Comm Failure

Arctic CommunicationsI’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about communications, information, and how one can weave ideas into the fabric of other people’s minds.

Writing has always come easy, and for a long time was something I took for granted because it simply helped me or hindered me. If someone didn’t understand what I said or wrote, I took it upon myself to get better at communicating. Lately, though, I find myself feeling less responsible for what people don’t understand or misunderstand – no one likes a pedant, not even other pedants, and there are some people who are simply unreasonable and unreachable. I turned to writing long ago because shouting at walls makes no sense.

Yesterday, two people took issue with this article about the digitized paper processes of Trinidad and Tobago, and it was a little revealing. To understand this, you have to understand that getting a credit or debit card in Trinidad and Tobago is a daunting process that many people don’t qualify for. It’s a bureaucratic process that, instead of getting approved in one day, can take months (I know) – and even then, teeters on the brink of whether or not you’re presented well to whoever is behind the Mastercard or Visa system associated with it. Because the majority don’t enjoy this luxury, I didn’t write about it.

Two people took issue with that. They began commenting on Facebook about how one didn’t have to print bills because you could pay with the credit or debit card… which is true, if you can get one, and in the weighted world of finance specific to Trinidad and Tobago, is not the majority of people. Further, the point about those who lacked that financial luxury taken for granted elsewhere – in the U.S., banks give out debit cards like candy, as an example (more really, most banks don’t have candy anymore). So those who don’t have the financial tools in Trinidad and Tobago, the majority, have to print out the same bill.

It’s not as if one can depend on the local postal service to get you your bill on time, assuming that the relevant service provider has sent it on time – so people interested in uninterrupted service end up going to the website and using their ink and paper to print the very same bill – which is 2-3 pages, usually, when really, done right, you could just print one and go to a more convenient outlet to pay. Parking at the offices is always problematic, so they have ancillary places where one can pay.

Why do people have to print out all those pages? Largely because the bills are inefficient and have been for as long as I remember. After all, one might just hand someone the account number and the amount to pay – and they should be able to handle that, but because of receipts and bureaucratic fail-safes, and because… well, because they just digitized a paper process.

And that was the point of the article. I’ve written more than enough about the failure of banks to provide better online payment services for more people, but these two people were stuck on their ability to pay their bills online.

They were stuck in their perspective – nothing existed beyond their perspective. Even saying that they were correct in that they could pay their bills online while the majority could not was a bridge too far for them.

This ground away at me for all of 5 minutes, before they removed themselves from my audience (thank you!). Their minds didn’t stretch that far, stuck in the ice-tray of their own little worlds they were completely cut off from the rest of the world and liked that so much that they wanted to impose their world on everyone else.

We all do it. Oddly enough, though, it has something to do with a software project I’m working on and a bit of the philosophy behind it. When I write about it on KnowProSE.com, the link will appear below.

 

2018 In Review.

I have all my marbles together, regardless of what others may say.
All marbles present and accounted for.

It’s been a pretty good year for me, in that the culmination of years – decades – of effort came to fruition. The downside was the loss of my mother, and having to miss her funeral because of foreign exchange issues.

Overall, it has been a year of personal growth and introspection. Unfettered from an old life, I entered a new one toward the middle of the year and haven’t looked back much – until I decided to write this, and in doing so have found that I’ve made great strides over the last months. That’s good.

Writing

Published in 2010, prior to the alleged mayan apocalypse, it still occupies about 60 cubic inches of bookstore space hereI’ve been writing more and publishing less – I’m saving the majority of the writing ‘for the ring’ – it has been a fight of sorts to get into that habit, and I hope to be done with a book before the end of next year if only to say that I did publish something else again, and that this time it isn’t a piece of tech writing that will be outdated by Moore’s Law and how fast the world accelerates it’s change.

Imagine seeing books written about the Mayan Apocalypse that we somehow all survived in 2012 on bookshelves in 2018. I wonder how it ends?

The technologu author nightmare... Discount books on antiquated tech.Or seeing a Windows Vista book in 2018 in the discount bin – a faint hope that someone who lacks anything resembling computer literacy will think it’s a good deal when, even at a discounted price, it’s an overpriced doorstop.

It’s particularly interesting to walk into bookstores in Trinidad and Tobago, places where dated material simply will not die, laying around as if someone might find spare parts from them useful for something more than a few paragraphs in a blog post.

