I get the joy of rediscovering you
~ Journey (Lyrics from Faithfully)
In the previous essay, we had begun our exploration of the life of Leonardo da Vinci. It wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive review of the big new book by Walter Isaacson; we were just having some fun delving into what all we could learn (from da Vinci’s life) and apply it to our daily lives.
Ditto this essay. It’s definitely not a homily. After all, I’m not your messiah that you have to reason why, notwithstanding that I had quoted the following antithetical lyrics from Prince as recently as the previous essay:
I’m your messiah and you’re the reason why
‘Cuz U – I would die 4 u, yeah
Darling if u want me 2
U – I would die 4 u
~ Prince And The Revolution (Lyrics from I Would Die 4 U)
The Short Answer
So the short answer to the question, which also happens to be the title of this essay—What Can Leonardo da Vinci do for Me?—is simply this: Quite a bit, if done right. And that’s what this essay is all about! 🐰
The Long Answer
The longer answer requires some explanation; that’s what the rest of this essay is all about 🐻
Since we are on the subject of what the guiding philosophy of this essay—or any other essay on this blog for that matter—is all about, let me be clear about something: I am, first and foremost, an explorer of ideas who freely shares his research findings with you. The last thing I want is to bore you to tears 😭
The style of my essays positively does not conform to the Elizabethan mold, though I’ll unabashedly confess that great literature from that era has played a pivotal role in the formation of my writing style. Neither are my essays—at least I hope not—boring rehashes of what book critics have to say nor tiresome lectures on what some author got wrong or right (in full candor, I don’t much read them anymore, a notable exception being the NYT Review of Books) 🎭
Look, while all those things serve a purpose, I think that your time—and mine—is far too valuable to be spent on that sort of thing. Sorry if I offended anyone, but that’s just the way I happen to see things 👻
So what I’m trying to say is this: if you don’t get at least a handful of things out of any given essay posted on this blog—to improve yourself, to learn something useful, to get a bit of education, all of those things while having fun—then I’m failing you. I don’t want to go there! And that’s the last thing any one of us wants to happen anyway, right?
Yep, so that’s my promise to you. Now it’s up to you to keep me honest!
With that, let’s dive right in 🏊
A Guide To The Fun Which Lies Ahead 🏁
What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expect generally happens.
~ Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield 1804–1881 (Henrietta Temple , bk. II, ch. 4)
We have some ground to cover in this essay since we will continue our look—picking up from where the previous essay left off—at a multi-faceted individual because the life of Leonardo da Vinci is itself a multi-dimensional work of art. He sure was one awesome polymath. Interestingly enough, when I looked up the wiki page for “polymath”, what did I find? Yep, a portrait of da Vinci himself (corectly billed as “a polymath of the Renaissance era”), smugly glaring back at me in all his wizened hoariness.
Dude, his august visage sent shivers down my spine as I thought to myself, “Man, did somebody of his caliber actually tread the same planet we live on? Like, for real? I need to spend some time learning more about him… This is way better than that Big-Mac-and-fries-and-ice-cream-cone super-combo I got just the other day from the McDonald’s drive-through!” 🍔 🍟 🍦 🍩
Pit Stops (aka Sojourns) On Our Journey
So let’s get started with a bird’s eye view of the pit stops we’ll hit during our upcoming excursion ⛷
- Allow Yourself to be Fascinated by Math 👒
- Spot the Hidden Treasures 👑
- Rekindle Your Passion for Probing Origins 🔭
- Hunt for Big, Timeless Ideas 🎻
- Cultivate a Deep Feel for Learning 🌊
- Pack Information as Densely as Possible 👜
- Allow Your Art to be Informed by Nature 🎃
- Distribute Evenly (or at Least as Evenly as Possible) 👠
- Should You Chance Upon a Dark Cave… 🐌
- Take it to the Limit 🐝
Receding Like The Distant Ship Smoke On The Horizon
Stand up in a clear blue morning
Until you see what can be
Alone in a cold day dawning
Are you still free
Can you be
~ Steve Winwood (Lyrics from While You See A Chance)
Okay, so what you see above is the itinerary for the sojourns receding from us—excuse me there, I had meant to say—coming our way: So I wasn’t joking when I noted above that we have some ground to cover; not anywhere near what we had in the past couple of essays, but substantial enough, nonetheless, to warrant your packing at least some gear for the journey ahead ⛰
