Working Up

Working Up in Project Management, Systems Engineering, Technology, and Writing

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The Computer as I/O Device

September 18th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Most of today’s “computers” are nothing but I/O devices to the cloud. Persons like me who use a computer that is in front of us are rare and disappearing.

Here is a little, historical lesson on computing. A computer has three basic parts:

  1. processor
  2. memory
  3. input/output (I/O)

That’s it folks. Nothing else.

Fast forward to our post(post(post(post)))-modern world. Now you can buy a computer for $35.

That computer is more powerful than…yes, it is time for an old person to tell you that the $35, no-name tablet is more power than took us to the moon in 1969 or some other ancient reference about building the pyramids.

Enough history. Today, that computer has one use: I/O. Sure, you can play Flappy Bird or something on it, but its real use is to access the big computer in the sky, a.k.a., the cloud. It seems that 90% of the computers we have today do the same thing: I/O to the cloud. That leaves 9% of the computers to be the cloud, and a little 1% to be actual computers that old persons like me use as computers.

Sometimes it is odd to be old and actually use a computer.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Computing · Technology

Smartphones, Calculators, and Wishing

September 15th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Back in the 1970s, we wished for useful things built into the bodies of our calculators. Today, some of us old persons wish for the same in the bodies of our smartphones.

I was looking at the back of my smartphone. I remember the back of my big Texas Instruments calculator from the late 1970s (yes, I am that old). I am wishing for the same things that I wished for with that TI calculator.

One thing the smartphone has that the calculator didn’t are straight edges. I can place the smartphone on paper and draw a straight line. That is wonderful. Sure, some smart fashion designed put curves on the corners so that I can’t draw right angles, but that’s what you get when they put a fashion designer to work on a technical device.

Here is what the smartphone, and that old calculator, needs:
One one long straight edge, two scales—one inch and one centimeter.
On the other long straight edge, one scale—logarithmic.

These are the same wishes as we had almost four decades ago. We won’t get our wishes now either, but that is the nature of wishing.

→ No CommentsTags: Systems · Technology

How Big is Your Hard Disk?

September 11th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

It seems the last time the title question was asked was when two dinosaurs were chatting while sinking into a tar pit.

I didn’t know the answer to the title question for any of the computers that I use everyday. At one time, not too long ago, that was the preeminent question to ask and know about any computer. I remember when the answer was “ten Megabytes.”

Today, who knows and who cares? All our stuff is stored in a cloud here or there or somewhere. There are a few young dinosaurs I know like my son who has a personal copy of just about every song ever recorded by man on one of his hard disks. He is a young something-or-other that puts him on the outskirts of humanity or some such worthwhile group.

Our photos are on Facebook. Our music is on iTunes. Our words are on WordPress. Everything, in one form or another, is on DropBox or Google Drive (itself a dinosaur having been replaced by Google Docs and Google Sheets and Google something-or-other).

Somebody owns the hard disks that store our lives and aspirations. I have no idea how big those hard disks are or where they are or if they will still be spinning next week.

I miss those good old 360KiloByte floppy disks.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Technology

The Limits of My Authority

September 8th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I have unlimited authority over very few matters. Recognizing all those items for which my authority is quite limited makes my life easier.

A few years ago in a prior universe, I had some authority over matters at work. I played a role in some relatively important decisions. I soon recognized that my role was limited to creating the first draft of a decision. Everyone else in the organization who was “above” me, could change my draft at will.

I had the authority to create the first draft.

After the draft, my job was to change the draft as directed by other persons. At first I resisted all these directed edits. Finally, with some assistance, I learned the limits of my authority.

Knowing my limits was quite liberating.

I had the responsibility to communicate the decision to others, but not the authority to create the decision.

I’ve recently read some memoirs of author Larry McMurtry (see here and here). McMurtry had success both as a novel writer and a screenplay writer. He watched other people change his writing for the screen. He also changed the writing of others for the screen.

He had little heartburn with what people did with his writing. He accepted the limits of his authority. That is not easy to do. I am guessing, since I have never won a Pulitzer, that when you win a Pulitzer you puff out your ego and demand a bit more authority over what those screenwriters do.

