Bedfellows?

As usual the week is winding down into its “end” and the news feeds are getting a bit out of the ordinary, not that the sangfroid of Congress critters denying sexual (as opposed to reproductive) inclinations isn’t ordinary although a bit tawdry compared to the “free love” novels and movies of the second half of the “60′s.

I observe that a mutual attribution game is being played out in Jerusalem – the original one and not the modern American comic representation in Gotham and Metropolis – between Jewish and Muslim groups over the preservation/damage of Temple Mount/Haram as-Sharif. [Link] Apparently the two are once more demonstrating their excellence as role models for the political parties of the Yankee republic may accusing each other of grievous damage to historical sites while declaiming their own stewardship. What clearly emerges, as it does in the Yankee Congress, is that bashing each other is infinitely more important than achieving anything substantive except possibly war or genocide – if I may use both words rather loosely.

In a related but domestic matter, the Computer and Communications Industry Association has stood up against misrepresentation of fair use under the Yankee republic’s joke of copyright law. [Link][Link] Apparently they have found that some of their competitors have misrepresented what is permitted under the fair use doctrine and have not only complained to the Yankee government’s Federal Trade Commission, but have started a web site on Fair Use. Somehow one questions whether this is even as altruistic as folks like the Freedom Foundation, Could it be that these folks are seeing their own business diminished by excessively tight controls of things that should be in the public domain – like people’s names and the spoken/written language? Or is it just envy that they don’t have that control themselves?

Anyway, as the old Mongol supposedly once said, “the next best thing to dead enemies are enemies fighting among themselves.” That’s a crude translation, of course, but the sentiment comes through.

Another piece of such altruistic behavior is being displayed by the Yankee government’s Homeland Security Apparat who have finally gotten around to demanding that all employees of the Yankee government sign away their rights as citizens. [Link] Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have taken legal action.

While I have to cheer these folks, I am more surprised by their taking the action than by the latest version of jackbooted fascist goonery in Amerika. Those who have worked for the Yankee government know well its classical Hellerish “Catch-22″ (and yes, this is fair use!) that you don’t have to sign away your right as a citizen to work there but if you don’t your employment will be terminated sine die. What is advertised to the citizenry and what is practiced on those in the service of the nation are about as diametrically opposite as possible although I do have to admit that I was never physically tortured by the Yankee government except when I had to provide a urine sample for drug testing and the physical aspect of that torture was insignificant compared to the mental or intellectual side.

This is nothing more that what we are not taught in management science class, that most large organizations treat their members as chattel slaves whose only rights are to do what the organization tells them to do and nothing else.

Of course, these same folks, since they reside in California, will not have to worry about the government implanting, at least overtly, RFID devices in their bodies, courtesy of State Senator Joe Simitian. [Link] Of course, there is always that matter of whether local authority applies to Yankee government bureaucrats. I am reminded of the furor that periodically erupts over the ticketing of Yankee government automobiles in the large cities. All we seem to ever learn from these instances is that “rank counts” and its usually judicial rank. All, except for the inability of large or small organizations to coexist, much less cooperate. We may make claims to being a democracy but somehow all organizations are totalitarian by nature.

And speaking of totalitarian, there is an article [Link] on geeks saving the planet. One can’t help but wonder if this is a demonstration of a fundamental difference between geeks and nerds, at least within the space of the differences blogged on previously. Nerds, possessing both skills and knowledge, will either proceed to do things, or if opposed strongly enough, just leave. Geeks, on the other hand being insecure in their skills and knowledge, seek social cohesion and action.

Now this think tank psychologist has conducted social experiments that indicate that the amount of money donated to some worthy cause depends on how many people are the victims of misfortune in the cause. One of the interesting parts of the experiment was to collect money for a single misfortunate and for two misfortunates. Supposedly the second amount was only 0.85 for the first.

Neglecting the obvious question of the independence of the measurements and the representativeness of the populations, the thing that immediately bubbles to the top is that this is a datum and that’s all. How about getting some information on larger populations of misfortunates? Let’s get enough data that some meaningful maths analysis is possible rather than a beer story.

