Tech drains English of meaning

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Alien ‘word’. Actually explaining the three kinds of quotes and Linux sensitivity. by Ezra S F

Semantic Drain and the Meaninglessness of Modern Work makes an interesting point that a problem with knowledge management work is that much of is filler work without a fulfilling purpose. I was far more stressed as the university webmaster than as a database administrator. The webmaster job was highly subjective with people getting upset about the tiniest of minutia that almost no one would notice. “Move this 5 pixels to the left.” “The color in the logo is FF0202 when it should be FF0303.”

Semantic drain in this context is about the pervasiveness of jargon and how it is inventing new insider terminology for concepts that already exist. I really liked the discussion about “content” for the author became to to mean text one-way communication that has no value. It is less than journalism. A content specialist is someone who creates useless drivel.

It goes on to talk about the difficulty in seeing the end product of knowledge work. One of the things I like about working in database and application administration is having a better sense about how what I do affects others. Living in a college town and running a computer system college students use, I ran into people all the time who were impacted by my work. True, it is a lot more abstract than a plumber, but it is no more abstract than a widget maker. I should visit the Georgia Archives more so that I can better relate and understand the meaning of my work with their systems.

Superiority of visual notifications

razer white and black corded headphones
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A sound is a terrible way to get my attention. I mostly live in some kind of background noise. So, there is a strong possibility that I will miss a notification through listening to music or podcasts.

Worse, even if I do hear it, I have no clue what weird thing is trying to get my attention. Some sounds I recognize due to hearing them frequently until the product changes it. At which point, I no longer have a clue what is trying to get my attention. The only way a phone call style works for me is that it is a sustained noise that last long enough for me to check the source and see that indeed it is still active and a phone call. (This kind of thing for everything coming out of a computer would be highly annoying.)

Toaster notifications, those little windows in the corner of the screen, or even phone icons at the top of the screen are far, far, far superior. True, I tend not to immediately notice them. So, it might be minutes (an hour) before I consume them. However, that is great for my ability to focus on work or others then circle back to handle a notification.

 

Terminology

This guy won the Internet for a while.

“I love learning the words that their generation comes up with — both the unique ones as well as the ones where they take an existing word and give it a completely different meaning.”

One of my favorite web sites is Urban Dictionary because people apply new meanings to words and phrases faster than official dictionaries track.

I first became cognizant of this in my teens. My mother had acquired a document from her school principal describing the symbols and words used by children indoctrinated into Satanic cults. To me, they mostly seemed benign things I associated with my friends into heavy metal music. And, of course, Dungeons & Dragons which I played at the time. Teenagers seek ways of communicating where parents are clueless.

Later, my second employer subscribed to various IT industry magazines. As I often stayed after close on Friday afternoon, he would engage me about things he read. I ended up getting free subscriptions to be able to better converse. The more I read, the more I understood jargon in IT mainly coopted existing terms for new things.

I also learned about how these new terms were poorly defined and understood at first. Only as they became super popular and everyone talked about them did their meaning get solidified into something real.

Finally, there is something unsettling at how African Americans continually are the bleeding edge of culture in the US. The music, clothing, and even terminology is sometimes adopted up by the overall culture. At the same time it is reviled as dangerous and feared for how those expressing it are doomed to go to Hell.

Explainer

Geeking out for me takes the form of the explainer. I take what someone knows about something and describe how it works and why I find it interesting. My reading takes me all over the place, but I particularly of late enjoy nonfiction on interesting topics.

People find my reading about things like quantum mechanics for entertainment surprising. And my willingness to geek out about it even more so.

Occasionally people remark that I ought to be a teacher. Probably.

Doctor Freelove has a nice ring to it. Unfortunately, a career in academia is more focused on research than teaching. And K-12 teachers get stuck doing too much administrivia and not enough teaching.

