Thursday, August 29, 2013

Pride in Your Work

One of those really annoying things as a volunteer is being told something is good enough. A friend and I have been working on something and have been told that it's absolutely awesome.... except that it's not. We both take pride in our work and we know what could be improved.

Truth be told, I struggle with this a lot. I really want to be able to do things to the best of my ability. No compromises. Just good solid work that I can be proud of. It left me with somewhat of a dilemma when I was told that for the new image I was not allowed to add any new features to it.

To my way of thinking, if you're not improving on things, then what's the point? We've seen what works and what doesn't. So we can make improvements. And it'll be much better work because you've then got some enthusiasm for it all. Things work better. You're not stalled.

The funny bit is that I've lost my enthusiasm for Tartare Source. Mainly because it feels like a dead end. Not in terms of functionality but in terms of a living. While I want it to be what it could be, I think parts of it's beauty are lost on people.

For example, I was in a meeting and they were talking about the cost of ChromeOS administration over Linux administration. Soon after this discussion they were having a discussion about the hassles of having to manage licenses after having reimaged a ChromeBook. I did a bit of a double take and it seemed no one seemed to see the connection - that while ChromeBooks have a certain ease of use, they also have management problems in terms of maintaining those licenses. The licensing is ridiculous and if they could drop that, they'd be great.

So Tartare Source allows people to image a machine in a very quick time with no fluffing about with licenses and the like. And I reckon this part can be made loads better. Instead of a stick, have a rescue partition. Instead of asking questions around school and name etc. save that on the rescue partition and have it auto-populate those questions etc. Make it so that you don't need a stick and the owner of the machine can chose to do a reimage themselves. Now that's pretty...

The thing is, while I wasn't given the opportunity to implement these features, others have heard of it and become excited. I'm incredibly frustrated because I know it could be brilliant. I've known this for awhile and the shine has worn off. If I can't make a living by being awesome.... Do I have to be a mediocre, doing it for the money, sort of a person to make a living? I think, to some degree, I've accepted this as true. I'm starting to understand the frustration of some of the people around me - that they're seeing what I was seeing and wanting to do a year ago but for them it's all exciting and new. Of course... that still doesn't solve my frustration... and only goes some way to making me a little more enthusiastic about it. There's still the bit about needing to eat...

In other words, should we/do we accept the opinion of others over our own sense of quality and a good job? Or should we strive to be all that we can be? And if you are striving to be all that you can be, how the hell do you make a living from it?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Stress

It's sometimes really hard to know how much stress you're really under. My father dropped me off somewhere yesterday (he usually offers when he has something he wants to talk to me about) and it lead to a conversation with a friend about ... well... loads of things:- My relationship with various friends. My relationship with projects and the people in those projects. Family matters which never really go away including long term health concerns. My relationship to money and it's abundant lack (and the fact that I'm borrowing money on a weekly basis). And finally, the fact that I'm getting older and don't seem to be getting anywhere.

Not getting anywhere? Today I'm tired - I haven't slept. I had to get something done by a particular time. It turns out that particular time was completely made up. I think it's a really crappy way to treat a volunteer (given that I've got a meeting tonight in East Auckland I don't really have the option to go home and get some sleep - 1.5 hours and $6 each way). Scratch that. It's a really amazingly crappy way to treat a person.

It sometimes feels like volunteers at Manaiakalani are little more than a footnote. A note that there are volunteers. Little more.

Here I am - a couple of days away from being 34 (officially in my mid-thirties) and I'm feeling really... stalled... stressed. I mean, the thing that seems to have changed is my relationship with myself. I'm starting to value myself a whole lot more. I have no problem quoting $80 / hour now - something I felt horribly uncomfortable with (though truth be told - it still doesn't mean anything to me. I'll still do a project that I'm passionate about over one that pays a lot) previously.

The main problem for me in society is that money has become the end rather than a means to an end. If it wasn't "the end", people would just decide "Actually.... I'm earning enough for my lifestyle. Instead of accumulating more wealth, I'm going to help other people accumulate wealth". Which would lead to people working less hours and having enough money to live on.

This doesn't really happen and we all expect to get our pound of flesh (hint: Property prices in Auckland are outside of affordability for first time house buyers not because of foreign investment but rather because everyone demands their pound of flesh). And once we've got a pound, we want another pound. Capitalism relies on the value of things going up.