Also, does no one read any more. I know I saw something a few days ago about 0.25 of the American citizenate not reading any books last year, but if you’re going to yammer on altruism the do a bit of homework. A couple of good articles have been published this year on the subject and they might have some relevance here. Like the idea that one misfortunate may be an event and worthy of largess but a wider population is welfare. Which puts us in mind of the old saw about fishing.

Nonetheless, we have to hope the geeks will be successful because the planet certainly needs help and it patently isn’t going to get it from religionists, governments, or politicians.

Pay = Competence?

Wednesday is Ideas day at the gym, but after I finish listening to the program, which is about 50 minutes long and still have about ten minutes of exercising to do, I fill in by listening to Future Tense. One of the broadcasts I listened to was an interview with Andrew Keen who has written a book The Cult of the Amateur about how amateurs are ruining American culture.[Link]

I have to admit to not yet having read Mr. Keen’s book although I have put it on my wish list. As those who have perused my mumblings have seen the distinction between amateur and professional is one that is of considerable interest to me. Indeed, I have made argument that much of what is wrong with our society today may be blamed on the abuse and incompetence of professionals, in particular professional politicians. For some reason, government in the last century has increasingly become characterized by deprecation of knowledge workers and the partisan and personal agendas of elected and appointed politicians. Many problems of a scientific and/or technical nature are amplified and accelerated by political non-solutions.

Mr. Keen’s interview on Future Tense, admittedly brief, and others, [Link] indicate a concern that the “writers” of the internet, those who blog and otherwise “publish” information are destroying society by misinformation. He states that information propagation on the internet should be the province of professional journalists.

Baldertripe! Ivory soap fraction of all journalists are as prone to misinformation as are the most rabid and demagogic bloggers. Reportage is almost uniformly slanted, diluted, and neutered. Key information is deleted as not contributing to whatever slant the “professional”journalist wants to convey under the excuse of being too detailed, technical, or difficult for the reader. Analysis is also biased towards the end state favored by the journalist or his employer.

Admittedly bloggers are poor discoverers of information, not being subsidized to search out information or given access to information sources. They also produce better coverage, better writing, and markedly better analysis in the epitome if not in the mean. Overall while the mean of bloggers may lag that of the mean of professional journalists, the upper tails of the blogger distribution are five and six sigma better than the upper tails of the professional journalist distribution. (n.b. the sigma are those of the professional journalist distribution, about an order of magnitude smaller than the sigma of the blogger distribution.)

One suspects that we are the victims of our own insecurity. With the increased insecurity of the workplace in the last couple of decades, we have overextended the application of the term professional. Do we really think that professional French fryers and office clerks are on a par with physicians and solicitors? What has happened to the dignity of craft or trade. Is plumbing a profession or a craft?

And what prithee is wrong with being an amateur? Until the Twentieth century most of the people who advanced civilization and society were amateurs. Yes, most amateurs are unworthy of hire, their abilities sparse and unformed, but the top ten percent of amateurs, those who are exception in their hobby or avocation, are far beyond their rank equivalent professionals. In most cases, we may look to professionals for acceptable performance blighted by stodginess and irrational, insentient, and incognative conservatism, but must trust to the exceptional amateurs for exceptional results that advance humanity.

Bright Spot

The overall situation for science in the Yankee republic is usually dismal. The (modern) republicans wage a war on science, the (modern) democrats either ignore it or warp it to their personal benefit, and the antics of religious fanatics and the like generally make the environment into something approximating the Tartarus they seem to avid to consign all scientists to.

It is therefore with considerable relish that I read [Link] that the Houston (as in Republic of Texas) Museum of Natural Science will be displaying the bones of Lucy as part of their American tour. We have to commend the courage and integrity of the museum governance and staff in this regard. Defending accuracy and knowledge is always difficult in the face of the brown shirt-like tactics and criticism that has assailed this event.

Cycles?

In the old days of computing, there were basically two pieces of software that one bought with a computer: the operating system (OS); and the compiler(s). Indeed, up until the days of Control Data, one bought a package deal. The OS and compiler(s) came with the computer.

