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Unattainable Goals that are Silll Worse Pursuing

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  • Shlomi Fish
    [ Note: This essay has a more universal message than computers, but it also applies to it, as I shall demonstrate. I d like to post it on my blog, but I m
    Message 1 of 4 , Apr 21, 2008
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      [ Note: This essay has a more universal message than computers, but it also
      applies to it, as I shall demonstrate. I'd like to post it on my blog, but
      I'm going to use you guys as my guinea pigs. Comments are welcome. ]

      One thought that occured to me lately was the fact that there are some goals
      in
      life that can never be fully attained, but are nevertheless worth pursuing and
      getting nearer and nearer to them. Like an asymptotic function in mathematics
      if you may.

      One example that I thought about it (and I think was featured in Hackers-IL
      before) is the case of objectivity. Human beings are subjective by nature
      and so can never be completely objective. However, it doesn't mean that we
      shouldn't try to be as objective as possible, or completely give up on being
      objective. (And by being objective I don't mean
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_view ). Other people
      can disagree with me that objectivity is a virtue but it's besides the point.

      Now a co-worker of mine is a Hassidic Jew, and when I told him that I'm
      an Objectivist, he said that one cannot be completely Objective. He then
      gave the fact that it is said that God brought the great
      draught because "Yetzer ha'adam Ra' Mine'urav" (= the desire of the Human
      is bad from his youth.), and later on decided not to do it again for
      the same reason. He brought that as an indication that the Jewish sources
      indicated that a man is not Objective by nature.

      I thought about it for a moment and understood that the same can be said
      about honesty (or "righteousness" in a more religious language). We can never
      be completely honest and never lie or do the right thing everytime. But that
      doesn't mean we shouldn't constantly try to be as honest as possible, or
      worse succumb to complete dishonesty.[1]

      {{{{
      [1] - I was told Immanuel Kant said something along the lines that if one
      wished, for example, to be sincere, he must not lie even if threatened
      by death. However, this is silly, because ethical and moral ideals are
      supposed
      to help you lead a happier life (as identified by Aristotle in the first
      part of "Nicomachean Ethics"), not to terminate them prematurely under
      someone who employs force or threat of force against you, who otherwise
      did not do anything wrong.
      }}}}

      After I told it to my co-worker in an MSN conversation he agreed with me
      that I was right on both the honesty aspect and, in accordance with
      the prinicipal, also the Objectivity one.

      This concept can be applied to many other values or capabilities
      we desire. For example, one can always improve as a programmer, which is
      evident by the fact that most good programmers who take a look at their
      old code are unhappy with it. But it doesn't mean we shouldn't try to always
      improve as programmers.

      Likewise, if a particular computing technology is large (e.g: Perl, Java, PHP,
      .NET) and also has possibly spanned a large number of halo technologies (e.g:
      CPAN, Apache Jakarta, etc.), then mastering the core language would be hard,
      and time consuming. In the Perl world we constantly say that "no one knows
      all of Perl, not even Larry Wall". But it doesn't mean you shouldn't do
      your best to master as much as you can out of it, or need to.

      One example that I'm especially sensitive about is politics in a software
      project (possibly an open-source one ). Obviously, there can never be zero
      politics, but the project leaders and members should always try to reduce its
      amount, because not keeping it at bay is a recipe for disaster. I constantly
      hear about important features that are not implemented or even bugs that are
      left unfixed in open-source projects due to political reasons.

      I can give Subversion ( http://subversion.tigris.org/ ) and to a lesser extent
      the perl5-core development tools as good examples of projects with very little
      politics and a value-maximising attitude.

      One can think of many other examples.

      My point is that while it is true that we are humans and can never be perfect,
      we should always aim for perfection in some aspects. And given enough
      willingness and by learning from our mistakes, we can remain close to
      perfection in those respects all the time.

