Category: Inspirational

A Look “Behind Deep Blue”

There are a few books that I like to reread especially when I need to recharge my motivation. One of these books is “Behind Deep Blue” by Feng-Hsiung Hsu. It is a well-written story about a small team who, as the subtitle says, built ‘the computer that defeated the World Chess Champion’, aka Gary Kasparov. Despite the technical implications in the title, a person moderately familiar with chess and computers would not have any problems following the story. The few geeky parts, scattered here and there, can be skimmed in favor of what really stands out, the human narrative.

The fateful night and soul-searching described in Chapter 3 is one of my favorites. Hsu finds himself at a cross-roads, and only hesitates for a bit before committing to the task at hand. One of the reaffirmed lessons for me is the need to identify the root of confusion and doubt before one could proceed into effective paths. Hsu found the 64-chip design odd even from the beginning, but for various reasons he did not think about alternative solutions. Until he was asked to help out, and he started to look deeper into the technical issues, and then that fateful night of introspection, … and the rest is history, or more precisely, a 12-year endeavor by dedicated individuals.

I really don’t want to give a long book review or spoil the story. Let me just say that there are many lessons in Deep Blue that I find relevant to my own pursuits. Dedication to a task is one of them. Not the ‘blind’ variety, but dedication that springs from the process of working through doubts and the careful assessment of one’s capabilities and limitations. It’s been seven years since I first took the time to really reflect on recurring questions; six years since I decided that yes, I could do something about these questions and started to search for potential paths; four years since I committed to training towards a technical role as warranted by my natural inclinations; and now I’m again purposely moving out of my comfort zone towards unfamiliar territory. Who knows if anything will come out of my projects, but it’s all worth it as I really enjoy the self-imposed challenges.

The Dark Mansion

An inspirational excerpt from “Fermat’s Enigma” by Simon Singh:

…getting this far has required enormous determination to overcome the periods of self-doubt. Wiles describes his experience of doing mathematics in terms of a journey through a dark unexplored mansion. “One enters the first room of the mansion and it’s dark. Completely dark. One stumbles around bumping through the furniture, but gradually you learn where each piece of furniture is. Finally, after six months or so, you find the light switch, you turn it on, and suddenly it’s all illuminated. You can see exactly where you were. Then you move into the next room and spend another six months in the dark. So each of these breakthroughs, while sometimes momentary, sometimes over a period of a day or two, they are the culmination of, and couldn’t exist without, the many months of stumbling around in the dark that precede them.” … “I really believed that I was on the right track, but that did not mean that I would reach my goal.”

Andrew Wiles spent 7 years of dedicated effort to prove Fermat’s Theorem, plus another year fixing a subtle error in the proof. Significant progress, even an outright solution to a problem, is bound to result from the right combination of skills, dedication and detachment from thoughts of rewards or hardship.

Of Workers and Worders

“I see you are a worker. You are not a fanatic. You will change whenever you find yourself in the wrong. There is no harm as long as you are not fanatical. Whether you are in the right or I am in the right, results will prove. Then I may go your way or you may come my way; or both of us may go a third way. So go ahead with your work. I will help you, though your method is against mine.” [An Atheist with Gandhi by Gora]

The above was taken from an exchange between Gandhi and the quoted book’s author, which had sought advise from the Mahatma. If the reader doubts that people could effectively work together despite having fundamental differences, I would recommend reading the short book by Gora. No one denies the idealism of these men, and yet what really stands out in their discussions is the importance of having concrete results to back theories.

Through Gora’s endearing recollection of his time with Gandhi, I could imagine myself receiving advise directly from eminent practical idealists. More than once, I have used the following curt advise to pull myself above recurring doubts: “Go and work. Work solves your difficulties.” On the other hand, when I feel getting carried away by words and flights of ideas, I find this quote brings me back on solid ground: “You are too theoretical. I am not so intellectual. Go to professors and discuss.”

Immediate relevance and clarity of insight more than makes up for the lack of eloquence in the preceding advise.

Shift in Priorities

The past year marked a gradual shift in priorities for me. The following thoughts are common-sense stuff, something the I felt that I needed to articulate to myself in order not to get lost in all the cliches.

Self-Regulation before Self-Sufficiency: I have written about self-regulation since starting this blog, and I do not want to repeat the points that I have already made. However, it might be worth mentioning that the perspective shift was not the result of mere mental exercises, but also of trying to actively seek a more self-sufficient lifestyle such as through organic gardening. It became readily apparent to me that only a minority could become fully self-sufficient through organic gardening or farming. Market specialization is a fact of any modern economy, and as market boundaries disappear, self-regulation is a more practical goal than self-sufficiency and has a more viable chance of spreading.

Inside-Out before Bottom-Up Change: In a flat world, there are no higher ups or bottom dwellers, and it is counterproductive to think of the marginalized as powerless. There definitely are people with more influence than others, but I believe it would be misguided to seek power itself to effect sustainable change. Change that starts from within has more chance of lasting, as other types of change involves numerous factors that are not under an individual’s direct control. For example, this approach is reflected in my effort to develop a system where I could simply declare my willingness to accept ledger-based currency, without preconditions of belonging to certain communities or payment networks.

Duty before “Harmlessness”: This prioritization is bound to be misunderstood; I’ll explain by relating the two through my own search for a peaceful vocation. In the process of trying to move away from working for corporations, I tried to avoid looking into technology-related careers and instead leaned towards more “natural” professions in agrarian, education and healthcare sectors. However, one’s temperament and lifetime of experience cannot be easily ignored — to do so would imply being constantly at war with one’s natural tendencies. And so despite the numerous down-to-earth paths that one could follow, a natural profession for me means following my interest in information/documentation systems, even though such profession could be easily dismissed as being elitist or being disconnected from everyday needs.

Practical Idealism

I don’t know how and when the idea of independent currency brands and issuers would become widely adopted, but a word of caution to the early adopters:

“As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, you should keep it. If you were to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that unsatisfied want would make trouble for you. Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction for you, or when it seems to interfere with that which is more greatly desired.” (Richard B. Gregg recounting M.K. Gandhi’s advice, in the book The Value of Voluntary Simplicity, online copy here.)

If a person’s current line of work allows him or her to achieve peace of mind, as far as being able to provide for family and to contribute to society without personal moral or ethical objections, then the wages from that work does not have to be given up in order to try out a satconomy implementation.

As for myself, I think of this effort as somewhat of a personal hobby/duty. If and when the time comes that I lose interest in the salary that I earn as a technical writer, or if I conclude that my contract work is an obstacle to the effective demonstration of a satconomy framework system, then only at that point would I have to give up earning ‘regular money’. I will be content to be able to simply cultivate a currency brand ( at this point, just like any start-up entepreneur who hopes to eventually gain brand recognition. However, unlike an enterpreneur who looks forward to a big payday at an IPO, my goal is conceptually simpler but perhaps much harder to implement: influence the market to sustainably support what my entity’s currency brand represents.