Social media has reshaped our culture, and this has convinced us that it is fundamentally appealing. Strip away its most manipulative elements, though, and we may find that it’s less rewarding than it seems.
"Just a reminder that every Facebook privacy scandal you’ve heard about for the past seven years — Cambridge Analytica, passwords stored in plain text, that thing where they were demanding email account passwords, using two-factor phone numbers for user account lookup, the private data sent to Facebook by developers using the company’s SDK, and so on; I could do this all day — was committed while the company was already promising the FTC to not violate users’ privacy."
Excellent quote from David Brooks, speaking with Ezra Klein, on the lies we are told about meaning in life.
I think of this as my personal theme for 2019: Speak Up.
It applies to so many things, including writing more here and on the Square Peg Foundation website.
But it also applies in daily life. In work life. In personal connections with friends and family. In public interactions with strangers and neighbors.
By speaking up we also learn. Especially when writing. Because writing makes you consider not just your words, but your ideas, and how they fit together. But also in public speaking, because it’s another format where you are trying to get across ideas clearly, and striving for that clarity also refines your ideas.
All of us let too much slide. We don’t say enough — don’t do enough. We can step in and take a stand, lend a hand, or even just ask a question that illuminates a problem. We can provide relief to someone bearing a burden, or simply let a person know that they are heard. Sometimes all we need to do is hold space for someone as they grieve, or as they vent their frustration.
We can also do much through our own behavior. People, especially kids, learn from our example. They see and understand, more than we credit. But part of the behavior that we should model is to speak up, with kindness, more often.
Speak Up isn’t about talking. Sometimes it’s about listening. Sometimes it’s about doing. It’s always about striving to be better.
Technology has changed our world so much in the last 100 years that it’s a bit of a cliché to say it. My grandparents grew up in Bodie, California, where three generations of Dolans, McDonnells and Bells lived for several decades. People who visit the mining ghost town of Bodie, a California State Park, today will see a glimpse of the difficult conditions in that beautiful and desolate place. My family were mechanics, miners, engineers, and assayers. Most of them worked on the technology of mining.
A few years ago, my grandmother gave me her dad’s Trautwine Engineering manual. Leafing through this little tome, you get a feeling for the level of engineering and technology of the day. It’s signed inside by my great-grandfather, “Harry F. Dolan, Bodie, CA. Green Creek Power Plant, Feb. 1., 1913.”
A little over 50 years later, we would be taking men to the moon, and using everyday technology that would have been fantasy in my great-grandfather’s day. I was a small child and marveled, as all kids did then, at the space program and the astronauts.
But nobody around me in my childhood knew what was going on, not too far away, in an area that would become known as Silicon Valley. A small group of researchers were working on computers and thinking about what might be possible with them someday. Their ideas continue to directly shape computing and communications technology today. They built a system demonstrating their ideas, and on December 9th, 1968, fifty years ago today, they demonstrated the system in what has become known as The Mother of All Demos.
In the late ‘60’s, there were plenty of visionaries talking about what computers and technology would do in the future. Some of them had pretty good ideas, and some of them were right about what might happen. But Doug Englebart and his colleagues built something and showed us.
The demonstration of the system was itself a wonder of the time. The computers were down in Menlo Park at SRI (Stanford Research Institute), and a half-dozen people were working to keep the demonstration working. There are times when Engelbart pauses the demonstration to describe what’s happening and some detail about how it’s working, and we know now that he was stalling for time while his team re-establish the connection to the computers, or otherwise fix some problem while Engelbart filled time.
It is worth taking a moment to think about what computer technology was like and what it meant to create this system and demonstrate it before a live audience. This was five years before Bob Metcalf invented Ethernet, and six years before Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf released the original spec for TCP/IP, the foundation technology that today we call the internet.
The system that Doug Englebart demonstrated in 1968 started as an advanced computing project funded by ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency. The ideas presented would become the basis for new ways of interacting with computers.
The original video of the Mother of All Demos has been assembled into a set of three videos, about 30 minutes each, by the Doug Engelbart Institute. They are viewable on YouTube:
For more information about Doug Engelbart, and the Mother of All Demos, the Doug Engelbart Institute is a fantastic resource.
If you are interested in more about the history of Silicon Valley and modern computing, I recommend Fire in the Valley, by Michael Swaine and Paul Freiberger. They recently released an updated Third Edition. It’s my favorite history of Silicon Valley and computing.
I find I’m repeating myself, but it is important.
Use a Password Manager – I recommend 1Password.
It will make your online life simpler and easier, and you get better security, too.
It makes your life easier, because you will have your passwords with you whether you are on your computer, or your phone, or a tablet. It will make your life simpler by remembering your passwords automatically and filling them in for you whenever and wherever you need.
The improved security is largely a function of this simplicity and ease-of-use. Because it’s easy and simple, you will use 1Password to create good strong passwords automatically for you — passwords that are far more complex than anything you would ever make up, let alone try to type. They also have great features like Family Plans and sharing passwords in your family or team.
The only downside is getting started. It’s not that hard, but there are some ways of thinking about things that seem at first a bit odd and maybe even confusing.
