The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien (from The Fellowship of the Rings)
As 2017 Recedes Into The Horizon…
It’s that time of year again. Yet another year has somehow whizzed by and we stand at the brink of a new year, rubbing our eyes: A whole year went by? Let’s take stock, shall we, before what’s left of this year is also gone?
While I really can’t do that sort of thing for you—doing your retrospecting for you—I can offer my retrospective in the spirit of fellowship… Nothing fancy at all, just some (pseudo)-random reflections on what I reckon as the most important elements which gave life to my year that was 2017.
You Know Me Well (At Least I Thought You Did!)
You all know me by now as not only a fellow software craftsman but also as a writer (dare I say: writing craftsman). You’ve already read a ton of my earlier stuff—via the bunch of essays on all things that lie “at the intersection of culture, software, technology, and science.” After all, that stuff pops up here with some regularity in unison with the charter of this blog 💋
Of Some Gently Crashing Tsunamis…
“Yo, Mr. Blogger, chirp-chirp: Did you say something about some ‘gently crashing’ tsunamis a breath away? Hmm… Like, what are you talking about?”, an (angry) little bird cheekily told—actually asked—me. To which I replied, “Hey, hey, rhetoric all; I know, I know my oxymoron from my—actually your—moron. And I didn’t say a thing about hair-splitting language lawyers either!” 🐥
Then, seeing this as my only chance, I reaffirmed, in the affirmative of course (what else, dear Reader?), reminding us all that there is, for crying out loud, such a thing as ‘the delicate sound of thunder‘; I rest my case, hung jury notwithstanding ⛏
Anyhow, I want to mix things up this time: Let’s chat some about a handful of events that were quite the proverbial rock or two thrown into the pond. Boom! Yep, we are no longer talking about gentle ripples teasing apart the surface of a placid pond; we’re talking about a handful of tsunamis! Boom! Boom! Whoosh! 🌊
Lest you think that I’m exaggerating, please hear me out: I’m still reeling from those tsunamis—each one at once benign and life-altering, hence the, um, oxymoron above (‘gently crashing’ tsunami) which some of you were giving me grief about 😢 And yes, I’ve got my ears plastered to the conch shell which holds no secret back as it merrily sings away to those who care to listen 🐚
With that, let’s dive right into this week’s essay; you can decide in the end whether I was exaggerating 🏊
Or not 👺
Rundown Of The Sojourns Ahead ⛱
The Four—Quoth The Raven ‘And No More’—Pit Stops
While it’s quite fashionable to say something like, “The elements I present below are in no particular order”, that is decidedly not the case this time; the elements will appear very much in a particular order, and with a twist: I date myself, but taking a page from how Casey Kasem the inimitable broadcaster used to present the Top 40 pop songs of the week on weekends (in reverse order to build suspense toward the #1 song of the week), I, too, present my stuff—sorry, no pop songs around here as you probably don’t want to hear me singing—in reverse order. Singing is definitely out; they used to kick me out after Ring a Ring o’ Roses
So here’s what Poe’s raven was croaking, um, waxing lyrical about—the following four pit stops 🎻
- I Say Goodbye To Obscurity 👻
- I Reaffirm Loyalty To My Guiding Compass 🔭
- I Find My (Writing) Spark 🔥
- I Discover My Muse 🐱
Intriguing-enough stuff coming our way, eh. Yay, all aboard now! 🚂
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1. I Say Goodbye To Obscurity 👻
So many faces in and out of my life
Some will last
Some will just be now and then
Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes
I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again
Say goodbye to Hollywood
Say goodbye my baby
Say goobye to Hollywood
Say goodbye my baby
~ Billy Joel (Lyrics from Say Goodbye To Hollywood)
Cambridge (MA), Pink Floyd, and with Peter Pan we Fly: Oh My!
