me, myself & I

April 13, 2016

movies like “The Big Short”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “2oolander”’ and television shows like “Billions” and “House of Cards” remind me how much narcissism is prevalent in our society.  Media often reflects back the world we live in. I most of the time (in my view at least) can overshadow community. We still look to “exceptional” individuals as “saviors” when we should also “empower” everyone to contribute to changes ourselves (no matter how miniscule in the grand scheme of things).  We should not solely have to rely on others to improve our lot but also allow for “grassroots” changes.   We should not only embrace a “top-down” approach but additionally combine them with “bottom-up” methods.

Like all technology, social media can be a double-edged sword:  at one end it is a tool for empowerment, at the other spectrum it feeds the “outrage machine”.  We do not need to know all the minutia of your daily lives:  we do not benefit from what you are doing 24×7.  The majority of expressed opinions are often unconsidered – relative ease has trumped reflection, emotions override thoughts.  Immediacy and convenience are at times not desirable nor appropriate. Do not get me wrong:  providing a voice to the voiceless is good but one needs to consider the source/context and weigh the different perspectives. It is sad that some people hide behind anonymity and screen names to hurl abuse:  a case in point is the withdrawal of such luminaries as Stephen Fry from Twitter – context can alter perceptions.  Unfortunately, akin to what Churchill said about the shortcoming of democracy, social media is in the same boat.  Like most prescription medication, the good hopefully outweighs the bad effects.

making lemonade

February 23, 2016

This is not to discuss the merits or detriments of adding two more years to the Philippine educational system but instead a prompt for reform.

My inclination is that at the end of each (of course, this depends on an institution’s constraints) academic quarter the students will be able to demonstrate a particular life skill. This can be developed in conjunction with the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) and identified professionals – who nominate a single skill that would prove invaluable to the individual. Aside from literacy and numeracy, these other skills can help the person navigate life “better”. I think we need to revisit the knowledge necessary to survive and thrive in the world today (and not just consider the industrial revolution).

This may be “tricky” to implement but, in my mind, worthwhile. Unlike the U.S. that can subsidise meals, we need to consider other options for a poor country like the Philippines to encourage student participation in schools instead of keeping them home to help. Sure, it may not be instant or obvious but children can be developed and encouraged to have the capacity AND (not exclusively or) the choice to help their parents.

This can not only lead to a more robust democracy but also assist the individual with their daily life. We need to do whatever we can to incentivise persons to participate in the educational system. School should me much more than acquiring a piece of paper.

School (specifically K to 12) must not only be viewed as a means to get into institutions of higher learning so one can eventually get a job but to arm individuals to face the “real” world. Education should not only be a status symbol but to help close the gap – in my humble opinion, total equality is unrealistic because we are still mammals and subject to hierarchy; the key is like Sutton & Pfeffer (both teach at Stanford) say, we should not only prize intelligence but wisdom too.

I’m advocating a portfolio approach instead of the more popular exams-based assessments. Sure we need to evaluate if students are learning but we can go about it more creatively as highlighted in Graham Brown-Martin’s book: “Learning Reimagined.” It may not be easy but I think it’s worth it to look at successful alternatives to traditional forms of learning and adapt them according to local needs.

 

 

why not? (reprised)

November 27, 2015

Many thanks to those that commented directly on my blog or sent me an e-mail. Here’s an amalgamation of the others’ and my thoughts. My apologies if it took some time as it takes me awhile to process things carefully.

I think a portfolio approach to theses is the key: like in all things balance is essential. There are political and commercial realities that we need to be conscious of. A realistic mix needs to be identified and articulated per institution. There are several parameters or axes that can be used: for example, the funding model. Some maybe completely closed or proprietary for the exclusive benefit of and sponsored by a single institution. Others may be free and open-sourced for anyone to use as long as enhancements are shared. I suspect that most will be somewhere in the middle: most will be openly available but certain parts will be restricted preserving explicit trade secrets against being a good corporate citizen. I don’t espouse a single model but I think the last one is more workable.