Look. People still read books. Excerpt from #7thsense.The world is accelerating. People get information faster than the government bureaucracies can react. In a way it can be depressing, in another way it can be exhilarating – and what usually happens is that both ways are happening at the same time. It’s exhausting, really, new technologies come out as fast as the last one is profited from by the companies using them even before the elder technologies have had a time to mature. Ubiquitous cameras attached to what used to be ‘phones’ spam our world with so much information that we need systems in place that we can trust to assure we’re getting trustworthy news.

That hasn’t happened quite yet. In their quest for survival, elder media has dropped everything to become more fast than the bloggers, and have become just as bad at being trustworthy as some of those bloggers. People don’t want news as much as they want something that they can agree with in a world that so many seem to find disagreeable.

Fake News - Person Reading Fake News ArticleI don’t know what to think about that. I don’t know what to think about a lot of things – which, of course, doesn’t stop me from considering them. I’m just wise enough not to have as many opinions anymore, and wear the phrases, “I don’t know”, and, “I’m not sure” like raincoats on days of uncertain weather.

And these days of uncertainty mark our future – no one is exactly sure what’s going on because of the amount of noise in mankind’s communication. Where once there had to be a basis in fact to be accepted, now it’s the tyrannies of different mobs fighting it out in our social media feeds, combined with people who unfortunately write as clearly as they think and infect other low literates with bad ideas. Heaven forbid they have good ones and learn how to communicate them properly – but in the race to impress fastest, we’re attempting to get better at communicating through ochlocracy parading as democracy, a holdover from the unanswered questions related to ‘smart mobs’ where in fact the average IQ of a smart mob is not as high as Rheingold would have had people think. But hey, he took a lot of pictures with his hat and sold a lot of books without having to worry too much about things – a true factor of ochlocracy.

Hate & AngerI digress. That’s all been part of 2018, where figureheads are blamed for the sins of the masses when in fact they are only symptoms. The reality is that we have these specialized systems that are smarter than the implementations of democracy. Some of the most intolerable ideas to leap from the tongues of the most intolerant – who, of course, are intolerant of intolerance and find nothing wrong with that logic.

And while I’m writing about intolerance, for regular blogging the new editor and layout with blocks for WordPress.com is intolerable. I imagine for a photo blog it might be worthwhile.

Coding

Now that I don’t have to code for someone to pay the bills, I’m enjoying coding again except for, as I note, all the unsupported and or poorly documented libraries and tools out there. The answer, of course, is to either find different ones or rewrite my own – which robs me of the inertia.

My word, people-who-call-themselves-developers-or-engineers – you ain’t a developer or engineer if you don’t document things and keep that documentation up to date.

So, I’m fiddling around with some natural language processing, machine learning and the Anki Vector SDK Alpha. These are not particularly lucrative things to do in that large corporations with R&D budgets larger than the GDP of entire nations are doing just about everything but shaving with Ockham’s Razor.

I just really like playing with information and understanding how it interacts in this day and age, as well as how we interact with it – and how it affects us as individuals and society.

Information

I recently was called disrespectful because someone in Trinidad and Tobago was posting the raw number of murders in Trinidad and Tobago, which by itself shows an increase, but doesn’t actually related to anything such as – as I pointed out – population size. With an estimated population of 1.2-1.5 million, 500 murders in a year is 0.0416% to 0.0333%.

So, actually knowing the population size has an effect on how that percentage looks – and while people are claiming that census data is available, I have yet to meet someone in Trinidad and Tobago who has been counted in a true census. This means that all the planning data for Trinidad and Tobago is based off of extrapolated data – and when people are talking about the number of murders versus the per capita percentage of murders, it demonstrates that there’s just no real data.

There’s ways to test for fake data, too – Benford’s Law immediately comes to mind, and the fraud detection aspect of predictive analytics is well worth exploring.

None of this really affects the media and society as much as simply repeating a falsehood until it is accepted as a truth, but it’s worth exploring because falsehoods that are better tolerated have some truth in them – for example, a raw number of murders – but lack a context (such as population size).

For those of us that think, the world has become a busy place if we pay attention. What I’d like my coding to actually do is help me avoid having to do all that thinking and processing of information when I look at the world – which, of course, is subject to the interpretation of the coding, which is subject to my biases, which is subject to how I am influenced by information, which… goes around in a circle.

But it, like other things, keeps me out of trouble, as I managed to do in 2018. We’ll see how 2019 goes.

How I’m Not Finishing a Book.