Truth be told, this very first element in my retrospective of 2017 isn’t really one of the tsunamis which crashed on the shores of yours truly; it’s a slight flight of fancy. Hey, you’ve got to cut your blogger some slack, Roberta Flack—it’s the holiday season, for crying out loud 🎠
I’ve included this Peter Pan-style fanciful flight-over-midnight-London-town here, featuring Peter Pan’s counterpart, your blogger—to be precise, it’s merely an earlier version of him (think “Akram 1.0” or even “Akram Beta“) in his Cambridge, Massachusetts collage below from 1992—for the very same reason that I included some lyrics (from Pink Floyd’s album The Wall) which sit atop this essay: art and flights of fancy which resonate with me just might be worth your while, too. Emphasis on “just”; no ironclad guarantees, okay?
By the way—sigh, language being ever the whirling dervish that it is and definitely not the ink upon the tidy pages of some (cough, cough) dusty dictionary that some (mistakenly) make it out to be—I adore being called “Akram Beta“, by some… 🐱
Anyhow… Ready? Good, because here we go! 🎡
Legend to our Peter Pan Flight
Starting from the farthest left, proceeding rightwards, and clockwise from there on:
- The MIT Dome is indeed in the background (I’m standing half in shadows, from the torso on down, and in a contemplative mood, too, about to emerge from obscurity… Hey, something like that, anyway!) 👓
- At Harvard University, an ivy-covered wall of a residence hall is right behind me as I remain gingerly—more likely precariously—perched on a hoary banister (hoariness and ivy are, after all, the trademarks of Harvard, aren’t they?) 🌿
- A lovely building in Amherst College—nestled behind a tasteful outcropping of trees—makes up the background as I exuberantly exude college-day youthfulness standing on the sloping green at Amherst 🎨
- The Widener library at Harvard forms the backdrop for this picture in which my friend and host is facetiously pointing to a Styrofoam cup, arguably alluding to the thousand books which can likely be found on the very subject (of Styrofoam cups) once we cross the portals of Widener library and race through the bookshelves… 📚
- Finally, we’re not in Kansas—um, Cambridge—anymore: anybody recognize the dome at Columbia University in New York City? Yep, arms folded in a youthful display of invincibility (such were the illusions of youth I reckon, hearkening back to 1992), that’s me a few feet past the cosmopolitan stairs leading up to the dome. Not sure where that searing white spot in the picture is coming from; camera flash maybe? But it was broad daylight at that time. Hmm… 🚃
Now how about that that for a whirlwind ride through the Northeast?
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
~ Elizabeth Appell
Don’t—I Repeat, Do Not—Read The Dreary Blah Blah Below!
So I did my undergrad—earning a BS in electrical engineering—from the University of Houston (Texas) and am a proud Cougar alum, class of ’92! Go Coogs!! Busted my guts studying and ripping through a million library books to earn my BS (And no, I’m not BS’ing; hard as it may seem to swallow this, I used to read books now, actually back then!) 📚
Well, perhaps with a streak of sadomasochism lurking in there somewhere, I took the next step after earning an undergrad degree: Yep, the gut-busting studies I did for my BS didn’t quite dissuade me from going on to do graduate studies—earning an MSEE for my research in and dissertation on applying artificial intelligence (AI) to image processing in the service of enabling intelligent, automated vehicles—at Texas A&M University in College Station (Texas). That’s right: I’m a die-hard Aggie as well. Gig ’em Aggies!! 🚴
“But why, exactly, are you telling us all this?”, you may well ask!
Oh, Maybe There Was A Method To The Madness Above (After All)…
The answer is rather uncomplicated: I was setting up the context for my Cambridge collage above—actually you’ll see not one but two of those collages above come to think of it—to make it the less jarring for your delicate senses.
