Posted on December 25, 2012

The world that we must seek is a world in which the creative spirit is alive, in which life is an adventure full of joy and hope, based rather upon the impulse to construct than upon the desire to retain what we possess or to seize what is possessed by others.

- Bertrand Russell

I remember…

Sitting there alone with my toys, which were mostly Lego-like. I remember trying to construct things. This was the thing I wanted to do most throughout my childhood. I wanted to create, to use tiny little block pieces to build something grand. I was fascinated by how assembling small things could actually converge to something big to something I had thought of, which never existed be brought to life with something as mere plastic. I used to spend hours, simply focusing on a small aspect, removing parts, re-arranging parts, re-assembling.

That was my first attempt at expressing my self, I believe that was most influential in nurturing my creativity. The experimental pragmatic approach was then my adopted pattern in expressing myself and learning things. I did not fancy school much it did not adopt this approach, so I was mostly concerned with this, it was my source of fun and joy. School was mere duty, something I had to do. Although I still scored pretty well, I did not care. My father cared a great deal about it though. For some reason it seemed important. Yet I knew it wasn’t. Then again school did not adopt my preferred way of learning it also lacked enough stimuli to engage me. The only thing I remember liking at the time was maths and I used to say “I want to become a math teacher one day”. Although later on my grades would not turn out that great, I still liked math. I liked math at the time because it was close to what I was doing, construction, then observing the system’s properties.

School became less and less interesting, and my grades dropped slowly (still ace level) but they were dropping steadily, which meant my father wasn’t much happy about it. He made sure I wasn’t also happy about it. But then again, I did not care. By now, my eye problems were gone, and I had forgotten the pain. But not the lessons. I had dropped most of my Lego construction work and turned into computer games.

The games I liked were strategy games, its easy to tell by now, it had construction, it had a innate study of a system, but now there was a chance to test the system against others, would it survive or would it perish? That was the challenge. Challenges make for more experimentation, and frustration. But frustration was key. No greater system can be built without frustration, I can see that now. Continuing with video games, I turned to shooters so I could play with my cousin at the time. I don’t remember quite the time but I remember it was going in parallel. I was also engaged as of age 15 with a text-based MMO.

The cool property of such MMOs is the fact that you get to be in a clan, a usually large group of people. Clans normally have their own boards for discussions and planning. What is interesting, as compared to school was that in such environment, nobody cares about your age, what matters whether or not you had the skill to do it. Such environment was different from school; school relies on averaging people and grouping them to “learn”. It was a great way for me to learn things.

The first thing to learn was to manipulate images through Photoshop, to generate some graphics clan-mates wanted. I realized at the time that everything was pretty much Lego pieces. It was then that I understood that, all systems have the domain as property not as a core skill. What this actually means is that, being a graphics system, or a mathematical equation or a physics problem, it did not matter what it was, being a physics, graphics, or math, was simply the domain, it was not related to the problem itself, but the context of the problem. The system itself, its constructs was independent of the domain. Art was merely a domain, Math was merely a domain, systems are common, they exhibit common forms. Thus I used to contemplate with surprise how my friends used to separate between science, arts and literature. After all, I was learning differently, we were different.

Not only was it important to learn about the nature of systems, but it was also that people were also systems on their own, this was easily conceived since although adults normally perceive game as violent and about just bashing things. I knew better, online, things were more complex, it involved wars, diplomacy and negotiation, organization and coordination we knew that the most organized clan, could execute to the most lethal operations. It wasn’t about violence, it was about showing up all online to synchronize our strategy, to apply it tactically. I think at the time we all knew one thing that lacks the world today, that respect is earned, it wasn’t respect based on suppositions, rank or age. And that was quite the opposite of what we were learning in school.

