For the Weekend: Music, Data, and Florence + The Machine

Saturdays–and some Sundays–have usually have been set aside for music as an interlude from all things data, information technology, and my work in general.  Admittedly, blogging has suffered because of the demands of work and, you know, having a life, especially with family.  But flying back from a series of important meetings that will, no doubt, make up for the lack of blogging in the near future, I settled in finally to listen to Ms. Welch’s latest.

As a fan from the beginning, I have not been impressed with the early singles that were released from her album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.  My reaction to the title song, using a single syllable sound, was “meh.”  Same for the song “What Kind of Man,” which apparently grasping for some kind of significance, I viewed as inarticulate at best and largely muddled.  The message in this case, at least for me, didn’t save the medium.

So I kicked back on the plane after another 12 hour (or so) day and was intent on not giving up on her artistry.  So I listened to the album mostly with eyes closed, but with occasional forays into checking out the beautiful moonlit dome of the sky while traveling over the eastern seaboard with the glittering lights of the houses and towns 35,000 feet below.  (A series of “Supermoon” events are happening).  About four songs in I found myself taken in by what can only be described as another strong song cycle that possesses more subtlety and maturity than the bang-on pyrotechnics of Ceremonials.

The red-headed Celtic Goddess can still drive a tune and a theme that, having experienced one of her concerts in the desert of New Mexico under a cloudless night sky with the expanse of the Milky Way overhead, can become both transcendent and almost spooky, especially as her acolytes dance and sway in the trance state induced by her music.  Thus, I have come to realize that releasing any of her songs on their own from this album is largely a mistake because they cannot hold up as “singles” in the American tradition of Tin Pan Alley–nor even as prog rock.  Listening to the entire album from start to finish gives you the perspective from which you need to assess its artistic merit.  

For me, her lyrics and themes hark back and forth across the dimension of human experience, tying them together and, thus, fusing time in the process, opening up pathways in the mind to an almost elemental suggestion of the essence of existence which is communicated through the beat and expanse of the music.

Therefore, rather than a sample from Youtube, which I usually post at this point, I instead strongly recommend that you give the album a listen.  It’ll keep the band in business making more beautiful music as well.

Before I be accused by some readers of going off the deep end in exhaustion or overstatement in describing the effect of Ms. Welch’s music on me, I would caution that there is a scientific basis for it.  Many other writers and artists have noted the power of music without the need for other stimuli to have this same effect on them, as documented by the recently passed neuroscientist Oliver Sacks.  

Proust used music to delve into his inner consciousness to inform his writings.  Tolstoy was so taken by music that he was careful about when and what it was to which he listened since when he immersed himself in it he felt himself to be taken to an altered mental state.  Clinical experience document that many Parkinson’s and Tourette’s patients are affected–and sometimes coerced–by the power of music into involuntary states.  On the darker side of human experience, it is no coincidence that music is used by oppressive regimes and militaries to coerce, and sometimes manipulate, prisoners and captives.  On the positive side in my own experience, I was able to come to a mathematical solution to a problem in one afternoon by immersing myself fully in John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”

Aside from being an aural experience that stimulates neurobiological systems, underlying music is mathematics, and underlying the mathematics are digital packets of information.  We live in a digital world.  (And–and yes–Madonna is a digital girl).  No doubt the larger implications of this view are somewhat controversial (though compelling) in the scientific community with the questions surrounding it under the discipline of digital physics.

But if we view music as information (which at many levels it is) and our minds as the decoders, then the images and states of consciousness that we enter are implicit in the message, with bias introduced by our conscious minds in attempting to provide both structure and coherence.  It is the same with any data.  We can listen to a single song, but find ourselves placing undue emphasis on just one small aspect of the whole, missing out on what is significant.

Our own digital systems approaches are often similar.  When we concentrate on a sliver of information we bias our perspectives.  We see this all the time in business systems and project management.  Sometimes you just have to listen to the whole album, or step up to bigger data.

Note:  The post has been edited from the original to correct grammatical errors and for clarity.

 

Saturday Music Interlude — Five from Mountain Jam 2015: Amy Helm, Lake Street Dive, Grace Potter, Hurray For The Riff Raff, and moe.

