Monday, November 30, 2009

Discussing Christakis' Structured Design Process (SDP)

Christakis’ “How People Harness their collective wisdom and power to construct the future in co-laboratories of democracy.” has provided me with a new-found appreciation for consensus tools, not that I had been particularly exposed to this topic prior to my reading it. I’d like to share.

There have been common buzz words in the upper management levels that recur, such as Delphi, modified or not. It appears to be the choice consensus tool. It might be that I simply have not had sufficient exposure to know differently.

Although chapter 3 was not part of our mandatory reading, I am glad I chose to read it anyway. There, I found material that, in my opinion, sets the stage for everything else that is covered in the book... and then some. Chapter 10 details how structured design process (SDP) lessens the burdens of dialogue, especially when a variety of stakeholders convene about a problem, no matter how complex. But, chapter three explains where those burdens come from. In my opinion, that’s more important than anything else. It’s about people chemistry and those intangibles that are so challenging to work with. This is because we humans are such creatures of habits. Even our most heinous character traits plague us over the centuries.

As a native French Canadian living in the USA, nothing could strike me as more important then relieving the burdens of dialogue. I’m including a brief synopsis to revisit the salient points.

The unshakable burdens of human dialogue.

The limits of human cognition

Officially recognizing the limits of human mind capacity back in 1956, Miller established that the human working memory would generally deal with 5 to 9 items at a time. This gave birth to a notion labeled “7 +/- 2” (Miller, 1956). Ignoring these constraints, said Miller, causes us to loose the capacity to “recognize differences that make a difference”. I can envision this conclusion becoming further compounded while sitting in a meeting, among many who don’t even share expertise. Too many times I have tried to get out of a meeting because they felt so gruesome and unproductive to me. Introduce an element of linguistics and you find yourself with an even bigger mess. Never mind the problems caused by subject matter lingo.

Group Pathologies

Social-emotional problems are highly visible in any group. Logically, groups created for the sake of finding solutions to implement change in a corporate or government setting have to be no different. In 1951, Bales summed up social-emotional behaviors witnessed in a meeting with five categories:

  • Venting anger and frustration
  • Perceiving situation as threat
  • Wanting to get attention
  • Dominating the group
  • Inappropriate strategizing for self-gratification

I would personally summarize the gist of it all with even fewer words: providing protection for personal interests and ego. All are well recognized flaws of the generationally rehearsed human character.

A bit later, in 1965, Tuckman demonstrated patterns of group activities:

  • Forming the group
  • Storming – most groups do not pass this stage of discussing issues in themselves. Outside facilitators are in demand to get past this stage. This helps reach norming state but mostly for simple design situations. Otherwise performing stage is never met. OUCH!
  • Norming – consensus is reached
  • Performing – change in itself is implemented

I find this information alone rather disturbing. It’s no big surprise that effective change seems so difficult to implement, especially for complex problems.

Group pathologies are typically exacerbated by the pressures of the choice between systemic or episodic change, Christakis says. This causes the most dominant and/or powerful discourse to win in order to subvert embarrassment for not meeting deadlines. (Argyris, 1982) In other words, the wrong set of rules is used to come to consensus on “what differences will make a difference". Hmmm... This is definitely a recipe for disaster.

This brings up the next topic.

Unequal Power Relations

I don’t understand why Christakis states this pathology is the least understood. There are many examples in the armed services alone to illustrate why unequal power cannot work in a meeting. There are also times when unequal power is a necessity. This is particularly true in life emergency situations.

Dialogue is usually muted by the presence of multiple rank levels and pre-established final authority. This is possibly the most deeply ingrained social behavior of all times. I’m no philosopher but, at the very least, this problem dates all the way back to the medieval era.

It is true that upper levels are assumed to know more. I think a lot of us know better now. Nothing could have shed more light on this matter than the arrival of a highly technological society.

Also demonstrated is that, successful leaders can be classified in two clans: those who recognize they don’t know everything and, those who believe they know it all. The later type might find their career plateau at some point. There might be a third type. Those who feel they should know it all. God have mercy on their souls.

That upper management levels expect deferential treatment is merely a byproduct of social behaviors mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Anything different shows a significant level of maturity and wisdom in my eyes.

It is particularly astute of Christakis to point out that mere verbiage about social reality construction and the need for equitable power relations would simply not be enough to reach valuable consensus. That is, provided consensus was reached at all. Much like a court system, order is necessary.

