|May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)|
|Contents||Bulletin||Scripting in shell and Perl||Network troubleshooting||History||Humor|
|News||See also||Recommended Links||Offshoring||Obscurantism||Corruption|
|Information Technology Hype||Lysenkoism||Cargo cult programming||Capability Maturity (CMM)||Java||Cyberwar|
|IT does not matter fallacy||SOX Perversions and Bureaucratization||SAP/R3 implementation diasters||Conceptual Integrity||Featuritis||Inhouse vs Outsourced Applications Development|
|Extreme programming||OO||Agile Crap||Humor||Random Findings||Etc|
A much misunderstood aspect of information technology is its mythology. Like in ancient Greece many of dominant myth have pretty vague connection with reality, if at all. Another problem is that despite rate of technological advancement and the fact that both hardware and software prices are falling, but total IT costs are still growing pretty fast.
The development dynamics of information technology at have never been particularly clear. that gave a fertile grown to an intellectual haze that can be described as the mythology of information technology (IT). This mythology is nourished by an unusual set of economic and technical factors that often place the analysis of IT outside the comfort zone of not only technologists, but financial officers. One of the recent examples is the rise of IT obscurantism ( see IT does not matter fallacy).
In The Mythology of Information Overload Library Trends Find Articles at BNET.com the author describes the myth in the following way:
Studies of mythology and folklore recognize the importance of cultural context and alternative ways of knowing. Moreover, these areas of inquiry also acknowledge social processes involved in the origin and sustenance of enduring beliefs that promote shared understanding of, and response to, "superhuman" phenomena. This article first presents various interpretations of mythology and its relationship to folklore in order to build a composite frame of reference that demonstrates how myth operates today. Next, an examination of library and information science literature reveals an idea of the information society as a superhuman force to be reckoned with, defines what information is, and discusses how people use it. LIS literature, along with writing that circulates in popular culture, also shows how the concept of information overload functions as a modern-day myth that shapes comprehension and coping strategies in an era when information--whether as definitive of society, or as society's chief economic product--has taken center stage.
Viewing information overload as myth validates its existence without requiring proof. However, the occasion of developing arguments to focus this view, along with the absence of systematic cohesive library and information science study of information overload, indicates a need for documentation. The final section of this article reports on a pilot project intended to provide evidence and description of information overload as experienced by a particular folk group.(1) The opinions of this group are of special interest because its members are studying to become library and information science professionals. Because folk group membership affords shared context and meaning consistent with functions of myth, the pilot project also attempts to learn if a folk group can be considered an information resource that serves to reduce the effects of information overload.
MYTHOLOGY AND FOLKLORE
The language of myth, folklore, story, and fairytale is intertwined, and (except in technical folkloristic writing) these terms rarely seem clearly differentiated. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, which has made it difficult to uncover one concise and coherent definition of mythology and its cultural implications for use in this project. In general, myth, folklore, and story provide cultural continuity and structure, encompass or inspire ritual, and serve instructional purposes. Mythology can be considered a somewhat broader or more universal form than the folktale and is often linked to the sacred or divine. However, the word myth is also used to mean the opposite of fact. This discussion includes various views of myth(2) and its relationship to folkloristics in order to extract the nuance of meaning each offers for a description of the mythology of information overload.
Oct 30, 2017 | www.nakedcapitalism.com ,Jesper , , October 30, 2017 at 7:40 amvlade , , October 30, 2017 at 8:35 am
I've seen a couple of BPOs, Business Process Outsourcing deals.
The key for success of BPO in the short term is to define the process -- document every step of the process of having something done and then introduce control-functions to ensure that the process is being followed. Possibly also develop some tools in supporting the process.
If the process is understood and documented well -- so well that rare/expensive skill is no longer needed to follow the process -- then it is possible to look for the lowest possible cost employee to follow the process.
As far as I can tell the most common mistake in BPO deals is that the process being outsourced isn't understood well. The documentation tends to be extensive but if the understanding is lacking then the process might be providing different results than wished for. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are introduced and then the gaming of the KPIs is begun .
Even if the initial process was understood well and documented well then the next problem is that due to distance (provider to client) there might be difficulties in adapting the process to changing circumstances.
And yes, there are similarities in BPOs and automation. Understanding of the process is key, without understanding of the process then the end result is usually bad. The key to learning and understanding is often humility and humility is often (in my experience) lacking in executives, senior management and project managers involved in BPO deals and/or efficiency projects.
Automation in the Too Big bank Nordea:
Time will tell if it is a success for Nordea and if other big banks will follow suit and cut 13% of their workforce.ejf , , October 30, 2017 at 9:54 am
See, you put it right on "the process is not understood well". My point is, in many companies it's questionable whether the process can even be ever understood well, unless you have significant in-company knowledge, which makes outsourcing a key risk, even in absence of anything else.visitor , , October 30, 2017 at 11:02 am
Yup,you got it -- Business Process Outsourcing. I've seen the ill-understood processes ruined when, e.g., software development was transferred to India. I saw this starting in 2000 up til the present day. Yankee management LOVED the idea of cheap labor, but never got back the software it originally intended and designed.
It was the culture: Yankees are software cowboys -- able to change project as needed; Indians loved the process of development. The Indians sounded good but never go the job done.Jesper , , October 30, 2017 at 1:46 pm
In the 1990s, I was quite impressed that the first company to reach a CMM level 5 was from India (a subsidiary from IBM, if I remember correctly) -- and thereafter seeing Indian software firms achieving ISO 9000/CMM compliance before large Western corporations.
Later, I worked in several projects that were partly outsourced/externalized to India (the usual suspects like HCL or Wipro), and I understood. Personnel turnover in Indian firms is sky high. As soon as software engineers finish taking part in a project, they jot the reference on their CV, and rush to find another project, in a different area, to extend their skill set, beef up their CV and improve their chances of a higher salary in the IT market.
Remaining in one domain area, with one set of technologies, is not considered a good thing for advancement in the Indian IT market, or when trying to get directly hired by a Western firm. They often have to support an extended family that paid for their computer science studies, so fast career moves are really important for them.
The consequence is that Indian IT firms in charge of the outsourced projects/products just cannot rely upon the implicit knowledge within the heads of their employees. In a sense, they cannot afford to have "key personnel", experienced people who know important, undocumented aspects of a piece of software and can be queried to clear up things -- all employees must be interchangeable. Hence the strict reliance on well-documented processes.d , , October 30, 2017 at 3:12 pm
all employees must be interchangeable
To expand on that I'd say that interchangeable employees have limited or no bargaining power leading to it being easier to keep salaries low. What is left for the interchangeable employee to do to increase earnings? Yep, change jobs leading to more focus on making employees interchangeable .
The game (war) between the company and its employees escalates. Power is everything and all CEOs know that you don't get paid what you're worth -- you're paid what you negotiate. Maintaining power is worth the cost of churn.Thuto , , October 30, 2017 at 8:18 am
dont we have some of the all employees must be interchangeable in the US too?Thuto , , October 30, 2017 at 8:25 am
Pity the "build or buy" decision calculus has been perverted beyond what the firm needs as inputs into its final market ready products, but is increasingly being used as a defensive move by big companies to kill off competition from smaller firms via knock off products or "acqui-hiring" of talent.Thuto , , October 30, 2017 at 8:41 am
Aqui-hiring aka acquiring the smaller firm, pretending to integrate its product into the big company's product line, starving the product of resources to slowly kill it off, then pulling the plug citing "dissapointing sales and take up in the market" to protect big company's market shareDan , , October 30, 2017 at 10:13 am
Then redeploying the acqui-hired "talent" (I.e. founders of the acquired firm) to work on the next generation of big company's products (except now they do so in a bureaucratic, red tape laden maze of "corporate innovation management" processes).WobblyTelomeres , , October 30, 2017 at 11:25 am
Outsourcing your core competencies or your competitive advantage -- that's the real beauty of outsourcing! What could go wrong?sgt_doom , , October 30, 2017 at 2:59 pm
I thought one would outsource the core competitive disadvantages. That is, a smaller firm would outsource (buy) when they could not competitively create a subassembly/subcomponent because the sourcing firm had successfully achieved superior economies of scale (EoS) . This is why multiple automobile manufacturers purchase their subcomponents (say, coils or sparkplugs or bearings) from a supplier instead of manufacturing them in-house as the supplier achieves superior EoS by supplying the entire industry.
Even commenter Larry's above example ("offload liability risk with our larger insurance policy") is an EoS advantage/disadvantage, no?
Problems occur when one side of the dance is dominated by one or two very large players (think WalMart or Takata) or political will (defined here as $) is involved.
OTOH, I'm prolly just extremely naive.WobblyTelomeres , , October 30, 2017 at 7:44 pm
Naïve? No, you sound unholy ignorant, chum!
When Corporate America started offshoring R&D, scientist jobs, engineering jobs, programming jobs, medical jobs, legal jobs, etc., etc., etc. beginning in the late 1970s, but exploding under Jack Welch at GE in 1984-1985 [and I was offered a position helping in the process -- so nobody dare contradict me] it simply exacerbates those offshored manufacturing jobs, for without them in the past, too many American inventors would never have come to fruition -- this of course requires some knowledge of the history of technology.
The one absolute in human nature and human commerce: the greater the inequality, the lower the innovation -- IN EVERYTHING, IN EVERY AREA!
In other words, the greatest innovation in America (and everywhere else throughout history) took place when this nation was at its lowest in inequality indices and closest to socialism: the 1950s to 1960s and early 1970s -- and almost everything has simply been incremental since then.
As Leonardo da Vinci once remarked:
" Realize that everything connects to everything else. "sgt_doom , , October 30, 2017 at 2:54 pm
In other words, the greatest innovation in America (and everywhere else throughout history) took place when this nation was at its lowest in inequality indices and closest to socialism: the 1950s to 1960s and early 1970s
I disagree with this statement and would ask you to provide specific references for such a sweeping claim.
and almost everything has simply been incremental since then.
And would argue, with diagrams on a chalkboard if necessary, that all human knowledge is incremental. At least, that which requires more than simple immediate sensory perception.
Thanks, Dan! Most of the comments here today are simply beneath commenting on, therefore your most sarcastic and cogent comments sums it up!
I should be flabbergasted by them, but I have frankly given up!
Recommended Reading (to the clueless, not Dan!):Sold Out by Michelle Malkin Outsourcing America by Ron Hira Take This Job and Ship It by Byron Dorgan
Dave Eggers' gem of a book, "A Hologram for the King," is a parable about the decadence, fragility and heartlessness of late, decayed corporate capitalism. It is about the small, largely colorless men and women who serve as managers in our suicidal outsourcing of manufacturing jobs and the methodical breaking of labor unions. It is about the lie of globalization, a lie that impoverishes us all to increase corporate profits.