Organisation size is a bit more problematic. We can be tempted by “largish” ones as these are often viewed as more prestigious and worthwhile for the effort. The rub is in facilitating this for “smaller” organisations, Maybe an exchange of some sort or crowdfunding (the “Piso Para Sa Pasig” comes to mind) can be used – your guess is as good as mine.

When it comes to scheduling, I think people need to be more courageous (it’s definitely not easy) as Brooks and McConnell espoused. We are often “scared” of what the market, client or boss will think: we want to please them even if we need to be untruthful. As previously developed, I do agree that we need to come up with three schedules ( sure it’s more work upfront but it can save a lot of headaches later on): one that’s optimistic and ideal, another that’s pessimistic where what can go wrong does, and finally a realistic one. It’s about identifying likely potential risks and planning for a doable mitigation strategy. Efforts like COCOMO and COCOMO2 should be applauded but an “easy” to access and update coding-cost model that includes “newer” technologies would prove handy. A database of time and effort to develop a particular functionality in a given tool. Maybe someone’s already done this but it should be readily available to those that need it. Here’s where institutions of higher learning can come in: they are not only in a position to contribute to this service but have the power to keep the contents “current”. I know programmer skill levels are contentious – depending on which study you believe it’s anywhere from a factor of four to ten where they differ. My own experiences and common sense dictates that this variability exists. These estimates are merely a baseline and one needs to adjust accordingly. The point is there is an “objective” measure or a basis for the plusses and minuses to the proposed schedule – this may not be perfect but this is why capability maturity models and personal mastery can be useful.

There is still a place for basic or “pure” research. I don’t think academic rigor or standards need to be sacrificed. Realistically, what percentage of theses, eventually, give rise to advancements? I’m not saying work must be only practically-inclined – I subscribe to the adage that there is nothing as practicable as a good theory. It is binary thinking (1s or 0s, black or white, either-or, etc.) that can be pernicious – the quantum computer has a state where it’s on and off at the same time. What do they say: genius is having two diametrically opposed thoughts at the same time. What I’m saying is that theses can both advance the field and be immediately useful – students can meet the expectations set by teachers. A positive culture must be put in place so that social proof can be leveraged.    Not surprisingly, I’m an advocate of Pasteur’s Quadrant (see image below from http://curryja.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/pasteur.jpg using a Google image search).

PastersQudrant

Don’t get me wrong: achieving this balance is extremely difficult but a mix we should strive for nonetheless.

Exposure to industry and project management techniques has shaped my thinking on scheduling impacts. Scoping needs to be realistic. Costs, Schedules and Quality are all points in a triangle that determine what’s ultimately delivered – prioritising one means compromises to the other two. Most projects are beset by cost overruns and time delays partly because an inaccurate schedule was proposed to start with. If time is a real constraint then perhaps the Design To Schedule methodology is an appropriate approach.

That’s why I prefer mobile apps, they are “reasonably” priced and there appears to be better cohesion unlike the software packages that are often plagued by functional overload – I do not blame vendors from wanting to keep selling a “newer” version as “new and improved” features are meant to justify each upgrade. Here’s where a cloud-based or a subscription scheme can be beneficial. That said, we need to be aware that “fast” internet connections and funds are not always givens – we must be conscious of developing economies that also rely on them.

I’ve always believed that a multidisciplinary approach is often required to solve major problems – so much so that I previously was not keen on specialisation. I’ve since changed my mind and have a symphony approach to things: where we all play different parts; have distinctive functions or roles; and diverse viewpoints or perspectives. Stove-pipe divisions can be quite limiting and bring group think to isolated silos – like the story of the elephant where factions are only cognisant of a part of the beast and not the whole animal. I think this is understandable for an “established” organisation but I fell this type of vertical division is somewhat old-hat; while a purely horizontal arrangement can be quite chaotic: I think the “sweet-spot” is somewhere in between and institutions should be organised instead according to focus or research areas making cross-disciplinary membership possible and even encouraged.  If I learned anything from computing it’s that most problems are divergent and there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Consistent with Software Engineering and Project Management principles, it’s folly to assume all tasks are perfectly divisible and have acceptable communication overheads. There’s some merit to considering what “others” or prototypical end-users have to say – although one needs to be careful with opinions as they are likened to a particular body part: wheat and chaff; signal and noise; and all that. There can be collaboration with other disciplines to help maximise the robustness of ideas lest we view all problems as nails.

