All posts for the month March, 2011

Shock, horror – Top Gear drove car aggressively during track test ?!? I actually thought the Tesla came out really (really) well in that test, absolutely no surprise the practical economics and reliability couldn’t stand that kind of thrashing, but it was actually possible to thrash it. How dumb do Tesla believe the market is ? I seriously researched one as a result. At least Clarkson didn’t attach an outboard motor and sink it or let Hammond launch it off a ski-jump.

Talking of energy, was there ever any doubt over Tepco writing-off the Fukushima plants the day they chose to turn the salt-water cooling hoses on them ?

And, still talking of energy, I see the Oil&Gas Co’s are reviewing UK North Sea investment project economics following last week’s UK budget. Yes, the cost changes affect the project economics, but I love this remark

“… the new combined tax rate faced by Statoil would be 62% of its UK profits, compared with a rate of 78% levied by the Norwegian government in its home market.”

I’m in a genuine quandary. I’m a big advocate of UK electoral reform (both houses), but I cannot see myself voting yes in the upcoming referendum, (same as I cannot see me supporting the idea of popular votes for the second house).

The AV system proposed remains a first-past-the-post system. There is weighted value for first, second, third preferences (*), but the winner takes all. No changes to constituencies of representation, no proportionality, no balance, no shared responsibility. Still open to gerrymandering of constituencies too. And by all accounts, the actual weightings proposed look like barely changing outcomes for any previous election scenarios. Most people still end up governed / represented by someone they didn’t vote for, so criticising “them” politicians remains the default stance for most of “us” citizens. Sigh. If anything I suspect it will increase tactical vote-splitting incentives too. At least it looks like a minimum turnout limit on the vote being valid – best thing maybe not to vote (can’t believe myself) or turning up and spoiling the paper in a no-confidence vote perhaps the best option.

And in the supreme irony, the referendum itself is a simplistic yes / no first-past-the-post vote itself, one choice. No “No, buts” or “No, because”, “My preference is” … no alternatives, nothing, nada. Like the latest census, a total waste of valuable public resources, eliciting minimal valuable information in return, at a time when we can least afford it.

Point missed; opportunity missed. What do you think ?

[Post Note : (*) I should be clear. The AV systems proposed – is indeed still a first past the post system – but the counting does not involve weighting of the preferences per se, rather reallocation of last place based on your preferences until the first place gets over 50% of those equally weighted votes cast – the winning post is 50% rather than a simple majority and the first past it wins – clear FPTP. In a sense the winner will in fact represent a greater number of people who voted for them – albeit with lower preferences – which is indeed a step in a progressive direction, but I’m guessing there can be no enforcement of people having to express additional preferences beyond their first choice, so the difference may be even more marginal and open to tactical considerations. This single referendum issue really depends on a holistic view of how people genuinely feel enfranchised (or not) by constituencies and parties at local and national levels, including both houses and head of state at the national level. The whole thing needs a plan or strategy longer than a single electoral cycle. The psychological (hence tactical / strategic game-play interaction) complexity is real, no matter how much Hurd and others rant the banal matra of  the single vote FPTP being simplest and anything else requiring “higher maths”. Fixing the enfranchisement is the core issue. If people cast their single (simple) vote but still believe all politicians are “dickheads” they can disown when they disagree, then we have a problem that needs fixing. I don’t think we’d like the alternatives to democracy. What was it Churchill said ?]

Dame Judy Dench voiceover for Daniel Craig in drag for international women’s day a couple of weeks ago makes it’s own point.

Love the comment thread ironies. The usual trolls and neanderthal misogynists and gay-bashers, but the idea that Sean Connery wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress sparked the Zardoz memory (nightmare surely) – and lo, Zardoz crops up in the thread too. Faith restored.

Falmer has been coming for so long, that most of us (away fans) have despaired of it ever becoming a reality – even the Seagulls home announcer. I still dislike modern all-seater stadia, and I seriously miss the away end terraces at Chesterfield, Colchester, Cambridge, anywhere beginning with C, but Brighton’s Withdean has to have been the pits of the pits.

Well you can see the future for yourself now. Now if (if ? when !) Brighton get promoted, and we don’t …

I commented on a post of Johnnie Moore’s a couple of weeks ago, along the line of meme’s being mimicked by their own analogue, genes – as funghi, bacteria, virus infections, etc – affecting (human) host brain behaviour. The cordyceps fungal infections of insects are used by Dennett to illustrate meme behaviour.

Over the weekend another post from Neurophilosophy along the same lines. The common ground is the bacteria causing risk-taking behaviour in the host species (rats & mice) – correlation – which may or may not improve the propagation of the parasite’s genes ?

In all these cases, particularly the given viral language of infections, it’s important not to fall into the trap of assuming the arrangement is necessarily bad for the host (individual or genes), just because it is good for the visitor’s genes. Parasites can be symbiotic.

Galen Strawson describing his four level view of free will, ends up describing it as a proof of a problem between free-will and determinism, whereas it is the solution IMHO.

  • If I am responsible for my decisions and actions, then that responsibility is somehow related to what I am, the set of resources available to me to make my decision.
  • But if that’s the case then I need to have responsibility for what I am. (Because, if what I am were purely pre-determined or randomly defined externally, then that external decided resource would be the basis of any decision I make. I couldn’t be held responsible for either me or my decisions.)
  • But if I am taking responsibility for what I am, I must have previously been making decisions towards being / becoming what I am (and knowing what I should need to be).
  • But if that’s the case …. those decisions were based on what I am (was) … etc.