Ready? Got that trusty rucksack slung across your shoulder? 🎒
Great, let’s start our journey with that crucial first step🚶
A Pattern Language 🎲
So you know the routine by now, having read up the precursor essay or two: the genesis of the notion of a pattern language, inasmuch as it applies to software design—rest assured that I’ll be introducing it shortly—can be traced back to the seminal book that had rocked our industry a bit over two decades ago:
Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software
(Addison Wesley) by Gamma, E., R. Helm, R. Johnson, and J. Vlissides
And the way it rocked our software industry was right up there with a tsunami, albeit a benign one; a tsunami that nourished rather than demolished on whichever shores its waves crashed. In other words, it was a rising tide—albeit a massive one—that had lifted all boats unlike any other that our industry had seen before 🌊
The Pattern Language: Annotated
Here, then, is the pattern language—note the color-coding below, starting with black, purple, blue, and even some green making an appearance—in which I’ve cast each of the nine pieces that make up the bulk of this essay:
- Heading: A short description of what a given piece is about (Precisely so, yay!) 🎯
- An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: My editorial “wisdom” (You back there, stop snickering. Now!) 🎤
- Related Book: Something to lend texture to the discussion (We play with word-painting) 🎨
- Picture: A picture with which to ground the narrative in a corporeal way (This will be your ticket) 🎫
- Quotation: A quote selected to wrap it all up into a unified whole (Big gifts come in small packages) 🎁
1. Allow Yourself to be Fascinated by Math 👒
Related Book: The Princeton Companion to Applied Mathematics (Princeton University Press) by Nicholas J. Higham (Editor), Mark R. Dennis (Editor), Paul Glendinning (Editor) 🎨
If the pursuit of mathematics was good enough for Leonardo da Vinci, it’s good enough for me. Period. There are a ton of great books on applied mathematics but probably no single volume quite as amazing as The Princeton Companion to Applied Mathematics! This marvelous book has an overwhelming—in a good way—amount of stellar material (all, covered thoroughly) on applied mathematics. Mind you, not pure mathematics, but applied mathematics. For pure mathematics, there’s an even more awesome book, also from Princeton University Press. It’s called The Princeton Companion to Mathematics. While the word “Pure” is missing from the latter, the bottom line is that it’s chock-full of some of the loveliest pure mathematics you will ever set your eyes on; remember what the legendary British mathematician G.H. Hardy had to say on this very topic: “Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.” Beautiful mathematics is permanent and doesn’t go stale.
Philosophy is written in this grand book—I mean the universe—which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering about in a dark labyrinth.
~ Galileo Galilei 1564–1642 (in Il Saggiatore, The Assayer) 🎁
2. Spot the Hidden Treasures 👑
Related Book: Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights (PublicAffairs) by Gary Klein 🎨
It would take an entire essay to describe the wherewithal of the remarkable book that is Seeing What Others Don’t. Nevertheless, the sketchiest of descriptions that I can share goes something like this: If ever you were interested in finding what makes human decision-making tick and how insights occur, this is the book to read.
When you find something funny, search it for hidden truth.
~ George Bernard Shaw 🎁
3. Rekindle Your Passion for Probing Origins 🔭
Related Book: Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (Vintage) by George Dyson 🎨
Contrary to the cheeky adage that “History is bunk”, there’s much to be gained from the study of history. Trust me, I’ve been there: back in school, the mere mention of the subject history was enough to make me from and sigh with melancholy! But that was then, and this is now. In the interim, I have learned—sometimes to the school of hard knocks—that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Lesson draw from my mistake as well as those all others: pay close attention to the genesis of phenomena. And that’s where Turing’s Cathedral comes in. Magnificently written, this book—which chronicles the life and times of Alan Turing—is a joy to read. if you want to probe the origins of our present day digital infrastructures, this is the book to read . Don’t miss it! It would be remiss of me to not mention how life came to find out about this cool book: through the pages of the masterpiece book entitled Plato and the Nerd, which, as you’ll recall, got its very own set of three essays on this blog. Enough said.
Stop this day and night with me, and you shall possess the origin of all poems.
