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A View from The Prairie, 2019

January 2019

Strain then Failure

A marriage fails and people wonder what went wrong. A favorite retail store goes under and we wonder why. A country's economy suddenly collapses and we look for the reason why. Many systems can operate for years slowly straining more and more until suddenly collapsing. The system was resilient until it finally buckled under the strain. We humans often adapt to the stress instead of seeing the danger signals. Systems fail in complex ways. Yet, we often run systems close to the breaking point.


Individualism vs Group Cohesion

Americans have a strong mythos about individualism. Comparing how police are using facial recognition technology in America vs China shows that mythos. American researchers worry about misidentifications and what happens when the recognition is wrong. Chinese people worry about identifying those who do not fit in.


February 2019

Artificial Intelligence Still Needs People

The Islamic State has been recruiting young people (as young as 12-13), people just at the stage of breaking away from their parents and looking for a group to belong to. Google recently revealed that they are allowing non-profit groups to use Google's ad targeting algorithms to provide counter views to radicalism. These non-profits found out that they can't just turn it on and let it go. They have to have people directing all the time.

This need for humans to direct artificial intelligent systems is universal. It will not go away. At its core, AI is always a trailing system, not a leading system. It works from past data.


What is Your Vision?

"A land flowing with milk and honey" is one description of "the promised land" - a land people yearn for. That is a description of a land covered in grasses and wild flowers. That vision is perfect for a nomadic people who raise sheep and goats. Open grasslands are a wonderful land for grazing and the many flowers give wild bees a lot of nectar. That vision does not inspire city folk. But to get to "the promised land", we need a vision of where we are going.


March 2019

Managing Creative People

The story goes that a CEO called a manager in and told him to fire person X. "That person spends all his time staring out the window." The manager responded that person X was the one who had come up with a number of highly profitable products. Highly creative people do not fit into the normal ways of the modern corporation. Yet, creative people can be successfully managed by understanding the needs of creative people and the science of creativity.

Yet, the nature of creative people is to not fit in. That is exactly why they benefit the corporation: they see things that are missed by the standard way of seeing things.


Disasters and Managers

The Boeing crashes, the Challenger disaster, and the failure of many a startup company all have one thing in common: people who pushed the project forward believing that the risks were lower than they turned out to be. People are urged to "power through the day", making the world into what it "should be". That is a tactic that works when it is only human powered actions at stake. Civilization is full of examples where societies grew more than their ability to cope with and manage the number of people and the technologies involved.


April 2019

Computer Systems Hygiene

When humans were living in small, isolated bands, we could operate without a lot of rules. As we gathered into larger and larger groups and started trading long distances, we were forced to learn rules of hygiene. New diseases spread through what had been common practices and we had to change our ways. We learned to isolate sick people. We learned to wash our hands often and learned other practices. Pandemics rightfully scared us. We are at the same point with computers.


Facebook Or Happiness?

Right now, most Americans are spending more hours viewing content such as TV, Facebook, Videos, etc. or playing video games than we do sleeping. The result is that a majority of people are mildly depressed, certainly sleep deprived, and this pursuit of happiness isn't making us happy. What are the factors that really make us happy?


May 2019

Disasters and Our Assumptions

Recently the famed Notre Dame De Paris Cathedral burned. It had stood for many centuries and people naturally assumed that it would remain for years to come. In business, we get surprised when our assumptions are broken. Often, the worst surprises come from the breaking of the biggest assumptions we have. We do well to go back to our core values when responding to when our assumptions are broken.


Ethics of Whistle Blowing

Whistle blowers have a dubious ethical standing in our world. Some have been praised. Others have been condemned. It all depends on who is exposed and what the consequences of both telling and not telling. When faced with a situation where people are behaving contrary to our ethics, we have a difficult decision.


June 2019

Computer Security is Everyone's Responsibility

Computers are everywhere and on everyone. Some people are carrying multiple computers at once. No longer are computers huge boxes living in sealed rooms. The result is that computer security is everyone's business. There are some important principles for security. These are: A security breach can destroy a company. Security is both a technology and human practice. Security is a moving target and we need to build resilient organizations that can survive.


Market Irrationality and Want to Believe

The market is known for being irrational. Fads come and go. Companies that are losing money badly go for a public offering and get priced as if they were making huge amounts of money. We offer a badly needed service and people don't buy it. Markets are irrational and can stay irrational far longer than our wallets can survive. We want to believe the irrational stories.