None of what I said is new nor original: what we need is to facilitate inclusion into standard practice. I know that most of these require a blog post of there own but this is partly a summary and response to all the comments I received (thanks again). It needs to integrated and not tacked on – usability and professional ethics are good examples. Hell, I’m guilty of violating these tenets at times but as these practices are more widely adopted or deeply ingrained it becomes less likely that we encounter such issues. It needs to go beyond an Ad Hominen argument (although consistency can be a real bugbear) but even if there’s a fault with me, it doesn’t make what I’m saying any less true. This does not pretend to be a complete argument but merely a jumping point for more discussions. I’m not that smart but smart enough to know that others are better placed to take an idea and run with it or have a completely different (or better) one.

why not?

November 4, 2015

I think some theses done in the Philippines can have a more concrete impact on society in general and specifically identified communities in particular. Sure there are some that consider this but, in my mind, not nearly enough. I came from a college (or as we refer to it in Australia, division) where most works were on the shelf gathering dust. We tended to focus on the novelty factor (sure there needs to be a genuine contribution to the field) but it is often at the expense of a direct impact. Sure, part of it is changing the mindsets of students but, more importantly, it is having panelists and advisers think differently.

Maybe it is because most have a software component (sure sometimes it is developed primarily to drive the hardware but arguably it may have broader applications.) Funny that we teach reuse but we rarely build on past projects (maybe it is for the same reason that people start a new foundation instead of contributing to an existing one – in my mind it partly boils down to an issue of control and ownership). I espouse the use of open-source but even I note the realities of forking. Conceptualising the project we often concentrate on the ‘What’ and the ‘How’; often times forgetting the more important question: ‘Why’.

Some people are familiar with SaaS (Software as a Service) – emphasis on the last word. What I am proposing is an explicit broadening of this paradigm: SaaSE ( Software as a Service for Empowerment). According to current definitions, it is not exactly an extension but a reappropriation if you will. Outright intention is the difference. Sure, I am aware of the caveats: the road to hell and all; but this should not be a reason not to even try.

There is no reason that this should be limited to colleges of computing (although the applications are much more obvious). Fields such as engineering or science are also important but other areas such as economics and psychology are also useful. This should not be only limited to my explicit examples but as long as they can utilised for the common good like government, small business and NGOs to name a few, it is worth looking at.

This is by no means refined but some thought was put into it. They can’t be all gems and some of them may be utter rubbish – I do not often agree with Bill Gates but I’m also of the mind that success is a poor teacher. I think a blog is a suitable medium to share an opinion, to get a conversation started, to improve ideas and to garner feedback – hell, it may even lead others to better or different notions. The point is to eventually arrive at something that can be practically implemented.

back to the future

October 21, 2015

Marty McFly is supposed to come back today. While this is just a movie, there are few things we can take from this.

Sure, most futurists would think it foolish to specify a date but a target is often necessary to achieve most things. Not everything will come to fruition as evidenced by the movie but it is important that we strive for our goals. Making things explicit comes back to accountability. It announces our intent and helps track our progress – it tells everyone and, more importantly, ourselves if we are meeting the schedule. A timetable is one of the conventional requisite yardsticks for measuring “success.”

Most people do not provide a reasonable timeframe. Deadlines need to be realistic and achievable. Estimates need to be based on experience – our own or from a trusted source.

Sure, certain things matter and are important but we should learn not to take our endeavours too seriously.

mind over matter

October 20, 2015

It takes about ten times as much effort for someone who has Cerebral Palsy to do things according to RJ Mitte. In my case, it’s possibly half that – say five (using my best guesstimate).   The medicos aren’t quite sure what I have – heaven knows they’ve run a plethora of tests which all came back negative. Thankfully, it seems not to be genetic as I’ve got a son. They often refer to it based on my symptoms – as I have quite pronounced co-ordination and balance issues. I suppose not having a name for it is beneficial in the sense that there’s no label to categorise me under and just deal with me in a fixed way. Sure, not knowing was difficult at first as I wanted to perform the recommended steps and seek out the most appropriate forms of treatment (from the start, I haven’t been prescribed any medication for it) but in a roundabout way it lead to more direct acceptance – it emphasised that control is, ultimately, an illusion.