But enough of that. Someone asked me that question that I so hate today. "Are you okay?". I was angry. Oh so very angry. The treatment of me is simply not acceptable (I'm not finishing the job - it's not me abandoning the project but rather, it abandoned me as soon as "it" lied to me). Of course, the question had it's usual effect. All of those things that aren't okay suddenly came flooding back and my mask dissolved under the weight of it all. The funny bit is that I'm actually kind of happy... sort of... mostly (I have my reasons). It's just that there's all sorts of stress which I'm not all that happy to acknowledge going on at the moment.

Happy Birthday to me.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Story of my Life

I had sent out the invitation for my birthday party when I got an email back from a really old friend. Truth be told, I've often told her off at my birthday party's as she's the one that points a camera around and then expects everyone to sign up to Bebo or Facebook etc. in order to even see them. But anyway, she asked me what I'd been up to and I started with "It all started with a girl". I've been thinking about that start a bit and it kept sounding like an autobiography or something. Something really quite interesting and colourful. A great way to tie things in together.

Of course, a blog isn't an autobiography... well it kind of could be. But then, there's something very egotistical about always writing about yourself (I would know) in which case a blog is more of a very watered down autobiography... or something. Anyway... so here's kind of the start of something...

*  *  *

It all started with a girl...

At one point I thought the best description of my life would have been "cigarettes and coffee" - but no. Every chapter seems to have started with a girl. Don't get me wrong... if I were to write an autobiography, one chapter would almost definitely be called "cigarettes and coffee" but it's really just one phase - not my life.

I came into this world - from a girl (my mum), and spent most of my childhood amongst girls (my sisters). Enter school and it's about female teachers where "Miss" feels as much a title for someone who teaches you as much as a gender designation. Such is the gender inequality that is the education system.

After that it became girls, and my relationship to them (but mostly to myself), that opens up most other chapters. The girl who let me know it was my personality that she liked about me - definitely not my looks (years later I had heard she'd said something about not knowing if I even wanted to be alive. Depression's a cruel mistress and somehow made all the worst by mean girls). The girl who I found stressed me to the point that I started smoking. The girl who wanted children and wasn't going to let a piece of rubber stop her from achieving her ends. The girl who seemed horrified when sober upon learning that we'd snogged. The girl who told me I was special etc.

But the biggest things all of those girls have ever changed is my relationship to myself. Whether it's been in a positive or negative way, it's fair to credit those changes to that relationship with myself to those girls but perhaps not as fair to credit them with the changes that came about because of that change to that relationship to myself. Resentment to the way things turned out can be as much a positive motivator as being told "you're more special than you think you are". So unpredictable how someone will take an experience and turn it into either a motivator or an excuse.

Such is life. The answers are never easy. The tale is complex but, oft times, can be told simply:

It all started with a girl...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Job Description - Part 2 - The Nevyn Brand

So... a great big egotistical post while I avoid thinking about the things that have me bothered at the moment.

The Nevyn brand. What is it and why does it mean so much to me?

The Nevyn brand is a result of all of those things that I find annoy me when working for other people.

For example, if I'm asked to be less than honest... that's not the Nevyn brand. That just irritates the living crap out of me. If I were in charge I would let everyone who needs to know know, work with those people to come up with a plan or let them know exactly what I think needs to happen to fix things and then move heaven and earth to fix those things. Now that's the Nevyn brand.

If in that process there's a "we don't need to fix things" attitude and it's not followed up with sound reasoning, that's also against the Nevyn brand. Sound reasoning? Imagine it's going to take 9 months to fix a situation. By that end of the year though, that situation isn't going to exist as it's being moved to something else. It's worthwhile putting in workarounds and working with the client to make things work in the interim (though a year is still quite a long time). It's not worthwhile doing that development to fix it. This isn't a "ignore it" kind of a proposition. This is a work with people proposition - so there's still time involved here.

I keep a very strict open door policy. If you need to talk to me, talk to me. Don't go through communication channels - it's only going to annoy me. I think I've talked about abstraction in this blog before. If communication keeps going through the same filters - the same people - then the results are generally going to be catered around those people. This may or may not work for other people. But if you're able to get input from as many sources as humanly possible, chances are you'll be able to get results that cater to a greater number of people. You're also a hell of a lot more likely to preempt needs. This is why I like spending a lot of programming time in amongst the people I'm programming for. You often hear things over your shoulder that add that little piece of magic to a program.

