As I’m writing this I’m rewatching the 2005 movie Constantine with Keanu Reeves. The TV show of this DC comic that originated in 1985 holds a very interesting character. John Constantine. I don’t want to go into depth in comic geekville but this character touches the very soul of what the hacker mindset encourages.
As a Christian myself I must ask others of many faiths to put aside their condemnation and assumptions aside for just a minute to understand the character not for if it’s a good or bad thing but what the characters aspirations are. He deals with the occult and battling demons through spells, black magic, trickery and ancient knowledge of the occult. The background of how he became that way is irrelevant to this conversation but what is relevant is that he really knows his stuff. Really knows it to the point he gets out of many dangerous situations with only his wits.
The hacker mindset is the tech dream for similar reasons. The hacker does have some toys and can do some deep stuff because of them but what makes them good is pure know how. They seem to know a lot about a whole lot of things in such a way that they can use very little yet bend their environment to their will. This to me is still the dream.
I don’t code to survive. I code to create.
The use of tools to make bigger and better tools that fit the situation you desire is what we desire. Learning and listening because some day some how these mountains of what may seem to be useless will prove to be what saves us.
This isn’t just a tech thing. Many professions desire this Constantine like knowledge of just the right thing you needed to know or figure out to get you out of a certain situation. The problem? The goal is endless. Regretfully life is not like TV. This goal can never be reached no matter how much you learn. However, I must say, like every life long learner like myself and probably like you my dear reader, it’s a hard but wonderful ride.
I was asked what place would I ever live that I’ve never visited and immediately what came to mind was Japan. This is not recent feeling either. It’s been there since I was 13. I’ll tell you why.
When I was a kid and getting into tech there were certain things I wanted a lot of. Knowledge and games. Back in the early 80’s before the internet I would get numbers to what were called bulletin boards. It was the equivalent of dialing up a website and just staying there for a while to get what you wanted or learn about interesting stuff. Well, thus came the part of me that was a little bit nefarious. I found through these portals that if you know what to look for and how to look you could find video games that you could download. This opened up a whole new world because it merged the two things I liked. Learning how to do something and getting paid off with a video game. Sometimes one that might not even be available in the United States yet.
Therein lies the crux of my position. The games were sometimes coming out of Japan. Thus coming out of Japan they were in Japanese. I actually loved this too because my brother and I already had a fascination with Japan. We watched Japanamation cartoons and would turn to Japanese stations and watched for hours only understanding a rare few words that were said.
Fortunately for us we had an uncle that lived in northern California that married a Japanese wife. To our delight they visited and stayed at our house for 3 days and my aunt’s sister came with her visiting Los Angeles straight from Japan. I was about 12 and couldn’t stop being around these ladies. She knew a couple American shows and the extent of her English seemed to Happy Days but it was awesome.
When they left I took it upon myself to find on a bulletin board how to learn Japanese. I later on bought a book on the language and learned how to read the Kanji/Kana character set which really helped me a lot to read the menus on the games. This turned out to be useful as I relearned it when I was 24 and happened to take a temp job at a company that was headquartered in Japan. Once an issue came up with the Japanese version of Microsoft Windows that a certain floor or bilingual workers was using. I jumped up to save the day. To their amazement the young black guy fixed it in Japanese. Made me a star among all the people on that floor that passed me from then on and waved and said hi even if they couldn’t speak English.
My fascination with the country has spanned many decades and I really need to make it a priority to visit for a while. I’ve kept up with a lot of things Japan just because of all of this. I may stick out like a sore thumb because of my skin color difference but sticking out has never stopped me before.
I am a big sucker for lists so here’s a Phillip Banks top ten interesting facts list.
- Unknown to most my favorite sport is football even though I’m known for playing basketball all the time and in leagues all over the city.