"A Hologram for the King" tells the story of Alan, a lackluster 54-year-old consultant who is desperately trying to snag one final big contract in Saudi Arabia for Reliant, a corporation that is "the largest I.T. supplier in the world," to save himself from financial ruin. Alan has come to realize that managers like him who made outsourcing possible will be discarded as human refuse now that the process is complete, left to wander like ghosts-or holograms-among the ruins. And Eggers' novel is a subtle, deft and poignant look at the horrendous toll this corporate process takes on self-esteem, on family, on health, on community and finally on the nation itself. It does so, like parables from Greek tragedy or George Orwell, by finding the perfect story to make a point that is universal.
Company lacks consistent leadership, 'cohesive strategy,' Yahoo exec writes Eric Auchard Today's Top Stories or
November 20, 2006 (Reuters) -- Yahoo Inc. needs a dramatic organizational shake-up and cuts in its workforce of up to 20%, according to an internal memo written last month by Senior Vice President Brad Garlinghouse.
Garlinghouse, a second-tier Yahoo executive who has taken increasingly powerful roles in the company since joining three and a half years ago, argued that Yahoo suffers from a lack of consistent leadership, business focus and a "single cohesive strategy."
"We lack a focused, cohesive vision for our company," Garlinghouse wrote. "We want to do everything and be everything -- to everyone."
The document was published in the Saturday edition of The Wall Street Journal. A Yahoo spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the memo, but declined to comment directly on details contained in the memo or in the newspaper story.
The Journal story also describes rumors that Chief Operating Officer Dan Rosensweig and Chief Financial Officer Sue Decker could be elevated to become co-presidents, in preparation for the retirement of Chairman and CEO Terry Semel, 64, who joined Yahoo five years ago.
The call for restructuring follows a series of embarrassments that have caused Yahoo shares to lose 31.5% of their value so far this year. It is struggling with a slowdown in parts of its advertising business while racing to keep pace with far-faster-growing rival Google Inc.
The memo -- known as "the peanut butter manifesto" because it compares Yahoo's investment strategy with spreading peanut butter too thinly on bread -- argues for a "radical reorganization" of the 12-year-old Internet media giant.
Job cuts urged
"I hate peanut butter," Garlinghouse wrote.
The executive said the company should cut its workforce by 15% to 20% as part of a plan to reshape its current business-unit structure and eliminate the bureaucratic duplication of functions that exist across Yahoo.
The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company has nearly 10,000 employees worldwide.
"There are so many people in charge (or believe that they are in charge) that it's not clear if anyone is in charge," Garlinghouse said.
"I believe we must embrace our problems and challenges and that we must take decisive action," the memo states bluntly.
Garlinghouse named a variety of duplicative groups that pit established business units against new initiatives, including music, photos, search, applications, social networks, global strategy and even who controls the Yahoo home page.
In a statement, Yahoo's leadership has defined three areas of focus for its business.
During the company's quarterly financial conference call last month, Semel described efforts to close the gap with Google in how much revenue it generates from its search business, increase its lead in brand advertising and get a jump on emerging markets like video, mobile and social networks.
"The memo itself highlights that we have an open, collaborative culture and a senior management team that is intensely committed to helping Yahoo fulfill its potential as an Internet leader," the statement said.
The Journal said the memo has received support from Yahoo senior management and that Garlinghouse had been asked to lead an internal committee to investigate the issues he raised.
"All is not well," Garlinghouse wrote. The memo itself was written in response to an Oct. 11 New York Times article that he described as "a painful public flogging."
"While it lacked accurate details, its conclusions rang true, and thus was a much needed wake-up call," the Yahoo executive wrote. "It's time for us to get back up." Philip Greenspun's site has the following quotation [greenspun.com]:
See Charles Ferguson's High Stakes, No Prisoners [amazon.com] (1999) for a longer explanation of how hired-gun CEOs manage to kill software products companies.
Since that page was written, there have been other examples.
Machiavelli - On Troops and Mercenaries (Score:5, Insightful)
by sun2day (jamespagetemp@@@yahoo...com) on Friday October 25, @07:21AM (#4528473)
(User #587146 Info)
This happened to me. What I would recommend anybody in a similar situation is to read Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince. The book is advice to Princes of small states in Italy in how they should keep control of their states. It was written 500 years ago – but equally applies to Software Start-ups. It is most famous for the quote the "The end justifies the means".
Any venture capital company should read the chapter "On Troops and Mercenaries" – substitute – Mercenary for Hired Gun Management. Machiavelli say's "Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous" – further on he says "they [Mercenaries] are brave among friends [read the board and head-hunters]; among enemies they are cowards ……… they keep no faith with men; and your downfall is deferred only so long as the attack is deferred; and in peace you are plundered by them, in war by your enemies."
Basically what Machiavelli goes on to say is that troops don't really fight for money, but for vision and belief in the Prince. If an employee does not believe that the CEO is in for the long haul why should he be?
I did OK money wise, but this did not stop me going into massive depression for about a year after I was replaced. It feels like somebody messing up your toys….
Ricochet (Metricom) (Score:2, Insightful)
by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 25, @08:19AM (#4528652)
Having worked at Metricom at the time of the "management change", I watched as the core founders and technologists (many of whom were still in engineering, some of whom were management but continued to provide expertise/experience) who developed the Ricochet get pushed out by the fast ripple of change brought on by Vulcan Ventures' appointments. I followed suit, watching the sh*t roll downhill and hoping to dodge it (which I did, successfully...although I left before the big MCI stock jump, wah. No options exercising for me!)
Then again, can't be as bad as a company I later worked for -- 22 VP's ran a ~100 person company (and multiple directors had no employees they directed.)
There are certainly examples of successful companies that ousted their founders (Cisco being probably one of the biggest successes.) The question is, what would Cisco have been if the founders were kept?
Generally, engineers (and scientists) make poor managers, but engineers and scientists can make senior researchers/architects/designers alongside the MBA's to make sure the books add up and the sales force brings in business. Most VC's, as the author pointed out, are looking for quick profit and bumping off the people with the $.25/share options and seniority is a quick way to make it.
Easier to fail than to succeed (Score:4, Interesting)
by salesgeek on Friday October 25, @08:34AM (#4528723)
(User #263995 Info)
I really like Cringley's article. That said there's something important that was left out:
The wealth of a business owner does not come from income but from the value of his or her stake in the business. Ultimately this wealth is "paper" wealth untill the company is sold.
That means if it is best for owners to sell, they'll "package" the company for sale (this often involves actually reducing the value of the company to a level that someone will buy it). What's more, a lot of the actions that appear shortsighted are acutally long term maneuvers to sell out. Closing down R&D to make your books look attractive is one way to do this. With businesses, "let the buyer beware" is the rule, not the exception.
One condition that universally sucks is when something happens that makes it appear that the owners of a company's wealth is at risk. Then owners pressure managers to make shortsighted decisions to protect their wealth and often attempt to prematurely sell the company. The results are often mass layoffs and the buyer gets a firm that is cancerous and consumes their company or personal wealth as well.
At present I own a company. I know my employees will not like it when I decide to sell it. I can't guarantee that they will all come out ahead, but I'll try my best. The reason I started this company was to build it up, and then sell it so that I and my fellow investors could get rich. My employees benefit by having great jobs and some, through ownership options, will be rewarded when the sale happens.
Much of this is because of the Stock Market (Score:5, Insightful)
by wowbagger on Friday October 25, @08:55AM (#4528828)
(User #69688 Info | http://slashdot.org/~wowbagger/journal/ | Last Journal: Monday October 21, @11:14AM)
Much of the management behaviors decried in Cringley's article are due to the way the Stock Market works today.
The original idea behind stock was as a way for the company to get money to grow. The stock buyer was counting on getting an annuity - the dividends of the stock. As a result, the upper bound on the current value of the stock was set by the interest rate and the dividends the company paid out - if the interest rate was 10%, and the stock paid $1 in dividends per year, then if the stock cost less than $10/share it was undervalued. If the stock cost more than $10/share, you would do better to invest your money in a bank.
Thus, stock holders were looking at the long term - what is the company doing to increase the dividends?
But then people noticed that if they could make a short-term change in the expected return on the stock, the current value would move. Thus, they began to change the short-term operations of the company, to change the estimated dividends (and thus the current price of the stock), then SELL and move on.
Thus stocks became trading cards, and the current era began. Buy into a company, manipulate the stock price, sell, repeat. (OK, PROFIT! there, I said it, you don't have to.)
Now, consider this - What if the capital gains tax worked like this:
If the gain is realized in less than 6 months, then the gain is taxed at 90%.
If the gain is realized in 6 months to 1 year, then the gain is taxed at 75%.
If the gain is realized in 1 year to 5 years, then the gain is taxed at 50%.
If the gain is realized in more than 5 years, then the gain is taxed at 0% (i.e. not taxed).
Now, consider these scenarios:
You buy into an IPO, sell when the stock peaks a month later, sell. You get nailed for 90%. Since that is the case, there would be MUCH less demand for the stock, and it wouldn't shoot up so much.
You buy into a company, manipulate the stock price by gutting it, and pop that golden parachute a year and a day later. You get nailed to the tune of 50%. You are STILL discouraged from these games.
You buy a house. Five years later, you move from Silly-con Valley to Wyoming, and from a $500,000 house to a $250,000 ranch. You pocket the $250,000, since it isn't taxed.
I was watching a show several years ago on PBS, wherein a representative of the Federal Reserve was debating a person who's position was "The Fed should just leave the damn interest rates alone and let the market correct itself." The Fed guy said "But we have all this information, and it would be wrong for us not to provide feedback to the system".
When he said "feedback to the system" I had an epiphany - I am an electrial engineer, control systems are something I've studied at length. Unlike an economist, engineers are trained in mathematical tools to examine systems for stability. One of the things that will make a system unstable is too much lag from stimulus to feedback response - it's called "phase margin". The economy has a very LARGE phase lag - making a change to interest rates today will not take effect tomorrow. Also, there is "gain margin" or frequency response - the higher the frequency response the faster the system will react, but too much will cause oscillation. Systems with a large phase lag need to have a very low bandwidth, or they will oscillate. What my proposed cap gains tax would do is reduce the bandwidth of the system by reducing the gain at high frequencies.
Now, you can apply a simple check to my proposal - who will it piss off? The Republicans won't like it, since it prevents the very sort of short-term market manipulation that makes money for fatcats. The Democrats won't like it, because it allows middle-class folks to make money long term (so they can retire without relying on the government for assistance).
And I assert that anything that pisses off both the Republicans and Democrats cannot be a bad thing.
Small company's fate (Score:5, Interesting)
by mikewas (email@example.com) on Friday October 25, @08:57AM (#4528840)
(User #119762 Info | http://slashdot.org/)
I signed on to a very small privately held company several years ago. It had survived a number of years, reinventing itself as necessary. A good place to work, interesting engineering, good relationship with customers & suppliers. It was fun.
Then we went public, lots of money burned, but the product didn't fly high, and the grey-haired managers showed up. The VCs & large institutional investors that now controlled the company brought in management to wring as much money out of the company as possible. Since we weren't a high flyer the large investors didn't care about keeping us alive anymore, they just wanted as much money as possible extracted from it.