My times in front of a classroom were entertaining for me. As campus webmaster at Valdosta State, I would guest teach students how to start their websites for several faculty members. I also taught faculty members how to use WebCT and web design and random of IT topics. In college, one class had me working with 2nd graders and a couple times I taught the whole class about something unprepared off the top of my head. And my mother had me talk about my IT work for career day to several classes.

Opportunities to teach like this are something I miss being in a more administrative position.

Managing Expectations

WaPo published Trump’s transcript from a recent interview with the AP. This exchange caught my eye.

AP: Did they give you any sense of the timetable?

Trump: I would say within a week. That’s my impression. He said two weeks. But they’re going to try and do it in less than a week.

An instructor in college taught us something I have always found useful: Say it is going to take longer than you need. Scotty told LaForge similar in the episode “Relics.” If you miss the deadline, then you look incompetent. If you get done early, then you look like a hero.

Trump clearly did a Kirk. The Saudis said two weeks. Trump probably assumed they are doing a Scotty and halved their estimate. (Technically, Scotty said he needed 4x longer than the actual.)

Everyone needs to assume Trump is going to halve their estimate and report that is the true estimate. So they need to always tell him quadruple.

Framing Dangers

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From my 2015 beach trip

Hurricane Michael leveled much of Mexico Beach, which is a place I know pretty well. Spread out over my lifetime, but a rough impression is, I think, I have spent about half a year at this particular town. That would rank it third longest of places where I have lived.

Several people have expressed surprise about this hurricane was as strong as it was. I wonder if part of the problem is communication. This hurricane quickly intensified. A meteorologist I follow from UGA wrote Tuesday morning when it had increased to a Cat 2:

Michael will likely be a Major Hurricane (Category 3 or higher) at landfall.

And on Monday in Forbes:

As I write this, the [Big Bend] region is staring at the very real possibility of a strong category two or major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) making landfall in the Wednesday-Thursday time frame this week.

He was communicating this storm was quickly intensifying and to expect something far stronger than the usual storms that strike this area. People I love live in Valdosta, which was being named dropped over and over as a likely target for the storm after it made landfall. Everyone I know chose to hunker down and ride it out even as the likely winds to hit Valdosta increased through tropical storm to Cat 1 and Cat 2. People with large trees that could cave in the roof of their homes. My wife’s extended family in the Panama City area also chose to stay.

Why? I called my mother to encourage her to come to stay with us because Valdosta was in the path. She didn’t want to leave. My mother described that Hermine was pretty bad, but it wasn’t that bad for them. A tree damaged just a corner of the roof. Hermine was also a Category 1 with 80 mph winds where it came ashore and probably down to tropical storm strength where Mom lives. Thankfully Michael came ashore well west of Hermine and tracked away from Valdosta family, so they were spared the worst part. We still have not heard from most of my wife’s Panama City family.

So, while meteorologists were trying to say, “this is going to be really bad,” people didn’t really hear it that way. Mom is someone who took meteorology courses in college and wasn’t getting the message. The UGA one has a timeline defending that the NWS did enough to provide notice.

4 am Monday CDT (October 8): …  there is a real possibility that Michael will strengthen to a major hurricane before landfall.

He also said:

Yes, the rapid intensification was shocking but there was plenty of information hinting or explicitly stating that a major hurricane (even category 4) was possible.

I guess my point is hints are not enough. The reason why stores have prices ending in 99 cents is that one extra cent difference lowers sales because people tend to have the impression it is more expensive. Saying “3 or higher” pins people to think 3, not 4 or 5. This effect, called Framing, is pretty well studied in how people make poor decisions because of it. Even marketers study how to use it to influence shoppers. Maybe if some behavioral economics experiments are done to see show Framing affects the way people interpret meteorological messaging, scientists looking not to overstate what they are seeing may learn they are inadvertently giving people a different impression than intended. It is a struggle to be sure, to find the correct way to communicate this stuff.

Skynet for school shooting prediction

This sounds likely to be fraught with false positives.