      Regards,

      Shlomi Fish

      ---------------------------------------------------------------------
      Shlomi Fish shlomif@...
      Homepage: http://www.shlomifish.org/

      The bad thing about hardware is that it sometimes work and sometimes doesn't.
      The good thing about software is that it's consistent: it always does not
      work,
      and it always does not work in exactly the same way.
    • Omer Zak
      ... Other examples: 1. Getting as wealthy as possible. 2. Overcoming a never-ending series of challenges (scientific discoveries, extreme sports, Guiness-level
      Message 2 of 4 , Apr 22, 2008
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        On Tue, 2008-04-22 at 04:39 +0300, Shlomi Fish wrote:
        > [ Note: This essay has a more universal message than computers, but it also
        > applies to it, as I shall demonstrate. I'd like to post it on my blog, but
        > I'm going to use you guys as my guinea pigs. Comments are welcome. ]
        >
        > One thought that occured to me lately was the fact that there are some goals
        > in
        > life that can never be fully attained, but are nevertheless worth pursuing and
        > getting nearer and nearer to them. Like an asymptotic function in mathematics
        > if you may.

        Other examples:
        1. Getting as wealthy as possible.
        2. Overcoming a never-ending series of challenges (scientific
        discoveries, extreme sports, Guiness-level world records, etc.) one by
        one.

        > One example that I'm especially sensitive about is politics in a software
        > project (possibly an open-source one ). Obviously, there can never be zero
        > politics, but the project leaders and members should always try to reduce its
        > amount, because not keeping it at bay is a recipe for disaster. I constantly
        > hear about important features that are not implemented or even bugs that are
        > left unfixed in open-source projects due to political reasons.

        My take about politics in FOSS projects (or in other spheres of human
        acitvity) is to agree with whomever said (I don't remember the source)
        that in any project involving multiple stakeholders, there are always
        different interests, which sometimes contradict each other. For the
        project to proceed, some process is needed to allocate limited resources
        to satisfy the various interests. This process is the political
        process.

        The difference between well-managed projects and projects mired in dirty
        politics is in the management of the inevitable politics.
        It would be interesting to discuss how to make politics our servant
        rather than our master.

        --- Omer


        --
        In civilized societies, captions are as important in movies as
        soundtracks, professional photography and expert editing.
        My own blog is at http://www.zak.co.il/tddpirate/

        My opinions, as expressed in this E-mail message, are mine alone.
        They do not represent the official policy of any organization with which
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        WARNING TO SPAMMERS: at http://www.zak.co.il/spamwarning.html
      • Shlomi Fish
        ... True to some extent, but while I would love to be rich, I don t see myself needing to be very rich. It is known that Alexander Dumas who wrote many popular
        Message 3 of 4 , Apr 22, 2008
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          On Tuesday 22 April 2008, Omer Zak wrote:
          > On Tue, 2008-04-22 at 04:39 +0300, Shlomi Fish wrote:
          > > [ Note: This essay has a more universal message than computers, but it
          > > also applies to it, as I shall demonstrate. I'd like to post it on my
          > > blog, but I'm going to use you guys as my guinea pigs. Comments are
          > > welcome. ]
          > >
          > > One thought that occured to me lately was the fact that there are some
          > > goals in
          > > life that can never be fully attained, but are nevertheless worth
          > > pursuing and getting nearer and nearer to them. Like an asymptotic
          > > function in mathematics if you may.
          >
          > Other examples:
          > 1. Getting as wealthy as possible.

          True to some extent, but while I would love to be rich, I don't see myself
          needing to be very rich. It is known that Alexander Dumas who wrote many
          popular historical fiction, made and lost several fortunes during his
          lifetime and died pennyless. On the other hand, Jules Verne wrote a great
          deal of bestsellers, and earned a fortune, but nevertheless still lived
          relatively modestly and didn't spend his money on extravagant things. As far
          as I know, he died very rich and it's highly possible his descendants are
          still very well-off.

          > 2. Overcoming a never-ending series of challenges (scientific
          > discoveries, extreme sports, Guiness-level world records, etc.) one by
          > one.

          That's right. There was a Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode about a
          terraformer (someone who designs entire landscapes) who kept looking for
          bigger and bigger challenges:

          http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Second_Sight

          >
          > > One example that I'm especially sensitive about is politics in a software
          > > project (possibly an open-source one ). Obviously, there can never be
          > > zero politics, but the project leaders and members should always try to
          > > reduce its amount, because not keeping it at bay is a recipe for
          > > disaster. I constantly hear about important features that are not
          > > implemented or even bugs that are left unfixed in open-source projects
          > > due to political reasons.
          >
          > My take about politics in FOSS projects (or in other spheres of human
          > acitvity) is to agree with whomever said (I don't remember the source)
          > that in any project involving multiple stakeholders, there are always
          > different interests, which sometimes contradict each other. For the
          > project to proceed, some process is needed to allocate limited resources
          > to satisfy the various interests. This process is the political
          > process.