By this point I had bailed, I didn't like the way things were going. As fate would have it, I jumped from the frying pan into the fire, but that's another story.
It survived for a few more years. Pieces of the company were spun off & sold off. The large investors had gotten a sweet deal on stock, but had to hold it for a several years. A few months after they could legally sell it I noticed the company's stock skyrocket -- then drop
.... for 3 days it rachetted up on low volume then dropped on high volume. Several times the outstanding share volume changed hands over those few days.
By the end of that year the company was dissolved
Maximising Shareholders Value (Score:2, Insightful)
by noelwelsh on Friday October 25, @09:28AM (#4529007)
(User #146318 Info)
One of the essential problems is that, by law the management are required to maximise shareholder's value. There are lots of things that management can do that will increase shareholder's value (i.e. the value of the stock) in the short-term but may be detrimental over the long-term. Acquiring other companies is a typical action. Alternatively they might try to boost profit in the short-term by slashing staff or research budgets and then angling for a buy-out by a big multinational. All these things are easily defensible. The stock goes up, the shareholder's see their "value" increase and everyone is happy.
On the other hand we have long-term actions such as basic research that are far harder to justify to shareholders used to the instant returns of recent years.
If the stock market has less speculators we'd probably see less of the fast money which in term might lead to shareholder's valuing long term actions more. However there will always be people who attempt to make short-term returns, and while this is the case there will always be the urge to cash-in as soon as possible.
Ars Digita a classic example of Cringley's point (Score:3, Interesting)
by aquarian on Friday October 25, @09:33AM (#4529034)
(User #134728 Info)
The Ars Digita story is a classic example of what Cringely is talking about- a company run into the ground by "professional" managers brought in by the VCs. Here's the story, as told by one of the company's founders:
Even though it's "just one side of the story," the consensus is that it's pretty close to what really happened.
In the end, the VCs cut a deal with Redhat, who hired a few of Ars' staff to make it look like the company was successfully sold. Fortunately, Ars' great products live on as open source software, OpenACS [openacs.org], and Redhat's CCM [arsdigita.com]. Though Ars' incompetent management pushed CCM as the next, great version of their software, it was never more than vaporware. Redhat has continued to develop it, but it's still not finished.
The New Feudalism (Score:5, Insightful)
by FeloniousPunk on Friday October 25, @05:35AM (#4528285)
(User #591389 Info)
Sometimes I have the feeling that the modern American workplace has regressed into a sort of feudal structure, where management is the aristocracy. The MBA is like a patent of nobility, and once you've got it, you're of the blood, and must never again really worry about your existence. If you toady to higher ranking nobility, you'll get a fief (management job) of your own complete with productive serfs (programmers, etc). If your fief is big enough, you can parcel out sub fiefs (lower tier management) to lower nobles (your business school/ frat chums) and be a liege lord.
And just like back in the day during feuds and other conflicts nobles who lost were almost always treated well by the victors and often were offered chances to switch allegience, today you can easily climb into a good job even if your company tanks (lacking a distinct skill set, managers are fungible; just look at the utterly disparate types of businesses that many CEOs have managed in their careers) and if that fails, there's always the golden parachute.
Back in the day, there were rarely serious consequences to the behavior of nobility as long as it didn't involve treachery towards those above you, and today this seems to be so with our manager class, at least as far as business decisions go. Being noble was enough.
Re:The New Feudalism (Score:5, Interesting)
by Yokaze on Friday October 25, @07:02AM (#4528443)
(User #70883 Info)
Are the world class managers actually MBAs? Does a MBA make you to some "liege lord"? This is the assumption most aspiring MBA seem to have.
Let's have a look at some world class companies.
The management board of Daimler-Chrysler:
1x Engineering and Economics
1x Engineering and MBA
John Palmisano, President of IBM, is has graduated with a Bachelor in social and behavioural sciences.
Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., Chairman of the Board, has a bachelor in engineering and a MBA.
The first non-engineer CEO at Sony was Nobuyuki Idei, in 1995. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Economics.
The president of Sony from 1989 to 1995 was Norio Фga, graduate of Tфkyф National University of Fine Arts and Music.
The prime requisit of the best managers are very good social skills and a good judgement. A good knowledge of economics is plus, without doubt, but a good knowledge of the matter at hand, too.
Of course, this doesn't negate your quite correct observation, that there are several managers, which jump of the sinking ship, with their "golden parachute".
It makes me wonder, how many of those managers are MBAs.
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Re:The New Feudalism (Score:2)
by sql*kitten on Friday October 25, @08:19AM (#4528654)
(User #1359 Info | http://www.kitten.org.uk/)
The MBA is like a patent of nobility, and once you've got it, you're of the blood, and must never again really worry about your existence.
Ha ha ha. You're very funny. Banks and consulting firms are laying off MBAs left right and center. I don't know whether NYC or London has more unemployed MBA/sq km, but they're both pretty high. Lots of people are even leaving the MBA off their CVs now, leading to embarassing silences when you interview them and ask about the gap in their employment history.
This sort of nonsense might go over well with people who've already decided that they hate corporations and everything about the capitalist system, but it's not backed by a shred of truth. You might as well say that an MS in CS makes someone one of the tech nobility and these people make all the tech decisions - it simply isn't true.
The flip side (Score:5, Insightful)
by Savage-Rabbit on Friday October 25, @06:07AM (#4528338)
(User #308260 Info)
To be fair to managers, not all of them are complete gits. To for a technology company to suceed it is not enaugh for it to be run by a 24 carat geek with a high as it gets IQ and who loves to hakck code etc... I have seen a number of companies end up living of 2-3 projects, often all of these projects are financed by the same sposor and when that sponsor needs to downsize... Well what you get then is what the Germans are getting now, as Siemens, BMW, MBB and others cancel projects and we see 45000 bankrupcys happen in one year, which in Germany is a post WWII record. What is really needed is a bunch of geeks, marketing people and managers working together. Then and only then will a company do well. If you take a look at alot of those companies he cites as examples of companies who have not been managed to death it is either because their leadersip is well balaced in these three departments or because they happen to have a leader who has a flair for more than just the tecchnical side but also marketing and management.
Professionalism can be a barrier to entry, though (Score:5, Insightful)
by Interrobang on Friday October 25, @10:30AM (#4529551)
(User #245315 Info | Last Journal: Friday October 25, @03:23PM)
That's true, but it's always nice to get into a field on the ground floor. See, one of the problems with professionalism (in the sense of a field's "going professional" and creating, for instance, professional managers) is that it raises the bar for entry, sometimes far too high.
For instance, I'm pretty sure it was a lot easier to get started in business 100 years or so ago -- you had a trade, and you did it, and "managing" wasn't something that you did as a career, it was something that you did to enable yourself to do all that other stuff you wanted to do (say, in Walt Disney's case, making cartoons).
Now, with so many fields professionalizing so rapidly, it's very hard to get into them at all unless you've got the appropriate professional credentials and/or (usually and) experience. (Oh, yeah, having friends in high places helps too.) Woe betide you if you don't have these things, because you will suddenly find yourself having to be twice as good as the existing competition to even get into the field, which can be tough when you're competing against people with 20 years' experience.
And sometimes having your field taken over by august sages and avocationists is not a good thing, either. To use an example I'm most familiar with, look at how dynamic, prolific and vibrant SF publishing was in the 1960s and 1970s. Now that it's been professionalized and commoditized so much, all that dynamism, exuberance (and not necessarily even youthful exuberance), and prolificness (prolixity? although not in the strictest literary sense) has gone out, and it's damn near impossible for a newcomer (of any age) to get published.
All fields need newcomers, beginners, and dabblers, so professionalism is not necessarily a good thing 100% of the time, especially since the trend lately in technology (and other fields) has been to refine, as opposed to innovate. Where are the innovators going to come from, if we don't encourage people to start doing something? You'd be surprised what novel approaches the "beginner mind" can come up with. Ask me about it sometime...
Death imminent (Score:4, Informative)
by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 25, @05:24AM (#4528259)
I work for a major Dutch cable company, in the tech support department. About two years ago, we had about 10,000 customers, built up over a year or two, and were therefore relatively small. Service was fairly good (except for a bad choice in cable modem systems), and improving.
Then the mother company, French, decided that they wanted to sell us. So, they set a goal for 100,000 customers by the end of the year. That's a lot of growth. Somewhere down the line, they even hired to consulting managers (*expensive*!) to guide tech support and the like.
The result is obviously guessed: The company is now nearly bankrupt, though a buyer has been found ("Look! Over 100,000 customers!"), and the layoffs have begun to keep the company afloat long enough for fresh capital.
They destroyed a perfectly functioning company that could have handled quite a bit of painless expansion, simply to increase its value for a sale. Can someone explain to me why this sort of thing would be good for the economy?
The Case Against Professionalism
How We Have Managed Industry Almost to Death
By Robert X. Cringely
Two weeks ago in this column, we were lamenting the decline of industrial basic research, and last week, it was the decline of science at all in the absence of threats like Hitler and Stalin. But this week, in the culmination of our tragedies of the technical, we lay blame for both phenomena where it clearly and obviously belongs -- on the shriveled hearts and addled brains of professional management. We have managed our technical industries almost to death.
It is easy to forget that professionalism is the enemy of the high-tech startup. If these companies were operated by professionals, they would never have been founded. Nor would a professional tolerate the conditions necessary for startup survival. Michael Eisner never emptied a wastebasket at work, but I'll bet Walt Disney did.
Here is a scene that happens at some point in almost every young company. The founder/CEO/technical visionary meets with his board and finds him or herself out of a job. How could this happen? Well, the company has grown to the point where the board feels that "professional management" is required, so they are bringing in a new management team. The new team is composed of old friends and classmates of the board, and the new team costs five to 10 times as much, but that's okay because the company is "hiring for growth." This new team cuts staff, cuts costs and outsources everything that can be outsourced, with the result that earnings are improved and the stock goes up or the company makes itself look better for an Initial Public Offering. The professional managers get big bonuses, they exercise mountains of stock options, sell those option shares, then go on to some other, even bigger, job having "saved" the company, which then stagnates, goes into a slow decline, and is eventually acquired by a competitor.
In the PC industry, this is the path followed by almost every company. On the software side look at Borland, Broderbund, Personal Software, Lotus, WordPerfect and hundreds of others. The similarly afflicted hardware companies are so many that the names become a blur. All these companies, even though some of their names may remain, are effectively dead. Certainly, they bear no resemblance at all to what they once were. And every one of these companies had something else in common: At the time their management was displaced, they were profitable and had money in the bank.
So what happened? Well, in some cases the founders were at fault and should properly have been replaced, but in many cases it was something very different at work -- simple greed on the part of the financiers and venture capitalists. Here is the same scenario from the perspective of the typical VC member of the board. The founder is no longer doing exactly as he or she is told. The company is moving toward an IPO or the stock is not performing to the satisfaction of the larger shareholders. So the founder is forced out, then his or her shares are diluted to make room for the new managers, who are cronies of the financiers. This dilution eliminates the founder as a voice of opposition. The stock price is pushed up, the board sells out, the new management leaves, and nothing of the original company remains.
