All posts for the month July, 2011

8 years ago(!) – referring to Feedster aggregating RSS feeds which may themselves include their own feeds, I was already referring to a previous reference, presumably from pre-blogging days with cross-posting between email bulletin boards – I suggested the web could spiral into being clogged up with subscriptions that automated my feed from you, if your subscriptions included an automated feed from me. Follow-me, Follow-you, Like-me, Like-yours, +1-mine, +1-yours,  …

Would ISP’s detect and intercept the circularity or would the world’s web resources simply be consumed to a standstill ? And at what speed could it happen, where would instability lie ?

I was reminded of this by a series of older posts dribbling through from a fellow blogger into my Facebook profile today – we both use various WordPress to Twitter to Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn to to Google+ to … you name it, and clearly several of mine refer to several of his. Don’t panic, but ….

Can’t help seeing parallels between NotW Phone Hacking (#hackgate) affair and the BP Macondo disaster.

It’s about management communications. Clearly multiple layers of management are there to share the load, not to communicate upwards (beyond reporting) every piece of information and decision with which they are involved. They are employed to “deal with it”, and good upper managers delegate to them for that reason.

To some degree as well as the efficiency aspect of the division of labour, there is an element of legitimate “plausible deniability” (*), sharing responsibilities too. Hierarchically lower staff cannot shed responsibility simply by communicating upwards. The buck stops with the responsible. In normal running, things can’t really work any other way. The question is how to spot when things are going wrong, going wrong on a scale that might effectively “bet the whole company”, and raise the communications accordingly. (Same in the Met, same in NewsCorp, same in BP)

Continuing the Parliamentary Committee in real time :

Tom Watson – interviewing Rupert Murdoch – is unfairly insisting he answer “why” questions about decisions made or not made in the operating companies. Murdoch is very patiently trying to answer them, but clearly his son is better placed to respond. Watson should focus on questions of “what” Rupert knew and when, before pursuing why. I agree with Alan Sugar tweeting!/Lord_Sugar that the guy is pointlessly trying to humiliate the old man …

Much better line of questioning by Phillip Davies MP to James Murdoch. And Alan Keen hits the nail on the head with the question of what kinds of thing do have to be reported upwards … and James Murdoch comes back with the scale of the business and delegation issues (above) … hope this line gets pursued further.

Damian Collins too puts is finger on the communication culture question – people communicating what their manager “want” to hear – Rupert correctly pointing it it’s a manager’s job to see through that. Of course the conspiracy theorists want to find all sorts of pre-meditated strategies and cover-ups, but experience says, these will be communications cock-ups, that need to be understood and solved.

Oh and here we go … protester attacks Rupert with a plate of shaving foam … and his wife clocks the perp in the face. Bloody shambles. Well done to all for continuing after only 10 mins break …

And Louise Mensch too hits the right note – culture inured to long-standing illegal blagging and hacking of “fair-game” people in public life (as old as competitive free journalism surely), overstepped into the domain of innocents and victims …

I honestly don’t believe either of the Murdoch’s knew anything or were kept from knowing anything they expected to know, at the time.

Rebekah Brooks coming up …

Now Tom Watson’s questions much better directed, at what we might expect the editor to know – but again hindsight confusing him as he asks questions about the period before she was editor as well.

So much focus now in the use of PI’s and covert means. See separate post on legitimacy.

(*) The illegitimate equivalent of plausible deniability is “wilful blindness” – deliberately ignoring the availability of information you should know. There is a strange sense in the world of social media that because everything can be communicated everybody “should” know everything, whereas reality still demands a “need to know” approach. Clearly, Murdoch is embarrassed to admit there was indeed a good deal more he should have known.

Post Note – the implications about larger and smaller out-of-court settlements – all would have been nominally “confidential” sure, but some people – with Max Clifford on their side – were clearly much better at negotiating the value of any given settlment. The NewsCorp agreement to settle would always have been on legal advice that it was case they would be likely to lose – the actual amount would then have been a negotiation, which probably bore little relation to any “damage” in the content of the case. Again I suspect Murdoch junior is being pretty honest.

