I just read the article by Larry O’Brien where he concludes that artificial intelligence is not happening. Yeah, I agree. The AI is holy grail of computing for many years now, but as soon as you have good grasp on how computers work and how you make them work for you through programming you understand why AI will not happen.

At least it will not happen with current technology, meaning binary, transistor based processor. Even with different hardware I am doubtful that AI will happen. There is so much we don’t understand about human consciousness that I can’t see us replicating it without understanding how it comes about. And we have no clue.

Currently the approach AI researches have is to create complex “neural networks” and expect that consciousness will drop in. That sounds ridiculous to me. No matter how complex structure you make, you can’t expect consciousness to just happen.

So attaining artificial consciousness is, I think, nearly impossible. First, we don’t know what it actually is and how its made. And second, consciousness involves more than rational thought. It also involves emotions, sensations, etc., which a machine could  surely never truly experience.

 

Insanity of Apple iPad

One definition of insanity is trying exactly the same thing over and over again and expecting different result. Microsoft pioneered Tablet PC concept back in 2001, but form factor and input method failed to catch on. For Apple to be successful with their tablet, they had to try something different, or otherwise they’d be insane 🙂

So they tried something different. They took iPod touch, super-sized it, called it iPad and what followed was chorus of technology enthusiasts and casual users alike who have been unimpressed by what iPad is all without trying it. Even Bill Gates says that he is unimpressed since device does not have built-in physical keyboard…

I don’t know whether iPad will succeed or be second coming of Apple TV, but Apple is trying something different so all bets are off.

What I do know is that iPad is device that I would feel good about giving to my mother or grandmother to use and not worry about viruses, deleted files or them being intimidated by the device and not grasping how to use it. It does not need rebooting, has 10 hours battery life and is easy to use… There are lot of people that use computers just to surf the web and do email and will be delighted by iPad…

What’s interesting to me is that pundits got blinded by how device looks (like giant iPod touch) and how Apple positioned iPad in introduction, as device between phone and laptop. This strikes me as perfect misdirection. I see iPad as full fledged computer that can replace not only netbook and laptop for many, many people, but it can be their main machine. And there are over 100,000 applications that it can use. And you can connect bluetooth keyboard to it or use keyboard dock…

There is huge potential there, I can’t wait to see how it plays out. What do you think?

 

Selling perception

I read blog post recently that used pricing of Raphaels’ painting to draw conclusions to pricing of software and concluded that fair product price is determined by what people think not what your product actually is. I disagree. Big time.

Comparing pricing of art and software does not really make sense. Why? Value of the art is in the eye of beholder. You buy art that you like and that liking is entirely subjective. You don’t buy art to perform certain job. You buy art because how it makes you feel.

On the other hand, most people buy software do to something with it. They buy a tool. There is a job that they have in mind for that tool and the value of the tool is determined by how well it solves the job at hand.

Value thus, is the foundation of pricing. Customers choose price they are willing to pay based on value they receive from a product. Any healthy business should concentrate on creating value not hot air that will burst the balloon sooner rather than later.

Is there perception there? Sure there is, but it is often very small part of the equation. When you evaluate tool, you choose the one that works best for the task you have at hand. I am not aware of single product that was long lasting and which had not provided value to its customers. None. You can’t sell perception for long. There is work to be done.

Besides, how do you build perception? I admit, I have no clue and have no interest in that. I believe it is much healthier to concentrate on building value. You concentrate on building things that are useful to people. Let others build perception while you build tools that help people do their job every day… Guess who’s going to be around in 5 years.

 

Do it fast or do it right?

You can choose to make something as fast as you can or you can choose to do it right. Virtue is knowing which one is called for when you develop software. Both have their merits and neither is inherently wrong. Sometimes fast is what makes you successful and sometimes you must do it right.

Lot of companies don’t have balance between fast and right. And scale is usually heavily tipped on the fast side…

 

On choosing to do it well

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Because what other effort is worth our time here?

 

It seems popular these days to say that we should be doing less. Producing products with less features and under-doing competition. The problem is, this sounds good but it does not work. I am not aware of any single company that did less and succeeded. They might say they are doing less, but if you watch what is being done, truth is everyone is adding more.

Take a look at what has been added to iPhone over last 3 years: Compass, video recording, whole application store, more memory, more processing power, more of everything. Not less. And just wait for next version. There will be even more added. I don’t think they would be investing all the resources into new functionality if that was not directly related to increased sales.

Is your car doing less than 10 years ago? Does VS.NET 2010 have less features than VS.NET 2008 and would you buy it if they actually removed what you use or kept everything the same? I don’t think so.