~ Walt Whitman 1819–1892 (Song of Myself, 2) 🎁
4. Cultivate a Deep Feel for Learning 🌊
Related Book: Deep Learning (The MIT Press) by Ian Goodfellow, Yoshua Bengio and Aaron Courville 🎨
What is there to not like about the intriguing subject of deep learning? Since I have already written quite a bit about it, allow me to give you references to those very essays:
I have three treasures. Guard and keep them:
– The first is deep love,
– The second is frugality,
– And the third is not to dare to be ahead of the world.
Because of deep love, one is courageous. Because of frugality, one is generous. Because of not daring to be ahead of the world, one becomes the leader of the world.
~ Lao-tzu c. 604–c. 531 B.C. (The Way of Lao-tzu) 🎁
5. Hunt for Big, Timeless Ideas 🎻
Related Book: Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age (O’Reilly Media) by Paul Graham 🎨
This is a unique book to which you will find frequent references throughout my essays. Yes, you know where I am going with this, don’t you? Exactly. Here, then, are the relevant references:
- An essay where we chat some about the lispiness of the Lisp programming language in a disarming way; non-programmers have nothing to dread as we blend art and programming 🔮
- An essay which leads off with a David Foster Wallace quote (“If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish“) 😴
- Some (pseudo) random musings on Paul Graham’s Essays, and of Y Combinator 🐈
We live in fragments. The design is only revealed later.
~ Anais Nin (in an unpublished diary, circa 1952, as quoted in The Quotable Anais Nin: 365 Quotations with Citations — Sky Blue Press) 🎁
6. Pack Information as Densely as Possible 👜
Related Book: The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood (Vintage) by James Gleick (Extra brownie points… Chaos) 🎨
James Gleick is an amazing writer. Unless I’m mistaken, I have read every single one of his awesome books. This happens to be the penultimate one, the successor being on matters of time and space. Far from being a dry tome, The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood reads like a thriller…
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry—
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll—
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul!
~ Emily Dickinson (In “XVI: A BOOK”, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson) 🎁
7. Allow Your Art to be Informed by Nature 🎃
Related Book: The Nature of Computation (Oxford University Press) by Cristopher Moore and Stephan Mertens 🎨
Let me put it this way, to give you an idea of just how special this gem is: this is one of my desert island books. Period. Lavishly illustrated, it reads like a detective novel. As Scott Aaronson (associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT) aptly put it: “To put it bluntly: this book rocks! It’s 900+ pages of awesome.” So don’t be surprised when you run into (copious) references to The Nature of Computation in the essays around here! For example, these:
That’s all folks.
Computers are useless. They only give you answers.
~ Pablo Picasso 🎁
8. Distribute Evenly (or at Least as Evenly as Possible) 👠
So anyhow, read up the fascinating details (in Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci of course) of how da Vinci doggedly went about achieving marvels of engineering—which he lovingly captured for posterity in his detailed notebooks—including the glorious casting hood for the monument. The casting hood just happened to include plans to pour molten bronze through many holes so that it would be distributed evenly.
Again, for the fascinating details, read up the big new book by Isaacson! And while poring over its pages, you’ll also want to check out how da Vinci was in the vanguard of researchers—another name, really, for a polymath on fire—who came to realize that the heart, not the liver, was the keystone of the engineering marvel that allows it to function as the pump for evenly distributing unto the blood system. 💎
Related Book: Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture Volume 4: A Pattern Language for Distributed Computing (Wiley) by Frank Buschmann, Kevin Henney, and Douglas C. Schmidt 🎨
You all knew this, didn’t you now: sooner or later, my roots in the craft of designing and implementing distributed computing systems would pop up in this essay. Somewhere. at least once, and probably sooner than later; in this case, admittedly enough, it’s happening later, such as… Now. And what you have in this nice book (A Pattern Language for Distributed Computing) is nothing less than a rundown of everything that makes distributed computing tick.
