Category Archives: engineering

Today's Lessons

Get up and do something first thing in the day.

Be active.

Be motivated by love.

Don’t be silent anymore.

Simplify life — remove whatever and whoever does not inspire, inform, add personal value and friendship, or provide a needed service

Clean it up, and make it easy to keep clean.

There will always be more things to learn and do as the day progresses, but you have to start somewhere.


Invocation becomes declaration.
Worship becomes recognition.
When blessings mature,
One glimpses the source.

When one is young in Tao, all practices begin as external procedures. Sometimes, it is difficult to understand their significance — we don’t know what to expect. This is proper: Not daring to interfere with growth and discovery, those who follow Tao hesitate to go beyond technical instruction.

Take worship, for example. At first, an invocation is something external. You repeat it, but really, it means very little. You kneel down at the altar because you need something on which to focus. Once you realize that the true Tao is to be found within yourself, you shift your attention. Then worship becomes recognition. Your own spirit arises, and you learn to tap into it on your own. If someone had told you what to look for, you might never be sure of your experiences. What comes from outer suggestion is not the true Tao.

Glimpsing the source leaves no doubts.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

I guess what bothers me most about religion is that it fails in its main purpose so much of the time. Religion to me was always about invoking a higher spirit, and retaining that spirit within yourself so that you could get beyond your own petty needs and wants, and really tune in to the world and to other people. It calls out, invokes, the best in us so that we can share it with others.

But this gets distorted and perverted into worshipping some other, giving that other power and then excusing yourself from having to make decisions about life, saying what happens to other people is just “God’s will” or assuming bad things happen to people because they aren’t holy enough. I look at the man just elected Pope, and see someone who is so caught up in the doctrine of the Church that he has forgotten why the Church is even there. He lives to force doctrine on others instead of making their lives better.

So in Tao, what is it we want to invoke, to call upon?

Something I learned in business school and process management was the concept of alignment. What creates friction and frustration in business processes is when the purpose of the business is not aligned with its processes. People become confused over whether to follow the principles they know are correct, or the processes they know are wrong, but are told to follow. I think that is what we want to invoke when we call upon the Tao – to bring ourselves into alignment with the Tao, with the natural forces of the world and the way things work, and in doing so, eliminate friction and frustration from our lives.

Stop working at cross purposes to what your inner spirit tells you is right. Invoke the Tao, recognize it within yourself, tap into the source within yourself. Have a cup of tea and a cookie, go out to the garden and smell the roses and the clean, clear air. Ah. Isn’t that better?

Now, go share that feeling with someone else, and spread it along…

Upper Mismanagement | The New Republic

The new managerial class tended to neglect process innovation because it was hard to justify in a quarterly earnings report, where metrics like “return on investment” reigned supreme. “In an era of management by the numbers, many American managers … are reluctant to invest heavily in the development of new manufacturing processes,” Hayes and Abernathy wrote. “Many of them have effectively forsworn long-term technological superiority as a competitive weapon.” By contrast, European and Japanese manufacturers, who lived and died on the strength of their exports, innovated relentlessly. One of Toyota’s most revolutionary production techniques is to locate suppliers inside its own factories. The New York Times’ Jon Gertner recently visited a Toyota plant and reported that the company doesn’t actually order a seat for a new truck until the chassis hits the assembly line, at which point the seat is promptly built on-site and installed. “If the front seat had not been ordered 85 minutes earlier, it would not exist,” Gertner observed. Alas, these aren’t the kinds of money-saving breakthroughs the GM brain trust has ever excelled at.

The country’s business schools tended to reflect and reinforce these trends. By the late 1970s, top business schools began admitting much higher-caliber students than they had in previous decades. This might seem like a good thing. The problem is that these students tended to be overachiever types motivated primarily by salary rather than some lifelong ambition to run a steel mill. And there was a lot more money to be made in finance than manufacturing. A recent paper by economists Thomas Philippon and Ariell Reshef shows that compensation in the finance sector began a sharp, upward trajectory around 1980.

… it’s hard to believe that American manufacturing has a chance of recovering unless business schools start producing people who can run industrial companies, not just buy and sell their assets. And we’re pretty far away from that point today.

via Upper Mismanagement | The New Republic.

Good article on one of my primary complaints as an engineer and process improvement manager….

