Category Archives: group membranes

stand up an instance

The phrase “stand up an instance” crossed my awareness the other day.  Here’s an example usage “I could really use some guidance / hand-holding to figure out how to stand up an instance of SureStep Online on top of a SharePoint repository.”

Phrase like this are markers.  They tell us what group a person is a member of.  Or, trying to be. Or, where he’s coming from.  This article at Slate had sensitized me to that.

The Slate author talks about fingerprint words.  We all tend to pick unusual words and turns of phrase. They spread like fads thru our networks.  Micro information cascades.

“…I went home after work and asked my wife if there were any weird, fingerprint-type words I used often.

“You mean like iteration?” she said, without the slightest pause. Then the floodgates opened. “You also say tangential all the time. Oh, antiquated, too! And you’re always talking about the extent to which someone did this or that.”

“Stand up an instance?”  Where did that one come from?   We have stand up desks, stand up comedians, stand up guys, standing up for someone/something, stand up to the boss, and the list goes on.

It took me a surprisingly long time to track down what metaphor “stand up an instance” is referencing.  I wasted some time thinking it might be a sports term.  Cricket maybe?

It’s from military.  Here a example picked at random from Google books: “Needless to say, the 9th Engineer Battalion was ordered to stand-down on 19 July, 1970 for preparation to redeploy to Camp Pendleton as part of President Nixon’s Phase IV redeployment schedule.”   Examples of stand up are harder to find since military writing is full of standing up against various opponents, or in trenches.  But here’s one: “With a staff of fewer than fifty personnel in late 2003, CMATT had to stand up the Iraqi armed forces with completely inadequate resources.”

I find myself thinking this is part of the swing back toward the data center( see this 2005).  Big planning is back, I guess.

And now for our regularly scheduled clickbait:

  • Good essay about cloud service security, using Apple as a counter example.
  • Unbelievable good essay about how sometimes there appears on the boundary of the evolutionary niche your living inside of a trap and it swallows your entire species.
  • Somebody must have enjoyed making this collection of gifs suitable for many occasions, but I couldn’t find one for the reaction we all have to clickbait.
  • Most hated industry.


Precarious: freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose

I am watching with great interest the emerging backlash to open systems and sharing economies and I support it.  It’s going to be subtle to assemble a workable framework for this backlash.  Like fire or light or honesty the open/sharing movement has so much good to say for it.  A potent populist appeal is always nice, and it has that too.  But this is not working out well.

 the ‘sharing economy’ has shown itself to be overwhelmingly an anti-regulatory, precariat-creating way of monetizing social interactions. The term has been so exploited by some of the most vile, greedy technolibertarians around that it is time for me to write off more than a decade’s work.

Amen brother.

Piketty #4: Escape from Groupthink

The important point is mainstream economics has difficulty acknowledging work from such sources because to acknowledge is to legitimize. That creates the strange situation in economics whereby something is not thought or known until the right person says it.”

Isn’t that true in any tribe?  It’s not obvious to me how to distinguish, on a day to day basis, when it’s a bad or a good thing.  Though, the list drawn from Group Think isn’t a bad start.

Thomas Palley is suggesting that the economics profession is undergoing a kind of phase change.  That it is comes to grips with the realization that it’s been making many of the mistakes enumerated on that list: Illusion of invulnerability, collective efforts to rationalize, absence of questioning, belief in the the group’s inherent morality, stereotyped views of enemy leaders, direct pressure on any member …, self-censorship, illusion of unanimity, and self-appointed mindguards.

I’m surprised that I’m not aware of any literature, say a cookbook, on how groups escape from the group think.  It’s almost the definition of a group is that it exists to maintain focus; and so the best it can do is drift toward a different focus.  Of course the MBA solution to this problem is leaders, layoffs, reorganizations, and manipulation of incentives – all of which are crude.  And the high-tech version of this is particularly brutal – we let the old firms wither and create new firms from scratch.

I have observed situations where a group slowly loses it’s grip on the consensus delusion.  It only keeps going thru the motions.  The self censorship and mind guards continue to do their work, but it becomes more and more half hearted.  In that context when the layoffs come the level of outrage is tempered.  The group members are then envious of those who jumped ship before the boat’s leaks became so apparent.