Fumbled Opportunity

Lack of proper scientific practice is often at the root of disasters. Outside of organizations such as NASA, this caused the many management echelons to adopt buzz-word methods of the day. DELPHI would be one of them. According to Christakis, “assuming that bringing the parties of interest to the table is sufficient for the resolution of a complex issue is erroneous.” This assertion is based in 30 years of development in the “science of complexity”. Great! Now what?

My searches on the internet revealed a lot of variations of SDP but, none as crystal clear as the case studies in the back of his book. It may have been a not-so-lucky day for me.

“Don’t trust knowledge of experts instead of the wisdom of the people.” is another strong statement. I agree whole heatedly. “People science” in the Clinton west coastal forests debate failed because there was not enough trust in people and inappropriate science, the author says. That Clinton and his sidekick Eades had vision is one thing. That the vision wasn’t carried out is not a story solely associated with the former president. The point is well taken.

Perhaps someone in the upper echelons can shed more light as to how successful consensus methods have been, including if Christakis' SDP is being used. Case studies contained in a text book are good. But, to me, nothing could be more valuable than first hand experience shared with peers, independently from power relations.

Finally, what is clearly a superior contribution to me are the three phases and the three key roles. They are, in my estimation, very crucial to relieving the burdens of dialogue. Yes indeed, Mr. Christakis, they are unique to this process. The distinction between content, process and context is akin to separation of duties necessary in information security. If all stick to their role in the “game”, wonderful results could and, probably will, materialize.

The cartoon seen above is from Dharma Consulting's Web site. They provide leaders with tools to help implement resistance-free change. Their blog can be found at: Dharma Consulting

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Technology and the Future - Not just for the left-brainers

I thought I'd share these few links. It's rather startling to think of music in such different terms. If you've attended any concerts in Second Life, you've already experienced some of this "musical future". These guys are very much ahead of their contemporaries. Their logo is cool too!

All links will lead you to an individual YouTube recorded videos. Enjoy!

Eigenharp Alpha walkthrough part 1
Eigenharp Alpha walkthrough part 2
Design and making of the Eigenharp Alpha
A Musical Piece played with three Eigenharps

I couldn't help responding to a fine classmate who'd much rather hear a capable musician playing an analog instrument. I'm in complete agreement with him in fact.

There's nothing like a Stradivarius played live by a virtuoso to raise goose bumps on your arms and the back of your neck. The thing to remember, though, is that the musicians in these videos are more than likely showing you the baby steps of instruments of the kind. I’m no authority but, I’m sure these guys have not really rehearsed enough to sound remotely good at it. I've no background to back this claim, only rational thinking.

This reminds me of my numerical analysis professor of the undergrad days. He was adamant in his stating how the digital signal could never render the sound of the analog signal. He predicted the digital CD would never make it. Little did he know huh?

He demonstrated it all with some dramatic, irrefutable mathematical theory to justify his claim. There was no denying it. Digital signal was/is mathematically flawed, when it comes to music and a singing voice that is. I understand the limitations of the digital signal as we know it. It’s a modulation thing. The problem, I believe, is in the way we are trying to reproduce such sound.

My recent encounter with harmonic fluids has me believing that before too, too long, maybe 10-15 years, we'll be able to procure analog quality to our digital instruments and recordings. The limitation of such theory is primarily due to insufficient processing power. This will change in the very imminent future, 3-5 years, tops! Intel’s next generation chip will be released before year’s end. It is full of promises I hope we exploit. Look up “cloth physics” while you’re at it. 3D internet here we COME!!! Holographic imaging is in for a very nice ride... shortly.

Meanwhile, like Paul, I'll settle for a recording of the analog kind, or a live performance.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Seven Months into the Future of 2009

As a spin off of Hiemstra's "Seven Weeks into the Future", I felt I needed to blog about his very favorite energy-related company - Rapid EVS.

Glen Hiemstra has been asked about the business of Futuring a lot this past year, so he says. I would venture to say that current economic conditions probably have many wondering if anybody who’s anybody would pay for futuring programs. I was never a seeker of fortune tellers so this comes as a no brainer question to me. But, Glen says that the pace has indeed picked up in the last quarter of 2009. Isn’t that special? I thought. So I kept on reading.

