Joho the BlogApril 2017 - Joho the Blog

April 20, 2017

Mail from Xpeditr

Xpeditr has really overestimated the size of my wine cellar.

wine cellar

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April 19, 2017

Alien knowledge

Medium has published my long post about how our idea of knowledge is being rewritten, as machine learning is proving itself to be more accurate than we can be, in some situations, but achieves that accuracy by “thinking” in ways that we can’t follow.

This is from the opening section:

We are increasingly relying on machines that derive conclusions from models that they themselves have created, models that are often beyond human comprehension, models that “think” about the world differently than we do.

But this comes with a price. This infusion of alien intelligence is bringing into question the assumptions embedded in our long Western tradition. We thought knowledge was about finding the order hidden in the chaos. We thought it was about simplifying the world. It looks like we were wrong. Knowing the world may require giving up on understanding it.

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April 12, 2017

The CluePlane Manifesto

(An unauthorized, unapproved homage to The Cluetrain Manifesto).
bi-plane

A powerful global reaccommodation has begun. Corporations are rediscovering themselves in their muscular masculinity. For we are the makers, the takers, and above all else, we are the winners. Customers, employees, the needy, the vulnerable are, by definition, the losers. Each one of them would gladly trade their seat for one of the tufted leather chairs in our CEO’s office. Instead, make sure your pathetic seatbacks are returned to their upright position, your trays are stowed, and you’re buckled in. For this is your pilot speaking, and we’re ready to fly the friendly skies of “PUT YOUR HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM, MOTHERFUCKER!”

  1. Markets are reaccommodations.

  2. There’s the crew and there’s the screwed. Deal with it.

  3. When jack-booted thugs rough up paying passengers and drag them from your plane, it’s time for the CEO to step up and declare that there’s two sides to every story.

  4. There’s no customer need that cannot be met by a bag of off-brand peanuts.

  5. Customers of course have rights. But only once they have lawyers.

  6. Think of it like this: Boarding a airplane is like opening a shrink-wrapped product, an act that involuntarily voids all your rights. Except boarding a plane means also giving up the shreds of human dignity we didn’t already strip from you during the nudie scan, the TSA ritual ball or tit squeeze, the routine totally un-profiled examination of the darker-hued among us, the lack of sufficient seats in the boarding area, the unexplained delays, and the segregation into social strata announced over the PA. Also, I think we may have missed a spot in your rectum.

  7. Costs have gone up while fuel prices and basic services have gone down, yet more and more people are flying. Therefore, passengers must love us more than ever. You can’t argue with math!

  8. Virtually no other industry uses overbooking as a routine best practice because they don’t love their customers are much as we do.

  9. “First they came for my free crappy meal, and I said nothing. Then they came for my carry-ons, and I said nothing. Then they just said ‘Fuck it’ and came for the guy sitting next to me and dragged him off the plane by the ankles. And I said something, and I video-ed it and I posted it.” Sorry, I couldn’t hear you. I’ve got a corporate reputation to maintain.

  10. Every act of corporate brutality can be fixed by combining the power of euphemism with the audacity of neologism, catalyzed by a really expensive blue suit.

  11. It’s great to know that we’re making our employees so proud! Right, gang? Gang?

  12. Hey, it’s us against them, where “them” are the customers, right, gang? Oh, c’mon, gang, quit kidding around!

  13. You know who’s the victim here? The shareholders. How about some sympathy for them, eh?

  14. Y’know, it’d be a lot easier for us to fly empty planes and not have to deal with you all. You’re welcome. Ingrates.

  15. Hey, catch! Here’s your guitar. Sorry-not-sorry for the crushing.

  16. Have a bag of last year’s peanuts, on us.


Notes

1. No official affilliation with Cluetrain.

2. Thanks to Frank Scavo (@fscavo) and Alan Lepofsky (@alanlepo) for the prod and the idea.

3. Also posted at Medium

4. Photo posted to Pixabay by JayClark1. CC0 – Public Domain.

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April 11, 2017

There goes that paradox!

“There is nothing that has not already been said on the Internet” has zero hits at Google. Until now.

For I am the Destroyer of Paradoxes.

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April 6, 2017

Not everything broken is in beta


CC-BY Kevin Gessner https://www.flickr.com/
photos/kevingessner/3379877300

A White House official has blamed the bumpiness of the ride so far on the White House being in “beta.” This has provoked Jennifer Pahlka — the founder and Executive Director of Code for America and a US Deputy Chief Technology under President Obama — to respond with heartfelt despair, worried that the tools she and her cohort brought to the Obama White House are now being used against all that that cohort accomplished.

It pains me to think that Pahlka, who is a hero of mine, has any regrets or fears about the after-effects what she has done for this country. For the foreseeable future, I think she need not worry about how the Trump administration is using the tools and mindset her cohort introduced to the White House. “This new administration lacks the understanding, competency, and value system to use those tools.”This new administration lacks the understanding, competency, and value system to use those tools.