You remain, as ever, a dear Reader, so the least I can do for you is to soften the impact of my machine gun-style rapid-fire writing style… (Yes, we may all well fall like flies in the end, but at least we’ll do so softly, gently; with a gentle whooshing sound of a lullaby, not with a jarring thud, you know; and a dud this metaphorical analogy-fast-going-awry is, so I’ll spare you—and me—from further linguistic acrobatics, save one (just one) high-wire trapeze act in the very end, as part of the grand finale 🎪
So anyhow, regarding the collage above, it has dawned on me that I just might have made you squint hard to make out what’s going on in the thumbnail pictures in the collage… 👓
Oops! And to make up for the eye strain that I might have unwittingly inflicted on you, I hasten to add the same pictures (below), only much bigger this time! 🐘
Here we go… 🎠
Polaroid Snapshot (Above) [#1 of 7]: In this Polaroid-style picture, the MIT Dome stands erect (in its analytic austerity); Peter Pan—excuse me, it’s only your blogger actually—I just happened to be standing, too, though (in my own contemplative flight of confabulation…).
Polaroid Snapshot (Above) [#2 of 7]: In yet another Polaroid-style picture (above), that’s an unmistakably ivy-covered wall of a residence hall at Harvard University; should you care, I’m perilously perched on a parapet (or something!)
Polaroid Snapshot (Above) [#3 of 7]: Ah, the picture above—I now realize—didn’t appear in the annotated collage… But does anyone really care? Hey, just saying’ (You’re good! You are, in fact, the best, dear Reader!!) That’s me outside the MIT coop (cooperative).
Polaroid Snapshot (Above) [#4 of 7]: Um, so we’re no longer in Kansas—um, Cambridge: what you’re witnessing is actually the home of the New York Yankees. The setting is a tad more academic: the dome at Columbia University (NYC), to be precise.
Polaroid Snapshot (Above) [#5 of 7]: Aha, so in the Polaroid-style picture above, my friend and I evidently escaped—if only momentarily—from the environs of academia (reeking as they did of knowledge, learning, and good old cram-before-the-exam). Indeed, as you’ll note in my leavened smile, I’m feeling lighter already, taking in the hustle and bustle of Cambridge town (I distinctly recall my friend, my host, taking me to an Au Bon Pain shortly afterwards…
Polaroid Snapshot (Above) [#6 of 7]: As for the Polaroid-style picture above, it’s the one and only Widener library at Harvard! (Much as I mentioned earlier—unless I miraculously put on heft in the span of a few seconds and morphed quite a bit—that isn’t me in the picture; it’s my friend and host in Cambridge, still facetiously pointing to a Styrofoam cup at the threshold of the stairs leading up to Widener library…) The question about Widener, nonetheless, remains wide open, as before: Does a river run through it? I can’t say for sure. I don’t recall…
Polaroid Snapshot (Above) [#7 of 7]: Finally, as we check out Amherst on the final leg of our fanciful flight over Cambridge—maybe I’ve gained notoriety for lack of empathy, though even I took your groaning as a subtle signal that it was time for us to move on to cooler stuff in the essay—here’s a snapshot of me on the gorgeous campus of Amherst College.
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2. I Reaffirm Loyalty To My Guiding Compass 🔭
Exactly What Are We Pledging Our Loyalty To?
“So exactly what might that be, yo, Mr. Blogger?”, I hear you quizzically asking on my making mention above of this fabled “guiding compass”. Fair enough; good question, as a matter of fact.
So it goes something like this…
Over the course of the year that was 2017, I ran into just a ton of instances that forcefully made me come to grips with the notion that beauty—and Platonic beauty at that—can well become one’s unerring compass to guide us to timeless design: in (computer) code and in prose, and equally well, too, in both 🍒
Please let me know your reaction to reading that essay!
With that, let’s you and I move on to the final two (of the four) elements that make up our look back at 2017, shall we? Everybody still aboard, right? 👒
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3. I Find My (Writing) Spark 🔥
Casey Kasem and two Tsunamis Coming Right Up!
