Friday, July 31, 2009

Thinking about thinking...

Humanity, if we give it a half of a thought, is such a loosely-coupled system. The evolution of human thought goes forward in leaps and bounds because every single "thinking unit", in order to produce _anything_ more or less valuable, should first spend some amount of time picking up the existing knowledge (and nevertheless, there are still endless rows of reinvented bicycles in any chosen area). No guarantee that the knowledge you or I pick up is exactly the very knowledge we need. Thanks to Internet and searching engines, what used to be an art (remember the stories involving a scientist or writer looking for a key, spending nights in libraries and then accidentally glimpsing upon the very reference he or she needed to break through?..) becomes more and more a technology, a routine.

Is it good or bad? Every time a certain activity becomes more predictable, it looses some of its charms. Learning how to produce the fire at dawn of human history might have been a thrashing experience, an adventure in itself, a part of a rite passage into the realm of the adults. No adventure in lighting a match or a lighter nowadays (unless it's a child who accidentally puts the house on fire, of course - but safety devices evolve as well!) So, is it already written upon the invisible walls that there will be no adventure in scientific research, either? So much that we will be able to give it away to the machines, let them chew information and milk them for the useful results? What about us, the self-proclaimed kings of nature? Lots of confusion arises as soon as more and more people begin to realize that more possibilities will bring not only quantitative, but also qualitative changes in the way we live.

Will it mean that the way humans are evaluated will change? Why do we have a high estimation for philosophers, writers et cetera? Because of their possibility to evaluate information and make links between pieces which have not been obvious to the rest of us, until those enlightened have pointed it out? Because of them creating works of art which create a strong resonance in the recipients? How much of this will get "outsourced" to the artificially created information processing units?..

Of course, there is one thing which is never unnecessary to point out. The machines ,both hardware and software, are not a manifestation of an alien mind. They are nothing more than a summary and a quintessence of our own mind, - we are those who created them all. Nothing more than a codified experience of humankind, the very experience which until lately have been transferred only via painful learning process for every single human being.

Still, it concerns me that the young people of today learn how to use Google for their schoolwork bypassing the own thinking about the results. It can bring a scary situation, with the young generation becoming like monkeys using the machines where the experience of an older generation is stored, without actually understanding it. How real is this threat, is difficult to tell. There is no similar experience in human history; we can try to produce mental models of the possible outcomes in the novels and movies, but in the reality the only thing we can do is to observe, to think, and, may be, to act if we will feel like it...

Will all people become eventually united into a sort of huge network, therefore making sure that not a single experience gets lost? But how to ensure that this experience is passed on? To read about something will not produce an adequate responce unless you had a similar experience yourself - the words are often used as reminders rather than descriptors. Is it a reason why history tends to repeat itself from time to time? Would there be a chance to eliminate it (with virtual reality experiences, for example? What are our dreams -especially the "scary" ones - as not a sort of virtual reality experience either? And yet the dreams can influence the way we live...)

Still, it feels so interesting to see where the things are going...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On translations, the choice of words, and software development :)

A couple of days ago, I have received a link to an interesting article about the woes of translation (in Russian) - thanks to Dmitry Reznitsky for it. For those who can't read Russian, it is about the funny consequences of the fact that in Russian almost all words have a gender prescribed by the grammar rules. Therefore, when a gender in the original language differs from a gender for the same word in Russian... Houston, we might have a problem.

