The Introverted Network

Introvert / ExtrovertHidden in one of his posts (Measuring your real net worth) John Hagel welcomed some thoughts:

“…I would welcome advice and insight on how introverts (and others) can be more intentional about cultivating the kinds of personal networks that I’ve described above…

 

As a round peg that fits in many square holes, I do have a few things of value I can toss out there. John later mentions writing – writing has always been an asset for me. Photography came into play later on. Speaking for myself, with my own unique set of circumstances, I have certain guidelines for my networks I have created over the years that I still adapt to.

My guidelines are largely for attenuating my network, squelching noise and finding actual signal out there. In some ways, I feel like SETI.

Authentic.

My. Word.

In an age where everyone can communicate, it’s disheartening to see how many people aren’t authentic – they are showing who they want to be; these are the people who wash their cars and don’t do maintenance or have it done on their pretty little machines.

To find someone who is authentic is difficult enough…

Interesting?

I’m someone who ‘lives’ at intersections, always bridging one thing to another. I look for people who are not just specialists – in a world full of specialists – but also generalists and people who have something to offer other than something regurgitated from a newsfeed.

Thoughtful?

I appreciate a thoughtful read, particularly if it opens me up to a perspective I am unfamiliar with that is communicated in a thoughtful way – not the hollow expertise that has become rampant in even the most modern methods of communication. And when communicate back, I expect a level of thoughtfulness in the replies. If the response boils down to, “because I said so” or something similar, I’ll show my way out.

Cross-cultural?

This has become more and more important to me – and while it derives from ‘thoughtful’, it is a true gem to find. When people can communicate effectively across cultures, first they reach a larger audience with what they are saying. This, unfortunately, also means wrong information can spread across that cultural bridge – but oddly, I’ve found that most information I get from people who live at these intersections is pretty well thought out and open to discussion – even, sometimes, starved for it as someone gives voice to things and is heard.

Lines.

I draw lines.

First and foremost, if people get into my personal ‘space’ for no real good reason, I tend to squelch them. This is completely alien to some people and I understand that, but understanding that doesn’t mean I need to tolerate intrusions into my space (I call it my wa, or harmony). But what is this personal ‘space’?

The first time, people typically get a message from me that I’m not one for chit-chat; that I appreciate it all in one message. That usually does the trick. Usually.

The annoying ding of a message that just says, “Hi.” From this, I extrapolate that this will be a tiresome and largely unproductive communication that leads to multiple messages where one message alone would do. When I communicate, I lay it out all in one message.

And yes, I absolutely hate twitter for this. Absolutely. Twitter is good for sharing larger messages encapsulated in a link.

My second line is that if someone has an odd fetish that they post about all the time – for example, if they don’t ‘like Trump and post about Trump all the time – I squelch them. I learn nothing from that. The inverse is true for me as well. That is a form of intellectual masturbation I gave up a few decades ago, and while I appreciate that some have an odd predilection for it, I don’t feel like being near it.

Money

For a certain amount of money, to be negotiated, people can pay me to put up with the above. Never the other way around.

Decisiveness.

I probably could have networks exponentially larger than I have now had I not squelched things. Larger is not my goal. I view a network as something everyone in feeds, and something that feeds everyone.

My Own Counterculture

The typical SEO/social media expert will tell you that you have to put on the Disney smile for everyone. I suppose this is important for corporations who want to appear authentic and alienate as few people as possible. I have never subscribed to this thought for myself, and only over the last decade have stopped trying to make excuses for it or apologizing for it. There is only one me, I am who I am and I am no more and no less.

This is not for everyone, of course, and if you’re paying social media experts to broaden your reach, you need to understand that your reach also has to be managed – and success in this regard can result in cataclysmic failure. Speaking for myself, I deal with the world as I can, and increasingly, as I demand. I see this as a factor of having grown up before the Internet became a ‘thing’, of having dealt with it since it’s inception and having made a living off of it, through it and around it.

Lastly, social media is only that. Real connections with real people trump social media connections. Social media can offer real connections, and I’ve outlined the general rules of how I cultivate those.

Deep Learning, Information Bottlenecks – and Osmosis.

I’ve experimented in the past with deep learning in a few different ways, coming up with my own thoughts on how things work and why they work. It was apparent to me when I stopped that in 2016 that I was missing something, and that I needed some distance between myself and the topic at hand. I gave up those Pine64s, and as it happened, moved away from where I was doing it – more importantly, divorcing me from a Software Engineering world where ‘solutions right now’ always trumped ‘solutions’, the former the harbinger of problems, the latter the Holy Grail of every software engineer who dare dream in a world that, except for the minority, requires lockstep precision within an industry that spends it’s time firefighting because of solutions-right-now.

It’s disenchanting. Being disenchanted allows for little in the way of real solutions, at least for myself.