Deceptive Status Signals

This essay on deceptive status signals (aka DSS) is delightful for the
collection of tricks people use to look higher status than they really

  • Pulled over for using a cell phone, but it turns out to be a toy.
  • Filling your grocery cart with high-priced goods, and then abandoning it.
  • Driving with the windows closed, signalling that you have air condition.
  • Shirts with no backs.
  • Expired credit cards
  • Packaging for luxury goods
  • Carrying Fast Food packaging
  • Wearing just the cap of a pen in your pocket
  • TV antenna, but no TV
  • Using infant formula
  • Houses with brick fronts, but otherwise made of mud.

If your into it the jargon in this essay is fun. “A related
DSS strategy is the display of a cheap item that is complementary to a
prestigious consumer good.” helps explains the TV antenna, luxury good packaging, …

So, I wonder: could I hack the stream of Ads
appearing in my browser to create a deceptive status signal.

Group forming: flocks of selfies


People do love to signal their membership in the groups they are enthusiastic about.  Here a tumbler where farmers can post their selfies.  Presumably this will trigger some “entrepreneur” into creating a site for “selfie of class” collections which he will then sell for a billion dollars to linked-in, google+ or whatever.

fyi – please don’t confuse selfies with avatar 🙂

Selling out your Friends

Robert Shiller: “It’s not the financial crisis per se, but the most important problem we are facing now, today, I think, is rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere in the world.”  And he won a Nobel Prize.

I have a theory about this problem.  Think of the set of all the world’s supply chains as a network.  I think we need to grow this graph so it’s a lot more bushy at the low-end.  Shrubbery!   I guess this theory shares a lot with Bill McKibbon’s ideas in Deep Economy; or the Prahalad’s ideas in Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.

‘I don’t keer w’at you do wid me, Brer Fox,’ sezee, ‘so you don’t fling me in dat brier-patch. Roas’ me, Brer Fox,’ sezee, ‘but don’t fling me in dat brier-patch,’ …

I continue to harbor great optimism about the Internet,  It can help us with this.  The Internet has an amazing power to enable communities of common interest to form.  These communities are great of shubbery.  Precursors of commerce?  Maybe.

But, it’s worth chewing on the ideas in “how to lose friends and family via mult-level marketing” a posting that Andrew highlights.  Andrew introduces the idea that MLM schemes provide a way for people to liquidate (e.g. convert to cash) their social networks.  Liquidate is what you get when your done the monetizing a social network.  Lots of people are into that.  Monetize – what a word!  What can’t we monetize, my cat?

So while I love the Internet’s power as a host of community forming I must say I’m taken aback by how rapidly capitalism has evolved businesses models that feed on these tender shrubs.

Ironically my social network got infected by one of these parasites just today.   A friend signed up for Venmo, a p2p payment company, and they posted this exciting fact to Facebook on his behalf.  I admit to an unhealthy curiosity about these emerging currency systems.  For example, I think Bluebird is very interesting.  So I went and signed up for Venmo and installed the app.  A few moments later I was distressed to discover it was scanning the entire address book on my phone, maybe a few thousand entries.  If you want to use thier payment network you have to hand over your contacts.  No way to void it.  So I uninstalled, etc.  Who knows if that helped?

I totally get that building out “the network” is an existential issue for companies like Venmo.  Desperate need is an excuse in a starving man, is it an excuse for a start up?  Not that you need to worry about Venmo.  Venmo got bought, and the buyer then got bought by Paypal.  So they captured and sold a network.  That this is what most internet startups need to do worries me.

Returning to shrubbery as a tool to work inequality problem.  No doubt there are many much more ethical ways to convert the small communities into engines of economic activity.  It would be great to have a list.  No doubt looking at MLM business models would inform that search.

Post it all let the cloud sort it out

I am bemused that I can’t figure out how to use Google circles.

I can’t quite figure out what’s what with the social gesture they call “share.” I think, they call it “post” as well.

Out in the real world if I share something with a mailing list or one or more email correspondents the gesture presumes that they will be interested. Hopefully they will be grateful. If they aren’t grateful, one hopes they will give a moment to the question – why did he share this? Sharing isn’t a gift. It has aspects of reciprocity, power, and selfishness embedded in it. At this point I’m reminded of the sarcastic cliche “thanks for sharing.”

All of this is entangled in the nature of the relationship you have with the audience.

When I post in my blog, or on twitter, or (rarely) on Facebook the nature of the gesture is entirely different than sending an email because I do not pick the audience. My audience has volunteered to listen to my mumblings. In this case the sharing moves closer to being a gift. I write and you all can pick and choose as you please. I don’t expect much. I don’t expect you to read. I don’t expect you to respond.

