they might be “giants”

February 23, 2017

Newton coined the expression standing on the shoulder of giants. With the advent of the Internet I think this could be extended by adding goblins and gnomes to giants.

Aside from what to do, I think you can also learn from what NOT to do. Hence the term goblins.  I’ve always felt you can gain from people what to emulate and what to avoid.  Granted some of this may be repetitious but sometimes lessons need to be repeated to ensure they are drilled in thoroughly.

I subscribe to the wisdom of the crowd and individual empowerment.  You can also build upon ideas of people who might not be considered as giants in their field – that’s why I use the term gnome to highlight the contrast.  An idea may be good despite its origin.  Admittedly, we are more likely to learn from “experts” (being a teacher in a former life, it would be hypocritical to think otherwise).  That said, we also need to be open and allow cross-pollination from other disciplines or differing opinions.  All ideas must be given a fair chance.

The original quote will always be valid but IMHO it can do with an adaption to our times.

food glorious food

February 20, 2017

my family and I spent a month in America. We all gained weight and had our waistlines expand (more so me). It’s quite understandable that some people I know who now live in the US are “healthier”.  Even if most of the food is too salty or too sweet for my palate, the food which I consumed was quite “rich” and caused me to put on a few kilos (although I find pounds a much more meaningful measure).

I do enjoy (and seek out) food.  I find the word foodie overused and abused.  I prefer the previously coined term of gastronaut because I find the implication of exploration appropriate.  Perhaps it’s me just being pedantic or wanting to differentiate myself.

Our niece recently (and temporarily) moved to Melbourne which made me think of the places I used to eat in a few years back as a student.  Hopefully, the food they serve is still delicious.  Mekong at Swanston in the city used to have “decent” Vietnamese Pho – so much so that a former US president tried it.  Enri’s at Richmond is one of only a handful of Argentinian restaurants in OZ – although it was the chicken in brie sauce I liked.  Later on there’s dancing on tables (admittedly I was inebriated to even attempt this).  Brunetti at Lygon Street (although I think their other branches now but from my experience the original is still the best) is a “good” place for desserts and coffee.  Casa Del Gelato at the edge of Lygon where I used to go for a treat.  It’s been open for nearly 40 years and was full even during winter.   I proposed to my wife just outside the shop with a makeshift ring – a solo diamond earring set in a cable “twistee”.

I’m looking forward to our nephew and his girlfriend taking us to sample various food trucks – I’ve always believed good food is good food regardless of “pedigree”.

universal (soldier)

December 7, 2016

As an alternative, I wanted to study architecture at university but instead I took computer science at another institution: both interested me and I’m not sure why I chose one over the other. Afterwards, I was invited to teach at my alma matter.  I have since experienced a revolving door between academe and industry and at times having both feet on “contentious” worlds (perhaps, this is why I strongly feel “faith without works” is not enough).

I’ve always admired “good” design. Usability has always fascinated me and acquiring a brain injury has made me more so.  I am not a big disciple of fate but it’s only natural that I find Universal Design appealing. It seems to be a confluence of interests and experiences that is beginning to define my path.  Admittedly, I still have a lot to learn but at least it’s an option for me.

I can understand why heritage or old buildings have their accessible entrances at the back but there is no excuse for “newer” stuff – we shouldn’t be considered as second-class citizens (even when it’s not intentional).  It disturbs me when toilet doors are too heavy or they swing towards (or the space is too cramped for) our mobility devices – even if they don’t have personal experience with this, they should be made aware and conscious of these constraints.  Don’t get me started on physical environs that do not a disability toilet (or lavatories that are accessible) – rails allow us to use the facilities independently.  Some even use it because it’s more “spacious” when they don’t really need to – never mind some people with disabilities find it hard to hold it.  Toilets generally “smell” because people prefer to use it when they have to do a No. 2 instead of the standard allocated cubicle.  Moreover, some non-disabled users have the audacity to be upset when you enter (because they don’t know how to lock it) or are surprised when they encounter you patiently waiting for them to finish. Having a child of my own, I understand when parents accompany their kids when family rooms are not present.  It’s people that feel they are more important than the rest and who shouldn’t be made to wait their turn that gets my goat.

