Celebrating Minecraft’s Creator

Build what you want! Have you heard that one before?

Minecraft began as an idea in the mind of Markus “Notch” Persson. He released an early version of it in May 2009 after creating it in his spare time from home.  They’ve sold 54 million copies since! In September 2014, Mojang – Minecraft’s current owner sold out to Microsoft for $2Bn.

Minecraft’s a unique story that highlights two promises of our age – the ability for anyone to write software and instantly ship it to users at scale. If you’ve got the ingredients right, the sky is the limit.

The build cycle starts out with toying with several ideas, good and bad. The one that’s interesting is the one that gets built. As the very first user of what’s being built, the creator enjoys the advantage of the shortest possible feedback loop before users were to even get involved.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of thought over this bit of the loop. I’ve come to realize that attempting to give away the responsibility of this bit loses the entire point of the cycle. Communication is inherently lossy! Pleasant, unintended side effects of doing it oneself- keeping in only those features that are absolutely necessary and depriving naysayers altogether.

Sharp build skills have another amplifying side-effect. When you notice a workaround or a gap, you’re less likelier to turn to a lesser solution. Instead, you’re likelier to think “… that’s interesting, I can build that tonight.”

It’s also the only sure way that I know of dropping the many biases we carry. And yes, you’re going to get some ideas that suck.

This is to wish Markus well! His faith in ‘Build what you want’ is inspiring.

 

Build What You Want

Beyond Giving Up

What you do after giving in is a true window into character. If you think you’re going to get back on track, here’s a few thoughts from different books I’ve read over the past year that will help you on your way.

Do you know why you’re giving in? The key is to know the difference between a temporary setback from one that’s permanent. Often this clarity is elusive when unexpectedly overwhelmed.

Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” describes an experiment where researchers gave guests puzzles to solve while measuring the dilation of pupils, heart rate. As the challenge level rose, they’d watch the pupils dilate as much as 50% and the heart rate go up by as much as 7 beats per minute. These physiological indicators were reliable enough to tell when the guest has given up,

During a mental multiplication, the pupil normally dilated to a large size within a few seconds and stayed large as long as the individual kept working on the problem; it contracted immediately when she found a solution or gave up. As we watched from the corridor, we would sometimes surprise both the owner of the pupil and our guests by asking, “Why did you stop working just now?” The answer from inside the lab was often, “How did you know?” to which we would reply, “We have a window to your soul.”

– Daniel Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow (Get the Kindle edition on Amazon).

Did you get the challenge-level right? If it is a temporary setback and you’re keen on getting back on – revisit the challenge level. Think about what might make it easier for you to get into the flow of things.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work on happiness describes a spontaneous process of immersion in  work that can only be achieved if you’re able to balance the challenge and skill level. Too great a challenge and your likely to be disillusioned. Too little and you’ll be bored.

flow model
Flow Model, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

– from Mihaly’s talk and book “Flow”, (Kindle Edition on Amazon).

Slow things down. One way to reduce the challenge level without compromising on the opportunity to learn and fix is to slow things down. Deliberately practice your steps so that you can do them correctly. With the help of repetition and stress on smaller steps you’re more likely to figure out what you need to do correctly.

In “Talent Code”, Daniel Coyle refers to deliberate practice as ‘deep practice’, breaking down a complex skill in order to learn it. He relates how students in various talent hotbeds first watch the skill in action as a coherent entity; slowing your own practice down to break down the moves into its component steps and imitating each one correctly over and over again.

At Spartak it’s called imitatsiya—rallying in slow motion with an imaginary ball. All Spartak’s players do it, from the five-year-olds to the pros. Their coach, a twinkly, weathered seventy-seven-year-old woman named Larisa Preobrazhenskaya, roamed the court like a garage mechanic tuning an oversize engine. She grasped arms and piloted small limbs slowly through the stroke. When they finally hit balls—one by one, in a line (there are no private lessons at Spartak), Preobrazhenskaya frequently stopped them in their tracks and had them go through the motion again slowly, then once more. And again. And perhaps one more time.

Daniel Coyle. The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown (Get the Kindle Edition on Amazon).

The questions these excerpts will raise ought to be valuable for anyone who’s experienced the frustration of giving up on any objective. Fail and fail smart!

An Introduction to the World of Meditation

A year ago, I started down the path of consciously seeking a stronger connection within. I started out struggling to sit, no lotus, with support for my back. Now, with a simple-minded sense I self-study and practice with whatever is available on the topic online. I steadily peel away at successive layers of Zen thought. I can say now that what drew me to it in the first place is it’s unusually strong emphasis on ‘see for your self’.

