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Who the hell is Ken Burns?

Permalink 12/20/10 at 08:29:24 pm, by Ed, 952 words   English (US)
Categories: General, Work

There's an awful lot of knowledge in the world. The reason for that is because there are so many diverse fields in which one can specialize, and one has been specializing in those fields for such a long time. That creates more knowledge as those who specialize invent more better (or worse) different ways of doing things, which can lead to even more new different better (or worse) fields in which one can specialize.

That's a hell of a lot of branching. If you think of the first specialist, he (or she) was probably a hunter/gatherer while his (or her) significant other stayed at home and watched the kids. Well, something like that anyway. To become a better hunter/gatherer, humans, with their fancy-pancy opposable thumbs, developed weapons. If 2001 is to be believed, we had the help of a large black box, and our first weapons were not so much "developed" as "found in last night's dinner".

So we take bones of our hunted food, and use them as clubs to kill slightly larger food. This doesn't isn't a whole lot of knowledge, but now, let's skim the surface for awhile. We invent ways of developing better weapons (sharpening, etc.). Once we have a lot of meat, we're looking for ways to get lots of vegetables. We invent the plow, supposedly another one of man's (or woman's) first inventions that allows us to till the land with the help of those animals we haven't killed off yet, and plant food.

So now we have a place we can stay rather than moving with the seasons and following our food. Now we have incentive to build better homes rather than living in caves, or teepees, or wigwams, or what have you. So we learn to build more crap. That requires the manufacturing of tools. More tools leads to finer production of buildings, which leads to the production of more tools that can do better work, which leads to better buildings, etc.

So now we've got people staying in one place rather than traveling, and they've got nice McMansions to show for it. Well, McMansions of 12,000 BC anyway. And you know what? I like building McMansions, not hunting. I've got to invent bartering so I can build a McMansion for that guy over there who's a much better hunter than me anyway. This leads to money, and that opens another whole can of worms.

So you've got the beginnings of communities. More McMansions being built closer together, because it takes a village to... do what villages do, I suppose, which tends to be condemning old women with warts and long noses to burn. But not for another few thousand years. As communities continue to grow, you need leaders. So you get the best and brightest to tell the rest of us what to do, how to do it, and get paid for it. There's your politician and manager trades. Lots of knowledge there.

Remember, I'm just skimming the surface. By now (circa 5000 BC), we've got dozens or even hundreds of specializations, each with their own specialized knowledge that the other specializations need know nothing about. It is simply because we are so specialized that we can become morespecialized. If one guy really knows his sewer cleaning stuff, then I don't have to worry about it, and can instead figure out how to better "take flange-drives out over the square of thumbs while tubing flap tape". Whatever that means.

So fastforward about 7000 years. I know I've heard a quote somewhere that said "specialization is for insects", but if we didn't have specialization, we'd be living in a medieval society. I know all about computer science, and specifically about how things are done at my company, and very specifically, about how the projects I'm working on work. At the broadest level, computer science, it could almost be discounted as a "specialization" since so many people are similar in that respect. But I could talk ad nauseum about how APUs work to somebody who's specialized in, for example, politics, and they would absorb absolutely zero of what I was saying.

On the next level down, at my company, that narrows it down. There's less than a dozen people who know the internals of what we do. And even lower down, the projects I work on, really that's just me. I'm the only person who has all the knowledge there to give you some rinky-dink iPhone game. All you had to do was buy it. Whether you're a professional athlete who can run a mile in 10.8 seconds, or a video-photographer who knows what the hell a Ken Burns effect is, you don't need to know anything about Objective-C, or memory management, or OpenGL, or Photoshop (although if you are a photographer, you probably do know a thing or two), or trigonometry, or geometry, or floating-point inconsistencies, or binary, or data structures, or application signing, or universal binaries, or code compilation, or static libraries, or dynamic libraries, or how ants use pheromones to find the shortest path to sustenance, or efficient 2D physics engines, or how to make sound effects, or how to convert sound effects into a format suitable for playing on the iPhone.

Anyway, I guess this is just my way of saying, without any feelings of stupidity that I don't know the answer, "Who the hell is Ken Burns anyway?" There's a lot of stuff I do know, and I feel it's probably not necessary for me to go specializing in whatever it is Ken Burns did to find out what's so great to get an effect named after you in Final Cut Pro (which I also had to use in my rinky-dink iPhone game).

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