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Guest Writer Ron Williams again… Attorney, Businessman and Citizen

It is clear to even the most casual observer that the sole political agenda of the Republican Party is to prevent the reelection of Pres. Barack Obama. It is equally clear that it is the absolute, single-minded focus of the Far Right of the Republican Party to prevent the reelection of a Black Man, any black, as President of the United States.

Thus, for nearly two years, as the President negotiated health-care with the Republican Party, those negotiations were futile, because no matter what would have been offered by this President the answer from this Republican Party would have been “no”. It is clear that no matter what initiative this President put forward, the Republican Party answer would always have been “no.”

And today, we see the Republican Party, and in particular the Far Right portion of that party, deciding to attach items on their political agenda to the debt ceiling bill as a means to further weaken the president and as a means to move their political agenda forward. As a political strategy, the move is almost brilliant. They were able to attack Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (three programs that the Republican Party has been attempting to repeal sent each of them were first adopted) while at the same time further demonstrating the weakness of this President.

The mistake President Obama continues to make is to attempt to negotiate substantive programs with a group of people whose agenda is not to negotiate on those programs, but to attack the man himself. They will never negotiate to yes until they have used the so-called negotiations to attack the President (demonstrating his weakness) and until they have also gotten what concessions they otherwise wanted.

I predicted when this whole debt limit “crisis” began that the Republican Party would string this out until the end of July, after they had extracted significant concessions from the President and the Democratic Party, that is they had gotten as much as they could based on the time limit left. I am being somewhat facetious when I suggest that if these negotiations continued much longer, President Obama would eventually have negotiated away the entire Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs.

It is telling that the Republican Party started these negotiations stating that there could be no revenue increasing tax changes that would affect the wealthy. And that exactly where they ended. How can you have negotiations when one side gives up nothing in the other side makes all the concessions? That because their whole purpose of the Republican Party was to use the debt ceiling issue as a means of moving their political agenda forward with demonstrating their basic weakness of President Obama. And the Democratic Party and this President let them.

What Barack Obama should have said to the first overture from the Far Right that they would not agree to raise the debt ceiling unless there were major cuts to the various social programs, was “no.” He should have simply stated that he would veto any legislation that came across his desk that did anything other than simply raise the debt ceiling. And then stopped negotiating. Whenever they said “well let’s talk about this,” his response should have been “there is nothing to talk about.”

The President should have said, “I’ve told you my position. Congress, you do what you feel you need to do. If you want to pass legislation that has provisions other than raising the national debt attached to it, do so. I will veto it. And if you choose to then put the full faith and credit of the United States government at risk because you want to attach non-relevant politically motivated subject matter on what should be otherwise routine legislation, do so, but I will not be a party to this game-playing”.

If he had said that from day one, and then stuck to his guns,, this so-called crisis would’ve gone way. Then should he want to discuss modification of Medicare, Medicaid and/or Social Security that could have been done in conversation along with tax code changes.

The president has got to learn to stand up. If he doesn’t he will be a one term president. As it is, he is losing his base and maybe a one term president in any event. It may already be too late.

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You may have seen it on news shows…

Athletic Clubs with cardio programs where members jump up and down as if using a jump rope but don’t really have a rope to jump.  Why?  The club doesn’t want people to feel bad if they can’t jump rope like others in the class… …or feel bad if they mess up in front of people not messing up.

How about the no tryouts, no exercise, no activities pep clubs that provide a uniform, trophy at the end of the season and certificate saying they are, “PEP FANtastic!”   Really, this is no joke and it is not a knock-off of the ABC TV show “The Middle” where daughter Sue is the easy-to-recognize enabled student with no clue how to compete… and she is not taught how by parents or teachers or the church or synagogues, or her horoscope.

So, should schools do the about the same thing in math, history, chemistry, business, accounting and insurance as the athletic club does for its members?   How about a prize for attempting to clean up the oil spill in the gulf or attempting put a man on the moon!  “What?”, you say, “That wouldn’t make sense???!!!”  Of course it doesn’t make sense!  But that’s what is being done in education due to myopicos like Alfie Kohn.  Ya, the one and only who writes as an education ‘expert’ for The Huffington Post blog….