- I have a weird immunity to alcohol which is one of the main reasons I don’t drink. My metabolism is so high that is consumes the alcohol before too much reaches my brain. I’ve done many tests on this by chucking whole bottles of wine and drinking 8 shots of different vodkas in succession to see if I was affected at all. Even did equations afterward to test cognitive balance. No effect. The down side to this is that medicines don’t work for me either in most cases.
- I’m pretty sure I’m ADHD from every online test I’ve taken or read. I have an incredibly hard time focusing. This would seem unpredictable because I love to read a lot. It is actually something that is horribly hard for me but my desire to learn supersedes my desire to give up because I keep getting distracted.
- I love the color blue. Just realized I just keep having more and more of it around me.
- About 10 years ago I read a man saying imagine if you read 50 books a year how much you’ll have gained when you’re old. Ever since then I’ve set a goal (that I usually don’t reach but at least get close every year) of reading 50 books. Thus I usually would rather drive in my car alone because I’d rather be listening to an audiobook than music while driving.
- I’ve been told this by a doctor but I’ve never taken the time to look it up but I am supposed to be written up in some medical journal somewhere. At 38 I broke my leg in 3 places from an accident on a basketball court. In a month and a half I was back on the basketball court. He told me my accelerated healing was of huge interest to his colleges.
- I absolutely SUCK at doing paperwork. You’d swear it was written in a foreign language sometimes. At companies I used to work at in the past I always had people in accounting trade me doing or making things that would make their life more efficient for doing all my paperwork. If they didn’t they might be waiting on me for a while to get the paperwork to them.
- My front right tooth is chipped. The reason being when I was 12 I decided I was going to learn to do tricks on my oldest brother’s skateboard. I was quite the daredevil because I wanted to try every stunt possible like one of my childhood idols Evil Kenivel. Well, needless to say between tricks I neglected to pay attention to a huge crack in my driveway that catapulted me into the sky and land on the concrete chipping my tooth.
- I absolutely despise coconut. I love chocolate but German chocolate has that one thing I really don’t like. Coconut. It all started from my sister and I helping each other up to some cans that had cookies in them on a high shelf when we were kids. If you made a mistake and reached into the wrong can you’d end up with coconut on your hands and I couldn’t stand that smell.
- I started programming when I was 10. As in a previous blog post I mention how it’s obsession slowly took over and took the place of my first love playing guitar.
I’d decided to do this writing challenge to see how I could get myself in the groove of writing and it gave me some subjects to talk about. The problem is that one of the subjects was my first love/kiss. I realized that a lot of these things didn’t relate to tech like I thought I could probably make them but that turns out not to be true. You see my first love was my guitar. I left my guitar for a computer.
When I was in 3rd grade I witnessed one of the most beautiful sights that changed my life forever. A girl at my elementary school was sitting on a step and playing a guitar. I was in complete and utter awe at the sight of this. Music just flowed from her hands and it filled my ears and went to my heart. I was captivated. My first thought was one that leads me through life to this day. How can I create this feeling for myself like she gave me. Thus led me on a journey that I am on to this day. Scratching my own itch.
A little background. My mom’s family was heavy into music. My great grandmother had an idea that really held a lot of weight. She felt like no matter what happened in the world all of her family had to know how to do two things because they’d never stop being ways to make money: Typing and playing an instrument. Thus my grandmother, mother and aunt played piano and thus led my brother sister and I to have to take piano lessons as well. Then one fine day I walk in and say I want to take guitar lessons instead of piano. It was still an instrument after all.
After reading how many hours the great players put into learning their instrument I had to get myself closer and closer to them. The greatest players at the time were Spanish sex symbol Charro followed by rockstar Eddie Van Halen. Turned out that they practiced almost 8 hours a day. I felt I wanted to be amoungst the best so I would set out on a course of getting closer and closer to that amount of time. I loved that guitar like no other thing on earth. I bought sheet music from music stores so I could play all the famous rock songs. My teacher was a backup guitarist for the legendary rock group Journey so I felt I was in even better hands. I practiced classical guitar, spanish guitar, rock and gospel till my hands were tired but they never seemed to tire. 3 years of scholarships and playing at various concerts and churches proved I was on the right path.
