How I Learn Stuff

January 3, 2009

Buccaneer-Scholar Defined

Filed under: Uncategorized — james @ 4:42 pm

I have resurrected the idea of buccaneering for the modern era. It once referred to men who sailed about the Spanish Main, attacking mainly Spanish ships, and hijacking treasure. The buccaneers were independent-minded people. They were fortune hunters who lived by their wits. Yet they were capable of organizing, too. They established a culture for themselves.

Buccaneering could exist back then because, in the 17th century, there was a power vacuum in the Caribbean. Today there is also a sort of vacuum. But it’s an idea vacuum, not one of physical force. Major corporations no longer control the expression of ideas. Anyone with ideas may prosper. The Internet has made this so. And since no corporation or business will offer much job security, anymore, it’s becoming increasingly attractive for eager minds to live and learn independently.

I thrive in a rough habitat. I am self-employed and self-educated. I have been a consulting software tester for many years, and that’s fine. But now I’d like to expand my horizons and start talking about thinking, learning, and explore the true nature of education in the modern world.

A buccaneer-scholar is anyone whose love of learning is not muzzled, yoked or shackled by any institution or authority; whose mind is driven to wander and find its own voice and place in the world.

This way of being has sometimes been called autodidact, individualist, anarchist, non-conformist, contrarian, bohemian, skeptic, hacker, hippie, slacker, seeker, philosoph, or free thinker. None of those terms quite fit for me.

In this blog I will be exploring and exemplifying what it means to be an intellectual buccaneer. I hope to meet other buccaneers along the way.

Welcome aboard.


  1. Hmmm…

    James I have admired from afar the passion you impart on the subjects you study and hold close to your heart. I know that as we go through life that we metamorphose into different beings (for want of a better word). I would like to think that at the kernel of each of these great changes there is an unchanging core which keeps us pointed in the right direction, no matter what. In my case I hope more than anything else the changes I have experienced have strengthened that core. What I get back from people seems to suggest it.

    [James' Reply: Thank you, Ivor. I discuss this very issue in a chapter called Treasure Map, which is about developing your own personal syllabus]

    I really hope that this new off shoot of your prodigious mind will serve to make your core even stronger. The passion that you evoke in the testing community has served to energize many people and offered examples of how we can do so much better than rote standards and learning.

    I can’t wait to read the book. Please make sure it’s available as an e-book as I try to lead by example paper can be replaced in the office space.

    [James' Reply: I have a Kindle. I'm sure it will be available in that form, at least.]

    I suppose that the analogy that would most work here in a buccaneers home port would be, “We can’t roam if we don’t know how to read a compass!”

    [James' Reply: Finding your compass in the first place is one of the great challenges of life as a rover.]

    Comment by Ivor — January 5, 2009 @ 7:30 am

  2. Your own quiet compass might lead you lonely places. Another big aspect of the book is about reading (your internal) tides — and the two are intimately related.

    Here’s to taking the current when it serves, rather than being bounded in shallows and in misery!

    Sometime I might elaborate on the “find your guy” strategy for helping a bit with the loneliness…

    Comment by Michael M. Butler — January 6, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

  3. I find the premise of the “Buccaneer-Scholar” both amusing and fascinating. Fascinating because I feel like we have traveled a similar patch. I finished high school but am not college educated. Despite this, I believe I am well educated in the areas which I do care about, software quality being one of them. I guess you could consider me a “Buccaneer-Scholar”.

    I am amused because I happen for Buccaneer Computer Systems! Imagine that, a Buccaneer Scholar working for Buccaneer Computer Systems!

    [James' Reply: Well Troy, you should get a buccaneer-scholar mug and take it to work!]

    Comment by Troy Marshall — February 3, 2009 @ 11:46 am

  4. A new spin on an old concept. The irony of our current strucural establishment being that most of our “great thinkers” were individual study prone and answered to no authority. Even contesting authority in some cases almost got them killed for heresy.

    “The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind is akin to that of the religious worshiper or the lover; the daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart.”

    “Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.”

    “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”

    The above collection of quotes attributed to Albert Einstein seem applicable to the topic at hand. I look forward to reading more.

    [James' Reply: Thank you, George. I recently discovered a book by a Harvard Professor that supports my view of education. It's called "What is Education?" and it was published in 1915! Of course, speaking of old ideas, Socrates is one of the great heroes of self-education.]

    Comment by George Tarrant — February 23, 2009 @ 2:36 pm

  5. Very interesting. I think I qualify as well.

    Building on your buccaneer metaphor, allow me to share a little story about life and learning…and sailing. Up until about a hundred years ago in the Pacific islands, navigators sailed consistently between islands that were so small and so distant from each other they could not be seen from their nearest neighbors. On his second voyage to the area, Captain Cook was unable to find islands that he has located on prior voyages, despite having the exact latitude and longitude.

    The navigational method used by these islanders is ingenous but would take too long to explain here. The book “We the Navigators” covers it adequately; suffice it to say that their method does not go in straight lines, but in broad curves that would have mapmakers in fits. Seen from above, it looks like wandering, but it is infinitely more efficient than Captain Cook’s method of charts and graphs and coordinates.

    I have spent long portions of my life thinking I was wandering. I sojourned in many areas but did not stay long. Having now discovered the cause I want to devote my life to, I realize that I approached it from the only way I could have: all my wandering was actually leading me in a direct route toward something that was so untraditional that it was not to be found using traditional direct methods. I continue to use the “buccaneer” methods that brought me to this place, and I will always be on the lookout for kindred spirits.

    “Some look at the world as it is, and say, ‘Why?’ I prefer to look at the world as it could be, and say, ‘Why not?’”–Milton, Paradise Lost

    [James' Reply: Cool. I've read some about the Polynesian navigators in Cognition in the Wild, by Ed Hutchins. I shall have to get the book you cited.

    Is that quote really from Milton? I couldn't find it when I searched.]

    Comment by Matthew — March 17, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

  6. the quote is from RFK:

    “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

    Robert Francis Kennedy, 1968 presidential campaign

    Comment by kristin — March 28, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

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