Friday, November 26, 2010


So here it is, Thanksgiving weekend, and everyone's thoughts are turned to friends and family, and the connections that make up the community of which we are each a part.

I suppose, to most people it's funny that I reduce such transcendent ideals as "family" and "community" down to their most simplistic technological analog, but it's only natural to me, spending as much time as I do thinking about networks. 

I spend so much of my time thinking of the network radiating outward from me, that it's sometimes too easy to forget that there are other type of networks that are fundamental to who and what I am. Less than a decade after the inception of the internet, Tim Berners-Lee wrote in "Weaving the Web,"
"In an extreme view, the world can be seen as only connections, nothing else. We think of a dictionary as the repository of meaning, but it defines words only in terms of other words. I liked the idea that a piece of information is really defined only by what it’s related to, and how it’s related.

There really is little else to meaning. The structure is everything. there are billions of neurons in our brains, but what are neurons? Just cells. The brain has no knowledge until connections are made between neurons. All that we know, all that we are, comes from the way our neurons are connected."
In this instance, Berners-Lee extrapolates lessons on computer networks from cellular level interactions, but I think that his wisdom applies just as readily on scales in the opposite direction. Connections, whether at a cellular, syntactical, or interpersonal define who we are. And there's nothing like a family reunion to remind you of that.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Paul Graham: What You’ll Wish You’d Known

Any high schooler will tell you, if they've been asked once, they've been asked a thousand times. “Well, what do you want to do with your life?”

One student found an answer to that question in the excellent Paul Graham essay, "What You’ll Wish You’d Known." He wrote about how the essay inspired him in an article entitled "What a High School Student Learned from Paul Graham." Below are a few of my own favorite passages from Graham's work.

“I suspect if you had the sixteen year old Shakespeare or Einstein in school with you, they’d seem impressive, but not totally unlike your other friends. Which is an uncomfortable thought. If they were just like us, then they had to work very hard to do what they did. And that’s one reason we like to believe in genius. It gives us an excuse for being lazy.