One may quibble a bit about the utilities that came with the computer, all written by the computer manufacturer’s staff to enhance the desirability of the computer, but since these were tied to an OS and a computer, they were not really distinguishable. There was some software available for sale from vendors or for low fee from academic repositories, but in the main, if you wanted software, you wrote your own.

Initially, this was in the days of the venerable punch card, the IBM 5081 being the epitome. Those who were computer literate could be discerned by either the boxes or rubber band engirthed bundles of computer cards, or the tapes containing card images that they carried with them. Even without these fasces of their office, they could be discerned by the aroma of baby powder – carried to assure cards did not bind – and an unnaturally rumpled look – for the still starched era – that revealed that they had slept, or at least, napped, in their clothes at the computer center. And yes, in those days, computers were kept in air conditioned, insulated, vibration isolated temples, which probably indicates why so many of these old time computer literati have such strange religious beliefs and practices today.

Unlike the modern Abraham-like computer users who on occasion offer up their children as sacrifices to ameliorate the “blue screen of death.”

When we moved into the microcomputer age, the outward signs changed, but the habits still prevailed for a while. The computer literate were still those who wrote programs because other than the OS, one didn’t just buy software. As the environment developed however, this paradigm increasingly became irrelevant as more and more software was available for either fee or free. The computer user was born and rapidly became the demographic majority, once more relegating the truly literate, those who could read and write program code, to something between nerddom and geekdom.

In recent years this has progressed to where it is possible to find individuals with science or engineering graduate degrees who are unable to write code. Indeed, I am aware of several small companies and government organizations whose overzealous Information Security components have forbidden code writing by anyone outside of their own sub organization and thereby reduced the whole organization to impotence, bankruptcy, and litigation.

The primacy of the illiterate user may be coming full cycle however, or at least, the computer literate may again have a bit of ascendancy. [Link] The transition of central processor manufacture from improving single processor performance to integrating multiple processors on a single chip is manifestly changing the information landscape. In days almost past, the increase in processor speed allowed for bigger, slower programs (more instruction intensive) to stay perceptibly fast enough to satisfy the short attention span of the user and the greed of the organization.

With the shift to multicore processors however, continuing to build programs the old way will only result in slower execution with disappointed users and organizations. The problem is that the programs have to be broken down into pieces that can run simultaneously on different processors and be synchronized. This problem assails the current wisdom of both OS and compilers, and makes many current software programs dinosaurs. That’s not to say that they can’t stay around but they can’t get bigger and they may be toppled by new programs that take advantage of real multiprocessing.

The problem is that current OS are not able to make use of multiple processors and more compilers aren’t any better. There are multiprocessor compilers and OS out there but most of the latter are nerd oriented and most of the former are FORTRAN based and depend on programmer tweaking to produce efficient programs. Oh, and if you want to really frustrate a programmer, tell him/her to write a word processing program in FORTRAN. There was one such once and it was a dismal failure.

Fumosus Foetor

I would like to claim that its a matter of density but that sounds too much like an excuse rather than a quantifiably supported reason. The subject is the recent and highly predictable denigration that blogging is not reporting. I ran across this in a ScienceBlog, [Link] quite by accident.

I have my RSS aggregator programmed to sample about a dozen feeds with the emphasis on science and technology with a representation of national and world news. Apparently this poo-poo and the academic lambaste did not pass any of the filters.

The claim by the LA Times journalist was that “blogging is not journalism” or some close approximation. My Concise Oxford Dictionary Tenth Edition gives me the circular definition that journalism is what is done by a journalist, and a journalist is ” a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio or television.”

In this limited sense I have to agree that a blogger who is not also a journalist is not a journalist and hence does not do journalism. In the larger sense of whether bloggers transmit news (” newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events”) the opposite is accurate. Many people pay more attention to bloggers than they do the conventional journalism media and in this sense the recent and newly received criteria are satisfied.

This whole thing is a component of a contemporary discussion azimuth over whether reporting (for lack of any other word) is a profession or an activity. It springs from blogging and threatens the shibboleth of journalism.