Sometimes the result of the ensuing crash can have effects beyond belief. The Learning Company, for example, pretty much destroyed the U.S. consumer software business in the 1990s, and then went on to destroy the U.S. toy industry as well by taking down mighty Mattel. Now THAT's professional managment.
This is all a trick promulgated by people who do not in any way care about the company or its people. But visit most any business school and what I just described is taught in case studies as examples of good management. It is maximizing shareholder value, they'll say.
Pity the poor MBAs, for they know not what they do, nor do they seem to care.
In the last two weeks, I've been hearing from people who spent decades at places like IBM and AT&T Bell Labs only to be laid off or have their division sold. Some saw it coming years before, like the IBMer who noticed in 1986 that the company was cutting back subscriptions to technical journals for its library. He immediately began looking for a new career. But most just felt an increasing ache as their company slowly changed into something they no longer liked.
This might not matter if it didn't also mean that our long-term competitiveness is threatened by such shortsighted action. Seeking short-term gains, we have sacrificed not just the futures of our enterprises, but also their characters. Often all that's left is the logo.
Here's one example from a jaded reader:
"In 1965, I went to work for Celanese Chemical Company as a Mechanical Engineer. In 1971, I was transferred to their research center in Corpus Christi."
"This center was never really noted for basic research. Instead, their forte was to really improve a process that had been licensed from some other company and also to figure out how to purify a chemical better than any other company could. As an example, Celanese licensed a process from Monsanto to make methanol. Over a span of many years, the process was drastically improved and the improvements were covered with patents. It got to the point where Monsanto almost couldn't recognize what we had and we greatly outperformed their own plant."
"Each of our chemists was given a little time each week to work on something that caught his/her fancy. One of them came up with a novel approach to the manufacture of acetominophine (Tylenol). This led to the extension of the basic chemistry and on to the most efficient and cost effective way to manufacture ibuprofen (Advil). Commercial plants were built for both and, at one time, the ibuprofen plant was supplying most, if not all, of the North American and European markets."
"Hoechst A.G., who owned Celanese at the time, decided in 1997 that the research center cost too much. They wanted to specialize in pharmaceuticals. A massive layoff followed. The center was kept open, but with a greatly reduced staff. Last year, it was announced that even the little remaining was too expensive and it would be totally shuttered by the end of 2002."
"There will be no further research for Celanese on process improvement, new markets, cheaper ways to run existing processes, etc. If I owned Celanese stock, I'd sell it because the company will be down the drain in 10 to 15 years."
Think about it. From the perspective of the Hoescht executive who decided to close the Corpus Christi plant AND FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF HIS OR HER CAREER, shutting down that research center was absolutely the right thing to do. It improved the appearance of corporate performance at a cost that won't be felt for years. And when that cost is felt, it won't felt by Hoechst at all, since Celanese has been spun-off and is on its own.
Does current Celanese management even know what they had in that Corpus Christi research center? Probably not, because any sense of corporate history has probably been lost.
We're lucky in the computer industry that the companies are young and many of them are still run by their founders. I may not always agree with what Scott McNealy does as CEO of Sun Microsystems, but I know McNealy understands what Sun is about because he was there at the beginning and built the first few Sun workstations by hand. Certainly, as long as Microsoft and Dell and Oracle and Adobe have been around, there has been a founder at the helm, and it shows. Love them or hate them, at least these companies have identifiable characters.
And sometimes, that combination of technical expertise and business success combines to create something even greater -- an organization that has a love of learning for its own sake. That's what appears to be happening at Research In Motion, makers of the Blackberry handheld e-mail appliance, where three of the top corporate officers have put $120 million of those shrunken Canadian dollars -- their own money, not the company's -- into the study of particle physics.
Maybe there is hope after all.
The Big PictureBubble Trouble: This week's Barron's cover story by Mike Santoli proclaims "Yes, its a bubble."
Before we delve into the article, recognize that 1) This is not your mainstream publication, so it has no validity as a contrary indicator; 2) the definition of social is rather stretched, including Pandora and Zillow, which are not really pure social plays.
That said, let's look at Barron's:
Depending on how you carve up the industry, eight leading companies that have either gone public, filed plans for an initial stock offering or are widely expected to do so by the end of next year are now estimated to be worth a combined $200 billion. Together, these eight companies-Facebook, Groupon, Zynga, LivingSocial, Twitter, LinkedIn (ticker: LNKD), Pandora Media (P) and Zillow (Z)-collected $3.5 billion in 2010 revenue. That's $1 billion less than, say, Washington Post (WPO), whose market value is $3.4 billion. Leaving aside Facebook, which seems to have the best shot at supporting its hypothetical $100 billion value through its market position, growth and profit margins, the rest have negligible profits at this point."
Financial TimesOutsourcing enables IT companies to increase flexibility, harness new skills and cut costs.
- Model that works even in turbulent times Paul Taylor introduces a focus on outsourcing – used for flexibility, to harness new skills and cut costs.
- Security: Internet is industry Achilles heel There is confusion between cloud computing providers and clients about who is responsible for security, says Maija Palmer.
- Industry trends: Standardisation is the way to save Providers look for work that is scalable and repeatable. They avoid complexity and systems that need customising, discovers Jane Bird.
- Business case: First, ask 'why are we doing this?' Only well run IT functions should be delegated, finds Charles Batchelor.
- Service location: Governments vie for work in offshoring beauty parade The leaders of large outsourcing companies are shopping for locations in a buyer's market, says Jessica Twentyman.
- Procurement: Innovation is an important part of the deal Wise customers will hammer out terms with providers, writes Jessica Twentyman
- The IT department: Keep your strategic decisions on IT in-house, say experts Organisations that slim skills down to the bare minimum can find it hard to respond to change, says Stephen Pritchard
- IT cycles: Retro styling, not revolution Jane Bird on the development of pay-as-you-go computing power
Preface: I have been using Linux since around 1998, when I installed Debian from scratch in my old Pentium II. I am more end-user than power user, but the computer I use most often (my netbook) has Linux in it by default. Also, my office computer is a Linux computer. And I am writing this in my MacBook. Which is not Linux, but at least it is Unix. What comes now is a personal rant, after a fight with my netbook. Probably not completely a Linux fault as an Acer one. But anyway, be warned this is a rant.
Linux is a time waster. It can come in two time-wasting fashion:
I have nothing against the good part. I even enjoy it, by learning to use gcal, or a2ps. I even wrote a (guest) post on why I think learning these side tools can be rewarding.
- Good: you find a new command/application and play with it.
- Bad: you try to configure something (or install a package from scratch).
But the bad part... this always gets on my nerves. I don't mean that Windows is better in the bad part... but Mac OS is. Mac OS just works, but they have the best thing to be that way: all Mac computers are Apple controlled. Thus they can test everything and say 'OK'. Every hardware part will work perfectly and smoothly with Mac OS version N.
Linux has to work in almost all strange configurations possible... And this means big hardware fuss. You have a winmodem? You can't use a dial-up connection (that happened in my Pentium II days). More recently, you have an internal SD card reader? You can't hotplug it.
All started with an upgrade from Ubuntu 9.10 to 10.04. I assumed dist-upgrade was a good option, I wanted to upgrade my distribution. Then I learned, and was advised that it was a bad idea... But how could I know it beforehand? It was the first time I had to upgrade, in my office this is automatic, and previously I had so little content that overwriting with a newer version was not a problem. It looked like the best tool for the job. The ~6 hours process began, and finally, ended.
Reports- IMF and Barofsky's SIGTARP
Broward Horne wrote on Tue, 4/21/2009 - 1:17 pmUsing the model of the railroad companies after the Civil War - there was a huge ramp-up in railroad infrastructure because the railroads derived a lot of their values by destroying local commodity monopolies. In the same sense, the IT infrastructure companies derive their value by destroying local information monopolies. But there's a finite value there.
The railroads grew along an S-curve, accelerating their investments into related industries - iron mining, steel production, etc, creating a lot of secondary economic activity until they reached the inflection point, the point at which a new track of railroad cost more than it could return. Railroad industry peaked and consolidated, profit margins shrank and eventually something like 25-30% of employment disappeared.
i expect the same thing to happen in IT. It has, to some degree and I was hoping that the initial crash of 2001 had blunted what would happen in the second crash. I may have been wrong, though. As near as I can tell from my dice, careerbuilder and monster listings, this is at least as bad as 2003 for IT jobs.
Amazon.com The Social Life of Information John Seely Brown,Paul Duguid Books
Amazon.com How many times has your PC crashed today? While Gordon Moore's now famous law projecting the doubling of computer power every 18 months has more than borne itself out, it's too bad that a similar trajectory projecting the reliability and usefulness of all that power didn't come to pass, as well. Advances in information technology are most often measured in the cool numbers of megahertz, throughput, and bandwidth--but, for many us, the experience of these advances may be better measured in hours of frustration.
The gap between the hype of the Information Age and its reality is often wide and deep, and it's into this gap that John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid plunge. Not that these guys are Luddites--far from it. Brown, the chief scientist at Xerox and the director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and Duguid, a historian and social theorist who also works with PARC, measure how information technology interacts and meshes with the social fabric. They write, "Technology design often takes aim at the surface of life. There it undoubtedly scores lots of worthwhile hits. But such successes can make designers blind to the difficulty of more serious challenges--primarily the resourcefulness that helps embed certain ways of doing things deep in our lives."
The authors cast their gaze on the many trends and ideas proffered by infoenthusiasts over the years, such as software agents, "still a long way from the predicted insertion into the woof and warp of ordinary life"; the electronic cottage that Alvin Toffler wrote about 20 years ago and has yet to be fully realized; and the rise of knowledge management and the challenges it faces trying to manage how people actually work and learn in the workplace. Their aim is not to pass judgment but to help remedy the tunnel vision that prevents technologists from seeing larger the social context that their ideas must ultimately inhabit. The Social Life of Information is a thoughtful and challenging read that belongs on the bookshelf of anyone trying to invent or make sense of the new world of information. --Harry C. Edwards --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
From the chief scientist of Xerox Corporation and a research specialist in cultural studies at UC-Berkeley comes a treatise that casts a critical eye at all the hype surrounding the boom of the information age. The authors' central complaint is that narrowly focusing on new ways to provide information will not create the cyber-revolution so many technology designers have visualized. The problem (or joy) is that information acquires meaning only through social context. Brown and Duguid add a humanist spin to this idea by arguing, for example, that "trust" is a deep social relation among people and cannot be reduced to logic, and that a satisfying "conversation" cannot be held in an Internet chat room because too much social context is stripped away and cannot be replaced by just adding more information, such as pictures and biographies of the participants. From this standpoint, Brown and Duguid contemplate the future of digital agents, the home office, the paperless society, the virtual firm and the online university. Though they offer many insightful opinions, they have not produced an easy read. As they point out, theirs is "more a book of questions than answers" and they often reject "linear thinking." Like most futurists, they are fond of long neologisms, but they are given to particularly unpronounceable ones like "infoprefixification" (the tendency to put "info" in front of words). The result is an intellectual gem in which the authors have polished some facets and, annoyingly, left others uncut. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From The Industry Standard
In his 1996 book The Road Ahead,
Bill Gatesinvited business executives to take a ride with him into the gee-whiz techno-future. In the photo on the cover of his book, Gates stands on a two-lane road reminiscent of Route 66, which disappears into a clear, crisp horizon. Except for Gates and the road, there is nothing around.
