Shirts and P10s: Function vs. Form, Import Businesses vs. The Online Tax.

I’ve been spending some time shopping here and there. I went looking for shirts, and found that the ones with designs I liked lacked pockets, and the ones with pockets were not to my liking. I don’t understand the war on pockets of all these imported shirts, particularly when everyone these days has a mobile phone that they could place there instead of near their posterior – rubbing their posterior against their mouth and ear by proxy.

It should be as unattractive as it sounds, shouldn’t it?

This isn’t really be about shirts. I’m certainly not in charge of fashion; I personally admit a fondness for function over form and make no apology. There is a room for pretty in my world, but it has to do more than look pretty.

Another thing I was looking at, and more on topic, is the Huawei P10. I presently have a P10 Lite that, for whatever reason, no one seems to have cases for – a shortcoming of Huawei I’ve found pretty consistent, at least in South-West Trinidad. So, the first month I bought it, I cracked the screen.

Truth be told, I wanted a P10 because Mark Lyndersay keeps showing off his great shots through the Leicos lenses. And now, having cracked the screen of a fairly decent camera that has more than earned it’s keep, I walked into bMobile to see if I could purchase one. I find their pre-paid bundles work best for me, and I don’t really like contracts. Their P10 was available only under a post-paid plan, apparently with a 2 year contract.

I don’t know anyone who walks into bMobile, or Digicel, and says, “Hey! I want a 2 year contract that I won’t take to a lawyer to advise me on!”. I don’t know anyone like that. I do know people who say, “I want to upgrade my phone.”

So I saw one today at an outlet, and I asked the person who was selling it, “Do you have a case for it?”

“No.”

I was about to plunk down the money. I really was. But if you’re not going to support what you’re selling even with a simple case for someone to protect their investment, I’d offer you’re not a shrewd businessperson. And as much as I like Mark and love his photos, this lack of cases is a horrible thing for someone who spends a lot of time off the beaten track. We get back to function and form.

Let’s take a deeper dive.

This should all be simple enough to solve, but in a small consumer base such as that of Trinidad and Tobago, it’s a problem. Foreign exchange is at an increasing premium. Importers haven’t necessarily been putting their best foot forward over the years because when money flowed like oil – excuse me, it still does – but when it flowed through the economy at a higher rate, people bought all sorts of things with their disposable income.

The oil price reduction as well as severe lack of economic diversification over the decades by every administration has lead to sub-optimum disposable income. In plain English, people aren’t spending money because they aren’t getting it.

This means that companies that import goods other than food have these stocks of inventory that they can’t return. They made choices in products that, at least to some, are outright silly. When I drive by and see fluorescent colored plastic home goods, I can’t help but wonder what the person importing was thinking. “Fluorescent pink and green laundry hampers will fly off the shelves!”, said no sane person ever. 

So, the only sane thing to do when you can’t get what you want is to get what you want online through an online tax of 7% that is inconsistent for the very same items imported twice. It’s the new gambling system put in place by the government, a government that is going to send out people to evaluate properties probably as inconsistently as they handle the online tax.

To some, the online tax roulette is worth it if you can find the foreign exchange to play the game. If you need a case for a P10 or P10 Lite, as an example. Or if you want to buy fender flares for your pickup, or if you want to buy shirts with pockets.

To others, what they wear and use is framed by what importers have in their inventory. The illusion of choice is just that, more so in smaller economies.

We don’t think the world is getting better. This is why we’re not sure.

Banksy in Boston: Overview of the NO LOITRIN piece on Essex St in Central Square, CambridgeI came across Max Roser’s (Programme Director, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford) post on the World Economic Forum through social media, and I didn’t have the time to address some of the issues I saw when I posted it. There is something that had struck me as viscerally wrong about it.

Now I know. In the broad strokes, the data points are cherry picked. When we look at how the world has improved based on static measures, we all should know that yes, the world has gotten better. That’s not why we don’t think it is.  It’s because the measures themselves haven’t improved. I’ll make my points quickly as related to his points.