There are a million and one books out there – perhaps a million and two – about how to write a book. They’re all full of advice, and some are good – most are horrid – and it seems to me that given my own situation, it’s appropriate to write about how not to finish writing a book.

It’s the death of a thousand paper cuts in a digital age. 

Like all people who call themselves ‘writers’, when asked about whether I’m writing a book or not, I say, ‘yes’. Then it gets more complicated. People want to know what it’s about, people want to know what sort of writing you do, what you’ve published before, and so on and so forth.

I’ve come up with, “When you read it, you’ll understand it”, and found that depressingly untrue as I evaluate people who ask the question.

They may never understand.

Then you have all these writing contests, where people talk about how much they have written in a day, which is akin to IBM’s old and abandoned metric for computer programming – Single Lines of Code (SLOC).

What does it mean that you wrote 3,000 words today? I could write a dictionary and make that claim. Personally, I’d prefer writing a thesaurus.

On top of this, at last count there seemed to be approximately a zillion resources on publishing the book you haven’t finished, which forms it’s own distraction. Will I publish here? There?

And who is my audience? And what are critics saying about books like this? Will anyone read this? Is it worth it? Let me surf the Internet for a while.

Worse, books like ’50 Shades of Idiot’ pop up on the radar, and you realize how fickle even women are – on one side, rampaging feminists rooting out every penis they can find, on the other, books about toxic and abusive relationships for women are being bought by women. Oh, the market, so fickle, so very… human. And what if you mention BDSM relationships? Why is that poorly written series of books so popular with women? Is it because who should be the villain is rich?

Suddenly, you become acutely aware of how inconvenient potential readers can be. Again, like software engineering, life would be easier without users.

You still write, of course, but these things keep eclipsing the muse with the nagging doubts. You keep reading, of course, because reading is good for you for many reasons, not the least of which being you are digesting what you will eventually cough up over your keyboard with the juices of your life intermingled. And when that visual hits you, you sit there staring at the ceiling just long enough to really make the nagging voices their own muse.

And then you write this.

Oh, you made it this far? You poor soul.

And then I start thinking back to why I started writing, about the earliest of muses.

For me, it was hiding in a library in secondary school when the Physics class I got kicked out of was in session (I did very well in Physics because of that). Hidden within the tomes of books – so many books for a young mind – sat J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy. 

I’d already devoured ‘The Hobbit’. My life pretty much sucked, so escapism was a plus. And I began reading the story that Tolkien had woven together – not written, woven. The world was alive in my young mind, the details sometimes as dense as Butterbur himself.

And then, there, leaned between the bookshelves of a school library, with a wary eye out for authority figures, my mind soaked itself in a new world and was so happy that it said, “I want to be able to do this!”

Then at home, mining things to read from my father’s sacred collections of books — mainly novels — I found between the engineering texts a book of engineering specifications of the U.S.S. Enterprise, 1701. Someone had written a book on how the ship worked, including ‘Desitter Space’ for Warp drives. I studied it, learning nothing of practical use, but it was a new world.

And then my mind roved back to the magic of seeing Star Wars and it’s characters, and how R2D2 captured my imagination – but my mother was in love with C3PO and thought, mistakenly, that I liked C3PO – not realizing I always laughed at C3PO and with R2D2, the clearly more intelligent robot who had communication issues that I completely understood.

Clearly I understood. My mother bought me C3PO as a gift and didn’t understand why I dismembered it. It ends up I was also prescient. 

And with all of that flooding back into me, about what made me passionate about worlds that made sense as opposed to the one I was born into – there was a reason I kicked and screamed on entrance that I did not know – the world falls away to the page, the idiots capitalizing on the death of Stan Lee fade into the background, and the writing can continue.


A Character Writing Itself.

“To be nobody but yourself – in a world which is doing it’s best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” — E.E. Cummings.

WritingI spent a week scribbling in a notebook, pen to page, ink to wood pulp, filling hundreds of pages in a cleansing ritual that I began using during my teenage years – notably when it took less time, ink and paper.

This writing was not to be published, it will not be published. The physical act of writing things on my mind, an exercise in what I would later learn is free-writing, is the way in which I aligned the world in my mind – instead of what the world would do so innocuously otherwise, aligning our minds to the world. And the final act of destroying it, as symbolically hollow as it may seem, ends the process.

I have been overdue.