Op-tempo has minimized blogging as well as seeking out new music.  Thankfully, summer is music festival season which affords me the ability to catch up on the best of both new and tried and true talents that make the circuit.  Mountain Jam, which is held at Hunter Mountain Ski Resort just north of Woodstock, New York, was born in 2005 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock radio station, WDST.  Among the founders of the Jam is Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule fame, considered one of the greatest electric guitarists of all time.  Some of the highlights of the Jam include performances by Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers, Lake Street Dive, Grace Potter, Hurray For The Riff Raff, and Moe., among others.

If the first artist mentioned seems to have a last name similar to a legendary member of The Band, it’s because Amy Helm is the daughter of Levon Helm.  Her voice is a beautiful instrument that evokes the blues, soul, and rhythm & blues.  I’ll have more to write about her in a future post of her own.  Here she sings one of the songs from her new debut album entitled “Meet Me In The Morning.”

I’ve written about Lake Street Dive in the past, and they have continued to build on the musical promise of their first recordings.  Their second album, Bad Self Portraits, which was released last February, was well received critically.  Here they are performing “Stop Your Crying.”

Grace Potter is a singer-songwriter/roots rocker who has been performing since 2002.  Her voice has often been compared to Bonnie Raitt, though her powerful instrument stretches itself to a singular place among the very best of classic female rock and blues singers.  She has appeared with bands as diverse as Gov’t Mule, The Rolling Stones, and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  Her new album, Midnight, was just released to rave reviews.  Here she is performing “Delirious.”

As with Lake Street Dive, I’ve written previously about the NOLA group Hurray For the Riff Raff and their excellent album, Small Town Heroes.  Here they are performing “I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright).”  If you haven’t seen the tongue in cheek music video they recorded, check it out here.

Finally, moe. is a progressive rock band formed in 1989 in Buffalo, New York.  They started out playing local bars, graduated to performing clubs along the east coast, especially in New York, have opened concerts for leading groups over the years, and even played at Radio City Music Hall.  During the course of their history the membership of the band has rotated over the years, mixing experimentalism with improvisation.  Their sound involves extended prog rock jams and, occasionally, slightly off-beat musical explorations in Americana and psychedelia.  The band is also big hearted, initiating and playing at fundraisers for many good causes.  Overall, while the quality of the music is never lacking, their lack of cohesiveness and stability has kept them operating just below the radar, never fully making the jump to the mainstream.  In this way they remind me of Gandalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, another band hailing from the Hudson River Valley, with their intoxicating Americana/Mummer/Hillbilly Pink Floyd sound.  Here is moe. in an outstanding jam with Warren Haynes performing “Opium.”

 

Saturday Music Interlude — Lera Lynn performing “Lying in The Sun” and “My Least Favorite Life”

Lera Lynn is a singer-songwriter who is presently out of Nashville.  According to her short bio she was born in Houston, Texas, but raised in Georgia.  She earned a B.A. from the University of Georgia in anthropology and tried out her musical chops in the rich musical scene of Athens, Georgia.  For those of you who are watching season two of True Detective, her music is used over the credits and she has made several cameos in the bar where Colin Farrell’s and Vince Vaughn’s characters meet.

Apart from the Hollywood connection, which has catapulted her into a kind of fame, Lynn is an extremely talented artist.  Her music stays in your head, its intelligent, thoughtful, and clever lyrics slowly revealing the nuance of their meaning.  Some of her other music can be found here.  What follows is a live performance of “Lying in the Sun” at Music City Roots Live at the Factory and the audio of “My Least Favorite Life” from the True Detective soundtrack.

Legitimacy and the EU Democratic Deficit

Turning to political science again, Kevin O’Rourke has an important article regarding the democratic deficit and types of legitimacy in Critical Quarterly, particularly in light of the events surrounding the Greek crisis.  He cites the late political scientist Peter Mair’s book, Ruling the Void, as providing a solid framework for understanding what is happening in Europe, and to some extent within all democracies as a result of wealth and power concentration among an increasingly transnational economic elite.

The issue that O’Rourke tackles based on Mair’s insights, is one of democratic legitimacy.  For economists and financiers who seem to have (I would argue) taken an illegitimately outsized role in determining what is good for Greece, even if Greece disagrees, the dichotomy here seems to be between what has been called input vs. output legitimacy.  I understand what he is saying here, but in political science “legitimacy” is not the same as “democratic legitimacy” and, in the end I think, this is his point.

