Posts Tagged ‘magic’

So here is my curse, and Faust had the same ailment, which did not end well for the poor guy:  I was born with an unquenchable hunger for all the knowledge the world ever possessed, and even knowledge the world never possessed – all of it.  I wanted to know everything – still do – all the secrets guarded by every hidden sect across the globe, from the Freemasons to the Mithraists to the Templars and Rosicrusians, the chronicles of Da Vinci and Zoroaster, back again, through every hidden or destroyed record sealed up inside altars, bricked up inside walls, hidden in vaults and tunnels, in cities now under the sea, lost by fire, destroyed by flood, encased in magma and lava, or only ever known by verbal whispers passed from parent to child and never written down through the pagans and the druids and the Far Easterns and the Egyptians and all the other cultures throughout the world and throughout time.  This hunger never went away, no matter how much information I crammed into my brain, and if anything, every answer I ever obtained did not spawn the satisfaction I had hoped for, but created yet another outwardly spiraling plethora of more questions and curiosities.  One human cannot possibly have the capacity to contain all the knowledge I crave, and this hunger has no shape, form or affiliation.  This has presented many challenges throughout my life, because as far as I know, no-one has ever been able to run in every direction at once.  It’s pretty amusing to bystanders, however, when I try.  Picture Cerberus chasing his tail, and you’re not too far off.

The thing is, I do feel special; either I am special or I am a lunatic, but since being a kid I’ve been like a bug-light to ghosts, and more recently to ‘people’ who visit me in my dreams.  There is a whole tribe, many of them, and places they live which aren’t on this rock or in this dimension.  I wake up most mornings with the feeling I was THERE – in the place where all the answers were, and then as this bastard condition known as consciousness takes over, it fades and slips away too quickly for me to retain, and this is immensely frustrating.

I was very lucky as a kid, in that my parents were not religious, and so I didn’t have any dogma shoved down my throat.  In addition, my dad is an absolutely wildly interesting man.  He, like me, is crazy about this stuff, and we used to go on these adventures all the time, looking for fossils or ghosts, watching for UFOs, reading everything we could get our hands on about King Arthur, Merlin, Camelot – whatever.  In fact, I truly do not understand and cannot fathom people who aren’t built this way.  People who are disinterested in things are completely bizarre to me; I don’t judge them, but nor do I understand them, or get what makes them tick.  My friends were like me, and we gravitated towards the occult and the darker side of nature.  Even though I grew up and moved away from my original country, this has never, ever died in me.  I was fanatical about chaos magic, and used to dream as a child about being caught up in the primordial ooze – spiraling ink blobs whirling round at breakneck speeds before the world was formed.  It didn’t feel like a dream, but a memory, and I have always instinctively known – albeit never been able to give form or validation to this knowledge – that our life as humans truly is transient and fleeting.  I have never subscribed to any subset of religious thinking, and have always been a staunch opponent of organized religion, but I’m not atheist either.  In fact, I’m a lifelong member of the “I don’t know what’s out there, and I’m comfortable with that” club.  If we knew everything, then what would be left to look forward to?

But lately, I do feel like I’m getting closer to understanding something.  I don’t know what it is, but I have a scent.  I’m wondering if this is naturally what happens to people as we age, and edge closer to death?

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Something I’ve been pondering lately is how our species love puzzles of all kinds, (from crosswords to Sudoku, Connect 4, jigsaws, chess, cryptograms, you name it.) But so many of the general populous of puzzle solvers are terrified or oblivious to the fact that learning to write computer programs comes from the exact same place & passion. If you hunger for mental challenges, putting pieces together, figuring your way through a maze or connecting dots for fun, then you could apply this pastime & hunger to something that will have so much leverage in your life, it’s phenomenal. Learning how computers work, and then how to expand this understanding to make them do more, was by far the most powerful thing I ever directed my hunger towards. I went from being terrified of touching Excel (because it did things I didn’t understand) to learning how to get under the hood, break down the walls and limits and make that one program do virtually whatever I wanted it to do. But getting there was just another puzzle and series of basic steps, to which I applied my crossword-brain.

I took some classes and have a ton of books about everything and anything; I learned several languages from C to php to VB to VBA to whatever. But to this day, the most important 2 things in my entire learning arsenal were:

1. A basic class on how computers work, which essentially said: “they are dumb”. They follow steps, and only when told to do so. They don’t make assumptions, and they need explicit instructions, or they can’t do anything.

2. A language-independent class on the fundamentals of programming. It taught me how to drop my assumptions, think in smaller and smaller terms about how things come to be, how to forget what I thought I knew, and then how to reconstruct my knowledge whilst paying attention to the things we tend to overlook, due to their simplicity. “Otto the Robot” was the most important puzzle I ever solved, and this was before I allowed myself to even consider what a development environment was.

When you make a program which automates and simplifies someone’s life, they look at you like you’re an alchemist. You just turned lead into gold, you just wove magic out of thin air. The inevitable next question is: “How can I learn to do THAT?”

The unfortunate answer is, “by becoming obsessed, dedicated, single-minded and applying hundreds and thousands of hours into wanting to do it, never accepting no for an answer, never accepting that something is beyond you, and by so much patience and self-forgiveness that nothing will beat you into submission, no matter how hard it tries.” (We make it look easy so folks often assume it is.)

For the first time in my life, my twisted obsessive personality worked in my favor, because I HATE not knowing things, I hate when something won’t work when it should, and I especially can’t accept this when I know that every single thing is made of a system of steps and checks.

Bottom line: If you like puzzles, then learn how computers work, and apply that passion towards making the world a better and more efficient place. Contrary to popular belief, there is no magic involved.

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