I should probably add here - I'm really not that great a programmer. I would rate myself low. What I do well is to capture those needs that people often miss and come up with solutions. I often find myself lost when I hear a programmer talking about some of the more technical bits and pieces. For example, I have no clear understanding of an API. I use them - I probably use them a hell of a lot more than I realise - but when people talk about how great an API is, I generally glaze over.

I don't work to a schedule when dealing with customers. It's the worst thing ever.

You find yourself at a site and no one needs to talk to you but you're booked for an hour with them... At one point I was contracting to a company and had done most of the work that needed to be done. Instead of sit around and keep charging, I chose to go home and get some stuff done there. I only lived around the corner anyway so if anything came up, I was only a phone call away. The following day, I got asked to go and see the CEO of the place. He was annoyed that I had left and insisted that I stick around. This frustrated the living crap out of me. It felt incredibly disrespectful of my time. I read Alice in Wonderland in a day and Through the Looking Glass the following day. I reconnected with BoingBoing.net and was still bored and frustrated. Sure, I was being paid... but then, this is me... I don't care all that much about being paid (though it's becoming important nowadays).

The other side of the coin is that you find a situation at a site. You're in the middle of trying to resolve it when you're scheduled time is up. Leaving half way through or before everything that needs to be done is done is shocking. You either negotiate to help the customer or not. You don't stop somewhere in the middle just to keep to a schedule that ignores the reality of things i.e. that a customer's needs are never going to be constant. I may be done after 20 minutes. It may take me 3 hours. My way of dealing with this would be to give out a straight "I charge X amount / hour" and take the initial contract. Log the amount of time spent with the customer (and this is an honest "this is the time spent with the customer" log not a "I need to fill in time gaps so that it looks like I'm busy" log) and renegotiate on real figures using an average amount of time across a time period like... 3 months. Honesty plays a role in here. Being able to go in with a figure - "in the last 3 months I've spent an average of 3 hours a week here" - leads to all sorts of very quick negotiations which people I believe will for the most part be happy with.

But the Nevyn brand isn't just a reaction to the things that I think are done badly. It's an approach to things. Just recently I've made a few interesting choices around my general look. This morning I shaved off my beard. A few days ago I decided it was the perfect time to give up smoking. You heard it here first... by beard is gone (though it could grow back if me and my chin really don't get along). I'm feeling horrendously impatient (why is EVERYONE so damn slow?!). Still... I'm ready to do something... anything. So hopefully I can get those things that I really need to do done... and then find a great big giant "holy crapballs on toast how are we going to do this?" project to work on... or something.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Job Description - Part 1 - The negatives

I've been asked to write my perfect job description. This presents a great big giant problem for me. I've never worked to a job description. I hate them. They're just boxes to shove you into. They're important. I get that. But for someone like me... I kind of see myself as someone who finds a need to fill. I get in there, fill the need for as long as the need is there. The need needs to go away or I'm not really doing my job properly. Or the need should get to the level that it can be handed off to someone else. Probably someone with a lot less skill. It's job creation.

I've been thinking about this for the last couple of days and I keep coming around to what hasn't worked for me when working for other people so I figured it's probably not that bad a place to start. So here goes:

Do not impede on the Nevyn brand

Probably my biggest problem with working for people is that they try to get me to work to their brand. Some have tried to wrap me up in a brand (a uniform). There's the doing things in what I would consider a half arsed way in order to stick to a schedule and the like. Here's a hint. I'm quite an intelligent person. Assume I know what I'm doing and will ask for help when it's needed. If help can't be given, then some explanation rather than a straight out no really helps as it allows me to make a decision on whether I'm really in the right place.

Meanwhile, the Nevyn brand means a whole lot more to me than any branding you could possibly try to impose on me. If that means I'm spending more time with particular customers to get them to a place they're happy, then I will do that. It will probably mean I can spend less time with them at a later date and someone else can get the attention they need. In other words, the time needed by a customer is seldom constant and trying to force it to be is just dumb. It's a waste of everyone's time.

Actually... I think that's it. My big problem with working for companies is that they try to put me into a box and the times I've strived and shown them a little something they weren't expecting was when they let me out of that box.

