Introspection (Writing)

ThoughtReviewing the statistics between KnowProSE.com and RealityFragments.com has been a bit revealing – empirically.

Between the two sites, I’ve done about 300 posts in the last year.

KnowProSE.com has 27 followers and 50 likes (WordPress) with roughly 5,000 views, averaging 2.5 visitors a day with 100 posts over a year.

RealityFragments.com, on the other hand, has 89 followers and 750 likes (WordPress) with roughly 2,000 views, averaging 1.4 visitors a day with 200 posts over a year.

I did not make goals on these sites – I simply allowed myself to post as I wished to, when I wished to, as often as I wished to so that I could see what happened – because, despite what your goal oriented classes have told you, the best thing to do sometimes is to see what happens. That some more technology related writing has gone to TechNewsTT.com isn’t really worth factoring in – my contributions there, while appreciated, aren’t numerous enough to affect things.

My non-technology writing gets more interest than my technology writing – we could argue that I posted less tech, but there are some other factors: KnowProSE.com has been my domain for over 10 years, whereas RealityFragments is only a year old (and doesn’t suffer the history OpenDepth once did, which was messing with statistics).

So what does it mean? Nothing, really. But it’s interesting to look at. It’s a datapoint.

Techno-Rant 2017; Trinidad and Tobago

FreedomHow Trinidad and Tobago adapts technology successfully to its betterment is interconnected throughout the private sector and public sector in ways that most people don’t seem to realize.

Standing in a bookstore, searching for original minds on the latest ideas and thoughts, I noted the books on ‘Right Brain/Left Brain’ that have been made antiques by the neuroplasticity. The brain isn’t as left or right as people thought decades ago, and even now, and common knowledge still hasn’t picked up on it. The books I see that catch my eye are old; published in 2008 and earlier.

Readers are subjected to old ideas this way, and in a globally interconnected age, these are antiquated ideas.

The Internet propelled a global revolution in communications and business which is accelerating. Truth be told, our technology has trumped our ability to communicate. In Trinidad and Tobago, rather than embracing it’s changes, we adapt as slowly as allowing for bank card payments in Licensing Offices – 30 years late, maybe more.

Social media echoed journalists and opinions about Miss Universe and Trinidad and Tobago’s place on it- and then not long after, to mock Miss Trinidad and Tobago’s dress. Meanwhile, flooding from poor land management and poor planning has been forgotten after raking the ODPM over the coals – and now leptospirosis information makes it’s way around with 13 cases in less than a month. Articles sometimes tell only one side of a story, a testament to what readers want as opposed to what readers need to make informed decisions – the role of the fourth estate.

A video that was shared with myself and countless others on WhatsApp mentioned that we don’t have sufficient data related to agriculture. I’m not sure that we have sufficient data about anything, really, and it’s something that I’ve griped about for decades – about how we should have good data to make more informed decisions. And this takes us back to the bookstore, and back to the Internet.

We have not adapted to the world of technology as much as we have bent it to our whims in Trinidad and Tobago. This is not a complaint. It’s a statement. Change is coming, for good and bad. In the U.S., the brick and mortar retail businesses are in a last ditch effort to stay relevant to their market: Why wander a bookstore looking for the latest actual releases (as opposed to the last shipment) in the hope you will find one when you can pre-order on a website like Amazon.com? The same applies to almost anything someone wants or needs to buy.

Government Ministries have incompatible systems, and while the National ICT plan mentions open data, Data.tt doesn’t house much in the way of open data, and as far as useful data, we might be better off inspecting the bottom of tall boots after a flood. Retail prices for certain products are being watched – something I do welcome- but released in PDF, they’re hardly useful (CSV would be nice).

Did I mention that while payments at Licensing Offices will be more convenient – we can forget the last 30 years or so when we could have been doing it – but a visit still requires people to take hours, if not a day, away from their work? Computers purchased a decade and more ago might sit in back offices still, collecting dust as the customers do as well. Where they are is actually immaterial; it’s where those computers are not is the most telling. People stand in line waiting, victims of a bureaucracy that grinds the humanity out of us – nothing new in government offices.

We wonder what’s wrong. Where are the opportunities for the youth of today? Dr. Eric Williams once said that the future of Trinidad and Tobago was in the book bags of students; I wonder what he would say about mobile phones (or laptops, for that matter).

We have opportunities to leapfrog ahead, learning from the mistakes of others who have adapted or failed to adapt technology to better their societies – removing corruption by using technology to erode bureaucracy, enabling better journalism if only we would buy it rather than the social media echo chambers we live in. The odds are good that if we bought good journalism, we’d encourage it.

We look for solutions to purchase abroad when our most damaging export is our brain drain – where the youth of today, passionate and wanting to change things meet every reason why they cannot.


 

The Study Of What Others Do.

Taran Rampersad
Courtesy Mark Lyndersay, LyndersayDigital

I hate having my picture taken. Over the years, I have found the best defense from cameras is to hold one. This has weakened in a day and age where every phone has a camera, and everyone wants to be seen with someone – but Mark Lyndersay needed a picture of me for TechNewsTT, where the majority of my writing has been published this year outside of my own websites.

