I just found out: out of control.

Actually, I didn’t. The laws list quote here would be something like this:

If someone is really unreasonable, you don’t have to prove it. They will be unreasonable over and over and over until everyone who’s capable of figuring it out, figures it out.

I learned this as a technician on a major financial development project. A senior developer was OK with me but, perhaps because he resisted authority, was assigned to me to direct. The relationship then became, er, strained.

I had a superior human being as a manager at that time, and I discussed the situation with him.
He understood.
And then he stated the above law:

If someone is really unreasonable, you don’t have to prove it. They will be unreasonable over and over and over until everyone who’s capable of figuring it out, figures it out.

I was a learning professional, growing my way to being referred to as Mister Systems Architect a some years later. One of my personal habits was to ask,

how does this generalize?

(This works very well when implementing customer business needs. You pre-allow natural expansions of the current business processing.)

So, to Devereux’ law (above) I added Bennett’s Corollary:

If someone is behaving really bizarrely in some way, you don’t have to prove it. They will behave in that bizarre way until everyone capable of sensing and admitting it, agrees that they are bizarre.

At something like 6:20 am the POTUS ‘just found out’ that Obama had Trump Tower phone lines tapped, ‘just before the victory.’

We should, therefore, expect trial-by-twitter of every single person who could potentially challenge the POTUS’s capability, veracity, or legitimacy.

Oddly enough, sanity won’t be questioned much. And the truth won’t matter.

I just found out.

There’s a British ‘Donald Trump.’

Here you can read all about Philip Green.

He is compared to Donald Trump. His associates call him reliable. He pumps money out of companies and then lets them be bankrupted by their pension obligations. His wife runs one of his companies and collects dividends from it, while living in Monaco and paying no taxes.

Unlike Trump, Green does not seem to have political ambitions. Yet. He’s younger than The Donald. Unlike American reporters, the British press seems to have had enough of Green. (See the above hotlink. It’s a fun read.)

I have a chaos-theory explanation for how the Trumps and Greens of the world get where they are. It’s based on a metaphor: a fountain. There used to be a fountain in the Eton Centre in Toronto, Canada – this when Eaton’s was a successful company and the Hudson’s Bay Company was also Canadian-owned. The fountain is no longer there. I used to watch the chaos of upward-thrown water.

There was always a droplet at the top of the pile, with some close friends around it. Two things about this metaphor:

  1. There is not much special about the droplet at the top. It got there as part of a chaotic process, partly by being next its neighbouring droplets earlier.
  2. Being at the top can be unstable.

I will end with a law’s list quote, which I may have given before. It’s Spider-man’s law:

With great power comes great responsibility.

and Bennett’s corollary:

Do not give power to irresponsible, or to idiotic, individuals. Power includes money, influence, and political office.

Have a nice day.

What we deserve?

There is a law somewhere about rewards and punishments. It states that there are three dimensions of the outcome of an action:

  • positive or negative
  • immediate or delayed
  • certain or uncertain

The most powerful motivator is positive, immediate, and certain. The second most is, I think, negative, immediate, and certain.

For sure the weakest motivator is an outcome that is negative, delayed, and uncertain.
“Wait till your father gets home” comes to mind.

Supposedly we get the kind of government we deserve. I am not sure I believe that. I don’t think the conscripts in Viet Nam deserved the government that sent them there, nor the PTSD veterans of failed experiments in regime change (Iraq, Afghanistan, and others.)

We get the government, and economic system, that we allow to be built up around us over years, decades even. It’s the ‘boil the frog’ technique. Each little bit of dismantling of protection for the common citizen goes more or less un-noticed. (I might remark here that the dismantling of protections that led to the 2008 crash also went under the radar for too many of us, although there were lots of warnings from newspaper columnists like Paul Krugman.)

So now our American friends have an electoral system within an economic system that systematically (pun intended) robs the poor to pay the rich, and lobbies the voters with some of that money. (I might mention the redrawing of voting boundaries in Texas, which is credited with W’s second term victory by some. There are a lot of ways to use influence to magnify that influence.)

So now we are six weeks, more or less, from the ‘moment of truth.’ But the actual reward / result of the American election will be delayed a couple of months more, and will unfold for perhaps four years or so. The effects may last indefinitely. Canada cannot possibly be immune to this, nor can any other ally or trading partner of the USA.

