Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Two kinds of people

While reading up for a paper I have the good fortune(sigh) of having to write, tucked away in a comfortable little inn on a corner of galle fort, I stumbled upon this quote,

“There are two kinds of people in the world, an old joke goes: those who believe that everything can be divided into two categories – and the rest of you.”  - Daniel Pink

I'm not sure how original a quote it is but it sums up one big problem I see in soft sciences' like psychology(another post on the topic). That is, It's insatiable need to define, categories and label things atomic. When I was reading up some of the papers and such that I had to read I couldn't help but think what a mess some of these people have made? Do they really believe all of what they have written or are they just like most of us who are doing the best we can do? I choose to believe the later, that they know that "everything" cant be made sense with a one size fits all mentality, that they are just doing the best they can with whats in hand.

Many truths have an if attached to them at the end. It's apparent, at least to me that the best of scientists are those who know this nature of science at heart.


the scientist 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Meritocracy and Group-think

Meritocracy is important for companies that need to attract and retain good employees, among other things. It nurtures creativity and in turn drives innovation. All must haves for a successful software product company. To be in business for long I would assume a product company needs to make the right products the right way and sell them right, All three aspects that constitute success(according to this lay person) can benefit immensely from the best people and ideas bubbling up to the top. Having a flat organizational structure would work to bring the value of meritocracy faster than say a hierarchical structure where you need to tiptoe through the structure and norms. Though I find it hard to imagine ATM how a large organization(think thousands) could cohesively work without some sort of hierarchy. 

For some of us fitting into flat organizational structure does not come naturally partly due to our cultural norms and conditioning, meaning at times we might have to consciously counteract/resist some of our behavior to do good for ourselves and the companies we work for if they happen to rely on flat structure and meritocracy. Okay, let's leave aside talk of flat structure and stick to meritocracy because it is something that organizations can benefit from regardless of the way in which they are structured(some better strung words on the subject) and because it's not a polite subject to be hypothesizing on. Lets just stick to the subject this post was intended to be about.

Group-think is a psychological phenomena that explains why groups of intelligent individuals sometimes make catastrophically wrong decisions, mainly due to some of those who have something valuable to add in the decision making process keep quite to maintain group harmony. I will assume group-think and such are taught at business school(the engineers are kept out of the loop again!) and will not ponder on about it further, do a search on the work done by Irving Janis on the subject if you need to get to the nitty gritty. Some strategies leaders can employ to prevent group-think,

  • In situations where you need to ensure all relevant information from the ground level are passed back, leaders and other authoritative figures could restrain from setting the agenda when in discussion, preventing situations where employees feel they are going against the leaders agenda/what's expected. 
  • Employing communication medium that fester flat structure and involvement such as email and chat for group discussions.
  • Assigning multiple groups the same activity and evaluating the two outcomes.
  • Bringing outsiders into group discussions or having designated naysayers to make you consider alternatives.   

Group-think can debilitate a meritocratic work culture by at times stopping the best decisions being made. Leaders should be mindful when focus should be given to preventing group-think as not all decision making situations require such scrutiny and in fact doing so would be counter productive. Meritocracy is a concept we all can benefit from putting in place but putting it in place with realities of the day is not an easy task, we must be considerate of this fact and keep on making improvements to the the process when possible.


12 Angry Men. Speak up if you really have something to say.  

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Merovingian and the question of free will

The matrix trilogy is one of my favorites. Sure, it might have ripped off a few others like ghost in the shell and some comics that are not well known but at least in my mind there is no doubt that it was with the release of the matrix in 1999 that these elements/sentiments were brought to the limelight, to the consciousness of the popular culture. The movies played around with quite a few philosophical questions, one recurring question being do we have free will? Check this,


"Causality. There is no escape from it, we are forever slaves to it. Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the why." merovingian



It turns out most of those who are interested in this question are either in camp “free will” or camp “determinism”. Both camps have their fair share of spokesman and enough literature to keep an army of scholars busy for a long while. 


Camp free will tells us that the trajectory of a ball released by the hand of a cricketer(baller) is determined, determined by the laws of physics but the cricketer's decision to release the ball to send it hurdling at the batsman in a particular way was one made of free will. In a very generalized sense, free will states that if an action was performed with mind it was done so with free will as the mind could have chosen to do otherwise. Camp determinism is opposed to this categorization based on the existence/non-existence of mind. They believe that every action is determined by some underlying law, even those made with mind, that it is not as simple as “hey man... I got pepperoni pizza instead of deviled chicken because i felt like it.. you know”. Yes, some of the residents of camp determinism tend to be mean spirited and seem to be looking for stones to throw at the other camp. 


Back to the matrix and the merovingian, It's clear that he is a determinist, a hard determinist at that. In a hypothetical scenario where computation has progressed so far(like in the movie) I could maybe entertain the possibility that an intellect could exist that could fathom the insane amount of knowledge/understanding that would be needed and then to actually gather it to be able to say without a doubt why a mind decided to make one choice and not another. Now I know that we have a pretty good idea of how our brains work, we can predict correctly what a mind will chooses to do sometimes but till we can predict correctly every single time without any constraints, it's still guesswork. The debate of free will vs determinism is one that will not be settled till another debate that is between holism and reductionism is resolved(onlyagame makes an interesting case for holism which I think makes sense) and it's foolish to think that it will happen in our lifetime. Meanwhile this armchair philosopher is just going to wait around for a kick ass reboot of the matrix without wasting too much time on questions that no one has found answers to. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

One more monkey to kill

You know how sometimes people say things like “you got to watch what you eat or you'll get sick” or the subtler ones that if you read right adds up to things like “slow down you bum.. do you want to become an alcoholic?” or “Sure.. waste your whole day playing DOTA and see how many jobs you can land in a country like this” and you do the math your self, it all adds up so you politely show your agreement at that moment but secretly think it doesn't apply to you somehow(by the very virtue of being who you are) but later to be proven wrong, at which point you scratch your head thinking how in the world you believed you were the exception(Some might even argue that life is but a series of these embarrassing reveals of our in-competencies and the only thing we can hope to learn is how to handle these reveals with grace). I've had a quite a few of these in my 3 decades and this post is about another one I'm just starting to discover.

