Thursday, January 27, 2005

Marketing X3D: The Basics

1. What situations will X3D make the better solution? In what way? What needs are met? Listening is everything. Timing is everything else. Location is opportunity.

2. What will the customer or user lose if they don't use X3D? Risk aversion is more powerful than opportunity.

3. When is X3D the classier approach and worth a little more money? Prestige is not cheap. When is X3D the cheaper approach and worth a little more time? Repetition is expensive.

4. X3D is boring as a technology. Interactive solutions are exciting as an experience.

5. A world with the customer's image in it is prettier than a picture of you.

6. The larger the number, the more the risk. Think small. Scale large.

7. In a world of ends, value is not had by creating a completely new world but by adding one that cooperates. In X3D, at the endpoint is a new world.

8. Creating a new service is better than competing with an existing service.

9. If you can do something but your competitor can do more, you will lose. If you can do more but your competitor is already doing something better, you will lose. If you can do something better and do more of it, you will win.

10. It isn't enough to be different, but it helps.

11. Know precisely what you want to do.
Practice doing that.
Do that every day in front of those who want that.

12. Location. Practice. Persistence.

The Beginner's Mind

In the philosophy of Zen (chan), there is the concept of beginner's mind.

Essentially, the mind of the master and the mind of the beginner have the same form and this is revealed in their works. The beginner will create a simple work because they don't know enough to attempt a complex work, and the master will create simple works because they know enough to do that. The differences will be subtle, stylistic, but immediately apprehended by even a casual viewer. In the work of the beginner, one may only see simplicity but may also see the genius of the universe that comes serendipitously to the beginner's mind when it is sensitive and in motion. In the work of the master, one will see both simplicity and the genius of the universe that comes continuously because the master's mind is empty and still, therefore, ready.

I see this in XML design. The schemas of beginners are simple and contain just those elements and attributes needed to do a small task. The schemas of masters are simple and contain just those elements and attributes needed to do a small task in the context of a larger task. The schemas of the journeymen are often very large, use as many of the features of the schema language as they can manage, and attempt to capture all of the tasks in a single grand unified design.

Some think such are the product of committees and blame the size of the committee or the process, but committee work is really the work of one or two individuals who collect and attempt to synthesize all of the requirements while maintaining consensus. They create risk averse schemas because they think that the safe bet is the right bet when in truth, loss is part of the art.

"What to leave in, what to leave out" - Bob Seger

The work also reflects the lifecycle of the committee or working group that may have completed its initial task and now is attempting to gather up other tasks in an act of self-perpetuation. Such works are never completed because the work reflects the desire to remain affiliated so they never have the properties of beginner's mind or mastery. They just fatten and rot. If one compared this to theatre, they are soap operas, a never ending story instead of sit-coms, episodic with recurring characters.

Unfortunately for the current period of XML design and fielding, and more unfortunately, procurement, we see mostly the works of journeymen and committees. It is notable that few have the patience, will, resources, or opportunity to do enough of these to master the art of simple effective design, and those that do are often led away from these design jobs to management and other tasks that provide more means but fewer challenges to the skill that they labored so hard to master.

Intuition is not trustworthy. Technique is not trustworthy. Practice is trustworthy. Sit before the Buddha every day if you wish to learn the artless art.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Blue Flame

There are moments of creativity that are spontaneous and Heisenbergian. If you try to make them happen, they don't. If you try to observe them too hard, they dissolve. If you try to repeat them, you can't. They are the true moment of jhana, the blue diamond of the net of Indra, or simply, the blue flame. We live for these moments because they form the clearest memories in which emotion and motion blend into perfect expression of desire, longing, and completion.

I was sitting outside the rehearsal for the musical last Sunday night in the entrance way for the city hall where rehearsals are being held. Two rooms away, forty or so teen agers and pre-pubescents were learning the complex choreography for their scenes in the Emerald City. I took my nylon string Godin, a very serviceable work axe, to practice classical pieces and noodle improvised sections because the entrance area is a sixty foot tall enclosure with a deep echo clear as the glass windows that make up the walls. This room produces a beautiful sound with nylon strings. I was improvising an arrangement for "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" because, given the show, this tune is stuck in my head like a 2x4 wooden beam stuffed through a tree by a tornado.

One of the principals in the show is an opera diva who for this show plays the part of Auntie Em. The community chorus is loaded with singing talent and as the Wizard/Professor in the show, neither she nor I sing in it. As I sat there noodling, she came out to leave for the night, then stopped for a moment and began to sing the song that in the show is sung by our 15 year old ingenue.

For just a few moments, in the late night dark, in the cold entrance way, we had a perfect moment of collaboration. There was no planning, no words of direction or even suggestion, just a pure blue flame that only comes from the lack of direction, the absence of will. It comes of a shared desire for emotional expression. It was beautiful, clear, pure, clean, so satisfying and unrepeatable.

To be in the flame, for the perfect moment, that is why we trained, why we kept our gifts alive even past the peak of our ambitions in the world. To feel the flame, that is enough. It is the perfect expression, and when the last note dies in the echo, we breathe that note, release it, and are complete.


I was reading an interview with John Carmack yesterday. It seems the DoomMaster has decided to spend his game millions playing a real life and death game: he wanted to compete for the Ansari X-Prize. Of course, Burt Rutan has that now. Some games require significant practice and despite Carmack's prodigious self-learning capability, aeronautics is more than knowing how to build a Newtonian propulsion system. Rocket science is something rocket scientists do best.

The interesting comment he made was that he was reading mostly papers written in the Fifties and Sixties because he disliked the acronym-filled papers written from the 1970s forward. As someone who worked for NASA in the early eighties as a technical writer for the Marshall Space Flight Center where Saturn V and Shuttle engine development was done and later for DoD contractors, I commiserate with Carmack. Acronyms become the magic spell words of technological social networks. Having mastery of the latest acronyms is the precise equivalent of the now short phrases and acronyms of chat, instant messaging, and yes, the gaming community. They determine who is in, who is out, who is hot and who is not.

In other words, they not only determine what you know, they are used to rank membership in the social network of a technology, and of course, Carmack resents that. It is as if he is being denied access to the cheat codes in a game and as a result, he will lose consistently to better connected players. In a technology such as manned space flight, when that happens, your avatar gets removed permanently usually in a big noisy fireball a few feet above the ground.

One should know when one isn't ranked to play certain games and when the network is telling one not to play. Acronymphobia is nature's way of telling you that you may not be up to a game.

"On finding the sign, apply your mind. Thus you will not sleep."

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