Management and Leadership are booming cargo-cult businesses. Certifications in both can be had for a fee regardless of aptitude or ability. Universities have created valuable profit-centers in this ‘market’ around their charitable cocoons, touting their programs in airports, magazines, billboards, and online advertising. Just about everyone in the modern workplace will either have to take a course in some aspect of this or be talked at by someone who has. The material, to be charitable, is dumbed down to irrelevance. The examples are always shiftless or cantankerous employees not fully committed to the bottom line. Orwell had it right
When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them.
— George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
The old General Electric company recognized that developing managers means more than a handbook of HR-approved cliches. This Capraesque short film does not solve but at least acknowledges the crushing bidirectional pressure aspiring and reluctant managers have faced and continue to face. The protagonist is literally beside himself with stress and gets some medical help. The ending is refreshingly ambiguous. Sports fans of a certain age will recognize a young Heywood Hale Broun, long before his coat-of-many-colors phase.
There’s a category of Youtube channel dedicated to fixing up old mostly public-domain videos from Prelinger and similar archives and making them available to broad audiences. Jeff Quitney is one of the best at this along with Bel99TV and PeriscopeFilm.
Here’s a little bit of 1965 techno-cool courtesy of Xerox Corporation.
Consider technical computing. Matlab is expensive but simple: One function per .m file – send a function inputs, get outputs. Python’s adherents claim that it can supplant Matlab for most scientific purposes. Reality, as usual, is more nuanced. Since Python supports objects, classes, namespaces, and a lot of other funky features, Python tools are chock full of them. Pick a package – numpy, scipy, matplotlib, or any of the ‘batteries included’ standard library. It is difficult to figure out how to pass inputs to something and get outputs, assuming that thing is a function and not an object with methods, a class, a module, or something else. Documentation is often lacking so there will be multiple visits to StackOverflow, Usenet and Google Groups, and mailing lists.
I wrote some experimental Python spaghetti code to take a Python package, figure out which of its modules connect to which other modules, and then to recursively list each module’s builtins, classes, functions, submodules, and a bunch of stuff falling into ‘none of the above.’ I also sent the results into graphviz to visualize the results and perhaps gain some insight. It was one compromise after another, figuring out ‘good enough’ when ‘ideal’ wasn’t convenient or possible. The firework-like graphviz output was fun to look at although not practically useful due to the large amount of zooming and panning needed to see details – what you see is all you’ve got. I may use the plain text output from the pyCustoms algorithm in the future to figure out the lay of the land before studying a package in any detail.
The pyCustoms code is on Github in a Jupyter Notebook. Here are the graphviz outputs for numpy and matplotlib. Each image links to a PDF. Zooming and panning works better in a standalone PDF reader than in a typical browser PDF plugin. Right-clicking should permit downloading the files. I normally use the Skim PDF reader for Macs but was surprised to find that Acrobat DC did a better job for these graphics intensive files.
A young filmmaker dives deeply in five parts into the technical and artistic innards of his (and one of my) favorite movies. One wishes that he spoke a little slower and left some breathing room in his edits but it is an earnest, meticulous, and illuminating effort. The engineering alone that went into 2001 is awe-inspiring. Did Kubrick sleep during the two years it took to make?
The IPython Notebook has evolved into the Jupyter project. This free, open-source hook into many different programming languages simplifies some types of software experimentation. Jupyter’s advocates have attracted some generous institutional and foundational funding to develop the tool. The project has posted its winning proposal touting it as the “Engine of Collaborative Data Science” and ramming home the “computational narrative” as the means. Authors write notebooks with embedded data and code for a variety of audiences and interested readers can run computations for themselves.
It isn’t clear how this will work for complex algorithms that require a lot of computing power. Notebooks can be static presentations in those cases but then they have no advantage over a conventional report. The current Notebook doesn’t have the tools for real software development or algorithm analysis. Savvy users recommend not relying on them beyond certain limits. Variable inspection, debugging, and change control are all on the roadmap for the new JupyterLab and the project’s claims can’t be addressed until we see how well these work. Every addition will require screen space which will mean less space for the data and visualizations. It might in time be as convenient as the current (not-free) Matlab User Interface but it will take work to get there.
Yes, this is the funded scope and if it existed, they would be proposing something else. The Principal Investigators agree that other Notebook interfaces have been aroundfor a long time but imply that cost and proprietary architectures have been the principal roadblocks to their impact. The Notebook metaphor itself is left alone and that’s puzzling. There should be plenty of data (ha!) on how prior interfaces have or have not revolutionized the areas they claimed they were going to revolutionize. The proposal does devote detail to the enabling technologies, the support of large companies, and the future constituency.
But, it is the word ‘narrative’ gets my hackles up. It sounds disturbingly similar to ‘pitch’ and the pitch culture is dangerous. People can be led down a bad path any number of ways – yellow journalism, Powerpoint, or just outright demagoguery. Groups can lie just as well as individuals and Notebooks, like vaunted social media, can just as easily be co-opted for b.s. Data-driven decisionmaking is resurgent yet cyclical. It ebbs when the data don’t match the preconceptions – the internal narratives – of the ones with the money. We may, as a society, have gone past failsafe in handing over control to the unworthy.
JupyterLab: Building Blocks for Interactive Computing | SciPy 2016 | Brian Granger
Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica subtly did more than examine the ubiquitous font. Most of us would like to be designers in the same way we’d like to be athletes or musicians and we’re interested in those who do it well. Hustwit tapped into that need and let several prominent figures from that world have free rein to discuss what they see and how they see it. Elegant Paula Scher and twitchy Erik Spiekermann come off well, others sound like prats best avoided.
Scher has looked at information design and presentation with the artist’s eye, quite different from, say, an Edward Tufte. Her perspective, driven by artistic and marketing concerns, are at once intriguing and disturbing. She stretches and distorts to make larger points such as claiming that Helvetica was the font of the Vietnam and Iraq wars. It’s not a literal accusation, only that it is the kind of calming gloss that corporations and governments use to disguise their little murders. But, she also cops to fabricating the data she’s (re)presenting to make her point. I admire a lot of her work; it is bold, brash, and political. I don’t know whether I would enjoy living, working, or studying in something so shouty. Nevertheless, I’ve got my autosearches configured to let me know if she’s ever speaking within a couple of hours of LA.
Several of her other lectures are on the web and worth a look. Scher sounds like the canonical good seatmate on a long flight. I doubt she travels coach, though.
Hustwit’s films Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized. are available for affordable digital download from his website, $5.99/ea.