28 July 2015

Trust and Other Elements of Collaboration




In the previous post, I examined through a parable comparing two different kinds of group decision making strategies: (1) "freely" throwing out suggestions, vs (2) veto-or-not the other group member's choice.

From that, we talked about communication in terms of information content and how it affects whether we can really get to know a person better (as a friend, let's say) in what is a repeated game (as in game theory, or micro-economics).

Now, we can also talk about what it means to collaborate, not just cooperate, but arrive at decisions via collaboration.  That's what we'll talk about presently.

See, both strategies above can be cooperative.  In fact, the veto-or-not strategy could be seen as an extreme form of cooperation via deferring totally to the other party unless the choice picked is just too far outside the bounds of one's bare minimum acceptability.

Though it's cooperative, it really is another classic example of what non-collaboration looks like.  The party who engages in veto-or-not behaviour is purposefully, even if unintentionally due to ignorance, withholding information from the other parties.  That was clear in the previous post's parable where we saw how veto-or-not communicates exactly one bit of information, a true vs false, or 1 vs 0, etc.

21 July 2015

Group Preference Discovery: a parable of choosing movies


This is a parable from which we'll see elements of game theory and information content to forward an understanding about communication in a group.

A group of friends is deciding what movie to go watch.  To keep things simple, let's say the group is just of two people, Patrick and Sally.

Well, every time they go see a movie, Patrick asks Sally what movie she'd like to see.  Almost inevitably, Sally always defers back to Patrick to go see whatever he wants instead.  No matter how much Patrick tries to get her to pick or even make some of her own suggestions, she pretty well never does.  Once in a while, she may veto a movie Patrick chose or say that, after seeing the movie, that next time they should see something else for whatever reason (bad actor, terrible director, etc.).

Patrick is mostly fine with choosing, but does Sally realize that her not revealing her preferences for what she wants to see, it makes it next to impossible for Patrick to get to know her via getting to know what she likes, desires, and prefers absent other people's choices.

Patrick doesn't get to know her because by only ever vetoing or not-vetoing choices, she provides just one bit of information regarding any movie he decides on:  i.e. veto vs no-veto, true vs false, 1 vs 0. It's literally one bit of data.  Worse, Patrick can't even tell if a no-veto is due to her really liking a choice he made or if it's just barely passing by her very lowest minimum standards of movie watching.

13 July 2015

MEC Products, Services Disappointments: open letter

Below is a slightly edited version of a letter I sent to MEC, Mountain Equipment Co-op, about the problems and disappointments with MEC products and services seen during a visit to a MEC store.  The exact store location is edited out as I don't want to blame any particular team of front-line workers, seeing as I believe the problem is more systemic and a reflection of the top-down corporate culture at MEC.

Interestingly, some of the points raised here applies to software and tech companies too, in how to treat customers and how to design products, if you can think laterally to those areas while reading below.

I don't really like posting these kinds of open letters, but most people in the know who would critique MEC would probably just rather buy their gear elsewhere and spend their time in the mountains instead.  Seeing as the following was already written, it doesn't cost me anything to copy-paste the below, so here it is.

I've read from several sources that MEC has explicitly stated their mission has changed over the last decade or so to try to attract more urban activity people rather than appealing to the technical backcountry crowd.

Fair enough, if that's what the Board of Directors has approved as part of their reading of what the people who voted them in wants them to do.  Who am I to deny the democratic process in this co-op?

But a few things:

1. Products

Pretty please, could you retain at least some design time and some staff who can actually help design MEC clothing or gear that are actually good technical gear at a fair price?

Pants as just one example has turned into a circus of yoga inspired pants everywhere.  The expedition trekking, technical, or light mountaineering pants that were MEC brand kept getting End of Lifed and clearanced, then a new version comes out that's more everyday stylishly wearable --- I guess to attract more customers --- only to be again End of Lifed and clearanced off again.  The cycle repeats as the technical functionalities gets watered out with stylishness.

1.1: Hats

Hats as another and more in-depth example, the original topic that inspired this email as I was looking at the MEC Rover Hat.  You've got plenty of other brands of hats that's like the Rover Hat, all with a mix of flaws and different target audiences.  You had a chance to make the Rover Hat make some logical sense as it currently has no functional sensibility --- and if there's no technical functional sensibility, then why wouldn't I just buy a "better branded" hat of that style?  Here's what I mean.

14 May 2015

Getting sidelined: Computing Science vs Engineering degrees

There are those down in Silicon Valley who are telling teens and youngsters to go into “Real” Engineering™ instead of Computing Science in university, claiming that or else they will get sidelined or “passed over” when they start developing their careers.  They are surely well meaning in advising that, but...

Engineers: please stop telling people what to do with their own lives.

This is speaking to the Computer, Electrical, or so-called Software Engineers out there, but really, this applies to those in any engineering field, e.g. including Petroleum Engineers.

Was there a course in Engineering School that taught you to propagate the Cult of the Engineer?  Did you Silicon Valley types ever stop to think that maybe telling people what to do by appealing to your having a job in “Silicon Valley” is just an appeal to authority (by association to a geographic region)?  It’s no more convincing than appealing to having a job on Wall Street, or being an American (in a more international context).

Who do these engineers think they work for anyway?  Well, why don’t we have a look at who many of these Engineers™ work for and what their educational background is (according to Wikipedia anyway, for what that’s worth...):

27 March 2015

Lynda.com for learning computing science as high school students: a review

Recently, I had a chance to spend some time reviewing Lynda.com's offerings on various computing science topics.  The review here is geared towards using Lynda.com with high school students as the target audience.  I thought I'd share a few observations.

Lynda.com is ok for what it is, that is, as a quick introduction to topics for what seems to be its intended audience of busy professionals working in the field.  At least I think that's their target audience.

For high school students, however, especially for beginner, intermediate, or even middle to lower level advanced high school students, Lynda.com's offerings for computing science topics are simply inadequate, missing curricular connections, and uses pedagogy ill-fitting for students in the high school age range.  That's not really a bad thing for Lynda.com, as I don't think high school students are their target audience at all.