Competition is what is.  It starts with the struggle out of the birth canal. For many it ends with seeing who can live the longest with the most toys, or experiences, or charities, or wives, or single malt Scotches. We learn to eat, to live, to work and to mate and there is a competitive component in every second of it.  Those that don’t compete never learn skills that they can use in life later on to provide for their families, communities and the world.  And then we wonder why we are with competitive academics in the world, or why there are more and more 3rd world foreign-borns in colleges and universities, engineering schools, MBA programs, Ph.D. programs, medical schools, etc.  [No, that is not bigotry; it is that they get it!] The answer is competition.  They are serious about it and we (whoever that means) aren’t serious about it.

Perhaps it is a vestige of our ‘Man-is-superior-to-all-the-rest-of-the-animals; we don’t compete like they do!’ shtick. How’s that workin these days.  Are we winning any competitive wars you’ve noticed?

In fact, we’re frequently going in the opposite direction due to the early years being filled with the ‘help’ being offered from the very beginning.  Businesses from McDonald’s to McDonald-Douglas spend billions every year teaching their employees how to compete at different levels.  University of Phoenix makes a living for a lot of investors in grades for profit involving students companies send them who can’t compete; write, read, organize, manage or lead.  If we were doing such a great job they would be out of business.

Community Colleges have many students that don’t know how to compete.  They haven’t competed up to the point of college and now competing for jobs is almost foreign to them, not because of the jobs, but because they didn’t get the subtle or the explicate competitive approaches or experiences that are learned early on.  The ‘help’ provided is to not let them come into contact with any consequences.

What is ‘entitlement’?  It is what adults do to their children and what students learn that ensures that they do not have to compete to get what they want; they do not have to attend to what works and that they can get the same credit for ‘trying’ as for succeeding.   They say it is for the children but it isn’t; its for them, the parents.

FFPS and similar organization institutionalize the entitlement.  Learning to ride a bike you can get hurt.  Get hurt??? No, we’ll cover you in Velcro pads so if your training wheels don’t protect you and you fall, you’ll not have to connect with any unpleasant consequences.  Bad nightmares; bad marriages, bad jobs, bad DUI???  Shameful; you shouldn’t have to suffer.  We’ll get you in a program where you are given the drug propranolol to eradicate the experience, or dampen the bad history or events.   The louder the communities yell about the child, student, or young adult, the more and more it becomes about everything else but those groups.

For the things valued in life, there is way too many ‘self-referential’ content today and it is working to our dis-service, from families to the halls of Congress.   That being said, for every virtue listed to reduce competitive activities, there is an equal and larger set that most of us see as a product of competition.

For the things valued in life, there is way too many ‘self-referential’ content today and it is working to our dis-service, from families to the halls of Congress.   That being said, for every ‘virtue’ listed to reduce competitive activities, there is an equal and larger set of virtues that are a product of competition.

  • self-composure

  • self-reliance

  • self-control

  • self-assured

  • self-analysis

  • self-abnegation

  • self-development

  • self-evolved

  • self-enriched

  • self-judgment

  • self-mastery

  • self-reflection

  • self-restraint

  • self-trust

Here is just one option provided by the FFPS web site…

FFPS [Fun, Fair, Positive Soccer]

…to provide every youth soccer player with a positive experience. They saw the main problem as parents who put too much pressure on the kids to perform and the programs that emphasized winning as the main focus. They developed a system so the kids could play and enjoy the sport without demands from adults to win or perform. They modified the rules and designed a process of 5 aside rules, equal play with a unique equal substitution system, balanced teams, and parent training to ensure that it would be fair. The parents would behave and be positive so it would be really “Made For Kids”.

We wouldn’t want the kids to actually perform as in ‘do’ something…. Why not just take the nets and goalie away and have the kids run up and down the field….  I know that might look more like baby sitting but then again, no one would have to explain why the other team had more goals than your team did.  Don’t drink the Cool Aide…

Geeze!

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Dan Ariely is a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University and the author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. I recently talked with him about some hidden forces shaping the current financial crisis.

Mac Greer: You have a lot of Americans seeing this as a Wall Street crisis and not so much as a “Main Street” crisis. What do you think it will take for most Americans to reach some sort of a consensus that this crisis really requires immediate action?

Dan Ariely: Well, one thing is we have been telling a lot of people for a long time that whatever they have in the stock market is about long-term strategy and not any short-term things. So the current change in speak, in some sense, doesn’t seem to be very effective. We have been telling people for 20 years the money you have in the stock market is about retirement, it is not about anything urgent. Don’t look at it. It is all about long-term strategy. It is very hard to convince people that all of a sudden that it is short term. That is one thing.

The second thing is that nothing has changed much in the short term living of people. In some sense, this is smaller than the effect of the increasing gas prices.