Poverty

Globally, we have less people starving per capita. There’s no debate there. Where the debate should be is whether this should be a part of the debate. Population growth around the world varies; a nation with lower standards of living tends to have higher population growth while a nation with higher standards of living tends to have lower population growth.

So, if we look at the shell game of poverty, overall the number is decreasing. But is the standard of living? Are people moving forward without people being left behind? Is the number of people we’re leaving behind increasing or decreasing?

We hear more often than not about the ‘erosion of the middle class’. Where did they all go?

These are questions that we want to know the answers to; we know poverty is decreasing, but if our goal is constant improvement, shouldn’t our measure of how we’re doing improve as well? Or are we comparing poverty now with the cave people of a few thousand years ago? No, but metaphorically, the idea of comparing poverty across a few hundred years is a frequent optimistic perspective presented when the masses get a bit disturbed.

Literacy

Just by social media we know more people are attempting to communicate – some literacy is involved, but I daresay that there is some functional illiteracy out there that has snuck past testing that is supposed to demonstrate literacy.

I had a real world example today. A friend of mine’s granddaughter needed a reference on a form since the form she had filled out was outdated. He told me he needed me to sign it. I looked the old form over and told him I didn’t need to sign it, that she already had references on the old form, and all she needed to do was transfer them to the new form. No signatures required.

An hour later, while I was writing this, he stopped by and told me the new form needed my signature. It did not need my signature. I didn’t need to sign anything. Functionally, that’s a form of illiteracy.  Functional literacy was defined by UNESCO in 1960 – 58 years ago – as:

“using these skills in ways that contribute to socio-economic development, to developing the capacity for social awareness and critical reflection as a basis for personal and social change”

Not knowing the difference between putting your contact information on a form or signing a form is one example. So how are we measuring literacy?

By the numbers reported of those that can read by passing certain tests that, if you ever spend time on social networks, you need to question. Nevermind reading comprehension.

So, while the numbers of those that are reported as literate can be shown to have gone up – from students to teachers to administrators to nations, who wants to give worse reports? The incentive for true reporting is simply not there. How many college professors lose their hair dealing with freshmen?

Has functional literacy gone up? With increased bureaucracy over the decades, as well as technology, what is the new literacy? No one really knows. It’s sort of like the difference between pornography and art; we know it when we see it.

Health

Germ theory is the basis of the postulation here – something come up with in the latter half of the 19th century. We’re in the 21st century; we’ve made leaps and bounds since germ theory that have been put into practice – open heart surgery, as an example, has come a long way in the last few decades. Granted, it could not have happened without germ theory, but if we’re comparing how well we’ve done since germ theory a lot of other things should be spoken of.

Yet there is at least the allegation that big pharmaceutical companies overcharge – Brazil even went rogue with HIV medications because of it. Borders between nations become more permeable when there is a noticeable price difference in medications, where the medications flow to places of higher costs. The United States is no different here; people get medications from Mexico and Canada as examples. How much? I’m pretty sure we don’t have the data for it; black markets don’t publish their data.

Access to healthcare? In the U.S. alone, this has been one of the most sharply debated topics in the last decade.

So yes, gene theory has brought us a lot of good, but what have we done since? With an increased population – remember population growth? – partly because of our advances in medicine, I’d think we’d get some better points than just gene theory.

Yet I can see why no one wants to talk about how health insurance has helped people. After all, it was only about a century ago that doctors were paid in livestock. Gene theory, apparently, gave doctors much more.

Freedom

Oh, freedom. How do we define it? Is the person who works three jobs to pay the bills, ‘free’? Fortunately, no solid points were made in this section because it’s all pretty ambiguous. One has to wonder why it’s even in there.

Population

Our population is increasing! Yes, we know that. We’re painfully aware of it, and I am not certain that it’s an indicator of things being better. It could mean that a lot of people in nations with lower standards of living might simply be unable to watch the television that they want because of content distribution rights or lack of internet access.

As I pointed out in the section related to poverty – population growth is a factor that is not spoken of enough. You can check out all manner of statistics in the United Nations World Population Prospects 2017.

