Outside the System

One of the first things we were shown last summer at the start of IBM’s ExtremeBlue internship was a picture along these lines:

Do you think its milk is purple, too?

Unlike the one I provided, there was no caption, no alt text (it was on a PowerPoint), and no verbal clues from the presenter. Not only was this an exercise to the less-is-more approach to giving presentations, it was also a challenge: be that purple cow.

Why, you ask? Well, how many purple cows do you see when you’re driving through cornfields? Put another way, how much attention do you pay to the hordes of black and white cows that you see? Does any one of them particularly grab your attention?

If you answered anything other than [0, none, not really], it’s time to get off the Red Bull, man, because you’re cramping my style here.

The point is that you want to make yourself stand out (side note that will soon become relevant: for the rest of the summer after this presentation, I continually posed the question “What if all the cows are purple?” and never really got a straight answer. it was partly in jest, but also partly due to the fact that we were in an environment where everyone was trying to be a purple cow. how does one stand out in that situation?). Be noticed. Be unique. Be outside the system.

Maybe not quite that far.

I made an earlier post about a very existential, yet highly technical, book that I’m reading. It focuses primarily on the presence of self-looping, self-referencing systems in our world, and how these systems both confound our logic and inexplicably complete the universe we occupy. This is highlighted in the question I posed to my ExtremeBlue comrades: once we’re all purple cows, how do we stand out? Yellow cows? Puce cows? CHARTREUSE COWS?

My advice? Don’t be a cow. Be a horse. Be a bear. Be a komodo dragon. Even better, be all of the above. In particular, don’t pay homage to a single system (perhaps a blue platypus?). I can’t take credit for this advice, but it’s the best I’ve ever heard (from multiple sources), and this book harps upon it endlessly: transcend the system.

It’s such a powerful reminder for me, I put it on the back of my new iPod.

With my GSoC project making good headway, two papers published (#168 and #174), and an offer to publish my master’s thesis as a technical report, I’m hoping this puts me in a more colorful and non-human status as I start my Ph.D. program this fall. Or, you know, in a different system altogether.

But I suppose I can’t please everybody:


About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
This entry was posted in Academics, Blogging, extremeblue, Graduate School, GSoC, lolcat, Real Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Outside the System

  1. halfsmile says:

    That is one of my favorite lolcats of all time.

    Also, I am totally a purple cow. Totally.

  2. kat says:

    As always, nicely written. I like the idea of transcendence in almost all situations, and I think right now there needs to be a movement of people doing something along those lines to keep us all moving forward… There are just too many people either going backwards or staying in the same spot out of inertia. Love it.

    • magsol says:

      I think the political climate is one of many Exhibit A’s that could clearly benefit from folks adopting a bit more of a transcendent mindset.

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