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Breaking Smart – what a wonderful season of essays

Highlights from various essays from this index page: http://breakingsmart.com/season-1/

http://breakingsmart.com/season-1/getting-reoriented/

‘we expected too much too soon from 1995 to 2000, leading to the crash. Now in 2015, many apparently silly ideas from 2000, such as home-delivery of groceries ordered on the Internet, have become a mundane part of everyday life in many cities. But the element of surprise has dissipated, so we tend to expect too little, too far out, and are blindsided by revolutionary change in sector after sector.’

‘Those who adopt a Promethean mindset and break smart will play an expanding role in shaping the future. Those who adopt a pastoral mindset and retreat towards tradition will play a diminishing role, in the shrinking number of economic sectors where credentialism is still the more appropriate model’

‘This means increasing well-being for all will be achieved through small two-pizza teams beating large ones. Scale will increasingly be achieved via loosely governed ecosystems of additional participants creating wealth in ways that are hard to track using traditional economic measures. Instead of armies of Organization Men and Women employed within large corporations, and Organization Kids marching in at one end and retirees marching out at the other, the world of work will be far more diverse.’

‘A big implication is immediately clear: the asymptotic condition represents a consumer utopia. As consumers, we will enjoy far more for far less. This means that the biggest unknown today is our future as producers, which brings us to what many view as the central question today: the future of work.’

‘the social order surrounding work will be a much more fluid descendant of today’s secure but stifling paycheck world on the one hand, and liberating but precarious world of free agency and contingent labor on the other.’

‘As the hacker ethos spreads, we will witness what economist Edmund Phelps calls a mass flourishing— a state of the economy where work will be challenging and therefore fulfilling. Unchallenging, predictable work will become the preserve of machines.’

http://breakingsmart.com/season-1/purists-versus-pragmatists/

‘early programming was led by creative architects (often mathematicians and, with rare exceptions like Klari Von Neumann and Grace Hopper, usually male) who worked out the structure of complex programs upfront, as completely as possible. The actual coding onto punch cards was done by large teams of hands-on programmers (mostly women1) with much lower autonomy, responsible for working out implementation details.’

‘With the development of smaller computers capable of interactive input hands-on hacking became possible. At early hacker hubs, like MIT through the sixties, a high-autonomy culture of hands-on programming began to take root. Though the shift would not be widely recognized until after 2000, the creative part of programming was migrating from visioning to hands-on coding. Already by 1970, important and high-quality software, such as the Unix operating system, had emerged from the hacker culture growing at the minicomputer margins of industrial programming.’

http://breakingsmart.com/season-1/agility-and-illegibility/

‘The cost of this agility is a seemingly anarchic pattern of progress. Agile development models catalyze illegible, collective patterns of creativity, weaken illusions of control, and resist being yoked to driving utopian visions. Adopting agile models leads individuals and organizations to gradually increase their tolerance for anxiety in the face of apparent chaos. As a result, agile models can get more agile over time.’

‘Open Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in forestry,  open data initiatives in urban governance, and monitoring technologies in agriculture, all increase  information availability while eliminating cumbersome paperware processes….Once a field becomes hacker-friendly, software begins to eat it.’

‘The IETF slogan of rough consensus and running code (RCRC) has emerged as the only workable doctrine for both technological development and associated economic models…’

http://breakingsmart.com/season-1/rough-consensus-and-maximal-interestingness/

‘From the earliest days of interactive computing, when programmers chose to build games while more “serious” problems waited for computer time, to modern complaints about “trivial” apps (which often turn out to be revolutionary), scarcity-oriented thinkers have remained unable to grasp the essential nature of software for fifty years.’

‘Rough consensus favors people who, in traditional organizations, would be considered disruptive and stubborn: these are exactly the people prone to “breaking smart.” In its most powerful form, rough consensus is about finding the most fertile directions in which to proceed rather than uncovering constraints.’