Writing is an odd thing to do—especially fiction writing. We make up people and events and such. Then someone else takes our idea and makes up people and events and such.

Peace comes easier, at least for me, when I let the story go.

→ No CommentsTags: Writing

Remote Sensing is Difficult

September 4th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

It is difficult to measure things from a distance. That distance can by in space and it can be in time.

We often attempt to measure things from a distance. We take photos of the ground from 10,000 feet up in the air. We then run through geometric calculations to determine the size of the objects on the ground. We do pretty well most of the time with these.

We use other sensors to measure the chemical content of places that are remote from the sensors. We then estimate what chemicals are present in that remote place. We estimate there is water on the moon and on Mars. Those estimations are “if-fy.” Tell me when we are making coffee with the water we found on the the moon.

We use other sensors to measure what was the temperature of the earth 10,000 years ago. Now I get really “if-fy.” That is a far remote measurement. That is difficult—and that is an understatement.

We user other sensors to determine how dinosaurs walked the earth. We use other sensors to determine the color of dinosaurs. Yikes. Those are remotely sensed items that are, well, I hope you get the point by now.

Remote sensing is difficult. That is the nature of the endeavor. I am hesitant to accept information surmised from data that are remotely sensed. That is my nature, and I feel that my nature is legitimate.

→ No CommentsTags: Estimation · General Systems Thinking · Observation · Technology

The Washington D.C. NFL Team

September 1st, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The locals are resisting the cries for a nickname change. Is anyone surprised with the resistance?

Consider the situation:

  1. You are born in a place.
  2. You grow up there.
  3. You cheer for the home team.

Nothing surprising in how the first two items lead to the third.

One day, some outsiders shout:

The nickname of your home team is evil.

“Evil?” you ask. “What do you mean?”

Before any discussion occurs, those outsiders, in a not-so-subtle manner, also say,

If you cheer for that evil team, you are also evil.

Wait a minute. I was just drinking a cup of coffee and now I am called “evil.” I don’t like that. Who is calling me evil? I protest.

Such is the case with the Washington D.C. NFL team (I won’t print the nickname as that is evil in the opinion of some.). Some people are saying the name is evil. Hence, the team is evil. Hence, the fans of the team are evil. The fans are shocked. And, the fans are opposed to those outsiders and everything they say.

Is anyone surprised at the opposition?

Perhaps those who want the name changed could have used a different approach.

→ No CommentsTags: Adapting · Change · Communication

All Other Things Being Equal

August 28th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Although it is rare that all other things are equal, they can be. This is especially true if there is only one person involved and that one person tries hard.

It is difficult to keep all other things equal. The goal is to change just one thing, and observe what happens in an endeavor. But I can’t change just one thing when there are many people involved. Those other persons won’t freeze their lives for me so I can perform an experiment no matter how wonderful the experiment. And really, those people can’t freeze their lives.

The situation is different when only one person is involved—me. I can keep almost all other things equal. The key is that I try hard, really hard.

Consider losing weight. This is a pretty good example to consider as most people would like to weigh less. At least most people would be healthier if they lost weight.

Here is a weight-loss procedure:

  1. Eat less
  2. Keep other things in your life equal

Many people can do step 1. The trouble is in trying to do step 2 while doing step 1. Exercise just as much. Sleep just as much. Don’t change the type of food you eat, e.g., substitute ice cream for salad.

It is possible to keep all other things equal. It isn’t fun, and that is often the trouble.

→ No CommentsTags: Change

YAGNI and the Common Core

August 25th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

You aren’t going to need it should be applied to the Common Core for education.

I now delve into something for which I evidently have no expertise: arithmetic. I also delve into another topic for which I evidently have no expertise: education. Allow me to preface my ignorant rant by writing that I have a PhD in engineering. I had to attend school some twenty years (lots of education) and perform higher mathematics (of which arithmetic was a part).

The Common Core has come under much criticism. Much of the criticism is not founded in reality. Some of it, however, is. I point to the teaching of arithmetic. I link one article on his matter. There are many more.