Here’s the passage she cites from a New Yorker article
:

But, on Friday morning, Mike Allen, Axios’s editor-in-chief, reported that one of the officials in the meeting “views the Trump White House in terms that could be applied to the iterative process of designing software. It’s a beta White House.”

Allen went on, “The senior official . . . said the White House was operating on similar principles to the Trump campaign: ‘We rode something until it didn’t work any more,’ the official said. ‘We recognized it didn’t work, we changed it, we adjusted it and then we kind of got better . . . [T]his was much more entrepreneurial.’ In the White House, he said, ‘we’re going to keep adjusting until we get it right.’ ”
— John Cassidy, “The Keystone Kops in the White House” The New Yorker

“Beta” means “We rode something until it didn’t work any more”?? No, this official is describing what happens when you wake up one day and find out that your DVD burner is no longer supported by the latest upgrade to your operating system. That’s the opposite of “beta.”

The White House isn’t in beta. It’s in freefall.

Nevertheless, this passage bothers Jen because she and her colleagues used to say the same things about making incremental improvements when they were in the White House working to fix Healthcare.gov, the student loan process, and so much more. She writes:

Trump’s team is using the language of agile development to describe how they will strand millions of Americans without healthcare and ban Muslims from entering the country….

What are agile methods without the moral core of the movement for 21st century government, a commitment to users, aka the American people? My heart hurts so much I’m not sure my head is working quite right, and I don’t know if this bizarre application of agile methodologies is a farce or frighteningly effective.

Yes, agile programming can be used for evil purposes, but I don’t think Jen’s cohort should feel they carelessly left a weapon lying around the White House. The Trump administration lacks agile programming’s implicit understanding of how the future works, its theory or change, and its implied values. That’s why, at least so far, “the Trump White House is so non-agile that it’s not even the opposite of agile”the Trump White House is so non-agile that it’s not even the opposite of agile.

Agile software development is characterized by at least two relevant ideas: First, big projects can be chopped into smaller units that can be developed independently and often simultaneously. Second, agile projects are iterative, proceeding by small steps forward, with occasional small steps backwards. Both of these points stand in opposition to the prior “waterfall” approach?—?so-called because he project diagram looks like a series of cascading waterfalls?—?in which the steps for the entire project are carefully mapped out in advance.

To paint the differences too starkly, waterfall development is about command and control. Somebody maps out the flow, dates are assigned to the major phases, and managers make sure the project is “on track.” An agile project is instead about trust and collaboration. It breaks the software product into functional units — modules — each with an owner. The owner is trusted to build a module that takes in data in an agreed-upon format, operates on it, and outputs the result in an agreed-upon format. These independent module developers have to work closely with all the others who are relying upon their work, whether a module figures out what permissions a user has, determines if an arrow has hit its target in a game, or confirms that landing gear have been fully extended.

Agile development therefore cedes control from the Big Boss to the people most directly responsible for what they’re building. It needs a team — more exactly, a collaborative community?—?in which each person:

  • Understands precisely she needs to do

  • Understands how what she produces will serve everyone else’s input and output requirements

  • Can be trusted to get the job done well?—?which means getting it right for everyone else

  • Is in close communication with everyone relying upon her module and upon which hers relies

  • Understands the overall goal of the project

As far as anyone can tell from the outside, exactly none of this applies to the current White House.

Second, agile development is iterative?—?a series of small changes because it assumes that you cannot fully predict how exactly the end product will work, or even what exact functionality it’s going to provide. That is, agile development assumes that life, the universe, and all that are so complex that precisely planning a project from beginning to end requires an act of arrogance that borders on stupidity. And measuring the success of a project by its micro-adherence to a fixed schedule in a world that is changing around it rewards stubbornness over serving end-users as well as possible.

Now, Donald Trump’s preference for deal-making over policy
aligns with iteration’s acceptance that “the future is not the next card in the deck but is what we make of our hand”the future is not the next card in the deck but is what we make of our hand. But Trump’s style of deal-making is based on the superior skill of the individual (Donald), a ruthless commitment to “winning,” and is all about one big step?—?the end result?—?not a series of small changes. Ultimatums of the sort that Trump issued once he saw he was losing the health care battle are the opposite of the incrementalism of iteration. An iterative approach is exemplified by the Democrats’ approach: Let’s tinker with Obamacare to fix what needs fixing.

So, Trump’s White House is anything but agile.

But neither is it proceeding through a waterfall approach, for that requires a commitment to an end result, a rational and realistic understanding of the steps necessary to get there, and well-coordinated managers who are all on the same page. The Trump White House does have a commitment to end results, expressed as mob-inciting campaign promises that are often at the sweet spot where delusion and heartlessness intersect on the Venn diagram of policy-making. Beyond that, this White House exhibits none of the processes, commitments, or accountability that are the hallmark of waterfall development.

Jen’s cohort left tools the White House can’t use because it lacks agile development’s understanding of how change happens and agile’s fundamental trust in its community of practitioners. In short, Jen’s cohort brought a community to a knife fight.

Posted also at Medium.

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