In particular, the language a student uses during an interview can help distinguish a high-risk teenager [shooter] from a low-risk one, according to previous research Barzman directed. That study concluded that the former was more likely to express negative feelings about himself and about the acts of others. He also was more likely to talk about violent acts involving himself and violent video games or movies.

My clique in high school were the metalheads, barely passing nerds, and social rejects. Self-deprecation was the basis of our humor. Violent video games or movies was the basis of our media consumption. The only one of us every accused of fighting was a case of mistaken identity as the first and last (not middle) names matched the very common actual guy of another race.

Artificial intelligence is the tool of choice for this kind of stuff. I hope the research is light years ahead of where this article describes it.

Automate Yourself Out Of A Job

At VSU, my boss got a promotion when his boss retired. Then a shuffling of jobs gave me a promotion, but it also sent my old job to another group. That left the web services group going from 2.5 full-time positions down to 1.5.

We did not have that much free time. If anything in the early 2000s, the responsibilities were growing which is how we ended up with 2.5 people. My only way to restore sanity was by automation. Admittedly, I love scripting and schedulings, so my approach to things at that time was to write scripts to handle jobs. The change gave more motivation to ensure that anything that could be automated was. Or I would drown in the work.

What made it hard was, even as I automated these jobs, more things were coming to the web. The needs grew faster than I could develop the tools to handle it. It was a fantastic experience, though.

The Importance of Student Workers to A University

Gille believed that [UGA] Transit could not succeed without its stable of student employees. She said the campus-centered transportation is best fulfilled by students who are on campus nearly every day, not individuals in the community who rarely otherwise come in contact with the University of Georgia campus. It’s easier to acclimate hundreds of students to campus driving routes than to find the same number of non-students willing to learn the routes. The Importance of Student Workers to A University

My first day at Valdosta State University as a student, I also applied for and got a job working in the library. (Yeesh, I think that means I’ve been working for the same employer-ish for 22 years.) I loved the public and school libraries growing up. And I did some of my research for the middle school science fairs in the college library. I love books, so why not?

My final summer, they hired me a temporary staff to fill-in at the reference desk. Normally, a faculty member librarian did that work, but I was being entrusted to do when they were at half capacity. That seemed to seal the deal: I would go to library school for my master’s degree and become a librarian. (Fate intervened by running into my future boss the next fall who convinced me to come work in IT.)

As staff at VSU IT, I supervised a handful of students near the end. They were invaluable for keeping Web Services running. Yes, they were cheap labor. They also hopefully learned some skills that made their careers. Student labor is what made the school operate. Hiring good students is just as important for any staff position because they represent the university, they do the work that allows it to run, and they ensure the quality of almost anything except maybe the professor vocalizing to a classroom. Students do not get the respect of staff, but they for many areas are most of the staff. The departments might not exist without student workers.

 

Non-Update

Nothing frustrates me more than the non-update. I define it as:

a communication issued within the promised window of time to express the status of nothing has changed and to establish another window for an update.

I am patient and willing to wait for a real update. When I see an email from someone I am waiting to hear from, there is the surge of dopamine in anticipation of a completed task. Only to receive the disappointment of that surge of neurotransmitters being falsely exerted. I feel betrayed. Well, not at first, but when I’ve been strung out over and over, I come to feel like they are terrible at their job.

Save yourself the trouble.

  1. If you think you can have an update for me tomorrow, then give yourself an extra day. If you think you can this week, then give yourself an extra week.
  2. If there are obvious difficulties present such as your people are at an all week meeting, then do not commit during that event. Give me a time after it is over.
  3. If there is any likely stumbling block, then let me know ahead of time rather than after which sounds like an excuse. A vendor told me on a Monday they would have something for me that week only for me to find out the next week the system needed went down for upgrades and would be down two weeks. As soon as they learned it would be down, I should have been told rather than have to learn about it later.
  4. Hedge by giving me a range of time. “I’ll try to have this to by x. but it might be as long as y.”