Quotulatiousness

April 17, 2017

Why big organizations act like idiots (United Airlines is only the most recent example)

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charlie Martin knows about big corporations making themselves look foolish … and far too often doubling down on the stupid:

This whole recent thing with United Airlines has me thinking, once again, about how big organizations act like idiots. […]

Like all good consultants, I have a Model, mostly cribbed from others, based on two observations:

  • The SNAFU principle: the farther up a hierarchy information has to travel, the more information is lost. This is because no one likes giving people bad news, so the news tends to get better the farther up it goes.
  • The Peter Principle (modified): people rise in a hierarchy to the limits of their competence in rising in a hierarchy; further, the skill of rising in a hierarchy is largely independent of the skills needed to deal with actual issues.

Of course, the implication of this is something I’ve called Carl’s Corollary (for a friend and co-worker Carl Madison, who first pointed it out). Carl’s Corollary implies that most decisions are being made by people less and less competent to deal with the situation, using increasingly bad information.

Naturally, this results in bad decisions being made. The usual result is that once the bad decision has been made, someone is identified to be responsible, that person is punished, and a new policy is issued to make sure no one makes that mistake again.

[…]

United, though, has a different scheme, clearly. They have a Book, and it Must Be Followed. No one on the ground in Chicago — at least no one in reach of the gate — had the authority to do anything but offer an $800 voucher, which just wasn’t enough. (I can relate. I used to be a “45 weeks a year” road warrior, and there were some nights where if they’d have tried to bump me off a flight home, I would have either killed someone or just thrown myself on the floor of the terminal screaming.) So they followed the Book, and when they couldn’t get Dao to leave, they followed the book again saying he was disruptive, and then the mall airport cops went all Cartman on him…

https://media.giphy.com/media/B1TMcmoBAaSZi/giphy.gif

… and the rest was history.

Now, imagine if, instead, the gate people had the authority to offer more. And the gate agents knew their primary responsibility was to make customers happy and not get bad publicity.

March 25, 2017

When reality TV goes feral

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the Guardian, a sad tale of a failed reality TV show that went off the air … but the people involved were not told about it:

After a year cut off from modern life in the Scottish Highlands, imagine re-emerging to find a world where Donald Trump is US president, Britain has left the EU and Leicester won the Premier League.

For the contestants of the Channel 4 programme Eden, coming back from isolation means not just coming to terms with 2017 but also the news that their year of toil in the wilderness barely made it on to television.

The programme, which first aired in July last year, was billed as a social experiment where 23 strangers were brought to the remote west Highlands of Scotland to build a self-sufficient community away from technology and modern tools. The year-long saga would be recorded by four crew members and personal cameras.

However, only four episodes of the show – covering March, April and May – were screened, as viewing figures dropped from 1.7m to 800,000. Sexual jealousy, infighting and hunger also meant that over the year, a reported 13 of the 23 contestants left the show, though Channel 4 would not confirm the dropouts.

Despite the show being taken off air, those still toiling for survival in the wilds of the 600-acre estate on the Ardnamurchan peninsula were not informed that their ordeal had not been broadcast since August.

So much for those dreams of fame and fortune from “starring” in a reality TV show.

H/t to Colby Cosh for the link.

March 23, 2017

The “Resistance” chooses some Nazi-era symbology for self-labelling

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Curtis Edmonds shared this on the Facebook Conservative and Libertarian Fiction Alliance page. We really do live in a post-parody world (link is to an archived version of the post):

Shortly after the presidential election, “Trump Nation/Whites Only” was written on the wall outside a majority-immigrant church in Maryland. The response is to either quietly wash the wall or stand against hatred and promote tolerance. “All citizens of good conscious must join the Resistance to Donald J. Trump’s authoritarian administration,” writes public relations consultant Len Stein. To visualize and unite the various resistance groups and present the movement with a unifying symbol, Stein proposes that resisters wear a triangle ‘R’ badge on their sleeves when protesting—immigrants, refugees, people of every ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or political affiliation. The ‘R’ triangle symbols were designed by Tucker Viemeister. I asked Stein to talk more about this act of resistance.