Any successful product to stay relevant to its users must add more, it must improve and evolve. It is what customers demand. In last 10 years we have not received a single request to remove features from our products, but we have received thousands of requests to add features to the product.

This is normal. There is nothing wrong with more. People find new uses and needs in the products they like. And if you don’t give it to them, they will go and get them somewhere else. Simple as that. You choose.

Some equate the less with easy to use, but that is not the case. Less may lead to easy to use, but feature rich product can be easy to use too. I have no doubt which one wins: feature rich easy to use product indeed.

So doing less as an idea sounds attractive. As marketing point it sounds good and it gets mind-share. But when you turn around and look at what’s actually being done, everyone is busy adding more.

 

Is there a success gene?

What is the most important trait for success? I think it is willpower. Yes, luck plays a role. Yes, talent plays a role to a degree. But unless you have willpower to slug through 10 years of intense work that is required to master a skill you will not make it. If you look at just about any major category of problems that people are faced with odds are pretty good that willpower is involved in some way. You might think that willpower is fixed asset, some of us have more of it and some of us less, but it is not.

Willpower is controlled by the prefrontal cortex part of brain located just behind the forehead. Prefrontal cortex is also responsible for focus, abstract thinking and short-term memory. I think it is reasonable to assume that due to genetics some people have better developed prefrontal cortex which makes it easier for them to exert willpower for longer periods of time, focus better and have better short-term memory. You could say that they are genetically pre-disposed for success.

Good news is that research indicates that willpower is a lot like muscle. You can develop it. It is also interesting that, if you exert it too much, like muscle trying to lift too much weight, it will fail. It shines new light on “pick your battles” saying doesn’t it? It also means that if you are not working at it, like muscles, your willpower will atrophy. So how do you go about increasing willpower?

Dr. Roy Baumeister who did research on willpower found in experiments that willpower improves across the board when we exercise it. He did experiment with group of students which were asked to improve their posture for two weeks. After that period these students showed marked improvement in measures of self-control when compared to a group that didn’t work on improving the posture.

In another words exercising self control in any area of your life will be reflected in improved willpower on unrelated tasks like business or programming. You start with small tasks like improving posture or even brushing teeth with opposite hand so you can build up your willpower for bigger tasks. But how does this work, is it really possible?

In early 1970s scientist discovered that brain changed its very structure with each different activity it performed, perfecting its circuits so it can better do the task at hand. This fundamental brain property was called neuroplasticity.

“Neurons that fire together wire together”. As you exercise your willpower you actually re-wire your brain. The neurons responsible for willpower develop stronger, “cleaner” more efficient connections and your willpower gets improved. But if you do not exercise it, the connections will weaken and your willpower will be reduced. Use it or lose it literally applies here. Dr. Michael Merzenich is neuroscientist that has done lot of research in area of neuroplasticity.

The key for this to work successfully is close attention to the task being done since that is the key for long-term plastic change. If you do the task automatically the improvements are made but are not long lasting. This is another very strong vote against multi-tasking. Divided attention doesn’t lead to lasting changes in your brain.

But if you have boring work that you dread doing, it will drain your willpower needed for important tasks. How do you address that?

Self-Determination Theory – SDT – indicates that willpower will be depleted less if we think that task we are working on is of our own choosing, i.e. decision to do it is made based on our own deeply held interests rather than decision dictated by other source, societal pressures or external control.

Based on my own experience, I found that you need to convince yourself into believing that tasks that are assigned to you are interesting or beneficial. I used this technique effectively in school to be able to learn dull, boring subjects easier. I would trick myself into believing that they are interesting by finding something in them that interests me or that I think will be useful to me in future. Otherwise I would have hell of time trying to learn anything that I do not find interesting.

Another important component that should not be forgotten is nutrition. In research Dr. Baumeister found that exercising self-control uses lot of energy and that blood glucose levels are connected with self-control. He found that blood glucose levels had dropped in people that were exerting their willpower and that restoring glucose levels replenishes self-control. Study subjects who drank sugar-sweetened lemonade, which raises glucose levels quickly, performed better on self-control tests than those who drank artificially-sweetened beverages, which have no effect on glucose. Seems like that might explains why lot of us programmers are sugar junkies as we wrangle with code all day long…

Intuitively I think it seems logical that there are people predisposed to success. People that have stronger willpower genetically, just like there are people that are taller or have blue eyes. While you can’t get taller you can certainly build up your willpower. As with everything in life it requires hard work and paying attention.

