Monday, December 17, 2007

Geeks at middle-age - we too shall pass

John Halamka, aged 46 today and one of my favorite bloggers, has written a post about the point in every geek's life when they know the road will someday slope downwards ....
Life as a Healthcare CIO: Embracing Innovation:

...My commitment to my staff is that if I ever become the rate limiting step in adoption of new technologies, then it will be time for me to go. In the meantime, bring on the AJAX, the Continuous Data Replication, Host-based Intrusion Protection and all the new acronyms that cross my desk every day. I may not immediately understand every new technology, but I look forward to being a student, learning about the latest innovations, for life...
I'm 48 and I think I know where John H is coming from.

John uses as one of his examples Doris Lessing's Nobel speech, where she characterized the Internet as the highway to intellectual perdition. I didn't comment on her remark because it was a bit sad, but I will defend her a wee bit.

When humans began writing, we enabled the birth of literature. We also stopped being able to recite the Odyssey, and the tradition of memory-based oral epics passed into history. Much was gained, but there was a price. So Lessing may be right that electronic communication will change the nature of the literary narrative, but none of us can know how the future will judge the changes to come.

An optimist named "Jessica" took exception to John's predicting of his future decline, to which I responded (slightly fixed up below):
Jessica, there may exist a human whose mental acumen does not decline with age. I've not met anyone like that however, and I did meet Richard Feynman.

An extreme example may help. I'm a reasonably clever sort, but I don't have the brain power Isaac Newton or even Linus Pauling had. They both declined in their dotage.

In some positions, like John Halamka's, productivity peaks around the mid to late forties. Alas, that's largely because our 'wisdom' (painful experience) and knowledge base offset our degrading neural networks. The balance shifts however, one day all the experience in the world is not enough.

We too shall pass. We can only hope there comes a day when instead of saying 'I'm not interested' we can say 'That's cool, even if I can no longer hope to understand it.'
Now, to (try to) show that my time has not yet come, I will present a slightly macabre idea I had last night while contemplating mortality.

When I stop writing my blogs and updating my web pages, how will my (small) audience know whether I've died, become incapacitated, been abducted by aliens, changed identities, or simply decided to move to a retreat in the vastness of British Columbia?

One answer is something I'll call the "digital death announcement" or "DDA".

The DDA would be an encrypted string that would be extremely likely to be unique. If decrypted by one's public key it would contain one's last words (example: "So long and thanks for all the fish").

Then DDA is, by direction, included in one's formal obituary. (Example: "John Gordon was put down on ____ due to mange. His last words were: 54285-45254-5425-6gsiyt985-34134ng").

The last piece of the puzzle is a bit of Javascript that's run each time one's blog or web page is open. The Javascript uses a standing Google search to look for the DDA.

If the search has a result waiting, then the announcement appears atop the page.

I'll have to put authoring that Javascript on my to-do list ....

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