Category Archives: Information Metaphysics

Agile as something you do

I have spent the last 2 evenings in Birmingham listening to talks by @diaryofscrum at @ScrumUK and @stevejpitchford at @bcsbrum about management and ‘Agile’ software development, which brought some of my own concerns into sharper focus, particularly about the Scrum framework. In many discussions with practitioners over the last couple of years, I’ve heard the following phrases:

“Agile is an adjective not a verb”
“Agile isn’t something you do, it’s something you are”
“Agile is a philosophy not a method”
“Agile isn’t a process”

Someone who ISN’T agile has to start somewhere. They typically need to DO something, to write software. Would we claim,”Scientific” is an adjective not a method? We wouldn’t, because it is both. The scientific method is a function which delivers what we call “scientific knowledge” as its value. If it didn’t, it would be pointless.

Managers are generally trying to get things done. Each team must agree its own Agile Operating Model (thanks to BCS’s ‘Agile Foundations’ book for that useful phrase.) What came out of the last couple of evenings was pragmatic application of philosophy. Many organisations take Scrum as a starting point, without realizing that “framework” is to be taken very literally. Scrum doesn’t paint the complete picture. It is (part of) a process to organize work. It says almost nothing about how to do that work. It is an alternative to writing a project plan “up-front”, when you know least.

An Agile Operating Model is a process which delivers a value, so it is a function. My scientific hypothesis is that it delivers valuable business function change, sometimes in the form of software. It is itself a business function. Agility has business functions as first class citizens. It doesn’t meet general expectations of a process because it can recursively self-modify. That doesn’t mean it isn’t one. As the kids say, “get you an agile function that can do both”.

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Practising your Process

My very sincere thanks to Simon Powers for posting the ‘onion diagram’ in his ‘What is Agile?’ post on LinkedIn and for answering my question. The post is also available on his own blog http://www.adventureswithagile.com/2016/08/10/what-is-agile/
It shows ‘tools & processes’ separate from ‘practices’. I’ve been thinking for a long time about whether there is any real difference between process (what) and procedure (how) or if they are simply different levels of detail. I think I’ve just been convinced that the equation I’ve been searching for is:

  • process + practises = procedure

Simon actually listed in his answer to me, ‘roles, interactions and artifacts’ as the difference between the set of Agile practices and the set of Agile processes, so I’ve corrupted his definition for my own purposes but I haven’t broken his diagram so I hope he’ll forgive me. (Or maybe I don’t understand whether the layers of an onion diagram are inclusive or exclusive.)

I think making the process one of the practises would make the function recursive and this is supposed to be one of my Lisp rest-days. If my process diagram shows roles or artifacts then I’m sure I’ve moved into the realm of specifying practice. Interactions may be input-output that is part of the definition of the process, so it is probably necessary to split them down more, into message type & format.

Vacuous Thoughts

A minute ago, I juxtaposed 2 phrases on a Slack chat:

I listened to Rich Hickey’s video on Hammock Driven Development a couple of days ago. It’s about modification of mind mode without resorting to chemicals. There’s a long tradition in hacker-lore that points to Zen and the martial arts too. I find showers, lawn-mowing and writing what i think I know so far (a variation of the cardboard coder trick) all help. The poets seem to prefer long walks. ‘Empty Mind’. “Nature abhors a vacuum”.

As a result of my subsequent wanderings, I learned a new word, “plenist” and “plenism” http://englishdictionary.education/en/plenism (the usual suspects)

and I saw the word “idiom”. I’ve heard “idiomatic” a lot recently, in relation to styles associated with programming languages but I wasn’t sure precisely what it meant:

I think the intended meaning is Google’s 2nd choice:

a characteristic mode of expression in music or art.

but the alternative is interesting too:

a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g. over the moon, see the light ).
How often does a ceremony gets associated with an idea, long after anyone remembers why? I ask this after reading a thought provoking comparison of the functional and object paradigms that only partly agrees with the ideas I mapped out in stickies on a paper table-cloth yesterday.
I’m “still not working”, as people say. My Dad kept a dictionary beside his chair. I continue his work with ‘tear-off here’ computer science. At least my inherited etymology is idiomatic of the Clojure community.

Objects vs Functions

I learned to ‘programme computers’ long ago, almost before there was no “me” in ‘program’ and certainly before I knew how to ‘team’. I had a very brief and unsuccessful exposure to functional programming in LISP (not Lisp) then stopped. I did other ‘Data Processing’ things.

In recent years I’ve been working as an analyst, alongside people who write code according to the object model. I think I have a feel for objects but never having written code in an object-oriented language, I can’t be sure. I decided to try, in the Python language, then got distracted by the shiny Clojure language which is functional. I feel that right now I’m approximately equally confused by objects and functions, so I thought I’d write this quickly before I know what I’m talking about. I can come back later to laugh at my naivety, along with the rest of you.

Like the person who wrote this https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4246018 ,
I’ve been watching some talks online recently by Rich Hickey of Clojure fame”
The post asks “So if I follow Hickey’s advice, how am I supposed to represent a book? As a vector of vectors of vectors of vectors of strings? If so, then how do I prevent a change in the representation of the Book from breaking client code?”

