(Image credit: kathrynaaker @ Flickr)

Welcome to the latest iteration of my public website. The last major iteration was made back in 2007-2008 when I was in graduate school and a couple of career changes since then kept me from updating the site in any meaningful way. This new iteration is designed to provide all of the foundational technologies that I would want, so moving forward, it should be a much more updated and eclectic site than the a couple of pages and blog posts in a WordPress install.

Aside from some additional blog posts in the days ahead, the public portion of this site is largely finished. It's mainly intended to (publicly) serve as a blog and portfolio, and those elements are up and running to my satisfaction. However, underneath the surface, this site will continue to receive continual updates as the private portion of the site is still in its infancy.

I've mentioned before that my patron saint of technology is Douglas Engelbart and this site is a very intentional exercise of his bootstrapping strategy. For those of you unfamiliar with Dr. Engelbart and "bootstrapping", the fundamental idea is that humans and their tools are two elements of a symbiotic technology system (H-LMA/T). Rather than hold the technological system static, the bootstrapping strategy assumes an ongoing and cyclical co-evolution of the human and their tools, where the human improves tool processes, and in turn, the improved tool processes improve the human processes, which again improve the tool processes, repeated ad infinitum.

This is a much different vision than the dominant modern philosophy where tool builders and tool users are (largely) different parties and it's up to the tool builders to build the best tool for the users, and the users have minimal agency (often only voting with their wallets) to influence the tool design. In my own head, I call this the Jobsian approach which stems from this 1998 BusinessWeek quote from former Apple head Steve Jobs:

But in the end, for something this complicated, it's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.

The go-it-alone approach very visibly informs the design of Apple products from the Jobs era and beyond. Their platforms are locked down, communication with users and developers are minimal, and users are expected to be happy with what the company deigns to deliver during one of several annual keynote addresses. The implicit lack of user agency results in technologies more like appliances than general purpose computing platforms. If something's not working well, wait and pray that your needs are met in next year's revision.

The bootstrapping strategy is the polar opposite of the Jobsian approach, refusing to acknowledge the distinction between tool builder and tool user. In the bootstrapping world, the user is the builder, and the idea is that as the user becomes a better builder, they become a more effective user as well. The approach also shares the go-it-alone property of the Jobsian approach as each user is responsible for developing their own technologies to suit their particular needs. If something's not working well, get in there and fix it.

The failure of the bootstrapping technology development strategy is obvious from an economic perspective: making users responsible for their own technology development precludes marketing widespread technologies at scale, and the roles of companies like Apple are limited to selling widgets that can be plugged into a particular user's technology stack. The downside to this failure is that users are at the mercy of technology companies for their tools, and the incentives of technology companies are only aligned with users insomuch as the user provides the revenue to keep the companies afloat. Witness the modern streaming video hardware and software landscape. An Apple TV is needed to play iTunes content, whereas a Kindle Fire Video is needed to play Amazon Prime streaming content. In a sane world, only one streaming set-top box would be needed.

That all said, I am pursuing the bootstrapping strategy for this project not to create anything marketable (aside from my professional services), but to instead use this as an opportunity to make myself a better technology developer through the co-evolution of myself and this system. It's my attempt at abandoning the Whorfian constraints of thinking about what is possible as being framed by what's available, and replacing those constraints by what's buildable. It's a trial of Engelbart's overall philosophy. If there's something to the bootstrapping strategy, my skills as a practitioner will noticeably improve at an accelerating rate. If his strategy is bunk, I'll end up with a bunch of one-off tools and technologies and remain about as effective as when I started.

If that sounds way too high-concept, what does it mean in practical terms? Here's an initial (and incomplete) list of things that I will be building into this system:

  1. Spatial & personal awareness: What I mean by this is that there are things I care about: my calendar, the state of systems I'm managing, the daily audiences of my sites and apps, when the next bus will be arriving, what's on sale at IHOP, etc. I'm looking forward to creating representations for these trivia nuggets and pushing them out to as many channels as possible. These channels include the traditional web, mobile, and desktop, but I'm also looking to incorporate the information in alternative displays such as artifacts on myself (e.g. wristwatch) and within the environment (e.g. clocks, aux. screens). The overall goal is to create a limited omniscience (mi-niscience?) about the things I care about and affect me.
  2. Historical awareness: As part of my daily job and by my own choice, I'm hooked into a variety of technological systems that continuously record information about me: venue check-ins, books read, distance walked, location, and so on. Traditionally this information is siloed on a per-purpose basis. This site is me pushing back against that and building a silo for this data so that I can look back at a measured life lived and ask questions such as whether my GitHub commits are inversely related to exercise, whether reading activity correlates to IHOP visits, how much time I spent in meetings versus delivering products, and so on. The "Goal Tracker" on the frontpage is the visible part of that iceberg.
  3. External awareness: There are things happening out in the world outside my purview, and rather than cobble together a collection of tools like IFTTT to report to me when something I care about is happening, this site is serving as my always-on agent keeping an eye on whatever I care about in cyberspace. This includes monitoring the projects of interest, the current state of competitors, and setting triggers that fire on evidence of something I've been waiting for.

For the next year or so, this site will be focused largely on the "awareness" side of things. The flip-side of awareness is agency-to-change and as we (the system and I) evolve in capability, I'll revisit the "change" side of the equation to determine if there are meaningful ways that this technology system can be put together in a way that allows me to minimize the costs of dealing with lower-level details and tasks in order to push forward on the higher-level tasks and goals. This may be achievable using automation ("do X when Y is true"), improved user interfaces ("publish status updates to all the social networks using this standardized form"), or something else I haven't imagined yet.

This should be a fun ride, so stay tuned.

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