Greer: Yeah.

Ariely: What is happening? Basically the thing is we are creatures of habit, if you think about it. The best predictor of what we will do tomorrow is what we did today. That is it. Habits are good and bad. They are good because they help us save energy. We don’t have to think about it. We don’t have to contemplate every cup of coffee if it is worth it or not. As a consequence, we get into habits.

Read the full post from Motley Fool.

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Pretty basic stuff going on here.

Some have maligned David A for is “stage kid” approach – meaning parents told him what to do.  Really though, who wouldn’t do the same at this point?  If you had that voice and this situation and only 17 years, wouldn’t you do the same? Of course you would because we all are what we value and what we are reinforced to value.  All that comes about by what we are good at, how our environment reinforces that and the situations opened to us.

David Cook is no different.  His story is just as cliche.  It’s cliche because of schedules of reinforcement.  Bartender music guy working his ass off auditions. Gets a break.  Beats everyone because of his experience (song selection based on schedules of picking the right or wrong song in the bar!).

American Idol has the formula so down.  We all eat this up BECAUSE they tell us to eat it up for 20 weeks.  We already bought the album/track just by watching the show.  Cycles and cyles and schedules and schedules.

I love this show and how it continues to make media folks go, “How can we make this?”

~R

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Summary (PDF of Draft Analysis)

What started for me as a typical “read Slashdot” for a minute has turned into a full blown research project into collaboration. The participation in solving the N-BRAIN Master Software Developer challenge delivered huge amounts of experiential as well as quantitative information regarding social collaboration on software projects.

This is a particularly good research situation because the stakes were reasonably high (potential job interview, Slashdot ego boost, public display of skill), the timeframe condensed, and the entire thing is trackable/auditable.

This blog post is the results of my findings so far (less than 12 hours after the solution to the challenge).

The Set Up

  • Unknown company posts a want ad on craigslist that includes an invitation to solve the challenge for a chance at an interview. Read here for launching point.
  • Full job posting here
  • Slashdot.org community picks it up quick and several developers/technical people set to work. Initially using Slashdot comments to post back and forth
  • The easy clues lead first to a Google Group, bringing together the challengers
  • The community forms of its own accord with no prodding or seeding (that we are aware of)
  • Google groups becomes repository of thoughts, questions, ideas, code samples, files, conversation, drawing board (please see for the final code samples and all that. Very impressive stuff)
  • Google groups tracks all contributions by login (handle), topic (community assigned), and datetime stamp
  • The Challenge urls
  • Background info for the layperson
  • Tools Used in Challenge
    • Programming Languages
      • Perl – character counts/frequencies encoder/decoder
      • Python – character counts/frequencies
      • Java – for encoder/decoder
      • Piet (npiet)
    • Software
      • Photoshop (to count pixels)
      • Npiet (for test analysis)
    • Sites
      • WhoIs.net
      • NetworkSolutions
      • Craigslist
      • SlashDot
      • Google Groups
      • Wikipedia
      • TinyURL
    • Historical Figures and Places and Times
      • Henry Ford
      • Samuel Smiles
      • Charles Buxton Going
      • Boulder
      • Servus
      • Flavian II
      • Turing
      • Van Gogh
    • Processes/Techniques (list from PeterOfOz, contributor)
      • Game playing (recognizing a Tetris like pattern)
      • Javascript, Perl, Python, and Java programming (probably others as well)
      • Knowing how to inspect HTML pages, and includes for javascript and
      • CSS
      • Web research (finding the original Ford passage, Pi lookups, Latintranslations, etc)
      • Lateral thinking and pattern analysis/recognition
      • Cryptographic analysis
      • Graphic formats
      • Numerical sequences (pi)
      • Byte code engines
      • Encoding/decoding engines

Questions

This analysis focuses on several questions:

  • Quantitative
    • How quickly was the problem solved
    • Relative percentages of general contributions to key contributions
    • Distribution of contributions over time and by person
    • Classification of contributions
  • Qualitative
    • Can a group solve things faster than a really talented individual (yes! We squeezed in 400 manhours in 18 real hours)
    • Is there any correlation between quantity and quality (hard to tell. This was a complicated challenge and the solution didn’t need to be anything more than a one off solution.)
    • Are there biases by contributor (80/20 rule, is 80% of the work done by 20% of the people) (yes! But different levels. Breakthroughs supplied by handful of people, grunt research supplied by another group.)
    • What makes a successful collaboration (solving the problem, of course! but doing it with fewer errors, better documentation, on time, on budget.)
    • What didn’t work (redundant work on encoder/decoder, multiple threads going at once, timezone differences without known “schedules” kept folks out of sync at the end… would improving these speed up this solution? improve its quality?)
    • What were some of the group dynamics (more to come on this in later posts… roles people filled…)
    • What schedules of reinforcement were at play (more to come on this… the feedback loop of the group and how code/solutions become reinforcers)
  • What I wish I had access to (Companies if you are reading this, please provide it will be WORTH IT FOR ME TO ANALYZE IN TERMS OF GOODWILL AND PUBLICITY. UPDATE 12/24 morning: N-Brain reached out to collaborate!)
    • Traffic Logs from Google
    • N-Brain (company behind it) assumptions
    • Traffic logs on N-Brain
    • Interviewees Invited
  • Follow Up Analysis (will follow up in January or sooner)
    • Traffic generated to the end site, n-brain.net (can tell in quantcast.com, compete.com, and alexa)
    • Traffic generated to http://wanted-master-software-developers.com/
    • Profiles of the contributors (get resumes/cvs/bios and/or some basic demographics)
    • Success of N Brain Product Release

The Analysis

Key observations

There was almost NO FLAME WARS/NEGATIVE COMMENTS AT ALL

Very little correlation to posting frequency/amount and breakthrough chance (biggest breakthroughs produced/cited by some of the least frequent posters)

Key Facts

Dataset

Over 600+ postings, 300+ real contributions, 25 breakthrus (less than 10% of contributions were breakthrus)

Took 18 hours and 132 people (73 contributors, 59 observers) to solve challenge.

No Slashdot comments were included in this analysis. It should be noted that several key findings appeared there first. The main finding being the google group to launch the real challenge. Many of the key postings on Slashdot were made by persons who migrated to google group, so it should not affect analysis too much.

Workload

Estimation that approximately 19 people put in 10+ hours. Approximately 400 man hours put in, with more than half by 19 people (analysis adjusted for sleeping time and by timing of contribution. E.g. if contributor had to sleep, discount 7 hours)

 

5.65 contributions per person. Max contribution count was 25. Minimum was 1. Most people contributed less than 5 times. It should be noted 3 of the key breakthroughs came from contributors with fewer than 5 contributions.

Peak activity and Peak breakthroughs not correlated

Classification of Workload

(classifications subjective to analyst. Probably could use a second eye)

Most of the contributions were research or clues. A lot of research chased down dead ends or irrelevant facts. Very little banter or small talk. No flames on Group. A few on Slashdot.

Breakdown of contribution classifications by Contributor.

Note: the data has been scrubbed for contributions/postings that weren’t mere banter or blank. (I full admit to likely misclassifying and even misassigning breakthrus and solutions to contributors. Please correct me if I did.)

Note: I considered breakthroughs as contributions that were sub solutions, code implementations that lead somewhere or key insights into clues.

Please SEE PDF FOR TABLE ON CONTRIBUTOR BREAKDOWN
(PDF of Draft Analysis)

Conclusion

N-brain got more than their money’s worth for creating this test. Beyond uncovering great talent, they learned a lot about collaborative development, especially in a wide open problem set.

Open style collaboration is incredibly efficient. We squeezed in 400 manhours into an 18 hour period on a holiday weekend.

There’s room for all types. Almost all contribution behavior that HELPED was quickly reinforced (follow up analysis of feedback loop to follow). Anything that was redherring or slightly counter productive was extinguished almost immediately. We had one instance of information withholding early on that was quickly eliminated and never resurfaced.

Tracking of projects happens quite naturally now with all our web based toolsets. No disruption of creativity or coding occurred and we have a fully analyzable project.

We need to analyze more of these situations to give businesses, organizations and individuals a strategy for existing in this flat global world. More on this later…

What do you conclude?

~Russ

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Man, whew! had a great last 18 hours DORKING OUT.  i’ll admit it.  i just participated in one of the biggest dorkouts ever.  It’s relevant to business, behavior and media because it represents EXACTLY what is so crazy and different about doing business in a connected world.

Sometime around 10am PST this story hits slashdot.org:
http://developers.slashdot.org/developers/07/12/22/1746220.shtml

In this post developers are keyed off to a mysterious job posting for Master Software Developers.  The job posting contains a list of attributes and then a challenge to find out who the company is and what the significance of the date 1/18/2008.