I’ve been listening to the parliamentary committee interviews of the Police in connection with the #hackgate affair. Stephenson the recently resigned commissioner, Fedorcio the director of public affairs, and Yates the recently resigned deputy chief police officer.

I have to say they all sound professional and their integrity pretty sound. Yates had already stated the decision to employ Wallis was “crap” with hindsight. Fedorcio clearly squirmed when asked to explain that he got a personal recommendation from Yates to support his “due diligence” (*) in employing Wallis. They clearly hadn’t colluded in getting their story straight on this point (which is a good thing). Fedorcio didn’t say it was a crap decision, but clearly for all three it was an embarrassing decision – with hindsight.

What is crap is al the innuendo from the certain members of the committee and the political correspondent Ian Watson, around the use of personal contacts in recruitment. Procedures guard against “abuse” of such contacts, but they are not a substitute for “who you know”. Nepotism is something quite different.

Also think all the points about real police priorities are genuine, and all the self-righteous hypocrisy from the commentators with the benefit of hindsight really doesn’t help.

[Rapid switch over to the CMSSC Murdoch hearings.]

(*) No-one actually performed due diligence – but the recruit was on a retainer contract, not staff, and previously personally known  to several of those who would be using his occasional specialist service – experience relevant to the specific services, and not-related to #hackgate.

An atheist and a practitioner of positive psychology, Jonathan Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis” reads at times like a spiritual self-help book, and in a sense it is, but it is supported by a mass of academic and scientific references.

The Psybertron agenda has been on evolutionary psychology as a description of both epistemology (what is known) and ethics (what is good), so my interest has never really been with psychiatry or treatment of psychological abnormalities, except in so far as; (a) more than a few science writers have used brain abnormalities to enlighten us about the workings of mind; and (b) more than a few writers who’ve flown close to understanding epistemology and ethics have had painful brushes with mental illness. There but for grace, etc. In that sense my interest has always been in psychology and it has always been a positive, explanatory and active interest, but I’d not noticed the term “positive psychology” until an old school colleague of mine died earlier this year. Only in his obituaries did I discover he’d been a successful practitioner and published writer in the field. (I have a copy of Chris Mace “Heart and Soul” on order.)

The reason I mention Chris and positive psychology, is the discovery that Abraham Maslow, like Freud, is being rehabilitated into modern thinking, and the Freudian rehabilitation figures prominently in Chris’s work. Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation and the hierarchy of human needs that arises from it were standard management theory for some years despite a backlash against mis-use of Maslow’s work – reducing complex theory to a simple diagram with few clumsy words is always open to abuse, but I always felt the underlying principles were sound, whatever his critics.

Maslow, and in particular his “Religions, Values and Peak Experiences” is one of the 10 great ideas in Haidt’s treatise on happiness. (I also have that on order.)

Group Selection is another neo-Darwinian concept being re-habilitated these days, and D S Wilson is another key source for Haidt. He also brings back theories of “virtue” and “arete” – Al MacIntyre is another source – and the concept of writing our own stories in the cultural narrative also figures highly – hence the need for cultural conservatism as well a liberal freedoms.

Amongst the new atheist evolutionary scientists, Pinker gets used positively but Dawkins and Dennett are ignored. Damasio is a positively recommended source and Haidt manages to write on the subject without invoking the infamously over-used Phineas Gage meme. Probably the main weakness in Haidt’s book is the title, and the dependence on “happiness” as the apparent measure of goodness. He elaborates formulae for happiness that bring in a wide range of factors, naturally, but we never come to another word to better capture the subject – well-being maybe, but not quality say, or arete or excellence.

Bar that one weakness The Happiness Hypothesis is a good witty read and a great synthesis of ideas – in many cases self-reinforcing for me, since he uses many sources I already use. Particularly notable are two points:

Rehabilitation of the idea of “love” as subject to be taken seriously – all it’s forms – in a book supported by academic references. How many times have I asked “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?