          Hmmm.... obviously you're right that some process needs to take place, which
          may involve any of the following:

          1. Monarchy/Dictatorship - appointing someone as the "head honcho" who has the
          ultimate decision.

          2. Convincing - trying to convince someone that something may be better off
          your way.

          3. Prioritising.

          4. Compromising.

          5. Democracy/etc. - in my opinion it is sub-optimal.

          6. "Show me the code!" - if you want it done, just write a patch that does it.

          7. Mutiny/Fork/Split-off.

          I'm not sure I can call any of these things "politics", but we obviously need
          a word for them. Probably I can say that a project needs to reduce the bad
          politics, which is anti "do and let do" and the rest of the Hacker ideology.

          Of course we can argue whether it is "good procedures" vs. "politics" or "good
          politics" vs. "bad politics" all day long, and not reach a conclusion.
          >
          > The difference between well-managed projects and projects mired in dirty
          > politics is in the management of the inevitable politics.
          > It would be interesting to discuss how to make politics our servant
          > rather than our master.

          That would be nice, yes.

          Regards,

          Shlomi Fish

          -----------------------------------------------------------------
          Shlomi Fish http://www.shlomifish.org/
          What does "Zionism" mean? - http://xrl.us/bjn8u

          The bad thing about hardware is that it sometimes work and sometimes doesn't.
          The good thing about software is that it's consistent: it always does not
          work, and it always does not work in exactly the same way.
        • Nadav Har'El
          ... I guess you studied differential equations in the Technion, right? Then you should know why exponential growth happens. It happens when the change of the
          Message 4 of 4 , Apr 22, 2008
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            On Tue, Apr 22, 2008, Shlomi Fish wrote about "Re: [hackers-il] Politics in software development projects (was: Unattainable Goals?that are Silll Worse Pursuing)":
            > > > goals in
            > > > life that can never be fully attained, but are nevertheless worth
            > > > pursuing and getting nearer and nearer to them. Like an asymptotic
            > > > function in mathematics if you may.
            > >
            > > Other examples:
            > > 1. Getting as wealthy as possible.
            >
            > True to some extent, but while I would love to be rich, I don't see myself
            > needing to be very rich.

            I guess you studied differential equations in the Technion, right? Then you
            should know why exponential growth happens. It happens when the change of
            the function over time isn't constant (which would have led to linear growth)
            but rather proprtional to the existing value of the function.

            Bringing this theory to wealth accumulation, it is a natural phenomenon that
            people think about their wealth in proporion to what they already have.
            If you have saved 10,000 shekels, then earning another 1,000 looks good.
            But after you have 1,000,000, suddenly another 1,000 looks insignificant.
            No matter how much money you have saved, the natural tendency is to want
            to double your savings, not to add to it a fixed amount. This is why rich
            people always want their wealth to grow exponentially, not stopping at
            a million, and not even at a billion.

            When you have saved 10,000 shekels, it's easy to think that once you
            get to a 1,000,000 you'll stop the rat race. But my guess is that when you
            do get to that 1,000,000, you'll be even deeper in the rat race: that million
            will look less than it did before (sure, I can buy 100,000 slices of pizza
            with it which sounded great when I was a student, but it doesn't buy me my
            dream house today), it will be more fragile than ever (if something bad
            happens, a million won't be enough, etc.), and you'll be tempted to work
            towards the second million.

            Needless to say, there are good reasons to try to avoid (or at least curb)
            this temptation, but it is a temptation nontheless.

            My random signature at the bottom turned out to be quite relevant to this
            discussion :-)

            --
            Nadav Har'El | Wednesday, Apr 23 2008, 18 Nisan 5768
            nyh@... |-----------------------------------------
            Phone +972-523-790466, ICQ 13349191 |Despite the cost of living, have you
            http://nadav.harel.org.il |noticed how it remains so popular?
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