Kevin Kelly on design and the Scientific Method

[I noticed I had 36 posts in the drafts folder some dating back years. It can be quite fascinating to see what had your attention years ago. This one, last edited in March 2009, is just collection of notes for a post, but there were some gems from Kevin Kelly]

Totally engrossed in the subject of resources and pipeline management, information design, intermediate technology and dashboard design

“n-Dimentional gigantic hypercube of all the possible solutions to how to design the things and we are just wondering around trying to find the best one.” –  Stack Overflow podcast

How do committees invent?

In a discussion on Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Kevin Kelly made this observation:

Consider a parallel with software design:

* Statement of requirements
* [ architect/design
* [ implement/test
* deliver

That is, Scientific Method consists of a statement of the
problem, followed by a repetition of: generate hypotheses
and perform experiments to test hypotheses, followed by
From Pirsig’s description of Scientific Method:

* Statement of problem
* [ hypothesis
* [ experiment
* conclusion

a conclusion. Software design can be considered to be a
Statement of requirements, followed by a repetition of:
generate a proposed design then implement and test it;
followed by delivery of the final system.

Now, Pirsig goes into the fact that what seems like it
should be the hardest part–generating viable hypotheses–
in practice turns out to be the easiest. In fact, there’s
no end to them; the act of exploring one hypothesis brings
to mind a multitude of others. The harder you look, the
more you find. It is an open, not a closed, system.

I would suggest that this correspondence holds: that
the set of possible designs to meet the requirements is
infinite; that the act of generating a design brings to
mind multiple alternatives; that generating a design
increases, rather than decreases, the set of possible
alternative designs.

This is argument by analogy and therefore not particularly
forceful, but I feel certain, myself, that it holds. It
certainly feels right, intuitively. I think it ties in
with Goedel’s work on decidability: that any sufficiently
complex system–which any programming language is–is able
to say more than it can prove. Thus there’s always another
hypothesis that might give better answers; there’s always
another design that might solve the problem better. There’s
always room for an architect that can pull the magic out
of the clouds.

That last bit ties in to a point I’d like to expand on. That
is, that all formalisms, or design methodologies, are in
some way limiting. By adhering strictly to a particular
design process, you forego the gains that come from
inventing a new, better process.

Admittedly, you also ‘forego’ the time lost on ideas
that don’t work out.

Process or methodology is a means of getting a Ratchet Effect,
or Holding The Gains. It’s a way of applying
a pattern of development to other, related, projects.
There needs to be a way of allowing for new developments
and ideas, though.

“There’s no one more qualified to modify a system than
the last person to work on it”. That seems counter-
intuitive; one would think that the people that created
it understand it best. However, they’ve moved on to
other things, while the later maintainers got the
benefit of all the original designers’ work plus,
in addition, all that was later learned about the
system, such as how it reacts to the customers, and
how it responds to maintenance.

Software design is made up partly of flashing new insights,
and partly of routine solutions that have been invented over
and over again. Codifying patterns is a way of ratcheting
the whole community up to near the level of the leaders, at
least in terms of the routine solutions.

It’s still necessary to allow for the insights, though. A
lot of the big-company emphasis on process ignores this, assuming
that nothing is ever new, and that the answers of yesterday
are good enough for tomorrow.

(this is turning into a pretty good rant, but I think I’ll
cut it off for now)

— KevinKelley – http://clublet.com/why?ZenAndTheArtOfMotorcycleMaintenance

[Dec 2014: Sadly Clublet.com is not working, and archive.org has no archive of this page]

Do you have a Catfish in your tank?


Photo by slappytheseal . Click for original.

Or are you the Catfish?

“Vince Pierce: They used to tank cod from Alaska all the way to China. They’d keep them in vats in the ship. By the time the codfish reached China, the flesh was mush and tasteless. So this guy came up with the idea that if you put these cod in these big vats, put some catfish in with them and the catfish will keep the cod agile. And there are those people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank god for the catfish because we would be droll, boring and dull if we didn’t have somebody nipping at our fin.” – From “Catfish” (2010)

How Anonymous hacked a major security firm

Ars Technica has a fascinating inside story of how Anonymous hacked security firm HB Gary, after the security firm vaunted that it was about expose members of the group.

It is a tale of wincing humiliation for HB Gary, security experts who allowed themselves to be utterly humiliated by an attack that not only compromised their website, but led to their entire e-mail archive being published online, many of their core company servers being completely compromised and terabytes of backups deleted.

It is a genuine cautionary tale. Their folly was not merely taunting capable and motivated adversaries, but rather of not following security best practices, which as experts, they know well.

Read on…Anonymous speaks: the inside story of the HBGary hack

Rodney King and the 1992 LA Riots: Who were the 55 killed?

The  20 year anniversary of the Rodney King beating had me thinking about the subsequent 1992 LA riots that broke out the following year, after the police officer who beat him were acquitted of any crime.

At the time I was absolutely horrified by the attack on Reginald Denny on the first day of the riots. If you have seen it, it is unforgettably terrible. A rioting mob pulls him out of his truck and beats him mercilessly. They jump on his head and throw pieces of masonry on him.

Based on that attack – where the mob was black and the victim white – I presumed the majority of people killed and injured would have been whites.

Surprisingly, of those killed, the majority were black. It may be that the majority of those injured where white or Hispanic, I could not find any statistics.

Here is a page with a breakdown of deaths, what we know the circumstances, and the victim’s race.

http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~oliver/soc220/Lectures220/AfricanAmericans/LA%20Riot%201992%20Deaths.htm

RIP Dora

Dora – my 2006 model15″ MacBook Pro, RIP

On Sunday night my long-time computing companion Computadora aka Dora lost her battle against Logic Board disease.

She was the best laptop I have ever owned. 5 years of perfect service, day and night.

Adiós Dora…(and hello new MacBook Pro 2011 edition!