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Ian Bicking
Works at Mozilla Corporation
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Ian Bicking

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I should use a better note-taking system.

I've realized this for a while, I have a lot of ad hoc things to remember now.  Text editors aren't working well, the granularity of notes are too small, the retrieval doesn't match files.

Then I was listening to this podcast, part one where they talk to +Thad Starner (around 14:30): http://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/385792677/our-computers-ourselves – and he talks about the Rememberance Agent (http://alumni.media.mit.edu/~rhodes/Papers/remembrance.html), where as you enter notes, the agent shows you past notes that have related terms.

Thad talks about this all in the context of wearable computing, but working remotely, at least as far as work is concerned, I always have my laptop with me as I work.  Including during all conversations.  So it seems sufficiently ubiquitous.  And indeed it's the notes about people that feel most valuable to me – what did we talk about last, when else have I referred to this person I am now talking to, etc.

Any simple tools I might start with?  (I keep being reminded of http://tiddlywiki.com but haven't yet tried it.)
Are computers changing human character? Is our closeness with computers changing us as a species? Alix and Lulu look at the ways technology affects us.
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I'm liking workflowy. Android client works decent. Offline is important for me. Data export and backup is sensible. Only big downside is you can't attach photos or other binary files. However for notes it has replaced all my other disjointed systems.
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As we consume information, are we also composing... composing internally, creating new thoughts, reactions, all in our heads.  Not a composition like a newspaper article, but just a personal journal.  Some of this composition sticks in our heads, is remixed later in our dreams and through our forgetfulness, and tied into future consumptive compositions.  Much is lost, maybe that's why browsing can feel like an obsessive forward collecting, like we're information Pacmans – move forward to avoid acknowledging how fleeting our compositions are (compositions that appear frighteningly synonymous with our souls).

I recall an article about Ted Nelson (of Hypertext/Xanadu fame) in which it was noted he obsessively recorded his own activity.  It struck me as an intellectual non sequitur at the time.  And what would he, or anyone else, ever do with all that video?  So maybe that's the link between obsessive recording and an obsession with information organization.

But even if we can't capture thoughts, can't permanently journal otherwise transient observations, we can capture your actions on a computer.  Some hint, some bit of evidence of these passing thoughts.  But we don't do a lot with that.  There's something there I think.
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Have you looked at ThoughtStreams?
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Entropica has an interesting hypothesis of AI: http://phys.org/news/2013-04-emergence-complex-behaviors-causal-entropic.html

Or a TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/alex_wissner_gross_a_new_equation_for_intelligence

The idea, as I see it, is an attempt to make a kind of universal goal: seek future states where the intelligent agent's autonomy is greatest.  In the example of an agent (as in the picture below) that can move left or right, and has an inverted pendulum attached to it, it will try to balance the pendulum in an upright position: this is most unstable, but also the situation where the agent is most capable of exerting change in the future.  In some places I'm seeing this be described as "entropy seeking" which confuses me, I'd describe it more as autonomy seeking.

As a way of achieving ends this seems incomplete.  After keeping options open, at some point you close them off when your goal is in reach.  You might trap the mouse by putting yourself in a state where you are most able to influence the mouse's actions, but at some point you catch the mouse and eat it.  That said, the approach seems interesting because often an analytic effort to achieve a goal is too hard, there are too many unknowns.  So when it is impossible to work directly towards a goal, you may simply act to keep options open, seeking the moment when you can achieve that goal.  

The actual work seems a little fishy, I must admit (echoed some in this Quora topic: http://www.quora.com/How-legitimate-is-the-entropy-based-AI-Entropica-by-Dr-Alex-Wissner-Gross).  A little too inspirational, and not enough meat.  But still, interesting.
(Phys.org) —An ambitious new paper published in Physical Review Letters seeks to describe intelligence as a fundamentally thermodynamic process. The authors made an appeal to entropy to inspire a new formalism that has shown remarkable predictive power. To illustrate their principles they developed ...
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I think Entropica is also an excellent candidate for artificial intelligence gone murderously mad
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"I have been watching programs about the Coastguard.  They are responsible for the protection of the US coastal borders, but also for rescuing people in distress. [...]  One of the problems of a helicopter though, is that the pilots can’t see behind or underneath them.  In the back of the helicopter is a flight mechanic, whose job it is to control the hoist.  He can see the boat, and the end of the winch, but obviously, he can’t control the helicopter.  So he calls out everything he’s doing.  [...] if nothing happens – the helicopter doesn’t move, the boat doesn’t move, there’s no wind, there’s no effect from the downdraft of the helicopter.  If it’s PERFECT, he reports TWELVE times in less than 2 minutes just to get the guy to the boat."