‘Traditional processes of consensus-seeking drive towards clarity in long-term visions but are usually fuzzy on immediate next steps. By contrast, rough consensus in software deliberately seeks ambiguity in long-term outcomes and extreme clarity in immediate next steps. ‘

‘At an ethical level, rough consensus is deeply anti-authoritarian, since it avoids constraining the freedoms of future stakeholders simply to allay present anxieties. The rejection of “voting” in the IETF model is a rejection of a false sense of egalitarianism, rather than a rejection of democratic principles.’

[Wah, ustaad, wah!!…yeh padh kar hee life ban gayee!]

‘The decade after the dot com crash of 2000 demonstrated the value of this principle clearly. Startups derided for prioritizing “growth in eyeballs” (an “interestingness” direction) rather than clear models of steady-state profitability (a self-limiting purist vision of an idealized business) were eventually proven right. Iconic “eyeball” based businesses, such as Google and Facebook, turned out to be highly profitable. Businesses which prematurely optimized their business model in response to revenue anxieties limited their own potential and choked off their own growth.’

http://breakingsmart.com/season-1/running-code-and-perpetual-beta/

‘Those who bemoan the gradual decline of famous engineering labs like AT&T Bell Labs and Xerox PARC often miss the rise of even more impressive labs inside major modern products and their developer ecosystems.’

http://breakingsmart.com/season-1/software-as-subversion/

‘The IBM OS/2 project of the early nineties,4 conceived as a replacement for the then-dominant operating system, MS-DOS, provides a perfect illustration of “better is worse.” Each of the thousands of programmers involved was expected to design, write, debug, document, and support just 10 lines of code per day. Writing more than 10 lines was considered a sign of irresponsibility. ‘

[Gem! 🙂 ]

‘But concerns that the game might end should not lead us to limit ourselves to what philosopher James Carse6 called finite game views of the world, based on “winning” and arriving at a changeless, pure and utopian state as a prize. As we will argue in the next essay, the appropriate mindset is what Carse called an infinite game view, based on the desire to continue playing the game in increasingly generative ways. From an infinite game perspective, software eating the world is in fact the best thing that can happen to the world.’

http://breakingsmart.com/season-1/prometheans-and-pastoralists/

‘All it takes is one thing: a thriving frontier of constant tinkering and diverse value systems must exist somewhere in the world.

‘Diamonds were once worth fighting wars over. Today artificial diamonds, indistinguishable from natural ones, are becoming widely available.’

‘When pastoralist calls for actual retreat are heeded, the technological frontier migrates elsewhere, often causing centuries of stagnation. This was precisely what happened in China and the Islamic world around the fifteenth century, when the technological frontier shifted to Europe’

‘Specific ideas may fail. Specific uses may not endure. Localized attempts to resist may succeed, as the existence of the Amish demonstrates. Some individuals may resist some aspects of the imperative to change successfully. Entire nations may collectively decide to not explore certain possibilities. But with major technologies, it usually becomes clear very early on that the global impact is going to be of a certain magnitude and cause a corresponding amount of disruptive societal change.’

http://breakingsmart.com/season-1/the-allure-of-pastoralism/

‘In art, the term pastoral refers to a genre of painting and literature based on romanticized and idealized portrayals of a pastoral lifestyle, usually for urban audiences with no direct experience of the actual squalor and oppression of pre-industrial rural life.’

‘When pastoralists pay attention to drones at all, they see them primarily as morally objectionable military weapons. The fact that they replace technologies of mass slaughter such as carpet bombing, and the growing number of non-military uses, are ignored.’

‘absolute utopias for believers that necessarily represent dystopias for disbelievers. Totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century, such as communism and fascism, are the product of pastoral mindsets in their most toxic forms. The Jeffersonian pastoral was a nightmare for black Americans.’

http://breakingsmart.com/season-1/understanding-elite-discontent/

‘From the Greek philosopher Plato1 (who lamented the invention of writing in the 4th century BC) to the Chinese scholar, Zhang Xian Wu2 (who lamented the invention of printing in the 12th century AD), alarmist commentary on technological change has been a constant in history. A contemporary example can be found in a 2014 article3 by Paul Verhaege in The Guardian

‘Drivers of early horseless carriages were degenerate dependents, beholden to big corporations, big cities and Standard Oil.’ (Was it really seen this way?!)