Education

We live in an era where there is cultural value placed on academic degrees; they were incentivized by salaries – at least at some point – and now the value of them is publicly questioned. Getting in debt for a college education and then being unable to get a job to repay that debt is a reality in the world. Yet we say that education is increased.

Formal education. But how has formal education changed? Aside from changing and adding some subjects, adding a lot of administration, education itself has not changed – and more than once we’ve seen education standards dropped so that more people pass. We don’t talk about that.

So while more people may suffer a formal education by 2100, can we honestly say that they have been educated better than now? Than 10 years ago? We’re talking about quantities when we should also be dealing in quality.

Why Do We Not Know That The World Is Changed?

We know that the world has changed – in our little pockets of what we read and see in the media, social or otherwise, and the reinforced perspectives we get from them. People share things without reading them, without rigorous thought (education? literacy?).

The world has gotten much better since we were cave dwelling mammals, though there is at least a sense of wonder when I consider that: Did we leave the caves because of the population boom caused by fire? Cave real estate maybe got so expensive that finally – probably a guy named Bill or Steve – said, “screw this, I’ll make my own cave!”. And so to this day, we live in variations of the cave, usually made by someone else. With fire. And cooling.

And yet, how have we really improved? The same country that has children eating tide pods also had an immigrant send an electric car to Mars while at least one person on the Tesla waiting list got upset (if they didn’t, I wonder if they should own one?). We have advances in medicine that should have us discussing contraception, even of the immaculate variety, and technology is giving us sex robots that – fortunately, so far – don’t distribute little humans like sexually transmitted diseases, or like Oprah. Look under your seat! There’s one for you!

We have advanced so far in technology that our education, our literacy and lack of it, has become more pronounced as we reinvent Babel despite people speaking the same language. We have people who are so angry that they’re either a mass shooter or a terrorist (but never both). We have archaic systems of governance that cannot shift as fast as the public can become less accurately informed.

The world has gotten better in some ways, yes, but it has become worse because people who never would have known each other 100 years ago now see each other’s posts quickly, algorithmically, based on what someone in a code cave thought was the best solution… so far.

We really don’t know whether things are getting better or worse. We only know within our own contexts and what we are told, and what we are told we too rarely question because our education systems teach us to accept what we are told rather than challenge it.

Challenge it. Challenge everything.  Things will not get better otherwise, and if people actually challenge things more, people won’t feel the need to write posts about ‘how much better things are’, a Hallmark card from the World Economic Forum to the ailing masses who aren’t seeing the improvements promised, with the dreams of yesteryear either dashed or worse, undreamed.

I, for one, do not wish any carcinogens blown up my posterior, no matter how fancy the pipe.

The Flooding Saga Of Mosquito Creek

Will They Ever Finish The Goodineaux Bridge Repairs?Mosquito Creek, in Southwestern Trinidad, could be a comedy of errors committed by a confederacy of dunces over decades. To locals who have to trek through it daily, it is much the same without the comedy. It has moved from drama to the mundane, a tribute to how things do not get done in Trinidad and Tobago.

And recently, the flooding. In fact, I’m tired of writing about this over the years – the picture is from 2010, which is by no means when this all started – I just happened to have the picture. And the reason I write this? A video that I have been tagged in on Facebook so many times that I tire of responding to it.

The video proffers a solution to flooding on Mosquito Creek that is not expedient, that is flawed in that it doesn’t actually resolve anything other than adding a few man-made reefs to the equation. That it is so popular is a testament, I suppose, to the cultural inertia regarding projects done by any government: Plans cannot be changed.

But plans need to change. The roadway exists between marsh and sea, with the Godineaux river entering the Gulf of Paria. And flooding, dear reader, is about flow rates.

We’ve all experienced a clogged drain – where water enters by faucet faster than it can exit the drain. The sink floods. It’s this level of thinking that has people coming up with things that they think are solutions, but they don’t seem to understand the greater issues involved.

First and foremost, the road is not a natural addition. Use over the decades has compacted soil underneath, which means that water cannot naturally flow between the marsh and the sea. When it does, we call it flooding only because we built an easy road for expediency that has increasingly become more painful to use and maintain.