O’Rourke, an economist himself, tackles how using this argument, particularly in regard to output legitimacy, has been hijacked so that concerns about distribution have been stripped out of the definition by the application of technocrat-speak.  I have a backlog of items for the Devil’s Phraseology from “Structural Reform” to other euphemisms for, essentially, screwing working people over, especially right now if they are Greek, Italian, Spanish, or Irish.

His article is important in tracing the subtle transformation of legitimacy over time.  For those unfamiliar with this terminology, legitimacy in this sense–if you remember nothing else but your Lincoln or Jefferson–in democratic societies is properly derived by the people.  This concept, which can be measured on the input side, is reinforced by processes and institutions that support it.  So clean elections which seek to maximize participation of the adult population; freedoms that support human rights, particularly those concerning speech, free association, and free movement; institutions that are largely responsive to the democratic will but which possess limitations to prevent the denial of human rights; and an independent judiciary that metes out justice based on due process; the absence of corruption, undue influence, unequal treatment, or graft in these institutions, etc. are all indicators of “legitimacy.”  In the context of the European debate this is known as “input” legitimacy.

Then there is “output” legitimacy.  This is the type of legitimacy on which the EU rests, since it obviously–especially since the last Greek referendum on the terms of the Troika’s terms–doesn’t seem to be based on any kind of “input” legitimacy.  Here legitimacy is based on a utilitarian measure–the ability of the EU to raise the aggregate euro value at any one time.  This is the “rising tide lifts all boats” trope.  Nice imagery, what with the JFK connection and all, but the rules of the game and economic environment have changed since 1963 to the extent that the analogy no longer applies.  A rising tide lifts all boats only if everyone has a stake in the tide rising.  Feel free to add any additional analogies now that we are beginning to understand the effect of rising tides on coastal cities as the earth warms.  An actual rising tide certainly didn’t do anyone in NOLA’s Lower Ninth and Lakeside neighborhoods any favors, but we do know that it impacted people residing in different economic strata differently.

Furthermore, output legitimacy as a utilitarian project sounds a lot like “we made the trains run on time”.  Furthermore, it wasn’t all that long ago that more than half of Europe suffered under authoritarian regimes.  Output legitimacy, I would argue, by definition is the opposite of democratic legitimacy, not one of two types of democratic legitimacy.  As O’Rourke points out, one cannot take politics out of policy, so the way in which decisions are made is important in defining the type and level of legitimacy.

Post-1989 generations have not had to come to an understanding of the fact that even oppressive regimes can possess political legitimacy that is sufficient for them to survive.  From an historical standpoint, all of those German people in the streets chanting “Heil Hitler” weren’t doing so at gun point.  The block captains and those others who denounced family members in the old Eastern Block countries largely acted independently and voluntarily.  Many Russians today pine for the days under the old Soviet Union and have a leader in Putin that channels that nostalgia.  Autocratic and authoritarian regimes simply possess legitimacy through institutions and processes that are more restrictive than those found in democratic societies, but which rests on elites, centers of power, and pluralities that allow them to function.

Thus, whether the EU will admit it publicly or not, one need only do a Google search to see that this is a generally recognized issue that the European countries seem unwilling or unable to address.  The recent charging of Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek minister, of treason at the instigation of Greek and European elites raises the ante and strips whatever remaining veil there was to hide the anti-democratic roots of the Greek crisis.  Apparently the 60% of the Greek people who voted “No” to the Troika were also traitors.

That this is happening is Greece is also problematic due to its geographical location in the eastern Mediterranean and its fairly recent transition to democratic processes and institutions.  De-legitimization of democracies is an all too familiar event in the history of the European continent and can only lead to radicalization, especially given the pain being inflicted on the Greek people.  What Europe’s technocrats have done is turn an economic recession and market failure–that could have been ameliorated and solved given the proper solutions learned by hard experience from the 1930s and immediately following the Second World War–rejected those methods and, as a result, though obstinance, tyrannical actions, corruption, and greed, have created a political and economic disaster that threatens the legitimacy of the EU.

Time to reform the reformers.

