THANK YOU!

So… WordPress just reminded me that this is my 5 years anniversary blogging on this corner of the interwebs.

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5 Years, this would make post #274. That means – besides a heck of a lot of words – an average of 1 post a week. Nice. I like the sound of that. All things considered, I’ve been fairly consistent with updating. Hopefully as consistent with the content of said updates.

Regardless, I’d like to use this opportunity to say

Thank you to every one who came to check it out, anyone who liked, commented, shared or otherwise clicked through these posts!

I hope you enjoyed and you’re most welcome to come again 🙂

This is not a farewell post, so I won’t make it endless. 5 years is very good, but I intend to stay on for quite a while.

Thank you!

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The Agentic State Is Stable

Hi everybody,

Welcome back. I am still feeling the tail-end of whatever the hell it was that sidelined me for a while now. During one of my numerous sleepless nights of late, I watched a film called “Experimenter” that was just added to Netflix.

expwerimenter

As is the case on this blog, I’m not about to review the movie, speak about its artistic strengths and/or weaknesses. For me, this movie is more a reminder. A starting point for these next few words I’m about to write, and in that – being a trigger for some thought – the film is a great success.

It’s no spoiler that the film revolves around social experiments conducted by social psychologist Stanley Milgram, and in the center of it all, the one started in Yale university, in which he observed people’s willingness to obey questionable orders.

The experiment was fairly simple:

  • A subject in the role of “The teacher” would sit in front of a switchboard which supposedly delivers electric shocks to another individual in the role of “The student“. The student sat in another room, not visible to the teacher.
  • The teacher is directed to deliver an increasingly higher shock to the student for every wrong answer for a long series of questions.
  • The maximum shock would be fatal.
  • The teacher would be told that the experiment is about the student’s ability to learn under the “threat” of the shock, and before the experiment started, the teacher was requested to receive the lowest shock he’d be asked to deliver to the student.
  • The student was in fact a part of the experiment team and received no shock at all.
  • With every wrong answer, a recording of the student expressing unease, pain and ultimately demands to stop would be played to the teacher.

Suffice to say that over 60% of the subjects delivered the shocks without fail up until the maximum strength. Some expressed distress, discomfort and some sympathy to the student. Others protested, but ultimately all of these 60%+ went all the way.

I find it disturbing, especially since this experiment was replicated in decades to come in different places on the globe with even bigger percentages of compliance (e.g. ~80% in France).

Stanley Milgram called this the agentic state, which means handing off responsibility for one’s actions and thus painting one’s self as an agent of someone else.

Milgram then became a target for much scorn.

Subjects and others proclaimed:

“I feel manipulated, deceived.”
“You lied to your subjects”
“You weren’t honest
You told them to do it”

among other accusations.

To which I have to say:

  1. What better conditions could exist for such an experiment? It’s actually the most realistic set, as we are all manipulated, deceived, lied to and most of all…
  2. Led to believe we don’t have a choice. Which is the whole point of the experiment. All the accusations are either “YOU/HE/THEY did something” or the like-minded “something happened TO US“.Where is the “I” and the “WE” in this discussion? There’s always a choice. There’s always consequence, but there’s always choice. And WE make it, one way or the other.

In this experiment, what was the consequence of saying “no”? How does it compare with the consequence (even if it’s only in the subject’s head) of compliance?

I fear that this agentic state is stable, that is, have been instilled in us for as long as a century (at the very least). This is not only reminiscent of the holocaust, though that played a major role in Milgram’s motivation. It’s in so many things we do, or not do and have been doing for a very long time now.

There are many ways to change that, but none of which could be imposed on the individual. Guess what, it’s a matter of choice. Ask any practicing Buddhist.

What are your thoughts? Have you seen the movie? are you familiar with Milgram’s experiments?

Until next time…

Time Management, Efficiency And The Big Picture

Hello world.

It’s no secret that my day job is in IT and have been for over 15 years now. I joined this wondrous and treacherous world about a minute and half before that infamous IT bubble burst, and with it a lot of illusions (Not to say delusions).

See, back in the day, IT was code word for fast track, money, terms and excitement. To a great degree it still is (mainly the excitement part) with technological advances and what have you.

It started (way before my time) in old fashion computer labs with a general idea of what they wanted to achieve, and when companies realized they need more structure, methodologies were developed, changed, adjusted and made new on a regular basis. Then came the start-ups with – in very broad strokes – a single goal, big payout in mind, and though very few were very successful, the ones that were, threatened to change the market.

But in the end, and a lot due to that bubble situation, as is normal to many other industries, things “normalized” and the current structure prevailed.

That is not to say the market isn’t changing. A statement such as this couldn’t be farther from the truth, as everything, from investment strategies trough training models and constant re-assessment of working models is heavily impacted by these changes. They may seem small, or trivial, but the slightest shift can make very big waves.

If you work in IT, you don’t need me telling you that.

