Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Of late, I have been thinking about this concept a lot. This is an intriguing concept most popularly discussed in computer science, but I am talking about more commonplace matters here.

This concept was first introduced to describe a problem faced by early computer engineers in starting or booting a computer. If software is already loaded, then the computer is ready for any task, including loading any other software needed. However when you power up a computer, its memory is blank. There is no software there to accept your instruction. To load software, you need software already loaded to accept and perform your instruction: that is to load software. So this situation is akin to lifting yourself up by pulling your own bootstrap.

Something like.. If you were already up there, then you could lift yourself up by pulling the bootstraps. The early engineers typed in the instructions to the computer, part of software, which then loaded other parts of software which then loaded whatever program or data that is needed and now you have a computer fully bootstrapped and ready. Later technologies like BIOS were utilized to achieve the same result. But the concept remain the same.

Back to commonplace I was teaching my daughter to ride a bicycle . The problem there is that, to ride the bicycle, you need balance and speed. Without speed, there is no balance. And without balance you have no speed either; since you will fall down before you can speed. So both require the other. If you have one, then easy to attain the other.

I am helping my daughter learn by supporting her and walking , running with her.. not a fun or easy job for a tall guy. So I sought my own inner suggestions and auto suggestions. How could I do this better?

It was not hard to see that this is a bootstrapping problem. I remembered my own difficulties in learning to ride the bicycle when I was kid. A hapless cousin ran around behind me helping with my riding practice for days! However another of my cousins is said to have sat on the bicycle and just took off. So some people have that in themselves. They can bootstrap, just pull themselves up as if they are already up there.

So they just push hard on the pedal to get some speed, that give them some balance, very shaky wobbly start, but still manage going forward and that little balance give them some speed and they .. They just bootstrap!. Riding their bicycle.

And on to my daughter.. She has some experience riding a bicycle with extra support wheels, the sort that act as a stopper if the bicycle tilts on either side. Having set that bicycle aside-designed for younger children- , now she tries to ride a regular bicycle and is failing to bootstrap. So how do I resolve this problem quickly?

I thought of one simplest of simple solutions. I take her to a slope on the driveway. Supports her by holding the seat, then I let her gain the speed provided by the slope that would give her some.. You get the idea.. some balance. That would give her speed. The next thing I know, I am watching her , in amazement , riding away.

A lot of things in life are like this. They need bootstrapping. Learning to read. To learn reading you should know words(spelling/familiarity with word/pronunciation) . To know the words, you should know how to read. If you can somehow pull you up on one, that will aid the other which in turn will aid the first. Bootstrapping.

For a good democracy to work, for a good capitalistic society to work, you need bootstrapping. You need informed and responsible citizenry for the democratic society to function well so they will make good decisions. To make them informed and responsible , you need democracy that will give them the responsibility and information and the power to choose. An authoritarian government will not give them any of this. Some societies just bootstrap, others have experience a wobbly start that does not function so well. They need to learn to bootstrap.

Capitalism, same thing. You need informed consumers, competent employees, professional managers, knowledgeable market participants to make it work. But for all this to develop, you need capitalism. So you need to..yea, bootstrap.

No comments:

Post a Comment