Boxes are a pretty bad way of getting anything from people. I have no idea why we all seem perfectly willing to be put into them.

The other day I was talking to a friend about someone seeing me in the context of Tangleball. Suddenly I'm not just this kind of awkward geek guy at a party. I'm a person who's got all sorts of skills and is even a little creative and draws/paints etc. This is a golden opportunity. People often see other people in a particular context and all of those interesting bits fall down the wayside. Much like a CV and job description...

Meanwhile, I'm sure that my activities with Manaiakalani were kicked off by a very vague description of a problem. I had a few days before I had a meeting with Russell Burt and I kept coming back to the DHCP server. So I wrote it on my pad and went to this meeting. It turns out they'd already solved the issue though I did show off my pad with DHCP written on it. I was right.

This would be my ideal way of hiring people. Given a problem, how do they approach it? I'm fairly confident I could get the people I'd want to be working with that way... If only there was a way of doing this outside of a forced interview situation.

I often talk about having the right people. For example, I think there are a few things that didn't work at Tangleball which would probably work now given the context of the right people. You don't need positions filled. You need the right people working with you.

Anyway... so the title of this post points to the fact that it will probably be a multi-part thing. Now that I've got the negatives out there, I need to find the positives...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Kissing Babies

The other day we had Gareth Hughes from the Green Party visit Tangleball.

There were a couple of things that went oh so very wrong. For starters, we let them dictate the terms. Here we are being told that Gareth Hughes wants to visit on X day. It should have been a "Tough luck. We have procedures to follow such as we must discuss this in person". Instead, someone from the mailing list, who doesn't do much in the space himself, volunteered to be an ambassador for Tangleball. This is a problem for me as it's a physical space to do physical things. It seems someone on the mailing list who doesn't spend time in the space has more of a say than someone in the space who doesn't participate with the mailing list.

So a systematic error with Tangleball. It turns out the ambassador had his own agenda and didn't really do a great job of representing Tangleball. But more than this, we let them dictate the terms. We're showing them around our space... We're doing them a favour. While I like Gareth Hughes personally, there was an issue here.

The next bit that went wrong for me was the fact that Tangleball was little more than a baby to kiss. Rather than come down to the space during an open day or during the regular meetings, Gareth Hughes dictated a day that he wanted to come down with his entourage and have photos taken. It wasn't about learning about the space. It was about a photo opportunity. His eyes lit up when he saw the grand-daddy of replicable 3D printers - the first 3D printer made with parts that were 3D printed (or something along those lines). The ethos of a maker space (there's another entity that should be referred to as a "faker space" i.e. those that work on a commercial model but use maker space branding to further themselves rather than being about its members) didn't mean squat.

What is all of this about? It turns out that 3D printers are a great big political issue. In the early days of the Internet, the music industry was talking about how to kill the Internet. It's a great bit giant threat to their economic model (not that far away from being a threat to the national economy - does this wording sound familiar?). The Internet, is in essence, a great big copying machine. Think about things like retweets and the like. So information can be copied.

But I've jumped ahead... Someone went through the effort of printing off a gun with a 3D printer. If you ask me, there are much easier ways of getting guns. There was even a politician suggesting that a 3D printer could be used to print off "drugs" (why you wouldn't just use the source materials to get high is completely beyond me). So we've got fear. We're afraid people will produce weapons and the like. But this isn't the great big giant threat. What is the threat you ask?

I'm glad you asked. The threat is really around IP (Intellectual Property).

Do you own a drill? I don't mean a battery drill but rather a great big plug it in, it's kind of scary because it goes at amazing speeds, and if you're not careful of your usage could lead to holes EVERYWHERE, sort of a drill. It has a chuck right? It turns out there isn't a real standard for chucks because it was patented by one company and as a result every other company had to produce a different chuck OR pay a royalty (which would in effect be passed on to the consumer).

What if you could just print out the right chuck? Or those grills on the bathroom floor that say something like "Patent Pending 519626"? Who protects all of that precious IP?

Yep, that's right. 3D printers could be a threat to our nations economic health. This is cause for the GCSB to spy on you right? Yep.

The politics behind 3D printers is pure FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). If the music industry (and I would guess the movie industry) wanted to kill off the Internet, think about the number of industries afraid of the 3D printer - particularly consumer grade machines that could make a whole lot of things a hell of a lot cheaper.

