Tag Archives: values

The Unvexing

This post comes to you courtesy of Graham Lee at: http://www.sicpers.info/2016/11/the-vexing-problems-in-programming/ who reminded me about Value. We agilists (people who believe in agile software development) talk about value a lot but haven’t  agreed on a consistent definition of the word. As an illustration of two of the options:

“The value of this car is £9,500.” Is that to a seller or a buyer? Unless there is a difference, no trade will take place. Or is it a market rate? The long acquisition dance between Yahoo! and Google makes an interesting case study. This is: a value. A ‘fact’, right or wrong. It is the kind of thing developers in imperative programming languages put into variables and mutate but pure functional programmers squirrel away for ever, to embarrass themselves at their past Wrongness.

In contrast, “This car cost £9,500 pounds. I think that was quite good value but the model that costs £1,000 more is even better value.”, is a relative benefit:cost calculation, yet the manufacturer may market a ‘value’ model, which is just cheap. This is: a value judgement. An explicit or implicit comparison relative to something else, followed by a decision. It is a computation.

When Graham says, the most vexing problem of software product  developers is their inability to “compare the expected value of their work to the expected cost of the work.”, I think he means  ‘business benefit of their work’, and cost normally equates closely to development time. All the customer really wants to know is: “Is this the best investment I could make now?”

Graham goes on to say that we are very bad at estimating how long something will take. This is true but we are much better at estimating small jobs accurately than large ones.  Uncertainty increases exponentially with length of sequence of actions, to slightly corrupt Shannon’s Information Theory. This is why the Fibonacci sequence is often used as a sizing tool.

Agility accepts this reality. It addresses the list of things the customer currently wants, in highest benefit:cost ratio order (guessed by a business domain expert, based on guesses by an agile develooment team.) It doesn’t yet know whether the ‘whole job’ is worth doing. It decides only whether to risk the next small, cheap step and keeps doing that, as long as the ‘value’ is Good Enough. While value is high and risk is low enough, keep going.

A journey of any length starts with the first step, so why worry about whether or not it is going to be 1000 Miles? The hard part is to make it a journey, rather than simply wandering about, lost.

Then there are: our values. Our personal decisions about what matters most to us. Do we go home to read our children a bedtime story or work late and win that promotion so they have greater financial security in the future? What do we really care about and what are we willing to pay for it? This too is relative. Politics is the art of persuading you to modify your personal values. Currently, cheating is allowed.

Human Evolution: from belief to evidence

The notes below started with me reading the phrase “policy based evidence” somewhere, in the last week. I returned to previous thoughts about the different meanings of the word “believe” in the context of religion, politics and science. I went slightly off track but I found it useful to recognise that politics sits somewhere between religion and science on the scale of rationality. Science is led by your experience of life. Religion leads your decisions in life. Politicians try to persuade you to choose their proposals of how to change your life experience, through an inadequate communication system. The rules you are expected to follow seem to be:

Religion : take your values from an old book you get from your parents or someone else who is kind to you. The book will tell you what to believe without question to avoid going to hell; so only listen to evidence that agrees with the book. You don’t want any doubt creeping in and damning you for eternity. Try not to think too hard. Pray instead. Learn to keep conflicting ideas in different parts of your brain. What you do now only matters when you are dead.

Politics : decide whether to believe in individual accountability, shared responsibility or a compromise. Pick a political party and learn what your values are and what to believe, from the elders of your chosen tribe. Only listen to evidence that supports what your party believes. Learn to convert people to your cause by selecting which statistics to use.

Science : learn from others whose opinion is based on evidence. Consider everything you are told and check everything you doubt. Consider arguments against anything you believe, in case it is wrong. Weigh the likelihood of either side being right. If you still aren’t sure, do your own experiments. It is OK to be uncertain or to change your mind when what you believe is wrong. Base your values on what you learn about humanity and the environment we live in. Live the very best version of your life you can, because it is probably your only chance. Appreciate the elegance, beauty and complexity of the universe.