John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid would decline the offer of a lift on this road. In their new book, The Social Life of Information, they say they prefer to slowly and steadily explore the road's surrounding terrain. They'd make a stop here and there to check out a tourist trap or converse with the locals at a dusty cafe.
As they note, "The way forward is paradoxically not to look ahead but to look around." They're concerned with the "practice" of knowledge rather than the "process" of information, making them more akin to information archeologists than information technologists.
To them, looking around means considering the context of information rather than simply its content. Marshall McLuhan argued much the same in the 1960s when he proclaimed that the medium (context) was really the message (content).
The authors' different specialties make them interesting tour guides. Brown is chief scientist at
Xeroxand director of its Palo Alto Research Center. Duguid is a history professor at the University of Californiaat Berkeley and a social theorist affiliated with PARC.
They see the modern world cluttered with institutions, media and structures that futurologists and technopromoters predicted would be extinct by now: the paperless office, the home office, the smaller entrepreneurial firms, to name a few in their long list.
The rise of the information age has likewise brought about a good deal of "endisms," among them the end of: the press, television and mass media; brokers and other infomediaries; firms, bureaucracies and universities; government, cities, regions and nation states.
THE MYTHOLOGY OF INFORMATION
One reason futurist predictions have been off target, according to Brown and Duguid, is the mythology that envelops information. As they note, this mythology "overpower[s] richer explanations" of the consequences of information and blinds us to the forces behind technological change.
Information mythology is the fuel for "infoenthusiasts" and futurists. This group, according to the authors, rages "against the illogic of humankind and the primitive preferences that lead it astray" while they "continue to tell us where we ought to go."
By "taking more account of people and a little less of information, they might instead tell us where we are going." The authors suggest it's one thing to argue that many of our old structures will not survive the onslaught of the new information economy, but it's another to argue that we don't need them in the new economy.
The most relevant chapter for the business world is "Practice Makes Process," which relates information mythology to the early 1990s re-engineering management fad. According to Brown and Duguid, re-engineering was based on the information-friendly process view of an organization rather than a contextual, social practice view. Information - without the context of a social life - fits well into process but has trouble when put into practice.
The authors' examples of how knowledge and learning is created informally in corporations (particularly Julian Orr's research at Xerox) merit the price of admission. Readers learn that collaboration, narration and improvisation are important (yet relatively hidden) methods that result in information that becomes corporate knowledge.
The university system is another key area where information mythology exists. Many people have predicted that virtual universities would replace brick-and-mortar institutions. This has not happened because universities do far more than deliver information to passive learners.
But the problems that information mythology has caused are minor compared with the ones that loom in the future as information becomes a more ubiquitous part of the Internet's "DNA infrastructure." The gap continues to narrow between smart "bots" and humans, with bots increasingly taking on human names like "personal assistants" and "agents." At the same time, human activities like "brokering" and "negotiating" sound robotic.
These agents perform "collaborative filtering," the familiar product-brokering activity: They match past activity with product suggestions. While the agents are supposed to represent buyers, they often act as double agents and represent sellers, too. For example, recall the publisher-paid endorsements on
Amazon.comor how American Airlines' Sabre reservation system was revealed to be weighted toward American.
It's increasingly difficult to determine whose interests agents represent. As Brown and Duguid note, "We might be able to use agents, but how many are able to understand their biases among the complex mathematics of dynamic preference matching?"
Confusion between knowledge and information underlies many of the problems information mythology causes. As Brown and Duguid note, knowledge entails a "knower," but people treat information as independent and self-sufficient. It sounds right to ask "Where is information?" but not right to ask "Where is knowledge?" The authors argue it's difficult to separate knowledge from information: It can't be picked up, passed around, found or compared.
THE PROFESSIONAL DEBUNKER
While Brown and Duguid make a compelling argument against information mythology, they can also be placed in a growing category of "information age debunkers." Witness books like
Lawrence Lessig's Code, Douglas Rushkoff's Coercion, John Willinsky's Technologies of Knowing, David Shenks' Data Smog and Clifford Stoll's Silicon Snake Oil.
Certainly the past few years have seen an abundance of "cyber-snake oil" promotion. In this sense, the information debunkers' criticisms give a welcome breath of fresh air. Yet one can argue criticism of information mythology often goes too far in promoting its own cause.
For example, while Web-based universities aren't exactly all they're cracked up to be, neither is brick-and-mortar academia, which Brown and Duguid idealize. For proof, look at the growing connection between universities and business. A recent story in the Atlantic Monthly, "The Kept University," describes how corporations are providing more and more of the money that supports academic research - especially at Duguid's UC Berkeley.
And the bare "content" of information is not always a bad thing. The subliminal context that surrounds brands - slick advertising images and packaging - often obscures the mediocre "content," the product itself. Information wrapped in context is a "hidden persuader" - the backbone of America's consumer culture - rather than the friendly communities of "practice" Brown and Duguid suggest.
Despite these minor criticisms, The Social Life of Information is an important book. Unlike many other "information age debunkers," Brown and Duguid wisely stand back from prescription. "We do not have solutions to offer," they note at the end. "We only know that solutions will be much harder to find if we drive at the problems with tunnel vision" and if "peripheries and margins, practices and communities, organizations and institutions are left out or swept out of consideration."
The authors face a formidable opponent in an age more entranced with information-based answers than context-based questions. If you have a problem, they note, redefine it in terms of information and you have an answer. "It allows people to slip quickly from questions to answers," they write.
This brings us back to Bill Gates on the cover of The Road Ahead.
Microsoftplays it both ways: It asks a question and simultaneously proffers an answer. Its advertisements ask "Where do you want to go today?" The images in these ads, however, are of people sitting eagerly at computers. The subtle suggestion is that digital information is enough. In a world of ready-made answers, it's refreshing that authors like Brown and Duguid are instead asking the important questions.
John Fraim is president of the GreatHouse, a publisher and consulting firm in Santa Rosa, Calif. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
The Old Joel on Software Forum - UML
UML is one of the current "silver bullets" - Every application manager (not the people actually developing, but the people looking to herd the developers) talks about "looking to start using UML". I have talked to at least 6 of them making this observation. Worse still, it is the most inane diagrams that seem to get attention, like the worse than nothing "use case" diagrams (these things are such spectacular wastes of space that it boggles the mind).
Yet we all pull an anoop and nod our head in agreement.
This industry is such a fraud.
Yeah, the same everywhere. My point wasn't that I don't understand UML, but rather that it is an absolutely classic "cargo cult" technology - someone, somewhere used UML to great effect, so every anoop parrots how great and important it is.
Power of politics
... In many cases, that means political issues have direct consequences -- for example, the president's recent decision to have Dick Cheney read the riot act to Beijing is going to affect your technology job because it is part of a strategy to reduce the imbalance in the flow of technology and manufacturing jobs from the United States to China.
Don't kid yourself about this; the high-level management decisions that ultimately determine whether you keep your job or whether your favorite technology makes it in the market can be much more heavily dependent on politics than on technology.
Politics and Tech
That's usually easy to see at the operational level, where the personalities and preferences of individual players are known, but a kind of increased "nebulosity factor" manifests as you trace things upward in terms of both players and scale. As a result, it's generally not possible to know with any degree of certainty what the actual impact of national politics is on technology decisions; only that there is an impact.
Sometimes the impact is pretty clear. For example, I think you should be out there supporting any elected, or wannabe elected, representative who promises to support making it illegal to export personal data on Americans for processing outside the United States. That's fundamental to national economic security, important to national security in the military sense and valuable in terms of keeping your job.
On the other hand, much of the speculation on the impact politics has on technology sounds a lot like conspiracy theory. For example, I have a theory -- which I have no hope of confirming or disproving anytime soon -- that Novell's takeover of SuSE was motivated by IBM in a last-ditch effort to get a deal to have IBM Global Services support SuSE on every desktop and server owned by DaimlerCrysler past opponents in Detroit.
If so, what got in the way of what would have been a genuinely big deal for Linux was adroit manipulation of national economic agendas in Washington. So, did that happen? Maybe, maybe not. I not only don't know, I don't know how to find out. But I do know that taking discussion of technologies past reportage and how-tos means taking politics into account.
Software design and construction are highly contemplative, internal activities. A developer must be highly motivated to be able to do software development work at all. One of the most basic insights of motivation research is that when a person tries to apply external motivation to someone who is already highly internally motivated, internal motivation decreases. So, the net effect of "using the rod" is a reduction in internal motivation, and the effect on productivity is a net loss
...Some projects neglect to account for ancillary activities such as the effort needed to create setup programs, convert data from previous versions, perform cutover to new systems, perform compatibility testing, and other pesky kinds of work that take up more time than we would like to admit
...For software projects, actively avoiding failure is as important as emulating success. In many business contexts, the word "risk" isn't mentioned unless a project is already in deep trouble. In software, a project planner who isn't using the word "risk" every day and incorporating risk management into his plans probably isn't doing his job. As Tom Gilb says, "If you do not actively attack the risks on your project, they will actively attack you."
... A close cousin to Deadly Sin #3 is reusing a generic plan someone else created without applying your own critical thinking or considering your project's unique needs. "Someone else's plan" usually arrives in the form of a book or methodology that a project planner applies out of the box. Current examples include the Rational Unified Process, Extreme Programming...
...No outside expert can possibly understand a project's specific needs as well as the people directly involved. Project planners should always tailor the "expert's" plan to their specific circumstances. Fortunately, I've found that project planners who are aware enough of planning issues to read software engineering books usually also have enough common sense to be selective about the parts of the prepackaged plans that are likely to work for them.
...One common approach to planning is to create a plan early in the project, then put it on the shelf and let it gather dust for the remainder of the project. As project conditions change, the plan becomes increasingly irrelevant, so by mid-project the project runs free-form, with no real relationship between the unchanging plan and project reality.
...Since planners do not have crystal balls, attempting to plan distant activities in too much detail is an exercise in bureaucracy that is almost as bad as not planning at all.
...I think of good project planning like driving at night with my car's headlights on. I might have a road map that tells me how to get from City A to City B, but the distance I can see in detail in my headlights is limited. On a medium-size or large project, macro-level project plans should be mapped out end-to-end early in the project. Detailed, micro-level planning should generally be conducted only a few weeks at a time and "just in time."
4) Ethics? What's that?
Many dotmags were as ethically challenged as a Mexican policeman. They were going to the conferences, trying to hold them, sell the ad space and rarely raining on this parade of confluence. How could these companies cover people they were entering partnerships with? They couldn't.