On my best days I sit for a little above 25 minutes in half-lotus. I sit once on all days, busy or relaxed, easy or stressful, productive and not so productive. I sit in the day and in the night. I’ve come to a point where I am beginning to feel the hunger for a teacher to help me refine. A quick Internet search revealed a Zen retreat in Kodaikanal. Interestingly, there are renown Zen centers in Seattle as well as in Rochester. Both cities I’ve resided in but never looked past my nose for answers.

You can also join a virtual Zendo treeleaf.org, an online practice place that seeks to provide Zazen sittings, retreats, discussion, interaction with a teacher, and all other activities of a Soto Zen Buddhist Sangha. I found them on this reddit.com/r/zen thread.

For the uninitiated who is interested in learning more, I recommend poking around a bit on the Web. There is a wealth of information available on meditation online. See for your self!

Meditation is Universal!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRMf4z8Cs8s]

An introduction to Meditation, Kavita Maharaj.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxhGmzAX-nA]

An introduction to Zen Meditation practice – Taigen Shodo Harada Roshi.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LL2XUTeoUsM]

Exploring Serendipity

Google defines serendipity as “The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: ‘a fortunate stroke of serendipity'”. The definition implies a sense of ‘chance’ or that which is not directly in our control.

Wikipedia has this to say – “Serendipity means a ‘happy accident’ or ‘pleasant surprise’; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.” Interesting that they would use the words while not specifically searching for it.

Going by gut, I’ve found Serendipity to be one part belief and one part effort. They’re both dependent on each other and work together to,
* give you the freedom to persistently continue your effort, to improve it,
* hold off despair through self-encouragement and,
* when the opportunity finally opens up – ensure that you are ready for it.

For instance, Roby John walked the Pune Open Coffee Club through how his startup June managed to unlock the serendipity of the Silicon Valley. Roby has made it a constant effort to focus on building his product and maintaining some presence in San Francisco through the better part of 2011 and 2012. In the middle of 2011, his startup were selected to attend office hours with Paul Graham. Later June applied to YCombinator and were accepted, thus becoming the first truly native Pune Startup to have earned that distinction. This is by no measure a trivial achievement. YCombinator are the institution of repute of Startup Incubation. In hindsight, would you still be surprised? And yet, I don’t think Roby knew all along that this was a certainty. That might be a question I want to ask him, but for now I’ll accept that mystery. In order for serendipity to work for you, you will need to keep rising up again, ‘n again, ‘n again.

There are important areas in our lives where we look forward to serendipity of this kind. I guess it is important to remember both belief and effort are necessary ingredients. Take time to list them out and strengthen both.

A day later.

Computer Science course books for sale

Update: I no longer have these books on me.

The following C.S. course-books:

1. Code complete. Steve McConnell. First Edition. $3.
2. J2EE Anti-Patterns. Wiley Publishers. $5.
3. Java NIO, Ron Hitchens, O’Reilly. $5.
4. Introduction to Algorithms, Cormen, Rivest, and Lieserson. Second Edition. $7.
5. Computer Architecture – a quantitative approach. Hannessey and Patterson. Second Edition. $3.
6. Data Mining. Jiawei Han and Michelle Kember. $5.
7. Distributed Systems Concepts. $5.
8. Computer Networks, Third Edition. Aaron Tanenbaum. $5.
9. Data Structures in C and C++. Aaron Tanenbaum. $5.
10. Lisp, 3rd Edition, Winston & Horn. $5.
11. The practice of programming. Kernighan & Pike. $6.
12. Java 2. Third Edition. Naughton and Schildt. $2.
13. Database System Concepts. Korth. $3.
14. Operating Systems. Milenkovic. $5.
15. Introduction to Languages and the Theory of Computation, John C. Martin, Second Edition. $2.
16. Distributed Systems Concepts and Design, Coulouris, Dollimore. Third Edition. $5.
17. Test your C++ Skills, Yashvant Kanetkar. $4.
18. Computer Networking, Kurose and Ross. $5.

All books are low-price asian editions, paperback. They have been used/marked with notes. Nothing else wrong with the books. If your interested, please send me an e-mail. I am only willing to accept cash.

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Thanksgiving weekend
What a week this has been. I can no longer count the number of times the word ‘Wow’ has escaped my mouth. On a usual Wednesday evening, before Thanksgiving, I found myself wishing I had planned out the weekend. I had nothing to do and 4 days to kill. Well, I did want to go out and buy myself a whole bunch of things on ‘Black Friday’, but the idea wasn’t very enticing.

