veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Ministry of Truth

veryard projects > news > thoughts 2003

November 15th, 2003. This week, a series of strong assertions by British Ministers.
British Health Minister John Reid asserts that sex selection will be permitted only on "compelling medical grounds" more
British Home Secretary David Blunket asserts that biometrics are 100% reliable as a method of identification. more
British Minister for Children Margaret Hodge asserts that a certain individual associated with criticism of her performance in a previous role is "extremely disturbed". This follows the Prince Charles method of News Management. (We may note also that Harry Potter is characterized as "extremely disturbed" by the spin doctors at the Ministry of Magic.) But unlike the prince, Madame Fudge has since apologized. more
These strong assertions can all be seen as exercises in the Politics of Truth. (I'm going to write some more about this soon.)

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Muggle Ontology

veryard projects > news > thoughts 2003

Information Systems folk talk a lot of rubbish about "reality". For example, they sometimes say a system has to contain objects that correspond to the "real world". This whole discourse is sometimes called "ontology".

But many works are meaningful without this. For example, let's consider the Harry Potter books.  The author, J.K. Rowling, has created a fairly consistent world, that is familiar and meaningful to many people. This world has its own ontology - a way of identifying and differentiating things - involving such distinctions as the one between Wizards and Muggles (non-wizards).
Dear reader, do you think this reference to popular culture is merely a cynical attempt to get this page a higher ranking among search engines? But I doubt this would work anyway -- I cannot imagine that there will be many people who search for MUGGLE ONTOLOGY on Google.

It is possible to regard the Harry Potter world as allegorical, and to project the Wizard/Muggle distinction (and other aspects of the Rowling ontology) onto real people. We can then argue about the outcome of this projection.

The Harry Potter world is familiar and meaningful to many people. We can project the distinctions from this world (such as Wizard/Muggle) onto our own world.  if someone says
UK version "I think Tony Blair is a Wizard, and Gordon Brown is a Muggle." "No, Gordon Brown is obviously a Wizard, and a Dark one at that." "But what about Michael Howard then?" etc etc
US version "I think Bill is a Wizard and Hilary is a Muggle." "Bush is obviously a Muggle, but Cheney ..."
"Al Gore was a muggle, that was why he lost. But Dubya is a wizard."

We kindof understand these statements, even if we don't agree with them. They are subjective judgements with a dodgy relationship to the "real world".

But the way business people use information systems is often very much like this. They project the simple distinctions made within the system onto a complex world.
IT version "I think Microsoft is a Business Partner." "No, Microsoft is obviously a Competitor, and a Dark one at that." etc etc

Business information systems are typically intended to allow business people to appreciate and manage what is going on. But the "business objects" to which information systems supposedly refer - such as COMPETITOR, PROJECT, ACCOUNT or BUDGET - may exist only in a strange subjective world of business interpretation and accounting wizardry. 

> some more references to Harry Potter
> Ontology Matters

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Google and God

veryard projects > news > thoughts 2003

Anyone who seriously equates Google and God must be both intellectually and spiritually impoverished.
November 1st, 2003

Is Google omniscient? Only if all the knowledge in the world is accessible via the Internet, and Google provides reliable access to this knowledge. Neither of these conditions is valid.

Google and GooglePlex represent very large finite numbers. There is always a finite number of results from a Google search, and only a fraction of these are factual, meaningful, relevant or valuable. In contrast, God is usually conceived as infinite.

Many improvements to Google have been suggested, and some of these might improve the fact, meaning, relevance and/or value of a search-act. Google becomes a kind of Panopticon, watching the whole world watching the whole world.

> suggested improvements to Google (pdf)

(compiled by Seth Godin and Ramit Sethi)

The suggested improvements are just great for those people who want to ask the same questions as everyone else, and get the same answers. Google rankings already depend on the clicks of previous websurfers, and this dependency will become more sophisticated.  Google will therefore support, with ever-greater efficiency and effectiveness, an intellectual activity characterized by A.A. Milne (author of Winnie-The-Pooh) as "Thinking with the Majority".