As we wind our way through the elements which make up my journey of sorts through the year 2017, I hope you do remember something I had said at the outset in the context of how Casey Kasem the famous broadcaster: Kasem used to present the top 40 pop songs of the week on weekends in reverse order. That just happens to be the order in which we are traversing my elements of 2017. Saving the important stuff—the real tsunamis—for the end. Cool? 😙
Yep, finding my (writing) spark is almost up there with finding my muse…
Omit Needless Words, Akram, Do Omit Needless Words Now. Please…
Heeding the advice to express the most important stuff with the least number of words—hey I do listen to others and am not as entrenched in my stubbornness as I’ve been made out to, notwithstanding the all too common allusions to recalcitrant (are there any other kind?) mules in my connection—I’m going to keep this one sweet and simple. I know, I know, while the phrase “sweet and simple” may not exactly be how you think of my writing style, I want to surprise you (hey, New Year Surprise!) by saving you from having to do a lot of reading. “Why, thank you, Akram. That’s actually the best you’ve done for us all year long!”, I hear you say. And I’m like, “Um…” 🙉
Anyhow…Sigh, I try. I really do.
Support Your Local Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores!
Aha, so I’ve been known to venture over to the local brick-and-mortar bookstores—see me bundled up in the selfie I took during such a visitation: indeed, neither rain nor snow will keep me from making my appointed rounds. So there.
Oh, and to especially surprise all of you who think that I am oblivious to the whole notion of subtlety—yo, people have literally fallen out of their chairs in laughter on my bringing up the rather-obvious-to-me-anyway “fact” that “subtlety” might as well have been my middle name—I’m going to tell you all about how I found my spark by way of parable. Remember how Jesus spoke in parables? Well, not exactly those kinds of parables; I’m going to give you the latter day version: URL links, and RESTful ones at that! Woohoo!!
Moving Past Subtlety, Parables, And On To The Goods. Yay!
So in no particular order—as an antithesis to the wherewithal of this essay’s pristine order—I give you the following parables (hey, I really meant “URL links” now) so you may read to your heart’s content, or discontent, as the mood suits you:
- Plato and the Nerd (The MIT Press) 👕
- Return of Plato And The Nerd (Essay isn’t from George Lucas) 😉
- Plato And The Nerd Strikes Back (I love Star Wars; essay still isn’t from George Lucas) 🚀
Should you wish to bypass my drivel—which by the way is to be found at length in the three fun (honestly, I’m not making this up) essays via the links above—I invite you to go to the source. Remember that adage in our UNIX-influenced programming industry about RTFM (Read The Farming Manual of course)? So yes, you really don’t need to go hither to my essays. Instead, you can just as well hear it from the horse’s mouth (about my spark, this gem of a book) by going thither, to these parables (gosh, no!), to these links:
- Various reviews of Plato and the Nerd (The MIT Press) by Edward Ashford Lee 🏆
- Home of Plato and the Nerd 🎯
A Fair Warning
(Fair warning goes like so: You just might find your blogger’s work staring back at you when you traipse over to the home page for this red hot gem from The MIT Press; trying to escape the polluting effects of my drivel—sometimes I do worry about the subversive aspects of my writing on your virgin minds—isn’t all that easy, is it now?)
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4. I Discover My Muse 🐱
The Grand Finale
This is it.
When it comes to the tsunamis that veritably turned my world upside down in 2017—in a good way of course—this was it: Finding my muse or, as I conjectured by way of the heading above, being discovered by my muse, has been a source of immense significance to me as a writer (among other things)…
Remember what I said in the penultimate element in this retrospective:
“Saving the important stuff—the real tsunamis—for the end… Yep, finding my (writing) spark is almost up there with finding my muse…”.
So this is where it all leads to. It just does.
Minimalism In Writing (Yeah Right, Akram, Don’t We Know You!)