Newly minted blog authors often get this wrong, having started a blog they are harboring those expectations. They assume their subscribers have some responsibility to interact with them. And then, they are disappointed. If they continue in the practice they learn to let go of those presumptions. Subscribers get it wrong too. I have a friend with a blog and she has a few subscribers who respond to every posting. It hadn’t occurred to me until now that they maybe be confused about the nature of the relationship.

This helps to explain why I seem to cringe when people use the word “conversation” in the context of blogging etc. al. There are norms in conversation. For example, it is impolite to ignore your partner in a conversation. In blogging, twittering, etc. the norm is to ignore.

So back to Google+ circles. I have moved small portion of my contacts into the system and dutifully tagged them into appropriate circles. And now I have no idea which people to send the typical random update. Because the act of tagging a post with an audience instantly creates, for me, responsibilities.

Take for example a perfectly reasonable Twitter update like: “Cat is staking the gold finch outside the window and they both know it. #animalsatplay” In Google+ I am required to sort out which of my circles to send that update too. And honestly the answer turns out to be none!

Making such decisions is exhausting. I have to consider each individual. I can reduce this cost by deciding to write status updates targeted to a particular circle. This isn’t going to work.

What twitter, and facebook have in common is how minimally burdened with social entanglements posting is. Which is good for their owners; lowering the barrier to contributions is good. Blogging is very similar to those, except in so far as the blogger decides to target an audience and thus takes on responsibilities to that audience. IM, email, mailing lists, and forums are totally not like this. Since, with each interaction, you target a particular audience you own the responsibility to stay on topic and obey the whole suite of social norms implied by that.

So far Google+ and it’s circles feels like it’s in the 2nd camp.

This maybe a classic and fascinating case of the oft observed disconnect between what users say they want and what users actually do.

The Game

Living as I have for decades right off the information super highway I was already aware of the seedy underworld of pick up artists. Or, if your the kind of geek who likes a mnemonic: PUAs.

Some commodities suffer from an imbalance, high demand and low quality of supply.  The skill of how to get the girl is one, as are cures for cancer, weight loss programs,  or how to close a sale.  There is a kind of evolutionary arguement to be made that in all these cases if a high quality solution were to emerge the other side would come under  powerful evolutionary pressure to discover a counter measure.  One reason the hucksters thrive in these markets by virtue of the plausable premise that it just might  be some secret high quality trick to it.  Cancer?  Positive attitutde.  Weight loss?  Bacon!  Close a sale?  “Would you like it in blue or grey?”  Get the girl? Demonstrate value and  play hard to get.  Humans are a mess, the ultimate rube goldberg device, so these all work.  Sometimes.

You could write a book like Neil Strauss’s The Game about any one of these markets the exhibit high demand and an unlimited supply of low quality goods.  And in each case you’d get the same assortment of characters; the desperate, the needy, the clueless, the hucksters, and the occational guys with talent.  You’d also get that delightful pattern, common on the internet, of groups of common cause forming. Random samples of people who share the problem at hand who gather and toss about ideas about what works and what doesn’t work.

The nature of such groups can cut across a wide spectrum from cheerful good fun, thru wholesome, into vile, and unto distructive cultism.  In the venn diagram of what kind of book The Game is one bubble should be about the transition of one such community thru all those stages.  At the beginning we have a bunch of dweebish shy disfunctional guys who are teaching each other to take a bath, wear snappier cloths, how to approach a stranger, how to make small talk, how to avoid wearing out your welcome.  At the end we have power hungry entrepeurs pulling down vast sums of money to teach this demographic the skill of being assholes (see photo of author and his teacher) and how best to apply their new found skills – approach women in quantity.

The venn diagram of what kind of book this is would include quite a few more bubbles.

This is certainly a book about cults.  And I might add it to the small pile of my favorites.  It’s a rare example of a “I was a cult victum” narrative where the author is not entirely angry, alienated, and damaged at the end.  That said I suspect there is more of that then he is letting on.

This is certainly travel narrative of that fun kind: fool goes to strange and exotic foreign land where he behaves like an idiot and makes a long series of very bad choices.  As readers we get a continual perverse frisson from that.  We regularly roll our eyes, gasp in disbelief, and take comfort in the fact we wouldn’t be such a bozo.  By way of example at one point he, as instructed, picks up a set of thick acupuncture needles and shows up at he dissheveled home of an amazingly  dysfunctional  celebraty where she alternately sticks him and runs out for junk food.  And that’s only an example!

It is also a fine example of the classic story of hero leaves home, has adventures, return home wiser.  But oh our hero is flawed, which makes us sad.