In this article he discusses the many different conferences and meetings he has attended since the middle of September, either as keynote, guest or plain old attendee. One linked section in the article caught my eye in particular because it brushes on some of the TED talks and forum posts we’ve had on CTU’s IAS. I can’t help but smile at the “Bold plan for electric cars” comment posted by one of my peers.

See the blog he referred to here:
Electric Cars a revolutionary idea for certain. This TED talk was presented in April of this year. Already, seven months later, Hiemstra bumped into the very same idea in a real life application, for fleet owners, complete with cool props for the 2009 meeting.

At a regular session of the
Northwest Energy Angels in Bellevue, Washington, he saw four start-up companies who presented their energy-related projects. In his view, the most impressive one was out of Vancouver, Canada. Their proposal? Rapid Electric Vehicle (REV) the inexpensive way, AND to extend longevity of fleets. I'm not sure if junk yards and auto makers will be happy. We'll have to stay tuned on that front.

However, because Glen’s article described this company as the most impressive to him, and, because it is out of my native country, I quickly clicked on the Rapid Electric Vehicle link. There, I saw how the future as suggested in an April 2009 TED talk was rapidly unfolding before our eyes in mere months. The recharging infrastructure proposed by Shai Agassi in his TED talk is in the making already.

Please click the image below and visit their web site. Vancouver, Canada is going green! Mind you, this has been true of Vancouver for as long as I can remember.

Here is an interview with founder and CEO Jay Giraud:
Rapid EVS - Interview with Jay Giraud

Don't blink, you might miss it!

Monday, November 16, 2009

8 Experts Weigh in on 2009 Web 2.0 Trends

This is quite interesting resource.

8 Experts weigh in on 2009 Web 2.0 Trends

I was particularly surprised to see Wikipedia ranked #3.

This important to me because we all know this resource has no validation process for the information it stores and displays. I vaguely remember someone publishing a false biography of some notorious figure. It announced the death of a man. Suffice to say that the goal of the Wikipedia post was to see just how quickly a journalist would grab the information and then turn around to use it in an editorial. Lots of flack was had by many for failing to verify the facts with a recognized body of knowledge.


And then, there was Skype!

I was hoping to catch up with a friend who works for the NC State Information Technology Systems branch. While first attempting to reach him after a leave of absence of 2 years, his work number had been disconnected. ???????????

After finally reaching him today, he announced that they had switched from Centrex to IP phones. This is what helped me choose to present Skype as my first Web 2.0 tool.

It is the every-day, consumer means of implementing IP phones at home. This is not to be confused with Vonage service or TWC's so called digital phone where the digital signal is converted/downgraded to accommodate the phone wiring already present in most homes still today.

Unlike those services, Skype is strictly VoIP. There is no old telephone wire carrying any kind of signal. You connect your VoIP device directly to your computer.

I love Skype. I can call any toll free number free of charge without any subscription. I can call Canada for a ridiculous fee. If I choose a monthly subscription, I can make as many calls as I want, as long as I want, for no additional cost. You can configure your own number to display. There are simply too many cool features to list. It does most everything a cell phone does and more. For example, you can do video conferencing. We once used it to bring in a professor to the residency for class lectures.

For the tech-savvy home-owner, this is a really great way to get very affordable phone service with all sorts of bells and whistles, without paying a conglomerate!

If you haven't tried it yet, here's the link to the features:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thought Provoking - Sustainable World & GMO

This content is extracted from the website.
No need to add water. *grin*

Stewart Brand's 4 environmental 'heresies' says it all. The comments about geo-engineering and genetics engineering are particularly enlightening. They demonstrate how our future as an "intelligent" species is often shaped by politicians and the media who don't necessarily have the world's best interest at heart - either short or long term.

The man who helped usher in the environmental movement in the 1960s and '70s has been rethinking his positions on cities, nuclear power, genetic modification and geo-engineering.

This talk at the US State Department is a foretaste of his major new book, sure to provoke widespread debate. (Recorded at TED@State, June 2009 at the US State Department in Washington, D.C.. Duration: 16:42)

Here it is:

Cloud-based Computing & the Confusion Within.

You know? Some concerns about cloud computing from a doctoral peer are very much a big deal to me as well. Recently, however, I bumped into an article which gave me new hope, albeit with the expectations that we do well implementing what we know works in terms of IT security.

Cloud computing does offer very easily accessed, mammoth quantities of both CPU power and storage. It offers scaling like never before and this, at a very inexpensive investment price. I’m hoping that the Horizon Report 2009 is on target when it states that cloud computing might open “doors to wholly different ways of thinking about computers, software, and files.” We need it in a ghastly way.