If that one’s not setting off your historical symbol alarm, here are the recommended variations for Trump Resistance folks to display:

March 3, 2017

QotD: Is the Internet itself making us less tolerant and more prone to confirmation bias?

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I think it’s time to declare the internet a failure. At least with respect to its early promises of increased knowledge sharing and positive impact on collaboration.

Decentralization of media, Social media, has increased the rate in which misinformation is being transmitted. Once learned invalid information has to be unlearned and that is a much harder task than educating people with accurate information in the first place.

Social media also appears to have increased the rate that people cluster around misinformation and create specialized groups of individuals that aggressively seek to disseminate their ideas.

The asocial aspect of social media encourages individuals to behave in ways that they normally wouldn’t when face-to-face with people that don’t share their views. It has made intolerant people more belligerent and it has forced tolerant people to adopt less tolerant stances.

The trend seems to be to continue to partition people into increasingly specialized and narrowly focused groups. At the extreme we see individuals with highly individualized views agitating groups with more generally accepted views.

People have become more militant, intolerant, and unaccepting of society. The impact on society is a weakening of collaborative spirit, increased cynicism, and further increases to militancy.

In the mid-90s I was very excited at the opportunities collective information sharing could produce. We’ve realized some of those but I simply didn’t foresee the degradation of democratic values that reveal the best in the humanity.

Social media has increased the ability to create social anxiety by pouring misinformation into peoples’ lives with ideas that they are directly threatened or that there are limits to resources, ideas that are often mere fabrication.

Today we are bombarded daily with absurdity, aggression, fear mongering, and intolerance. It’s as if we unwound the clock a hundred years and abandoned the great freedom experiment. Only now the weapons to resolve differences of opinion are much more destructive.

Hard to be bullish on the consequences of increased nationalism around the globe.

The world does face some difficult issues we need to address but things are not nearly as bad as what has become status quo thinking.

Douglas Gunn, posting to Facebook, 2017-02-20.

February 23, 2017

QotD: Government failure is baked-in

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

One can build a very good predictive model of government agency behavior if one assumes the main purpose of the agency is to maximize its budget and staff count. Yes, many in the organization are there because they support the agency’s public mission (e.g. protecting the environment at the EPA), but I can tell you from long experience that preservation of their staff and budget will almost always come ahead of their public mission if push comes to shove.

The way, then, to punish an agency is to take away some staff and budget. Nothing else will get their attention. Unfortunately, in most scandals where an agency proves itself to be incompetent or corrupt or both (e.g. IRS, the VA, more recently with OPM and their data breaches) the tendency is to believe the “fix” involves sending the agency more resources. Certainly the agency and its supporters will scream “lack of resources” as an excuse for any problem.

And that is how nearly every failing government agency is rewarded for their failure, rather than punished. Which is why our agencies fail so much.

Warren Meyer, “Congress Almost Always Rewards Failed Government Agencies. Here is Why”, Coyote Blog, 2015-06-17.

February 1, 2017

Ace and the shitty tools of despair

Filed under: Humour, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Ace put up some shelves recently. He was not impressed with some of the tools he used:

I thought I had a drill that could drill (and drive screws) through studs. I did not. What I had was two pieces of shit which, combined together, made up a collection of shit that took up more space in my tool drawer than a single piece of shit would.

The things could not even push past the first eighth inch of drywall. The easiest part.

It’s like, “Hey, thanks Tool. Thanks for getting me past that first easy eighth inch. I’ll take it the rest of the way, now that you’ve gotten me off to such a swell start. You take a well-earned break, and get back to napping in that drawer. I’ll power through the rest of this with my forearms and my dinky little ratchet.”

I literally was just pushing on the drill to make a small starter hole for the screw, like it was a poorly-balanced nail with a pistol grip.

It’s a poor workman who blames his tools, but I think you can all agree I am a poor workman in the first place, and these really are shitty, shitty tools.