‘For Prometheans, on the other hand, not only is there no decay, there is actual moral progress.

http://breakingsmart.com/season-1/the-principle-of-generative-pluralism/

‘Hamilton did not just suggest a way out of the rural squalor1 that was the reality of the Jeffersonian pastoral. His way also led to the dismantlement of slavery, the rise of modern feminism and the gradual retreat of colonial oppression and racism.’

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Read – The future of the Web Looks a lot like Bitcoin

Read http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/networks/the-future-of-the-web-looks-a-lot-like-bitcoin
“Imagine, for example, taking a picture of a dent in your rental car and loading it into a Bitcoin transaction. By looking at what block the transaction went into, you could later prove that the dent existed before you left the parking lot.”

‘What if, in your request, you could ask the miners to do more than this? What if you could say, for example, “Do not validate this transaction until I’m dead.” Or “When you do validate this transaction, adjust the amount that I’m sending based on the current price of Tesla Motors stock.

In the first example, we have the beginnings of a will that disburses money to your heirs autonomously, without the need for a lawyer. In the second example, we’ve started to build a decentralized stock market.’

There are organizations like ethereum.org, who are working on realizing this technology.

Bahubali (Hindi) movie review

Finally got to see Bahubali (Hindi). Their release strategy was very good for Hindi version. They released only in few theaters in the first week, and perhaps waited for the word of mouth to increase the demand. But I guess the marketing was already pretty solid and there was demand but no availability from the beginning.

Anyway, the movie. Its good. The reviewers had built up the expectations, so the beginning part disappointed me a bit. But gradually it picked up. Rajamouli really works on the narrative, and doesn’t let it sag. So the movie never bored me. Although felt that there is no freshness. Think of it as Lord of the Rings meet Mahabharata (Or many other old hindi movies with the base plot of a banished Prince, the rightful heir who was deceived out of his kingdom. Now I recall, even Lion King had that).

The movie has many-many flaws some are very laughable, and not expected from such a highly rated director. And lot of cliches, some will remind you of ‘Mere bete aayenge’ of Karan Arjun. Other flaws in fighting scene, two characters are fighting close to each other, but suddenly the director wants to show a interesting visual stunt, so conveniently the characters are separated by distance. Its not that, these mistakes are not there in Hindi/Indian films. Look at any Bhai film for instance, and other clones which Akshay & Devgnn (is the latest spelling?) have made. But I say this because Bahubali has been compared to Hollywood action/cgi films. But I also must say that production values indeed match. The long drawn war scene towards the end, is indeed very well done, for the sheer amount of effort put. Also the city which has been built for the Kingdom, it does look very well done – whether cgi or part real set.

Overall the movie looks very polished and maintains interest, and what is shown in the scene looks well crafted. But what is lacking is a soul, for lack of a better word. There are some movies where we become those characters, and just want them to win*. Here you care but relatively faintly for the characters. You see the movie in a meta-mood comparing it occasionally with some English movie and then later on thinking did I see this in Rajput (old hindi movie), and that Rakhi reminder could have been well avoided.

Racism/Caste-ism: Its really ugly that they have shown the Orc like kingdom people as real ugly looking and all very dark skinned. May be they should have been more culturally sensitive. And the movie has rightly got some flak for it. Although to be fair, its not by bad intentions. Cynically, it may just be the best commercial choice. Also what language those people speak? It doesn’t sound like an Indian language at all. Just by sounds of it, if I were to guess it I would call it some African dialect! (May be, my bias).

But overall I didn’t feel ‘why I came to watch this movie?’, while watching the movie. And I liked it overall. So although I won’t say that Rajamouli is India’s answer to Nolan(!). But he is a bloody good craftsman. And very few in India can dare to do what he does.

In a few years, this movie is not going to be memorable, perhaps. But still worth a watch. 3/5

* Talking about rooting for characters. Drishyam made me really root for Devgnn(!)’s character. Some critics trashed it, but I loved it 3.5/5…

Brian Cox explains the state of understanding of the Universe – 2013 video

In this video, Brian Cox explains the state of our understanding of the universe, in a very accessible way.