Some of the draw backs outlined in the said report include the requirement to entrust your work and applications to the cloud. Who’s in the cloud? Who will supervise this same cloud? Do we not already have enough problems with our current cloud - the Internet? It just isn’t under any particular supervision. Cloud computing might afford us better chances of survival in the WWWW, wild-world-wide-web. The needed trust becomes widely shared with not so questionably reliable entities. This still sounds like a scary proposition to me.

I’ll try to address my peer's two questions with information I recently acquired. It raised my hopes for survival. Mind you, I still think some of our methods are too reactionary.

Q1. When will the government upgrade out infrastructure?

A1: The government seems to have a jump start on this. At least, that is the impression I get from the article I read in the October 2009 edition of ComputerWorld. Here’s the link about it:

CIA building secure cloud-based system
Posted using

The article seems to show that the government is in fact doing what it can to protect critical infrastructures while using a cloud computing approach. Not that they have much of a choice now, do they? As they state, it's been in the making for some time. We just gave it different names. It’s only a partial solution to me though. You’ll note that they do recommend that the cloud be managed very tightly and within the confines of a firewall. Still, that’s a big step forward. Fiber optic, as Barcus suggests, is a good idea since it is virtually impossible to eaves drop on that but, it is enough?

Q2. Will congress past a bill that regulates the trust factor of Cloud Computing host vs. users?

A2: I think that’s a very good question. The only down side to this is that once we create regulation, we then must enforce it. Good side effects come of this too! That is where employment is created to accomplish such tasks. Of note however, is that government regulation about network computing has been chasing its tail. Best be pro-active about everything in every way we know how, today. Wouldn't you agree?

Personally, I find the idea of trusting outside parties with my information scary no matter how it is done. If some are afraid of tagging becoming a part of the birth process, this is not going to help us one iota. I'm left with a few catch-22 questions:

  • Is anything different a realistic choice?
  • If not, how do we build litmus tests and comfort into such technology?

A Bionic Woman in OH! So Many Ways

I just couldn't resist posting this one.
It is most befitting of my blog title.

There are people who speak to my heart in very special ways.
Maybe it's because the kid in me rejects those who have attempted to narrow my scope of vision with its infinite possibilities.

My goodness! You wanna talk about busting stereotypes?

Thank God for the parents who raised me.
They did their best to prevent this type of pollution - human as they are. I’m old enough and wise enough to be grateful now. Thank God again for that.

Say goodbye to preconceived opinions and you’ll free the world in unspoken manners.

May this Ted talk inspire you as it did me.
*Big Smile to You*

The funniest of all anecdotes here is that her name, Aimée, means "Loved one" in French. Her personality makes her one of the most beautiful person in the world to me.

GPS Technology and Sky-cars - A Post Inspired by Horizon Report 2009

I wanted to contribute another Ted talk video related to GPS technology. I thought this one would hit home with everyone as well. The ramifications are astounding.

As Henry Ford in 1940, Hollywood was particularly ahead of people’s imagination, except for Paul Moller who began dreaming about a personal hover-craft at age 5, during the year that followed Ford's statement. The famous hover-cars found in the movie
The Fifth Element are just a decade away according to Moller. And this is thanks to many already found technologies, which he qualifies as “simple” in contrast to what was needed to reach the moon in the sixties.

This would be one very unique and, especially impacting application of Geo-Everything. It appears to be the navigational way of the future which Moller’s sky-car would be using. Another stunning feat for the sky-car is the multiple redundancies included in the design. Outside of the space program, I know very few applications requiring such thoroughness for the sake of life preservation. Soon, this very unique device, able to determine and record its own precise location, will allow us to travel further faster, and will forever change the demographics of modern society. This is the self-directing car suggested by some.

What is interesting to note is that the GPS technology capabilities that enable geo-everything today has a lot to do with a dramatic change in government rules that occurred in the year 2000. In January 2008, I became part of a world-wide community known as Geocachers. This geeky-outdoorsy hobby has afforded me a broad range of knowledge and entertainment that compares to no other that I am aware of. The sky is the limit - pun intended. It also introduced me to some very interesting, techno-history.

