Oct 31, 2015

scritch scritch scritch

I can't help but feel that I've spent most of my day here on my sofa, plunking away at odd thoughts.  They are all odd.  Thoughts, that is.

I'm going back and re-interpreting a scattershot collection of old memories, in the process making them into new ones.  I have lots of ideas of things that I would like to see done, but most times just having the thought is enough of a reward that I don't get much past that.  You know, past just having the idea.

The ideation phase, it turns out, is so rewarding that the physical labor of actually producing or turning that thought into reality is unnecessary.  Less rewarding, almost.

I wonder then if that's what makes writing so seductive -- in the age of Internet, where publishing and garnering an audience[1] is a semi-trivial thing, writing things down is such an easy process. It doesn't take much other than remembering to write down the day dream like thoughts in order to have *done* something with a thought.  To have made an idea feel more concrete than it was.

We had a visitor at EO (was that where the conversation occurred? I can never remember conversation provenance) on Friday.  A few of us went out to coffee, and talk turned to the robotics class at Columbia that our visitor was doing mid-terms for. The prompt was a robot navigating about a room full of obstacles, and they kept running into a problem that their robot would not hit the finish targets exactly.  The biggest challenge had shifted from writing code to how to account for drift?

This problem provides a nice foil for the difference between "programming" and "engineering" - whereas programming is writing out the steps that you want the robot to take, and engineering is the task of discovering what steps that the robot needs to take.  Figuring out what the causes of the problem is and figuring out a solution (a solution that is later embedded into code) -- this is engineering.  Without drift, would it not be so much of an engineering problem?  I would say yes -- it's merely a matter of getting the robot to execute a series of steps.  But since some amount of error occurs in the system, a method of correcting for the error - discovering it, reporting, and reducing it - must be found.  There's no clearcut way to make it better, either.

Is there much difference between daydreaming & writing and programming & engineering?  Other than engineering probably takes much more work than sitting on a sofa staring dreamily into the distance as you wait for the sun to finally set.  But both are the process of finding ideas (wherever they may be) and putting them down, concretely.


[1] personally, I'd be happy if only robots read my pages

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