The last couple of months I've been waking up pretty late everyday. Why? because on most nights I finish watching my TV shows and what not around midnight and once I drag my energy drenched body on to bed it takes me a good part of what seems like another hour to relax and fall asleep then this hard earned sleep is interrupted a couple of times when my kid wakes up crying at ungodly hours of the night. Waking up late by its self is not a bad thing but when you start feeling drained during the day and you cant help but walk and talk like a zombie no matter how many good cups of coffee you have you know you got a monkey on your back that needs killing.

Sleep deprivation is not something that is new to me, I've been binge watching TV shows and reading on the net to the late hours of the night more than a decade, pulled all nighters studying and doing assignments for my bachelors, etc. None of that slowed down my day significantly and so probably added to my belief that I was some how impervious to it. Well it turns out i'm not so looks like I'd have to do something about this.



House M.D, you will be watched over a period of weeks or months but not days.. sniff sniff

It’s been about 2 months now and I’d like to believe I’ve got back on track. I’ve been hitting the bed early keeping a hard deadline of 11PM and getting to work a good 2 hours or so earlier. I feel great during the day. Things are looking up. I wonder how well I would do at 6 months! 


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Psychology, a science with growing pains

Psychology is a science that can help us understand the drivers of human behavior(one more tool to help you examine a life, if you agree with Plato) but like any other science it should be taken with a grain of salt, after all didn't the greatest scientific minds at one time think the Newtonian physics were absolute and concise?

Psychology is a young multi faceted science with many inconsistencies and gray areas waiting to be colored in. A science with multiple varied answers to the same questions. Like the way a wise tech enthusiast waits for the hiccups of a new consumer technology to be worked on, before he/she goes out and splurge a pile of cash, it is this writers opinion that its best to wait for psychology to mature as a science, for its varied facets to blend into one clear surface before accepting all of it as truth.

nature vs nurture; a debate in psychology between biological psychologists and behavioral psychologists is a good example of how different schools of psychology are now converging to form a complete picture.

In the past, biological psychologists who believe behavior is attributed to underlying biological processes and factors, would explain the case of the fairer sex being comparatively more empathetic to biological processes/phenomena such as structural differences between the male and female brain, genetic characteristics passed on from prehistoric times, hormonal differences between the sexes, so on and so forth. Where as a behavioral psychologist would attribute the same to factors such as social learning; where a women learned to be more empathetic by observing how other women behave in their childhood and operant conditioning; where empathetic behavior in women were reinforced and disdain behavior punished, habituating a more empathetic world view. Of recent times psychologists have come to understand that rather than nature vs nurture it is nature and nurture where biological and behavioral factors work hand in hand to explain the full picture. In this case social learning and operant conditioning working to establish empathetic behavior heightened by predispositions(found to be a more attractive behavior from an evolutionary point of view and so passed on genetically).

Aside its inconsistencies, psychology is a powerful science with implications to all aspects of our life and so it is something we should all know a little more of. 



Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Cave Man

If you see you have fallen into a ditch and you don't want to get out you are a fool. If you want to get out but accept every piece of advice given to you by those who are outside, you might find your self to have clawed out only to fall in again. Accept advice with caution, not all who supply it want to see you out or know what it takes to get out.  No one is better equipped than your self to see why you fell in, whats keeping you there and how when you are ready to come out.  Maybe one day you might see that you have already won that the only person who needed proving was your own. So tell me friend whats next? 


Snapped from one of my
favorites, Flowers For Algernon.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

My beef with the proposed ETCA


Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement(ETCA) is a hot topic in Colombo these days(specially so if your employed in the IT sector). As someone who is not too interested in happenings outside his immediate bubble ETCA reached my ear only a few weeks back. So during these last two weeks I looked into what how ETCA would impact the IT industry and the country as a whole so that I could make up my own mind about it.

As I understand(please do take into consideration that I have next to no education in economics, legislation or sociology) ETCA would benefit the economy. Companies who operate by volume could bid for larger projects and companies who are willing to pay the price of “real experts” (beef no .3) could do so with ease and these workers would increase these companies revenue. In the long run ETCA should increase the pay of the average IT employee as well(as a bigger IT workforce would build a bigger IT sector with more revenue driving the GDP higher)

So then whats my beef with ETCA?

  1. From all information I've been able to gather professional bodies representing IT such as CSSL, SLASSCOM upto date were not included in making of it.
  1. Have we looked into the social impact of the ETCA. Such as what would happen to those who might loose their jobs due to it.(Is there a safety net of sorts for these people?)
  1. How do we ensure that the workers who come in are actually experts? Would a filtering mechanism be implemented? at least similar to that of Singapore where employees must have 2 or 3 years of work experience and have had a salary higher than a specific amount. 

  2. How do we increase IT graduate production so that one day we wont have such a need to bring workers down.

ETCA can be good if its done right. Seriously Sri Lanka get your shit together, its affecting my bubble!