Many believers say God is not sitting on a cloud somewhere, God is in ourselves, in our hearts. When Google is equated with God, we are supposed to interpret this equation as referencing not the Google software nor the Google company, but the Internet community as a whole - ourselves as Google users. And perhaps we geeks are supposed to be flattered by this.

But however much of our minds and our lives we publish on the Internet, lots of stuff - perhaps even the most important stuff - cannot be published, cannot be put into HTML and TXT and JPEG.

And the things that are really worth searching for - integrity, wisdom, justice, courage and love - are not simply listed on Google but can only be found through focal practices, and through authentic engagement with other people.

> Albert Borgmann on focal practices

> more on Google

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Google and Longhorn

veryard projects > news > thoughts 2003

How does an act of branding reveal problems with both Google and Microsoft?
October 31st, 2003

Popular commentary suggests that Microsoft's new generation operating system (code-named Longhorn) represents a threat to Google. There are lots of blogs discussing how Google should respond. But there is a deeper issue.
> suggested improvements to Google (pdf)
(compiled by Seth Godin and Ramit Sethi)

If you search for "LONGHORN" on Google you will get loads of references to Microsoft's latest software, at Microsoft and third party websites. You will also find some websites referring to Longhorn cattle and Longhorn sheep, and some of the places they can be found.

We must assume that Microsoft marketing people were aware of these associations, and of the opportunities they provided for some mild humour at Microsoft's expense.  After all, it is standard practice for IT-literate marketing people nowadays to run a proposed brand name or project name through Google, to see what comes up.

But now try putting "LONGHORN BEETLE" into Google. You will now find a load of other websites, referring to various species of a highly destructive pest. I imagine that Microsoft marketing people were not aware of these associations.

Of course, if you had scrolled through pages and pages of Google search, you would have come to the Longhorn beetle eventually. But the point is that most people only look at the first few (or few dozen) pages. If you don't already know about Longhorn beetles, Google will not draw your attention to them.

Anyone who uses search engines regularly is aware of their limitations.  While there are concerns in some quarters about Google's increasing dominance of the Internet search space, this isn't just about Google, since competing search engines may suffer from the same limitations. (While competition is important commercially, it doesn't always give us a genuine choice.)

How did I find out about longhorn beetles then? I looked in an old-fashioned reference book. Not very difficult - but the problem is that using Google (or Internet search engines generally) is so easy that people don't always remember to use other sources as well. Google was okay once I knew more precisely what I might be looking for.

This is one of the pitfalls of using the Internet for serious work. It is not a serious pitfall, as long as people are aware of its limitations, and take sensible precautions. But in its corporate enthusiasm for the Internet, Microsoft is often one of the first organizations to fall into any Internet pitfalls.
Google becoming dangerous when people start to act as if the Internet was the only available source of information, and Google the only way of finding stuff
Microsoft remaning dangerous, Google becoming vulnerable as long as Google represents a source of Internet value as yet untapped by Microsoft
Microsoft remaining vulnerable when its employees themselves get carried away by the wonders of the Internet, and fail to take ordinary precautions.

> more on Google
> more on Microsoft

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Safety and Trust

veryard projects > news > thoughts 2003

What's wrong with Jarvis?  What's wrong with Network Rail?
October 23rd, 2003

Three public events in close succession. The precise connections between these events have not been made public, but we can make some intelligent assumptions.
The UK engineering firm Jarvis pulls out of the rail maintenance business.
Jarvis is accused of falsifying records relating to rail maintenance contracts.
Network Rail announces that all rail maintenance, previously outsourced to several engineering firms including Jarvis, will now be carried out inhouse.
5 year share price chart from
3 month share price chart from

One thing that stands out strongly is the relationship between safety and trust. The safety of the rail network depends (among other things) on our being able to trust in the rail maintenance process, and in those firms engaged in this process.

The allegations against Jarvis lead to a reduction in perceived trustworthiness - not just of Jarvis but of the whole industry. Even if the allegations are unfounded, and even if it is grossly unfair to paint all engineering firms with the same brush, trust has been damaged.

One of the most important lessons from this affair is that safety-critical engineering cannot be regarded as purely a technical matter, but requires attention to commercial / socioeconomic factors and stakeholder issues. 

> more on UK Rail Industry
> safety
> trust

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