Oh, just one more thing: so once again, heeding the advice to express the most important stuff with the least number of words, I’m really, really going to take that advice to heart. In fact, I’m going to take it all to the next level by practicing minimalism; think Clint Eastwood, yeah! 💪
My muse wrote to me—this was back when I had shared with her my take on Stephen King’s memoir—parenthetically sharing (in her inimitably beatific and mellifluous ways) with me, among other things, the following reaction she had to reading that essay 🐱
I like your most recent blog, […], and the way your words flow. You and Stephen King are kindred souls. It’s easy to see that you write “for the pure joy of the thing.”
Yes. She knows exactly why I write.
And yes, that’s my muse.
That’s Why I Write…
Stepping on down from cloud nine now… 💭
And finally, yes: That is why I write. That’s why I wrote every single essay that I did in 2017; that’s why I’ll write every single essay that I do in 2018. And yes, that’s exactly why I will write—should you decide to stay with me to read what I write for you—every single word that I do for the rest of my life 🏃
I write for you; I write for me; and yes—much as my muse reaffirmed above—I write “for the pure joy of the thing.” I couldn’t have put it any better; I couldn’t have said it in a more unfettered way 🏄
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Thank You, Dear Reader!!!
I love you, dear Reader—thank you from the depth of my heart for making my essays a small part of your life. You and I have connected; it couldn’t have been otherwise… ⛳
Thousands and thousands of readers like you are piling on (to this blog) to read my essays; it’s immensely gratifying and satisfying, I must confess 😂
I love you! 💖
Stay in touch, won’t you? 📬
An Invitation 💁
It’s Your Turn Now
Something tells me—see just how subtle I can be—that the time has come for me to get out of your way. So go out and do your very own retrospective. No mulling or ruminations: no! In fact, nothing of that sort; just plain taking stock of the year that’s nearly gone by and as you refuel (during the holidays) to take on the world in 2018!
Why Follow The Tracks Of Others, When…
Don’t rely on tracks that have already been built and traveled on; they will inevitably buckle and go awry, perhaps leading you places where you don’t what to be (I invites you to take a few moments to absorb the metaphor lurking in the Polaroid picture below). Instead, go out and make your own path.
Let’s you and I take a page from history now: Aut inveniam viam aut faciam.
So yes: Why follow the tracks of others, when you can build your own!
Really, Really Winding Down
Oh, one last thing—I promise, there’s not much more at all in this essay except for a few straggling words and the innocuously feline image tacked on at the end—which is actually by way of a prelude of sorts: I mean, gotta have some level of suspense in our lives, after all!
A smart cat (yo, all cats are smart, okay?) craning its lithe neck upward to take in the artificial intelligence goodness which sits on the bookshelf rack right above her…
What’s This Talk Of… Superintelligence?!
I wonder what awaits us in the next essay…
Hint: So I had a conversation just the other day with two naturally intelligent individuals—both fine gentlemen as well—about artificial intelligence education. It got me thinking to a thought-provoking book I’ve got floating around at home (in full disclosure, I have so far read only portions of that book, and those, too, much earlier this year).
It’s entitled Superintelligence. I’m going to dig it out, if I can only find it, buried as it probably is under under a ton of debris: the flotsam and jetsam which are the million odd books floating around in interstellar orbit (actually, um, right under the roof of my house)… 🌀
In Full Disclosure
Meanwhile, here’s the full name of the book:
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies (Oxford University Press) by Nick Bostrom
Hey, hey—ouch, ouch, no need to pinch me that hard now—I’m being reminded of how I might have overstayed my welcome. More bluntly (some people don’t mince their words, do they?), and that I am perilously veering in the direction of breaking a promise I had made to you (i.e. to wind down this now-becoming-protracted essay) a scant paragraph away: whoops!
Real sorry 🙈
I’m Outta Here (For Sure This Time!)
With that, I guess you really will have wait until next weekend to find out where I was going with all that cool AI stuff to which I find myself gravitating ever so often, distributed-computing design notwithstanding…
Meanwhile, it’s all yours: I’m outta here! 🚁
Yeah for reflection on 2017—I think it was a year of establishing new foundations for many of us—and to looking ahead to a brilliant 2018!