Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Wired News: Lawbreaker in Chief. I don't know how Bush thinks any other country would be influenced towards establishing rule of law when he so blithely ignores it. Brat in Chief, more like it.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Well, I generally like George Will's pieces, as his is a conservatism that I can somewhat go along with, but he's really got his tinfoil hat on with
Our Fake Drilling Debate

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Alien abduction or sleep paralysis?
I should be very interested to hear about where lucid dreamers would fit into this.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Fun at work.
Slashdot had a link an article on "optimizing for fun". On the other side of the river....
Somehow, project managers and managers around me seem to think that when the engineers complain about not having fun, it means we need to have team nights out, or that we need to schedule a weekly LAN party. Hello! Fun means working on stuff you enjoy working on. Fun means seeing the positive impact your contributions make. Fun means not having to spend cycles in bureaucratic holding patterns. Fun means having a concrete goal you are working toward, with a sense of how your piece contributes, and at least some enthusiasm for that goal. Fun in the workplace is not going out for beers with my team on some schedule. If I want to hang out with these people after hours, I don't need a project manager to arrange it for me.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Not such an over the top whiner,
but I do have a few comments on this one, regarding the signs that you should get out. First off, always remember, it's a job. It's what you do to make sure there is a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food in your stomach. If you should manage to get paid to do something you would do for fun, anyway, congratulations, don't ever forget how friggin' lucky you are.

He complains about working in a cubicle farm. I agree, it sucks. But the only places I have worked over the last twenty years that provide actual offices with doors that shut have existed considerably longer than that. Nobody does offices anymore. It should be worth something to note that every knowledge worker's darling, Google, doesn't even give workers cubicles to themselves, they have to share. Typical management doesn't understand because they are in meetings during the workday, and if they actually get things done, do the stuff they need to concentrate on early in the morning or late in the evening.

Which gets me to my next topic, management. Good managers are very rare, in my experience. So many things to juggle. She needs to have a clear understanding of what business results will both be valuable and appreciated by her bosses (not always the same thing). She needs to be able to give her team a clear vision of what its goal and/or job is, both long and short term. She needs to be able to see her team members both as tools and as people ("don't use a hammer to strip cable") so she can assign projects and tasks appropriate to the person and the direction they want to move in. And, the piece that is most often lacking, she needs to build trust with the team, and between the team members. I had another post on building trust, but it comes down to delivering on your promises, explicit and implicit, and sometimes doing things for someone else when it is clear that there is no personal benefit in it. A good manager relies on her team to produce results, and so it is in her interest to cultivate the team.

It's funny. I had a director who said "it's all about relationships". And it really is. But we meant different things by relationships. In his case, it was about sucking up.

The flip side of it is the "individual contributor". If you expect a manager to respect your opinion, you have to respect theirs. That's not just managers. That's people in general. This is especially a problem among young, bright, knowledge workers. They have a little too much of their self-esteem tied up in knowing the right answer before everyone else, and it can take a bit of convincing before they realize that what they jumped to isn't the "right" answer in this place, at this time, for these reasons. Even if it's false humility, show some. If someone disagrees with you, ask questions, find out why they think differently from you. You might learn something, they might learn something. Everybody wins.

And the thing I most commonly tell my younger colleagues: Do not trust in business entities. Believe me, the days of companies showing loyalty to employees is long gone. Even if they've been treating you well for a while, all it takes is a change in management, or even a drop in stock price, for things to change. Find people you can trust, and make sure they've earned your trust in little things before entrusting them with your career.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Whinging engineering washout complains about the quality of teaching and the volume of the workload. I hate to break it to the poor sucker, but the US has the highest quality engineering education available. That's why we have all the foreign graduate students here. There's several issues I have with his article. First, not to put to fine a point on it, US secondary schools by and large suck, in distinct contrast to our institutions of higher learning. So telling me he's got lots of gold stars, without telling me he did better than 700 on his math SAT, is meaningless. Second, it's all well and good that he thinks he's smart, but if you can't figure the stuff out on your own, you won't be much use to anyone as an engineer in the working world. Third, he obviously didn't do his research on his school. If you need someone that can actually explain science, math, and engineering, you don't go to the research factories, you go to a teaching school. I've attended some of the finest schools in the country for physics, and I can tell you that, by and large, none of my professors taught, they essentially read from the book. Now, if you really want to look at the problem, it's that if you are a professor in a prestigious university, publish or perish applies. To the degree that someone pursues the art of education, they take away from their ability to publish research, and hence, their ability to continue as an instructor. Both universities and students will seek out the best practitioner in a field, nobody even knows who the best instructor is.
And, as Edwin Rubinstein points out, we don't actually have a shortage, it's just that employers want supply to be sufficiently higher than demand to pay us dirt.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Recently checked out a couple of "social-networking" toys, namely Orkut and Yahoo! 360. I can't really see the point of keeping a "public" blog on either of them, because only members of those two communities can see it. And Orkut seems to be very heavily weighted towards dating. Especially if you want to date Brazilians. On the other hand, Linked-In seems to be having a surge lately. I had a couple of former colleagues reconnect through Linked-In, and a bunch of my current coworkers suddenly seem to be getting networked that way. Downside there is that functionally illiterate recruiters keep contacting me.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

