Working Up

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

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Childhood, Adulthood, and Privacy

July 2nd, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Too often I hear adult-to-child language used in discussions of adult privacy.

If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t care if I’m watching.

This is what parents tell small children. I heard it often as a child and I said it often as a parent of then small children.

It seems to be part of the human condition that we transfer adult-to-child words when we move into an adult-to-adult world.

That is too bad. The above is not what adults tell adults in a free society. So if we find persons over 18 years of age telling other persons over 18 years of age the above either someone has stopped being an adult or the society has stopped being free

→ No CommentsTags: Adults · Change · Communication

More Eyeballs

June 29th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The ever decreasing cost of technology enables more people to look at more of our problems. There is hope.

Linus’ Law is disputed as to what it is and who said it and who published it and all those things that come with a quote that is often quoted and misquoted.

I’ll continue the confusion by paraphrasing it:

Given enough eyeballs, all bugs (problems) are shallow (solvable).

Someone out there knows the answer or knows a different approach that makes the answer available with a little (not a lot of) work.

Some technical “availables” include:

  • the ever less expensive computer
  • the ever less expensive health monitor
  • the ever less expensive microscope
  • the ever less expensive telescope
  • the ever less expensive pencil and paper
  • the ever less expensive blog platform
  • and we can go on for quite a while

All these things put more eyeballs on more problems. Perhaps the cure for cancer is coming from an unexpected (unfunded) source in an unexpected place. Wouldn’t it be great if a 13-year-old in Tibet raised her hand with the answer?

So, give that person a second-hand $100 Chromebook and show them how to get a one-month, free-trial of a cloud computing platform. Stand back in wonder.

→ No CommentsTags: People · Problems · Technology

Service as a Service

June 25th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillip

The whatever-as-a-service has gotten a bit out of hand.

I have lost track of where we are in the world of XaaS. Software as a Service was one of the early ones for me. Then I heard of Infrastructure as a Service (does that mean rebuilding roads and bridges? Perhaps not.) I have recently heard of Desktop as a Service. I am not sure what that is, but it has a ring to it.

What else could we put in XaaS? This does get silly after a while, oh wait,

  • Silly as a Service
  • Comedy as a Service
  • Entertainment  as a Service
  • Sports  as a Service
  • Transportation as a Service

Hey didn’t someone already invent all these things? Is this all about hucksters trying to make a buck?

→ No CommentsTags: Fable · Fun · Play


June 22nd, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I post a piece I wrote 20 years ago on a nagging attribute many of us science and engineering types possess.

It happened again the other day at work. Members of my technical group were discussing the possible movement of people within our organization. We all agreed that we did not want any of our members moved out or any “outsiders” moved in.

After all, we said, we are all “experts” or “leaders in our field.” With a few exceptions, “outsiders,” while being nice, worthy people, are novices or can’t meet our standards. (No one in the meeting could produce a copy of our stan- dards, but that is another story.)

Most of our members had fewer than five years of pr fessional experience, but somehow, we had turned new college graduates into “leaders in their field” injust a few years. if we could package and market our on-the-job training program, we could make a fortune.

Afterward, I reflected on the meeting. I have worked with several technical groups in the past 10 years and have attended (too) many similar meetings. I recalled that the other groups’ members referred to some of my current group’s “experts” and “leaders in their field” as novices who were not up to their standards.

Beyond confidence

It seems that each group believes its own people are the best. it is good to have confidence in your people and to promote high self-esteem. What I observed, however, went beyond that. I call the phenomenon technocentrism. I derived the word technocentrism, which means the belief that one’s technical group is superior, from the word ethnocentrism, which means the belief that one’s ethnic group is superior.

Technocentrism operates much like the law of Not Invented Here. That law lets us reinvent the wheel because it wasn’t invented here. However, while it lets us discount things people invented in other places, technocentrism goes one step further. It lets us discount almost everything about almost everyone who doesn’t work in our group. Therefore, we can dismiss their inventions, ideas, speeches, papers, clothes, and even software (Windows 95 versus the Macintosh OS versus OS/2).

Of course, technocentrism lets us selectively dismiss or accept anything related to people who don’t work with us. Sometimes people in other groups do and say things worthy of our attention. After all, random processes can produce freak events now and then. We thus must be aware of the rare exceptions to our usual monopoly on good ideas.

Given technocentrism, how do we explain that groups other than ours exist in a world of competition, budget cuts, and downsizing? We say that life is not fair. Some money and market share will go to other groups dispite their members’ shortcomings. We just have to live with it.

Causes and Remedies

The causes of technocentrism include misdirected praise by management, immaturity, and low self-esteem. We should praise the people we manage, but we should not tell them they are the best. That implies they are better than everyone else. This technocentric view will be accepted after a while by immature people. In addition, it will be quickly embraced by people with low self-esteem, who argue that if everyone here is an expert, and I am here, then I am an expert; therefore, my self-esteem depends on everyone here being an expert.

The consequences of technocentrism for a group are near-term gain and long-term pain or death. In the near term, technocentric group members are on top of the world, believing that they and their products are the best. In the long term, however, they suffer from inbreeding. Their pride prevents them from accepting outside ideas, so they stagnate and become ineffective.

Remedies for technocentrism include the proper use of praise by management, the proper use of pride by the group, and a healthy dose of humility for everyone. Management should praise group members as good engineers who always do their best and who always strive to do better. We should also recognize that their are plenty of good people in other groups with good ideas and products. We need to stand on their shoulders, not their toes. That attitude, not the attitude fostered by technocentrism, is the key to success.

