Tag Archives: ideas

Model Software

Today, I had to stop myself writing “solving the problem” about developing software. Why do we say that? Why do software people call any bounded area of reality “the problem domain”?

My change of mind has been fermenting for a while, due to modelling business processes, learning about incremental, agile software development and more recently writing and learning functional programming. In the shower this morning, I finally concluded that I think software is primarily a modelling medium. We solve problems using the models we build.

Wanting to create another first-person shooter game or to model the fluids in a thermo-nuclear reactor are challenges, not problems. We build models of systems we have defined and the systems don’t even have to be real. I read a couple of days ago that a famous modern philosopher said our world is made of both reality and our ideas. Assuming the computer hardware is real, the software can model either reality or our imagination; our chosen narrative.

‘Digital’ gets everyone working with software models instead of reality. Once everyone lives inside the shared model, when does it become our reality?

Or when did it?

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The Value of Work

Do you ever simply put real life ‘on hold’ while you think about the meaning of a word? I do it frequently. This time it was “work”.

I haven’t been going ‘to work’ for the last couple of years. You might argue that when I am writing, I am “Working At Home” and that if I ever have a book published, I’ll be paid for that work. What if I don’t? Does it stop having been work then? Obviously not, because people volunteer to do ‘voluntary work’, just as I am writing this blog post with no realistic hope of financial reward. I’m doing it because there is an idea in my head that I want to put in other people’s heads. They might like it.

I thought I wanted to write. I was surprised to discover that I wanted to think. I’ve been paid to think for years – but to think about what They told me to. It had become increasingly difficult to be interested in some of their boring, self-inflicted problems. I wanted to explore my own ideas.

Perhaps work is when you do something you hope someone else will value, even if you aren’t sure?

Paths Through the Forest of Ideas

I wrote what hangs below on Facebook, before I saw the irony:

My current model of the creative world has everything as a multi-dimensional network of interconnected ideas, some of which may be ‘fictional’. Narrative is a path through the maze. Writers, teachers and consultants are all selling their services as guides to the pathways that can lead you to enclose a chosen ‘volume’ of ‘knowledge’. Or I’ve been sitting in a room on my own for too long.

It grows more difficult to gain funding for work that expands or enriches the network for the good of everyone and increasingly profitable to enclose information for profit. We appear to be approaching The Inclosure Act of the Information Revolution.

On Wednesday, I plan to attend the initial meeting of the Open Rights Group, Birmingham. See Meetup for details(!)

The values and beliefs hiding behind the concepts and ideas

For the last few years I had a verbal sparring partner at work. We had grown comfortable expressing strong opinions that we didn’t necessarily believe in, as an intellectual challenge and to mutually explore what we actually think about a subject. We sometimes gave the impression to casual observers that we hated one another; but it worked for us.

Nearly always, during these squabbles, we discovered that at a deeper level we agreed about fundamentals but had been coming at the subject from a different angle or using words that misled the other into shadow-boxing a spectre from our own imaginations. We would argue forcefully for an hour or two before finally identifying a point of agreement that had been crouching in the shadows. Very occasionally, we would not converge. Whenever this happened, it would eventually emerge that we were arguing from a point of view based on our core values, which are different in some areas.

Some months ago I started to consider why well-meaning people, with logical thought processes, when presented with the same data,  came to different, even opposite conclusions, based on their political beliefs. I decided to apply what I’d learned from my own ‘heated debates’ to political thinking. I started by trying to identify the value systems supporting Left and RIght Wing political thinking. That is still a work in progress but I’ve discovered that almost everyone involved in politics will cite their main motivation at the beginning to have been their desire to make the world a better and fairer place.

As there are concepts behind the content of our information resources, so there are deeply held values and beliefs forming the foundations of those concepts, yet we rarely bring our values out into the broad light of day. Are we ashamed?  Almost everything we do is informed by values that we keep hidden, perhaps from ourselves. Is that healthy?

The Scottish Referendum brought out questions about where Scottish, English and British values were different. We discovered that we didn’t know what that meant. People said that the British believe in “fairness” but we argued and we screamed “that’s not fair” at each other as we fought about ideas.

Before we start to write, should we make an honest private check-list of our personal values? As we approach the next general election, I’d like to see the values of parliamentary candidates made explicit. I guess I’d like some reassurance that they believe in something.

Competitiveness – a strange game

[ a slightly different version of a post I made on LinkedIn ]

“A strange game. The only winning move is not to play” – the computer in ‘Wargames’

Also see: market capitalism, Westminster politics, privatisation, corporate performance reviews.

A Democracy Fix – “None of the above”

There appears to be general agreement across the UK that parliamentary democracy isn’t working properly. During my time as a voter, we’ve only had two parties with any chance of being elected. First they formed governments alternately at every election, spending most of their time reversing the previous parliament’s achievements. More recently we had such ineffective oppositions that governments have stayed in place until they were ejected on charges of croneyism and corruption. Despite the easy ride, they appeared to run out of ideas during their second term.

The proposal to move from the first-part-the-post voting system to a poor form of proportional representation was rejected by the electorate. Many said this was because they didn’t want a system that might lead to a coalition government. At the very next election we got a coalition government.