Salon has been a prime example of the diminished standards of ethics online. Ruth Shalit was exiled for repeatedly plagiarizing while working for the New Republic. Not just fired, but forced to work in advertising. Yet Salon hired her to write about advertising. A reporter whose work is proveably plagiarized is covering her own industry, a clear and total conflict of interest. The editors at Salon can defend this however they like, but note that Ms. Shalit's work has never appeared in a major newspaper since her firing. A person with this kind of track record is probably best suited for advertising, where a respect for facts is not part of the job.
I don't know the woman, but it simply amazes me that she is allowed to have a byline anywhere. I don't see Janet Cooke or Patricia Smith doing articles for Vogue or Elle.
But if that were the only case, there would be no point in mentioning it. Salon repeatedly let interested parties write about subjects they were involved in. But that is really small change compared to other, grosser ethical breaches. It seems that tech publications regularly slant their coverage to appeal to advertisers, giving them amazingly favorable coverage despite every indication that these companies were grossly mismanaged.
For every decent story on a dotcom, like Wired's story on Razorfish, there were hundreds which should be collected and used as evidence. Not a negative word about so many companies was written until they started to crash and burn. How could a reporter walk into an office and look at 100 Aeron chairs, listen to bullshit and write a glowing piece on that company? They weren't profitable, they weren't going to be profitable and this was widely known. Yet, the happy talk stories continued.
We were among the first people to question the conventional wisdom with our story on APBNews and it was a revelation to the print press that you couldn't save a dotcom by working really hard. Except for Chris Byron, who predicted the fall of these unprofitable companies from day one, you never read a negative word about these people until the Seattle Weekly told tales from inside Amazon. But this well-desevered skepticism went unnoted in the daily press.
Because these were stories about their peers, about the rich. They dated dotcom people, their editors were willfully blind to the worst, most insane IPO ponzi schemes. No one wanted a bad news story. Things got so corrupted that Chris Nolan thought it would be OK to participate in a friends and family IPO because she was "friends" with the CEO and didn't cover the company. So would it be OK for Dan Rather to consult with the Labor Party because he isn't English? Or would people wonder that working with a political party might taint his opinions? Once you cross the line, how can anyone trust you?
Now the San Jose Mercury News (Nolan's former paper) is run by some of the most gutless people ever to call themselves journalists, abandoning their reporters when the heat is turned on them. A reporter while a graduate student at the University of Iowa got access to records normally sealed to the press, the SJ Merc ran the story and ran from the reporter. Needless to say, with such sterling support, the Merc is not exactly a paper going to challenge anything. If they had taken on Cisco or any of the major companies in the Valley, any reporter would have to look at Gary Webb, forced out for a controversial series on the CIA and drugs, and Chris Nolan and conclude that taking a risk at the Merc or making a mistake would get you tossed aside like fish bait.
How can a reporter work if their editors are spineless? Well, they can't. How could any Standard reporter go after the people who they relied upon for their conferences?
But then, you have Kara Swisher pimping for her girlfriend's website, Planet Out. The editors at the Wall Street Journal turned their backs as the reporters went to Page Six to air their grievances. Did the Journal do anything? No.
There were few ethical standards anyone took seriously online and when the collapse came, these publications were caught short and late.
5) Who do you serve?
It may seem like a sure thing to get your nose deep in the ass of your advertisers but in the end, you only serve one audience: your readers. Pimping your publication for ad sales makes you look like a whore. Now, if you want to be a whore for Microsoft or Doubleclick or whatever, that's fine. You should call yourself the Doubleclick Gazette or whatever. If you want to put your friends on the cover of your magazine and take their ad money, that's fine as well. Just don't expect anyone to ever trust you.
The one thing that a reader expects is for you to be honest. Placating advertisers to get sales is stupid. Because if you can't be truthful, no one, no one, will care to read you.
The one lesson that all these online rags never got is that if you are a pimp today, when things get shitty, people will turn on you. They will gut you like a catfish and eat you on a po' boy. People now laugh at Fast Company. They sneer at Red Herring. No one who is now freelancing or working at Home Depot and back in the basement cares what happens to those magazines, because those magazines didn't care about them. Crooked bosses, sham business plans, shitty working conditions, oops, sorry, had to get cut from that profile of the boy CEO, sorry. These rags wanted to be part of a "revolution" and they were. A revolution in theft. The grand heist didn't just steal from VC's, but average investors and employees as well.
Where was the serious reporting on Webvan, a company so doomed that any grocery store manager could have pointed out the flaws over a cup of coffee? Time and again, basic reporting was ignored for the hype. And who did this screw? The workers and the investors. Any glance at a company's public documents would have demonstrated options were a fraud.
Most of the people covering the dotcom boom failed in the basic duties of journalism by not reporting the truths about these companies. They refused to investigate, to ask hard questions and relied on PR and marketing to shape their coverage. Why in God's name should the public have trusted these publications to live up to the public trust that journalists should be held to. If PC Magazine wants to shill for every crappy Microsoft product and conform their coverage to Microsoft's marketing aims, that is their right. However, it doesn't' have anything to do with reality, fairness or the standards to which journalists should be held to.
We're not talking Noam Chomsky Manufacturing Consent type stuff either, but the reality of basic Journalism 101. All the people who tried to be players in tech journalism are jokes. Michael Wolff impotently snipes from the sidelines, Louis Rosetto is living somewhere, doing something, with a lot of money in his pocket. Now, John Battelle is closing shop and whining about no one investing in the money pit known as the Industry Standard. Salon is staggering. All these people wanted to be something other than reporters and for awhile, they got away with it. Because they wanted to be something they weren't while refusing to recognize that greatness lies in doing their jobs. Journalism is a noble profession when done right. And people get killed doing it every year.
All these failed sites and magazines tanked because they thought industry needed them. They were wrong, industry needed to use them. Think Mark Cuban is worried about the fate of these magazines now? He's got his billions.
If you don't serve the people who buy your magazine and read your pages, ads won't matter because no one will trust you and if they don't trust you, they will not need you. A lesson which is being learned painfully late.
This is my favorite time of year. It's not the holidays or the good cheer that come with the season. For me, it's the time of year when every journalist, pundit, analyst and anyone else with an opinion publishes a list of predictions for the new year. We've heard before of the Year of the LAN, the Year of the Network Computer and the Year of the Internet. While all these events actually occurred at some points, they never occurred in the years for which they were forecast. This year, we'll hear about the Year of Wireless or perhaps another prediction of the PC's demise. Again, the pundits will mostly be wrong.
So, rather than yield to the temptation of creating my own list, I'm going to explain why folks are consistently wrong and how you can test the validity of experts' predictions.
Imagine that you're standing in Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903. After many attempts, Orville and Wilbur Wright have finally succeeded in making the first manned flight. While their time aloft is short, their actions will change the course of history. It will change the way business is conducted. It will change human behavior into the 21st century.
Now, imagine that at the end of that historic flight, you were to go to Orville and Wilbur, clearly the aviation experts of their day, and ask their opinion of frequent-flier programs.
The problem with predicting the future is the nature of the method used. Most analysts and pundits who are good at what they do have excellent pattern-recognition skills.
The ability to observe early on the repetition of established rules of behavior - or what has already occurred - gives a good analyst an edge.
For example, want to impress your friends and family with the date the next upgrade of Windows will ship? That's easy. Take the beta release date and add at least one year. It's a pattern that has held true for every release, including Windows 2000.
Business users need to pay attention to this trend as well. Users are increasingly technology savvy (just check the number of issues of Computerworld that come into your mail room and where they go) but even more fashion savvy. The number of requests for new systems that match decor or dress is climbing in ever-increasing numbers. Information technology organizations must realize that fashionable technology is often unsuitable for business use. Systems that flaunt fashion over function often aren't network-tested or certified for business use. Consumer systems and gadgets often lack the component standardization and support that business users need and should be avoided. As for me, I'm off to order a new Corinthian leather case for my personal digital assistant.
Beware the self-aggrandizing, newly-script-gifted "security expert" who, because they can run a program that gets them root on your systems, suddenly become all-powerful and all-knowing. There are many frauds and charlatans in the computer security community -- and I'm not referring to reformed or "grey-hat" hackers; I'm referring to those people who have either the audacity or delusions of granduer to convince clueless ISPs, AOL-rejects, and the media that they are "computer security experts."
If you are talking to someone who claims to be a computer security expert, or who claims to know "alot" about computer security, ask them to prove it. If they're waving around some exploit script they dug up, ask them to explain to you how the program works, and how it can be fixed. (Granted, if you're not a technical person, you won't be able to distinguish fact from fiction. If this is the case, find someone who can.)
Ask them what they have contributed to the computer security community -- underground or aboveground. Ask for references. Ask for papers. Ask for URL's. Do a web or USENET search. If they've been around for any length of time, you should be able to find something.
Think about it: is an "expert" someone who is well-versed in a field of study, or are they someone who knows something that you don't?
What do billions of dollars, billions of useless books, and billions of prophetic statements have in common? If you guessed the infamous Y2K rollover, you are probably one of the millions of people who were informed of some global catastrophe set to take place the first of this year. There was not a paper in publication these last few years that didn't mention some sort of doomsday consequence related to our society's dependancy on computers.
If you are any kind of normal human being you would have expected something interesting out of this entire fiasco. I expected something self-fulfilling. Mobs of fanatics and drunks taking to the streets with automatic weapons shouting verses out of the Bible, siphoning gas and stealing stereo equipment. The most eventful happenings in Denver and Colorado Springs were a few kids begging the cops to beat them. It was worse than that when the Broncos won the Super Bowl.
Digitally, I was surprised to see the overall lack of systems compromised. I expected Attrition to be flooded up to their necks in defacements. The staff had informed me that they were planning on keeping a pretty good monitor on things. Their major concern was cross-continental defacements that represented some anti-government motives. Sadly, there was no largescale cyber-shootout. All was quiet in the land of the double-oh.
However, I don't think that we are out of the clear yet. A few issues still need to be addressed. Just because the infamous "Millenium Bug" turned out to be a farce[in a general sense] does not constitute a sigh of relief. Every threat that took place before the rollover is just as real. Every security issue unaddressed prior to the first is still something to reckon with. I would argue that we have introduced a whole breed of new problems that have absolutely nothing to do with something so trivial as a system date
An obvious issue is this recent obsession with the New Year. If another Melissa virus or Y2K-ish event emerges the media will overexpose it beyond its true threat. Many elements play into this exposure ranging from computers rapidly becoming a part of everyone's life to a reporter's burning urge to write a great story.
What can we attribute this obsession to? Ignorance. As aforementioned, the Internet is no longer occupied by a majority of intelligent and computer-literate individuals. It is very simple to just hop online as a casual user and be taken advantage of. It is also easy for a fairly casual user to land a job in charge of the systems that govern your use of the Internet. Entrusting this kind of information into incapable hands is unnerving but it happens everyday. Bad people are out there, you know.