And that is why we’re here today. Not to talk about the business side of this, but rather to take a brief look at what that means for the individual. The one behind the keyboard. A lot of effort was, and is being made to ensure that the time we spend at work is used effectively and that there’s time remaining for other things in life. We call that – Time Management, Efficiency models and other such names.

I wanted to paint a picture, and you’ll have to excuse me but the data presented is gross estimation, based on personal experience, many conversations with people I’ve met in these 15+ years from different IT companies and others. Though it may not be accurate to the 0.001%, I believe it’s very close to the mark. I can also say that some of it is how people may feel about their lives in this line of business.

OK, we’ve talked enough for the time being. Let’s look at some pie charts like good IT people:

How our time was/is divided:

Before the “IT revolution”:

beforeITRev

During the “IT Boom”:

DuringITBoom

If you worked on a Start Up:

StartUp

How is it now? Well, I guess that depends on many things. Where you work, what line of business, what environment, etc.

It’s probably none of the above charts, as none of these are sustainable for the long haul (and thus, seen less frequently). I’d estimate that we’re somewhere between chart 1 and chart 2.

What other big changes impact the person inside the machine? Of course, the cycle. It makes perfect business sense that as the market changes, so would the work cycle. Terms like TTM determine how often our work would peak. Competition. Pro-activeness and response. These things are by no means what they used to be (and will not be tomorrow). Again, not exact science, but I’m pretty sure you’d agree with the following generic development.

Looking at the below graphs, You’d see the general trend as the industry reacts to the market needs:

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g2

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As time progresses, not only do we have more peaks, but the so-called “valleys” are higher up than they used to be.

Hopefully – for my fellow IT people – that means you get a lot of work and that is good, especially in today’s economy. On the flip side of this very coin, there’s the time you have for anything other than work.

In order to handle these changes better, many techniques and methodologies were developed, and are being adjusted as we speak. In business terms they translate, again, to time management and efficiency.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the demonstration in this video (this is just an example. There are many others out there):

This demonstration hits the nail on the head. It’s a classic because it actually works. Go ahead, try it, I’ll wait.

But I’d like to finish this post by giving a single advice. Whether you already work in IT, or planning to (and don’t be scared by any of the above), you have to remember that while that bowl is being filled to capacity with the big and small tasks of our working day – that bowl is within a far bigger bowl we call life. And the space left in the bigger bowl should be filled and refilled with anything but work. I have my writing, among other things, but you don’t need my help to identify which “rocks” to fill yours with. They’re yours.

So go on. Get a life!


And The Oscar Goes To… (Post Martin Luther King Day Musings)

Hello everyone,

This past week, we marked Dr. King’s birthday and had time to reflect on things. Perhaps by chance, perhaps otherwise, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith started their Oscar boycott for lack of African-American nominees.

Have I lost any sleep over this, you ask? Nope.

And this is not because I’m against diversity. By all means, if there was even one African-American actor/ress who’ve been left out because of the color of their skin, I’d boycott the Oscar myself. Well, If I was watching it to begin with. I’m not.

No, for me, the issue is different. Completely different.

I see very few African-American affluent people working to better the lives of the African-American people of the USA. Please don’t name politicians, I don’t consider them working for the benefit of any people. I’m looking for people like Will Smith.

Mr. Smith is a well known, widely respected actor among many people, young and old alike. During his career he was able to endear himself to many of us and considering his financial situation it leads me to believe that he just might be the perfect person to fight for the rights of African-Americans.

I’m not being cynical here. I truly believe Will can be a major player in furthering the interests of a group which is still a minority and to this day, still suffer from racism and discrimination.

So what’s my issue with this “Oscar boycott”?

It’s very simple. Priorities.

Really, Will? THAT is your cause? THIS is what you want to rally the masses behind?

There are so many people in America who’re taking a risk every time they enter their car, for committing the crime called “Driving While Black“. And we know how much cops like them some black drivers. There are still many jobs that are out of reach, and so many other things that are so much more worthy of Will’s wrath.

So what does Mr. Smith do? He goes after, arguably the least important cause. He goes for the cream.

Let’s say his voice is heard and for the next 25 years, we will see 50% African-American movie makers winning Oscars. How many people are we talking about? 200? 500? And how will their lives be altered? They would become “Oscar winners”? Will that be the end of racism in America? Will that make ANY difference? Well, among the privileged, some African-Americans will also become a little more privileged.

Something tells me that Dr. King would’ve preferred to see a man of Will’s standings, working towards a far more significant cause.

I hope that none of you will participate in the – unfortunately – racially charged cyber-arguments. Will is right. A full cadre of white nominees doesn’t seem right.

Mind you, I haven’t watched enough movies this year to have ANY favorites – Well, Bryan Cranston is one, though I haven’t watched ‘Trumbo‘. But that’s besides the point.