Politicians blame voter’s disinterest. Voters blame politicians who don’t represent what they think. Many feel strongly that they want ‘none of the above’ but the only way to signal that is to spoil their vote, which is indistinguishable from apathy. I have intelligent friends who argue that it doesn’t make sense to vote for the party you want – you should vote tactically, against the party you don’t want most. We have turned our democracy into a game, attempting to influence the outcome by betting on our prediction of the  behaviour of others, while they try to guess at ours. It is no wonder that election night looks like a bookie’s advertisement.

Worst of all, is that when a party is elected, they claim to have support for every one of the policies that was in their manifesto. There is no mechanism that a voter with a casual interest in politics can use to advertise lack of support for any policy or to put forward new ideas for consideration. Young people of voting age refuse to participate in such a corrupt system, so low voting numbers allow in extreme ideas.

  • The Right want to put a fence around our island and return to 1930.
  • The Left want to smash the systembut don’t offer any new ideas about what should replace it. @RustyRockets appears as a new messiah, leading the anarchists to an unknown destination.

Most voters don’t care because they can’t see any difference between the parties.
They believe politicians lie, misuse statistics and tell us what to think without telling us why. The media conspires to keep the general population politically ignorant.

For a while now, I’ve been looking for a solution. “If not me then who?”.
I think capitalism is a problem too but one thing at a time. Let’s shelve that for a while and concentrate on saving democracy.

Recently, I signed a single issue petition, organised by http://www.38Degrees,org.uk. It saved me bothering to write my own letter. Like most people, the time I am willing to give to participation in politics is strictly limited. I discovered I’d accidentally joined a Left-leaning campaign movement. I was mildly irritated by some of the assumptions made about what other campaigns I would be willing to support. I don’t self-identify as a political campaigner or activist, though I may be deluded.

Mostly, I am annoyed by the stupid and dishonest things I hear politicians say.
This morning, I had an idea:
Imagine if:

  • All political parties published their ideas together, perhaps grouped by ‘subject area’ for comparison, colour-coded by parties (Problem: it might be hard to do this fairly.)
    Parties could propose shared policies, if they wished. This would help the electorate to see where parties agreed and disagreed and who they wanted to trust with their vote.
  • In an election, you would vote for a party to make decisions for you, as now. This would choose the elected government.
  • Or, if you didn’t like your chosen party’s view in any policy areas, you could pick different parties for selected areas.
  • Or, you could vote differently down to individual policy level, if you wanted your opinion registered.
  • The anonymised results would be published.

In summary: An individual’s vote on any issue could be specified at individually policy level, or be handed over to a party, at either policy area level or at the top level.

  • In addition, any citizen could put forward new policies for consideration and vote support for ideas. It would then be up to each party to decide whether to support popular ideas or not.
    This is simply an extension of the petition idea that has been tried out by .gov.uk recently.

The advantages I see in this proposal are:

  • a simple, equivalent system for those who are happy with the current system
  • better communication of the similarities and differences between the parties
  • better feedback about which policies have democratic support
  • better evidence when policies do not have support
  • a new mechanism for disaffected voters to fine-tune what they want and don’t want, rather than claiming that no party supports them.
  • it is a small first step towards greater voter representatiion in democracy

I also propose addition of the long overdue  ‘None of the above’ option at election, policy area and individual policy level, to give a legitimate outlet for expressions of disgust at the ideas on offer.

Please give me feedback. I’d love to know how people feel about these ideas.

Things People Hate About Politics

On Twitter, I recorded the generic things that annoyed me about politicians of all parties and political journalists, during the UK’s European and Local Elections, as I thought of them #ThingsPeopleHateAboutPolitics. I’ve added some more. My big surprise has been that there are so few. I believe that addressing these few concerns would largely address many people’s disaffection with politics.

  • Politicians don’t seem to have any core beliefs they are willing to stand behind. They appear to want whatever we want. [ Clearly they do have beliefs, so why are they hiding them? We are suspicious of hidden motives. ]
  • Politicians don’t answer the questions they are asked but give a pre-prepared mini-speech. [ They are clearly afraid that they might accidentally tell us what they REALLY think ]
  • Politicians aren’t allowed to admit they make mistakes by other politicians or journalist [ but we don’t see any evidence that they have learned from them .]
  • Humans make errors. Real People admire those who admit their mistakes, apologise (but only if sincere) and change. Denying an obvious error is indistinguishable from lying.
  • Everything is always the fault of the last lot but they haven’t had time to do anything about it yet.
  • Misleading statistics are used to back up the spin and no one gives us an informed, balanced commentary any more.
  • In any debate, party politicians are more interested in point scoring than conveying useful information to the electorate.
  • Politicians tell us what to think but don’t explain why. It is condescending and insulting.
  • There is a pointless emphasis on politician’s ability to recall facts and statistics rather than come up with good ideas.
    (I hope the Prime Minister has better things to do than go to the corner shop to get bread and milk for Number 10. I know he has better things to do than learn to fake it.)
  • Politicians who are discovered to have done something wrong, seem to think their sin was getting caught rather than the lying, affairs, fiddled expenses or racism.
  • Parties claiming that they have a mandate for every daft idea in their manifesto,  because they were elected as the ‘average least-bad’ option, is really annoying. If they believe it they’re stupid; if they don’t they’re dishonest. Just don’t.
  • Don’t bitch about how the other parties are funded unless you have a proposal for how to fix it. You get your money somewhere and your principles are corrupted by that too. Generally, avoid hypocrisy; we can smell it.

I thought it was best to get these out of the way before addressing my concerns about individual parties. I welcome suggestions of anything I missed.