Many years later Toni Braxton would sing a song called Spanish Guitar in which she would wish that this man would hold her like he held his Spanish guitar. My Spanish guitar could have equal envy for a woman because my reverence for it and caressing of the strings brought me the signs of success that I coveted. Calluses. The sign of every true guitarist.
Our love song wouldn’t last forever though and I have to take the blame when I was 14. Great guitarists could play by ear from just hearing music they could create their own. This took the boring task of learning my scales. Daily going through these scales took long hand training. At the same time I had a mistress in the wings that started to consume more and more of my time. It was computers. I’d been programming since I was 10 but the challenge became more and more pleasing. My awe for Charo was slowly replaced with Bill Gates.
When I entered high school my first love picked up permanent residence under the piano at my house only to be thought of in passing from time to time but it will always be my first love.
My life has seemingly been around tech since I can remember. My technolust (term coined by the video podcast Hak5) was first started by my curiousity with all things. I mentioned in a previous post about being a tinkerer and that was evident from the start. So, travel down the well with me into the mind of a tinkerer.
I have two memories and I can’t remember which one came first but I was around 2 years old in both so they were somewhat close together. Ok so lets get the slightly embarrassing stuff out of the way with a little background. My mother had our house split into two rooms for the kids. My sister and I in one and my older brother Erick in the other. This arrangement worked for them because the two youngest were very close to their room and my brother who was 5 years older was down the hall. For some reason my mother decided to keep me in a baby bed and get every dollar of usage out of it. I guess you could say I was a bit rambunctious as a kid because I remember figuring out that I could make the whole bed fall down if I jumped on it really hard over and over again. I’m in the autonomous stage and I wanted to get out and run around but was confined to this prison that was up too high for me to climb out easily.
This situation was a lab for me. I had a couple of goals that were all equally important. 1) Escape, 2) annoy my sister because I knew this would always do it, 3) make my mom have to run in the room at which point I’d have escaped further from the bed each time and 4) amaze myself at how much the bed would take before it would collapse. The other goals were great but each time I remember holding out faith that I could break this bed more effeciently each time. I was too young to know about statistics and reports but If my little me would have known about that stuff I would have kept record.
This thinking hasn’t changed. 43 years later I still repeat things that I do over and over to become better and more efficient at them. High five 2 year old Phillip. You were working the scientific process and reaping great results as this is one of my sister’s first memories as well and my mom still holds this against me in conversations. Mission accomplished.
Recently my daughter (Keila Banks) did a talk at O’Reilly Media’s OSCON 2015. Hey keynote talk was “Undefinable Me.” In the talk, in short, she talks about how she’s a 13 year old coder and many many other things that make it hard to define her (video here). She ends her talk by saying “Join me in being an undefinable you.” Since then I’ve been flooded with messages, emails, texts and calls about her video asking for help with this concept. I will explain it in detail here.
When my daughter gives talks we brainstorm on an idea and I let her expound on it. She does all her
own writing and video presentation so there’s no speech written. She’s just talking about yourself and who can’t talk about themselves. I presented her with a title idea. To talk about herself. Let me digress for a second to give you a little background.
My dad (Sammie Banks) was an electrical engineer since the 1960’s. My uncle John was a mathematician that worked for the Pentagon back in those decades as well. This was a VERY hard thing in that there were few black people in technology fields. My father aimed us towards whatever we wanted. He’d pay for books if need be but he wouldn’t give out answers he knew to things. If I wanted to know I had to come back with enough information to discuss the question. I wasn’t an exceptional kid at math but I felt computers which had just started to be put in homes to be my new purpose. My dad’s words of advice to us in all things was simple, “In whatever you do you’re going to have to be twice as good as the guy standing right next to you.” Understanding the undertones that the man next to us was probably a white man the message was clear but racism was inexcusable no matter what other people did.
