Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Simplicity and Smaller Footprint

We all come across phases in life. One such chronic phase for me is when I find my house cluttered with all those electronic gadgets and toys and stuff just lying around to be thrown out. Things that I bought less than a year ago were rendered useless by me. And this made me think - Do I lack this foresight? Is is compulsive to buy these new gadgets? Was this desktop really necessary? Does a wireless mouse really solve my problem? This new floor lamp, is it really what I needed? This new drawer chest, is it serving its purpose? My study desk, it is optimal solution the problem I had in hand? These piling receipts and mails and paper, did this new drawer I bought good enough?
Many a times I go from one solution to another for the same problem. For example, I bought a larger chest throwing off a smaller one. I got two floor lamps when one wasn't enough for the room.

And on top of all these there is a day when you have to move to a new location. All you do is to dump every loose document or item or wires or screens in a carton and transport it over. You are 6 months into this new house and you haven't touch that carton yet. That big carton of all the stuff you thought you need and you bought was not touched for 6 months. This is a little disturbing for me. To me it is like a memory leak in a computer program - you forgot to delete the memory after allocation. Being a computer programmer, when I write a program, I try and aim smallest possible footprint on the ecosystem in question. In case of a program, it is the cpu cores, the network bandwidth, the memory, the disk and others. In case of our day to day life, it is the space, the real estate and the volume that it creates that one lives in, the money that one earns, the electrical power that we consume, and most important of all - the precious time that we have. All these resources follow the zero sum rule - you save one, you spend the other. Its you who has to decide which one to save and which to spend. I call this philosophy - smaller footprint.

Smaller footprint urges to solve problems in hand with as few resources as possible - resources that actually matter. Make choices that seem to result in less number of stuff. For example, Alice has a shabby laptop. She saw this new iPad and is crazy about it. She thinks its perfect for her. It gives her flexibility of moving around within the house and not having to carry this heavy laptop. She figured out that all she does is browsing internet, checking mails and watching videos. She decides to buy the iPad. This defies the smaller footprint. Bob, who lives with the smaller footprint mindset suggests Alice to reconsider her decision. He puts forth the following option: Why not wait for a year until the laptop is at the end of its life so that it can be thrown away and buy a lighter laptop, because this seems to be what Alice wants. With iPad she wouldn't get the storage she needs. May be she should go for a chrome book instead if she wants to live on the web. Alice should explore her options, there are options in the market, but probably not easily accessible to Alice. She should consult her developer friends. So rather investing money on ipad and not using for as long as 6 months and in the end using the shabby laptop, invest on a smaller footprint - the solution that you really need.

There is another dimension to smaller footprint philosophy. When I get a problem in hand, the solution to it might not exist or it might not be accessible easily to me. If the problem in hand is genuinely common, a solution to it has a wider impact. Most of the new computer architectures and hardware innovations came across as a result of this. 

Why Smaller footprint? For me - its the satisfaction that I get. It pushes my mind to think about better solutions, cleaner solutions and sometimes optimal solutions.