There is a space there that must be kept, a boundary that allows us to be who we are in a world where we are expected to fit into molds, into categories, into these things only to make the lives of others simpler so that they can easily categorize us and put us on shelves to collect dust and cobwebs of convenience in their minds.

WritingTheir convenience has never been convenient for me; they would tell me only to study what I needed to pass tests but I wanted to learn everything and never cared much for tests. Who are they to test me on what they think I should know when they are gambling on knowing what I should know? How is it that they can justify measuring me as if I were a shoe for society to wear, to protect it’s tender feet from the reality they do not teach of?

By the time I was 11 I knew that they would not teach me the things I needed to know then, the challenges I had to face were well beyond their curriculum. They could not teach me to adapt as I had to, they would not teach me then how to help my father make sure that we made enough money to put food on the table. Certainly, I have used much of what they taught me, but most of it was not timely, most of it was inappropriate, and the only real benefit I would find later would be understanding the intrinsics of how a bureaucracy can mold people into not only accepting but expecting bureaucracy as some form of answer in a society that shudders under it’s weight, humans shuffling from one line to another with the quiet hope that by continuing in those lines that someday they might become something they have been taught is ‘successful’.

No one teaches what success is. They’ll toss you carrots when you jump through hoops, but tigers do not eat carrots and are not fond of flaming hoops – thus the whip.

To some of us – I do not know how many, they will know who they are and announce themselves if they wish – there is a need for this boundary between ourselves and society, where the indignities we suffer in pretending a conformity we do not have can be forgotten, if only for a while, because in the end it is only a while that we have. We do not see the world as they taught us, but we recognize that others do. We do not see the world for what they want us to see it for, we see it for what it is – whatever that may be for any one of us.

There is no ‘woke’ to be had by reading a book or following someone else’s philosophy, it comes only from the brave act of living with freedom despite the bindings of society.

Alone on a rock, able to leave whenever it wants. Freedom.
The Brown Pelican, on a rock in the surf, free: Able to leave whenever it wants.

As I wrote what I had to in that notebook, hand sore, finger indented from holding the pen so long and so emphatically, it became apparent to me that I had become exhausted by the world constantly trying to make me one of everyone, that I needed to get away more often, and that my exhaustion was a reward for victory.

The rest and relaxation was simply to continue being a free individual in a society that detests such people – for we are dangerous; we have ideas and thoughts that threaten the status quo. Outnumbered, surrounded…

And unconquered.

Beyond a Camera.

Blue-grey tanager [thraupis episcopus]I’ve made the time to go through my Flickr collection of photos to pull out some of the better ones for my FineArtAmerica page and my Zazzle page – something I had planned to do once I crossed the threshold of 20,000 images.

I’m down to 13,000 after a few days, having culled those that no longer matter or simply didn’t make the grade. It gave me an opportunity for me to look at what I had done and where I’d been over the years, something that we sometimes take for granted, and also my own motivations for photography. I didn’t set out to become a photographer.

Vegetables at Mon Repos marketSo why did I take all these pictures? There are different reasons. Writing on the web does better with pictures, and I couldn’t afford to buy the rights to the images I would have wanted to use – Creative Commons has helped me with that, thank you – but there were less images available online for free almost 20 years ago. To make matters worse, I’m probably one of a handful of people who managed to fail Art as a class (I failed Student Orientations for similar reasons).

So the early photos I posted online were guided by that – I’d take a lot of pictures and upload them because I thought I could use them for writing at some point. Some I did, most I didn’t – and image quality with the elder, lower class cameras I used just didn’t age as well as I hoped, with few exceptions (some are here in this entry).

From top to bottom - blue-grey tanager, yellow oriole and palm tanagerWhen my father died in 2005, I had a slightly better digital camera and had taken up my father’s habit of feeding the birds – and I studied them, their behaviors, and found some comfort in those  things as a distraction from the mess his Estate was, and the fact that the lawyer in charge of doing things was as efficient as stoned molasses moving uphill on a cold day. In a way, it kept me sane. And when I got the opportunity, I got a better camera and did better.

This Revolution Is For Display Purposes OnlyAnd all during this, I remained Nobody Fugazi in Second Life, wrote an eBook through O’Reilly that is now dated and useless, and was also looking at textures for prims in Second Life. Since I lacked graphic abilities beyond straight lines, a budget to afford software or copyrighted images, I pushed forward in that regard too. So, a lot of images of would be textures and a lot of images of my forays in Second Life that were no longer relevant were culled – Second Life is really a novelty now, where once it paid my bills.