The initial solving the challenge begins in the comment threads on slashdot but quickly migrates to Google Groups as the first piece of the challenge is solved – a URL is uncovered in the posting of the job title based on a base64 encoded string at the bottom of the fake job posting AND a redirect URL to a google group is “encoded” in the main style sheet of the found website.

Those of us first arriving at the google group work quickly to port loose threads on slashdot and get an organized thread/conversation going on the google groups.  We quickly uncover a huge amount of clues that are related to current tasks in the challenge and future tasks.  A few javascript gurus educate and code the group through the first task which is a test driven development of a javascript function.  Some of the rest of us reverse engineer the site uncovering an image which clearly has an encoded message or a useful pattern.  We also uncover an interesting css file that, again, looks as though it has an encoded message.

In fact, it’s quickly realized by the group that this challenge is going to be a long series of encoded messages, each one getting more complicated than the first.

At this point, the group starts showing strengths in different areas.  We find some folks that are well versed in ciphers (encoding messages), some that are quick coders, others with great eyes for clues and patterns and so on.

The first message we uncover is the word “collaborate”.  This was found after decoding a message embedded in the original test page which was only revealed by cleaning up and “indexing” a snippet of text about Henry Ford found from completing the javascript function successfully.  One person posted a great javascript function, several folks indexed the quote, and several other folks found the hidden message.    At this point we were pretty good as a group, but definitely not all working100% together.  Some folks had gotten ahead.

But then bam.  it got hard. real hard.  No one splintered off to go their own way.  the group converged on one thread in the google group and a someone started maintaining summary pages of “What We Know”.  The real work began.

A couple of people set out to decode the hidden message in the CSS file.  I, personally, set to work on the code in the image file.  On suggestions from others I chased down some image analysis that went no where.  Someone solved the css file which lead quickly to get us to the final task, without us yet fully completed the second task.  It was extremely useful though because we got a bigger view of the problem set.  this continued on for sometime…

It got absolutely amazing when everyone collaborated on decoding the image file.  An amazing amount of work went into finding patterns.  People posted a variety of analysis.  finally someone noticed, for the second time!, PI.  Pi was somehow involved in the image and PI had been hinted at earlier.  it was a great tip that lead quickly to uncovering a difficult-ish cipher for our last 2 puzzles.

A few code gurus pounded out a decoder based on that cipher. (that was impressive to me!).

The clues came forth.  Most of the rest of the task was clue hunting, not coding.  it took about 6 man hours to finally put it all together and uncover the final answer.

sometime between 4-6am PST the answer went in to the challenge websites.  SOLVED.

Early in the task speculation bubbled up about possible association with a movie coming out on 1/18/08.  We shirked that speculation early (though it came back up a lot), which proved to be right.

The challenge was put out by a Boulder, CO company, N-BRAINN-BRAIN produces Collaborative Development tools for programmers… go figure!  the answer happened to be the release date of their software.

This was such an unbelievable collaboration.  I was personally engrossed enough to take my laptop and cell phone modem to my child’s gymnastics practice and to make sure I was connected at a holiday dinner via my smart phone.  I put in at 12-14 straight hours myself. and for what?  THE CHALLENGE and the exhilaration of working with other people equally excited.

No doubt N-BRAIN will get some good tech press for their new product.

I suggest picking through the Google Group: http://groups.google.com/group/wanted-master-software-engineers

You’ll get a full view of the story and threads and approach.

There are many interesting learnings here.  The big one for me is… collaboration on challenging problems where the approach can grow organically can be extremely powerful.  i.e. this group had a goal.  the method was not prescribed.  use any language, use any tactic… just go.  The second big thing… how much more quickly did 50-100 people working together solve a difficult problem than one would do on their own.  This problem wasn’t limited to one domain – it involved ciphers, image analysis, pattern recognition, HTML/CSS, basic research, javascript and more.  In other words, you’d have to be EXTREMELY talented in a huge amount of things to really solve this independently this quickly.  Sure, all the knowledge is out there, but as an individual it’s hard to find and absorb it all quickly.

I also learned a ton about ciphers, using eclipse quickly (that java encoder), piet interpreter, samual smiles, henry ford, history of boulder…  really a huge scope of learning for the saturday before christmas!

I owe this story a follow up.  Really, there’s some incredible behavioral analysis possible here and I want to ferret it out.

For now, I must return to the other world of Christmas, family and all that.  this time without a smart phone under the table!

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