And a problem indeed. Take the well-known fairy tales. In Winnie-the-Pooh, the one who had to undergo a gender-changing procedure, was the Owl (every Russian kid knows that the Owl is an old ladylike creature in lacy bonnet who desperately tries to appear wise, but can't because of her sclerosis or something - thanks to the very popular cartoon). In Alice in Wonderland, the Caterpillar, the Dormouse and many others had to become women, too. (The author of the article rightly notices that some scenes become completely absurd as a result). And then, well, The Jungle Book and the brave warrior Bagheera who, in its Russian version, is a charming and fetching slim black panther (this fact is noticed to the English Wiki because of yet another Russian cartoon which was, believe me, not bad at all, even with a female Bagheera mutilating the originial plot :) ) The translator could have chosen another word, at least in this case (the word "leopard" which means the same has masculine gender in Russian), but it didn't happen, and now it would be extremely difficult to correct this mistake, because the existing translation is sort of canonical, because every Russian from the age of 4 couldn't help having seen aforementioned cartoon zillion times already, et cetera...

So, this is a good demonstration of how the choice words can influence the meaning.

Now I would like to have a couple of words about sailing. I have been participating in the short sailing trip a couple of months ago. What was the most revealing experience is how important the work correlation is when you are on the boat. Everybody must somehow work together, otherwise you won't go anywhere. All crew has to be, so to speak, in sync. More to that, the other boats should also take yours into account, as well as you should keep them in view and react in the way that is beneficial to the others. There are rules defined with that philosophy, and you should honor them. You just can't not to. Also, it is worth noticing that the crew always has a clear purpose - to get somewhere - and it is always possible to say whether this purpose has been achieved or not. If it has been achieved, all crew gets the credit; if it hasn't, all crew failed (from inside, of course, you always can organize scapegoat hunt, but the outside world can't see them on their own).

Very different from footbal, for example, or baseball, or rugby, where not only the purpose of the team seems to be nothing else but to win from the other teams (keeping to the rules just as much as not to be punished for not keeping to them), but any particular team player can be competing with the other team players for the recognition from the public. The team doesn't create anything. The team is here to win, that is all. If they win, the good guys are rewarded, and the losers are eventually sent away.

The third example of human collective which I know about is a choir. I sing in one myself. The philosophy behind choir singing is, once again, different, but it seems to be closer to the philosophy of a boat crew, than to the philosophy of a team. The choir has to be in sync. The choir has a clear purpose (to deliver a song). And this purpose is achieved only if everybody manages to work together and the conductor can establish proper rapport with the choir.

Now, finally, what does it all has to do with the software development?

I'll try to explain.

Usually, when one speaks about software development, one speaks about "teams". "Teams" are doing "tasks" with the purpose, apparently, to participate in the process of creating something useful in the end.

I have got the impression that the team metaphor doesn't fit very well. If the purpose is to deliver something, rather than just "win", then it seems like the SW command should be a "crew" or even a "choir" rather than a "team".

Team metaphor means there can be losers and winners within a team, and that the outside world knows about it too. Also, it means that if the team loses, they might have an inclination to find the reason for their failure in the fact that some outside authorities were too harsh to them. And of course, there is a lot of competition: with the other teams as well as within the team itself.

May be we would be better off emphasizing the need of the team (or crew) members to find the ways of cooperation with each other and to concentrate on keeping a goal in focus (like the people on the boat should do). I sometimes feel that too much energy is spent on nitpicking the microstrategies and sometimes it goes at the cost of the things which really matter.

May be I'm terribly wrong in all that, but I am sick of the talk about "teams". As simple as it is. We are not writing software only to win from those who might be writing the same software, but had less luck. We are writing software to create something really useful. How can we create something really useful, if the main emphasis is on competititon rather than cooperation?

I really would like to be off from the analogy of a team, in sweat and soap, which tries to win at any cost, even if that means changing the goal or bending the rules in other unpleasant way. Cooperation and synergy is what we should be aimed at. Things which help achieving this for the particular environment, are good. Things which hinder the process, are bad. And one can never say in advance what will work for this particular... crew, collective or how else you decide to name it. A collective consists of people; there are no two people alike, how there could be two collectives alike, then?