January 26, 2017

QotD: Why government intervention usually fails

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

We saw in an earlier story that the government is trying to tighten regulations on private company cyber security practices at the same time its own network security practices have been shown to be a joke. In finance, it can never balance a budget and uses accounting techniques that would get most companies thrown in jail. It almost never fully funds its pensions. Anything it does is generally done more expensively than would be the same task undertaken privately. Its various sites are among the worst superfund environmental messes. Almost all the current threats to water quality in rivers and oceans comes from municipal sewage plants. The government’s Philadelphia naval yard single-handedly accounts for a huge number of the worst asbestos exposure cases to date.

By what alchemy does such a failing organization suddenly become such a good regulator?

Warren Meyer, “Question: Name An Activity The Government is Better At Than the Private Actors It Purports to Regulate”, Coyote Blog, 2015-06-12.

January 19, 2017

QotD: Elphy Bey rides again

Filed under: Britain, History, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

William G. K. Elphinstone (1782-1842) commanded the British 33rd Regiment of Foot (later the Duke of Wellington’s regiment, and today incorporated in the Yorkshire Regiment), and was almost certainly the worst battalion commander in any of the armies during the campaign. His troops broke at Quatre Bras and lost their colors at Waterloo, which he afterwards tried to cover up by secretly ordering new colors; a deception that failed to retrieve the regimental honor. He went on to prove quite possibly the most inept officer ever to command an army, when, as a major general during the First Afghan War (1839-1842), he dithered on so heroic a scale that, of his 4,000 troops and 10,000 camp followers, only one man escaped death or capture.

Al Nofi, “Al Nofi’s CIC”, Strategy Page, 2015-06-18.

January 16, 2017

“Crafting. Needs. To. End. It is ruining gaming”

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

John Ringo posted this on Facebook, and while I don’t play the particular games he references, I’m also finding that in-game crafting (which seemed like such a cool idea when I first heard of it) is really just an extended PITA:

(more…)

January 15, 2017

How not to be politically persuasive, Hollywood edition

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Megan McArdle on the how the actual effect of Meryl Streep’s anti-Trump speech contrasts with her intent, and why:

Well, yes, celebrities are stupid about policy, often breathtakingly so. On the other hand, so is everyone else. You want to hear some really stupid ideas about policy? Grab a group of whip-smart financial wizards, or neurosurgeons, or nuclear physicists, and sit them down for a nice dinner to debate some policy outside their profession. You will find that they are pretty much just as stupid as anyone else, because policy is not about smart. I mean, smart helps. But policy is fundamentally about domain knowledge, and that knowledge is acquired only by spending a great deal of time thinking about a pretty small set of problems. Funnily enough, this is also how one gets good at finance, or neurosurgery, or nuclear physics.

The problem with Hollywood people making political speeches is not that their political ideas are worse than anyone else’s, or that they enjoy sharing their half-baked ideas. This is a minor and forgivable social sin, like arriving five minutes early for a party. No, the problem with Hollywood people making political speeches is that the speeches themselves are bad, at least at their presumed goal of producing political change.

Take Streep. She’s right that Trump should not have made fun of a disabled reporter. However, she surrounded that point with an extended discussion of how mean everyone was being to actors and journalists.

This was a double mistake. First, it accepted Trump’s frame: it’s a handful of liberal elites against the rest of the country. That’s an argument he just won, so it’s unwise to try for an immediate rematch. And second, there is in this whole world no sight less rhetorically compelling than that of successful people with fun and rewarding jobs, and a decent income, complaining that they’re victims of the unglamorous folks who labor at all the strenuously boring work required to make their lives nice. Even I, who have one of those jobs, am rolling my eyes and saying “Good heavens, suck it up.” The only people who don’t recoil from this sort of vacuous self-pity are those similarly situated in elite liberal institutions — but since those folks already hate Trump, you haven’t actually changed anything.

December 9, 2016

The Trudeau government’s bad times

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Chris Selley on the (largely self-inflicted) hard times of Justin Trudeau’s government recently:

It has been one hell of a couple of weeks for the Liberal Party of Canada: first Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s bizarre encomium to dearly departed Fidel; then the approval of two pipelines projects, dashing the oil-free dreams of people who hadn’t been paying attention and producing thousands of barrels of fake outrage; and then, the inevitable collapse of the government’s electoral reform agenda.

