CC-BY Kevin Gessner https://www.flickr.com/
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.
Tagged with: agile
Date: April 6th, 2017 dw
Since I was 21 years old, I’ve gone through long stretches where I have “run” outside for exercise — in quotation marks because I am passed by people who are running so slowly that I feel bad for them until I remember that they passed me. I’ve gone years running infrequently, and then other years I’ll run 3-6 days a week. But three things have been consistent throughout this: I don’t like running, I always run the same set route, and I have always run for distance, not for time: I set a course and don’t care how quickly I complete it.
That’s almost true. I care enough that I time my runs, but I don’t try to run faster in order to beat yesterday’s time. It’s just a little bit of long-term quantified knowledge that gives me a rough indication of what sort of shape I’m in as a jogger.
Beyond that smidge of data, I have gone out of my way to be data-free about my route. I don’t know how long it is. I therefore don’t know how long it takes me to run a mile. I therefore don’t know where the halfway point is, or the quarter markers. (My route’s a loop, so the halfway point is not obvious.)
My Pebble smartwatch is declining, so I looked for a running app on my phone. The one I rather randomly chose gathers info beyond the duration of the run, but I just wasn’t thinking well about it when I plugged in my my headset, picked some upbeat music, and set off this morning.
“You’ve run one mile,” said the woman’s voice in my ear when I was a block away from the pond. I cannot unhear where the first mile marker is. And because I didn’t want to stop to fiddle with the app, I also know where the second mile marker is. And I know my home is 0.03 miles short of being the third mile marker. I also know how fast I run.
I don’t want to know any of this, although the distance and my speed are both a little better than I would have guessed. So, yay for being marginally less pathetic than I’d thought?
The real problem is knowing where those mile markers are.
I’ve tried lots of other sorts of exercise, and I haven’t stuck with any of them. They’re too boring, they take too long to get to, or — this is the crucial one — they involve counting. How many laps? How many reps? Am I at the twenty minute mark yet? It’s not the numbers that bother me. It’s knowing that there’s some knowable quantity I have to complete in order to be done. Doing a countable exercise is like watching a clock tick. You want to slow down time? Pay attention to it.
Running wasn’t like that. Now it will be. I’ll know when I’m at the one-third mark, and, more to the point, I’ll know when I haven’t even reached the one-third part. This little bit of data turns the entire run into a set of tasks that must be accomplished in sequence — a set of tasks that at any moment during the run I know have not yet fully accomplished.
For the past forty-five years, I’ve managed to run with some regularity by running through space. Now I’m running through time, and that takes much longer.
Tagged with: exercise
• quantified self
Date: March 25th, 2017 dw
My site has been down while I’ve tried to figure out (i.e., google someone else’s solution) to a crash caused by WordFence, an excellent utility that, ironically, protects your WordPress blog from various maladies.
The problem is severe: Users of your blog see naught but an error message of this form:
Fatal error: Unknown: Failed opening required ‘/home/dezi3014/public_html/wordfence-waf.php’ (include_path=’…/usr/lib/php /usr/local/lib/php’) in Unknown on line 0
The exact path will vary, but the meaning is the same. It is looking for a file that doesn’t exist. You’ll see the same message when you try to open your WordPress site as administrator. You’ll see it even when you manually uninstall WordPress by logging into your host and deleting the wordfence folder from the wp-content/plugins folder
If you look inside the wordfence-waf.php file (which is in whatever folder you’ve installed WordPress into), it warns you that “Before removing this file, please verify the PHP ini setting `auto_prepend_file` does not point to this.”
Helpful, except my php.ini file doesn’t have any reference to this. (I use MediaTemple.com as my host.) Some easy googling disclosed that the command to look for the file may not be in php.ini, but may be in .htaccess or .user.ini instead. And now you have to find those files.
At least for me, the .user.ini file is in the main folder into which you’ve installed WordPress. In fact, the only line in that file was the one that has the “auto_prepend_file” command. Remove that line and you have your site back.
I assume all of this is too obvious to write about for technically competent people. This post is for the rest of us.
Tagged with: n00bs
Date: February 1st, 2017 dw
For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have bore the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered but the jobs left and the factories closed.
So said Pres. Trump in his inaugural address, identifying the perpetrators of the Bladerunner-esque hellscape he depicted.
It’s not clear who he means. That’s worrisome.
The “rewards of government” Trump has in mind seem to be monetary, since in the next sentence he talks about wealth, and in the one after that he contrasts prospering politicians with factory workers who have lost their jobs.
So, who does Trump thinks is this shadowy group that has controlled our nation for their own personal monetary profit? Obama and his administration? Especially in terms of personal enrichment, the Obama years were the cleanest in my lifetime. And, of course, Trump’s poised to be the most corrupt in terms of self-enrichment.