Handful of bird peppers.The world changes, we change… and through all of this I had accidentally become a passable photographer. I say that because I noted that there were less and less bad images I uploaded over the years between the good ones.

People were asking to use my photos through Flickr, even NASA at one point, and I was letting them use them. A lighthouse picture paid me for the rights to what I considered a really bad photograph of the lighthouse in Port of Spain. I came to realize that the good photographs weren’t always what made the money. Pictures I have taken of bush-fires appear in textbooks in the Caribbean and some other places. I was actually making money with some really bad photography.

Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday at Presentation College Reunion (2010)And people and companies were actually using my pictures without permission, in contexts I did not agree with – so I had to battle over that, and I never let them pay me after their abuse as a matter of principle. Anyone who takes something without permission and tries to pay for it when they get caught is someone I don’t want to be associated with. But now, I found myself a guardian of something that I never expected to have, and I began to understand better how it feels when things you are emotionally invested in are taken without permission. It made me look at artist’s rights differently. You’ll note that I don’t have cheesy copyright notices on my images – I have my own methods for finding things that work well enough without destroying images.

Sloths gone wild! Arlene the Sloth gets her bearings as the humans leave (3)And during all of this, I traveled. I met other human beings in different places as I grew myself, and found humanity is generally mundane except for a choice few. But the creatures! The stories of the humans!

And so I stretched a little further even as the camera became less of a tool and more of an extension. Not a great extension, mind you, but I was learning through experience… and ultimately staring at some really bad photographs, most of which I have culled.

Other things became apparent. I have an aversion to photographing people – perhaps fodder for another post.

New Smyrna Beach Sunrise 12-22-2014And once it became an extension, photos started getting better.

So much better, in fact, that I sold prints for a while in Florida, bought some more updated equipment based on what I needed of an extension, and my photography got significantly better.
But if you ask me what I do, I won’t say I’m a photographer.

Nope. I still say writer. Neither pays well, but when I look back over the years they have become constants in a life of change.

I’ll be taking a break for a while… but I will be back after a relatively short retreat.

I Was Going Somewhere With That.

Little Green Man says THAT WAYOne of the more ‘fun’ things that happens with writing is the distraction – when you end up off on a tangent because of other things.

Like earthquakes. Introspection because of how you see other people react about earthquakes. And then, because you’re already distracted, you end up writing about an attachment to vehicles.

And that actually fits in with all of what I was getting at. Granted, some people are distracted by the antics of people who they implicitly give authority to with their attention, or have that societal attention deficit disorder as frameworks do what they were designed to.

When the earth rumbles and people realize just how powerless they really are – when they can’t run away from something and there’s nothing to fight – a morbid reality sets in that can’t be so easily dismissed… for a short while, anyway. It’s not as if understanding plate tectonics is going to save you from an earthquake. Breaks in frameworks begin to show, and the ambiguity of how safe one really is seeps into the society.

Time moves along, the ambiguity pumps are manned as people find explanations from either science or religion or that-person-down-the-street-who-knows-everything… they find some comfort, getting rid of that ambiguity.

And suddenly, they’re acting as if nothing happened at all. As if they are safe, as if the few hours of their lives they spent with seismologists was enough – because to them the world is dangerous to know about, it’s dangerous to understand what happens outside of those frameworks.

People don’t want answers. They want comfort.

And, oddly enough, that’s an important point on the way to where I was going.

Victims of The Possible.

second babel towerThe sky is the limit, as the saying goes, yet even on the same planet we see different skies.

What surrounds us limits what is possible.

What we view as possible limits us in a very direct way – and indirectly it limits us what we aspire to, what we dream.

We’ve seen it all our lives, we will see it throughout our lives.

If we look carefully, we can see it right now.

Look around you. Look carefully at the walls that secure you, the window placements and what you can see outside of them, assuming you can.

Where you are right now was framed by an architect and built by contractors. What you see right now guides what you think about.

That is the power of building things, that is the implicit limitation.

Steinebach Sieg - Besucherbergwerk Grube Bindweide - Streckenausbau 01Everyone around you is a victim of what they see as possible. Every single person has their own outlook.

Everyone lives in their own cave, as Plato wrote.

We who travel between the caves know this, but what we convey is rarely trusted within the caves of others only because they have grown accustomed to what they think that they can do, what they may be limited by – physically, socially, economically – so they do not trust easily people who fall into their caves.

They are the victims of possibility. And we are the victims of them.