By the way, I borrrowed the concept of technocentrism from the social sciences, so I should acknowledge the anthropologists and sociologists of the world. However, since they are not engineers, I probably won’t. They are nice, worthy people, but they just couldn’t make it in our group.

This appeared in The Open Channel column of IEEE’s Computer, May 1996.

→ No CommentsTags: Culture · People · Technology

Stolen Garbage

June 16th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Someone stole a copy of the OPM database. That database is full of errors. The thieves might make good money with an algorithm that finds and corrects the errors.

Someone recently hacked the OPM database. I am certain that all sorts of good information about me is in that database. I’m not sure what they hackers will do with me and the several million other Americans.

Whoever hacked the database now has to deal with guessing which information in the database is correct. Yes, this may come as a surprise to two extremely naive people in Outer Mongolia, but government databases are full of errors.

Ever had trouble:

  • renewing driver’s license
  • getting your social security check
  • fixing the taxes on your house
  • getting payments on medical bills from health insureance
  • and so on

I can tell a dozen stories of how mistakes in government databases caused me lots of grief. There was the time…never mind.

So, to the hackers who stole a copy of that OPM database, good luck. Now you have to determine what information is correct and what isn’t.

Perhaps you can develop an algorithm to search the world’s social media and find the errors in the OPM database. You would then send the corrections to OPM. You would do millions of us a big favor.

Then you can apply that algorithm to the rest of the error-filled government databases in the US and worldwide. Perhaps you could make some good, honest income by applying your algorithm for the world’s governments. I suppose they would pay you to help find and correct their errors. Nah, that would be to much common sense.

→ No CommentsTags: Competence · Government · Privacy · Security

Economy Requires Neglect

June 15th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Unless we are rich, we neglect those persons and things that are far from the normal. Economy requires neglect; sorry.

In schools, we have big classes. We try to reach the middle of the class, the group near the center of the normal distribution (we used to call this distribution the “bell curve” because it looks like a bell, but then we decided that the term “bell curve” was ugly or something distasteful as if a bell is inherently evil). We neglect those on both ends of the distribution—those who are far ahead and far behind mentally.

This is all we can afford to do

If resources are plentiful, we have special programs for those on  both ends of the distribution as well as those in the middle. If we don’t have the luxury of resources, we can’t act like we do. Well, society shows that I am wrong in that last statement. Perhaps we shouldn’t act as if we have resources that we don’t. Acting as if wishes were reality usually leads to more problems and fewer resources.

Economy requires neglect, sorry.

→ No CommentsTags: Choose · Education · General Systems Thinking · Management

On the Critical Path

June 11th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

If you are on the critical path of a project, you often behave in ways that don’t seem to make sense.

The critical path of a project means a lot of things to different people. Wikipedia has a good explanation of the concept.

One way to think of the critical path is that the entire project team is waiting for you to finish something so they can continue working. If a task on the critical path “slips” a day, the delivery date for the entire project slips a day.

Those one-day slips cost a lot of money.

Hence, when you are working a task on the critical path, time is critical. All other factors are a distant second place. Spend resources to save time. Yes, that includes those resources as well. And yes, those resources, too. Yes, that means you can call whats-his-name to get help and you can call him on Saturday.

And if you are whats-his-name, you approve the payment of overtime so that people will work weekends to reduce slip on the critical path.

And if you are whats-his-name, you will hire someone to cut the grass and pick up the kids after school for the people working the critical path.

And if you are whats-his-name, you will do those other things that you’ve never done before or never thought possible and are not covered by company policies and the laws of common sense.

I suppose that is one reason they call it critical.

→ No CommentsTags: Management · Process

Two Side Notes from Apple WWDC 2015

June 9th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I watched the WWDC speeches on Monday. I noticed two things.

(1) Everyone at Apple is a huge Golden State Warriors basketball fan. Funny, I don’t recall any mentions of that team in any of the past Apple big events. Either I missed those mentions or the Apple folks are phoney jump-on-the-bandwagon types.

(2) Everyone (Apple employees) on stage was slim. No one would be described as obese. Do you have to be slim to star at Apple?

→ No CommentsTags: Apple

Proudly Inefficient

June 8th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Sometimes, we just plain do things that are inefficient by choice for the better.

Sometimes we are going to do some things where we don’t care about scaling to gain efficiency.

Sometimes we won’t video record the talk to play it later to millions of persons.

Sometimes we are going to spend more time than necessary with other persons in small groups.

Sometimes we will strive to be more kind that efficient.

→ No CommentsTags: Authentic · Choose · Integrity · People · Scale

Systems Integration

June 4th, 2015 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Here is another term that people tend to confuse in the world of building and using systems.

I can connect my Panasonic camera to my Apple computer quite easily. Both systems have USB ports. I simply connect the two with a standard USB cable. Wow! Magic!

Who cares?

Now lets consider connecting my Panasonic camera to a new Apple computer that has a USB-C port. Uh, well, look on Google for a gadget that converts USB to USB-C. Right?

Suppose such a converter doesn’t exist, now I have to do systems integration. I get a USB cable and a USB-C cable and cut both of them to expose the wires. I use a little circuit board to connect the correct wires from each cable to one another. I write a device driver for the new Apple computer to understand what is coming across those wires through my custom-made interface board.

That is systems integration: I have integrated or connected two systems that were not built to connect. I made new hardware, software, or both so that the systems would work together. The word new is key. I built something new so that systems would function together.

Installing software on a server without writing new software to make it work, is not systems integration. Connecting any set of devices via USB cables is not systems integration.

Let us use our terms correctly. We are good enough to do such.

→ No CommentsTags: Communication · Systems