Inspired by games, I wanted to discover more the 3D animation field, unlike most 15 year old boys however I knew I did not have to wait for university to do that. I had access to the resources. I believed I could do it myself. And so I tried. I started using Maya 3D by then and was going through the tutorials to learn more about the software, and attempting stuff. Of course frustration was there, frustration was familiar, it was the fuel of learning. Trial and Error I still believe is one of the most effective ways to learn. After going through a few chapters in the tutorial I decided that I wanted to do another thing since I peaked my interest. The MMO we used to play had software that assists players with coordinating tasks with the clan. So I decided by the age of 16 to write software. With no clue on where to start I eventually picked up and after a year of frustrations I managed to write something acceptable. Something usable. After bashing one’s head at dead ends, examining and observation, people eventually reverse engineer things. programming was mere reverse engineering of examples at that time.

The subsequent year, I have managed to do quite a few things, one of which was to co-lead a clan, before stopping playing. And the other was that I actually started making money by doing small themes and web projects, that was while I was still in high school. People had no clue what they wanted to do with your future. I was already there by then. As soon as school ended I received my first actual big project during the summer following the end of the school.

Although this seems quite exciting, it was my own world, my own design, my own ambitions, my family was never aware, nor concerned. The only concern was dad, which used to “ground” me from using internet or playing on the computer (when I was actually going through tutorials) to focus on school. He said good grades ensure a good future. I still wasn’t interested in school. During all the time I kept a low profile, being friendly with some people (direct consequence from clan leadership skills) but I was mostly not noticed for being bright or anything. I wanted the least amount of worries and troubles, home is where I was cooking my craft, school was mere distraction. It was better not to make big mess of distractions.

I was however the curious type, and I wanted to explore, this is mainly why I choose at school the hardest program at the time, it might seem contradictory as to I did not want to get more distracted, but I also did not want to miss out on things I could not experience later, so I picked the hardest choice, which was a double-program with math focus. And I can clearly say now that I do not regret it, the French baccalaureate program differs from the Lebanese since it was open to some analysis and actual thinking. Contrast this with the silly Lebanese approach to schooling, it was quite interesting. But not as interesting as programming or experimenting. So my grades weren’t all that great, specially in things that required a lot of focus and practice (like math) even though I liked it, at home I did not bother studying much, I still passed though with decent grades. But not the best. I did not care about class ranking, or being the best. I knew such things were for people who did not bother to do what they liked.

This list of events clearly impacts some notions I have. I am going to pause to contemplate one idea: Perfection. At this stage it would be possible to start contemplating that with respect to the experience that has been remembered. Perfection is equivalent to elegance, but what do I mean by elegance?

Elegant: [from mathematical usage] adj. Combining simplicity, power, and a certain ineffable grace of design. Higher praise than clever’,winning’, or even cuspy. The French aviator, adventurer, and author Antoine de Saint-Exup’ery, probably best known for his classic children’s book “The Little Prince”, was also an aircraft designer. He gave us perhaps the best definition of engineering elegance when he said “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Jargon File

This is perfection, you can clearly see how it contrasts the normal definition, the definition which states that making no mistakes is equivalent to perfection. It was common to think like that, when all that mattered was grades. If I were to conceive the greatest threat to our knowledge, it would be grades and the grading system at school. It is very easy to say that perfection is a state that is ideal, unattainable. Since its not attainable it would be okay not to be perfect. That is the common most nonsensical argument I used to hear: “Nobody is perfect”.

Perfection is not a state. Perfection is not a destination. Perfection is a function. It is an approximation function. A function which converges to the most elegant solution to a given problem. Thus it is error prone, since its an approximation. The best way to illustrate perfection, is a spiral, not the final point of the spiral, but the spiral function itself.

From the point of view of physics, spirals are lowest-energy configurations which emerge spontaneously through self-organizing processes in dynamic systems.

From the point of view of physics, spirals are lowest-energy configurations which emerge spontaneously through self-organizing processes in dynamic systems.

So what started mattering ever since then, is the fact that I was to be concerned with how things progress. I learned then to look at opinions and people differently. I do not care for the most what the person believe in, or promotes, what matters to me more is how did the person reach that judgement.

And let that day be lost to us on which we did not dance once! And let that wisdom be false to us that brought no laughter with it!

— Friedrich Nietzsche