detail. The one thing that really caught my eye was the passion that the character of Steve had in the whole movie. This passion has also characterized Jobs himself in the few press conferences and communications I have seen in the recent past. I’m guessing it may be more fact than fiction. He took risks, he stuck with them. He is today one of the most successful and charismatic men in the industry. He has an almost cult like following that will defend him at any cost. A real Cinderella story, if I’ve ever heard one.

This reminds me of one of the many failed attempts I have had in this short but interesting life. Like many others I quit the day job in order to pursue a start up company. As for school, I had already dropped out a couple of years ago at that point, so don’t even bother questioning that. I got together with a couple of my friends and started working on software that we identified that was needed in the market. Software that was inexistent in the market for the most part, and if not, fundamentally flawed.

I was the self appointed software architect. I would dream up most of the designs, and try to plan the stuff to the best of my ability. This does not mean by any extent of the imagination that I had the credentials, experience or know-how to actually do an adequate job. I simply was the guy in the role. I designed a couple of applications, and swiftly started working on them. I was full of life, full of passion. I was glad I had escaped the corporate shackles. I was living my life, my way on my terms. In the end, everything would be alright, or so I told my wife (at that time still girlfriend), every day.

The idea of doing your own thing was very appealing to me. My current day job, considering the market, didn’t have a too bad salary. Yet it got to a point where it was a simple repetition of outlined steps. It quickly became very redundant and boring. To make matters worse, corporate politics, company oversights and bad management made my experience there a whole lot worse. I was escaping all of this. I was going to do what I wanted to do, AND GET PAID TO DO IT. If you add to that family and friends, you’re set! What else do you really need to be happy? Aaahh… the eternal unanswerable question.

Yet the dude (that’s my cute nickname for God) is not without a perverse sense of sarcasm. My planning skills, as I have mentioned before were not stellar. Therefore implementation time was becoming more and more extended due to unforeseen complexities. Discussions turned into fights. People started pointing at my code, ridiculing it. Saying I was a fanboy of a particular technology or a particular construct of a language. I did my best to keep my cool and keep working. After all, our survival was at stake. I had alredy quit my day job, and a couple of the other guys were on their way to do the same.

Then an defining day arrived. One of the guys popped. I don’t know why. I have several theories. Maybe he felt unimportant. Maybe he felt ignored. Maybe he felt that his contributions were not taking into serious consideration. Who knows? Up to this day I still haven’t asked him. He sent a very beautiful email insulting everyone in the group and their mother. The group was already in a tense state. This was just adding a tank of propane, bathed in gasoline, to the fire. Keep in mind I had invested a lot of my creativity and time to the group’s objectives. Hell, the current code base was at least 80% all my own handwritten code. All the designs were mine. Never the less, I promptly quit, wished everyone good luck and started to look for potential job opportunities. I was simply too frustrated and didn’t want to put up with it anymore.

I know have another job, at another corporation. This one seems to be much more friendlier, flexible and comfortable to work with. They try to keep bureaucracy to a necessary minimum and make their employees comfortable. This is a world of change in comparison to the old job. Yet I still feel the same sense as before. I am repeating the same steps over and over again. I am doing a job that in the end will not positively influence someones life. I am simply there, because justification is necessary.

Steve Job’s character (in the movie) in the beginning said that their objective was nothing mediocre, but to make a dent in the universe. He was out to make a difference. He was out to change everyone’s life. I had that kind of passion once. Probably not to the extent of Mr. Jobs, but definitely something palely comparable. I think it’s still lurking down there somewhere. Yet I have lost hope. Not in the group, but in myself. To actually get a start up going takes a lot of hard work. To do it while maintaining a day job, going to school or having other major responsibilities makes it near impossible. Yet there was a day where I laughed in the face of this feat. That day is long gone. I miss being fearless. I miss working to reach objectives I truly believed in, not just for the next paycheck.

Now, making a dent in the universe is pretty big deal. While there are some talented few that are meant to lead, most of us have no choice but to follow. I wanted to be a leader. Apparently I did not have the chops to make it happen, or maybe I gave up too soon. Who knows? Can I still turn it around? Or will I just be another sheep gladly following the herder, reminiscing of a short period of time in my life where I made my own rules, before it all crumbled down to the ground?

June 2, 2007 Posted by | apple, microsoft, software, technology, work | 6 Comments