Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Rising Inequality Hurts Everyone

The Psychology of Inequality https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/15/the-psychology-of-inequality?mbid=synd_digg

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New Year's Update

Well, Christmas went well.  Other than it being friggin cold, of course!  I also have my new computer set up to play with...

The idea was to work on malware analysis and cybersecurity type issues.  Get my hands dirty. 

I have Kali Linux installed on the computer, and mostly I've been messing around making sure drivers were installed correctly and everything.  One of the sites discussing what you can do with Kali directed me to OverTheWire, which seems like a cool site for trying out some things.

I haven't yet built my virtual machines, though that's on my agenda for things to do during winter break.  I'm not sure yet if I want to focus on OverTheWire, go through each of the different tools on Kali as organized by purpose, or dive right into virtual machines.  The tools look cool, especially since I've started to learn about some of them (i.e. wireshark, metasploit, and nmap in particular). 

Since this is all stuff I'm doing for fun, I don't think I'll put a formal order to it.  Just see what I feel in the mood for that day. 

In other news -

In other news, Iran is looking interesting.  I'm not going to say too much about it, mostly because (given our history of meddling) I think it's better to step back and see what they do on their own.  Easy to say, of course, when I don't have any responsibility for intel analysis or trying to figure out what actions we can take to sway things in a direction we favor. 

Other than that - I've ordered and received all my textbooks for the next semester.  I think I have all the various access codes required, too.  I've also finished with Bleach and am now watching Naruto.  I guess I do tend to favor the shonen type of anime, though one of my brother's gave me a list of other shows to watch.

I hope everyone had a Happy New Year, and is staying warm.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

For reference

This was written about a year ago, and I think inspired my earlier post about the warrior mentality, so I'm including it for attribution purposes.


Monday, December 18, 2017

School Update

Finals are done (finally!), and I'm just waiting for the grades to come out.  I expect 2 As, and the other two classes are somewhere in the B+ to A- range, so we'll see what comes out of that.

During this winter break I set myself the goal of building a virtual sandbox and messing around with analyzing malware.  I bought the parts for a PC previously, though I set it all aside to get through finals week.  Yesterday I put the finishing touches on, booted it up...

And can't get it to work.  It keeps cycling through the reboot process, never displays anything on the screen or gets into the part where I can actually do something with it.  I can probably figure it out (I can search online with the best of them), but I'm not sure the time/effort is worth it...after all, if I spend all break making the computer work I'll never get to the point where I'm messing around with malware.  Or rather (what with the holidays and everything) I might not get much time before school starts up again.

So I'm debating taking the computer to a repair shop, see if they can figure out what's wrong.  I did do some initial tests (i.e. removed various components to try and narrow down where the problem is coming from, re-read the manuals on how to connect various cables, etc) but I'm worried it's something I did wrong with installing the CPU cooler.  I think the choice depends on how expensive it's likely to be.  :/

So anyways.  I figured I'd get back around to typing some of the other things I'd put on hold for the past week or so.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Lessons Learned

I got a 99% on one of my major semester programming projects.  I think it was the first truly complex programming assignment I've had (though that perspective might change as I get more experience) and I kind of wanted to jot down some thought on how it went.

When my previous workplace changed to our new Warehouse Management System, I experienced on a large scale something we all have as end users - attempts to fix one issue would often create another issue somewhere else.  It got to the point where every update we were left wondering what was going to go wrong this time, and how bad it would be.

For the first time, I experienced this from the other side.

We were simulating an ant colony, where each ant had specific tasks (i.e. the queen ant hatches new ants, the scout ant explores the area, the forager ant brings back food to the queen, and the soldier ant fights off enemy ants.)  I'd run it step-by-step for ten full turns, and suddenly all the ants would stop moving!
I'd figure out what was going on with that, would move on to other things, and then somehow whatever I did next would give me the exact same problem.  Again!  Though for a different reason of course...

You fix one thing, and it breaks something else.  It's very hard to capture the sheer level of frustration I felt as (yet again) my ants wouldn't act like they were supposed to!

On a related issue - I had a very hard time predicting how long it would take to finish the project.  I'd seem very, very close - ants were all acting perfectly - only to wind up right back where I started after making changes on something else.

I also learned that one of my dogs prefers to go out in freezing weather than sit in the warm, cozy living room while I  yell at my computer.

See, I have a bell hanging by the back door that they ring when they want to go outside.  I'd let out a particularly loud yell of frustration, and my dog would casually wonder over to the door and ring. 

It might be 10pm and below freezing outside, but she'll ring the bell.  And wait.  And if I don't get up to let her out, she rings it again.  And waits.   (To be fair, sometimes when I'm focused it'll take two or three rings before it registers that she's asking to go out).  I tell myself she's nuts to go out in weather like this, and she'll ring it again. 