And today I read, “New Theory Cracks Open The Black Box of Deep Neural Networks“. Of course, deep learning is not that new, and the ‘Information Bottleneck’ thought stems from the original work in 1999, the Information Bottleneck Method. That works perhaps in explaining things on a surface level and on an informational level – but as I read it, I was reminded of secondary school biology: Osmosis. No one has seemed to connect the two when they are so suitably connected, and I’d wager that Osmosis scales better since the information bottlenecks, when themselves in a matrix, pretty much would mimic a tunable osmosis.

That said, I’ve found the major problem with deep learning to be that we define inputs when, quite possibly, we should be more loose in our definitions of what we put in. This aligns better with chaos theory – something that the Wired article seems to dismiss:

…When Schwab and Mehta applied the deep belief net to a model of a magnet at its “critical point,” where the system is fractal, or self-similar at every scale, they found that the network automatically used the renormalization-like procedure to discover the model’s state. It was a stunning indication that, as the biophysicist Ilya Nemenman said at the time, “extracting relevant features in the context of statistical physics and extracting relevant features in the context of deep learning are not just similar words, they are one and the same.”

The only problem is that, in general, the real world isn’t fractal. “The natural world is not ears on ears on ears on ears; it’s eyeballs on faces on people on scenes,” Cranmer said…

Pragmatically, this is what we see when we work on projects – but the problem is not what we see, it’s what we don’t see. It’s the things we don’t intuitively connect ourselves because of our own limitations; with simple deep learning we may get away with what we see, but on a much larger scale, we may be looking at the motion of wings of a butterfly on the other side of the world causing a tipping point that creates a hurricane on the other.

Of course, this is all theory, and hardly some earth shattering change in the way we look at things – but a small change in how we approach things could well be what we need to move forward at various intersections. In this, I am trying to be a simple butterfly flapping his wings.

Quick Note To Admin For mpac.gov.tt

The Drupal FiveIt’s apparent you’re running Drupal, though I’m uncertain which version. As a government website, you should probably be concerned about SEO and such matters.

I was glad to see clean urls, but by installing the PathAuto module, you’ll do better in search results and have more meaningful urls.

You might also want to check out the SEO Checklist module. Drupal’s pretty easy in many regards (and way too complicated in others – *cough* database *cough*).

Anyway, this will help the site do better, and will help you look smarter. I don’t want your job, really, but it pains me when I see things like this missed.

Kthxbai.

Bureaucratese

bureaucracy :-) #jboye14Bureaucracy has it’s own language; Bureaucratese. Over the course of my lifetime, I have learned to translate it on the fly – but apparently this skill is one very few have. In this entry, I will cover a few different words and what they actually mean.

This post will be updated as I things jar my memory.

Acronyms: The more acronyms associated with a bureaucracy, the more inefficient it is. This complexity also leads to potential corruption.

Analysis: A means of finding meaning from metrics or data which may or may not be appropriate depending on the context of the metrics and/or data, as well as what the actual point is.

Bureaucrat: Someone who takes exception to these definitions. Typically someone who has drank the Kool-Aid and is trying to be a distributor.

Capacity: The potential to do something. Unless this word is associated with a concrete way to measure things (see ‘Metric’), it’s a useless word that communicates the hopes and dreams of the Stakeholder writing it.  They might want Funding.

Committee: A group of legal entities, perhaps even Stakeholders, that attempts to do something of worth. It involves meetings, agendas, and all manner of documentation.

Data: A generic term that may or may not involve metrics; metric that comes from forms, as an example, may or may not be useful based on the questions asked and the audience.

Diversity: Diverse, but having little or no conflict that needs to be resolved by people who are actual stakeholders but have no actual say in a committee or group.

Documentation: Something that rarely reflects the reality of a situation in a bureaucracy.

e'<insert word here>’: A 1990s methodology of trying to bring the word ‘electronic’ to bear on matters that are about technology implementation of the word used. For example, ‘eBureaucracy’ would be about using technology to implement Bureaucracy.

eBusiness: What the rest of the world calls business.

eDemocracy: There’s really no such thing. It’s either a democratic process or not.

eGovernance: A reference to policies and processes that the bureaucracies wants to create to make their jobs easier. They usually create committees and have multi-stakeholder approaches to doing this (see associated definitions).

Funding: Money necessary to create more bureaucracy while making sure people who are creating the bureaucracy continue to get paid.

Human Capacity: A reference to people who do concrete things.

ICT: What the rest of the world calls ‘IT’. It stands for Information Communication Technology and assures correspondence has a character that makes people believe that it is somehow different to the popular use of “Information Technology” -‘IT’.