It was always going to look bad. The Liberals were always going to break their promise to make 2015 the last first-past-the-post election. Perhaps they had even contemplated their members on the electoral reform committee recommending they break it, by adopting a go-slower approach. But no one, surely, anticipated Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef accusing the committee as a whole of not doing the job she had set out for them, which they had; mocking the Gallagher Index, an easily explicable formula for measuring proportionality in election results; and justifying herself with shameless bafflegab that would make Paul Calandra blush.

[…]

Monsef later apologized for accusing committee members of slacking, Manon Cornellier notes in Le Devoir, but not for misrepresenting their mandate, mocking mathematics — as an emissary of the party of “evidence-based policy,” no less — and generally behaving like a buffoon.

“(Monsef’s) beef with the Gallagher Index isn’t that it only measures proportionality. Her beef with the Gallagher Index is that it’s math, with its sums of squares and square roots and symbols that are literally Greek,” Fine fumes. It’s a worrying outburst of idiocy, she argues. Monsef and her ilk talk constantly of “engagement,” but that’s a very difficult thing to measure. “At the intersection of ‘affinity for engagement’ and ‘contempt for metrics’ is fertile breeding ground for leaders who wish to make up their own rules,” Fine trenchantly observes.

November 13, 2016

QotD: Don’t call it software engineering

Filed under: Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The #gotofail episode will become a text book example of not just poor attention to detail, but moreover, the importance of disciplined logic, rigor, elegance, and fundamental coding theory.

A still deeper lesson in all this is the fragility of software. Prof Arie van Deursen nicely describes the iOS7 routine as “brittle”. I want to suggest that all software is tragically fragile. It takes just one line of silly code to bring security to its knees. The sheer non-linearity of software — the ability for one line of software anywhere in a hundred million lines to have unbounded impact on the rest of the system — is what separates development from conventional engineering practice. Software doesn’t obey the laws of physics. No non-trivial software can ever be fully tested, and we have gone too far for the software we live with to be comprehensively proof read. We have yet to build the sorts of software tools and best practice and habits that would merit the title “engineering”.

I’d like to close with a philosophical musing that might have appealed to my old mentors at Telectronics. Post-modernists today can rejoice that the real world has come to pivot precariously on pure text. It is weird and wonderful that technicians are arguing about the layout of source code — as if they are poetry critics.

We have come to depend daily on great obscure texts, drafted not by people we can truthfully call “engineers” but by a largely anarchic community we would be better of calling playwrights.

Stephan Wilson, “gotofail and a defence of purists”, Lockstep, 2014-02-26.

November 2, 2016

Online security theatre: “We sell biometric authentication systems to people who need a good password manager”

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:06

Joey DeVilla linked to this discussion of the Mirai botnet and the distressing failures of online security … not for the brilliance and sophistication of the attack (it was neither), but the failure to address simple common-sense security issues:

I’ve written about 1988’s Morris worm, and I wanted to dig into the source of the Mirai botnet (helpfully published by the author) to see how far we’ve come along in the past 28 years.

Can you guess how Mirai spreads?

Was there new zeroday in the devices? Hey, maybe there was an old, unpatched vulnerability hanging — who has time to apply software updates to their toaster? Maybe it was HeartBleed 👻?

Nope.

Mirai does one, and only one thing in order to break into new devices: it cycles through a bunch of default username/password combinations over telnet, like “admin/admin” and “root/realtek”. For a laugh, “mother/fucker” is in there too.

Default credentials. Over telnet. That’s how you get hundreds of thousands of devices. The Morris worm from 1988 tried a dictionary password attack too, but only after its buffer overflow and sendmail backdoor exploits failed.

Oh, and Morris’ password dictionary was larger, too.

April 24, 2016

QotD: Learning when to walk away

Filed under: Books, Media, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… the point of my book is that failure is inevitable, so you’d better learn to deal with it as best you can. Don’t say “Failure is not an option” the way they do in movies, because I promise you, failure is always an option. Prepare for it. Learn from it. Move on.