That’s why I’m happy to hear that the folks at The Sweet Setup have created a course on 1Password. These are people who do really great courses on how to use some of my favorite apps, and they are one of my trusted sites for reviews. (They are not paying me for this endorsement, and I don’t think they even know me)
Their course will also be on sale for a special low price of $23 for the first few days.
So pick up a copy of 1Password, if you haven’t already. And [See Below!] for a link to the new course over at The Sweet Setup, or go there now and sign up for their newsletter so that you get notified directly of this and other course releases and articles. They also have posted an article describing the course.
Here’s the Link to the new course on 1Password:
Oh, and there’s this! From The Sweet Setup:
BONUS: We have partnered with the folks at 1Password to offer you an extended, 90-day free trial of 1Password for Families (a $9.98 value). After you purchase the course, you’ll get a special link from us to use in order to sign up for 1Password with your extended trial.
Yet another reason to try the course, and 1Password!
For almost a year now, Joell and I have been hosting a series of events at our home to explore important ideas in a group conversation setting. We call it Salon. It’s been a great experience and we intend to do more of these events in the coming months.
But we’re also experimenting with something new: hosting arts events as a spark to the conversation.
Our friends Llysa Holland and Andrew Litzky run a theater program in Seattle called theater simple. For 27 years they’ve been producing wonderful theatrical experiences — over 1100 performances on three continents. (Including work with Make A Wish foundation producing fantasy experiences for the Make A Wish kids.)
One of their recent productions caught our eye. The Fever is solo play by Wallace Shawn. (My Dinner with Andre’ as co-writer and actor; and a long list of credits as playwright and actor, from All That Jazz and Taxi to Toy Story and The Princess Bride)
In the theater simple production, Llysa Holland plays the lead, an American sick with fever in a hotel in an unnamed small country in the middle of a revolution.
My hope is that this is the beginning of a series of events in our home where we use theater, music, and other arts as a catalyst for meaningful conversation. Please join us.
From Hobbies to Trade Skills to Artistic Expression, developed knowledge and improved craft is the mark of accomplishment — Coding is no different.
– Darius Dunlap
I wish schools still had Shop, and Band, and Art. I believe there is a kind of mental development that’s missing without them. And I believe that these kinds of classes — focused on doing and making — support and expand the skills of reading, writing, arithmetic, problem solving, and other key skills we all want kids to develop.
These days there is a lot of talk about “Learning to Code.” And that would be great, except for this aura of magic around it. Because learning to code is really a lot like learning carpentry, or photography, or learning to cook. The basics are pretty simple, though that is not evident to the uninitiated. And full expertise is a lifetime pursuit. And most of us are content with a modest competence.
Learning to code is easier than it has ever been. Not because it’s become simpler, but because the tools have become better, specifically in that they allow you to do something useful more easily and with less knowledge and skill.
Photography is undergoing and transformation in a similar way. It’s not that the pictures we take with our phones and fancy digital cameras are better than film for the expert photographer, but that these new tools provide immediacy. You can take a picture and instantly see it. You can learn from every photograph taken, right there, right then, and take another and another until you get the photo you want. You take more photos, too. Your photography improves at a pace and in ways that would have required much more patience, organization, focus, and effort a couple decades ago when the turn-around was so much slower.
Deep expertise still takes years, but the basics are more accessible than ever.
It’s the same for coding.
Mastering coding, or more properly Software Engineering and Computer Science, is not something every needs to do. it’s probably not something every could do, even if they tried. It’s a deep field and the complexity of the most advanced techniques are beyond those without an aptitude. At the very highest level, it requires not just superior mathematics and problem solving, but also philosophy and compassion — designing systems requires thinking beyond the immediate technical problem to understand how the system fits into the world and how people are going to use it. The people who can do all of this well are rare.
But for the rest of us, our needs are simpler. We can create something that solves a straightforward problem, using the excellent tools developed over the last several decades, and never have to think about the mathematics of drawing the curve at the corner of our icon or the physics of making our animation look natural, or the details of setting up a server and keeping it reliable and secure.
So “Learning to Code” is a lot like learning to cook. It doesn’t mean we will all become master chefs with Michelin-rated restaurants. But it does mean we can learn to make a good loaf of hand-made bread from natural starter that’s better than what you can get off the shelf at the grocers.
Most importantly, learning to code, like taking shop or joining the band in high school, helps you get better at other things. It helps you solve problems in other domains, and it develops your mind.
This is a great listen for parents, educators, and anyone interested in how kids (and adults) learn. It’s a conversation between Joi Ito and his remarkable sister Mimi about learning, education, digital media and more. You can find it on YouTube and Soundcloud and Joi’s website:
Youtube — https://youtu.be/P0CxCR9Uj60
Joi’s website — http://podcast.ito.com/33-conversation-with-mimi-ito
If you’re not familiar with Joi and Mimi, here’s a good start:
Computers are not magical or mysterious. Their amazing abilities are built up from simple ideas. That’s what’s surprising. How did we arrive at today, with these devices in our pocket and a (nearly) global network connecting them, and with software running that allows it all to do so many useful and entertaining things?
Lady Ada, Countess of Lovelace wikipedia, was the first to get it. She understood, before any computers existed, that a machine with a few simple arithmetic abilities could do much more. (Notably, the men who were designing these calculating machines didn’t get it.) It would be about 100 years before the programmable computers she envisioned would be “invented”.