The right answer is to do an overpass there and allow the water to do what it does: enter and leave the mangrove. Why is this important? Because the Godineaux River cannot always push water out – it’s a clogged drain – and for those of you with a fairly modern sink, you might find under your faucet the overflow. The mangrove to sea path is the natural overflow. This is just basic science applied with common sense, something that the Environmental Management Agency and Ministry of Works and Transport should have on tap through at least one person that is listened to. Lo, this is not the case.

So what happens when we get heavy rains in poorly developed areas (they are) that tries to get out to sea in that path? Blocked by the road, the water has no choice but to go onto the road. Thus, flooding.

Plus, too often do we forget that drainage in Wet Season has to be balanced by water retention during dry season. Streamlining waterways will make for drier soil during dry season, and this turns to dust and dust blows away. Soil erosion by wind, and farmers have less water for their crops.

As Trinidad and Tobago has developed haphazardly, where Town and Country operate at a pace that snails laugh at, people do their own development without thought to the bigger picture. Even with approvals, some suspected to be assisted by a bit of grease to the wheel, you’d think that the EMA and Town and Country would require retention ponds to balanced reclaimed land. One would think.

So while we complain about a major artery of traffic for South West Trinidad, the real problem is much more complex. The solutions are simple.

Sufficient retention ponds along waterways to accommodate flooding. The road on Mosquito Creek Creek should either be rerouted or made into an overpass to let things flow more naturally below the road – not that we’re particularly good at building and maintaining roads in Trinidad and Tobago. And what does this require?

It requires people with common sense and a working knowledge of science to be in the right places, focused on the greater good instead of the personal good or expedient. Ultimately, that seems to be the real failure.

Evolution: Process Trumps All

3D view of Mar03wjc1bOnce upon a time, software was sold on disks that were actually floppy. They were encased in boxes, with user manuals.

Then the disks were no longer floppy, but they were called floppy as a sacrifice to the Gods of Inaccuracy.

Then the Internet came along, and you could buy the boxes over the Internet.

Then you could download the applications over the internet when you purchased them.

And finally, Software as a Service (SaaS) came into being, and all was basically the same only faster (and with significantly worse documentation).
And the people were generally as miserable as they were, and could be disappointed at a faster rate when they found bugs, or when systems went down, or when their internet access was sloppy.

The real difference between competing companies now is how they produce and maintain the software. That’s the process.

Bugs happen. How fast can the bug be fixed, without introducing new ones? That’s the competition. That’s where competing companies actually should be competing, because the faster a company can fix bugs, the faster it can implement things as well.

That boils down to Software Process. And that’s why Agile, Lean, DevOps and so on are so important.

Because nobody is ordering boxes from the back of magazines anymore and getting it in the mail a few weeks later. They want it now.

If you don’t even have a software development plan (SDP) for a project, you’re already behind.

 

 

 

The Long, Dark Tea Time Of The Career

NSB SunrisePeople don’t write about this stuff. I decided I will.

Without going into the details, I left the last job after a resignation, taking it back, and after realizing it was the same thing, resigning more efficiently. It’s not a bad company. It wasn’t good for me.

Let’s leave that where it is.

I had irons in the fire, of course. In a lot of ways I still do. I already had bad headhunters annoying the hell out of me, and some good headhunters with some interesting positions. I was courted by some CEOs and CTOs through LinkedIn.

That was a mistake. There are jobs, and there are careers.

Some things came into play and suddenly I had more breathing space to think about it – freed from the tyranny of income for a period, I could stop. Reflect. Think. Feel. Assess myself, inventory myself, decide what comes next. It’s a luxury in this day and age where salaries don’t allow for the mobility that they once did (and, kids, they did). If you have the luxury, though, you should take it. Taking it I am.

It took me about 3 weeks to forget about the last place I worked – not completely, mind you, but in some ways a job is like a shell – it provides safety once you conform to the inside of it. As I told my last boss at the beginning of 2016, “ultimately the only thing an employee can control is whether or not he or she works at a company.”

After the 3 weeks had passed, I found that I had been doing more creative writing again. I had dusted off my camera and started shooting again. I started reconnecting with people who I  had lost touch with, as one does when one gets into the intellectual toil of more work than play. I recognized myself a bit more every day, like a stranger becoming acquainted with a reflection in the mirror.

