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.