Vanilla Sky, Gnosticism, and Refactoring your Mind for Growth

Play-n-Read: Sometimes I find that the right choice of music puts you in a more receptive frame of mind.

“What is happiness to you?”

Last night, after spending my Friday night grocery shopping on my own volition, I sat down to watch Vanilla Sky without knowing what I was walking into.

“Open your eyes”

It all starts with a 33 year old guy played by Tom Cruise who has inherited the position as CEO of the largest publishing firm in New York City. He has never had to work a hard day in his life, he doesn’t take the Board of Directors seriously, and he plays women without any concern for external consequences.

After a car accident involving one of the countless women he has strung along left his face and arm disfigured with constant pain and nerve damage, his world starts to break down.

“Am I crazy? Is this a conspiracy? What is real?”

His reality changes, he wakes up to the entire world empty, countless characters say the exact same thing, people he supposedly knows switch places in his life; all while he becomes convinced he has killed a girlfriend in a psychotic episode.

The viewer is thrown through loops as the perspective continues to slowly reveal itself – leaving you surprised at every turn.

In the end, Aamer (the protagonist) is able to break through his own constructed reality and take control of his life. A true story of transcendence, one of the lasting themes and quotes throughout the movie was “This is a revolution of the mind.”

Vanilla Sky is a beautifully executed tale of gnosticism; a theme that has been gaining moment since the late nineties. Wikipedia defines it as:

Gnosticism (Greek: γνῶσις gnōsis, knowledge) refers to diverse, syncretistic religious movements in antiquity consisting of various belief systems generally united in the teaching that humans are divine souls trapped in a material world created by an imperfect god.

We’ve seen this before; In The Matrix, Donnie Darko, Fight Club, The Truman Show, and to less happy endings, Requiem for a Dream.

The gist of it is that it is innately human to make assumptions about what your reality is to make it easier to cope – and the false/constructed perspectives that we reside in day after day is created by a limited mind, mainly, our own.

Being the complete nerd that I am – I immediately drew a parallel to large programming projects. Any good developer has once said to themselves as they’ve neared the end of a project, “Now we know what we should have done.” This is the concept of technical debt.

I have reconstructed how I approach software many times. The first time I made a game in Visual Basic , all the object data was stored in primitive arrays, and the code was a procedural mess. Then came C++ and object classes, while leaving most of the logic in a switch-statement mess. Then came game state stacks, multiple inheritance (not always a good thing by the way), god classes – and the like. Each project got better – and each time new mistakes were made.

Our brains are no different. We write code with our experiences – assumptions and rules that we deem as true per the direct consequences of our life. Sometimes these are wrong. Sometimes we can get rid of stuff.

Refactoring code, deleting most of it – and still having it work (usually better), is at the center of consciousness as a metaphor. Being able to separate the wheat from the chaff in the most important part of your life – your mind – allows you to learn what is real or constructed, intuition or fear, and determine the difference between a proven, long standing solution and a quick fix.

The only thing I’ve come up with so far is learning is a lifelong commitment. Sometimes, you just don’t know whats on the other side, and you simply have to jump.

Which is exactly what Aamer did in Vanilly Sky, straight off a building.


Anyone can start a business. Why am I? First a little back story.

Almost 4 years ago, my own mom approached me to do a new web site design for the company that she worked for. I had been doing graphics and web work since I was about 11 and she knew I was capable. So I agreed to do the design and she said her company would pay me $1000.

One. Thousand. Dollars.

ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS?! For what amounted to little more than a customized web template that they would have to fill in! It didn’t even have a content management system (CMS)!

But I was a young broke college student in his right mind, so of course I said ‘hell yeah!’ and completed it in a couple of hours.

The sad thing was they never used it. I put as much information in there as I could, and even my web-inclined mother (who has done her own websites before) couldn’t really use it. It sat there. Its probably still there (it is, in the same form I left it back in 2006).

So not only do you end up over paying, but if you are not inclined technically it will just sit there and rot. Then you have to pester your friend’s son to go in there and update it. It’ll look like crap, but hey, at least you’re on the web right?

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The middle ground is getting a graphic template designer to hack you up a beautiful custom WordPress theme, that way you can manage it yourself.

Done… not.

What if something goes wrong? What if you want to change it? What if you want to add some other functionality? A blog is not a business website!

So you hire a firm to do the whole job – graphics, back end programming, maybe even offload some parts of your business online to a web application. Too bad the estimate is in the thousands of dollars (which you can’t afford), and in the end its only an estimate (they can’t promise it won’t cost more).

The concept of billing your customers based on time – versus the value you actually provide them – is absolutely alien to me. Why would we put the total cost of a job in the hands of the person who benefits from taking his time?

Flat rate. Is this website worth $X to you? I’ll charge you $X. No more, no less. It could take me 4 times the amount of time I thought it would – but that extra time doesn’t bring extra value, so why would I charge you extra money?

Full job. I’ll do it all;  the web design, the programming, the hosting and the ongoing support.  Pulling all the work in-house saves overhead, but having one person do it all saves even more.

Functional. My web sites are designed to work FOR you; it will not be dead weight once its launched. You will have custom administration, custom applications, and custom branding and graphics. It will fit you like a glove. Anything I haven’t enabled you to do I will do for you.

Keeping it real. I’m not going to use a bunch of fancy technical phrases to confuse you so I can charge more. If something seems complicated to you but is really only going to take me 5 minutes – I’ll tell you. I won’t make you pay for something that you can get for free, and I won’t charge hidden fees or penalties, ever. I won’t nail your foot to the floor with long and expensive contracts. And if my rates change, yours won’t.

Whats the catch?

Hopefully, none. If you think there is one,  I’ll fix it.

“So you’re telling me there’s a full web solution with custom style and service at an affordable price?”

That’s exactly what I’m telling you. What a concept, huh?