Good sense is of all things in the world the most equally distributed, for everybody thinks he is so well supplied with it, that even those most difficult to please in all other matters never desire more of it than they already possess.~ René Descartes 1596–1650 (Discourse on the Method , pt. I) 🎁
9. Should You Chance Upon a Dark Cave… 🐌
Related Book: Deep Thinking: What Mathematics Can Teach Us About the Mind (World Scientific) by William Byers 🎨
Marvelous book. Don’t miss it. I’m surprised by how little the name of its author (William Byers) is known outside of the contemporary, mathematical community… That is a pity because his work has much to offer to a diverse set of disciplines outside of the queen of sciences, notably including computer science, philosophy, and software engineering. You will be pleasantly surprised by the rather profound message of Deep Thinking. The style of writing is engaging. The bottom line: it sheds a flood of light into the dark recesses of your slumbering—oops, I didn’t quite mean to put it that way—thinking apparatus (yep, your one and only noodle that slumbers inside your cranium) 💀 Well worth a look! (Both of them, actually: your noodle and this book) 📕
The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.~ Anatole France [Jacques Anatole François Thibault] 1844–1924 (The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, II, 4) 🎁
10. Take it to the Limit 🐝
An Aspect of Leonardo da Vinci: A watertight argument can be made that few individuals in the history of mankind have given their all—with a passion at once playful and obsessive—to the pursuit of an incredibly diverse set of subjects (among them: anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, optics, botany, geology, and weaponry) to the degree that da Vinci did. He unleashed his creativity to an extent rarely, if ever, seen in another human; he died empty.
By the way, and just the other day, a friend quizzically looked at this piece and asked me, “What exactly is that bumblebee doing there?” It was only then that I realized how misplaced my assumption was in tacking on a cute bumblebee to the end of the heading above—symbolizing as it was the defiance of limits, since bumblebees, given their chubby tubby ponderousness, are not supposed to be able to fly at all—in that my symbolism would probably be clear as mud to other readers as well! Oops… And that’s when I had hastened to add my solemn expiation, the sorry note you just read. So if anyone is abuzz about what that was all about; well, now you know 😙
One more time, How do we take it to the limit? Read on to find out… 💎
Related Book: Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day (Portfolio) by Todd Henry 🎨
In some ways, this book resonates the deepest with the life of Leonardo da Vinci. You may well be asking, Why? How so? Perfectly good questions all. The answer is actually quite simple: da Vinci lived his life with an unrivaled passion that would put us all to shame. He died empty, living a life with no regrets, sharing his discoveries with the rest of the word through his scintillating work. So are we up to at least trying to do little bit of what da Vinci did? Can we, really? I say we can. And you know what? There is nobody to stop you…
For it is not meters, but a meter-making argument that makes a poem—a thought so passionate and alive that like the spirit of a plant or an animal it has an architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (“The Poet”, from Essays: Second Series )🎁
A Collage Reappears Out of Ether
Since we’ve been having some fun gleaning useful takeaways from the life and times of da Vinci, it’s pretty safe to say that we have been in engineering territory. (I sure hope you enjoyed this essay, made up as it was—the bulk of it anyway—of 10 distinct, standalone themes). In the end, to tie together those diverse themes into a unified whole, let’s briefly revisit the annotated collage coming up quick 🚧
So go ahead and spend the next few moments taking in the collage below 👀 Notice the contoured (and admittedly jaundiced) arrows—which emanate from a handful among the books that encircle an eclectic set of mementos which in turn encircles my book-of-the-decade—all gracefully pointing in the direction of awesomeness 🏆
I have written quite a bit about it already and will likely be writing much about it in the future as well; just a word to the wise 😹
A Parting Thought…
No lectures, no nothing now 🙉 As we wrap this up, all we’re going to do is have some fun with recursion gone haywire that’s finally reconciled by way of weak central coherence… Cool? 😉
With that, why don’t you check out the recursively framed artwork below. And when you do, please help me understand just what in the world could be going on in there, would you? Of course, I’m not leaving you stranded either; I like you all way too much to do anything of that sort!
Here, then, are some annotations—sorry, no arrows this time, jaundiced or otherwise—which actually show up right after the framed artwork below 🎨
Legend to the Picture Above
- Standing upright, we’ve got painting virtuosity on display (“The Reading Room“, a prized possession) 🎭
- A physical red bench, which just happens to be a memento symbolizing real life conversations that matter ⛲
- Woohoo—a piano keyboard awaits the trained fingers of a maestro to bring it to life 🎶
- Goodness gracious! How did my Towers of Hanoi make it into this collage? 🐹
The Power of Conviction and Courage…
…to inspire with beauty and roses 🌹 🌹 🌹 🌹
Featured in there—for those not familiar with the sterling work of interfaith pioneer Eboo Patel—in addition to stuff not already mentioned, is a remarkable book entitled Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, in the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation 🌻