Friday Flotsam

1. Zuckerberg. Ah, Zuckerberg. Not a big fan of armchair psychology unless it’s me that’s doing it. So, grain of salt and all that.

Over the years, have run into a number of people in my position: working with techies without being a techie. People in sales, PR, management, even a retired corporate psychologist. It’s remarkable how the discussion will eventually, usually pretty quickly, get around to the same issue; the blindness of successful techies to how normal people think and react. Stereotypes get that way because they’re so often accurate.

If I have a big Theory of Life, it might be described as Filter Theory: with greater or lesser intent, people are sorted and assigned roles according to filters. Nobody becomes a cop, for example, unless he can tolerate lots of rules and bureaucracy and don’t shy away from the threat of violence. The vast majority of people, it seems to me, would not make very good cops, at least according to the current job description. We find common denominators across all sorts of otherwise different people if they share a profession. (1) Nothing too profound here, just an observation to keep in mind.

Image result for zuckerberg
Our once and future robot overlord. 

Nobody can become successful in computer technology unless he can tolerate sitting in front of a screen for hours every day and stay focused on increasingly arcane minutia. People with a high need for human interaction need not apply. In fact, finding human interaction baffling or unpleasant would tend to drive people toward careers where they can be successful without having to deal too much with other human beings.

Further, there are kinds of insanity that result in sleeping in a cardboard box or padded cell; there are also kinds that result in becoming CEO or sales leader. In the case of tech, there are many, many really good guys who are aware on some level that they’re not very good at picking up what other people are feeling or thinking. These folks tend to be that sort of shy geek that is easy to love – and who rarely rises much in the hierarchy.

Then there are those who, if not out and out sociopaths, are at least blissfully unaware of how other people think and react. They just assume other people are stupid or ignorant. They are confident that things would go so much better if only they were in charge. In a tech environment, these people tend to become management. Sometimes – woe to us! – they even come up with a good enough idea that they found a company or 3.

Thus, we get the spectacle of Zuckerman. I believe he really, truly does not get how hopelessly arrogant and frankly stupid he looks to normal people. The most terrifying aspect: he’s rich enough to have gotten away with it so far. His ego is probably utterly impenetrable. He is absolutely sure the only problem here is that everybody else is stupid.

I passionately hope somebody finds a way to put him in jail for a year or two. That’s about the only hope we have of getting through to these fools. It’s a slim hope, but it’s about all we’ve got.

2. A discussion of this article took place on this blog. Here we have Science! in all its glory: some sample of people in nations around the world are asked, using a variety of ‘instruments’ no doubt, about how ‘religious’ they are and how ‘happy’ they are. Then, tossing all this ‘data’ in a blender, we are called to conclude that the more religious the people in an area are, the more unhappy the people in that area will be.

Where to even start? Note first of all that it’s not claimed that the it’s same people – in other words, one set of people might be very religious and happy, while another set, let’s say a bigger set, is mildly irreligious and very miserable. The average – whatever that might mean! Average of what, exactly? – might show relatively high religiosity on average and relatively high misery on average, but miss entirely *who* was happy and who was miserable.

Really, too much stupidity to be sorted through. Let’s landry-list this thing, at least the high points:

  • Reification. To plot the graphs shown, you would need *numbers*. Happiness, sadness, religiosity are NOT in ANY WAY numerical. Nobody is 0.7 happy, nor 28.334 sad, nor 87% religious. Do not pass go until you understand this. It is simply nonsense to assign numbers to responses on a poll and act like you can then add them up and perform math on them. Simple and complete nonsense. Cooking up an ‘instrument’ that forces people to give numerical answers doesn’t magically make the thing numerical.
  • Polls. Undefined terms. So some undergrad needing extra credit shoves a poll into somebody somewhere who has time to answer polling questions, and asks something like: on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you? Somebody says 8. Somebody else says 6. Yet another person says 3. Well? Who is happier? WE DON’T KNOW!!!! Happiness is not numerical, and, even if it were, 3 people will each have his own unique and possibly mutually exclusive ideas of what happiness means.
  • Self reporting. In America, one routinely asks ‘how you doing?’ and routinely gets a reply such as ‘fine’. In Italy, nobody asks how you are doing, because the answer will be a litany of ills. Yet we assume without any objective check that the American who says 8 is really twice as happy that the Italian who says 4?
  • Cultural differences. See above. Even apart from individual differences, some cultures consider themselves happy, others consider it bad form to tout one’s happiness. Yet all answers are treated as the same.
  • Religion. The poll assumes that Calvinism is a religion in the same way Islam is, or Hinduism, Buddhism or every flavor of Animism is. Just no. The concept of a devout Animist is absurd. Calling Buddhism a religion in the same way Lutheranism is a religion is absurd. Within each subset, similar problems are revealed by a moment’s reflection: Catholics – a group I know fairly well – consist both of those who were last in a church when baptised and will next be in a church for their funeral, who couldn’t give an account of what the Church believes, who nonetheless see themselves as devout, and those who attend daily Mass and study the catechism, who nonetheless feel themselves but meager Catholics. We count them all the same?
Image result for happy baby
This baby is EXACTLY 9.7365 happy. EXACTLY! It’s SCIENCE!

And so on, across problems with language – do the terms mean the same things across all languages? – sampling questions, consistency, methodology – non of which matters in the least because HAPPINESS AND RELIGIOSITY ARE NOT NUMBERS.

If you call yourself a scientist or even a supporter of science, and fell for this, you are an ignorant fool. Not to put too fine a point on it.

3. Looks like we’re done with the rainy season here in Contra Costa County and perhaps the state as a whole. Last storms are petering out in the eastern mountains, and nothing else is forecast. We typically get very little rain after March.

I got a weighted average of 72.26% (speaking of ridiculous claims of accuracy – but hey, it’s math!) of average rainfall over the 30 rainfall gauges of the Contra Costa Flood Control District. Last year, we had 178% even over 29 gauges. Over the last 2 years, according to my highly suspect but probably about right methodology, we got 125% of average rainfall.

So? I don’t know, but it seems to me we should probably not have to worry about water supply now, except the long-term worry about how we capture, distribute and use it. How about a 50 year project to improve water capture, reduce transportation system loses, examine if we’re using water wisely and returning a large chunk of the Delta to wetlands? Instead of shrill panic? A man’s gotta dream.

  1. A favorite example from childhood: read an article, probably in Sports Illustrated, where a guy claimed to be able to tell whether a professional American football player played offence or defense just by looking at his locker: offensive players would have all their stuff neatly hung up and organized; defensive players would just stuff their gear or pile it on the floor. Why? because offensive players who reach professional level have to be able to execute a very specific and detailed plan for each play, while defensive players are filtered by their ability to disrupt those detailed plans. In the article, an exception was pointed out: there was an offensive lineman in this particular locker room whose gear was piled on the floor. A moment of interrogation revealed he’d been a defensive lineman until switched to offense in the pros.
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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

7 thoughts on “Friday Flotsam”

  1. He is absolutely sure the only problem here is that everybody else is stupid.

    Well now to be fair… we’re right. 😉

    That’s why humans communicate. If we can pool all our data together, we’ll become smarter.

    Nobody is 0.7 happy, nor 28.334 sad, nor 87% religious.

    Unless that person is a techie. 😉

    Looks like we’re done with the rainy season here in Contra Costa County and perhaps the state as a whole. Last storms are petering out in the eastern mountains, and nothing else is forecast. We typically get very little rain after March.

    We just had snow.

    Yep. On the 2nd day of spring – snow storm.

    Speaking of the rest, you ever listen to VDH’s talks on “Mexifornia” or other things involving that state?

  2. If you want made up math: My theory is that 90% of the Internet is aimed at people who want to point to other people and say: “look at that idiot”.

  3. I’m a physicist rock star, currently working as a software engineer… and the only problem I ever have with my coworkers is how arrogant they become. It amazes me that they can be so out of touch with reality, yet be so certain that they are right.

    Day after day, I hear wild stories and theories about our society, always from a self centered view and usually completely wrong. My theory is that the arrogant have never really had to fend for their own survival. A common trait for software guys is… silver spoon upbringing.

    I like your ‘filter’ idea, very cool and very fitting.

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