How (Bad) Process Creates Crisis

As someone whose focus in life has continuously moved towards understand process work and process change, this is a very important statement about our political process in California, and in our nation as a whole. I think this is in many ways what happens towards the end of an empire, as the strategies that used to work — namely force and the dominance of the upper class — no longer will continue to work. The progressive movement does not arise out of a vacuum — it arises out of the need for change, away from a very conservative stagnant society that no longer can economically move forward. Our economy is tied up in meaningless bank accounts, too large to be spent appropriately to create growth. As Dolly Levi said, “Money is like manure — it’s no good unless it is spread around encouraging young things to grow.” Our political process has become the same — no good at encouraging growth, it simply stinks.

We need to change it, and soon. Now.

Over the last several months, we have started to see a lot of attention at the national level devoted to this topic of the California budget crisis. And this would be pleasing to me, if it wasn’t for the minor point that all of it has been wrong. One hundred percent, no exceptions, wrong. You can start by the insistence on referring to it as a budget crisis. I’ll give you a related example. Right now we’re seeing this debate over health care, and the intensity of the town hall meetings and misinformation provided by Republicans and their allies in the health care industry. But really, none of that has to happen. With a Democratic President, and large majorities in the House and Senate, there should be no problem finding a majority that supports some form of decent legislation which includes insurance reforms and a public option to provide competition. But you have the hurdle of the filibuster in the Senate. In fact, the very undemocratic nature of the Senate itself, where the state of California and the state of Wyoming have the same representation despite one having over 70 times as many residents as the other, distorts the debate and creates abstractions from the expressed will of the people and the political will in Washington. Now, that ought to be understood as a political crisis, not a crisis over what to do about health care but a crisis about how to leap the institutional hurdles. Well, take that situation, multiply it by 10 orders of magnitude, and you start to understand the nature of the problem in California.

We have a center-left electorate and a center-right political system in which they must operate. And sure, Democrats in the state could do a much better job at negotiation and advocacy. But my contention is that this is not a problem of personality but process, and that process has created the crisis which we now face. We could elect Noam Chomsky Governor next year and still be saddled with the structural hurdles that must be jettisoned before we can even return to a baseline of sane and responsible governance in California.

And while the worst economic hole since the Great Depression certainly accelerated the problem, this is not the result of a perfect storm of factors contributing to the demise. It was a 70-year bout of rain, and at every step of the way, nobody properly challenged this slip into an ungovernable system. So it’s going to take a lot of time to restore democracy to California, just as it took so much time to take it away. But I believe that we can solve this problem in a way that can truly be a harbinger for the country at large, which is the state’s reputation. If we can really work to figure out the proper model for government that allows for the will of the people to be reflected in policy and provides the accountability for the public so they know whether or not they like the policy results, we will not only have saved California, but the whole nation. So that’s what we’ll be talking about today.

via Calitics:: California – How Process Creates Crisis @Netroots Nation Open Thread.


Peace is easily maintained;
Trouble is easily overcome before it starts.
The brittle is easily shattered;
The small is easily scattered.
Deal with it before it happens.
Set things in order before there is confusion.
A tree as great as a man’s embrace springs from a small shoot;
A terrace nine stories high begins with a pile of earth;
A journey of a thousand miles starts under one’s feet.

— Tao Te Ching, 64

To me, the true visionaries are not visionary because they see something that doesn’t exist, but because they see something that does exist and what could be made from it, even if at first it is only a small fragment of an idea. Perhaps that’s just the engineering point of view, but I think a lot of people get stuck because they can’t grasp that we have to go from where we are.

A lot of times when I am feeling stuck, I have to step back and realize how much of what I’ve wanted in my life I have already accomplished, and that it is simply now my ideas of what I can do have become larger, or perhaps taken a different focus. And yes, there are lots of days I wish I could go back and be younger or do something differently, but it is the choices I’ve made that brought me here. It may not be what I originally envisioned, it may not yet be what I envision for the future, but it is an accomplishment of many visions over the years. Some days my life seems to fall apart into bits and pieces, and I just have to work on that one small thing. When I was very very depressed, a day’s accomplishment might just be to get a shower and take care of myself, but I had to feel that it was enough, then. Now, I want to accomplish larger things, but they are all still in fragments in my head.

What I will make from here on I don’t yet know. I can envision many possibilities, but which ones will play out I can’t say. I keep thinking that I have time now, I have money, I should be accomplishing more than I am. But then again, I have learned how to simply be, and that is something I could not have accomplished in the past. Perhaps now I have the resources to learn to go and do in ways that are more appropriate to my being.

