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Normalization of Deviance

I’ve found it interesting to think about a posting from Bruce Schneier over the last few days.

He’s musing about the term “Normalization of Deviance.”  This term’s home is in public health, and it’s used to describe a syndrome where the profession knows that certain practices are key to assuring safe outcomes; but where they have a difficult and frustrating time keeping the parties involved on board with those practices.

Bruce is musing about how some large swath of the software industries security failures can be viewed that way.   Clearly in many cases we know what to do, and thus the problem comes down to how difficult and frustrating it is to make that happen.

Some communities of practice (medicine, civil engineering, aviation, …) reside in (mature?) straight jacket of practice.  He kicks off that post with a link to a horrific story of pilots failing to conform to required practice.

Bruce links to this rant,  who’s author is confident that small software startups can, should, ought-to live in that straight jacket too.  That’s a conclusion that is at odds with the buckshot model of startups.  An interesting tension that.

I see I’ve touched on this issue in the past, it’s a fascinating subplot of all this how the straightjacket of regulated practice is analogous to the Overton Window.  The average velocity of the overton window varies widely from one field to another.  There is some sort of relationship between that and safety, but damn if I can say what with the precision I’d like.

Decades ago I had an argument with a young Professor at CMU.  I was right, for various reasons [1, 2] software engineering was not going emerge a “professional engineering” practice in the manner of older engineering fields.   What is clear now is that security issues, like the ones Bruce works on in his day job, are rapidly building out a very similar straightjacket of engineering practice.

Process Shock

I’m very interested in questions of scale, so Ben Adida‘s “Important read” click bait had an easy time getting me to click through to  “Orders of Magnitude“. But, let me save you a click.

FYI – HR is very different at Google with 8! orders of magnitude more employees than it is at a startup.

He actually wrote “Important read! For bigco engineers who join startups, eng processes also are very different at diff scales.”   So he had me twice hooked, I’m thinking a lot about process these days, as one does.

From the employee/HR point of view: moving from one firm to another, like any move, is all about encountering, digesting, introducing new conventions.   The resulting culture shock is always part of the work.  For both sides.  This emotional work is huge.

Management, on the other hand?   Well, their brief includes moving the immovable culture.  The real work of HR is keeping the collective culture shock in some sort of Goldilocks zone.

Be grateful for what blessings your betters have bestowed upon you.

We owe Barbara Enrenrich a debt, for two things: her autobiographical work on the cultures cult like insistence on over the top enthusiastic cheerfulness at all times (see her book Bright-sided).   And for her books about what it’s like to live poor.

Her recent op-ed on the currently popular meme that gratitude it the key to happiness (in the New York Times) brings those together.   I’m embarrassed not to have presumed something I’m reveals:

Perhaps it’s no surprise that gratitude’s rise to self-help celebrity status owes a lot to the conservative-leaning John Templeton Foundation. At the start of this decade, the foundation, which promotes free-market capitalism, gave $5.6 million to Dr. Emmons, the gratitude researcher. It also funded a $3 million initiative called Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude through the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, which co-produced the special that aired on NPR. The foundation does not fund projects to directly improve the lives of poor individuals, but it has spent a great deal, through efforts like these, to improve their attitudes.

One of my joke startup ideas: A chain of bookstores that offer to provide literature in service of any point you wish to make.  These stores would also let you select how you want your point made.   “Ah yes sir, you would like to show that the poor should be more grateful to their betters.  Would you like that in the form of a novel?  Or possibly a anthropological treatise?”  “…”  “Ah yes sir, we can arrange a bespoke social scientist, no problem at all.

The Poor? The pathologist report: it’s chronic, hopeless, and their own damn fault. Might be genetic too.

Steve Randy Waldman has another awesome post, and this case he tackles the mystery of how you can have a reasonably well functioning wealthy liberal democracy at the same time as a huge segment of the population is shockingly poor.  Wealth inequality is a simple answer, but then why doesn’t the democratic process work to fix that?  So you get a “trilema.”  I love triangles.

His names for the three sides of this triangle are: Liberal, Equality, and Nonpathology.  Clearly this idea is going to have trouble getting traction if only because that last one is so odd.  And that’s the key idea.  You can have a functioning liberal democracy along with extreme inequality if you can get everybody to flesh out the bible’s “For you always have the poor with you” sufficiently.  If the majority of the population accepts that the root cause of both is that the poor are afflicted with some pathological flaw – genetic say, or bad maybe bad fashion sense.  This is amusingly covered in the in Westside Story’s “Officer Krupke.”

This technique for suppressing the natural feedback loop you’d expect in a democracy is.  This isn’t just the usual technique of reactionaries to say that it would be futile to try and fix a problem they don’t care much about.