The Simple Concepts of Democracy and Fairness

WikiP says: Democracy is “a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity … are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary.[1] Democracy is further defined as (a:) “government by the people; especially : rule of the majority (b:) ” a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”[2] According to political scientist Larry Diamond, it consists of four key elements: “1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections. 2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life. 3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens. 4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens”.[3]

Our recent election looks a bit shaky at a number of the hurdles in that description. Government by the people? Majority? Active participation? Human rights and equality under the law. A way to get rid of the government if it turns out they misled the electorate?

Simple then, let’s start with voting reform to something “fairer”. Clearly we can’t trust politicians to do that because they will evaluate the effect of any proposed system on them, relative to the current system. That’s why the Greens, their idealism still unsaddled by any realistic chance of winning a significant number of seats, suggested an electoral commission. All the commission would need to do is to do is decide what is “fair”.
Members of all political parties fight for “fairness”, based on their own values. Political allegiance is almost entirely dependent on an individual’s concept of fairness. To have a definition of fairness is to take a political stance.

We may be caught in a loop. Democratic voting systems can only be changed by a decisive  minority winning the right to govern. I think that is called “a revolution”. Does anyone have any other ideas? Not that our elected ‘representatives’ seem to care much about what we think, now they have power, or that we believe anything they say. Democracy is broken and most of Them aren’t planning to fix it. Our only friends are the other losers.

“Losers Unite!”?

Values Market

“You can’t put a value on human life.”

I’m sorry, but yes, you can. If it is your life or the life of a family member then it may be ‘everything I have’ but if you are an administrator of a health budget then you must optimise the use of a finite resource according to some algorithm. Or you could pick the people you like the look of, or who agreed with your religious beliefs or politics. In the UK, they would generally not prove popular options. That isn’t the way we do things around here. Maggie Thatcher was wrong. We are a society and our society, on average, has loosely agreed on some ‘values’. We are willing to pay more for things and people and beliefs that we value . We value our values. We say “I love you and I will do anything for you, for ever” but we won’t really. We have limits. There is an upper limit on our investment, for our own protection.

That isn’t money though, is it? That’s love and some people appear to have bottomless reserves. Do they, or are they simply measuring their relative values in a different way? We all have different ideas of the value of things or commerce would be impossible. Trades only happen when there is a differential between the values of the people on either side of the trade. Our individual valuations change over time too. I won’t pay for your bottled water because I have perfectly good tap water available, but try offering me a tiny bottle for 5 Euros in a hot airport when my plane is 3 hours late. Think of bartering in a market too – finding the tipping point betwee holding on and letting go.

Money doesn’t really exist. It is a metric of relative value. Our chosen currency itself has a relative value against other currencies. There is a market in values and we have to agree our price.

“I’m not eating that!”
“I’ll give you £10… £50!”

Decide what you value and where you are willing to fold. “We do not negotiate with terrorists” is an opening bid, as Western-style market-capitalist democracies try to negotiate a new value system we can agree with the rest of the world. We may need to consider if any of our beliefs need to be re-evaluated in the new world market.

When I woke up this morning, I believed there were two different meanings of the word “value”; one about morals, one about money but I’ve realised that whether I want world peace or a new sports car, value is the measure of our personal desire for a particular future projection of the world to be true, relative to a network of the desires of every other living creature. Markets are the human race, balancing our collective desires. They aren’t going to go away.

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.

My Personal Values and Political Beliefs

Last night I voted in the European Elections. I found it hard to find anyone I thought deserved a vote but I wanted to do whatever I could to minimise the chance of UKIP wasting seats. I woke to a Labour spokesperson (Ed?) on the wireless telling me why I hadn’t voted for them. He was really badly wrong, so I decided to say why I considered them unelectable and ineffective as opposition. Then I thought that, to be fair to the other major parties, I should tell them why I didn’t vote for them too as they all seem completely clueless about why we all find them so unappealing. I felt I needed a draft list of criteria to evaluate the candidates against because, unlike them apparently, I thought I had consistent set of values I believe in and am not ashamed to admit to. If anyone wants to argue with me, I’m willing to try to justify my beliefs or change them.

