Beautiful Virus, Huh?

So this is an image of the Tobacco Mosaic Virus.


Yeah, I never heard of it either. 


It is a virus that attacks and destroys tobacco and other plants. 


Viruses are ugly and evil in that they hurt and kill other living things


Yet in looking at this molecular image, I seriously hate to say it, but it is also beautiful in a way. 


The shape, color, complexity–the design and wisdom embedded in it–what can I say, but even this too is a miracle. 


Sure, it would be better in a mortal sense if there were no viruses to make us suffer and literally eat away at us. 


Yet, surely G-d has a plan even for these nasty virus molecules.  


Do they help us gain immunity to even worse diseases?


Do they help us to use ingenuity to discover, fight, and evolve to withstand their attacks and progress our society in larger ways?


Do they help us learn however horribly to turn to G-d, strengthen ourselves, and somehow try to cope with suffering and loss in life and death.


All sickness is unbelievably horrible and the suffering it causes is truly impossible to understand, and G-d should please, please have mercy on us. 


Yet, looking at this molecular image of even this virus, there is something comforting in the supreme intelligent design and creation of it all.  😉


(Source Andy’s photo of image by Visual Molecular Dynamics)

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Computer Sentiment 1984

So I found this book in an IT colleague’s office. 


It’s called: “The Unofficial I Hate Computer Book”.


It was written in 1984, and like the George Orwell’s book by that name, it is a dystopian view of technology. 


The back cover says:

Computer haters of the world unite: It’s time to recognize and avenge the wonderful advances we’ve made thanks to computers–excessive eyestrain and headaches, irritating beeping noises, a one-ton printout where once there was a six-page report, a “simple” programming language you can’t understand without five handbooks, a dictionary, and a math degree.

The book goes on with illustration after illustration of unadulterated computer hate and associated violence. 


– Dogs dumping on it (see cover)

– Contests to smash it with a hammer

– Hara-kiri (suicide with a knife) into it

– Skeet shooting computers that are flung into the air

– Shotput with a computer

– Tanks rolling over them

– Sinking it in water with a heavy anvil

– Boxer practicing his punches on it

– Setting it ablaze with gasoline

– And on and on, page after hate-filled page.


So in the last 34-years, have we solved all the annoyances and complexity with computers and automation?  


Do the benefits of technology outway the costs and risks across-the-board?


How do security and privacy play in the equation? 


I wonder what the authors and readers back then would think of computers, tablets, smartphones and the Internet and apps nowadays–especially where we can’t live without them at all.  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Most Important Word Is AND

coexist-jpeg

So as divisiveness continues to plague us. the option for acceptance, love, and coexistence is falling out of the favor and by the wayside. 

Division and conflict has been accentuated by the ugliness of the most recent election and representative political divide, economic and gender inequality, inner city violence, racial and religious tensions, worldwide terrorism, and global conflict from Syria to the South China Sea. 

This has even infiltrated the functioning of our government, social institutions, and free media big time, where vetting, negotiation and compromise, critical thinking, and fair, balanced, and investigative journalism have been largely jettisoned. 

There is no place anymore to go hide from bias, bigotry, and hate. 

But as the wise proverb goes things truly are not just black and white, but there are loads of grey everywhere

Many people are not good or evil, left or right, blessed or cursed.

Instead, most people are a mixture of this AND that. 

How much of the complex mix of different elements is what makes up the integrity and life of the individual, group, and organization we are dealing with.

But what’s important is that you really can’t just stereotype people, ideas, or actions as simply good or bad because in reality, they aren’t.  

Each person and position has elements of good and bad in them…nothing and nobody in life is perfect. 

You take the good and the bad in everything from relationships to policy decisions. 

So it is certainly possible and even probable to be conflicted and confused about what we see and hear–and not only because of the bias and prejudice in how it is presented or portrayed, but rather because things are not just simple, one or the other propositions, but rather a combination of things we approve of and disapprove of. 

Our brains can have lots of trouble dealing with this complexity, because we are wired in terms of survival of the fittest, and that often means choosing a action based on split-second categorizing of people and things as friend or foe. 

As the mere shadow of the person or idea is upon us, we are asked to respond–do we run or fight it or do we lovingly embrace it as it overtakes us. 

Choose wrong and you can be badly hurt or even dead. 