Sounds like infinite regress – well Duh ! Yes, but no.

It’s a Hofstadter strange-loop, a generator, iterating on each cycle, the very basis of evolving morality, evolving anything. Freedom evolves to give us elbow room as Dennett puts it.

All the usual stuff – Libet et al. Actually, not a bad edition of In our Time, the panel coming down on the idea that free-will is NOT incompatible with determinism. They are both real. There is a “wholist” holistic view needed of the person making any decision – whole of physiology and system physiognomy (including whole of nervous system, endocrine, etc …), and whole of evolved life, both species and individual “mind”. No homunculus or ghost-in-the-machine representing my mind, just the whole me.

Frustrating that Melvin never seems to join up the dots or gets past the naive stance of either / or. Getting there, though.

Leon sent me a link to this paper a couple of years ago, to which I responded “interesting” – he knows I’m interested in memes. I didn’t actually read beyond the title until today.

The essence of memes is that there is something “self-serving” about patterns of information (*1) which is independent of any rationally intended human purposes in using them. The same is as true of (say) project management procedures and practices as it is of any rational processing of information – my agenda is that this is a problematic feature of management and governance in the most general sense, not just businesses and projects, any decision-making-to-act process, knowledge-management practices, even the rational domain par-excellence science itself. So I have no doubt about the problems of failing to see the memetic aspect of project management activities – it’s is of course where my concerns began in Oil & Gas industry and Information Management projects, 15 or 20 years ago – the reason I’ve been blogging since blogging was invented …. but this is not about me.

In fact none of this is new in management circles, just the new(ish) memetic language, and part of the problem now is that memetics itself is contentious to some people (*1). But even without memetics, the idea that decision-rationality = action-irrationality has been part of action-science management theories (eg Argyris / Brunsson et al) and probably longer before that with (say) Parker-Follett – guru to the gurus in management.

In any “professional” management situation it is difficult (anathema) to suggest that doing a rational thing is the irrational (wrong) thing to do. You’re mad, surely. “Before we make this decision to act, we should study and agree upon this issue – right ?” Wrong. Act and experience the outcomes (with “care”, in the knowledge of the issue). It’s been called analysis-paralysis for years, but it’s not just “analysis”, it’s following any rational, objective process that delays action, because it is the action that provides experience. Experience is worth more than theory, in practice.

Performing rational (project) management analyses, modelling and management decision-making processes tends to lead to more (project) management activities – ie self-serving – rather than achieving the value-adding goals of the enterprise or project. (IT / IM projects, particularly new, integrated business and/or government (civil or defense) systems, are often legendary in terms of project failure, however they are actually post-rationalized. Not surprisingly there are newer “agile” IT project management processes that force the action and feedback cycle milestones.)

(*1) Patterns of information, known as memes because they are copied (not the other way around), come in many levels; patterns (upon patterns) upon patterns of information (statically defined) and patterns (upon patterns) of their (dynamic) relations, procedures, patterns of use, communication and processing. Because genes – the biological analogue of memes – are based on 4-bases (*2) and n-chromosomes in any given species (*3), there is a popular misconception that genetic copying in biological reproduction is well defined in terms of atomically discrete “digital” genes, whereas memes are somehow more woolly – anything from a single word representing an identifiable concept to the whole idea of ideas, concepts, interpretations, representations even internet crazes, fashions, cultural patterns (even whole religions and cultures) etc. Many people baulk at the idea that “cultural units” (memes) can be considered as discretely as “biological units” genes. Now, reducing things to discrete objects (genes or memes, or anything else) is part of a wider issue, but genes and memes, their own definitions and the processes and patterns involving their transmission and reproduction are equally complex and ultimately flaky – just equally useful in describing the processes involved – information processing processes both (*4). The analogy is in fact a very good one. It’s about what IS copied and communicated, not prescriptive about what they should be, or how they might be represented when communicated and processed. Naturally, simpler patterns of information (memes or genes) – patterns of information which are simpler to represent – are communicated, processed (and replicated) more easily, so unsurprisingly discrete objects are much more “popular” than complex patterns of information – another self-serving aspect. Simple ideas rule, but often simple may be dumb.

(*2) Even the 4 DNA / RNA bases are not in any sense absolute. They just happen to be the basis of the most prevalent and most studied organic biological forms. Other biochemical possibilities exist. And of course even in R/DNA based life, there are many other non-R/DNA cell structures involved in the processes too. Doesn’t change the essential pragmatic truth of genetic reproduction.

(*3) And even the definition of a discrete species is highly context dependent and controversial when it comes down to it. Different definitions are accepted for different practical purposes.

(*4) Objective reductionism is full of contentious topics when it comes to more subjective things like free-will and consciousness, but this is true even at the most fundamental levels of physics too. Arguments in these topics need to be conducted extremely carefully – avoiding “misplaced-objectivity” and “greedy reductionism” – more self-serving memes.

[Need to come back and link to the implied sources throughout.]

[Post Note : Existentialism and Evolutionary Psychology – Heidegger, Foucault, Dennett and many more in Jon Whitty’s project management presentations. A man after my own.]