What makes go-karts go round

May 10, 2011

by Al DeLuca, Web Applications Developer, Second Nature
(This post is part of a weekly series by the Second Nature team about why we do what we do.)

Growing up there were two things that influenced why I work: books and go-karts. This might seem an odd mix, but it’s how things were for me. Go-karts were part of my nurturing, while books spoke to an innate nature in me, expressed as a predisposition towards language. Nature and nurture working in tandem, not as binary opposites, has been my life’s ambition and of late, if not my life’s work, at the very least the work I get paid for. Coming to Second Nature, thus far, has been an opportunity to find synthesis of thought and action and embodiment of ideas shared amongst like-minded individuals.

My family owned an amusement park on Cape Cod, Massachusetts which included as its prime draw the longest go-kart track in the commonwealth -- and the second longest in the country – at just over a third of a mile. While some might think this is every kid’s dream come true, it was considerably less fun than one might imagine. The smells of exhaust fumes and axle grease permeate my earliest memories, and work, at least during the busy summer season, went on late into the night. There were dangers as might be expected where horsepower meets adrenaline. There were aspects to it not fit for print. It was fun, but as it commuting to my brother and I, it slowly sunk in that “this much fun isn’t normal.” But I digress.

The entire family worked, even the youngest kids. I was the oldest and the trailblazer. Maybe because of this or because of my love of tinkering in the mechanical realms, my job, starting at age 10 was to service, maintain and repair the motors that made the go-karts go. A typical summer afternoon for me meant figuring out how to strip down a lawn mower engine to its block and, the difficult part, how to put it back together. The work was dirty and never ending. Ten thousand tourists per summer perpetually turning left can incur a great deal of wear and tear on equipment, and the demand for attention was unrelenting.

In the off-season, mostly to do anything that didn’t involve getting greasy or smelling like gas, I read books. Lots of them. My brain’s development seemed keyed to language even at an early age. I was speaking before I could walk, and by 18 months old, as the family story goes, I would pick up a book and read back passages grown-ups had previously read aloud to me. By age four, my mother reports, I would routinely “blow her mind” with random utterances from the back seat of the family station wagon. Apparently, I was fond of making up poetry about my toys and reciting it to my kindergarten class, though I have no memory of that. My siblings joke I’ve never quite outgrown that habit. They could be right, but the practice has gone underground, as only a software coder can understand.

This odd mix of lifestyles has resulted in some definite reasons why I work:

  • For utilitarian concerns. Because I like to eat. Because I have a kid. Because the 30 year mortgage on my house will not pay itself, nor will the furnace in my basement produce heat on wishes or spiritual pursuits.
  • For non-utilitarian concerns. Because meaning cannot be put aside, and oftentimes it’s not enough to cover the utility of mechanical systems.
  • For life long learning. Because learning has always been important to me, and communication has always guided that learning.
  • For love of words, books, and literature. Because where there are words there can be true understanding between human individuals.
    • Words as the most basic unit of expression. Books as a collection of words that amount to a dialogue between self and other, literature as the resultant fusion of the two (and typically several) perspectives encompassed in books. Code as a literary effort as evidenced in the numerous projects that evolved since the 70s… But where is literature in today’s world? It is most certainly not found in books. Literature has gone digital and lost its academic patina.
  • For love of things mechanical. Because though we do all fear the robots will one day take over the earth, truth is there are no luddites in oncology labs, and we face choices in the not so distant future that resemble just such a doctor’s visit.
    • Web development, at least at Second Nature, represents for me a fusion between the physical and the metaphysical underpinnings of sustainable life. In such a unified rendering, meaning is found, not engineered. We engineer physical objects through knowledge. We build up to scientific law, through observation and deduction, but meaning is not knowledge, nor is it scientific law, and cannot be arrived at via the same methods. Science and its laws end up informing which meaning can truly exist in the world., and in that sense science and law are meaning seekers, but the practice of finding meaning must include methods inherent to the human mind’s way of being. The two are complementary, not opposed.

Meaning is the why we work or play or speak words or move paint around on canvas with a brush. But meaning, and its metaphysical basis, is not unique to the artist. Even the hard line reductionist can’t escape an initial metaphysical position. The power of science is in its ability to align subjective thought in highly objective ways. But one must never lose sight of the subjective nature of that rendering. It starts with a vision and works its way down to the measurable details. Values hang off these meaning structures; values do not aggregate to meaning. I work to apply, top-down, what science and technology knows to exist, completing the cycle of the engine that is the human mind.

Books and go-karts humming along in perfect harmony. That would be an apt metaphor for what it’s like for me to work at Second Nature. In all my previous roles, I knew the technology, the mechanics of how things worked, but was never really taken in by -- or even simply understanding -- the why of it all. Working at Second Nature, I feel a deep sense of purpose and commitment, a sense that my actions are finally married up to my thoughts and ideals. That’s a pretty good reason to get out of bed in the morning. Maybe I’m just at that age where such growth occurs, but I no longer feel I live a bifurcated existence, split between my work-life and my life at large. When nurture and nature operate in tandem, it’s like finding a second life, a second nature that was always there, waiting to be discovered.

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