He makes it quite accessible, so laymen can also do the math for beginning of universe! (i.e. Big Bang)

Here’s mine: 3 * 10^11 / 22.4 = 13392857142.9 years (quite close to 13.7 billion years) smile emoticon

Watch it, if you haven’t and take a pause to do this math (feels quite accessible, when compared to String Theory black magic smile emoticon )

He explains almost many other concepts in an equally accessible way e.g. Red shift…

Notes: Reading Wait but Why Tesla (part 2)

Article: http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/06/how-tesla-will-change-your-life.html

Notes:

“Biological horses got super upset if you tried to power them by fire”….LOL Sections on Greed, and Raging ambition are killer… Negative externality is well explained: ‘negative externality is how tobacco companies got away with murder for so many decades’

‘So if the car industry has a cupcake and its parents are forcing it to eat vegetables, the oil industry has a cupcake but its parents are forcing it to eat razor blades. The car industry will resist the veggies and have a little tantrum before grudgingly giving in—the oil industry will furiously try to gouge the parents’ eyes out in resistance because for him, this is life and death.’

When the 1990 California Zero Emissions Mandate forced car companies to make an EV in order to continue selling cars in CA, the oil industry saw it as a small tumor they needed to swiftly nip in the bud before it grew into a serious threat. Soon, a new voice popped up, a grassroots campaign called “Californians Against Utility Company Abuse” (CAUCA). The campaign staged protests against the state’s proposed utility investments in alternative-vehicle support systems. They also mentioned that “the environmental benefits of electric cars were dubious”39 But as it turns out, CAUCA was created by a PR firm who was hired and funded by the oil industry. Eventually, the mandate was repealed, EVs disappeared, and the tumor was squashed.

Now, there’s a new tumor for the oil industry—Elon Musk.’

‘I had this feeling again, last month, when I test drove a Tesla Model S. I had driven to the Tesla factory that morning in what had felt like a brand new rental car, and I left the factory in the same car, now feeling like a 1982 model.’

The secret history of CIA in Iran – 2000

Or how a nationalist and a democratically elected, popular Prime Minister of Iran, Mosaddegh, was overthrown in a coup engineered by CIA and MI6, because he was nationalizing the Iran’s Oil. And US had this fear of communism. Reading this one feels that US owes reparations (word recently used by Shashi Tharoor) to so much of the world.

‘In March 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated her regret that Mosaddegh was ousted: “The Eisenhower administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons. But the coup was clearly a setback for Iran’s political development and it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America.” In the same year, The New York Times published a detailed report about the coup based on declassified CIA documents.’
(source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Mosaddegh)

Below are interesting sections from ‘The secret history of CIA in Iran – 2000’):

(link http://www.nytimes.com/library/world/mideast/041600iran-cia-intro.html)

‘The document, which remains classified, discloses the pivotal role British intelligence officials played in initiating and planning the coup, and it shows that Washington and London shared an interest in maintaining the West’s control over Iranian oil.’

‘Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, whom it derided as a vacillating coward. And it recounts, for the first time, the agency’s tortured efforts to seduce and cajole the shah into taking part in his own coup.’

‘In 1951, Iran’s Parliament voted to nationalize the oil industry, and legislators backing the law elected its leading advocate, Dr. Mossadegh, as prime minister. Britain responded with threats and sanctions.’
[How innovative, historically speaking!]

‘His family had seized Iran’s throne just 32 years earlier, when his powerful father led a coup of his own. But the young shah, agency officials wrote, was “by nature a creature of indecision, beset by formless doubts and fears,” often at odds with his family, including Princess Ashraf, his “forceful and scheming twin sister.”‘

[inheritors always tend to be lesser than founders]

‘In early August, the C.I.A. stepped up the pressure. Iranian operatives pretending to be Communists threatened Muslim leaders with “savage punishment if they opposed Mossadegh,” seeking to stir anti-Communist sentiment in the religious community.’