A friend at a coffee shop asked, “Why don’t you talk down to people like other software developers do?” I paused. I thought.

“I guess I outgrew that at some point.”

I have. I’ve outgrown a lot of the bad things and have evolved beyond being a Software Engineer, or a Writer, or a Technical Writer, or a Consultant. I transcended technologies some time ago, becoming agnostic after having spent time in the Microsoft corporate code caves and the Open Source code caves. The leadership qualities became more pronounced, my patience for the mistakes of others had grown and the lack of patience for mistakes of others had also grown. I’ve been published, suffered the editing of others and rejoiced at how they helped me grow.

I watched all manner of software process succeed and fail, and understood why. I pick up technologies like some pick up novels but I have become a picky reader. After seeing languages, technologies and architectures wax and wane, you become picky. That cool new technology doesn’t impress me if it does nothing new, and just because you can develop faster in it doesn’t mean that the end product is better. Typically, the faster you can develop in something, the more dependent you are on third parties that don’t care about your project.

I clean up ok.This guy is pretty different than the kid who started off in the late 1980s with the only real aspirations of getting out of a miserable household and being a professional computer programmer. Right now, that guy on the left doesn’t exist. His hair is unkempt, a full scruffy beard across his face, his focus inward. The man who would normally go out of his way to help his friends is suspended in carbonite, a caricature of a guy who shot first. It’s not selfish, it’s self-preservation. It’s coming to grips with what comes next, figuring out what that guy needs, what that guy wants – who that guy is. The kids aren’t going to understand this, and I imagine people with families at my age are too busy to dedicate some time to thinking about it until their children have not only left the nest but have stopped calling for money.

You see, you’re not supposed to write about all of this. In society, it’s taboo to write about this sort of thing publicly until well after the fact. To do that, you’re supposed to have that success that comes from a magical period like this – but that’s uncertain, fickle and cliche. It lacks originality, though originality is not something that is admired as much as people would want to think in this world – take a read of “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World“. It’s harder to live than to read about, like most things.

I have a deadline. The second week of May, 2016, for no good reason other than Cinco de Maya with Tequila seems like a bad time to make life decisions.

Avoiding Complexity In The Software Process

ComplexityOne of the greatest enemies of software is complexity, since it invariably leads to Software Entropy. It increases the cost of producing software. The good news is that we’ve gotten better over the decades at assuring best practices steer away from complexity – but sometimes people who implement the software processes themselves do not understand the why of things and create complexity in the software process itself – and even create new and interesting problems.

A simple thing like code reviews can be made complicated by different disciplines sharing the same space. Let’s say that you have code that uses stored procedures. Clearly, you’ll want a DBA doing the review of the stored procedure(s) and table changes – you might not want to call it a code review, but it is a review of a sort. Would you create a new column on your Agile board to track DBA reviews? I would hope not, if you’re using a decent tracking system. You can expect a DBA to make loud noises about them being so different, but if you take a step back… it’s just another type of review that can stay on the board without adding complexity to the board.

Further, differentiating that from the other reviews almost always assures that the code review and the review of the SQL related code is done separately – and since they will go into Production together, it would make sense that the reviews be synergistic. The Software Engineer and the DBA should review together, not separately, so that there are no assumptions made. The short term ‘gain’ of doing them separately results in a potential loss of quality.

How could it be done? Sure, the DBA needs to know to do the review, but that can be done by assigning two people to the review (a DBA and an Engineer) or creating two linked tickets for the same issue and making sure that the review is done at the same time. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Simplify. It will take a little more time, but it will avoid quality issues – and keep your Agile process more simple.

 

 

The Future Is Not The Enterprise You Know

Greetings from Guyana to New YorkStory time.

When I was in Georgetown, Guyana in 20051, I snapped that picture of the television in my room. People called in to the station to relay messages to expatriates in New York so that they wouldn’t incur the cost of a phone call from the local phone company.