Once you decide that the problem is that the poor are suffering from the disease state – which is only true to the extent that they are poor – you can call in various quacks to prescribe their favorite prescription.  Interview training say.  Or better impulse control.  Or more entrepreneurship risk taking.  Or scolding that they should study harder.  You know: the things that the well off struggle to improve in their own lives.  This is totally a win for the elites because the prescriptions just happen to server their goals.  Tax cuts!

It’s a very good essay, particularly the tail end where he addresses some of the stories elites tell, and the poor often accept, about the pathological behaviors of the poor.

 

Happy Birthday HTTPD

I gather that the Apache HTTPD server project was born in March of 1995, i.e. 20 years old today.  Noting that April 15th when ones taxes are due in the US it 66

My first contribution was 1997, and I was deeply involved in that, and then other questions of open source, standards, etc. etc. for about a decade.

Very interesting years, yup.

I’m surprised that my second posting to the dev list mentions typing injuries.  I thought that happened after I got involved, but apparently it was before.  That change the arc of my life a lot more than HTTPD.

As one of my Internet friends has been known to point out nostalgia is a very dangerous emotion, so I’ll stop there.

 

Things I’m Liking

  • 200 years ago Tambora blew up –> world wide climate emergency.  You can worry about that too.
  • Forcing the unemployed to take jobs as fast as possible has long term negative consequences on GDP because they suck at the jobs they end up taking?
  • Interestingly cheerful take on how capitalism’s long term and intimate relationship with criminals is really a wonderful thing.  Extra points to Bloomberg for having Mr. Cook pen that.
  • Tis ironic that a good place to read up on modern trolling technology is the US propaganda organization Radio Free Europe’s series on the Russian Troll Army.  A serious sociologist should write a book on these techniques – he’s get a lot of buzz and high paid consulting work!

Crime Registry

I’ve occasionally wondered if the sex offender registry might lead to some sort of flocking behavior where those on the registry tend to gather in particular locations.  I’ve even looked for, but not found the heat map showing where they flock too.  Yeah Google, I thought you were all seeing?

Similarly I’ve wondered if we will seem other scarlet letter offender registries?

So it is with much delight that I learn that Utah is close to creating a registry for white collar criminals.  Apparently Utah has a lot of affinity fraud.

Gosh if they set one of these up in New York state I can visualize the what the heat map of Manhattan would look like.

High-Involvement Style

I’m currently enjoying Deborah Tannen’s book on Conversational Style.  Here is her summary of that might be called New Yorker style.  Sometime’s it’s called fast talking,   People unpracticed in this style often find in exausting or obnoxious.   She calls it “HIgh-Involvement Style.”

1. Topic

  • (a) prefer personal topics,
  • (b) shift topics abruptly,
  • (c) introduce topics without hesitance,
  • (d) persistence (if a new topic is not picked up by others, reintroduce it. Data show persistence up to a maximum of seven tries).

2. Genre

  • (a) tell more stories,
  • (b) tell stories in rounds, in which (i) internal evaluation (Labov, 1972) is preferred over external (i.e., demonstrate the point of the story rather than lexicaling it), (ii) omit abstract (Labov, 1972) (i.e. plunge right in without introduction; cohesion is established by juxtaposition and theme);
  • (c) preferred point of a story is the emotional experience of the teller.

3. Pace

  • (a) faster rate of speech
  • (b) pauses avoided (silence has a negative value; it is taken as evidence of lack of rapport-Tannen, 1984);
  • (c) faster rate of turn taking,
  • (d) cooperative overlap (the notion of back-channel responses [Duncan 1974] is extended to include lengthy questions and echoes, resulting from a process of participatory listenership).

4. Expressive paralinguistics

  • (a) expressive phonology,
  • (b) pitch and amplitude shifts,
  • (c) marked voice quality,
  • (d) strategic pauses

Lightning

I’m a bit of crank about the right answer to the question: “What has improved the quality of life the most for humans?”  Since pretty clearly the answer is Public Health.

Here’s a nice example of one of the many stories of that kind:  A Striking Change in Lightning Deaths.

I wonder if there is an estimate of how many lives the slogan: “”when thunder roars, go indoors” saved?

Listeners on Private Ports – race condition edition

Ha!  I have here a service X that is listens for it’s clients on private port N.  It failed to start because another activity Z was using N.  Looking at the state of things it’s clear that Z got N randomly assigned when it established a connection to a service on another machine.

This is the kind of bug you discover only if you get a short debug loop around what is typically a rare activity – rebooting the server in this case.  Gosh the chances of this happening are small.

I have been parking my private listeners in the private port range (49152 to 65535) for almost 40 years.  Maybe, I need to stop doing that.  Or at least assure that all listeners get started before any other activities start using the net – yeah right.

But now I’m confused.  I see that there is a concept of “ephemeral ports,” but the Wikipedia article leaves one with the impression that in practice you don’t know what range they are being drawn from.

So now I’m a bit confused what best practice might be.  Advocates of resource discovery score a few more points?