“They consider me to have sharp and penetrating vision because I see them through the mesh of a sieve.”
— Kahlil Gibran

“In the night we stumble over things and become acutely conscious of their separateness, but the day reveals the unity which embraces them. ” — Rabindranath Tagore

“Art arises when the secret vision of the artist and the manifestation of nature agree to find new shapes.”
— Kahlil Gibran

“A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.” — Rosabeth Moss Kanter

“The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”
— Cecil Beaton

“The ultimate function of prophecy is not to tell the future, but to make it. Your successful past will block your visions of the future.” — Joel Barker

“Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change – this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.”
— Bruce Barton

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” — Oscar Wilde

“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” — Henri Matisse

“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.”
— Camille Pissarro

“A narrow vision is divisive, a broad vision expansive. But a divine vision is all-inclusive.”
— H. H. Swami Tejomayananda

“The books first turn up as fragmentary pictures in my head, usually, disconnected scenes that I then have to explain to myself, and eventually the reader. They don’t turn up all at once, of course, or my head would explode… If I knew how the books were going to end before embarking on them, there would be little reason to write them, after all. Dag says it best, in Passage: “The most important thing about quests, he decided, was not in finding what you went looking for, but in finding what you never could have imagined before you ventured forth.”” — Lois McMaster Bujold

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Wolfram Alpha

This sounds very cool! A lot like some of the work I was doing when I was working on Artificial Intelligence and Expert Systems in the 80s, combined with massive computational power. Awesome. Nice to see some of the stuff from 25 years ago coming back in a new form again. Of course, I can’t believe it’s been that long… the funny part is a lot of this went away as we moved to smaller computers that didn’t have the computational power of mainframes. Now, an average laptop has more computing power than mainframes did then, and we’re capable of building very powerful distributed systems that are even more powerful. But the simplicity of breaking things down into their very basic cellular structure and then being able to recombine them mathematically and THEN add natural language questioning ability is a really powerful thing.

The scientific and philosophical underpinnings of Wolfram Alpha are similar to those of the cellular automata systems he describes in his book, “A New Kind of Science” (NKS). Just as with cellular automata (such as the famous “Game of Life” algorithm that many have seen on screensavers), a set of simple rules and data can be used to generate surprisingly diverse, even lifelike patterns. One of the observations of NKS is that incredibly rich, even unpredictable patterns, can be generated from tiny sets of simple rules and data, when they are applied to their own output over and over again.

In fact, cellular automata, by using just a few simple repetitive rules, can compute anything any computer or computer program can compute, in theory at least. But actually using such systems to build real computers or useful programs (such as Web browsers) has never been practical because they are so low-level it would not be efficient (it would be like trying to build a giant computer, starting from the atomic level).

The simplicity and elegance of cellular automata proves that anything that may be computed — and potentially anything that may exist in nature — can be generated from very simple building blocks and rules that interact locally with one another. There is no top-down control, there is no overarching model. Instead, from a bunch of low-level parts that interact only with other nearby parts, complex global behaviors emerge that, for example, can simulate physical systems such as fluid flow, optics, population dynamics in nature, voting behaviors, and perhaps even the very nature of space-time. This is the main point of the NKS book in fact, and Wolfram draws numerous examples from nature and cellular automata to make his case.

But with all its focus on recombining simple bits of information and simple rules, cellular automata is not a reductionist approach to science — in fact, it is much more focused on synthesizing complex emergent behaviors from simple elements than in reducing complexity back to simple units. The highly synthetic philosophy behind NKS is the paradigm shift at the basis of Wolfram Alpha’s approach too. It is a system that is very much “bottom-up” in orientation.

Wolfram has created a set of building blocks for working with formal knowledge to generate useful computations, and in turn, by putting these computations together you can answer even more sophisticated questions and so on. It’s a system for synthesizing sophisticated computations from simple computations. Of course anyone who understands computer programming will recognize this as the very essence of good software design. But the key is that instead of forcing users to write programs to do this in Mathematica, Wolfram Alpha enables them to simply ask questions in natural language questions and then automatically assembles the programs to compute the answers they need.

via Wolfram Alpha Computes Answers To Factual Questions. This Is Going To Be Big..