It makes me nervous when politicians blame a small unnamed group that controls the country and does so for personal monetary benefit. Sounds like a dogwhistle to me, especially when an anti-Semitic white racist is the president’s chief strategic adviser.
I’m struggling to make sense of this particular paranoid conspiracy theory. I’m only coming up with one answer.
Tagged with: trump
Date: January 23rd, 2017 dw
United Airline’s new app let’s you watch free entertainment on flights on your Android or IoS device. But it wants to know a lot about you first:
Some find that a tad intrusive. Not at all. Let me explain why…
You’re watching a movie on the new United in-flight app when suddenly a perfectly groomed middle-aged white man in an expensive suit and a carefully cropped goatee stands up and announces that the plane is now under his control. He turns his palms up, and one by one six young men rise from their seats spaced throughout the plane. Their dark faces are covered by bandanas so that all you can see are their dark eyes and dark skin. One of them coughs in Arabic.
All of your instincts, honed by years in a service known by a three-letter acronym that no one knows, not even you, come into play.
You gently swipe your thumb, scarred and weary from your many exploits, across your iPhone7™ on which you had been watching a movie, using United’s revolutionary YouScreen Personal Full Entertainment System — the Home of the Whopper — revealing what to the shapely white woman in the seat next to yours appears to be a game of Ultimate Fighter. The quizzical but charmed look on her face says she’s thinking it’s an odd time to play a game. But you know better.
Click left-right-right-up-up-A-left-D-down-right-down-down-up-A-A-B-A and … you’re in.
YouScreen slides a special screen in front of its usual friendly GUI. The YouScreen ATM (Anti-Terrorist Mode) displays blinky data and little fiddly bits against a camo background. It does a quick matrix analysis and reports on all non-white passengers currently not activating their AIS (Ass In Seat) sensor.
The YouScreen’s map reveals that the one closest to you, in seat 16B, has some Arabic name that sounds all the same to you, lives in, let’s say, Iran, has been treated for cardiac arrhythmia, and during the flight watched two Jennifer Aniston movies and an episode of “Touched by an Angel.” He is clearly the weak point where you can begin.
But then you notice something interesting. YouScreen tells you that the man standing at the front of the plane is Fritz Deutscher, a German national. YouScreen reports that his phone is filled with TED Talks about leading through intimidation, and that he recently searched for “shoe inserts that embiggen you.” You can see that on his calendar are weekly therapy appointments, and twice weekly tanning sessions. There are daily skype calls to and from his mother with an average her-to-him talk time ratio of 14:1. Herr Deutscher may look tough, but is quite insecure.
You have the YouScreen ATM call Deutscher’s mobile using the special ring tone he’s set for his mother. As he lifts it to his face, you have it take a selfie, knowing that the lighting in the plane is low enough to trigger the flash. He is just for a moment dazed, confused — why is Mutti calling him in his moment of triumph? Why can’t he ever satisfy her? — and blinded.
You are out of your seat. Within moments you have subdued the terrorists.
Humbly waving off the cheers from the rest of the passengers, you slip back into your seat. The white woman next to you touches your hand. You go back to your movie.
And that movie is … Die Hard. Or maybe Air Force One. Something self-knowing and ironic. Doesn’t matter.
You see, ladies and gentlemen, it’s all for your safety and convenience.
Date: November 6th, 2016 dw
I found this on Reddit. Can you tell what it is?
Click on the black stripe to find out: The gear that drives a lawn sprinkler
Tagged with: puzzle
Date: October 14th, 2016 dw
Here are wordclouds, generated by WordClouds, for the entire debate last night, and for Clinton and Trump. Here’s the transcript.
By the way, according to the tool at Planetcalc, Trump used 1,162 unique words; Clinton used 1,242. According to Readability-Score, Trump spoke at a 7.6 grade level, while Clinton spoke at a 9.0 grade level. Yay for democracy.
Date: October 10th, 2016 dw
Click to enlarge
Tagged with: hoax
Date: October 3rd, 2016 dw
Hillary Clinton’s tech policy is progressive. This doesn’t surprise me because the techies she has surrounded herself with understand the Internet not only as an information system but as a democratizing, person-to-person, many-to-many, cultural force.
Her policy brief, however, is long and detailed. No, of course you won’t agree with everything in it. Me neither. But that’s how politics works, and how it’s supposed to work.
So I decided to try to reduce the policy down to a more manageable scale, starting with a bumpersticker and working my way up. It’s here.
If you care about the cyber, vote.
Tagged with: hillary
Date: September 30th, 2016 dw
The Clinton campaigned apparently auditioned a bunch of celebrities to stand in for Trump as she practices debating him. I somehow managed to get the transcripts of their auditions. They include, perhaps surprisingly, Louis CK, Bryan Cranston, Quentin Tarantino, and some others.
You can read the full transcripts here.
Tagged with: hillary clinton
Date: September 22nd, 2016 dw
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