In May 2000, GPS users got an instant upgrade, not that anyone was aware of that notion at that moment. At approximately midnight on May 2nd EST, "the great blue switch" controlling selective availability was pressed. The details about selective availability can be found here: Selective Availability.

This is arguably the most significant and high impacting hardware upgrade of all times.

Twenty-four satellites around the globe processed their new orders. In an instant GPS technology accuracy improved tenfold. Tens of thousands of GPS receivers around the world had an instant upgrade, not that too many GPS owners knew about it. The very next day, GPS enthusiast and computer consultant, Dave Ulmer, wanted to test the newly acquired accuracy by hiding a navigational target in the woods. He called the idea the "Great American GPS Stash Hunt" and posted it in an Internet GPS users' group. His idea was simple and not really new: Hide a container out in the woods and note the coordinates.” The rest, as we say, is history.

Of course, another geeky-outdoorsy fellow found it. That someone happened to be a web developing enthusiast who was instrumental in founding as it is known today. If you care to visit, you will find some very interesting trivia. You’ll discover what it can do for you, your family, the community, the environment and much more.

Here are some interesting
Geocaching statistics. At the time I wrote this, there were 933,169 active caches worldwide. In the previous 7 days, there were 677,531 new logs written by 86,720 account holders across the globe. Amazing no?

I’ll be waiting in line for my first-generation sky-car.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Horizon Report 2009 - My Impressions

This is the 5th Horizon Report – Amazing!

One thing that strikes me, first and foremost, is the very recent inception of this fine idea. It’s hard to believe considering that the impact of the internet on every day life started on its land scorching momentum in the mid 1990’s. We did a pretty good job opening our “Horizons” (pun intended) by creating such a think tank, as early on as we did in the process.

For those who are interested, I found a great resource outlining the anecdotal history of the people and communities involved with the communication tool of the century. Wait, make that the millennium:
Brief History of the Internet

It’s clear that educational resources, beginning with much needed funds, have generally not been abundantly available and forthcoming. This is, as far as I know, still the case. Post baby-boomer generations have swiftly embraced technology to the point where the landscape of youth entertainment has completely morphed and been turned up on its head.

Long gone are the days of Dungeons and Dragons played on UNIX, blindly, as we drew the outlines of some obscure maze, in search of some unknown treasure. I even remember beating the original Mario game, on a black and white Gameboy back in the mid 1990s! *giggles*

Equally amusing is to note that online games such as World of War craft, Wii stations, Play stations and the like captured the newer generations much quicker than the educational system would ever be able to catch up to, in order to dispense techno-educational contents on topics related to current research and development.

As this 2009 report says: “Students are different, but a lot of educational material is not.” This is an understatement. Perhaps this is due to the formation of our educators as well. I don’t recall of a voc-rehab program for educators. Do you?

DCS3 cohort was privy to be comprised of advanced technical expertise directly associated with educational institutions. It offered a unique perspective on what is still missing today: a very short supply of especially trained rookies. You’ll find a co-authored paper related to this very topic here,
Wanted: Trained Security Specialist which highlights only one area in dire need of human resources.

Interestingly, cloud computing is helping with the traditional hurtles associated with trying to provide better and more appropriate training. That’s a topic I’d like to cover under a separate post. Certainly, Dr. Calongne has made it her mission to help facilitate such media.

Lastly, although this report addresses the needs of today for the demands of tomorrow, I’m left with a very important question unanswered. What are we doing to educate those who raised us? With an aging population, I’m interested to know what we are doing to help a generation that has given so much. How will they learn to leverage tools that could ultimately make their golden years much less lonely?

I can’t help but worry about that every time my aging parents make a support call to my 24/7 service desk.

Graphics from Qatar Foundation.

Cloud Computing - The Confusion

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Showing Off Animoto...

... as well as my doctoral cohort brothers. If there ever was a group of fine people in my life, there they were, in the form of DCS3. Without them, residencies would have been boring and, the true spirit of collaboration and cohesiveness could not have been more obvious for all to witness.

DCS3 awards honorary doctoral degree to our dear friend and cohort brother Donald Shirah, for the wittiest geeky sense of humor there ever was. Don returned to CTU's Institute for Advance Studies following a win over a brain tumor. Reevaluating his life, he opted for his family as his only focus. Happy Trails Don!

It's been a privilege knowing you all. Thanks!

Courtesy of Dr. Cynthia Calongne, aka Lyr Lobo in Second Life, as she demonstrates animoto capabilities.