Saturday, June 02, 2007

Hofstadter's law

An interesting post by Eric Falkenstein on the Overcoming Bias blog about Hofstadter's law. The law goes like this :
It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's law.
Applying this law to IT projects for instance which regularly take much more time than initially estimated, the author believes that this is because the goals become self fulfilling for people involved in sufficiently complicated tasks.
As they say, Hofstadter's Law is funny because it rings true to many programmers, who often work on complex projects that take years to complete. Clearly an alternative to the Law of Iterated expectations. Why might people involved in sufficiently complicated tasks--writing a paper, a book, building a deck--generally underestimate their length? I think the main reason is that goals become self-fulfilling, so any lengthening of a goal time would add to the total time the way bureaucracies spend the limit of their budget whatever it is. Just like a group of people, people themselves have multiple goals; to watch tv, to get a project done, to be a better golfer. A successful goal needs a bias to compete with your other goals, who probably also have biased homunculus advocating for them in your mind.
I partially agree with his conclusion, or I should say that I partially disagree with it:) I mean that as far as IT projects are concerned what he says is true only for projects on which there isn't a strong top management pressure for results in a rigid frame of time right from the beginning, projects in which the result is much more important than the deadline. In those cases the goal can become self fulfilling. Of course, even when IT projects are done under strong top management pressure they end up taking longer than initially estimated, but from completely different reasons. Mainly because of bad management of the relationship with the client or because the entire complexity of the project is insufficiently grasped from the start. In these cases the goal becomes a pain you want to get rid off as fast as possible. And once more, managing IT projects is far from being an exact science.

But, as the author says, biased expectations can sometimes be useful :
Think about the guy who thinks he is a better dancer than he really his confidence actually makes him a better dancer, because part of good dancing is not being self-conscious. Robert Trivers has pointed out that self-deception is, in moderation, an evolutionary advantage, in that a liar who believes his own lies is a more effective persuader than a lie who knows he is lying, and fundamentally we are social animals trying to convince others to do this or think that.

Management Course for Developers

Ted Neward's Five Management Lessons for Developers.
Lesson #2: Knowledge

A priest offered a Nun a lift. She got in and crossed her legs, forcing her gown to reveal a leg. The priest nearly had an accident. After controlling the car, he stealthily slid his hand up her leg.

The nun said, "Father, remember Psalm 129?"

The priest removed his hand. But, changing gears, he let his hand slide up her leg again.

The nun once again said, "Father, remember Psalm 129?"

The priest apologized "Sorry, sister, but the flesh is weak."

Arriving at the convent, the nun sighed heavily and went on her way.

On his arrival at the church, the priest rushed to look up Psalm 129. It said, "Go forth and seek, further up you will find glory."

Moral: If you are not well informed, you might miss a great opportunity.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Strike actions à la française

An excellent post in French bu JDCh on the subject of the "service minimum" the new French government tries to impose in the strikes in public transportation, public education or public postal service. While the direct economic and financial damage inflicted to the employing company are less important than in other cases - like in retail or aeronautics - the economic implications are extremely important on a nationwide scale due to the possibility of a complete inactivity during the strike period in these kinds of public companies. Hence the intention of the French government to impose a mandatory minimal activity during the strikes. The French trade unions have already accused the government of attacking the fundamental right of striking through this measure, which is not entirely true since in other public sectors - health care, police or energy distribution - strike actions are already limited by minimum activity imperatives. And if strikes are still capable of inflicting economic and financial damage upon the public companies in the aforementioned sectors, then the problem of the fundamental right is completely solved. But there is one more interesting aspect about this whole issue of the "service minimum". This measure will largely diminish the power of the four big French trade unions which today are capable of paralyzing the entire public transportation or postal service locally or nationwide, but in the meantime represent an extremely low percentage of wage-earners especially in the private sector. As a personal touch, they're way too close to the worn-out marxism and to the French communist organizations, therefore the renewal of the French unions is more than ever imperative.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Parere de neofit