As a blogger of the ilk who blogs for what I want and have to say and not to make money, I can say that I do not consider myself to be a journalist or a reporter nor do I really want to be considered as such. Journalism is both an activity and a profession and I consider it in the sense of a professional being an amateur who is paid for doing what he/she does. I have known and dealt with journalists for many years and have a relatively low opinion of them. This is not to say that they do not have some positive characteristics, such as wanting to communicate with the general public. But they do this by being abysmally ignorant of the subject matters they report on, distort that information further to make it “understandable” to their target audience, and often have self serving biases and bents.

This is not to say that bloggers are not also self serving, but they are avowedly not journalists. But they do hold their understanding of subject matter ahead of its communication. Accuracy over simplicity is the opposite of Potempkinism.

So what I blog is based on my thoughts and knowledge, expressed for my desire to express myself. If you like it, fine and good; if not, good as well. Its a phenomenon of the internet, not the marketplace.

Cruel and Unusual?

Just as we approach the release of the next version of Ubuntu, [Link] we get word that the miscreant who was administrator of the EliteTorrents BitTorrent tracker has been released from durance vile and must now endure five months of home confinement.[Link] The nasty part of the matter is that this individual is being forced to use Windows OS.

It seems that part of the deal is that the Yankee government gets to track what this individual does on his box and the only software they have for doing this is only compatible with Windows.

Its not at all clear whether this is laughable, cryable, or both, but it certainly indicates several rather nasty things about the Yankee government and in particular their minions of Tudor robed coercion.

We shall refrain from making comments about how one could not misuse the taxpayers tithe on adequate software and slight the donut budget. We will not refrain from noting another instance of the Yankee government being entirely too close to the Megahard folks and reflect on the dismal success of their efforts to constrain the monopoly.

This situation is surely enhanced by the inability of macho wannabe constables to rouse the interest much less the neuronage to cope with modern technological change. One wonders how they can make a convincing argument of being unable to craft a program in Linux for the stated purpose when they can in Windows.

Or perhaps this is a bit of prisoner bashing to hide their insecurity in being able to do a good enough job that a Linux wonk couldn’t get around?

I shan’t even ask why they couldn’t run the program under Windows in a virtual box?

Blind Error?

I got directed to a blog [Link] on self management  from Lifehacker yesterday that gave me some occasion for thought. I have to caveat this by saying I have not read the blogger’s book but I will probably put it on my to-buy/read list.

The subject of this blot is “Not-to-do lists” and the list provided has to do with actions one shouldn’t take in the office. Before I reproduce and comment, I should say that I am all in favor of working smart but even working smart requires you to be smart in the process and this list gives some worries in that regard. Without further ado the list is:

  1. Do not answer unrecognized phone calls
  2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
  3. Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
  4. Do not let people ramble—forget “how’s it going?” and embrace “what’s up?”
  5. Do not check e-mail constantly—“batch” and check at set times only
  6. Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers
  7. Do not work more to fix overwhelm—prioritize
  8. Do not carry a cellphone or Crackberry 24/7, seven days a week—make evenings and/or Saturdays digital leash-free.
  9. Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should