The point is, America has bigger fish to fry and deeper problems to solve than the inclusion of this person or the other in some Hollywood shortlist. I hope to see Will Smith standing at the forefront of some of these.

Until next time,

A Doctor We Can All Afford

Hi there, how are ya?

This week was my annual “Flu week“. Every year I have one, where my nose is shut and “Energy” becomes a foreign term. My mom, in her wisdom used to tell me that to get over a flu, it takes a week with medication, or seven days without. You should listen to your moms is all I’m saying.

I don’t take medications. My wife is my doctor and I’m following her orders (almost) to the dot. I find that if I do that, things tend to go in the right direction. You should also listen to my wife, is all I’m saying.

My own state of affairs aside, it got me thinking about illness and health, remedies and aggravating factors. I’ve also heard people talk about their health issues and in many cases, the cost of treatment. Insurance coverage varies, and people pay stupendous amounts of money to heal the damage they’ve caused to their bodies.

On a whole ‘nother level, is the health of society and indeed, that of the world.

You may think that if it costs so much to treat one individual, it may very well be too expensive to heal the world. What plan will cover such a grave state of health?

I’m here to remind you that we already have (or rather had) a doctor who had the solution. A doctor who pointed at the most reasonable remedy. A doctor who was loved by many, and is still revered by many more, including yours truly.

We had doctor Martin Luther King Jr. may god bless his soul.

Well, we’ve lost the man, which is extremely unfortunate, but we’d all be a bunch of criminals if we allowed his message to be lost.

Tomorrow, Martin Luther King Jr. day is just one more opportunity for us to refresh our memory, and to teach Dr. King’s remedies to our kids. We must all understand, and start practicing these critical lessons so there might be a chance – slim as it may be – for humanity to heal.

Because we are – whether we’d like to admit it or not – sick. We’re plagued with wars and hatred, bigotry and racism, sexism and other really nasty isms.

And just like infectious diseases are a result of negligence, and others a result of poor diet and other habits, so are our illnesses. A result of our own doing. Or lack thereof.

I’d like to close this by sharing a few quotes from the late and great Dr. King. Free of charge. Fully covered by our amazing health plan:

And in case you forgot, Dr. King had a dream:

Today, I’ll drink to our health. 

If you’d like, you can help spread the word of the good doctor by sharing this post 🙂

Be A Party Pooper!

Welcome back one and all.

I think it’s about time we open something up for discussion. It’s a little nagging (mis)behavior that quite frankly gets on my nerve. It might be the most irritating when it manifests over the internet, but it most definitely isn’t limited to the confines of cyber space. We witness it on a daily basis on TV, in the papers and in our own water fountain chats.

rightleftIf you were paying attention to this blog this last year or so, you’d know that I do not believe in the division of population based on “Left” and “Right“. You’d likely notice that I think that’s a trap we all seem to have fallen into in our ignorance.

 

 

 

 

I participate less than ever in political debates because I came to realize that these are no longer debates at all. No. These are not conversations where we dare challenge our intellect in any way, nor is it rising above the level of pre-elections propaganda. Mostly, these so-called “debates” are regurgitation of slogans. Bad ones at that.

I used to pay extra attention to some of the more educated people and hear their observations, as they were expressed at great length in clear, stylish language. These folks know their political science, I thought. These guys didn’t just spew out the first thought that came to mind. They actually made a sincere effort to think it through.

I thought.

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But the more I listen, the more I read, the more I’m convinced that it is these intellectuals who betray us all. And many of us follow their lead. That is their biggest sin.

 

 

 

See, I don’t need a person with a phd to tell me what the party-line is. I get that from the politicians. I don’t need an artist reading slogans out loud, even if the soundtrack is magnificent. I get that from a fresh-out-of-college-political-aid-to-a-local-senator.

The role of intellectuals is different. It is to challenge conventions, to stimulate discussions beyond the norms. Otherwise, with all due respect, they are nothing but parrots with (or without) an ivy league degree.

I’d like to quote Ray Bradbury:

I hate all politics. I don’t like either political party. One should not belong to them – one should be an individual, standing in the middle. Anyone that belongs to a party stops thinking.

See, having an intellect doesn’t mean having the ability to “choose” a “side” and represent it via superb vocabulary and style. It also doesn’t mean bending all logic and reason to “prove” your “side” is right. It is definitely not ceasing any introspective process and giving up doubt. Quite the opposite.

So, what am I saying here? I guess I’m saying – Be a party pooper, not a party member. Dare to challenge conventions and norms. Refuse to participate in political argument, unless the purpose is to enrich the discussion. There is no “winning“. Even when you think your “side” prevailed, the truth is that everybody keep losing. It’s not about one “side” winning over the other. There can only be one kind of “win” – It is when we find the way to close the gaps, to come together and unite. When we – at long last – realize there is no “us” and “them”, “right” and “left”. We keep hearing the term “Think outside of the box“, but… can we actually do that?

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Until next time, feel free to leave your comment, like and share.