It is also a comedy, we know because it ends romantically.  But then is is also a tragedy, since many people die – well they don’t necessarilly die but there is a souless cult leader with his nest of scary of zombies left unresolved at the end.

It has that nerd, fantasy fiction, geeky element where in you learn a secret language.  Not Kilingon.  I was reminded of that fun book Edge City where you can learn bits of the secret language of Real Estate developers.  For example here we learn the term “Chick Crack,” i.e. those little personality surveys found at the back of women’s magazines.  There are plenty more.

I recomend this book for all that.  Who doesn’t like a book about men behaving badly.  It’s expensive, but if you get it from your local library you get a kind of director’s edition.  Since at least one sad sweet shy dweeb will have selectively underlined portions in the hope of treating his problem.

(I have a bad feeling this post is going to attract a lot of spam.)

Singing in Unison

I’ve not written about group forming for a while, but this paper about the power of synchronized behaviors in improving group cohesion is sweet.  One of the authors is Chip Health, the author of that nice little book about how to teach so the knowledge is sticky.   They show that marching, moving or singing in synch all lead to measurable increases group solidarity.  Sort of like one of those companies where everybody gets together in the morning to sing the company song and do some calisthenics.  I wonder what the online version of this might look like? …

15 years

1920-wj1-old-&-youngI was skimming this long long post about the demographics and institutional affiliations of the community of climate skeptics, and deep in the body is this fascinating bit.

UPDATE (December 19, 2009): Peter Staats, in the comments, suggested that belief in anthropogenic global warming is entrenched among scientists and will disappear as the older generation dies (citing Planck, whose point is also made in Thomas Kuhn’s  Structure of Scientific Revolutions). I responded that I thought he has it backwards–that AGW has become more and more supported, and the holdouts tend to be older, as some of the data about the anti-AGW organizations above already suggested. So I tested our respective hypotheses against Jim Prall’s data, for IPCC WG1 scientists vs. the signatories of the AGW-skeptical documents. I looked at the average year of the last academic degree awarded, first for those with citation counts for their fourth-most-cited paper >= 200, then, since that was such a small sample for the climate skeptics, for citation counts >= 100, and then for all the 623 IPCC WG1 scientists vs. the 469 signatories of AGW-skeptical documents. Here are the results:

Citation counts of 4th-most-cited >= 200:
IPCC WG1: N=83, 12 w/o year, N=71, average year of last degree = 1981
Skeptics: N=13, 4 w/o year, N=9, average year of last degree = 1965

Citations counts of 4th-most-cited >=100:
IPCC WG1: N=201, 51 w/o year, N=150, average year of last degree = 1983
Skeptics: N=38, 15 w/o year, N=23, average year of last degree = 1968

All IPCC WG1 vs. AGW-skeptical document signers:
IPCC WG1: N=623, 208 w/o year, N=415, average year of last degree = 1989
Skeptics: N=469, 346 w/o year, N=123, average year of last degree = 1973

In short, the skeptics are 15 years older than their opponents.

My mind is settled on this whole climate issue.  But, it would be fun to have a list of other conflicts with a strong generational component.  For example, I think I’ve written about how I think Microsoft is caught on the old side of the swing back to data center computing and it’s associate control of the customer and distribution channels.  I suspect there is one in the Business schools around platform based business architectures.

In a somewhat related bit, I’m subscribed to various pages at wikipedia.  Apparently there is some kind of lower life form that draws satisfaction from swooping into pages and adding “citation needed” after the first period, and so naturally there are mechanisms that chase after this to remove them.  This silly activity happened on one page I was watching the first sentence read “Given two similar rewards humans show a preference for one that arrives sooner rather than later.”

And so, I was delighted to stumble upon a possible citation for that.  Via Crooked Timber, quoting Richard Tol and his co-authors:

Estimates of utility discount rates for individuals are almost always positive – an estimate of 1.5% is considered plausible for the UK for instance (HMTreasury, 2003) – for the simple reason that humans prefer good things to come earlier rather than later. Given the inevitability of death for individuals, a preference for benefits to accrue earlier rather than later is entirely sensible.

John Quiggin adds:

We can sharpen this up a bit by observing that the average annual mortality probability for adults is around 1.5 per cent, suggesting that this factor alone is sufficient to explain positive time preference.

That whole post is thought provoking but what has been stewing in my head since reading it is how immortals might manifest a very different discount rate than we mortals do.  The planet, society, nations, and many corporations act as if they are immortal.    This leads to a pervasive mismatch in the discount rate between an group and it’s members.  That’s the tension of the prisoner’s dilemma, the gang would prefer that the game continue.