Sep '09 - Aug '10
I was trying to explain to an acquaintance one morning over breakfast what it was that I was studying at the DRL. He was erroneously trying to sell it as Architecture and I was arguing that it had nothing to do with buildings and all to do with systems. Generative, networked and manipulatable systems to be exact. “Like a computer network?” he asked. “Sure, if that is where the research leads” I answered. (At this point I do not realize he is an x-computer science professional) “Like a Star System?” he asks. “Sure, if that is what was needed.” “How long would it take you?” “I don’t know, give me a week and I am sure we would have something working.” His reply: “YOU ARE ENCREDIBLY POMPUS!” That is when the fireworks broke out. The next few minuets were full of detailed and emphatic descriptions of why it was ridiculous of me to have the opinion that a DRL team could begin to sort out the complexities of a Star Computer network in a week (whatever a Star Computer Network is). We both left angry but for different reasons.
He was absolutely right to call me pompous. To boast that a week was enough for a few people to understand and build a computer network with no prior experience is naively ridiculous. That being said, he was also completely wrong because pompous is exactly what I have seen the DRL excel at over the last two months. Teams have tackled problems, built machines and written code without any thought to whether or not they were qualified to attempt such a task. Of course, no one is claiming to be a professional in computer science, robotics or any other discipline that they may be tinkering with but the notion of what is outside our capabilities has somehow completely vanished. There seems to be a general assumption that there is someone in the program who knows something about the task at hand and if not, then there is a manual or a hack or an online tutorial or a book out there that can be easily found. This type of attitude might well explain some of the frustration associated with developing projects here but the fact that the attitude exists and is operated on daily by DRL students struck me as amazing. The mental barrier of what one can’t do has largely evaporated and stands in stark contrast to my friend who has been schooled to respect the boundaries of his discipline. I think that without this fearlessly naive attitude and all of its associated problems, the DRL would be a much less interesting place to be in.