But we are forced to make these quick and bold choices without always having the luxury of time, the patience, or wherewithal to stop and recognize that things and people are a combination of things we like and agree with and others that we dislike and vehemently oppose. 

If we could just keep in mind that most things are not just good or bad, right or wrong, but good AND bad, right AND wrong, then we can make more astute and fine-tuned designations of what we think something really is and isn’t and how to handle it, live with it, and faithfully coexist with it. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Does Every Problem Have A Solution?

Hands

So someone said something interesting to me yesterday.


They were going off about this and that problem in the world. 


Then seemingly exasperated by the current and desperate state of affairs, they go “You know what? Not every problem has a solution.”


And that really took me aback.


As a student and then a professional, I have always prided myself on looking for a solution to every problem. 


Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t, but I was always taught to try!


Now someone says to me this earth-shattering news that maybe there is not a good solution out there for every catastrophic problem.


So this got me thinking…


Maybe some problems are just too big or too complex for our mortal minds to even understand or our supercomputers to really solve. 


Or perhaps sometimes things have gone too far or are too far gone, and we can’t always easily just turn back the clock.


Are there some things that we can’t really make right what we did so wrong for so long, despite the best intentions now. 


And in life are some things just a catch-22 or a zero-sum game–where every way forward is another dead end or it has consequences which are too painful or otherwise unacceptable. 


This sort of reminds me of the sick brutal Nazi in the Holocaust who took a women with two beautiful young children to the side and said, “Choose!”


“Choose what?” she innocently replies.


And the sadistic Nazi pulling out his gun says, “Choose which of your children will live and which will die, you have 30 seconds or I kill them both!”


Indeed, some problems have no good solution as hard as that is for me to hear or accept.  


All we can do is our best, and even when we can’t satisfactorily solve those completely vexing problems to us (because some things are not in the realm of the possible for mere mortals), we have to continue to go forward in life because there really is no going back. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Healthcare.gov – Yes, Yes, and Yes

Yes, Yes, and Yes

Healthcare.gov was rolled out on October 1.

Since then there has been lots of bashing of the site and fingerpointing betweeen government overseers and contractors executing it.

Some have called for improvements down the line through further reform of government IT.

Others have called for retribution by asking for the resignation of the HHS Secretary Sebelius.

Publication after publication has pointed blame at everything from/to:

– A labyrinth government procurement process

– Not regularly using IT best practices like shared services, open source, cloud computing, and more

– An extremely large and complex system rollout with changing requirements

And the answer is yes, yes, and yes.

Government procurement is complex and a highly legislated functional area where government program managers are guided to hiring small, disadvantaged, or “best value” contract support through an often drawn-out process meant to invoke fairness and opportunity, while the private sector can hire the gold standard of who and what they want, when they want, period.

Government IT is really a partnership of public and private sector folks that I would image numbers well in the hundreds of thousands and includes brand name companies from the esteemed defense and aerospace industries to small innovators and entrepreneurs as well as a significant number of savvy government IT personnel. Having worked in both public and private sector, I can tell you this is true–and that the notion of the government worker with the feet up and snoozing is far from the masses of truth of hardworking people, who care about their important mission serving the public. That being said, best practices in IT and elsewhere are evolving and government is not always the quickest to adopt these. Typically, it is not bleeding edge when it comes to safety and security of the public, but more like followers–sometimes fast, but more often with some kicking and screaming as there is seemingly near-constant change, particularly with swirling political winds and shifting landscapes, agendas, lobbyists, and stakeholders wanting everything and the opposite.

Government rollout for Healthcare.gov was obviously large and complex–it “involves 47 different statutory provisions and extensive coordination,” and impacted systems from numerous federal agencies as well as 36 state governments using the services. While rollouts from private sector companies can also be significant and even global, there is often a surgical focus that goes on to get the job done. In other words, companies choose to be in one or another business (or multiple businesses) as they want or to spin off or otherwise dislodge from businesses they no longer deem profitable or strategic. In the government, we frequently add new mission requirements (such as the provision of universal healthcare in this case), but hardly ever take away or scale back on services. People want more from the government (entitlements, R&D, secure borders, national security, safe food and water, emergency response, and more), even if they may not want to pay for it and seek the proverbial “smaller government” through less interference and regulation.