Formula de "vot uninominal" suna foarte apetisant si cam in discursul tuturor politicienilor romani este alaturata expresiei "reforma clasei politice" iar in capul cetatenilor de "representativitate". Nu-i mai alegem pe parlamentari pe liste, grosso modo nu mai votam liste de partid ci persoane. Desi formularea este intrucatva incorecta pentru ca se voteaza liste de persoane din partide per circumscriptie iar distributia locurilor in Camera Deputatilor si Senat se face dupa metoda reprezentarii proportionale numita D'Hondt. In alta ordine de idei, nu cred ca e necesar ca intregului Parlament sa i se aplice metoda alegerii prin vot direct, ci doar camerei inferioare, Camerei Deputatilor, care e si camera cu putere de decizie a Parlamentului. Sa vorbim despre cele 3 formule de vot uninominal luate in discutie de politicieni si societatea civila (respectiv Alianta Pro-Democratia) sintetizate de Doc la un moment dat (via Sebi, caruia ii impartasesc 100% opinia vis-a-vis de degradarea calitatii post-urilor lui Doc). Prima formula este aceea a unui vot uninominal cu un singur tur, a doua aceea a unui vot mixt, iar a treia a unui vot proportional pe liste deschise.


Intr-adevar, alegand direct persoane si nu liste oamenii au o mai buna cunoastere a reprezentatilor lor in Parlament, dar e mai importanta Camera Deputatilor, de aceea ma voi rezuma doar la ea. Intre altele, votarea persoanelor (ca e vorba de vot uninominal cu 1 sau 2 tururi, mixt sau proportional pe liste deschise) va inlatura din discursul public sintagma "aceia nu sunt reprezentantii mei, nu i-am votat". Desi direct sau pe liste, aceia sunt reprezentantii care au fost votati, sa spunem ca aceasta problema ar fi rezolvata. In schimb, in cazul unui vot uninominal sau mixt reprezentativitatea nu este deloc asigurata, ba din contra aceste sisteme electorale ofera o reprezentare mai mare (implicit disproportionata) partidului (sau partidelor) aflate in topul preferintelor alegatorilor. Iar partidele mai mici, chiar daca ajung sa aiba deputati, risca sa nu isi poata constitui un grup parlamentar si implicit nu au un cuvant de spus in Parlament. Sistemul de vot uninominal in doua tururi permite intr-un fel ameliorarea situatiei favorizand acordurile intre partide intre cele doua tururi, ceea ce creste intr-o oarecare masura reprezentativitatea. Dintre cele 3 propuneri doar cea de-a treia, sistemul proportional pe liste deschise, ofera o reprezentativitate adecvata cu optiunile alegatorilor.

Reformarea clasei politice

Cuvinte care te ung pe suflet. Rezolva ceva introducerea "votului uninominal"? Cred ca nimic, cel putin pe termen scurt absolut nimic. Astazi in Romania problema nu este atat de mult cea a formulei prin care ne desemnam majoritatea politica care va conduce tara, caci in ultima instanta aceasta este implicatia ultima a sistemului electoral, ci a competentei oamenilor politici. Cum ajung oamenii politici sa creasca in competenta? Va avea alegerea nominala vreun impact? Doar prin schimbarea sistemului electoral nu, pentru ca maturizarea clasei politice vine din presiunea alegatorilor, trebuie sa lupti pentru votul pe care il primesti si trebuie sa il sprijini cu un program. Atata timp cat electorii sunt receptivi la discursuri populiste presiunea e egala cu zero. Astazi in Romania nici un partid nu are un program politic coerent pe care sa il sustina in fata alegatorilor. Optiunea votului proportional pe liste deschise, se spune, are avea fata de celelalte doua optiuni avantajul stimularii concurentei interne intre membrii unui partid pentru ca fiecare stie ca persoana lui va fi votata prin comparatie cu colegii de partid. Ar putea fi un mecanism benefic fata de sistemul uninominal sau de cel mixt in care se voteaza un individ care este reprezentantul partidului in circumscriptia respectiva, numit tot de partid - bineinteles, in situatia in care ne gandim la circumscriptii cu un singur reprezentant. Dar zic ca nu e indeajuns, pentru ca un deputat ca si reprezentant al unei circumscriptii are - sau ar trebui sa aiba - pe durata mandatului sau un birou in acea circumscriptie, loc in care, cel putin teoretic, poate fi confruntat cu cei pe care ii reprezinta - electorii sai dar nu numai - on a daily basis. Teorie frumoasa, dar in Camera Deputatilor face tot politica partidului sau. In schimb ajunge sa aiba in fata oameni adevarati, ceea ce e un beneficiu. Deci nici un sistem uninominal (pur sau nu) n-ar fi neaparat nefericit daca ar fi acompaniat de alte masuri care sa duca la resposabilizarea oamenilor politici.