It was an interesting exercise. I recommmend it. Some of the items are contradictory. Here’s my list but please tell me if you think I’ve missed any important criteria.

My Personal Beliefs and Values:

There is such a thing as society. We are not a bunch of individuals, fighting to win and take all. Taxes are the shared costs of living in a society


We all have a responsibility to contribute our share to the welfare of all other members of our society who need it. Under normal conditions, we don’t leave anyone behind.

Everyone should be given equal opportunities to do whatever makes their life satisfying, without significant damage to others, despite the fact that they clearly are not all equal and may not have had equal starts in life.
Everyone wants to be treated fairly (or better) but we have very different ideas of what fair means.
I don’t think a child should be punished for the sins or failures of a parent or that a school class should be kept in because one member was noisy or assumptions should be made because an older sibling was trouble. This translates in adult life to thinking that a child should not go hungry because a parent drinks, smokes, bets or makes other poor investment decisions.
Successful people should be willing to share their rewards with those less fortunate.
I dislike boastfulness, showing off and displays of status, wealth or generosity.
I would prefer to live in a society where a tax on generosity was not necessary because general taxation met essential needs.
I don’t see any reason that a child should inherit wealth from parents. They probably already had a better start in life without having done anything to deserve it. I think inheriting vast wealth is bad for children’s sense of self-purpose and self-value.

I hugely admire family businesses and beautiful stately homes that have been in a family for hundreds of years and the selfless duty of people who preserve such a legacy. I don’t see how this could have happened without inheritance. I’m not pro- or anti-Royalty. I don’t see an elected politician making a better head of state but I feel a bit sorry for the Royals, as I do all celebrities who haven’t earned it.

We are a social animal and we do best as members of a successful tribe.
We should be allowed to change tribe or to be in many tribes are once as long as we are honest and open and the interests of the tribes do not conflict in irreconcilable ways.
Ideally: I’d like foreigners to be allowed to come here freely. They have as much right as I do. I’d also like them to be able to make a living wherever they come come from, so they didn’t need to be economic migrants.
Realistically: the tide needs to be slowed or the flood will sink our society, so we should have rules that are fair and favour those who are in danger. But the incomers must live by the important rules of the society they have chosen to enter, as a guest, be given adequate time to learn to fit in and then be either accepted or asked to leave.
Overseas aid
If we want to encourage people to stay at home, we may need to help to make the places they are running away from more hospitable. If we can bomb people to stop them coming here as terrorists, I don’t see why we can’t help them, so they become our friends.

I see no evidence for the existence of any god.
I do not object to anyone believing anything, as long as they protect other members of society from any negative effects and are tolerant of legal criticism. I would like laws on blasphemy to be changed, so any idea, like Evolution or quantum mechanics is given the same protection as a religious text but can be respectfully debated.
Major religions and non-believers have developed many of the same moral standards because they are the best way for humans to live together. Most of the differences don’t matter or can and should be tolerated. Britain is about compromise. If there is a conflict that cannot be resolved, the ‘native’ culture must take precedence.
The state should operate independently of religion, in accordance with generally agreed morals and values acceptable to most citizens. Agreeing what these are is the only time I feel it might be appropriate to consider starting before recent immigration. The rules could be adjusted by negotiation over time, as incoming customs are accepted into our shared culture. As an example, I think the British are ready to accept Islamic  headscarves but not The Veil. We put high value on seeing people’s faces and particularly eyes. In return, I will not drink alcohol if I travel to an Islamic nation or demand to eat rare steak in a vegetarian restaurant. It would be rude.