Measure for Measure — Must Read: Dave Gordon Is Looking for Utilitarian Metrics at AITS.org

Dave Gordon at his AITS.org blog deals with the issue of metrics and what makes them utilitarian, this is, “actionable.”  Furthermore at his Practicing IT Project Management blog he challenges those in the IT program management community to share real life examples.  The issue of measures and whether they pass the “so-what?” test in an important one, since chasing, and drawing improper conclusions from, the wrong ones are a waste of money and effort at best, and can lead one to make very bad business decisions at worst.

In line with Dave’s challenge, listed below are the types of metrics (or measures) that I often come across.

1.  Measures of performance.  This type of metric is characterized by actual performance against a goal for a physical or functional attribute of the system being developed.  It can be measured across time as one of the axes, but the ultimate benchmark against what is being measured is against the requirement or goal.  Technical performance measurements often fall into this category, though I have seen instances where these TPM is listed in its own category.  I would argue that such separation is artificial.

2.  Measures of progress.  This type of metric is often time-based, oftentimes measured against a schedule or plan.  Measurement of schedule variances in terms of time or expenditure rates against a budget often fall into this category.

3.  Measures of compliance.  This type of metric is one that measures systemic conditions that must be met which, if not, indicates a fatal error in the integrity of the system.

4.  Measures of effectiveness.  This type of metric tracks against those measures related to the operational objectives of the project, usually specified under particular conditions.

5.  Measures of risk.  This type of metric measures quantitatively the effects of qualitative, systemic, and inherent risk.  Oftentimes qualitative and quantitative risk are separated, which is the means of identification and whether that means is recorded either indirectly or directly.  But, in reality, they are measuring different aspects and causes of the same phenomenon.

6.  Measures of health.  This type of metric measures the relative health of a system against a set of criteria.  In medicine there are a set of routine measures for biological subjects.  Measures of health distinguish themselves from measures of compliance in that any variation, while indicative of a possible problem, is not necessarily fatal.  Thus, a range of acceptable indicators or even some variation within the indicators can be acceptable.  So while these measures may point to a system issue, borderline areas may warrant additional investigation.

In any project management system, there are often correct and incorrect ways of constructing these measures.  The basis for determining whether they are correct, I think, is whether the end result metric possesses materiality and traceability to a particular tangible state or criteria.  According to Dave and others, a test of a good metric is whether it is “actionable”.  This is certainly a desirable characteristic, but I would suggest not a necessary one and is contained within materiality and traceability.

For example, some metrics are simply indicators, which suggest further investigation; others suggest an action when viewed in combination with others.  There is no doubt that the universe of “qualitative” measures is shrinking as we have access to bigger and better data that provide us with quantification.  Furthermore as stochastic and other mathematical tools develop, we will have access to more sophisticated means of measurement.  But for the present there will continue to be some of these non-quantifiable measures only because, with experience, we learn that there are different dimensions in measuring the behavior of complex adaptive systems over time that are yet to be fully understood, much less measured.

I also do not mean for this to be an exhaustive list.  Others that have some overlap to what I’ve listed come to mind, such as measures of efficiency (different than effectiveness and performance in some subtle ways), measures of credibility or fidelity (which has some overlap with measures of compliance and health, but really points to a measurement of measures), and measures of learning or adaptation, among others.

Over at AITS.org — Black Swans: Conquering IT Project Failure & Acquisition Management

It’s been out for a few days but I failed to mention the latest article at AITS.org.

In my last post on the Blogging Alliance I discussed information theory, the physics behind software development, the economics of new technology, and the intrinsic obsolescence that exists as a result. Dave Gordon in his regular blog described this work as laying “the groundwork for a generalized theory of managing software development and acquisition.” Dave has a habit of inspiring further thought, and his observation has helped me focus on where my inquiries are headed…

To read more please click here.

Super Doodle Dandy (Software) — Decorator Crabs and Wirth’s Law

decorator-crab[1]

The song (absent the “software” part) in the title is borrowed from the soundtrack of the movie, The Incredible Mr. Limpet.  Made in the day before Pixar and other recent animation technologies, it remains a largely unappreciated classic; combining photography and animation in a time of more limited tools, but with Don Knotts creating another unforgettable character beyond Barney Fife.  Somewhat related to what I am about to write, Mr. Limpet taught the creatures of the sea new ways of doing things, helping them overcome their mistaken assumptions about the world.