I found the question very interesting because representing ‘books’ in a functional language is exactly what I want to do. I think differently to the author because  I’m not yet trapped inside the object paradigm. I can see that ‘book’ is a real-world class of objects, a very specific and limited implementation of the representation of a small subset of all the information in the world. That’s what my ‘book’ was going to be about and why I’m now playing with functions instead of writing it.

Objects are good at simulation of real life systems. They encapsulate small sub-systems of a process and it’s local data into an object. What I always struggled to understand was what you did with the data that didn’t want to be enclosed – “information wants to be free”. People seem to cope by inventing objects that don’t really exist: to be data shepherds.

Functions are good at abstraction. A book is a single output format from something much richer. That’s what I want to write. Data and processes are complex. Objects and functions are simplifying models; there may be others.

p.s. (not Lisp) Get it?

What is Art?

I wanted to set up some thought experiments for my ‘book’ on information metaphysics. I think I’ll need a metaphysical model as a starting point. It probably ought to be a software model. I started with imaginary lumps representing science, politics and religion, all of which I’ve been comparing and contrasting recently, then I realised I’d left out information. As I sketched, I realised that I’d also missed art. What is art?

I think that art observes, interprets, asks questions, reacts then reflects back. Doing that may require craft skills. Do you agree?
Why do we “sketch out an idea”?  Am I “blogging out” now or am I un-secretly blogging in?

Lost, in Another Dimension

“There are 2 types of people: those who believe the world can be divided into 2 types people and those who don’t”, say the ancient texts – and then there’s me.

Do you remember when politics used to be about Left and Right?
The https://www.politicalcompass.org/ taught us that there was another dimension, running from Authoritarian to Libertarian. These scales are non-binary.

My adventures in interwingularity have taught me that, for every way a data set can be divided, along an axis between 2 extremes, there may be another axis that you haven’t thought of yet.

I used to provide support of information systems to an energy trading floor. On a team-building  course I learned that trading floors are split into 2 types of people:

  • Traders, obviously, who have large appetites for the risk which brings highest profits and run on emotion and gut feel, lightly supported by a platform of market knowledge
  • Analysts, who are risk averse, cross-check everything from independent sources and always want more data before they make a decision

Any successful trading operation probably depends on the correct tension, and consequential personal stress, between these 2 groups of people and they drive one another crazy. In the middle is a regulatory department, making decisions about the analysts’ concerns about the traders’ latest wild scheme that may destroy the organisation. When not even ‘Regulatory’ can break a dead-lock, it has to go to executive level, for a final decision.

I can see no reason why a political party with a deep belief in market economical principles would be any different, ‘and so, to Brexit’: leaving the EU was dangerous but potentially highly lucrative for the Conservative Party’s key supporters. Party MPs are spread along the axis between safety and danger. The Brexiteers sold a dream but had no plan. The Remains’ plan was to do nothing, but lacked the marketing skills to make inaction sound attractive. They had lots of data, graphs even, on why Leave wouldn’t work but no-one planning to vote ‘Leave’ was inclined to listen. They’d bought the dream from the salesmen in the sharpest suits and scatter plots weren’t really their thing. The cautious, analytical half of the electorate heeded the warnings but they were still pushed off the cliff by the over-excited lemmings who didn’t give a damn what any ‘so-called experts’ thought. Those MPs with a natural tendency to regulate excesses and the executive who would normally have been limitting their ambition were on the team not risking The Really Dangerous Thing.

I now work as an Agile Business Analyst and I am currently available for hire.
I offer special rates for political parties. Market forces may apply.

 

Talking Trees

I ‘done a speak’ at Ignite Brum recently.

I have a rational fear of public speaking to large audiences. I decided to face it. At ‘Staffs Web Meetup’ I gave a fairly techie 10(/20) minute talk about Ted Nelson’s concept of intertwingularity. When I saw a plea on birmingham.io for speakers at Ignite Brum to replace others who had dropped out, I imagined my usual cluster of geeks in the upstairs room of a pub, not the lights/action/movie comedy glamour of the stage at The Glee Club. I’m all for a bit of clubbing but I was well outside my comfort zone.

‘All I had to do’ was reduce my talk by 75%, simplify by about the same, for a general audience and produce exactly 20 slides that would auto-advance every 15 seconds. It was described by someone on the night as “Powerpoint as an extreme sport”. That was a true story. I recommend the challenge as an exercise for the reader. It is hard work in preparation and frantic in execution but it doesn’t give you much time to panic about the faces looking up at you; anyway, you’re blinded by the spotlights.

Watch as I drop behind the pace set by the projector. My best joke and some local politics was lost in the bunching on the corners but I present ‘Everything is Deeply Intertwingled (Smash the Hierarchy!)’

Thanks to @iamsteadman for allowing me to try this and making the video available (I’d never have agreed if I’d known that,) the other speakers and the people who made us all feel welcome: @probablydrunk, @carolinebeavon, @grunt121 and the audience.