The creators of the Common Core in the area of early arithmetic, that taught to kids in 1st and 2nd grades, emphasize factoring. The number 123 can be factored into one-each hundred, two-each ten, and three-each one. Our young arithmetic students are encouraged (or is it required? I forget.) to factor these numbers all the time in basic arithmetic problems. The idea is that when the students reach algebra and other mathematics ten years hence, they will be experienced in factoring and will perform better.

Now we bring in the dastardly YAGNI from that dastardly field of agile development. These dastardly things come not from academia but from the practice of making things work in computing.

YAGNI: You Aren’t Going to Need It

The idea behind YAGNI is to stop fretting about all the possibilities of the future and concentrate on what you need now to make something work now. YAGNI is short sighted because sometimes you will need something in the future, so you should do a lot of work now to prepare for it. The supporters of YAGNI, however, have shown that all that fretting about the future helps you in only a small (like 1%) percent of the time.

Now to YAGNI and the Common Core. The developers of Common Core are correct in asserting that all this factoring over and over again at a young age will help a student factor ten years hence. Those well-meaning persons, however, don’t seem to know much about education reform. The chance that Common Core will still be in use ten years hence are, well, let’s say about 1%.

And then there is the practical matter (ooops). The number of students who will be factoring later in life is, gosh again, about 1%. Those 1% students will be factoring because they are majoring in engineering or some other such science that requires a little bit of higher math. Those persons like math or they wouldn’t be in engineering or some other such science that requires a little bit of higher math. Those persons are good at math or they, well, I trust you get the idea.

Common Core has been pushed by well-meaning persons. It is unfortunate that they didn’t consider YAGNI. At least I think so, and I know a little bit about arithmetic and education.

→ No CommentsTags: Education

Change the Training

August 21st, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

We have a #1 response of any bureaucracy in the 21st century.

Any time a bureaucracy has a flub up (technical term), the response is the same:

We will address this item as we change the training.

This is the #1 response to any situation in the 21st century. Gosh. At least they have training.

This is the hallmark of an organization that has a simple rule #1:

Follow our complex rules to the letter.

This implies simple rule #0:

No individual judgement is allowed on the job.

If an employee does something on the job that embarrasses the organization, that is because the organization did not address that situation in training. (See the US TSA for many examples.) Hence, the organization will change its training to include the unforeseen situation that brought such great embarrassment.

The organization will never, ever, ever (did I mention never?) resort to hiring competent people who can exercise good judgement in the face of such unforeseen circumstances. The organization will never issue policies that guide employees in unforeseen circumstances. The organization’s senior managers are brilliant enough to foresee all possible unforeseen circumstances. That is until one tiny unforeseen circumstance sneaks out of some hidden crack and occurs in public to great embarrassment.

Oh, well. Let’s all be a bit more forgiving of organizations. It is difficult to train non-thinking persons for every circumstance.

Then again, maybe organizations should attempt to hire thinking persons who can judge what to do.

Here is a policy to try:

Treat people with dignity.

The earth will not stop spinning if you do so.

→ No CommentsTags: Change · Education · Employment · Thinking

Resistance as a Resource

August 18th, 2014 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

When people resist me, they are telling me something. Am I listening?

Dale Emery is an acquaintance of mine. I owe the topic of this blog post to him. See here and here.

When people resist me, they are telling me something. That something is valuable information. I can ignore the information or use it. I can be ignorant or informed.

Why would I choose to be ignorant?

Oooops, there is information there as well. Sometimes I do choose to be ignorant. I don’t want to know (1) that other people disagree with me and (2) there is a reason why other people disagree with me. I want to wander down the road believing I am right and there is no other way but mine. Oh foolish me.

Back to the topic at hand. People resist me for a reason. There is something they value that my direction is threatening or lessening. What is that? Why is that important to them? What can I learn from that? How can I combine what I wish with what they value?

Those are a few valuable questions that I can ask. If I can find the answers, well, I would be more knowledgeable and maybe improve my little corner of the world.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication