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When Inspiration Strikes

Inspiration is a funny thing. It isn’t always for the best, sometimes causing us to make mistakes. Without it, though, we would never take risks. We would never succeed. We wouldn’t put a dent in the universe1. The source of our inspiration can play a part in our success or failure as well. We are inspired by the things around us. As others are saying, “our creativity comes from without, not within”2.

In 1996 I would ride my bike to place called The Education Technology Center, a public computer lab. I was fourteen. It wasn’t very far from my house and on July 5 I was waiting at the door when it opened for the day. The day before they were closed for Independence Day and I’m sure I had a fine holiday with friends and family, but I was anxious to get back to lab.

You see, when I was born I wasn’t the only “new” thing in our house. Around the time I was born my Dad bought an Atari 400. Sure, it took me a few years to gain the ability to use it, but growing up with that beige box hooked up to an old cathode ray tube TV meant that I never knew life without a computer; I never knew life without this sound3.

As I rode my bike to the Education Technology Center I thought about all the things I would do online that day. It was a different web then. There was no Google, Yahoo! was a startup, there was no dot-com bubble. It was young, it was like me. I checked into the lab and the attendant, himself only a few years older than me, told me about this new service where anyone could get a free email address. Until this point I functioned online without such a thing. But here I was, one day after this free service, Hotmail4, began offering an email account to anyone and I was faced with a decision…What address do I choose?

One year prior a film came out that, for better or worse, shaped my online persona. Hackers, a movie with questionable ties to any sort of reality, took this beige box that I had grown up with and gave it life beyond 8-bit games. Sure, we’d used our Atari and connected to bulletin board systems using a 300-baud modem, but what this movie showed was something beyond that. It provided inspiration.

I chose poorly…I chose o2kuwl.

I’m not proud about it. I could have had my pick of nearly any account name. Instead, in an attempt to be unique but still pay homage to the movie that so influenced me, I made a terrible choice. But I was inspired to make that choice and for many years that was my identify. Email, IRC, chatrooms, forums, and anywhere else. I was o2kuwl. I made a choice because I was inspired and I lived with it…for awhile anyway.

Another movie has inspired me lately. This one doesn’t have over the top visuals or unrealistic depictions of hacking the gibson5. Instead, it’s about one man’s quest for perfection. In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Jiro attempts to make perfect sushi, knowing full well that such perfection is impossible. He is a 職人6, and strives to make those around him one as well, no matter the cost. This devotion to his craft has made me question my commitment to my own profession. I spend much of my day working with simple tools to make a product that is uniquely crafted to a specific need, much like Jiro. The result of my work is not beautifully plated sushi, but instead “hand-crafted” web applications. Clean code.

Jiro, aside from providing another reason to desire a trip to Japan, has inspired me to look at what I do with a critical eye. He has also inspired me to write this and what I hope will become regular entries on this site. There is much to learn from master craftsman from professionals other than our own and I am not the first to recognize the links between developers and chefs7. Whether this is simply for me or if you, the reader, gain something from this is ultimately irrelevant. What matters is inspiration has struck and it’s time to act.

In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Masuhiro Yamamoto provides five attributes of a great chef. I believe they can be extended beyond that just chefs and I will use them as the basis for future entries. They are

  1. Take your work seriously
  2. Aspire to improve
  3. Maintain cleanliness
  4. Be a better leader than a collaborator
  5. Be passionate about your work.

Certainly something to think about…

  1. As Steve Jobs would have said
  2. Kirby Fergson’s Embrace the Remix TED talk
  3. Thanks to Atari Age Forums for this audio file.
  4. The pre-Microsoft Hotmail was groundbreaking
  5. Hacking the Gibson, a clip from Hackers
  6. Shokunin, a craftsman or artisan
  7. Code like a Chef by Greg Baugues