Is government IT a walk in the park, believe me after having been in both the public and private sectors that it is not–and the bashing of “cushy,” federal jobs is a misnomer in so many ways. Are there people that take advantage of a “good, secure, government job” with benefits–of course there are some, but I think those in the private sector can look in the offices and cubes next to them and find quite a number of their colleagues that would fit that type of stereotype as well.

We can learn a lot from the private sector in terms of best practices, and it is great when people rotate from the private sector to government and vice versa to cross-pollinate ideas, processes, and practices, but the two sectors are quite different in mission, (often size and complexity), constituents, politics, and law–and not everything is a slam dunk from one to the other. However, there are very smart and competent people as well as those who can do better in both–and you fool yourself perhaps in your elitism if you think this is not the case.

Are mistakes made in government IT–definitely yes. Should there be accountability to go with the responsibility–absolutely yes. Will we learn from our mistakes and do better in the future–the answer must be yes. 😉

Talebearing and Other Trivialities

Talebearing and Other Trivialities

What do you really care about?

Your family (and close friends)–health and wellbeing, your finances, your job, your soul…

If you’re a little more social and aware, perhaps you care about the environment, the dangers of WMD, human rights, our national debt, and more.

Yet as Rebecca Greenfield points out in The Atlantic (5 Sept 2013) “the dumbest topics [on the Internet] get the most attention.” She uses the example of all the chatter about Yahoo’s new logo, which mind you, looks awfully a lot like their old logo.

The reason she says people focus on so much b.s. on the web–or derivatively at work or in social gatherings–is that it’s sort of the lowest common denominator that people can get their minds around that get talked about.

Like in the “old country,” when gossipers and talebearers where scorned, but also widely listened to, there has always been an issue with people making noise about silly, mindless, and mind-your-own-business topics.

Remember the Jerry Springer show–and so many other daytime TV talk shows–and now the reality shows like the Kardashians, where who is sleeping with whom, how often, and what their latest emotional and mental problems are with themselves and each other make for great interest, fanfare, and discussion.

Greenfield points out Parkinsons’s Law of Triviality (I actually take offense at the name given that Parkinson’s is also a very serious and horrible disease and it makes it sounds as if the disease is trivial), but this principle is that “the amount of discussion is inversely proportional to the complexity of a topic.” (Source: Producing Open Source Software, p. 91)

Hence, even in technical fields like software development, “soft topics” where everyone has an opinion, can invoke almost endless discussion and debate, while more technical topics can be more readily resolved by the limited number of subject matter experts.

This principle of triviality is also called a bikeshed event, which I had heard of before, but honestly didn’t really know what it was. Apparently, it’s another way of saying that people get wrapped around the pole with trivialities like what color to paint a bikeshed, but often can’t hold more meaningful debates about how to solve the national debt or get rid of Al Qaeda.

We may care about ourselves and significant others first, but most of us do also care about the bigger picture problems.

Not everyone may feel they can solve them, but usually I find they at least have an opinion.

The question is how we focus attention and progress people’s discussion from the selfish and lame to the greater good and potentially earth-shattering.

I recently had a conversation with my wife about some social media sites where the discussion posts seem to have hit new rock bottom, but people still seem to go on there to either have their say or get some attention.

I say elevate the discussion or change sites, we can’t afford to worry about Yahoo’s logo and the Kardashians’ every coming and going–except as a social diversion, to get a good laugh, or for some needed downtime dealing with all the heavy stuff. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Simple Stick Figures Showing Complex Feelings

I came across these funny YouTube videos (beware though a little racy) with millions of views.

They are done using stick figures (or the more provocative term the creators use).

The focus is on 2 friends–“Red” and “Blue” and their interactions with other varied colored figures.

I think the stick figures are a brilliant way to tell about them and their exploits, so that you focus on their inner characters and their message and not on their superficial body looks.

Also, the notion of “color” for the different people is one hand a easy way to differentiate them, but also seems to have implications for the varied cultures and colors of people throughout the world.

Apparently, there is a YouTube Channel with a whole series of these 2 minute + skits, and now I understand that this stick figure theme is being made into a full length movie.

What I like about these is the simplicity of using these colorful stick figure characters to show life’s ups and downs, relationships, and feelings in a very direct straightforward (and also raw) way.

Sort of like seeing and experiencing the complexities of life boiled down in simple and unfiltered way.

While 2 minutes is entertaining, I think 2 hours of this “in your face” would have me wanting to throw these sticks in a great big bon fire, yep. 😉