The lessons he gave me were changed a bit by me to come up with idea of perfecting my 3 principles at the core of everything. Mind. Body. Spirit. My children discuss and learn things (Mind), healthy and in good physical condition from exercise (Body) and God fearing and kind (Spirit). My things don’t have to be your things but choose your things. What are your core beliefs? Do they make the world a better place and not just you?
Programming since I was 10 like my sons and daughter I used to find on error message that would always cause you a problem when it hit. “Undefined variable.” This meant somewhere along in your code you were supposed to give something a value but you forgot to. Being undefinable is lacking the ability to be given a simple value. Programmers and geeks might know this as a list or array needed which gives this thing many values. This is the same for you but you’re going to break the program because you want to be undefinable. They’re going to have to come up with a new language for you.
I’m a 6’3″ Christian, black, athletic, geeky, sociable, funny (just roll with on that), inner city Los Angeles native that works on all tech things but mainly free and open source technologies like Linux and Firefox (read into that part a tree hugging/hippie tech geek perception) and always with his kids. I won’t go into the possibly negative connotations associated with who I am that I completely shatter in people’s brains but that’s great. That’s how it starts.
The main focus I wanted her to hit that she hit so well is that she’s not special. Even if you did this we’re smart that only gets you so far. Hard work on yourself is what gets results. So if you’re female change the narrative of what people say about females in tech to one that makes gender sound silly being discussed. If you’re young make the value associated with your age irrelevant. If you’re black, Latin, Asian, etc. defy saying or thinking things like, “I’m this way because I’m [fill in nationality here].” Then and only then are you an undefinable you.
Reference: Keila Banks “Undefinable me” talk at OSCON 2015
Business Inside article: (http://www.businessinsider.com/13-year-old-girl-coder-wows-crowd-2015-7 )
Banks Family Values (FOSS Force): http://fossforce.com/2015/07/banks-family-values-texas-linux-fest/
I think one of my most favorite things about the TV show Star Trek that has eluded modern technology (aside from a giant spaceship moving at light speed) is the ability for communications officer Lieutenant Uhura to speak English to every race. Yes this marvel of future technology was called the “universal translator.” As far as the show’s premise goes this simplistically named device was embedded in someone’s ear. Gene Roddenberry gave life to this hidden element of technology so that officers of the Enterprise could talk to all the many people of different worlds.
That’s great for TV but that kind of stuff won’t be possible for decades right? Wrong. You can have this technology right now but even better. You can SEE the words that are written translated like only the communications officer could do by looking into her screen.
On May 16, 2014 Google acquired the company Word Lens that makes a visual translation app that I must say works as advertised. With this
app, simply holding your mobile device up to see words on a sign, paper, etc were suddenly translated before your eyes into your language of choice. This field is called augmented reality translation. Integrating this into their Google translate product that already covers typed text translation and voice translation is the complete package to be your own communications officer and clearly is the move that makes Google own this space. Of course integrating all this into Google Glass is the goal so you can walk around and see the text in your language.
Three small hurdles. Thou this isn’t a major problem these days since most all languages on planet earth are already translated there are many dialects and local colloquialisms. A major example of this is Chinese. Parts of China can’t communicate well with other parts because they are speaking different dialects of the same language. The translation space would completely be owned with the addition of language learning (which by the way was even a hard task for Lieutenant Uhura with some languages namely Klingon).
The second issue is local (without internet) use. I notice that the Word Lens app was a whopping 41mb which I didn’t mind because it doesn’t need the internet. However, I tried to use Google translate outside of the country and it told me it needed Internet. That could be a problem that I’d be willing to sacrifice a couple megs of space to solve.
The third issue is that I hope those who speak Klingon don’t try to use this product because it’s not available. Microsoft has that integrated into their search engine/language translator Bing though.