July 2019

Currency - What Are We Exchanging?

Two people meet and exchange value, but neither touches money. So, what are people exchanging? Over the course of history, people have exchanged many things other than money. Today, there are several new trends in currencies. But currency isn't everything.


Give to Get

As human beings, we are built to give to others. The TV preacher tells people that they need to give in order to get. Other places urge us to give to them. A hard look at their finances suggests that such giving may not be the best. However, there is a grain of truth to the concept of "giving to get". Studies have shown that people who organize their lives so that they can give to others have the feeling that they have more. And business people who give to others in networking groups often receive much back.


August 2019

Software - Expensive or Not

Software can be inexpensive or very expensive. The most expensive software is that which gives the wrong answer. The next most expensive is that software paid for that does not work. Software that give new insight into business operations can be very cost effective. All this requires good management of the software, its development process, and how it is used.


Building Software Quality

A lot of people think that you get quality software by testing it. It is not possible to test one's way to quality software, it has to be designed that way from the start. Software quality is an elusive target, it varies all over based on what the software is used for. The quality of a piece of software is always determined by the user, not the developer. But appropriate quality can be designed into the development process so that you get the quality of software you want. Software management is complex and depends on where the software is in the process.


September 2019

The Moral Need for Privacy

Traveling around certain cities in the world, one can notice a lot of security cameras. It is estimated that London has over two hundred thousand security cameras (mostly private) with over 52 per tube station. These cameras exist because somebody does not trust others to do what is right. As we sleepwalk towards a surveillance society, we need to ask what the impact is, not just on current actions but also on how people learn to live in such a society. As human beings, we need privacy and liberty balanced with good policing in order to develop our internal moral sense.

Western Democracy is built on the belief that even uneducated people can develop a moral sense because they grew up in freedom and that this moral sense is better than that of the leaders. Thus, we have elections and jury trials. Surveillance is built on the belief that the authorities know better than the people what is right and wrong.


October 2019

The Cost of Progress

Since the 1400's, Western Civilization has had tremendous material progress. Today, we have air conditioning, smart phones, cars, and the Internet. Yet, all this progress has come at a cost, a social cost. We don't always acknowledge that cost nor the need to pay for progress. Those people who drive progress forward often have broken rules, committed crimes, and may not be pleasant people to work with. Rarely has progress come from the traditional leaders of society. The price of progress is giving up a stable and secure society and needing police, courts, and punishment systems. Crimes call for wisdom to discern why someone broke the rules and whether or not the person has the character to help society. Balancing justice and mercy is very difficult but needed.


Surviving Our Economic Bubble Burst

Yes, our economy is in a bubble. We have a short-term bubble caused by massive Federal borrowing and spending. We have the 100 plus year bubble based on oil and gas. Some people argue that we have a 400 plus year bubble based on all the fossil fuel use starting with the coal mines of England. At some point, all bubbles will burst. What will people do when the bubbles burst? Every bubble burst results in social upheaval. There are two main strategies for handling a bubble burst; isolation, or trusting others.


November 2019

Individualistic Business Strategy limits

Recently, the local paper reported on a sub-prime auto lending company. About 1 in six of the loans had gone bad and the company was writing off over twice its profit in uncollectable loans. This shows that such an individualistic business strategy has limits. A better way is a business that builds society through educating their customers. The old maxim of "an educated consumer is our best customer" still holds true today.


Tactics vs. Strategy

Many a business owner has read The Art of War and attempted to use the concepts in business. There can be a lot of parallels between military strategy and tactics and business strategy and tactics. In all cases, we need to understand the difference between strategy and tactics. Remember that the winners always try to refight the last war and the losers are always looking for how to win the next war.


December 2019

Time Management Is Dead

Time management has had a good run. Time management was great for a long time. But its run is over. It is based on old assumptions and no longer meets today's reality. It is time for a new paradigm. It is time to strategically invest our time in other people, according to our priorities, and in ways that bring the most rewards.


Giving Thanks

As we end this year, it is appropriate to give thanks. We don't always realize just how rich we are and how much luxury we have. We have luxury in energy use, housing, and food. Giving thanks for this helps us be better people.


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