Complicated vs. Complex

babel, via “Cabinet of Wonders” delightfully complex post on Borges

I can’t count how many times I’ve walked into an organization to work on a quality management system, and there are either no written procedures or the ones they do have are totally inadequate. And yet they believe they understand their business processes and how they work…

Clarity is worth more than you may think

Organizations may need to use complex systems to reflect the nature of the work they do, but there is nothing to prevent such systems being rational and logical, with clear, written procedures which have internal coherence and can be learned by everyone involved. The best organizations are also the most rational. Written procedures that everyone can understand are not only fairer than knowing who has the ear of the boss, they are also more effective. When the whiz-kid head of marketing leaves unexpectedly, it’s no comfort to learn that he or she had some complicated system in their head and never wrote it down.

Complication in organizations is almost always a sign that something is going wrong. Complicated organizations tend to fall apart sooner or later. Indeed, whether complications are designed deliberately to deceive, or are the products of incompetence and stupidity, they are are still no basis on which to run a successful organization.

via The Difference Between Complicated and Complex | Slow Leadership.

And from Casey at A Personal Tao

People like to make life complicated for many reasons.

Strangely for many it’s about challenge. People strive to make life interesting. Of course then all the layers seem to get added and then it seemingly becomes “too complicated” to have any simple answer. Also it appears that much of this complication is out of our control.

It isn’t.

This is why the Taoist path is so effective, as you release, you discover what matters and in that the answers become simple again. I teach people how to remove layers of fear, delusion and false obligations…

“The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make the rest of us wonder at the possibility that we might be missing something.”
— Gamal Abdel Nasser

I’m complicated, I get frustrated
Right or wrong, love or hate it
I’m complicated, you can’t sedate it
I heard that song but I won’t play it
It’s alright, it’s OK, you wouldn’t want me any other way
Momma, keep on praying cause I ain’t changin’
I’m complicated, yeah
I’m complicated, yeah

I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know
I’m fool enough to stay when I should go
You work, you work, you cry, you cry
You watch your whole life pass you by
Sometimes you’ve got to close your eyes to see

— Complicated, Bon Jovi

I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated. — Poul Anderson

Le vrai est trop simple, il faut y arriver toujours par le complique¤ . Truth is too simple; it must always be arrived at in a complicated manner. — Sir Sydney Samuelson

Sir Arthur C. Clarke, 90; scientific visionary, acclaimed writer of '2001: A Space Odyssey' – Los Angeles Times

Thank you for so much, Sir Clarke….

Arthur C. Clarke, 90; scientific visionary, acclaimed writer of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ – Los Angeles Times

Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who peered into the heavens with a homemade telescope as a boy and grew up to become a visionary titan of science fiction best-known for collaborating with director Stanley Kubrick in writing the landmark film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” has died. He was 90.

The British-born Clarke, who lived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for decades, died early today after experiencing breathing problems, an aide, Rohan De Silva, told the Associated Press.

Clarke, a former farm boy who was knighted for his contributions to literature, wrote more than 80 fiction and nonfiction books (some in collaboration) and more than 100 short stories — as well as hundreds of articles and essays.

Among his best-known science-fiction novels are “Childhood’s End,” “Rendezvous With Rama,” “Imperial Earth” and, most famously, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“It’s better to be recognized for one thing, especially something of which I’m quite proud, than not to be recognized at all,” Clarke told The Times in 1982.

Although he never intended to write a sequel to “2001,” he wrote three: “2010: Odyssey Two,” “2061: Odyssey Three” and “3001: The Final Odyssey.”

Clarke, who was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1986, won innumerable international awards for his fiction and scientific writing.

Shh… it's a conspiracy!!!

More than happy to be a part of it myself…. ;^)

the choice of a nude generation | The Agonist

there is a conspiracy, of which i am a professed member, to dismantle the petroleum society. the petroleum society introduced a host of concepts, including the nuclear family, in its drive to make labor mobile to the convenient places of production.

the conspiracy is to move production into forms that people can do where and when they want, even stark naked in their own bedroom.

the social forms and norms which came with the mechanized world have not been successes by and large. the divorce rate is high, it has torn apart the african american community entirely – moynihan had it exactly wrong, it wasn’t that african-americans were failing at marriage, it is that nuclear marriage was failing them. one major reason that immigrant communities do better than indigenous african-american ones, is that the immigrants keep the nuclear norm. the parents come over when needed, or the children are shipped back.

the nuclear norm is also one that is lividly more bigotted than the extended one. this is because each partner is the sole source of emotional support for the other. it has lead, directly, to a rise in the consumption of video pornography and use of sex aids, including bondage-discipline and sado-masochism, as ways of keeping the sexual passion alive in the the nuclear couple. it is also why “defense of marriage” becomes more an obsession of the right wing. the nuclear marriage, as more fragile and stressed, needs it.