I'm still not very good at reporting, but that's a bug.
I have been watching programs about the Coastguard. They are responsible for the protection of the US coastal borders, but also for rescuing people in distress. Like Search and Rescue in other countries, they use helicopters to find people and then hoist someone down to rescue them.
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Huh, "for (attr in obj)" goes along with "if (attr in obj)", but "for (item of array)" doesn't have an equivalent "if (item of array)"

There is a proposal I guess for a method, but only for ES7: https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/JavaScript/Reference/Global_Objects/Array/includes
The includes() method determines whether an array includes a certain element, returning true or false as appropriate.
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Listening to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TY-hBgYLJqc#t=672

I'm only 11 minutes in, but he's talking about Montessori and computing. And, since I've recently become more aware of Montessori philosophy, I am curious to think about what that would mean. What would a computing experience with the principles of Montessori education look like? You can imagine the accoutrements of Montessori being translated, but that's not very interesting. You can pluck out a few parts of Montessori and translate them, but Montessori has many very complementary aspects that work together.  But I'm afraid I don't have a sufficiently structured concept of Montessori principles to start thinking about how to translate them. I suspect there's something there though.
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I attended "Access Unlocked EdTech's Opportunity to Foster Equality" at 1776 in DC on March 12, 2015. As the event progressed, it became evident to me that the models for self-directed individualized learning that technology should enable was in line with Montessori education. So, I asked the panelists to comment on how tech enhances Montessori and apprenticeship models and whether the model works given it hasn't become dominant. 
Panelist Margaret Angell , Director, Education Innovation Portfolio for CityBridge, responded very favorably to the idea that education tech aligns well with Montessori. She has worked as worked for The District of Columbia Public Schools and for community foundations focused on education. So, she has seen education and critiqued it from important vantages. Her children are also in Montessori Schools.
Montessori is often praised for its outcomes. It works really well when it is allowed to work and the child and its family are committed to the style throughout their k-12 education. However, the methods and style have been around for a century, but not promulgated well. Given that technology is so often framed in Montessori model, I must question whether it can change the dominant system of education.
Montessori isn't as authoritarian as many believe educational environments should be. People are afraid of uncontrolled children. Yet it works. If technology follows this style, I can only imagine that it will be hard to adopt in a way that works best.
Angell also spent some time talking about emphasizing the limitations of current thinking about technology in education. Educators haven't been keen to use technology to relieve things like lack of trust, trauma, or hunger that keeps many kids from learning. Educators focus on how they are measured, just like in any organization. So, the current thinking will probably do a lot more to help kids who already have the basics covered.
I'm a huge proponent of using technology. However, the culture that is implementing the technology will impose its culture on the technology. That culture probably won't experiment much. The better systems will have to be verified far more than is necessary and it will have to align with the gut feelings of head administrators. Change will be slow in traditional systems.
Hopefully, we'll promulgate better ways from outside of traditional systems.

http://www.1776.vc/events/access-unlocked-edtechs-opportunity-to-foster-equality/
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Ian Bicking

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From "Ask HN: How do you deal with professional jealousy and getting older?":

> It's been getting better. For the first time in my life, my procrastination is starting to get tamed. I've been working hard on my first big project, and I expect it's going to be a great one. But I can't help but feel that if I had started in earnest at 25, at 21, at 19 — then maybe the list of accomplishments at the end of my life will be longer. Mentally, I've resigned to the fact that I've procrastinated away a decade of valuable time, and it just endlessly haunts me.

And a reply:

> It's not, it's getting worse.