Optiunea mea

As dori un sistem electoral in care majoritatea sa fie detinuta de un singur partid - tendinta in sistemul uninominal si chiar si cel mixt? E clar ca nu, avand in vedere ca nici un partid din Romania nu se prezinta astazi cu un program politic coerent. Dar un sistem proportional? Majoritatea intr-un astfel de sistem electoral este in general stabilita pe baza de coalitie, iar clasa politica romana demonstreaza ca nu este capabila sa realizeze coalitii coerente si durabile pe perioada unui mandat. Dar, si aici intervine toata ironia, daca ne gandim ca sistemul electoral este un mecanism pentru stabilirea unei majoritatati care sa guverneze si aplicam aceasta la Romania ajungem la o concluzie cel putin amuzanta. Majoritatea si opozitia in sistemul politic romanesc sunt niste concepte atat de volatile incat orice tendinta de utilizare a lor imi provoaca un zambet. De unde si scepticismul meu vis-a-vis de "maturizarea clasei politice" alaturata "votului uninominal". As fi pentru votul uninominal - mai degraba in 2 tururi decat intr-unul singur - daca ar exista programe politice de la A la Z in peisajul politic romanesc sau as fi pentru un sistem proportional daca ar exista o stanga si o dreapta coerente, care sa poata aduna o majoritate prin negocierea unui program politic comun. Dar atata timp cat detinerea puterii politice se rezuma la detinerea controlului asupra resurselor, raman sceptic. Solutia? Poate ajugem la o prezenta la vot sub 10% si atunci poate se creaza presiunea de care este nevoie:)

Un alt aspect. Atat votul uninominal cat si cel mixt vor diminua inevitabil reprezentarea in Parlament a UDMR-ului. De ce vorbesc de UDMR? Pentru ca 1) e partidul reprezentant al minoritatii maghiare si 2) ma preocupa faptul ca intr-un sistem uninominal sau mixt prezenta lui in Parlament se va diminua. In Romania de astazi, dat fiind faptul ca nici un alt partid nu preia tema reprezentarii populatiei maghiare, asta reprezinta o problema, iar nici un alt sistem decat unul proportional nu o poate rezolva. E una dintre virtutile sistemului proportional deloc neglijabila in contextul Romaniei, reprezentarea tuturor, inclusiv a minoritatilor de orice natura. Atata timp cat partide ca si PD sau PSD merg pe un nationalism soft, PRM-ul pe un nationalism hard iar PNL pe zero teme etnice, orice sistem electoral care diminueaza reprezentarea populatiei maghiare "la centru" nu mi se pare de bun augur. Dar, pentru ca este o tema in mare parte legata structural de Transilvania, probabil ar trebui sa ne gandim nu doar la sistemul electoral al statului roman ci si la organizarea administrativa a acestuia, spre exemplu federalizarea Romaniei dupa cele 3 provincii istorice, situatie in care tema multietnica sa fie preluata si garantata la nivel regional printr-un sistem de vot X sau Y, oricum mai pertinent la scara locala decat "nationala" datorita proportiei mai importante a populatiei maghiare pe plan local decat "national".

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ro... ehem... blosfera

Just give them the freedom of speech, they will take care of the rest.

The Agency Awareness

I came over a very interesting text about The Agency Problem published on the Overcoming Bias blog. Even though I wouldn't classify Santa Claus, the Electrons or other issues in this cognitive bias, I think the author has a point specially when he speaks about politics and history teaching in schools. History making and teaching in my home country, Romania, is a brilliant example of this problem and I bet you could find many other examples:)
"Of course, it's possible to do the opposite: ignore living, breathing agents in favor of some cold "idea." Much of the history curriculum works like that. Instead of individuals arguing in salons there was "The Renaissance"; instead of little girls suffocating in overcrowded textile factories in a small town in Massachusetts there was a "Progressive Movement." Pamphlets and memoirs and speeches are abstracted into "isms", and kids look at history as a logical progression from one to the next."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Go Go Go!!!

4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days has just won the Palme d'Or prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival! The prize was presented by actress Jane Fonda. Congratulations! (photo Le Monde)

The same film has been awarded the FIPRESCI award. Another Romanian movie has been rewarded this year, California Dreamin' (Nesfarsit), with the Un certain regard prize, the same prize won 2 years ago by another Romanian movie, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.