The photo that opens this post is courtesy of the Monterey Aquarium and looks to be the crab Oregonia gracilis, commonly referred to as the Graceful Decorator Crab.  There are all kinds of Decorator Crabs, most of which belong to the superfamily Majoidea.  The one I most often came across and raised in aquaria was Libinia dubia, an east coast cousin.  You see, back in a previous lifetime I had aspirations to be a marine biologist.  My early schooling was based in the sciences and mathematics.  Only later did I gradually gravitate to history, political science, and the liberal arts–finally landing in acquisition and high tech project management, which tends to borrow something from all of these disciplines.  I believe that my former concentration of studies have kept me grounded in reality–in viewing life the way it is and the mysteries that are yet to be solved in the universe absent resort to metaphysics or irrationality–while the latter concentrations have connected me to the human perspective in experiencing and recording existence.

But there is more to my analogy than self-explanation.  You see, software development exhibits much of the same behavior of Decorator Crabs.

In my previous post I talk about Moore’s Law and the compounding (doubling) of greater processor power in computing every 12 to 24 months.  (It does not seem to be as much a physical law as an observation, and we can only guess how long this trend will continue).  We also see a corresponding reduction in cost vis-à-vis this greater capability.  Yet, despite these improvements, we find that software often lags behind and fails to leverage this capability.

The observation that has recorded this phenomenon is found in Wirth’s Law, which posits that software is getting slower at a faster rate than computer hardware is getting faster.  There are two variants of this law, one ironic and the other only less so.  These are May’s and Gates’ variants.  Basically these posit that software speed halves every 18 months, thereby negating Moore’s Law.  But why is this?

For first causes one need only look to the Decorator Crab.  You see, the crab, all by itself, is a typical crab: an arthropod invertebrate with a hard carapace, spikes on its exoskeleton, segmented body with jointed limbs, five pairs of legs, the first pair of legs usually containing chelae (the familiar pincers and claws).  There are all kinds of crabs in salt, fresh, and brackish water.  They tend to be well adapted to their environment.  But they are also tasty and high in protein value, thus having a number of predators.  So the Decorator Crab has determined that what evolution has provided is not enough–it borrows features and items from its environment to enhance its capabilities as a defense mechanism.  There is a price to being a Decorator Crab.  Encrustations also become encumbrances.  Where crabs have learned to enhance their protections, for example by attaching toxic sponges and anemones, these enhancements may also have made them complaisant because, unlike most crabs, Decorator Crabs don’t tend to scurry from crevice to crevice, but tend to walk awkwardly and more slowing than many of their cousins in the typical sideways crab gait.  This behavior makes them interesting, popular, and comical subjects in both public and private aquaria.

In a way, we see an analogy in the case of software.  In earlier generations of software design, applications were generally built to solve a particular challenge that mimicked the line and staff structure of the organizations involved–designed to fit its environmental niche.  But over time, of course, people decide that they want enhancements and additional features.  The user interface, when hardcoded, must be adjusted every time a new function or feature is added.

Rather than rewriting the core code from scratch–which will take time and resource-consuming reengineering and redesign of the overall application–modules, subroutines, scripts, etc. are added to software to adapt to the new environment.  Over time, software takes on the characteristics of the Decorator Crab.  The new functions are not organic to the core structure of the software, just as the attached anemone, sponges, and algae are not organic features of the crab.  While they may provide the features desired, they are not optimized, tending to use brute force computing power as the means of accounting for lack of elegance.  Thus, the more powerful each generation of hardware computing power tends to provide, the less effective each enhancement release of software tends to be.

Furthermore, just as when a crab tends to look less like a crab, it requires more effort and intelligence to identify the crab, so too with software.  The greater the encrustation of features that tend to attach themselves to an application, the greater the effort that is required to use those new features.  Learning the idiosyncrasies of the software is an unnecessary barrier to the core purposes of software–to increase efficiency, improve productivity, and improve speed.  It serves only one purpose: to increase the “stickiness” of the application within the organization so that it is harder to displace by competitors.

It is apparent that this condition is not sustainable–or acceptable–especially where the business environment is changing.  New software generations, especially Fourth Generation software, provide opportunities to overcome this condition.

Thus, as project management and acquisition professionals, the primary considerations that must be taken into account are optimization of computing power and the related consideration of sustainability.  This approach militates against complacency because it influences the environment of software toward optimization.  Such an approach will also allow organizations to more fully realize the benefits of Moore’s Law.