...You can understand that kind of small-scale, inter-office frenzy, fed by rumor and hype. Just as it's easy to understand the frenzy building around the world as the Year 2000 approaches. Every millennium change produces some degree of hysteria. Throw a computer glitch into the fervor -- in a world increasingly dependent on technology -- and the frenzy erupts with new and potentially alarming implications. Pay attention to the forces stirring the frenzy:
- Y2K survivalists: These are the folks convincing otherwise sane families to pack up and head for the hills to avoid the Y2K ravages. Some warn of food riots and massive starvation in the cities. Click for more.
- Y2K profiteers: A Gartner Group report suggests financial fraud stemming from efforts to fix Y2K bugs could lead to financial losses in the billions. Theory is workers and consultants working on Y2K projects have the opportunity to plant software code that could be exploited at a later date to carry out thefts. Click for more.
- Y2K fear-mongers: If you've been in a bookstore lately, chances are you were dumbstruck by shelf after shelf of Y2K books fueling public paranoia. Click for more. Y2K headlines scream from print and online publications. And politicians are churning out press releases and sound bites in double-time. Just a few examples from recent weeks prove my point:
Y2K fixes could leave companies open to future electronic fraud, Gartner warns -- 'Significant theft is likely. By Maria Seminerio, ZDNN
July 16, 1999 12:49 PM PT Companies transferring funds electronically are increasingly vulnerable to financial fraud stemming from Year 2000 bug-fixing efforts, research firm Gartner Group Inc. said in an advisory Friday.
Such fraud could result in the largest financial losses ever to corporations in the United States and across the globe -- potentially into the billions of dollars, Gartner officials said. This is partly because global financial systems are largely electronically connected now, and the interconnection is only expected to increase.
"Y2K remediation, by definition, creates and increases the opportunity for theft and fraud," said Joe Pucciarelli, a Gartner analyst, in a statement on the advisory, which stemmed from a research report released in April.
"Given the enormity of the Y2K task, the vast number of people assigned to fix the problem, and the element of human foibles, at least one significant theft is likely to occur in the next five years," Pucciarelli said.
Employees under scrutiny
Corporations must keep a close eye on staffers and consultants working on Y2K projects, since such workers have the opportunity to plant software code that could later be exploited to carry out thefts, said Bob Mack, another Gartner analyst, in an interview.
"The point we're making is that there are things corporations can do to limit fraud," Mack said. All Y2K bug-fixing efforts should be audited by third parties if possible and detailed records should be kept on all Y2K projects, he said.
While Y2K remediation efforts have been going on for years, and will obviously intensify in the remaining portion of 1999, financial fraud traceable to those efforts could occur far into the future, Mack and other experts said.
'People are scrambling'
"This is something that security experts have been looking at for a while," said Richard Power, a spokesman for the Computer Security Institute, a San Francisco-based trade group for security professionals.
"People are scrambling to get the (Y2K) work done on time, so often the controls are loosened," Power said. "Someone could plant code now that would let them defraud the company a year from now."
Electronic Books - A Bad Idea (Alertbox July 1998) -- Even when electronic books gain the same reading speed as print, they will still be a bad idea. Electronic text should not mimic the old medium and its linear ways. Electronic text should be based on interaction, hypertext linking, navigation, search, and connections to online services and continuous updates. These new-media capabilities allow for much more powerful user experiences than a linear flow of text. Linear text may have ruled the world since the Egyptians learned to produce arbitrarily long scrolls of papyrus, but it's time to end this tradition. Nobody has time to read long reports any more: information must be dynamic and under direct control of the reader, not the author. Two types of electronic books do make sense:
In both cases, the key point is that the "electronic books" are not intended to be read on a screen: they are traditional paper books and linear audio readings, respectively, and are simply manufactured and distributed in a more efficient manner by using the Internet.
Softpanorama hot topic of the month
I find it useful to draw a contrast between two different organizational development styles: "process-oriented" and "commitment-oriented" development. Process-oriented development achieves its effectiveness through skillful planning, use of carefully defined processes, efficient use of available time, and skillfull application of software engineering best practices. This style of development succeeds because the organization that uses it is constantly improving. Even if its early attempts are ineffective, steady attention to process means each successive attempt will work better than the previous attempt.
Commitment-oriented development goes by several names including "hero-oriented development" and "individual empowerment." Commitment-oriented organizations are characterized by hiring the best possible people, asking them for total commitment to their projects, empowering them with nearly complete autonomy, motivating them to an extreme degree, and then seeing that they work 60, 80, or 100 hours a week until the project is finished. Commitment-oriented development derives its potency from its tremendous motivational ability-study after study has found that individual motivation is by far the largest single contributor to productivity. Developers make voluntary, personal commitments to the projects they work on, and they often go to extraordinary lengths to make their projects succeed.
When used knowledgeably, either development style can produce high quality software economically and quickly. But both development styles have pathological lookalikes that don't work nearly as well, and that can be difficult to distinguish from the genuine articles.
The process-imposter organization bases its practices on a slavish devotion to process for process's sake. These organizations look at process-oriented organizations such as NASA's Software Engineering Laboratory and IBM's former Federal Systems Division. They observe that those organizations generate lots of documents and hold frequent meetings. They conclude that if they generate an equivalent number of documents and hold a comparable number of meetings they will be similarly successful. If they generate more documentation and hold more meetings, they will be even more successful! But they don't understand that the documentation and the meetings are not responsible for the success; they are the side effects of a few specific effective processes. We call these organizations bureaucratic because they put the form of software processes above the substance. Their misuse of process is demotivating, which hurts productivity. And they're not very enjoyable to work for.
The commitment-imposter organization focuses primarily on motivating people to work long hours. These organizations look at successful companies like Microsoft; observe that they generate very little documentation; offer stock options to their employees; and then require them to work mountains of overtime. They conclude that if they, too, minimize documentation, offer stock options, and require extensive overtime, they will be successful. The less documentation and the more overtime, the better! But these organizations miss the fact that Microsoft and other successful commitment-oriented companies don't require overtime. They hire people who love to create software. They team these people with other people who love to create software just as much as they do. They provide lavish organizational support and rewards for creating software. And then they turn them loose. The natural outcome is that software developers and managers choose to work long hours voluntarily. Imposter organizations confuse the effect (long hours) with the cause (high motivation). We call the imposter organizations sweatshops because they emphasize working hard rather than working smart, and they tend to be chaotic and ineffective. They're not very enjoyable to work for either.Cargo Cult Software Engineering
At first glance, these two kinds of imposter organizations appear to be exact opposites. One is incredibly bureaucratic, and the other is incredibly chaotic. But one key similarity is actually more important than their superficial differences. Neither is very effective, and the reason is that neither understands what really makes its projects succeed or fail. They go through the motions of looking like effective organizations that are stylistically similar. But without any real understanding of why the practices work, they are essentially just sticking pieces of bamboo in their ears and hoping their projects will land safely. Many of their projects end up crashing because these are just two different varieties of cargo cult software engineering, similar in their lack of understanding of what makes software projects work.
Cargo cult software engineering is easy to identify. Cargo cult software engineers justify their practices by saying, "We've always done it this way in the past," or "our company standards require us to do it this way"-even when those ways make no sense. They refuse to acknowledge the tradeoffs involved in either process-oriented or commitment-oriented development. Both have strengths and weaknesses. When presented with more effective, new practices, cargo cult software engineers prefer to stay in their wooden huts of familiar, comfortable and-not-necessarily-effective work habits. "Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is a sign of insanity," the old saying goes. It's also a sign of cargo cult software engineering.
FTC Cracks Down On Internet Health Scams
Skeptic News - The What's New Page for Skeptics
The Belief Engine
-- by James Alcock (Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 1995 vol. 19, no. 3) "Our brains
and nervous systems constitute a belief-generating machine, a system that evolved to assure not
truth, logic, and reason, but survival. The belief engine has seven major components ..."
Practical Unix and Internet Security by Simson Garfinkel, Gene Spafford
Learning Perl on Win32 Systems by Randal L. Schwartz, Erik Olson & Tom Christiansen
The Cuckoo's Egg by Cliff Stoll
An Overview of The Seventh International Virus Bulletin Conference (VB'97). v.2.01; Oct. 21, 1997
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols CyberCynic Corner. When Freeware Isn't Free. This is a pretty funny funny if you compare it with later columns of the same author.
The best things in life are free. What an absolute crock! Even your first breath was purchased with blood, sweat and tears. But don't take my word for it. Ask your mother, she'll tell you.
... Now, I know C++ well enough to not make a fool of myself, and I've programmed my way out of trouble with C many a time, but Netscape 5.0 is well beyond my scope. Unless you have already worked with large C++ projects, don't waste your disk space on it.
... The Mozilla project, while it may drape itself in the flag of freeware, just isn't the same. I may have been born at night, but I wasn't born last night. The real beneficiary of your efforts will be Netscape. After all, why pay costly programmers when you can have legions of good-hearted developers do your coding and testing for you?
... Now I'm not saying that the people at Mozilla have such a cynical attitude. They probably believe that what they're doing is really the same as creating a Linux or other freeware favorites like sendmail and bind. But the company that will get the lion's share of the intellectual capital from the Mozilla's free labor won't be yours.
"Information Wants to be Free."
To a person interested in political theory, one of the most striking things about the Net is the instability of the political cartography. We divide our world up into contiguous and opposing territories -- public and private, property and sovereignty, regulation and laissez-faire -- "solving" problems by inquiring as to their placement on this map. In the everyday world these divisions seem comparatively solid and lumpish to most people, even if clever academic critics may harp on their theoretical indeterminacy. On the Net, things are different. Concepts and political forces seem to be up for grabs. Nothing illustrates this point better than the debate over intellectual property on-line. In the digital environment, is intellectual property just property, the precondition to an unregulated market, just another example of the rights that libertarians believe the state was specifically created to protect? Or is intellectual property actually public regulation, artificial rather than natural, an invented monopoly imposed by a sovereign state, a distorting and liberty-reducing intervention in an otherwise free domain?
While it would be hard to find anyone who believes entirely in either of these two stereotypes, recognisable versions of both do exist in the debate over intellectual property and -- more interestingly -- can be found across the political spectrum. George Gilder of the conservative Manhattan Institute, a fervent booster of capitalism and laissez faire, shows considerable skepticism about intellectual property(7) -- Peter Huber, from the same conservative think tank, pronounces it the very acme of liberty, privacy and natural right.(8) The Clinton Administration attempts to extend intellectual property rights on-line(9) and is roundly criticised by both civil liberties groups and right wing intellectuals.(10) This isn't just a disagreement as to tactics among people who might be said to share the same ideology: it is a fundamental set of disputes over the very social construction and normative significance of a particular phenomenon -- as if the Libertarian party couldn't agree on whether its motto was to be "Taxation is theft" or "Property is theft."
Stewart Brand's phrase "information wants to be free" has now penetrated the culture sufficiently deeply that it is now actually parodied in advertisements. Yet its ubiquitous nature may work to conceal the claims that it makes.
John Perry Barlow begins his famous essay "Selling Wine Without Bottles: The Economy of Mind on the Global Net" with this quote from Jefferson.