And so my association with the Berkeley Psychic Institute is coming to a complete end. As with many spiritual organizations, the principles are great, but sometimes the execution leaves something to be desired. Three and a half years ago (is it that long, now?), when I decided to take a break from teaching, the new director of that institute gave me the energetic equivalent of "and don't let the door hit your ass on the way out". I've been an inactive member since then, and now, although I paid for last year and this year at the end of last year, they're telling me I'm coming up short. Nice principles, but twenty years of classes and teaching spirituality doesn't seem to guarantee competence in worldly endeavors, like book-keeping. It's not like I've been performing any marriages or done any spiritual counseling in the last three years, so if they want to make it difficult for me to keep my associate, so be it, I'm moving on.

Friday, August 19, 2005

How depressing. I have to come up with a development plan at work. I am actually perfectly happy going on the same way I have been for the last five years, just with more money. I pretty much do what I perceive needs to be done. And I get my satisfaction out of that.
I don't have some other job I would like to do. I am not interested in being a position of power and influence. Just let me keep having fun doing what I am doing.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Bottled water evil? The author of this opinion piece claimed most people couldn't taste the difference between tap water and bottled water. Well, perhaps London, NYC, and San Francisco have tasty water supplies. And, to be honest, until moving to the San Francisco Bay area, I thought buying bottled water was silly, tap water was fine. Until I tasted the nasty stuff that comes out of the taps in some bay area water districts. The last straw was a particular cup of tea made with the tap water in Livermore. I nearly spewed, it was so bad.

I have been filtering the water at home ever since. About 8 cents a gallon for water that I can palate. I don't disagree with that writer's opinion about the wastefulness of bottled water, but perhaps he might want to go on a water tasting tour, what is true in London is not true in Livermore.

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Dog Poop Girl
Short version--her dog shat on the train, she wouldn't pick it up, someone posted her picture on the net.

There were a lot of comments on Schneier's site worried about public humiliation, and cultural norms. What came to mind is that what someone does, the degree to which they practice what they think is "proper" behavior, in many cases depends on who is looking. I think that there is a certain amount of intrinsic morality that a person has, and a certain amount of their behavioral standards are simply an effort to avoid disapproval. I would suppose, like everything else, the line between the two make a bell curve when you look at large populations.

One of the biggest impacts of the shift of populations to cities is the increase in anonymity. What does it matter if those people sitting across from me see me drop my candy wrapper on the floor of the bus. I'll never see them again, anyway. At first, there is a little fear. But then, as no one we know sees us do the little things we were ashamed of before, we lose our shame after a while.

And we come to a world where I can't just let my daughters go out and play with the neighborhood kids, because there are people who have lost their shame about abusing children.

Perhaps the internet and camera-phones can start to restore community standards.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Value and trust in relationships.

I recently had a conversation about someone's issues with his coworkers. The core issue was trust. Didn't seem anybody trusted him.

That caused me to want to pop out of my long hiatus from philosophizing. :)

I've operated off a principle of value in voluntary relationships, over the last few years. In a relationship, you give something to the other person, they give you something back. What you give and what you get can be anything tangible or intangible you can imagine. And, just like any commercial transaction, what you get is worth more to you than what you give, or you wouldn't give it, would you? Would you?

That's it in a nutshell. To go further would sound like a relationship counseling session. Of course, to leave it at that introduces filthy commerce into what should be pure. Pure of what, though. Does feeling better about yourself, does feeling loved, does feeling powerful, does feeling appreciated have value? Depending on the person, yes! Just satisfying one of your instincts is plenty of value. And if you want to build a strong relationship with someone, you have to take the time to find out what they really value.

