Voting – Help

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 ?]

Bond in a Frock

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.

Project Management Memetics

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.]

Nuclear Sense of Perspective

Nuclear Power radiation risks are largely in the mind.

[Post notes thanks to Facebook activity.

From Smiffy http://understandinguncertainty.org/node/1272

From Smiffy and XKCD http://xkcd.com/radiation/

From every man and his dog, George Monbiot is a convert http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/21/pro-nuclear-japan-fukushima

Anyone who was already pro nuclear power, and has had their beliefs reinforced by Fukushima, probably already recognizes the real risks … not the radiation, but the radioactive materials entering the body – giving you a long ongoing personal dose – from escaping materials – airborne / waterborne from a loss of containment … including long term processing and storage of fuel and spent fuel.]

Information on Trust

Trust and information go hand in hand. There is no information without trust. Limited data maybe, information of real value; no.

Interesting to read this piece on Three Mile Island in the light of the current Japanese problems:

“The understated equivocations of their spokesmen – and their genuine uncertainty about the situation – engendered mistrust, particularly among those in the vicinity. Media coverage citing concerned nuclear experts served to heighten fears.

Soon, misinformation about a hydrogen bubble, which had formed in the containment vessel after zirconium fuel rods were exposed, turned into full-blown and mostly unfounded anxiety about an atomic explosion.”

Mostly Unfounded, yet, despite a massive (but contained) meltdown seen with hindsight only, a monumental event historically, created by Media Coverage.

Perversely and counter-intuitively yet again, less is more – less communication is better – yes, free communication makes things worse. Is that a political statement ? If I were a conservative-techno-phobe that would not be an interesting statement, but I’m a web-savvy-liberal. Must I post the W3C Fig 7 picture again for the techies ? Trust at the top – clearly trust and information feed off each other, but it’s the trust that’s paramount.

Working thesis: Current information value depends on a current stock of trust, current trust depends on previous experience (of information, and action, and … ) not on current information. No amount of “data communication” now, can fix a pre-existing lack of trust. Something like that 🙂

Japan Nuclear Situation

BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin explains what has happened at the Fukushima plant:

“The power plant is supposed to be earthquake-proof and shut down automatically in response to the quake,” he says. “But this starved power from the stations’ cooling systems. Then the back-up diesel cooling system also failed. Reactor number 1 overheated, and it is said that hydrogen released exploded, causing the concrete roof of the plant to blow off. Now that’s been repeated at Number 3 reactor, Numbers 2 and 4 have problems with cooling.”

Repeated ? I think not.

Need some clarification on specific Daichi and Daini plants now. Fukushima 1 has reactors 1 to 4 in the one block and two further reactors (5&6 ?) in a second block immediately north. Fukushima 2 has four further reactors 12/15 km south of Fukushima 1. (Update F1 is Daichi, F2 is Daini)

Anyway, key point whatever the existing and ongoing difficulties with cooling water systems, and whether all the plants were actually shut down successfully (control rods fully home) before these cooling water difficuties …. the two explosions so far were quite different.

F1-Daichi-R1 was a very clean and fast explosion initially – Hydrogen ? – with all the smoke appearing to be concrete dust, with lighter weight panels flying away from the building. (See the initial shock wave rising vertically above the building, before the smoke, and no fire or subsequent visible emissions.)

F1-Daichi-R3 was not. There was a hydrocarbon yellow flash and a plume of black smoke, with large heavy pieces falling quickly back to earth around the building. And the live footage seems to show steam and ongoing fire escaping from that building ?

F1-Daichi-R2 (and R4 ?) now seems to be having cooling difficulties.

[Update: 4, 5 & 6 were already shutdown before the quake / tsunami, with fuels rods in the holding ponds as the reactors underwent workThe other good news is that Daini  / Fukushima 2 do not appear to have had the post-shut-down cooling failures (cooling pump electric power and water supply failures), so in principle the design is earthquake safe. This one will run and run.

So, the real problem now is that Daichi-R2 explosion seems to have cracked primary containment – how did that happen ?!? The pressures involved however seem miniscule, so the residual heating energy in the shutdown state must be small – don’t panic and maintain ad-hoc cooling seems the order of the day ?]

Macondo “Permitorium”

Listening to a presentation from the International Association of Drilling Contractors on the Macondo fall-out.

Demands for containment resources x00% x max spill potential available on site or within x hours are being used to reject permits to deep water drill since the moratorium ended in October. A little bit “no spill ever again” level of safety demand before permits will be granted. At least a year of deepwater drilling industry shutdown in the US gulf, which is a major regional industrial depression well beyond the O&G companies.

(Incidentally – innovative capping containments also being developed internationally. Ixtoc 1979 was bigger and flowed for a whole year. See previous Macondo threads and comment threads.)

Great Wall Drilling / Hashwe(?) / Repsol / Saipem / Gazprom / Statoil / Pertamina / ONGC / PetroVietnam / Petrobras and other partners, drilling in deep water (1 mile deep) in loop current between Cuba and Florida, with flows at 14 knots towards Florida and Carolina Atlantic coasts, and/or Cuban coast, not of course regulated by US permitting. Worse still …

People have already been prosecuted heavily for US content of technology (see partners) delivered indirectly to Cuban drilling industry. US (politically) cannot provide BOP or containment technology for a drilling operation that threatens the US coastline. People are trying to “do the right thing” without getting fired for legal infringements, amongst the political regulation. Interesting angle.

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