Nationhood & National Pride
I don’t feel pride in being English, British, European or a babtised Christian as I had no part in those things. I may as well be proud of being tall or having white skin and that would clearly be ridiculous.
I feel very fortunate to have grown up in semi-rural England, close to Birmingham, capital of the Midlands, to stable, married parents who wanted me. My Mum was advised not to have any more children so I got all their attention and love. That is no reason to look down on anyone less fortunate. As it is pure chance, in some senses, that I was born here, I have the similar responsibilities to the rest of the human race as I do to someone living next door

Economic Systems
The various communist versions of socialism do not appear to be able to operate alongside capitalism.
Capitalism is inherently flawed as it depends on growth and consumes raw materials, leading to ecological disaster, well ahead of the heat death of the universe. This would be foolish and may be preventable, if we act fast.
I do not have any solution but I’m looking. I hope you are too.

The least bad system Churchill could think of. Me too, but I think thereis room for improvement.
We have universal suffrage and parliamentary representative democracy – because anyone who is excluded gets exploited and mobs make bad decisions. Politics are complicated and 50% of people are below average intelligence. They do mad things like believing in the death penalty.

Political Allegiance
I don’t have any. My maternal grandfather was a miner who died down the pit (I recently discovered via @BrownhillsBob, from tuberculosis) leaving a widow, 10 children and no pension. My Uncle became a Labour councillor. My Grandad was a steel foundry supervisor then a shop-keeper. His three sons went to Grammar School. My mother contracted polio and spent most of her childhood in hospital then went to commercial college and became a secretary. My parents voted Conservative and had The Daily Mail delivered. I experienced The Miner’s Strike as an attack by Lefties on the Coal Board’s attempt to introduce necessary efficiencies. At Aston University in Birmingham I experienced ‘the Maggie effect’ at first hand, from the resentment of Rastas on the streets and in the faces of desperate people in the queues of the DHSS. My Dad was made redundant by a company he’d worked for all his life. I discovered for the first time that he was a union member. He didn’t hate unions as much as I’d assumed and they helped to get him re-employed at a sister company. I lean slightly towards LibDems, as a compromise but I’m a classic floating voter.

I am not particularly competitive but I recognise that some people only strive to do well in order to better themselves and earn the right to lead the tribe. I think I inherited my lack of ambition from my Dad. Like him, I work hard to learn how to do everything I care about to the best of my ability. I seem to care less than most people if anyone else notices. I was always encouraged to do MY best, rather than measure myself against others. I have experienced people who, for no obvious reason, believe they are better than others and deserve more, without bothering to develop skills in anything other than networking and self-promotion. I believe these people are a danger to society. Public schools seem particularly good at producing them.

I think large companies should pay taxes and be prevented from exploiting any monopoly power their size gives them.
I think there need to be limits on the range between the benefits of the highest and lowest workers in an organisation.
Competition & Nationalisation
I accept that having a competitor can make an organisation try harder to win. I am unconvinced that this advantage outweighs the inefficiencies introduced by splitting an organisation into components. Therefore I do not believe that the NHS or British Rail will or have benefited from privatisation.

Children from poor families need good education more than children of the same ability from rich families, so access to the best education should not be dependent on money.
If children of the powerful had to go to the worst schools, they would soon be sorted out.
People should never be divided up, permanently, into successes and failures, at any age, least of all as children.
Children learn some subjects best in groups of similar ability.
Girls are disadvantaged in some subjects by being taught in mixed sex groups.
Boys are disadvantaged socially by growing up in a single sex environment.
Children from different backgounds and religions need to get to know each other.

I think that talented people need to be given more reward to give some people the incentive they need to excel.
I think hard work needs to be rewarded, mainly to encourage those who don’t work hard to try harder but I have never seen a fair rewards scheme.
If someone is unable to work due to illness or disability, they should be looked after by society in case it ever happens to the rest of us; and out of gratitude that it is not us.
Some people are healthy but don’t have talent & avoid making a contribution to society. They should be provided with their basic  needs but not encouraged by the state to reproduce.