In which case, politicians are out there looking to make waves. Either they're going to take the opposing view to the FUD - "3D printers are a natural progression from the Internet into physical space" or the FUD end of things which is "3D printers will allow people to kill other people man!". You read it here first (if this is your first time hearing this). Where does the consumer fit into this argument?

3D printers change the entire economic model from being based on sparsity to one based on something different... what that different is, I don't know. But it's inevitable. Things, they are a changing.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Criticisms of the Education System

At lunch today a few friends and I sat around talking about education. One of them was saying that he felt completely left behind. I had tried to show him something the other day and his anxiety levels shot through the roof - he just about yelled at me.

Another one was saying that he found that school had no redeeming features for him. He resented the forced atmosphere. While he could learn from someone out of the classroom situation, the classroom was never an environment inducive to learning to him. While he was far ahead of others, he'd often read books in class - which were promptly taken away from him.

I've been thinking about the whole learning problem. People learn despite of us. I remember doing assignments which I'd score low marks on but would get really enthusiastic about. The problem was that I would find a tangent that would interest me. For example, for chemistry, I did an assignment on carbohydrates. The information I found lead to diabetes which got me interested. While I provided the information needed for the assignment, I carried on learning... I included all of the stuff about diabetes. Low marks...

Same year, same class, unit standards was just being introduced. I had been an 80-90% kind of a student in most exams (assignments were always a different story) and suddenly I'm in an assessment method where I simply wasn't passing anything. No units. Nothing. It wasn't that I was finding the subject hard. I was finding the assessment criteria difficult.

I've been thinking about this for a little while. The comparison became sharp when I worked with a couple of home school kids. While they were being encouraged to try new things and explore, it feels like the classroom doesn't lead to this. During the whole Manaiakalani thing, I kept getting requests from teachers to block certain things. The Chromebooks are considered a much better environment because they are limited and easier to control.

Note, this wasn't at all a limitation of the netbooks, but rather, it came down to a question of ethics for me. Is it moral to lock a user out of their machine? Don't get me wrong. I'm quite willing to block certain things - things that fall under "safety" - but for the most part, if a user owns a computer, I believe that person/company etc. should have access to that computer. It's not mine. I know, this is in the face of I.T. administrators everywhere. Ironically, this is the sort of thing that MS Windows does well. Group policies and the like...

I can understand why teachers are looking for more control. 24+ kids to look after... That doesn't lead to the type of teaching people rant and rave about. It's a forced atmosphere where a single child can interrupt a carefully put together lesson plan. Imagine it though. For the kid who's really struggling to keep up, they're getting more and more frustrated as they struggle and eventually give up. Of course, this is where the majority of attention is placed.

Meanwhile, those kids who are well ahead are often not identified. I don't mean those right at the top but rather those who fall between the gaps. They're smart, probably lack a bit of confidence because they perceive that they're somehow different, and become more and more isolated. Studious types who want to be challenged. Hell, these could be the kids who are really bored.

So my big objection to national standards is that it puts the emphasis on kids reaching those standards. Not everyone learns in the same way on any given day. And standardised testing assumes that every child is the same. I'm not adverse to standardised testing in general principal. I mean, being able to compare apples with apples is a good thing. But when the emphasis becomes comparing apples with apples, it's a really bad thing. An obsession on quantifying rather than triggering curiosity is a hellishly bad thing. I've had crazy clever/smart friends fail due to being bored and unengaged. Hell - I've failed papers for the same reason.

The video attached says it much better than I ever could.

Which all points to a number of problems. Classes lead to class control which doesn't accommodate to the fringes - those that could possibly go off and learn on their own (if they didn't have to be so concerned with meeting those assessment criterias) and those who suffer anxiety about being taught. Assessments don't take into account learning and instead focus on very narrow criteria - how can you assess people in such a way as to make it meaningful? Given that assessment is the difference between being able to do a course at a tertiary level and not being admitted, this is quite important. How do you keep people engaged with learning and not block off those areas that they find interesting?

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Long Long Week

It's been a really long week. Frightfully long.

While I'm unemployed, I'm finding it really hard to find the time to do all of the things I need to do. Matt (Wellington) is still waiting for a copy of the image for me (I'm refusing to send it down without customizations for their situation). My first batch of beer for this season is waiting to be bottled. The source code for Tartare Source is still sitting in my dropbox folder without having been put up into a more collaboration friendly platform (github or something...).