Sarjana, my friend, IM’s me and invites me to road trip. “It’s still iffy” she said since a few of her friends had not confirmed yet. But that state of affairs did not last too long. Before long, I cancelled all my plans and I had signed up for a road trip that would begin at 6am Thursday and end 6pm on Sunday.

The objective was Mount Rushmore, 1400 miles away along I-90 and to me this was a fantastic opportunity to hone my absolutely Rotten driver skills 🙂 away from my home state of Washington where people know me. And yet, in Sarjana’s word, while Mt. Rushmore may have been a destination, the objective was really the journey. Sort of puts life into perspective doesn’t it.

Day one: An Outback could be overkill
Sarjana managed to convince, or should I say con :), Rudra and Swati-she into coming along. I had met Rudi once before. We drove down to the airport to add Swati and my name as drivers of a flashy new Subaru Outback 🙂 rented. Boy, was the car a wise choice or what. Rudi turned on his charm and managed to get a deal on the car to sweeten the trip. It was either that or the fact that the rental company rep. was just too sleepy to want to negotiate with us.

Before long we were on our way, rattling down I-90 in what was a determined assault on our destination. On the first day itself, the rain was pouring down. As we continue East towards the Washington – Idaho border, the Sun mad a brief appearance to encourage us ahead.

A quick decision to visit the Gorge required us to take a detour after Columbia river. Unfortunately, the Gorge, a natural amphiteatre, was closed to visitors, I cannot be sure why.

I got my first taste of driving through lookout pass before we reached Montana. It was a treacherous pass and the rain pelted the car mercilessly. I had the wheels and I proceeded to terrify everyone else by passing at least 2 14-wheelers along tricky curves and steep grades.

The group got a different first impression of me though :). On approaching a gas station, Swati-she who happend to be at the wheel asked which side the gas tank opened up. I confidently piped in that all Japanese cars had them on the left. Well my Honda does, and so does everyone else in the car (they all own Honda’s). Everyone bought it :)! However, it turned out that the Subaru fills from the right hand side haha and everyone had a good laugh.

Day Two: Can I wake up at 5am
Sure I can 🙂 and I found out first-hand that it can be tough. Rudi was the first one to wake up, and we were on the road once again. We still had the time and therefore the luxury of breakfast. We duly stopped at a restaurant in Sheridan, Wyoming!! Setting out on the road, we had just a few hours more of driving ahead of us.

First stop on crossing into South Dakora were the jewel caves. I’ll be the Park Ranger there was surprised to see the four of us walk into the office enthusiastically without any foreknowledge of what the timings were. Next stop was the Crazy horse monument dedicated to all native american tribes. I had mixed feelings watching a mountain being carved out for the purpose of people. What if the work stopped halfway, the unfinished sculpture would only not only disturb the erstwhile pristine and beautiful black hills, but it would also be a very funny sight.

Mount Rushmore was more of the same, it did offer a vignette into 4 significant people who shaped the idea and the character of Democracy in the USA. The sculptures were etched into the face of the tall cliff and stared out into space. Surely, these men’s deeds earned them such greatness.

Amit Bhojwani

I found another familiar personality on the web today. Amit Bhojwani is one of the first few people I met in this unfamiliar land, apart from Airport security 🙂 and his friends who I met outside the airport.

Amit asked his friend Satyam and Shashank to help get Mithun and I from the Airport. Amit and Mithun go back a long way, to their days in Vincents I think. In any case, Amit offered to let us stay at his place since we did not have a place of our own yet. Before the week was out, Amit had helped us get setup and on track with settling in Rochester and attending RIT.

On the particular day, Amit had some issues with Java. I eagerly offered to assist Amit. However, I was so bummed out because of jet lag, I think my brain just shrunk down into my stomach. Not a great way to start a friendship, but I think I did my best.

Lately, I have been feeling much of the same, I just refuse to think, starting to feel very shallow and listless.

Amit replies (and I swear he was not a bad host):

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:)bus kya beedu….I'm flattered…a post about me on a fellow sindhi's website, which I must say is v v cool.

I feel bad that I was such a horrible host to you guys when you first landed. I was wound up with work during that month, and in retrospect I'm sure I came across as a wee bit snobish. Your JAVA knowledge, even though it came from a jet lagged soul was more than I knew then anyways….so I appreciate all your help dude..and once again apologize for not be of more contsuctive help then…

Cheers to cool Sindhis in Rottenchester;)