So, back to my coworker. I've found myself asking on numerous occasions what value I get from him. He buys me lunch once in a while, and we talk about our kids sometimes. That's kind of nice, but it doesn't make me willing to take a bullet for him.

So, we haven't got much basis for a relationship. There is very little trade there. How about the trust? How could I recommend to him that he earn the trust of his coworkers? I saw a very cool blog a few days back, talking about the concept of a marker--in gambling parlance, a promise to pay. (If anybody can point me to the appropriate attribution, I would appreciate it.) Has he promised us anything beyond what is required from his job, and delivered on it. Before I can trust you where I have to do something, you have to show you can be trusted when I am just watching. Make a commitment, and demonstrably keep it. If you do it when it costs you something personally, that makes you that much more trustworthy.

So, how does this coworker earn my trust? He has to make commitments beyond what is required of him by his position, and they have to be commitments that he can be seen to be living up to.

And lest I forget, that commitment, of course, has to be to something that I consider of value. In other words, the commitments he makes have to reflect personal values and principles at least somewhat aligned with mine, or at least the ones I would like to have.

That's about all I have to say on it for now. That clarifies things for me a bit.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

How sad. Just saw the video segment that Jeff Jarvis was in. If not for having listened for a few minutes to Randi Rhodes on Air America, I would have taken it as an isolated incident. The heirs of Rush Limbaugh are everywhere, and liberals now figure prominently in their ranks. "How can you possibly compare these people to Rush Limbaugh?" you ask? There doesn't appear to be any reasoned discourse. Just vicious appeals to negative emotions. The lowest common denominator.

I can remember when I made a radical change in my perspective after hearing a good friend quoting Rush Limbaugh. My mom would listen to the 'conservative' conveyors of hate on the radio. It would make my skin crawl and my ears bleed, and it broke my heart to hear my mom quote that shit as fact.

And now it appears that some liberal commentators have decided that this approach works. It appears that reason. empathy, and civility are becoming increasingly scarce. Jeff Jarvis seems to be so caught up in his antipathy to Bernie Goldberg that he can't seem to see what that video segment would look like to someone who doesn't know any of the people on that show from Adam. Both sides seem to just be preaching to the choir, and have no interest in reasoned discourse, and never entertain the possibility that the other side, no matter how distasteful to them, might have an important contribution to make. No self-reflection. Decisions that get made by the loudest voice are rarely the best decisions, but no one can hear the quiet voices any more, because of the loud ones.

Reflection on yourself: the ability to step outside yourself for a moment, and see yourself as might look to an objective observer. If you can do that, you find yourself trying to minimize how petty you look to that observer. :)

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Revenge of the Sith. No spoilers here, unless you have been living in a hole for the last 20 years. Just voicing a complaint. Is it only crappy acting (Hayden "I can only make this single facial expression" Christensen)? Anakin's "love" for Padme is about as convincing my 350-pound friend's resolve to eat better. Unfortunately, his supposed lust for power is equally unconvincing. He basically comes off as a moody teenager.

I don't know what Lucas was shooting for. I imagine he would like us to have felt a combination of horror, sympathy, and revulsion, as we watched Anakin go down the path to the dark side. Instead, I felt nothing but contempt. Anakin came off as the worst sort of adolescent. Constantly angsty. Complaining about lack of consistency and integrity in others, when he is showing exactly that lack. His actions which should have come off as a result of mind-wrecking worry and hubris just came off as the work of an overpowerful idiot.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Interesting piece: Why smart people defend bad ideas -
I can speak from a certain perspective when I look at this. It's not just cleverness that sometimes carries the argument. Just speaking with apparent certainty goes along way. I know this from having knowingly spouted non-sensical foolishness and having people believe me.

Part of where clever people get you is that you don't want to seem less clever than they are, and there is the biggest trap of all. Even when I am convinced I am much more clever than the person trying to convince me of something questionable, if I have any doubts at all about where they are going, I just tell them I am just not up to their level, and need some things broken down further before we can proceed. Stroking their ego to begin with. Unfortunately, this is usually the set up, because this is where I point out the big hole in the logic, usually. The point, though, is that if you are not trying to defend your image as a smart person, you are less susceptible to clever, yet flawed, reasoning.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

What an idea. Bill Clinton as a big city mayor.