[How many CIA operatives were there in Iran? Including in the palace, which encouraged the thaw between Shah Jr. and his sister]

‘the house of at least one prominent Muslim was bombed by C.I.A. agents posing as Communists. It does not say whether anyone was hurt in this attack.’

‘The agency was also intensifying its propaganda campaign. A leading newspaper owner was granted a personal loan of about $45,000, “in the belief that this would make his organ amenable to our purposes.”‘

[Wow!]

‘Dr. Mossadegh had by now figured out that there was a plot against him. He moved to consolidate power by calling for a national referendum to dissolve Parliament.

The results of the Aug. 4 referendum were clearly rigged in his favor; The New York Times reported the same day that the prime minister had won 99.9 percent of the vote. This only helped the plotters, providing “an issue on which Mossadegh could be relentlessly attacked” by the agency-backed opposition press.’

[The extent to which they go! Allowing their opponent to win some battles, to serve their propaganda machine!!…which ultimately helps them win the war]

‘Mr. Roosevelt told the shah “that failure to act could lead only to a Communist Iran or to a second Korea.”‘

[brainwashing via bracketing..Wonder: Is N. Korea, really as bad, as projected by US?]

‘Pro-shah soldiers sent to arrest Dr. Mossadegh at his home were instead captured. The top military officer working with General Zahedi fled when he saw tanks and loyal government soldiers at army headquarters.

The next morning, the history states, the Tehran radio announced that a coup against the government had failed, and Dr. Mossadegh scrambled to strengthen his hold on the army and key installations. C.I.A. officers inside the embassy were flying blind; the history says they had “no way of knowing what was happening.”‘

[So the first attempt at coup on Aug 15 ’53 failed]

‘Mr. Roosevelt left the embassy and tracked down General Zahedi, who was in hiding north of Tehran. Surprisingly, the general was not ready to abandon the operation. The coup, the two men agreed, could still work, provided they could persuade the public that General Zahedi was the lawful prime minister.

To accomplish this, the history discloses, the coup plotters had to get out the news that the shah had signed the two decrees.’

[2nd attempt, by making the indecisive Shah, decide in favor of a decree (Farman) to fire the legal PM]

‘The C.I.A. and its agents also arranged for the decrees to be mentioned in some Tehran papers, the history says.’

[wonder how much of media is controlled today?!… and what are the current objectives?]]

‘Once again, the shah disappointed the C.I.A. He left Baghdad for Rome the next day, apparently an exile. Newspapers supporting Dr. Mossadegh reported that the Pahlevi dynasty had come to an end, and a statement from the Communist Party’s central committee attributed the coup attempt to “Anglo-American intrigue.” Demonstrators ripped down imperial statues — as they would again 26 years later during the Islamic revolution.’

[So the existing PM Mosaddegh became compalcent thinking danger is over. And coward Shah first fled to Baghdad and then to Rome, while all this was happening. While the US powers on ground engineered the coup to completion!]

‘But just as the Americans were ready to quit, the mood on the streets of Tehran shifted.

On the morning of Aug. 19, several Tehran papers published the shah’s long-awaited decrees, and soon pro-shah crowds were building in the streets.’

[The manipulated fools, came to Americans rescue. Interestingly the religious clergy also bought into the communism propaganda!]

‘By noon the crowds began to receive direct leadership from a few officers involved in the plot and some who had switched sides. Within an hour the central telegraph office fell, and telegrams were sent to the provinces urging a pro-shah uprising. After a brief shootout, police headquarters and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs fell as well.

The Tehran radio remained the biggest prize. With the government’s fate uncertain, it was broadcasting a program on cotton prices. But by early afternoon a mass of civilians, army officers and policemen overwhelmed it. Pro-shah speakers went on the air, broadcasting the coup’s success and reading the royal decrees.’

[And hence it was done!]

‘At the embassy, C.I.A. officers were elated, and Mr. Roosevelt got General Zahedi out of hiding. An army officer found a tank and drove him to the radio station, where he spoke to the nation.