at the same time, the economic realities which allowed and encouraged the nuclear family are being crushed from both sides – young people are failing to launch, and old people are collapsing back into the home to be cared for. often both at once.

the nude generation enters this reality without an attachment to the nuclear family, without a job picture that encourages the nuclear family, that is moving to someplace and having a long residence there in the employ of one company. the nude generation therefore, neither respects the norms of that system, nor do they have any force impelling them too.

instead, as people who find people by craigslist, facebook, linkedin, friendster, myspace, and even more exotic tools, they are impelled to build networks that are polymorphous, polyamorous in many cases, and polyvalent. multi is the word of the past, poly the word that the nude generation falls upon. the polytropic has become polyagenous, a society made out of things which are indefinite in their form and structure. we don’t buy things as much as we buy things that make things. computers, smartphones, internet service, sites that link us to new content we didn’t know about, websites and so on.

this conspiracy to overturn the past is driven my many things, it make sense because the past really has robbed the nude generation blind. in the last 30 years the end of the GI generation, and the beginning of the baby boom, has spent the money that the second half of the baby boom, the baby bust and the echo boom assumed would be there. they have eaten the air, fouled the economy, spent the credit, burned the oil, used up the land to build, largely, parking lots.

They did do nothing to deserve the name, "Americans"

Stirling’s SOTU is much better than Bush’s. Go read.

They did do nothing to deserve the name, “Americans”. | The Agonist

Showing that he is untouched by self-reflection, intellectual honesty, or self-doubt, George W. Bush has delivered a hard partisan, nasty and crassly self-promoting state of the union to a Congress. He demanded total acquiescence to his economic, foreign policy and domestic agenda, and high handedly threatened that Congress repeatedly if they did not yield to his every demand. Piling on dog whistle after dog whistle to anti-government and anti-tax zealots, in direct contradiction to being the most free spending executive in post-war history, he threw in the face of that same Congress his own duplicity on the matter. Trillions for corruption, but a few spare pennies for everyone else.

Bush was never a uniter, he was never interested in bi-partisanship, and he was always interested only in imposing his will and vision on America. A series of Congresses, filled with the corrupt and the craven, not merely bent it’s knee to the monarchial impulse, but eagerly participated in outrages against the Constitution that Bush now so gaily flaunts only the first three words of.

Because the faith of the founders was in the Union, that web of people, states, government, law and history which was bound together by wars and conflicts, and given a living presence in a document which is fouled by the expectorant of signing statements, secret courts, and overturned elections.

It is a mark of shame on this time, and on every American, that we have tolerated such continuous stream of lawless outrages by an executive that knows no honor, and a string of Congresses that have chosen to slop at the trough of pork and personal privilege, before even beginning to move a finger.

The results show. This President has been mired below 50% approval for his entire second term, and below 40% for most of it. He is viewed highly negatively as a person by more people who like him even a little. And Congress? This Congress has an approval of 18%, a level which means that were the public given the option of abolishing Congress, they might well pass it by a constitutional super-majority.

A foolish Speaker of the House has refused to prosecute high crimes and misdemeanors in the executive, and has cut deals on stimulus that shaft the poor, the children and the unfortunate in order to pile gifts to the extremely wealthy. A conservative Senate Majority Leader combined with her to pass more and more blank checks to the biggest squanderer in history. And two members of this inaugust Congress now vie for the nomination, topping each other in how little of the last eight years they want to undo. In poll after poll, both of them run double digits behind a generic Democrat running for the Presidency. Perhaps because the public understands how little they deserve that name.

Someone must say these things, and those that curry for favor or jobs in the government or with a party cannot do so, and will not do so. Those who clamor for attention will find the road blocked by a media which rallied behind a unity towards an illegal war, and now are eager to smirk at the failures of policies that they failed to oppose. This was not an unfortunate outcome, but a clear and obvious result and culmination of exactly what was obvious on a chill night in Florida, when word came down from the Supreme Court that once an election was stolen, it could never be returned to its owners, and Americans had no right to vote for who would occupy the executive office.

This is not a period of certainty, but of absolute certainty. America’s position in the world is diminished, our share of global GDP is down, our dollar is at its weakest in memory, our credibility destroyed by outrageous lies to the world, our military ground up by the grit of the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, while the more important wars remain unfought, and more dangerous prey remains unfettered. The clock of an aging baby boom has gone from the ticking of a watch, to the tolling of a bell. It will be midnight chiming soon.