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.(11)
The quotation expresses perfectly the mixture of Enlightenment values and upbeat public goods theory that typifies Net analysis of information flows. Information is costless to copy, should be spread widely, and cannot be confined. Beyond the Jeffersonian credo lies a kind of Darwinian anthropomorphism. Information really does want to be free. John Perry Barlow credits Brand's phrase with
recognizing both the natural desire of secrets to be told and the fact that they might be capable of possessing something like a "desire" in the first place. English biologist and philosopher Richard Dawkins proposed the idea of "memes," self-replicating, patterns of information which propagate themselves across the ecologies of mind, saying they were like life forms. I believe they are life forms in every respect but a basis in the carbon atom. They self-reproduce, they interact with their surroundings and adapt to them, they mutate, they persist. Like any other life form they evolve to fill the possibility spaces of their local environments, which are, in this case the surrounding belief systems and cultures of their hosts, namely, us. Indeed, the sociobiologists like Dawkins make a plausible case that carbon-based life forms are information as well, that, as the chicken is an egg's way of making another egg, the entire biological spectacle is just the DNA molecule's means of copying out more information strings exactly like itself.(12)
Viewed through this lens, the Net is the ultimate natural environment for information and trying to regulate the Net is like trying to prohibit evolution.
Taken together the three quotations assert that the technology of the medium, the geographical distribution of its users and the nature of its content all make the Net it specially resistant to state regulation. The state is too big, too slow, too geographically and technically limited to regulate a global citizenry's fleeting interactions over a mercurial medium. Though I do not subscribe to the full-throated versions of any of these slogans, I have sympathy with each of them. It does excite me that the Net is highly resistant to externally imposed content filtration -- though I tend to worry about structural private filters as well as command-based public ones, and I recognise that speech and information can and will produce harm as well as good. I do think that the global nature of the Net is -- by and large -- a positive thing, though we need to pay more attention to things like the cost of the technology required to play the game, or the effects on workers of a networked economy in which companies can relocate around the world and find a new on-line workforce in an afternoon.(13) Finally, I am optimistic about the historical conjunction of technologies based on nearly costless copying and a political tradition that treats information in a more egalitarian way than other resources.(14) It is possible, of course, to conjure up a world in which rampant info-kleptocracy undermines scientific and artistic development. I have argued elsewhere that the main danger is not that information will be unduly free, but that intellectual property rights will become so extensive that they will actually stifle innovation, free speech and educational potential. In any event, I want to set aside my agreement or disagreement with the values behind the Net catechism, and focus instead on the factual and legal assumptions on which it relies. My argument is that info-libertarians should not be so quick to write off the state. In fact, I argue that the work of the distinctively non-digital philosopher, Michel Foucault, provides some suggestive insights into the ways in which power can be exercised on the Net and the reasons why much contemporary analysis is so dismissive of the power of law and the state.
Personally, I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught
Sir Winston Churchill
The fat cats of the American mass media have lost their taste for the mother's milk of normal free enterprise: real competition for a reasonable profit. Thanks to addictive doses of sympathetic governmental policies and two decades of a drive for power, a shrinking number of large media corporations now regard monopoly, oligopoly and historic levels of profit as not only normal, but as their earned right.
In the process, the usual democratic expectation for the media -- diversity of ownership and ideas -- has disappeared as the goal of official policy and, worse, as a daily experience of a generation of American readers and viewers.
In 1982, when I completed research for my book, The Media Monopoly, 50 corporations controlled half or more of the media business. By December 1986, when I finished a revision for a second edition, the 50 had shrunk to 29. The last time I counted, it was down to 26. [When the latest edition of The Media Monopoly was published in 1993, the number was down to 20. -ed.] A number of serious Wall Street media analysts are predicting that by the 1990s, a half-dozen giant firms will control most of our media.
Of the 1,700 daily papers, 98 percent are local monopolies and fewer than 15 corporations control most of the country's daily circulation. A handful of firms have most of the magazine business, with Time, Inc. alone accounting for about 40 percent of that industry's revenues.
The three networks, Capital Cities/ABC, CBS and GE/NBC, still have majority access to the television audience, and most of the book business is controlled by fewer than a dozen companies, with major categories like paperback and trade books dominated by still fewer firms.
The safest way to ensure diversity of opinion is diverse ownership. But this ideal has been sacrificed by government devotion to the mythical doctrine of free market economics. The myth rests on the bizarre assumption that the modern American corporate scene is actually like Adam Smith's rural country market, in which all the farmers came to town to compete for the business of sharp-eyed customers.
If there's any truly free market in modern corporate affairs, there is none in through-the-air broadcasting. According to the Federal Communications Act, the airwaves belong to the public (something the Reaganites have ignored). The airwaves are a limited resource, and there are a small number of available channels. The Federal Communications Commission, by law, is supposed to resist monopoly and concentrated ownership, and to grant licenses on the basis of "public interest, convenience and necessity."
During the 1980s, the FCC, under Mark Fowler, has used the country's broadcasting system as an experiment in so-called free market economics. The FCC has expanded the number of stations one corporation may own and suspended the demand that stations do any public service, like news and community issues programming. It has let big operators (Murdoch, Capital Cities, Cox, etc.) buy competitors. And it has made it almost impossible to challenge a license if the public doesn't like what it sees.
My own commentary
Many I/S organizations are embracing Java, but they should be aware of the
shortcomings of the still immature language
A Brief History of UNIX by Mike Loukides. A very interesting article which is somewhat skeptical about Linux ;-)
Oracle Breakable After All
The first Slashdot troll post investigation (Score:0, Offtopic)
by negativekarmanow tm on Wednesday January 16, @05:29PM (#2850660)
(User #518080 Info | http://slashdot.org/ | Last Journal: Wednesday January 16, @08:29PM)
The last few months I have been doing some research into the trolling phenomenon on slashdot.org. In order to do this as thoroughly as possible, I have written both normal and troll posts, 1st posts, etc., both logged in and anonymously, and I have found these rather shocking results:
- More moderator points are being used to mod posts down than up. Furthermore, when modding a post up, every moderator seems to follow previous moderators in their choices, even when it's not a particularly interesting or clever post [slashdot.org]. There are a LOT more +5 posts than +3 or +4.
- Logged in people are modded down faster than anonymous cowards. Presumably these Nazi Moderators think it's more important to burn a user's existing karma, to silence that individual for the future, than to use the moderation system for what it's meant for : identifying "good" and "bad" posts (Notice how nearly all oppressive governments in the past and present do the same thing : marking individuals as bad and untrustworthy because they have conflicting opinions, instead of engaging in a public discussion about these opinions)
- Once you have a karma of -4 or -5, your posts have a score of -1 by default. When this is the case, no-one bothers to mod you down anymore. This means a logged in user can keep on trolling as much as he (or she) likes, without risking a ban to post on slashdot. When trolling as an anonymous user, every post starts at score 0, and you will be modded down to -1 ON EVERY POST. When you are modded down a certain number of times in 24 hour, you cannot post anymore from your current IP for a day or so. So, for successful trolling, ALWAYS log in.
- A lot of the modded down posts are actually quite clever [slashdot.org], funny [slashdot.org], etc., and they are only modded down because they are offtopic. Now, on a news site like slashdot, where the number of different topics of discussion can be counted on 1 hand, I must say I quite like the distraction these posts offer. But no, when the topic is yet another minor version change of the Linux kernel [slashdot.org], they only expect ooohs and aaahs about this great feat of engineering. Look at the moderation done in this thread [slashdot.org] to see what I mean.
- Digging deep into the history of slashdot, I found this poll [slashdot.org], which clearly indicates the vast majority does NOT want the moderation we have here today. 'nuff said.
Feel free to use this information to your advantage. I thank you for your time.
Re:The first Slashdot troll post investigation (Score:-1, Offtopic)
by AnalogBoy on Wednesday January 16, @05:36PM (#2850723)
(User #51094 Info | http://slashdot.org/ | Last Journal: Thursday January 17, /font>
I just want to say.. Thank you.
I'm sure you'll be modded down as a troll, as /. doesn't like dissenters in the population. They try to keep you silent and impotent.
I firmly believe once a community reaches a certain size, it has certain duties to perform, to the truth, the absence of sensationalism, and most of all, equality.
Moderators: I have posted without my +1 bonus. This post is admittedly offtopic. Don't waste your moderation points on a reply. I suggest you use moderation points on parent posts. Its more economical. And remember - mod UP intelligent posts, mod DOWN klerckisms.
Just because you disagree with me does not make me a Troll, nor does it make my post Flamebait.
Re:The first Slashdot troll post investigation (Score:-1, Offtopic)
by Fitascious on Thursday January 17, @01:17AM (#2852776)
(User #127984 Info | http://slashzero.com/)
This whole -1 thing is screwed. I worked at Andover.net (now OSDN) back in January and Feburary of 2000. I was a contractor brough on board to help build the Slashdot cage at Exodus, in fact I wrote my name with a magic marker on the bottom of the Quad Zeon VALinux box that probably still runs the main Mysql DB. At the time I thought it was pretty cool to be involved with the whole open source scene...
You know what I learned? I learned that most of the "Famous" and "Big Names" in the linux scene are attention starved name dropping weenies.
It after my assigment at Andover.net ended that I realized the whole Open Source movement is over. Done with. There are way to many people with way to much ego. All of the linux people in charge of the project were too busy stroking their ego's and counting their stock options.
I thank CmdrTaco and all the rest for a good 2 or 3 years of entertaining reading, but times have changed, there is no energy left here. Time to move on, Open source has been assimilated by Corporate Practices. I sincerely feel that all that was good about Slashdot, and to an extent the Linux fenomenon is over. This Thread just ended any hope I had left. Time to bring on the next fad.
Re:The first Slashdot troll post investigation (Score:-1, Offtopic)
by AnalogBoy on Thursday January 17, @09:18AM (#2853749)
(User #51094 Info | http://slashdot.org/ | Last Journal: Thursday January 17, /font>
I do agree with you on the ego thing. I've met -so many- Linux zealots who can't back their claims of superiority with one fact, yet, they hate windows.. for no reason except the stereotypical "It crashes all the time!" and "Microsoft is a Fascist Monopoly bent on world domination!". I forgot who said it, but i like him or her: "Open Source; Closed Minds".
It was a good idea. The problem was the application - Stallmanism ruined the OpenSores image, in my mind. I will never recommend a linux solution where a "Established" solution could take its place. Partially because of technical reasons ; but mostly because i wouldn't want to risk having someone adminning them who's too busy keeping their thumb up their arse to care about the company.
Slashdot is flawed, fundimentally. Unfortunately, its kind of fun. Screaming 14 year olds, as is said, having pissing contests over l33tness when they wouldnt know the difference between ATDT and ATH0, or SysV and BSD if it got up and shoved a clue by four up their output port. Hey, its better than sitting at work staring at the birds frying in the satellite transmitters on a slow day!
Just because you disagree with me does not make me a Troll, nor does it make my post Flamebait.
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