Where I’m originally from (I’m not aware of the law now but I doubt, it’s changed), an elevator was only required if there were at least five floors (I’m told that’s why our school building was only built with four).  I can manage stairs if my hands can “reasonably” hold onto the rails (it just takes me awhile and some effort) – what about most?  Are they excluded from these?

Some ramps have a “steep” incline (assuming one is in a wheelchair being pushed) – what about those who choose to propel themselves or ambulate independently?  It can not be simply for compliance sake but the spirit of is just as important as the letter of the law.  It should be because of compassion not coercion by government or regulatory bodies.

I’m not a fan of people who take disabled parking spots (when they clearly don’t need it) for the sake of convenience or because it’s nearer to the entrance (I’ve even seen one parked perpendicular occupying two slots).  They don’t want to walk “that far” – screw (pardon my language) the patrons that can’t walk.  It’s this type of insensitivity that can lead to resentment.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but one informed by my own negative experiences. Some people are just ignorant or not sufficiently exposed to the “everyday” plight of persons living with disabilities.  Our purpose should not to shame or guilt (tempting as it is given the number of a**holes) but to educate the public.

I am not an activist, by nature, (I like to think of myself as more of an advocate) but I can understand why so many rail against the traditional view of the medical or deficit model of disability.  Where I’m from, many with impairments are not educated and are kept home-bound (to spare stigma to the rest of the family in the guise of providing comfort).  Not surprisingly, I am a supporter of the social model: after all, disability is a construct or consequence of a society.  This is more pronounced as we shift from being a highly industrialised to an information-based economy. While physically we may not be the ideal, there are other ways we can contribute  – accommodations are typical but how things are designed in the first place can maximise our value-adding potential.  Trite as it may sound but the focus should be on ability and not disability.  I wonder how Darwin would have documented this evolution of species.

brave, new world

November 13, 2016

it’s quite “easy” to be an armchair quarterback and we can offer analyses until we’re blue in the face. Most people are obsessed with the wedding and not the marriage – sure I can be “calmer” as I don’t live in America but it also has repercussions for the rest of the world.  The reality is that the US election went as it did – I’m now more focused on the First 100 Days of the presidency as a harbinger.  The real question is what now?

America looking more inwards is an opportunity for the rest of the world.  Sure it will be difficult but, in my opinion, it’s not really fair of us to expect them to be the world’s “policeman” (despite in the past assuming and cherishing that role).  Maybe it’s time for us to say thank you and wean ourselves from our dependence.  We should accept whatever help they offer but not expect it – it’s neither their duty nor responsibility.  Instead of looking externally to save us, we should also look to ourselves to alleviate misery:  sure a helping hand would be great and much appreciated but what would it do for our “pride” if we can participate in the “solution”.

Many of us confuse the “idea” of America for the country – in my dealings US citizens aren’t the government and it’s not right to think they’re interchangeable.  They should be viewed as an “exemplar” and not a “savior” despite recent history.  Why do we continue to pin our hopes on a single country and not more appropriately on a consortium of nations?  Sure, we can’t discount leadership but should it only always come from one source? In my mind, we depend too much on someone else to solve all of our “problems.”

You’d think that after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, the markets would factor in all eventualities but they crashed nonetheless.  It’s this type of fingers-in-the-ears and hopeful thinking that contributes to the growing disdain for globalisation and interconnectedness.

As David Brooks rightly points out: there’s a rise of “ethnic nationalism” worldwide partly due to “elitist condescension”. We need to stop making others feel stupid to show off our intellect or schooling.  It shouldn’t be about telling people what to think but enabling others to think for themselves.  It’s not always about being “right” and sanctimonious about it.  Case in point, it’s not that political correctness per se is wrong but it’s the shoving down other people’s throat while acting smugly that leaves such a bitter taste in the mouth for some.  We can learn a lot about human psychology.

My supervisor once taught me the phrase: “Local maxima, global minima”.  It’s unrealistic to rely on altruism when self-interest is hard-wired in our DNA.  Sure there will be some where character and principles will override baser instincts but they are few and far in-between.  Why are we even surprised when most people don’t act as we expect?  Admittedly, I’m occasionally guilty of this optimism – I’m just more conscious of it now.  Not to be one of those but I think we need to review how we educate our young: just basic literacy and numeracy are no longer sufficient.

Like Dr. King said: “The arc of history is long”; but one has to wonder: is this merely a hiccup in “experiment” of America or the beginning of the end of the project?

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.