Leverage: A poor reference to physics; the idea is that a small amount of energy can be used to do great things with a lever. When the word ‘leverage’ is used, it’s usually associated with a notion that something will be done. This word, especially when used with ‘Synergy’, typically means you can ignore the sentence since they’re discussing hopes and dreams. Hopes and dreams have a purpose, but in bureaucratese, they are tongue in cheek since bureaucracy chokes hopes and dreams with red tape.

Metric: A way of measuring things; this can be useful if the appropriate things are measured and are simply fluff if the inappropriate things are measured. This word is typically used with the word ‘Analysis’ wandering around somewhere nearby, and thus bears scrutiny to assure that the appropriate things are being measured in the first place.

Multi-stakeholder: See ‘Stakeholder‘. When this word is used, it refers to a mix of stakeholders. Stakeholder bias, the bias implicit in the types of stakeholders involved (such as companies alone) is masked by the use of this word.

Synergy: This used to be a really impressive word that implied collaboration or integration of some sort. Now it’s sort of an empty word, where you can ignore the sentence it is in – especially if the sentence includes ‘Leverage’.

Stakeholder: A legal entity that is involved. The casual reader might think this refers to people – and sometimes it might include people. It is used in various ways in various dialects of Bureaucratese, but typically it means any legal entities involved – from a government organization to a non-government organization, to a business, to a actual human being.

When the word is used, make sure that who the stakeholder is is communicated, and why they are a stakeholder. The reason of why they are a stakeholder is typically associated with what sort of legal entity they are. A company will try to be more profitable, a government organization might wish to have more control over citizens, a non-profit might give you a nice warm and fuzzy intention underneath there is the need to get the next round of funding. Actual humans will typically be interested in opposing at least some of all of that. If there are no humans as stakeholders, members of society, then that tells you a lot.

Strategy: Typically a methodology of using bureaucracy to create more bureaucracy, typically an unconscious bait-and-switch while saying that the bureaucracy will be accomplishing other tasks. This almost always entails the need for Funding, as well as the creation of new Acronyms.

Did I miss something? Is there a word confusing you? Drop a comment and I’ll help you clear it up. 

Done.

cea_buddha
Image used with permission of photographer, Flickr user cea. Click for original.

I don’t miss it.

There was a time that it didn’t seem like I ever could. It was all I did. Coding, designing, architecting, playing with new languages and frameworks – it was great. I spent hours upon hours getting good at things that were, in the end, just passing fads.

Passing fads with ‘benefits’, really. The ‘benefit’ being the ability to find work maintaining someone else’s crappy code. Maintenance.

No one looks forward to a career in software engineering maintenance.

But that’s the majority of the industry, and if you’re good at maintenance, they’ll pick someone else to do the new development no matter your experience level. They need you there with your finger in the dyke as you watch them do it all over again – making similar mistakes.

No, I don’t miss it.

CubicleLife

I don’t miss sitting in meetings to watch other people beat their chests and claim credit for things that they didn’t do as political necessity. I don’t miss reading emails written by people more interested in trying to impress each other rather than actually communicate what they need to.

I don’t miss being told I should be at my desk more often when I was one of the few people meeting deadlines, milestones, yardsticks and tombstones. I don’t miss the tiresome code-jockeys who don’t know a thing about process and were graced with writing them. I don’t miss going through undocumented code and figuring things out to rewrite a new iteration that will never be used. Oh, and if you were ever on call…

There’s really a lot not to miss.

And as software engineering goes, that’s pretty much the way it is. That’s a pretty average career, since most work in software engineering is maintenance – and maintenance, after a certain period, shows you everything that was done wrong. But since you’re doing maintenance, you don’t ever get to use it at work. Maybe you do it at home, but honestly, after a few decades you may not want to stare at a computer when you get home.

No, I’m playing these days. I finally got back to why I started it all in the first place.

Except I have a lot more experience. And I can walk away from my desk, I can eat what I want when I want, I can wear what I want…

Cubicles? Offices? That’s for managers.

The Best Programming Language To Know – Ever.

Nobody understands me!Amongst geeks, invariably, the topic comes up eventually – it’s sort of like mentioning Hitler on the Internet. The best programming language. The best framework.

The best… whatever.

I even caught myself getting into a similar discussion recently about the best programming language to learn with, and being drawn into discussion. It shouldn’t even be a topic. It’s downright silly. The best programming language to start with is your native language – in my case, that’s English, in your case it’s likely English too – after all, this post is written in English.

One of the first things I wrote professionally was about how to start learning to program. It netted me $300 U.S. from CramSession.com, now beyond the most extreme measures of resuscitation. 17 years later, I can lay it out in a paragraph. Fortunately, Cramsession.com can’t ask for their money back.

Everyone that can write and execute a shopping list can program. You know what you need from the store, so you write the list – so the first pass is the list. The second pass would require a mental layout of the store for the most efficient path to walk through and get what you need – so you then prioritize the list based on aisles. Then you can get more finely tuned based on which side of aisle things are. You’re a programmer now. Show us your grocery receipt. Frame it. It’s your certificate.