When I perform certain actions, I don’t expect awe but simple acknowledgement – sure I was brought up not to notice certain compliments but the fact remains that people don’t say it nearly enough. Honestly, I often get frustrated when people don’t give certain things much thought and just assume most tasks are “easy.” I can do some things because I try hard and exert a lot of effort – not to blow my own horn, but some people can’t do what I can do. It may seem counter intuitive but I have to concentrate when the physios ask me to relax or “go floppy.” The reality is that there are now actions I find challenging – sorry to disappoint but I now need help with certain things as I can no longer perform them on my own – I do what I can but some things take a lot of time and effort if no assistance is offered. Sure, there are things I can do on my own but things would go a lot faster or smoother if done for me instead. It sometimes doesn’t matter if people are exposed or what you say – some of them simply generalise to others their own experiences. People can fall into the trap of wrongly assuming that what’s “easy” for them is “easy” for everyone else. I find what they say about assumptions, not necessarily “truer” but more poignant now.

rock the vote

September 24, 2015

i am desperately trying to make sense of Philippine politics.   I’m certainly realistic enough to know that a single blog post won’t bring me full enlightenment but, instead, is an attempt to begin to make some sense of it.

In an archipelago of 7,100 islands, name recall is quite understandable (not that it’s an excuse) given the reach of radio. Political dynasties were partly enabled by it: after all, you’re more likely to vote for someone with a familiar last name rather than one you don’t know. Hopefully, the pervasiveness of cell phones and social media can provide a “dent” towards this as more information about the candidates becomes accessible. Granted, as was noted in the American President, you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

Another reason for the persistence of these political families is the wealth that they hold. They can afford more media buys and we can easily mistake this with free speech – this is a little more obvious in a developing nation. While voters have learned to accept the cash and then just vote for whatever candidate they choose. I suspect (although I don’t have proof) some of them are now resorting to other forms of shenanigans. Being richer doesn’t necessarily make you fit to rule nor does it help you to determine what’s beneficial to the community – winning an economic lottery doesn’t make you “better” than anyone else. After all, as my former advisor taught me: “Local maxima, global minima.” We are all prone to self-interest and What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) thinking.

I can understand why some voters have taken an anti-intellectual stand. Attitude is just, if not more, important than aptitude. “Evil” geniuses exist after all. The majority of the population has been burned by these “bright boys” in the past so it would make perfect sense to elect someone with similar sensibilities. What they sometimes don’t realise is that some candidates merely pretend to come from the same background or have their backs – when in reality it’s their own wellbeing that’s their priority. I don’t think this a solution either – is holding out for Plato’s philosopher-king a pipe dream for the country.

That said, I think there is too much reliance on an individual messiah: perhaps a by-product of religion and Western colonialism. It is much easier to hope that someone else is responsible for making your or your family’s lives better. I can not blame the population from thinking that way – their own life experiences point to that reality. I believe it is the existing social structures that make it so – the Philippine’s has a high power distance culture according to Hofstede’s work. While solutions may not come easy, I think a better understanding of the situation is required for possible remedies. We should be able to tap into the wisdom of the crowds. Granted, statistically speaking, there is no way to increase the size of the upper echelon, it is improving the awareness of those in the “middle” that is more important and may have greater flow-on effects for the nation – it is unlikely that we can directly produce “great” individuals, it is merely providing the conditions for more of them to flourish. It is the dependence on the few to raise us from poverty that is not completely scalable, in my mind.

Electronic Voting Machines can still be hacked – sure just not by anyone. Ballot tampering is now harder and requires a special skill set so it is presumptuous to think it is always a true and accurate reflection of the voice of the people. Sure it is a step in the right direction but it is foolish to assume it is a silver bullet. Has anyone even looked into the value-for-money thing since it’s a developing economy after all? Or is someone simply the beneficiary of a lucrative government contract. There is nothing inherently wrong with turning a profit – it is when it is at the expense of others when questions arise. What about Filipinos overseas?

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