That's all banter I have to deliver on this, for the time being ;)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Twitter Haiku (well, and some micropoetry too)

The ones (till July) which I find more interesting:

little flocks of birds / in azure transparent sky / not a day to die

You cannot enter same river twice / flip over 'to come' and you'll read 'to go' / let the memories take your place / while they still grow

the poetry flows / from cracks in the souls / it takes to be blessed / to write when not stressed

sky that's full of stars / and the chaos that's within / we are in between

it seemed like a voice / I've reached and found a wall / beautiful echo

Feel wordless tonight / my wandering thoughts forgot / return to my mind

turmoil in the soul / either the heart is too quick / or the mind too slow

вся душа вразнос / сердце мчит без тормозов / разум не дорос

hard-resetted phone / and destroyed all my past / what an easy fix!

birds sing in the dark / before the light ever came / there was a music

the words draw contours / the actions add colours / the purpose brings life

love wakes up in the heart / like a child almost ready / to be born / kicking from inside / and smiling already

ducklings in channel / males already advancing / on stupid females

3 knots at its best / sun splinters in the water / murmur of silence

bottom of the night / wind is dancing outside / carefree and wild

reaching deep within / what is flickering therein? / neither Yang nor Yin

I left the haven / few scratches that's all it took / the sea is all mine

Покинула порт / Что мне пара царапин? / Все море - моё

сырое небо / деревья замирают / в объятьях бриза

the sky is all wet / the distant trees are trembling / hugged by the breeze

thunder far away / wants to mark the passing day / bright instead of grey

гром гремит вдали / день, который мы прошли / светится в пыли

pointers to functions / do-it-yourself hand grenade / just point and throw

the world is music / you want to participate? / try singing in tune

color of the wind / and the touch of kindred soul / nothing more than that

the waves try to reach / my feet - but - shy or tired / they keep retreating

the world stays in blue / mixed with gray clad in rain / missing the sunlight

night stitched by lights / from cars lamps stars and windows / from wishful thinking

garden of passions / if not tended properly / turns into jungle

child peering at me / from behind a green train seat / mischief managed!

the sweetest tales / are woven with blood and tears / from stinging nettle

once in a while I have funny feeling / that words can be used to recover the meaning :)

crouch the railway / oh train / but slowly, slowly

pale lights quick shadows / light dreams dim reality / all intertwined

plane rumbling above / for a moment outcries / a desperate heart

рёв самолета / лишь на миг заглушает / сердце в разладе

chilly taste of despair / sultry waves of desire / iceberg on fire

the understanding / starts when I question myself / who I truly am

driving in the heat / dozing off when try not to / dream within a dream

noli me tangere / I'm afraid to disappear / into thin air

at the sunlit roof / doves are tapping messages / with their beaks and feet

you want me to land / on the runway of your hand / make me understand

The verb 'to love' makes little sense / both in the past and future tense

birds try their voices / and make the morning sparkle / with jewels of haiku

at the crossroads / only the moon from all signs / looks into my face

на перекрестке / из знаков только луна / мне смотрит в лицо

the stars are dancing / to the rhythm within my heart / murmuring their songs

my words intertwine / with the phrases of others / and cease to be mine

you're not the wizard / you do your magic from books / but don't give up yet

a quiet morning / my room is bathing in light / like a crystal cave

ты не волшебник / ты колдуешь по книгам / но не сдавайся

тихое утро / комната светом полна / как грот хрустальный

piano playing / whirl of red and yellow leaves / dancing in the sky

whirl of sparkling words / whatever sky it brings me / there's no place like home

words are just symbols / footprints of reality / or blueprints of dreams

the rain is dancing / barefoot on biking lane / only for itself

eternal cadence / from hope to desperation / life as usual

self-referring dream / endless sticky Möbius strip / waiting for the flies

twilight in chaos / no longer trust my own thread / it's part of this maze

night tiptoes around / shy to tell it's time to sleep / and she waits for you

singularity / from darkness to dance of light / from chaos to love

bicycles swarming / around railway stations / catching sun glimpses

The rest is here :)