So what have I been up to?

Mr. CK and I have been working on something we've finally found a name for - PiCkLe - The Portable Computer Lab. This is all part of the Drop in Geek Cafe. We had a problem. We don't have a computer lab to use (because let's face it - computer labs are horrible places and we want to work in a cafe setting, not a computer lab setting) and so the computers have to be brought into the space and put away again. We could go with laptops but then laptops have problems around teaching people on them.

For example, if you're demonstrating something, the whole screen, keyboard and mouse gets moved so that the person giving the demonstration can see what they're doing. Less than optimal... So... I suggested small form factor (physically small) machines but then, the cases for small machines seems to get more expensive the smaller you get. Someone asked why we weren't using Raspberry Pi's for this - I hope the answer is obvious. While they're brilliant geek toys, the desktop experience is very far from being able to be in anyway productive on (given it's modest specs. this is exactly what you'd expect). So... the idea was to build a trolley. The would house a whole lot of computers meaning we wouldn't need individual computers. But of course, because it's a trolley, we no longer need small form factor machines...

At some point we're hoping to publish the design for this trolley. It fits 6 computers and houses the monitors, keyboards and mice when in storage. Unfortunately this has been taking us quite a while to come up with the design, build it, pick it apart, find problems, back to designing to solve the problem etc. We've thus far missed 2 deadlines on it.

I've been getting a whole lot more involved with Tangleball lately. I've been quite grumpy about it actually. It's spring as far as I'm concerned in which case, the place needs a great big giant clean. Couches have been moved to vacuum under them, floors have started to be scrubbed, things dusted, demands made for cleaning materials etc. Thus, the whole "Who cleans the toilets" post. So there's been some major cleaning going on.


And then I've been facilitating a collaborative art project. Basically making sure the doors are open for the person doing it. It's been a lot of fun. Basically, he decided he wanted his car painted - but collaboratively rather than the plain old boring flat colour. It should say something that's important to people and just be plain cool.

In terms of projects, this is probably one of the most accessible I've come across. We've got one more day of it today/tomorrow (12th August, 2013) so if you want to have a bit of fun, come on down to Tangleball.

Of course, my first contribution was bringing out the "Who's Your Daddy" design. There are a bunch of photos here. The wig (check the photos...) was my going for humour given that we were starting to get a little ratty with each other... like I said.. it's been a really long exhausting week.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Who Cleans the Toilets?

Since I started with the whole Tangleball thing there's been one really important question that's bothered me. It's really bothered me. So today, I found myself cleaning the toilets...

Whenever I've asked, it's been the same old answer: "I think X cleaned them last". X is a constant. It hasn't changed. So I have absolutely no idea if X cleaned them once, back in the day, or if the toilets are being cleaned by one person regularly.

It's a pattern. It goes far further than the toilet. It speaks to a problem with communism. Communism is a system whereby the ultimate goal is that people work far lesser hours (as opposed to capitalism that seems to see us even more busy) and are equally respected as everyone else.

I was standing next to a project that I and 'Y' had been working on. Someone came up to me and said "is that 'Y's' project?". I was annoyed. It's related to Manaiakalani in which case, it being credited to solely 'Y' just annoys me given that 'Y' has only really been involved from sometime this year as opposed to my almost 3 years.

It doesn't work. And why doesn't it work? Because, if there is someone cleaning the toilets, then you have to respect them. There's someone who's figured out what's really needed, and despite how icky it might be, they're doing it. But the point is... no one cleans the toilets. All those left'ist elitists forget something. That people need some form of motivation.

But there's a whole other problem. Leadership. Take the "Occupy Wall Street" movement for example. Occupy Wall St was a mess. The media ate them up for all they were worth. As an anti-capitalist I liked and respected the message. As a human being capable of logic, I found the whole thing dumb.

Why dumb? Imagine Occupy Wall St actually got some traction. The American government wants to negotiate. They're willing to hold the bankers that caused the recession responsible (though I'm not convinced the recession existed due to bad financial decisions or if it was media inspired. Currently I think both. It existed in the States which lead to the media inspiring it in other places) but they don't agree to do something... whatever... It doesn't matter. It's irrelevant. Who do they talk to? Despite it highlighting some really important issues (though because it was leaderless and had multiple demands and splinter groups etc. no one took them terribly seriously) it was designed to fail. No two ways about it. It wasn't a movement for change. It was a movement for the illusion of being involved in change.