Ditto, the rehabilitation of the idea of “divinity” as an axis of experience, orthogonal to the hierarchical levels of evolving knowledge and goodness. As an idea it does put some bones on that intuitive je-ne-sais-quois of experienced quality that never seems quite amenable to objective analysis, and it does it without invoking anything god-like, despite his choice of the term divine. Wonder what the new Humanists would make of this idea, and the fact that Haidt received Templeton funding ?

At one point Haidt admits that his book could have been one long recommendation for Buddhism in its entirety, but this is ultimately too passive and by the end you discover his overriding prescription is in fact balance.

Oh and how could I forget, he likes metaphor (incl George Lakoff), and his primary metaphor throughout – rather than Plato’s two horses – is an elephant with a human driver in the saddle. The big strong intuitive emotional animal, with the much smaller and much-less-powerful-than-it-thinks rational mind in “control” (also draws on Daniel Wegner).

Modern truth in ancient wisdom. Nothing new under the sun.

Just finished two quite different books recently. Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil, and first, Empire of the Clouds – When Britain’s Aircraft Ruled the World, by James Hamilton-Paterson.

The latter is a memoir of British aviation since the second world war, constructed mainly from anecdotes and memoirs of test pilots involved. Partly it’s a litany of risks and bad management of government funded aircraft projects and piecemeal rationalization of the many independent post-war names – Gloster, Bristol, Fairey, Avro, Handley-Page, etc – and the many dead (crew and bystanders) on whom modern safe civilian air travel depend. Nostaligic for me for 50 years of air-show display aircraft stories – Hunters, Javelins, V-Bombers, Lightnings, all of which I saw in the sixties at Middleton-St-George (Teesside), right up to Harriers. And of course quaint British industrial and management “class” practices. It’s also of interest because I actually left working on Harriers the UK Aero-industry in 1978, due to constant Heath-Wilson government swings in project decisions. The engineering was secondary to the partisan politics. Little did I know then that now, all these anecdotes are part of my sociology and evolutionary-psychology of decision-making agenda. Some great anecdotes that will mean even more when seeing remaining museum examples of some of the marques – the Lightning at Duxford for example – and the story of Alan Pollock – politically invalided out of the RAF in April 1968, after a protest flight without a flight-plan, that took in buzzing Parliament three times before saluting the RAF memorial on the embankment and flying off through Tower Bridge in his Hunter. The book covers right up the 2010 UK Strategic Defence Review. (I have a draft post somewhere on aircraft nostalgia …. the Lightning is still my favourite.)

Beatrice and Virgil on the other hand has a similar feel to Yann Martel’s prize-winning Life of Pi. Although based on a much darker underlying history than the simple(!) youthful journey in Pi, B&V’s agenda is still very much on pushing the limits on what might actually be true in writing a conventional first-person narrative story. In B&V’s case, it’s the play being written within the story, apparently fictional (clearly fictional, since it involves talking animals) but which is an allegory for a darker reality, linked with a twist to its taxidermist-author. Very clever and satisfying to read. (BTW It helps to know that Beatrice and Virgil were originally characters from Dante’s Divine Comedy. PS I also have Martel’s 1996 “Self” to read, which predates LoP.)

I have an agenda that says free social communication isn’t all good, in fact it can be positively counter-productive. Quality communications, leading to quality learning, decisions and actions, benefit from editorial control and goal-directed mediation. Google doesn’t make teachers redundant.

Interesting today to see TechCrunch extolling Twitter coming of age – as a vehicle for communicating links between other channels it’s great, no argument, BUT.

They mention but don’t highlight in this story that the actual communications to the human involved (the US President in this case) was via expert human mediation, filtering and editing. Couldn’t work any other way, until AI comes to stand for Actual Intelligence, which it will, one day.

The medium is the message, but it’s a different message.