And my comments now follow.
1. Do not answer unrecognized phone calls: You need to understand your phone call demographics. If you get a significant amount of business from unrecognized phone calls then you need to answer them and have a policy and doctrine of how you blow off the unwanted ones. If all of your business comes from recognized phone calls then all you are risking is your boss calling from a pay phone.
2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night: Many people use their in-box as an information repository or as a precursor to their task list. If you have the kind of job where emails generate tasks, then checking email first and last of the day may be a necessity and not a whim.
3. Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time: I’ll go further, never go to any meeting you don’t have to or won’t get some benefit out of. Having said that, almost all of the meetings I have gone to were not discretionary. I was either running them, my boss was running them, my boss told/expected me to go, or there was some “social” reason I couldn’t not go. In some organizations the lack of an agenda may be a reason or excuse but not in any I have ever worked in.
4. Do not let people ramble—forget “how’s it going?” and embrace “what’s up?”: This is a good way to find a need to update your resume. You need to distinguish between rambling and appropriate social behavior. This difference depends on your organization and its culture. On that basis, rambling labels you as a time wasting parasite, lack of social graces labels you as an unmannered barbarian. Either will get you fired or unconsidered for promotion.
5. Do not check e-mail constantly—“batch” and check at set times only: Agree but again quibble this is too pat. It implies you have more control of your time than you really do. The idea is good however – unless you are engaged in some work that involves instantly answering email messages, only visit your email to read in chunks, but send as you decide you need to, not necessarily in chunks.
6. Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers: This one depends on the economics of your customer base. Determine the cost of getting a new customer (in the mean) and determine how much you want to spend on keeping old customers from that. This determines how much time you spend with low-profit, high-maintenance customers since these are the ones you will lose if you don’t handle them right. Remember WalMart and Macy’s and figure out what kind of business you are in, then meter your treatment of customers accordingly.
7. Do not work more to fix overwhelm—prioritize: Agree but the key here is knowing what things to let fall off the plate. Things you think are important may not be the ones your boss or his/her boss thinks are important. In the sense that your bosses are your customers, make sure you understand them when you start letting work drop.
8. Do not carry a cellphone or Crackberry 24/7, seven days a week—make evenings and/or Saturdays digital leash-free.: This depends on your organizational culture. If you and your coworkers are expected to be available 24/7 then you have to be more creative than just turning off your electronics. You may need to find a dead zone, or engage in activities that separate you naturally from the electronics. I know folks who climb mountains in their off hours to get places where the electronics doesn’t work. But the idea here is sound.
9. Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should: Agree. Don’t fish in the corporate pond. Relationships with coworkers are important for work efficiency and productivity but they don’t make you a better and bigger person. If you want to be successful you have to keep learning and growing and that’s not going to happen if all the folks you associate with live in the same environment.

Overall, a goodly list but with a couple of potential land mines. These may get covered in the book so it looks worthwhile to do so. Just don’t forget that the most important thing about working smart is being smart, and that’s not just book learning or social skills. Its also cognition and sentience.

Dynamics Challenged

Yesterday as I was driving from Greater Metropolitan Arab to Huntsville to do some weekly shopping, mostly groceries other than the vast array of fast food and poisons that MalWart has to offer, I had opportunity to observe a singular behavior.

For about half of the drive I observed a Sea Green Nissan Altima that was trying desperately to drive about twenty miles per hour over the speed limit. The tag was out of state, and one could not tell whether the purpose of the individual was to get somewhere or to just get out of Alibam given the predatory behavior of our local constabulary on out of state drivers.

The singular behavior was that this automobile would whoosh past, bouncing from lane to lane through traffic until it became boxed by traffic and those just passed would pass this vehicle. Then the traffic clutter would clear, the Altima would be off, and thing would repeat. And repeat they did, at least six times that I got to watch.

I could comment that this Altima evidently had nonfunctional or nonexistent blinker lamps as there was never any indication of any intent to change lanes. This behavior however has become all too common these days of nonexistent or nonfunctional driving manners and nonexistent or nonfunctional enforcement of lane change laws by the local constabulary. Rather observe this as a parameter of life in the modern environment.

But what was interesting was the ineptitude of the driver. For whatever reason, the intent of the driver to travel at a high rate of speed, higher than that permitted by law and by the dynamics of traffic, was repeatedly stymied. Why was this? Three hypotheses emerged.

The first is that humans are terrible at dynamics. The basic problem is accelerations. We do not handle the intellectual knowledge that distance increases with the square of the time traveled well and integrate it with our senses. Over most of the visual field of the human eye – there are some edge effects – we are pretty good at estimating the future position of moving things when their motion is at constant velocity but fail dismally when they are accelerating or decelerating. One even speculates that this is why we invented tools so we could get food, so poor are we as hunting animals of the chase.

This inability is magnified when we start dealing with a complex environment. Traffic is such an environment when the time between considering vehicles becomes less than every 3-5 seconds. Our capacity to handle the probably interactions among the vehicles is severely limited. This may, like the motion of an individual vehicle be nothing more than basic calculus writ large, but given the inability of Ivory Soap of the human race, at least the population of the Yankee republic, to do calculus mentally while driving, the combination transcends the ability of almost all drivers to drive proactively.