The follow-up question I frequently got — and a completely fair one — is “OK, how do you know when it’s time to pack it in? ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ only takes you so far, after all.”

In response, I ended up telling a story. It’s the story of a girl who was destined to be around 6’2″, a fact ascertained during her toddlerhood by the family doctor. (Apparently you can reasonably approximate adult height by measuring a little kid’s leg bones. Or maybe by looking at her 6’7″ dad.)

This little girl briefly wanted to be a gymnast. This was not in her destiny. So she settled on a new ambition. She wanted to be a jockey.

The girl grew very fast. By the time she was in fifth grade, she was over 5′ tall. By seventh grade, she had reached her full height. And it was just around this time that someone pointed out that she was already a foot too tall to be a jockey.

Should this girl — and yes, it was our very own Megan McArdle — have pluckily ignored the critics and the naysayers and dedicated herself to achieving her dream? To answer that, ask yourself another question: Should you try to dislodge a stuck lemon peel from the garbage disposal while it’s still running?

No, no, no. This can only end in disaster.

Sometimes what failure is telling you is “this doesn’t work” or “you don’t have what it takes.” Ignoring those messages is, in fact, how many of the folks I chronicled in my book turned a simple failure into a total disaster.

Megan McArdle, “Will Mitt Romney Know When It’s Time To Quit?”, Bloomberg View, 2015-01-16.

December 6, 2015

Cleveland – the “Factory of Sadness”

Filed under: Football, Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Matt Waldman tries to get to the root of the problem … the problem of being a Cleveland Browns fan:

The Seahawks’ exploits have been a thrill, but I’ve never hung on every play with the same passion I did when I watched Steve McNair and company in Tennessee. You see, Titans and Seahawks fans got a taste of Han in those games, but by the time that happened I had already been marinated in it in Cleveland:

    Han or Haan[1] is a concept in Korean culture attributed as a unique Korean cultural trait which has resulted from Korea’s frequent exposure to invasions by overwhelming foreign powers. Han denotes a collective feeling of oppression and isolation in the face of insurmountable odds (the overcoming of which is beyond the nation’s capabilities on its own). It connotes aspects of lament and unavenged injustice.

    The minjung theologian Suh Nam-dong describes han as a “feeling of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against one, a feeling of acute pain in one’s guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong — all these combined.”[2]

    In some occasions, anthropologists have recognized han as a culture-specific medical condition whose symptoms include dyspnea, heart palpitation, and dizziness. (Wikipedia)

Whether they know it or not, the Browns are the unofficial NFL team of Korea. Cleveland embodies Han more than any team – and possibly, city (Detroit gets props) – in American sport.

It’s what happens when your team is this close to it all coming together and its spirit gets kidnapped to Baltimore.

Baltimore Colts great Art Donovan got it right when he said that he had mixed feelings about the Ravens’ arrival in Charm City. He was happy for the fans to get a team, but not at the cost of another great fan base losing theirs.

The Ravens still have the soul and guts of the real Cleveland Browns. They’re Mickey Rourke’s detective Harry Angel from Angel Heart. a war veteran kidnapped by crooner Johnny Favorite, who, to avoid paying up his side of the deal he made with the devil, performs a gruesome ritual on Angel to inhabit the detective’s body and hide from Lucifer – and himself.

[…]

I wish I could say Angel Heart only applies to Art Modell performing his satanic ritual on Cleveland and hiding in the Ravens purple and black. Then it could make DeNiro’s Lucifer the collective embodiment of vengeful Browns fans everywhere.

But I experienced my own personal horror of discovering who I was in the wake of the Browns 42nd last-minute loss since 1999: Despite 20 years of trying not deny it, I’m still a Browns fan. I’ll always be a Browns fan.

It’s not a choice. It’s part of who I am.

I had this epiphany last night while watching defeat snatched from the foot of victory against the team that made off with our mojo. Watching my shitty team lose a game to its mortal enemy that’s so deeply wounded that it’s starting an ATM for interceptions, pissed me off more than the Titans and Seahawks’ one-yard debacles in the Super Bowl.

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