> You are in a cycle of slave-driving yourself. You remind me of Jiddu Krishnamurthi's assertion that "Influence acts strongest when you don't realize that it is acting". I would venture that most of your accomplishments are a result of being told what you should do, what you should be.

> You will NEVER have the energy that the people whom you compare with have. Because they are being themselves, and are connected to the natural wellspring of motivation that comes from genuine interest, while you are the salmon swimming upstream, aping societal ideals and trying to be someone you are not.
>
> Choose the opposite for a while : stop doing things that don't motivate you. Find out what motivates you. Be spontaneous. If you find a small plant at the roadside that you want to water, do it. Observe that absolutely no effort was required in this action. This is the mark of genuine flow : you will not feel the effort. If you chance upon some project which you execute in this natural state of interest, you will not feel tired.
>
> Almost no one takes my advice because it's so threatening to be natural. What if you are not naturally ambitious? That's a horrific thought to have while being in the company of achievers, isn't it?

One of the unfortunate parts of privilege is that we don't even take very good advantage of it.

I was listening to this podcast recently, in which among other things they profile a woman who lost her sense of fear: http://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/377515477/fearless

She lives a mostly normal but somewhat peculiar life.  She knows danger intellectually, just not emotionally.  She's been assaulted several times, probably all in circumstances where a person with a normal sense of fear would have avoided the circumstance.  But she doesn't seem traumatized by it either, these are just facts.  Which raises the question: do we need fear?  Of course we need fear!  But maybe like vaccination it's sufficient to have herd fear.  Society itself is afraid that safety will cultivate laziness.  But it could also cultivate boldness and bravery.  Society's very fear of laziness and hedonism may be what makes of so cautious, our actions so tepid, because we are reluctant to allow people to take advantage of their privilege.  And we are ALL so privileged now, it's not a 1% or 10% phenomena, it's more like the top 80%.  But we fear the laziness of the bottom most, and repress them most, make them them least capable of taking advantage of what is nearly within their grasp.

I might be slipping into some bizarro version of Ayn Rand, a notion of an anarchist ubermensch.  That wasn't really where I was expecting to go, when all I meant to say was I really liked how this person talked about letting go of ambition...
You will NEVER have the energy that the people whom you compare with have. Because they are being themselves, and are connected to the natural wellspring of motivation that comes from genuine interest, while you are the salmon swimming upstream, aping societal ideals and trying to be someone you ...
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+Ian Bicking My theory is that we are just trying to signal our superiority by loudly conveying that we have that fear "for" the bottom as some virtuous paternalistic reaction. Unfortunately, it's a very damaging signal when pervasive, because it precludes a lot of the interventions that are actually proven to help the bottom X% of people who actually do need help. For example, direct cash transfers really do help people and there are randomized controlled trials demonstrating this. Those programs have the added benefit of being much cheaper to administer.

But in a political sense, they're unpopular because of the idea that someone might use the money for things that a politician couldn't support from a podium. We feel better-than and judgmental when someone uses cash to buy beer, for example, even thought we drink too! We get to armchair theorize about someone else's best course of action, which helps us ignore all of the "squandered" (read: not 100% rationally optimized) opportunity we have.

As to the OP, I can relate a bit. No matter my success, I always have this nagging feeling about all of the side-projects and ideas I didn't pursue, all of the FOSS projects I maintain not as well as I could. I kind of like that I have that nagging feeling, though. It optimizes for the opinion of future Wes with regards to evaluating my actions. It's his voice.
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"The standard, textbook answer is that we should look at public goods — goods that are non rival and non excludable, so that the private sector won’t provide them. National defense, weather satellites, disease control, etc.

"Nowadays, however, governments are involved in a lot more — education, retirement, health care."

I would argue that all these things have become non-excludable (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excludability): "In economics, a good or service is called excludable if it is possible to prevent people (consumers) who have not paid for it from having access to it. By comparison, a good or service is non-excludable if non-paying consumers cannot be prevented from accessing it."