I could, of course, bemoan the fact that the vast majority of the Yankee republic has no education nor comprehension of basic calculus, dynamics, or even dynamic combinatorics, but by gosh they do seem to be able to drive daily and live – at least most of them. But then I read somewhere that peasants always did do better at avoiding stepping in cow flops than the learned. Was it Andy Griffith who said that?

The third hypothesis thus develops that the driver of the Altima was either totally inept – dynamics challenged – on an extreme level and we could only hope that this person would shortly be involved in a one (hopefully only one!) car accident that removed them from the gene pool or were apprehended by some anomalously attentive and active member of the local constabulary, not that the latter is likely to be more than temporarily palliative. One may hypothesize that such behavior as this arises from either a singular concentration on the near field, or a concentration only on the near and far fields. That is, either concern only for the vehicle immediately in front to the exclusion of all others, or concern only for the vehicle immediately in front and the final destination. Both are characterized by absence of consideration of the middle field, that of vehicles beyond the one immediately in front.

We should like to hypothesize that this individual has some distant emergency they are attempting to speed towards with the high probability of themselves compounding that emergency, but such is likely pollyannish projection. Simple human incompetence seems more likely. Bit at least we have the satisfaction of noting that evolution may still be relevant even in our modern society of prosthetics and humanistic legalisms.

People

The death toll in Alibam due to the heat wave has now officially reached 12. [Link] As always we wonder how these things are exactly determined but for the instant we’ll give the benefit for the accuracy of the number.

I am told that dying by cold is not nearly as unpleasant as dying by heat. Such assertion are always viewed with a bit of wonder. How was this data collected? Is it dependent on the observations of people who almost died, and if so, how does one measure how close they came to being dead?

Nonetheless, the assertion has a certain logic to it that we may only hope is not the totality of the underpinning. As temperature decreases, thermal motion decreases and there is less thermal energy available for variance from the mean. Hence chemical reactions usually slow down when it is cold and speed up when it is hot. In this context it is possible to hypothesize that if chemical reactions slow down in the cold then consciousness and sentience decreases as well, and visa versa for hot. In the cold we become less aware of everything while in the heat all sensations, including the bad ones, are intensified.

Nonetheless, we are still lessened by this heat wave, and expect that this is merely a preview of coming events as global climate change intensifies. Such thing, as we have seen, are largely alien to the interests of American politicians, so we may expect no help from Montgomery, indeed, we have to ask why we should expect anything at all except fraud, theft, and taxes.

On the other hand, the recent discovery of Chororapithecus Abyssinicus in Ethiopia has pushed the human-ape split back prior to 10.5 MYA. [Link] Deaths due to heat were, of course, much more common in those days, as were deaths by being eaten by carnivores. Such matters are also anathema to politicians since almost all such are observably creationists since that doctrine is much more amenable to political advancement and success than is rational science.

What becomes interesting however, is that there is no discernible genetic difference between politicians and the rest of homo sapiens, leading us to hypothesize that politicians, scientists, and religionists are all aspects of the species. Did homo erectus and neandertalensis have politicians? There is some evidence that neandertalensis had some sort of religious practice based on burial goods, although this may be nothing more than basic human nature. After all, even atheists and agnostics have been known to bury their dead with dignity and reverence.

Sadly we are closer to knowing whether erectus and neandertalensis were cannibals – sapiens patently is – than whether they had individuals distinguished by their extremes of rationality, superstition, and whatever it is that distinguished politicians. But then it is not clear that we have that understanding for our own species.

Stinking Books

It seems [Link] that ~0.25 of the population of the Yankee republic did not read a single book last year. This is a national embarrassment. The statistic of a mean of seven books per year, for the subset of population that actually reads, is the modern equivalent of the Dark Ages.

It would seem intriguing to entertain the oft offered proposal to require citizens to pass a literacy test to exercise the franchise except that so few people do so now it would be an empty measure. But how about literacy tests to get a driver’s license or purchase a cellular phone. For that matter, how about licensing cellular phones?

Sadly democracy and illiteracy are seldom compatible. But then all the average citizen cares about is consuming, isn’t it?