When your dog is that persistent, then I guess she really wants to be outside.  In the cold.  (She generally gives a distinctive and repetitive yip at the door when she's ready to come back inside.)

So - right - my dog prefers freezing cold weather when I'm deeply frustrated.

Anyways, that's all done and I'm glad I got a 99%!  I missed one point on something that would have been an easy fix, and I probably should have caught it beforehand, but I'll take the 99%.  I've been a borderline A/B for this class and I really wanted to do well on this project.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Continuation

Getting the right people in the right place with the right resources at the right time.

That involves the rather boring and unglamorous work of organization.  Org charts, supply chains, accountants, audits...all those things that most people hate in life.  Especially when it's done wrong, and supplies go to the wrong place, money goes missing, and nobody  quite knows who to go to in order to get the thing done.

It also requires leadership pipelines.  Identifying talent and giving people the right resources and experiences to grow into future leaders.  After all, experience commanding a platoon, company, and battalion will make you much more effective when given command of a brigade.

That's what the article on innovation reminded me of.  It's essentially saying that our innovation pipeline is broken.  That people with wealth, who are connected to a network of other innovators, are generally identified and innovating just fine.  But the system for identifying and developing innovators from the less advantaged is essentially broken.

See, here's the thing.  I've heard people at the top talk about a talent shortage, and for the most part I think that's BS.  Humans are just bursting with talent.  I am in awe, for example, of some of the talent you can find on YouTube, or Instagram, or what-have-you. 

Talent isn't the problem. 

Finding and developing it is the problem.  To get those awesome YouTube videos, for example, someone (or some search algorithm) has to look through a bunch of crap.  And there is a LOT of crap out there.

A Start

I've been re-watching some anime lately (Netflix is cheaper than feeding my book fix).  In particular Rurouni Kenshin and Bleach. 

Rurouni Kenshin is set in a very interesting era in Japanese history.  Japan was transitioning from a feudal system to a more modern nation/state, and much of the story arc is related to the upheaval this caused.  In particular, many samurai and warriors were at a loss about how to live in a world where they weren't needed - or wanted - any more. 

There's a particularly tragic episode reminiscent of The Last Samurai where a group of fighters take on government forces and get slaughtered by gunfire.  There are questions about the warrior way of life, about the values of the samurai and what it would mean when they are lost.

I find the storylines appealing because they touch on issues we deal with today - the paradoxical power and powerlessness that comes from living in a modern nation/state.  How do these empowered, highly skilled and dangerous people find purpose in a world that doesn't need them any more?

Isn't it a good thing, that we don't need to be skilled with arms any more?  That we have a society where the vast majority of us don't need to carry around weapons?  What have we lost,  in the process?

This tension between power through large scale organization and the loss at a more individual level is, in a sense, the same issue at the heart of the warrior/soldier debate.  The "Warrior Mentality" has been a big topic in military circles, and I don't want to sound overly critical with what I say next:

Warriors bring to mind lone fighters.  Skilled fighters, but a warrior essentially standing by himself.  The barbarian Goths, Vandals, Franks, etc. fighting as tribal or clan warriors. 

Defeated by the powerful Roman army, who were some of the best professional soldiers of the time.

Soldiering requires working as a team.  If you go off to be Rambo, you leave your team open and vulnerable.  Back in the sword and shield era you had to march in rank, because the shield in your left hand protected the soldier to your left...creating an impenetrable wall through which you could stab forward with your sword or pike.  This (naturally) limits the range of motion you can use in an attack.  Instead of a lone warrior standing in a circle, you have a group of people marching in lockstep.  A moving, spiky wall.  (In the modern era that tactic now makes you a major target for artillery and grenades, so marching in formation isn't a great idea.  You still, however, have to move in a different type of formation and anyone who leaves the formation leaves their team vulnerable.) 

To make that moving spiky wall, to succeed on the battlefield, you don't necessarily need the best swordsmen.  You need the ones best able to keep their shield up (i.e. stamina) and stay in formation.  Ones who can follow orders and shift (in sync with their fellows, without whacking each other with their shields or pikes or swords) to move in whatever direction is required.

If you talk about the 'warrior mentality' in terms of willingness to fight, to dedicate yourself to having the necessary skills, the ability to endure pain and difficulty in order to achieve your goal - with honor, and integrity - then soldiers do, indeed, need the warrior spirit. 

Yet they also need skills that are less glamorous.  Like giving up on individual glory in order to succeed as a team.  The Romans grew strong not because they had the best warriors, but because they had the best soldiers.

Warriors are sexy and glamorous.  They stand out from the crowd.  An army, on the other hand, is strong in the way of ants or bees.  Each individual isn't quite as important as the weighted mass of the whole, organized to put the right people with the right resources in the right place at the right time.

So many, many problems are because we are designed to work in a more feudal, personal world...and yet strength and power comes from those faceless organizations - bureaucracies and corporations - that excel at putting the right resources together on a large scale.

Or do they?