In the developed world, or the Global North, or the West, or whatever you want to call it, VoIP had already shaken telecommunications by 2005 and won. In the other parts of the world, state-owned or subsidized telephone companies fought to stay relevant.

In the context of Guyana, it took until 2015 for the Caribbean Court of Justice to rule against the telephone company. And I imagine that battle isn’t over. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve seen it in my travels, and it’s not the first technology either. It also won’t be the last.

Having now worked a bit directly with telephony and SIP trunks, spending late nights catching up to where the company was and then studying beyond it2, I have a good feel for what is possible. And I also know that the future is global, that infrastructure is subject to licensing across geopolitical lines, and that technology waits for nothing but ideas whose time has come. Having been involved at the World Summit for Information Society level at first directly and now vicariously, to get global the industries built around Enterprise have to change. Having been a part of a Pre-twitter clone (we copied them when we grabbed a flux capacitor?), we saw things change a year before Twitter. That change is coming regardless of how much people are in love with the present enterprise. Evolution awaits no one.

So, what’s the future?

We hear a lot about the Internet of Things (IoT). How disruptive it is. Most of that is marketing hype to get all of us to buy things that we really have no need for – and, to be fair, people usually buy it for reasons that I might write about on my other blog3. Behind all of that is an undeniable force of change that goes beyond the buzzwords.

A few data-points to draw the line for you.

Data-point 1: Telecommunications infrastructure is no longer the product it once was because of SIP (which most of you know as VoIP, but it’s bigger than that). It’s about the on demand use of the telecommunications infrastructure. You can think of it as time-sharing real estate without the need to worry about the last person leaving dishes in the sink.

Data-point 2: The laws governing telecommunication infrastructure vary across geopolitical lines and proceed at the rate of the internal geopolitical bureaucracy. That’s a nasty factor that everyone should know, but most people don’t.

Data-point 3: Oh, that little Internet of Things has spawned all manner of things, like the 10 Pine64s I have coming next month. I’ll be clustering those for my own purposes – but imagine those as part of a solution that, for less than $500. Do you think I’ll be paying Oracle or Microsoft for licensing for a database? If you think so, you’re nutty and should have your head examined. Even open source DBAs are cheaper.

Data-point 4: Bitcoin brought the block chain to light.  Think of a client as part of a Peer to Peer network where the client deals with licensing within their geopolitical sphere (see 2), thus avoiding licensing fees across geopolitical boundaries wherever possible, and otherwise diminishing them. Take a look at this post on blockchain, posted by Arvind Krishna, Senior Vice President and Director, IBM Research. Or consider how Microsoft has been rolling Windows 10 out… peer-to-peer.

Data-point 5: Open source software has come so far that the cost of the software itself for applications has diminished significantly – you don’t pay for software, you pay for the changes to it if you want the changes… or you pay for people to configure it for you.

Data-point 6: ‘Big data’, another overblown marketing phrase, is a driving force that will not be stopped – it will hopefully be curtailed for reasons of privacy, but again and again the world has shown that it abhors censorship and will – at the cost of individuals, corporations, or entire governments, if necessary – be had.

What does it all mean?

It means that a company’s infrastructure, unless it’s spread out over a large area, is pretty much going to be an antique soon. People espousing details on the how of Software Engineering will develop are likely to completely miss the what of the development; the what of development should be defining the how (Software Process 101).

The ‘data-center’ will not die. It will become less important and probably used to roll out continuous integration to a peer-to-peer network of SaaS. Data will make its way to whatever monstrosity of a database that’s out there, and if I were a betting man I’d go with Oracle more than Microsoft on that since they’re acquisition of MySQL probably wasn’t an accident. Sure, it’s not an RDBMS, but what’s the most used database on the Internet? And who now has a thermometer?

It’s happening. Now.

1: Doing some volunteer work with St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. IBM had quoted a million Guyanese dollars to do the local network for the hospital; we got a group of volunteers around the hospital to do it for the price of a pizza on a weekend. Sadly, because of internal bureaucracy, the network was not used when I left, but I do hope that changed in my absence.

2: Trying to plan for the future like any good engineer.

3: RealityFragments.com, where I focus on more creative and opinionated writing on things that aren’t technology.