Unlike Uhura, I think we’ll be ok with complete translation of Klingon though.
Recently I was at a convention where my daughter spoke and one of the organizers told me that she had an honest curiosity and that would take her a long way. I think fortunately that this lady was right. This was definitely a lesson that I needed to teach my daughter that is also a lesson for all of us who really have a passion for enhancing technology. We exist in a society of tinkerers.
Teaching grown men this is one thing but teaching a young girl this came easier than expected in the form of an old favorite Disney character: Tinkerbell.
Most of us adults don’t know much about Tinkerbell because she always flew by Peter Pan or Mickey Mouse and made fireworks happen with her wand. However, young girls know her a little better because my daughter watches the straight to DVD releases of Tinkerbell that have been put out since 2008 that show more about her and where she’s from. In short, Tinkerbell is a fairy. Where she comes from there are fairies of many different types that have different abilities. Some tribes may be weather or plants fairies etc. Well, Tinkerbell is named as such because she comes from the fairy clan of tinkerers. They’re snubbed because they aren’t as fancy as some of the other tribes because they like to get their hands dirty and take things that exist and tinker with them to make something extraordinary. This is a concept I knew oh so well already. Why? I’m a tinkerer too. My dad is an engineer and a tinkerer and so is my daughter. She comes from a long line of our “clan.”
I must admit that in watching some of these movies with my daughter I could relate more and more to the character’s trials and tribulations but even more so with her solutions. The key thing about tinkerers is finding solutions. That’s priority number one. Some of the other tribes might focus on things like beauty or social status but the tinkerers made something that not only gave them piece and leisure but even more so pride that they’d created something worth having. As my daughter Keila grows I notice more and more she’ll just need a tiny push into some software or give her a new piece of hardware and soon she’ll start making connections to create something else that will morph into something else and within a little time she’ll sit proud and relax in what she’s created and can’t wait to tell me all about it.
I first learned about Linux in 1993 from a tinkerer like myself. I was 23 and a consultant at my job named Chuck was there for the sole purpose of working on our $100k computer running HPUX. This machine seemed like a might elephant commanded by Hannibal careening through an area destroying all in it’s path with little resistance. The other computers seemed like toys compared to this machine. For some reason the might elephant was great but we had multiple buildings that needed to be connected so a huge bridge needed to be made so this might elephant could cross the buildings. Chuck, being the tinkerer that he was and seeing that I was one also said, “I’ve got an idea for this. We could take some computers and make them into bridges for this machine without spending the big bucks.” I of course was completely on board but the project got turned down and big Cisco bridges were bought. This inspired me though. If this Linux that he spoke of could possibly do this what else could you create with it. He told me to go get a copy of Slackware and learn it good and you can build almost build a clone of this big HPUX machine at home. He needed say no more. Any hardware I came into contact with was used to tinker even more. Not just with Linux but with Windows, Novell Netware and networks… and the rest was history.
Explaining it to Keila was easy. Disney had already created the framework for me. They showed her a tinkerer and how that tinkerer succeeded. Come find your place in the Tinkerer Clan. You may slowly start finding yourself opting out of fancy interfaces like an AppleTV or Smart TV for a Raspberry Pi running a media distribution. Take your Windows or Mac into the command line. You may find yourself hacking an Android tablet instead of getting an iPad. You may find yourself running only Linux on your desktop till it spreads to your laptop then work desktop then to servers everywhere you go like I did. You may find yourself compiling your own software and even learning a language to make programs or scripts to make your life and that of those around you easier. For a child like her though, you may find simple things like learning HTML and Python the magic wands you need to create or enhance from others in your society across the internet.
Tinker how you will. Just Tinker. Go. Create. Enhance. Transcend. The other clans have their purpose and they shouldn’t be shunned however if you are honestly curious about everything you just may be a tinkerer too and this is your fairyland.