Of course, over time you learn that the store moves things around, so you now have to maintain whatever you wrote by adapting it to changing circumstances. Welcome to maintenance, the most numerous jobs in software development. 

The best solution I ever saw to the Fizzbuzz problem was submitted by a non-programmer who simply drew a flowchart. It demonstrated to me that she – it was a she – understood the underlying concepts and could implement them in any language since she understood the underlying algorithm. Sure, there are a lot of solutions to the Fizzbuzz problem (what a horrible way to measure whether someone can program!) in various languages – from elegant to obfuscated – but programming languages are not the most important tool for tackling a problem. The most important tool is the language the problem comes in. A half-decent programmer, given some time to get their feet under them with a programming language’s syntax, can write a solution in any language.

Therefore, the most important language in programming is your native tongue. Some will argue that it’s English based on demographics, but those demographics have been skewed by economic development and market sizes. If you can’t think clearly, you can’t write clearly – as a programmer, or as a writer. Period.

Now somewhere there’s a geek that is stridently making a case against what I have written, but the beauty of it is that the case they are making is probably in English – the language this is written in. Right now, they are making my point for me.

As AI becomes more relevant, natural language programming will go from a way to create systems that understand natural language to actually programming those systems in your native language. The language of the market dictates.

Suddenly, that Oxford comma may be more important to you than you think.

If you don’t know what an Oxford comma is, now is a great time to use Google to begin your research.

Technology vs. Bureaucracy: a T&TEC Connection

ElectricityOne of the less fun things I get to do in dealing with land ownership is assisting people in getting electrical connections from the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC).  The legitimate way of doing this is the land owner giving permission for the connection to the person getting the connection.

The why of people getting connections on land they do not (yet) own is fodder for another post on Land Laws in Trinidad and Tobago – but take it on faith that it’s done.

In 2008 I did this for someone. 9 years later, I’m doing it for someone else.

First, I’ll tell you how it happens. Then I’ll tell you everything that is wrong with it.

How it ‘Works’

The person getting the connection has to present evidence of land ownership or permission from the land owner. To do this, T&TEC wants to see a deed, and they want a letter from the landowner if the person does not own the land – as well as identification, which they diligently photocopy and probably place in a file somewhere marked, “Kill Trees”. Simple enough, you might think.

To make things easier, a landowner can send a photocopy of their ID and deed along with the person getting the connection.

That gets them ready to get an inspection done. The actual connection requires… all of the above again.

Since I’m not one to send someone running around with photocopies of my ID and deed, all of this means I get the joy of going to T&TEC in San Fernando, where they refer you to an orange desk which is now closer to a pink salmon (I asked a woman with matching nail polish what color her nails were). We sat there for an hour or so, watching frustrated T&TEC employees chained to keyboards of a system that was ‘giving trouble’, got to the desk and – fortunately – I had prepared everything for them so that in 15 minutes of photocopying and signatures, I could move on with my life. I don’t know how long the person getting connected stayed after.

How it Should Work.

A lot of people don’t know that T&TEC, circa 2010, mapped T&TEC poles all over Trinidad and Tobago and has them on a map. They can, with accuracy, tell you where they have their poles. And these are on a map of Trinidad and Tobago that had, or should still have, an up to date list of all the surveys registered in Trinidad and Tobago.

I say this because anyone with a deed can walk in and get someone else connected on someone else’s land. That’s clearly fraud, but it can happen by mistake when a land owner doesn’t know where their boundaries are. Therefore, the requirement of the deed is actually worthless without a survey that shows where the connection will be.

As I recall from years ago, I had to do this for a Water and Sewage Authority (WASA) connection around 2010. In my opinion, this is more in line with Land Law in Trinidad and Tobago, but I am no attorney and do not play one on the Internet.

The registered survey than be searched for if it were linked with the Ministry of Planning And Development, Town and Country Division systems. Then that would, if connected, be able to search the registry of Deeds at the Red House (which does not yet seem computerized).

If this were done, it would be apparent who legally owns the land, whose permission would be needed, etc. It would, of course, require the various databases to be kept up to date and interconnected.

And identification? Does no one see a flaw in accepting photocopies of identification not done on site? I could easily scan something in and alter it, printing it out. No, instead why not just have the T&TEC employee verify the identification is legitimate and enter the relevant information? Why are we killing trees in 2017 over this nonsense?

So, why hasn’t all of this been done? Why should this be hard to do? Why not remove the potential for error and corruption by appropriate use of technology?

There’s a question that should haunt every government administration since Independence. It’s a symptom of the larger problems, the elephants in the room that have ground the fine china into powder. Ministries not working together, a lack of a holistic vision, and a flood of ‘we like it so’.

I now return you to your regularly programmed bureaucracy.