So what happens when there is no leader? Someone takes on that role anyway. Even if it is to be all militant about it being a community driven thing. Someone does it. And the problem with that?

If that person isn't one of those militant "it's all collaboratively run" people, then they're probably not all that representative of the group.

But even worse are those "collaboratively run" people. It seems that open ended questions result in people going around in circles as a suggestion is made and then another and efforts are split into both or neither. And even worse than that is that they become so obsessed with it being community run that an individual's suggestion can't be heard because it limits options for the community in which case nothing ever gets done.

So, to all of you leftist elitists out there, who cleans the fornicating toilets?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Have We Really Got Democracy?

I'm uncomfortable with extremes. While being a bit of a lefty, I don't think socialism is the answer to all of our problems. So far, attempts at communism, have resulted in things stalling - the system has never been fully implemented and it doesn't work in isolation anyway i.e. the rest of the world needs to be following the same path.

Something occurred to me. A system isn't a destination. We may say we've got a functional, if only in comparison to America's, democracy. But it's just not enough. We've got voting... but so what? It might have been seen as democratic, but nowadays we know more. We have the technology. We have the means to communicate like never before.

What does this mean? The people, at large, can have more of a say. To me this looks quite different from people only talking to politicians or particular political parties. To me we can start to really have a say. Someone at Tangleball was talking about the idea of binding veto referendums. The idea is this. Say the government try to push through a bill, such as GCSB (under the guise of catching those trading in child pornography and terrorism), and the bill is controversial. The public should be given the opportunity to research and come to an opinion themselves as to whether they really think it to be necessary. While the public still need to go through their elected officials to get ideas out there, they can veto those bills that are not in the best interests of the people at large.

I also think that if a bill is as closely contested as the GCSB bill (there was only 1 vote in it) then it should trigger a referendum. Why should we trust our politicians to decisions that hotly contested? Should we not have a voice?

And yes, there are problems with referendums. We need some serious checks on the questions. For example, the anti-smacking referendum was so badly written as to be horribly biased. However, if they're binding, then I think those checks will happen as a matter of course.

I also have a problem with party votes. I am of the opinion that conscience votes need to become more common place as our elected representatives. I have more faith in an individual's conscience than a party line.

Will that give us democracy? Probably not. It will make it more functional, but if it's all about a journey, rather than a destination, then chances are we will see more things that bring us closer to a system whereby the people have a voice...

Meanwhile, I was disgusted when I flicked over to Parliament TV to find a National Politician telling parliament in the debating chamber that New Zealanders want the GCSB bill using a whole lot of hyperbole around child pornography and terrorism. That may be their intent, but that's not what the bill says...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Raspberry Pi - The Wrong Solution to a Problem

I was using the Raspberry Pi as an example today of a solution that came out where the problem was all wrong.

Basically, it's all people. You can teach computer science on all sorts of different pieces of hardware. A computer from the mid-80's will do.

It's about people. It's a really hard thing to teach. Looking at my own experiences when I was at tech (short for polytechnic), there were those of us who just "got it" and could run with it and those of us who struggled and needed help. You could tell, by the end of 2 or 3 classes, who the people were who could understand programming and those who were better off looking at one of the other streams in computing. So how do you accommodate for those differing levels? I actually failed papers because I wasn't engaged at the beginning and found it hard to be enthusiastic when it came to the bits that I didn't know or understand as I had just spent the better part of a semester bored out of my mind.

What the Raspberry Pi has done though is to give a community a common platform to produce resources for. So you know what you've got to work with - the limitations and bonuses. It's about then making up a bunch of resources around teaching and learning computer science.

So the hardware... while I think it's great, there are probably better alternatives out there if it's just about the hardware. But the Raspberry Pi isn't. It's about the community around it. In which case, while they provided a solution, it was the wrong solution but as a result the right solution has come along.

I'm just hoping that the same happens with the Parallella. However, given it's more specialised area of computing, I fear it may be a bunch of people who already know about parallel processing, the challenges and libraries etc., that work on them and the barrier to entry may still be fairly high for parallel processing.