In going to his studio, it was a rare glimpse for me into the world of professional photography. It was clear to me almost immediately, this amateur photographer, that it would take me at least a decade to do the editing I watched Mark do quickly, about how he managed his photos, and about why he did the things he did  – a matter of simple experience that cannot be replaced with meetings and requirements discovery.

You see, I had been thinking of writing my own photo management software in Python – something to automate a lot of things. I had briefly considered this when I had begun selling some of my prints in Florida, and it was latent in my mind as a project to ‘get to’. In conversation with Sarita Rampersad, another professional photographer (unrelated), I had asked her what she used last year and why. It was clear that it would take more than a passing effort on my part to build something more useful than the tools she was using. The visit to Mark’s studio underlined this.

The Roots.

Reflecting on this on the way home, I went back to the very core of how I started working with technology. From an early age, I was encouraged – by rote and by whip, as it were – to observe what was being done to understand how it was being done. This was the root of the family business, the now gone Rampersad’s Electrical Engineering, a company that was built on fixing industrial electro-mechanical equipment with clients ranging from the U.S. Navy to someone who just needed their water pump repaired (Even WASA).

This background served me well over the years, and understandably frustrated managers and CEOs. Knowing the context of how things were used allowed for for useful processes and code; it allowed for things to become more efficient and allowed things to be written to last instead of a constant evolution of, “Wouldn’t it be nice if?”. In a world of agile processes, the closest thing to this is the DevOps iteration of Agile which even people who practice Agile haven’t heard of (because they are soundly in the Agile Cave).

DevOps is a form of Agile where every stakeholder is directly involved. And that, to me, is also a problem because of the implicit hierarchies and office (if only office) politics is involved. It’s a bleeding mess of tissue to sew together to form a frankensystem, but at least that frankensystem is closer to what people actually need. Assuming, of course, they understand what they need.

To me, it boils down to studying what other people do.

Observe, Analyze, Communicate, Build.

When I started as an ‘apprentice’ programmer, this was drilled into me by an Uncle who was a Systems Analyst, and ‘allowed’ me to write the code for projects that he was working on. He didn’t boil it down to observe, analyze, communicate and build; I refined that myself over the course of the years.

No matter the process, it all boils down to someone able to bridge how people work/play to get something done to understand what is needed, and how to make their lives easier through automation and information structure. Observing people do their jobs is important, analyzing it secondary, but the most important part is the one thing that an AI cannot yet do: Communicate, the process of listening, speaking (or writing, or…), and then feedback. This process is most important. In priority of importance, software engineering and I believe any form of process or structural engineering is:

  1. Communication
  2. Observation
  3. Analysis
  4. Build

This is not the order in which things are done, of course, but the emphasis that is most important in understanding how present systems work and how future systems should work.

So often over the years, I’ve seen software engineers relegated to the role of code monkeys with emphasis only on ‘Build’, when the most important parts are about ‘building what is needed’. This is where business analysts got introduced somewhere along the way, but they too are put into silos. This is underlined by HR departments focusing only on the ability to ‘build’, where analysts are expected to be a different sort of role. When these roles were split, I cannot say, but to be both is something that is too large and round to fit in small square holes of the modern enterprise.

It is lost, eroded, and there is a part of me that wonders if this is a good thing. Studying what other people do has allowed me to do so many things within and without technology, and it worries me that in a future where AI will be taking over the ‘Build’ that software engineers aren’t being required to focus more on the soft skills that they will need in the coming years.

Sure, the AI can build it – but is ‘it’ what needs to be built?

For Those Entering Tech.

algorithms fearI had a recent Skype conversation with someone working at a company that I had done some contract work for. I suppose I went in knowing how it would go and for a bit of closure – it was the same old story. Contractor does work for a company, contractor does what was required faster than company expected in the hope of a more permanent position, company ends contract.

Someone messaged me on LinkedIn, looking for sage advice because of what I had written – thinking me sage when I am only greying, thinking me wise because I’m good with a keyboard. And all I could come up with this was:

It was a salt trap. 

One of the good things about taking myself out of the job market is to write, unrestrained, about career-limiting topics – mainly because the career is over because I decided not to continue falling for the salt trap. I decided it was time to shift my future, so I did and I have no regrets – though the adjustments are still happening.

My experience in the Software Engineering market spans pre-Internet to last year (and whatever I fiddle with these days). I’ve only worked for one true multinational, and I’ve done work or worked for companies that have disappeared in the churning of economies. Most of the code I wrote – if I called it ‘my code’, intellectual property lawyers would cringe – is not in use. I’m almost sure of it. Contributions to projects deceased.

Sisyphus on a conveyor belt rolling against him. And the project managers and upper management keep singing,  “Keep pushing, folks.” 