 

Do what you love mirage

“Do what you love”, is advice I hear exclusively from financially secure people. And it rings hollow to me. When you need money to survive, you do any work that is available, love does not play into that choice. Desperation does.

If you do have a job, “do what you love” becomes another thing more desirable than what you already have, just because you don’t have it. “Do what you love” becomes mirage, illusion for something that is unattainable but which would solve all your problems and make you happy.

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”– Frederick Koenig

If you are already doing what you love, great. But for most people divide between what they do today and what they think they would love to do is too wide. How to get there? How to get where?

I am suggesting different angle. Try doing what you already do, but better than anyone else. Try doing it world class and you’ll see that the better you do it, the more you love it. Take your craft to the next level. Pay attention to details and do the work right.

“The truth is that most people have a better chance to be uncommon by effort than by natural gifts. Anyone could give that effort in his or her chosen endeavor, but the typical person doesn’t, choosing to do only enough to get by.” Tony Dungy

Any time we do quality work we are deeply satisfied with it. Whether it is writing code, fixing a car or cooking, when done well it makes us happy. Good, quality work is always unmistakable. It fans out like waves. We instinctively recognize it. We feel better because of it and we like to share that feeling with others. That’s how word of good products, services and people spreads.

As word of your good work spreads the more positive feedback you get, emotional and financial. By doing good work, you just might find out that what you are doing, is what you are supposed to do. And if you don’t, quality work will get you to where you want to be.

“If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.”
James Cameron, director of Terminator and Titanic, from The New Yorker

Yet, this is not popular advice. There is no mirage to sell like with “Do what you love” story. There is only hard work.

In the “Outliers: The Story of Success” Malcolm Gladwell puts the “price” on the top performance. It is more than 10,000 hours and 10 years of focused, meaningful practice. Mozart started writing music at six, but he did not compose works now regarded as masterworks until he was twenty-one. Some argue that he actually peaked late since he didn’t compose his greatest work until he had been composing for more than twenty years. At six year of age I doubt that he knew what he loved. Likely he was imitating his father who was composer, teacher and violinist. He tried to do his best and over years of practice and hard work, what he did, became what he loved to do…

There is of course more to it, I am not suggesting that it is that simple. But there is connection between doing quality work, satisfaction and loving what you do. Perhaps we have cause and effect mixed up by everyone parroting “do what you love”.

Perhaps, love grows out of work well done.

 

In past I foolishly thought that if I just had more money, more time or more brains I could achieve whatever I was after. I thought that some limitation, some constraint is preventing me from doing whatever I set out to do.

By now I know that is completely misguided. Having no constraints does not lead to success, but having them certainly does. Having lots of money or lots of time does not guarantee that you will succeed in whatever you are trying to do, it is actually limiting. More startups were hurt by too much money than by lack of it.

I’ll give you two examples. In May this year Duke Nukem makers 3D Realms closed the doors and let go of all staff. They failed to finish sequel Duke Nukem Forever to cult classic game. They were at it since 1997. For 12 years straight they worked on sequel while most games are finished in 2-4 years. First version of Duke Nukem was done in year and half…

So why they have failed to develop sequel? Lots of time and lots of money. The two most common constraints on any project were not present, and with perfectionism running amok, they never finished. If you have latest January 2010 Wired issue you can read all about it in detail…

Second example that illustrates this is open source Chandler calendaring project that is center piece of Dreaming in Code book that I recommend reading (my book review is here). In this project due to wealthy financier, money was not a constraint and 2 dozen of developers run in a circle for 3 years producing “perfect” calendaring app… At the end though, they at least released something…

Thinking that some limitation is preventing you from doing something is just an excuse, opposite is the case. Having limited time, limited finances, limited resources, limited whatever, forces us to think out of box. It forces us to come up with novel approach. It forces us to finish whatever we are doing.

Having no constraints widens the possibilities so much that we get lost in sea of choices.

And this kind of has Zen quality to it. Unlimited limits you while constraints free you.

 

That’s one of  the “business” phrases that I really hate the most. Robots in factory between themselves can say “It’s nothing personal, it’s just business”. Stop saying that unless you work with robots!

Everything in business and about business is 100%, unquestionably, unequivocally personal. If it involves people its personal.

When somebody tells you: “It’s nothing personal, it’s just business”, watch out, you are about to get sacked. Its like this phrase justifies whatever bad things they have planned for you.

And since we spend almost half of our time doing business and working why wouldn’t you want it being personal? If it is not important to you, if it doesn’t count, what’s the point?

Which brings me to closing point: You should not work for people you do not like, and you should not hire people you do not like. Between people that like each other everything is personal, not business.

 

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