Dr. Mossadegh and other government officials were rounded up, while officers supporting General Zahedi placed “known supporters of TP-Ajax” in command of all units of the Tehran garrison.’

[..]

‘the C.I.A. took full credit inside the government. The following year it overthrew the government of Guatemala, and a myth developed that the agency could topple governments anywhere in the world.

Iran proved that third world king-making could be heady.

“It was a day that should never have ended,” the C.I.A.’s secret history said, describing Aug. 19, 1953. “For it carried with it such a sense of excitement, of satisfaction and of jubilation that it is doubtful whether any other can come up to it.”‘

[CIA gloat!]

background:

‘In 1951, when Parliament voted to nationalize the industry, the young shah, recognizing the nationalists’ popularity, appointed Dr. Mossadegh prime minister.

In that job he became a prisoner of his own nationalism, unable to reach an oil compromise. Even as the British negotiated with Iran, they won the support of the major oil companies in imposing an effective global boycott on Iranian oil.’

[Never fight with the entrenched powers, unless you can defeat them!…Lessons for AAP]

‘When the revolution brought the clerics to power in 1979, anti-shah nationalists tried to revive Dr. Mossadegh’s memory. A Tehran thoroughfare called Pahlevi Avenue was renamed Mossadegh Avenue.

But Ayatollah Khomeini saw him as a promoter not of Islam but of Persian nationalism, and envied his popularity. So Mossadegh Avenue became Vali Asr, after the revered Hidden Imam’

[Khomeini, envied him!…]

‘Two decades later, the Mossadegh cult has been revitalized by resurgent nationalism and frustration with the strictures of Islam. Dr. Mossadegh inspires the young, who long for heroes and have not necessarily found them, either in clerics or kings.’

[Light at the end of the tunnel…neither the kings nor mullahs are your friends…and the choice is between being modern & well equipped or being a pawn to the power games…there are no other choices really!]

Read ‘Letter to My Son’ by Ta-Nahesi Coates

Bone chilling & one of the most powerful essays on slavery in US. ‘Letter to My son’, by Ta-Nahesi Coates, on history of slavery of Black people in America, and contrasting it with present day circumstances.

As stark as it gets, with no escape to any extra-natural beyond the visible bleakness:
‘Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance—no matter how improved—as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children.’

and:
‘We spurned the holidays marketed by the people who wanted to be white. We would not stand for their anthems. We would not kneel before their God. “The meek shall inherit the earth” meant nothing to me. The meek were battered in West Baltimore, stomped out at Walbrook Junction, bashed up on Park Heights, and raped in the showers of the city jail’

Asking questions like:
‘it seemed that the month could not pass without a series of films dedicated to the glories of being beaten on camera. Why are they showing this to us? Why were only our heroes nonviolent?’

Observation, regarding caricature-heroes-who-fit-the-narrative:
‘Everyone of any import, from Jesus to George Washington, was white. This was why your grandparents banned Tarzan and the Lone Ranger and toys with white faces from the house. They were rebelling against the history books that spoke of black people only as sentimental “firsts”—first black four-star general, first black congressman, first black mayor—always presented in the bemused manner of a category of Trivial Pursuit.’

Self chastisement:
‘“Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus,” wrote Wiley. “Unless you find a profit in fencing off universal properties of mankind into exclusive tribal ownership.”’

Growth at his alma mater:
‘My only Mecca was, is, and shall always be Howard University. This Mecca, My Mecca—The Mecca—is a machine, crafted to capture and concentrate the dark energy of all African peoples and inject it directly into the student body.’

Writing is almost poetic, in many passages:
‘But American reunion was built on a comfortable narrative that made enslavement into benevolence, white knights of body snatchers, and the mass slaughter of the war into a kind of sport in which one could conclude that both sides conducted their affairs with courage, honor, and élan. This lie of the Civil War is the lie of innocence, is the Dream. Historians conjured the Dream. Hollywood fortified the Dream’

Man, I think only Arundhati Roy, can write with as much shock and awe, amongst contemporary writers, IMHO.