In this, I suspect, I am not alone – I suspect that people around my age in the industry have done their time in the Code Mines of places long forgotten. We’ve been through bad economies, through tech bubbles and their inadvertent falls. We’ve seen the rise and fall of languages and frameworks, of business practices that range from asinine to outrageously lucky – rarely solid.

So what is this all about? Oddly enough, it’s about fear. It’s the rare tech company that is built to last; most seem to be built to get money in a tech ponzi scheme – from venture capital to buyouts. The big picture is lost, leaving some really smart people writing some really good code that will not last, that isn’t intended to last, that is meant to get someone else to their own version of success.

Disgruntled? You bet, though I have taken the Path to Gruntlement. There are so many young ones in technology trying to get their street cred, fluffing their resumes – is it appropriate to fluff your own professional persona? – competing against each other like crabs in a barrel, necessarily antagonistic in a market that would do better with more collaboration. Or is it the natural antagonism of tech people? It’s hard to tell.

So my advice to those entering the market is that the market is not the few tech companies you are unlikely to work for, it’s the churning primordial ooze of failures that makes the market – and you will, at the least, have to weather that – if you’re lucky, if you’ve had a good start or get the right opportunities, know that these can be fleeting and that it’s easy to slide back into the ooze. Accept that it’s not going to happen the way you want – or the way that anyone else does, anyway.

Learn and move before they disappear.

Find recruiters that don’t suck. If you’re getting cold called at work by recruiters, block their numbers. Professionals would send you an email first.

Find managers that don’t suck. I could write a book about that. Maybe I should.

And keep pushing until you tire of it – and recognize when you are tired before your body figures it out.

Technology And Arts

Sisyphean TechnologyPeople in technology of my era and later are strange creatures that delve into the depths of understanding the cold and relentless logic of systems that they create and maintain. We see the same in other fields, in Law, in Medicine, Accounting and so many others.

Today, as Lessig wrote, ‘Code is Law‘, and Law wrestles with technology even as technology works to circumvent existing Law. Law, as a freshman student will tell you, is not Ethics – it is an attempt at the codification of Ethics in a society. That distinction is important yet routinely forgotten by many – and that’s where some empowered by technology have an ax to grind. Others are just in it for the money, or for some political agenda.

One of the problems we face, as a global society of screen-watchers, is that we have separate silos of technology and arts – where technology is often used as a platform for the liberal arts.

If Only.

170616-N-XK398-090I’m reading the latest stuff on NOAA’s Tropical Cyclone 2 Updates (06182017), and I’m remembering some things.

If only there was someone who had dealt with emergency communications and worked toward developing a system where alerts could be sent to people’s mobile phones.

If only he had a military medical background with an idea of how things really work – and don’t – on the ground.

If only CARICOM had put such a system in place; if only when this alleged person was approached by Roosevelt King they hadn’t said they needed to spend a few hundred thousand US dollars to get it done.

If only he hadn’t told them that they could have developed the system from scratch starting at about $10K U.S., with development costs, circa 2006. That was too cheap and would employ local developers. That would be no good.

If only there was someone who had found himself working with such systems at ECN, and worked to troubleshoot existing systems, design new ones and see what goes wrong – plus document it all. If only those systems included NOAA! If only when he returned to Trinidad and Tobago, he tried connecting with people in Digicel and TSTT and met silence.

If only such a person existed. If he did, he’d probably be a farmer by now after having tried to chase a vision no one else wanted. Hypothetically, 12 years is a long time by human standards. 1/6th or 1/7th of a decent lifespan, really.

Ahh, well. If only we had that experience. Too bad.

A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Social Media

Grim JoyI used to be heavily involved in social media; some might think I still am when I’ve simply become more efficient and have sculpted my networks. In all, though, I rate myself a curmudgeon – a ‘a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person.’

This is not to say that I am a curmudgeon, but I imagine that there are some people who send me things who now believe I am a curmudgeon. Wishing people happy birthday on social media with a click is silly. A deluge of images of politicians leaves me feeling dirty in ways a shower cannot cure, a stream of people who believe Putin masterminded everything from the Presidential Election in the U.S. to their lost sock makes me roll my eyes, watching building blocks of uninformed opinion become representative of otherwise intelligent people is the intellectual equivalent of being assaulted with gift wrapped feces.

David over at Raptitude figured out that he could have more time to do things with his experiment. Yet even as a curmudgeon, I have to point out that social media, social networks and the humans that use them are a part of our lives – we just don’t need to exist on their plane; they need to exist on ours.

What that means is we should understand that it’s typically not very important, and we should be OK with telling people not to send us crap on WhatsApp, Facebook messenging, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever crackpost (that was a typo but I like it) network that people use as echo chambers to feel good about themselves.

We shouldn’t have to think of ourselves as curmudgeons to do this.  We can control what we take in simply by telling people what we don’t want to spend our time on –  be it the stale joke networks on whatsapp to the in depth discussion on doomed men’s fashion, from the cute puppy videos to the insane amount of posts about adopting animals, etc. In my spare time, I don’t want that to be what defines me.

No, I’d rather define myself than be molded into an acceptable image of what society likes. We are society.