We started Social Security because poverty of the elderly became morally unacceptable.  That is, we (society) felt compelled to prevent that poverty, regardless of the choices the person had made leading up.  Some time ago we decided the same about health care, long before the ACA.  Which is why people could always receive emergency room access, and a large mishmash of other ways to keep people from truly going without – ACA just tried to make some sense out of an obligation we had already established.  And education relates to children, and anything that excludes children makes people feel uncomfortable.
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The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of not feeling uncomfortable :)
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"Margot Wallström, the Swedish foreign minister, denounced the subjugation of women in Saudi Arabia. As the theocratic kingdom prevents women from travelling, conducting official business or marrying without the permission of male guardians, and as girls can be forced into child marriages where they are effectively raped by old men, she was telling no more than the truth. Wallström went on to condemn the Saudi courts for ordering that Raif Badawi receive ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed secularism and free speech. [...]

"Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador and stopped issuing visas to Swedish businessmen. The United Arab Emirates joined it. The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which represents 56 Muslim-majority states, accused Sweden of failing to respect the world’s ‘rich and varied ethical standards’ — standards so rich and varied, apparently, they include the flogging of bloggers and encouragement of paedophiles"
If the cries of ‘Je suis Charlie’ were sincere, the western world would be convulsed with worry and anger about the Wallström affair. It has all the ingredients for a… Read more
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Since it is the Saudi's that have actually withdrawn ambassadors and stopped issuing visas is would seem it is they that are the ones not being accepting of other cultures.  
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An interesting take on the purpose of a flat structure, not how I've understood it before
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I've read a fair number of accounts of what it feels like to be in technology as a member of an outgroup – from women or minorities or people who don't fit the cultures self-conception of meritocracy.  And that's useful, I've learned from those, but I realize it's not very actionable. So often the accounts are about things I don't perceive. Maybe unconscious bias (which I may perpetrate, but unconsciously). Maybe overt harassment (which I don't perpetrate, don't often notice, but may unwittingly witness).

If I want to do something actionable, the accounts only get me half the way, because they help me know what it's like to be in a difficult situation, but don't do as much to help me know what to look for from my own perspective. Because whatever happens I'm going to experience it as a white male, and often as a bystander. I don't even have to be particularly innocent to usually end up as a bystander, the numbers just work out that way.   But what should I look out for, that sign I am a bystander, that sign that I could intervene?  (The sign I am perhaps deliberately trying to avoid, for it is always easier and safer to not intervene.)  The victim cannot tell me.  The advocate, with breathless urgency, tells me the exact wrong thing – for I must be reminded of the banality of it, because my observations are mostly banal, and stories that are not about myself are always at risk of being skimmed.  So if I am to see the story of a peer, see a dysfunction not directed at myself, I need details, I need to be shown the signals.  And if anyone is going to show me, it should probably be that other white guy who was mostly minding his own business, interested but unsure, who ultimately did nothing but on retrospect, with an added perspective, would have rather he had done something.

It's not a story I've heard.  It's also not a very interesting story, but it's the one that would help me know when to act.
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Thinking fast and slow was a very eye opening book to me, even if it's about a completly different subject. good stuff :)
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Work
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Computer Programmer
Employment
  • Mozilla Corporation
    present
  • Imaginary Landscape
  • The Open Planning Project
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Currently
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Previously
Minneapolis, Minnesota - Richmond, Indiana - Chicago, Illinois
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Introduction
I'm a programmer.  I work in Mozilla Labs, where we try to figure out new ideas for the web and browsers.

I've been doing open source programming since sometime in college.  All my actually important contributions (and many projects) have been in Python: Paste, WebOb, WebTest, pip, virtualenv, FormEncode, MiniMock, and a bunch of others, quite a few of which no one else ever cared about ;)

Since moving to Mozilla, and because of events in my personal life, I've stepped away from most of those old projects.  Hopefully it will leave room for new projects, but I also find myself in a period of reinvention, moving from server to client, from Python to Javascript, and frankly I'm just older.  I remain dedicated to free/open source software; and while that is practical and has been professionally rewarding, I am more motivated by the principle and politics of open source than the engineering.

I work remotely out of my home, in the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Education
  • Earlham College
    Computer Science and Math, 1995 - 1998
  • South High School, Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1991 - 1995
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Male