I predict that the result of the election of the next president of the United States of America will be delayed, and negative. Right now it appears to be uncertain as well.

Which means, given the ‘law’ I started this entry with, we won’t learn much from it.

Is that what we deserve? (That’s not a dumb question.)

Decisive Management Inaction (and a Laws List Quote, and more)

Tilt the floor.

This ‘laws list quote’ is from the computer system technical head at Brooklyn Union Gas some years ago. I believe the speaker was Tom White. (I am bad with name memory.)

He was explaining how someone like him (not wearing the management uniform of the times) managed a diverse, intelligent, opinionated, and creative staff in a complex systems development environment. He said,

Tilt the floor.
Make it easy for people to go in the direction you want them to.

Today’s person of interest is, as has been the case before, our Toronto (Canada) mayor, John Tory.

Decisive Management Inaction. We cynics, on a difficult systems development project (again, some years ago) used this phrase as a test. We’d ask the hearer to give us a word count. Most people heard, “Decisive Management in Action.” However, we were observing, daily, decisive management inaction.

Instead of simply admitting that the Scarborough subway is a mistake, instead of admitting that the light rail funding is probably there, Mr. Tory would have us wait for more studies, trust his intuition about transit, and let him waffle on the Yonge subway extension to York.

York region wants the subway to end in their neighbourhood. Good idea, if you get on and off in York region. At least you’ll get a seat in the morning.
However, once you’re part way south, the addition of your York Region posterior, seated in the crowded train, will turn an abominable transit ride into one of hellish crush proportions.

Cooler heads tell us that the York Region extension should not happen before the DownTown Relief Line. The latter is scheduled far into the future.
Meanwhile, York Region is advertizing their brains out as to how badly they want (deserve?) a subway connection. Now.

Sounds just like Scarborough, doesn’t it?

Our mayor could make this a lot more efficient, by getting everyone (Metrolinx? TTC? Council?) together and setting out a transit plan that will actually happen. It might include points like these:

  • Scarborough gets a light rail line now, with a larger network later
  • Downtown gets relief, in some justified manner, for the Yonge and Bloor subway lines in rush hour
  • York Region understands that there will NOT be any extension of the subway northward until the above have occurred.

This would be more efficient in a lot of ways, including:

  • Scarborough could stop spending political capital on lobbying and work on exploiting the LRT plans, immediate and future
  • York Region could stop spending money on lobbying and advertising, and figure out how to manage in the interim – maybe bus lines into several downtown points, to spread the load
  • John Tory could spend less time talking (about studies, SmartTrack, budget possibilities) and actually get something moving.

Which brings this post full circle, in a way.

What do we want to avoid?

Decisive Management Inaction.

What should we do about it?

Tilt the floor.

  • Make it easier for York Region to swallow their needs with doable solutions now.
  • Make it acceptable for Scarborough to get the better LRT solution they actually do deserve.
  • Make it necessary for our Mayor, TTC masters, Metrolinx masters, and city council, to do something useful.

Call your city councillor.
Call your mayor.
Call Kathleen Wynne, your provincial premier.

Call. EMail. Say it on your social media.

Tilt the floor. Otherwise, you’re guilty of decisive management inaction.

“Laws:” a few small sayings

I haven’t done a Laws List post for ages. My personal ‘list’ is quite long, and reflects a lifetime of employment and (cynical, sometimes) observation of business, people, and politics. So here are a few quickies:

  • One is the magic number. In electronic data processing, if you have the same information in two places, they will get different. Even more daunting, if you have them in different presentation formats, you will have instances that cannot be converted to the other format.
    This generalizes. Anything that can be updated, should be in one place or have one master instance which is used to update the other copies.
  • Never tryst a salesman. They are trickier than they appear.
    This generalizes. Don’t screw around with any being more powerful and less socially constrained than you are.
  • Spaghetti code should be replaced. You won’t get much argument in the data processing world: a program that has been modified into utter confusion can’t easily be maintained, and eventually rewriting more than pays for itself. Once intellectual control – the ability of a reasonable brain to understand the material – has been lost, you don’t really know what you’re doing when you make changes.
    This generalizes. Law is spaghetti code, and requires expensive experts to tell those subject to its bizarre execution gymnastics, exactly what is happening. As for knowing what you’re doing while making changes, I’ve seen quotes of legislators who, when asked what a law they just passed meant, replied: “We’ll have to wait and see what the courts decide.”
    That, to me, sounds like, “Run the program and see if it crashes; if not, check the results.”
  • Subways, subways, subways. I’ve covered some of this in a later post. What the ‘law’ might better state is, mantra-like statements aren’t necessarily statesman-like statements. This generalizes, but if you absorb any news during campaigns or debates, you already know about that.
  • Check the accounting before the bonuses go out. The recent example of the Toronto, Ontario, Canada Pan Am Games is a case in point. Bonuses were awarded for being on time and under budget. After the bonuses were awarded, additional costs were exposed for us taxpayers to cover.
    This generalizes in many cynical directions. The WHO is a friend of the IOC and says it’s perfectly fine to have thousands converge to, and return home from, and area with Zika virus infections and heavily polluted watersports venues.
    The IOC, and all games-controlling organizations, promise wonderful benefits, bonus their executives, and leave, usually, the host nation and city with debt and unused one-time facilities.
    And they seem not to care about any fall-out.

Training Wheels

Any convenience becomes a necessity. This idea appears in the Unabomber’s Manifesto. Actually, it generalizes thus: anything that is always present, becomes a necessity.

Some examples from biology may clarify this view.

Oxygen was, originally, a poison, and mitochondria are derived from specialized bacteria-like organisms that could use oxygen to create safer forms of chemical energy.

Milkweed sap is toxic to insects. However, monarch butterfly larvae developed an immunity and carry the toxin as adults. Thus birds learn that monarchs taste bad and leave them alone.

The viceroy, and other Batesian mimics of monarchs, benefit from looking similar to an insect that can eat a plant they cannot. They have evolved to copy enough of the monarch’s pattern to benefit from it. Clearly the mimics have no idea of how this selection is acting on them, generation after generation.

So, anything that is always present, becomes a necessity. On to point two.

Don’t do bailouts if you’re not prepared to keep doing them. Like a blackmail victim, by being always present, you become a necessity.

In particular, don’t bail out your adult children. To do so begins serving, and it’s a life sentence.

Training wheels create dependencies that can be overcome. Provided there is social force and motivation to do so.

NGO (Non-Government Organizations) can become training wheels.

There is an anecdote in one of Fred Reinfeld’s wonderful chess books. Apparently a neophyte is astride a spirited horse. In its antics, the animal somehow got one of its own hooves stuck in the stirrup. Said the tyro on looking down: ‘If you’re getting on, then I’m getting off!’ Reinfeld’s point was, in a chess game, amateurs give up space because their opponent decides to occupy and control them – perhaps an open file, or a key square in the centre.

Similarly, timid governments give up being active in areas where others are possibly able to out-do them, even if only temporarily.

Time to tie this all together, eh?

In countries like Haiti, NGOs are like training wheels. They are always there. They create dependencies. The government looks down and says, if you’re getting on, I’m getting off.

NGOs in Haiti have been spectacularly unsuccessful. It’s been four long years of limited progress. Here you can find one example of what it’s like there. Let me give you a few facts from this imho self-serving web page:

  • cholera incidence has dropped 50% (not to zero? Why not?)
  • 817,000 Haitians still need humanitarian assistance

Clearly the Haitians have no idea how the politicians and NGOs are selecting their living conditions for them.

Real governments should take off the training wheels. Responsible governments should be aware of the poisoned apple and not accept ineffective aid over and over again. Organizations that really want to help should, as part of their charter, stateĀ  their goals to include these:

  • to generate self-sufficiency in the aided country
  • to make themselves, eventually, unneeded, in the aided country

Instead, it’s a culture of training wheels, and of delegated responsibility.


Laws I learned on the “Mech” project

Paper is not a lubricant.

Inappropriate reuse can be inefficient. The acquisition of an electric pencil sharpener faced the same review process as that for a mainframe disk drive.

Those who can, will be hired later. Major project initiations are marketing efforts.

MicroManagement will be resented. Persistent interference in everyday problem solving and decision making does not help, and does not improve the result.

Large Overdue Overbudget projects resemble each other. Low morale, absenteeism, rising exit rate, and the beginnings of finger-pointing are all common attributes. Marketing types, for whom visibility serves as oxygen, will make themselves obvious, often with finger-pointing.

All major project failures invoke the same top-management reflex: Search for the Guilty, Punish the Innocent, and Promote the Uninvolved.