20 November 2009

The clouds roll back and the sun shines down on the glistening slopes me the majestic mount hood wrapped in brilliant white. Opps, i need to stay in my lane. It was worth it though.

19 November 2009

Quorum Sensing (or Natural Leadership Vetting)

Quorum sensing is the component of swarm intelligence that allows a swarm (or group) to settle on a decision and begin acting on that decision. It is used in a large variety of natural and artificial systems. I'll use a rock dwelling ant colony to illustrate the concept of quorum sensing:

A colony of ants happily dwells in their rocky home until the rocks shift causing extensive damage to their colony. The shifted rocks are no longer a suitable habitation for the colony and worker ants venture out looking for a new home. Every possible nook and cranny is explored until one large enough is found. The individual worker ant inspects the crevice and assesses its suitability for the colony including lighting, water flow and air ways. After the inspection the ant heads back to the colony and waits.

The waiting period is inversely tied to the quality of the new site. The poorer quality the site is the longer the ant waits, the better the site the less it waits. Once the waiting time is over the initial worker ant solicits other ants to follow him to inspect the new site. After the second inspection is complete the ants return and again wait, the same waiting rules apply, before soliciting yet another group of ants to inspect. At a critical point, the worker ants that remained in the colony realize that enough ants have approved a site and they pack up to follow them to the new site and the whole colony is relocated.

The timing of the waiting period is critical. The worker ant is basically waiting to see if another worker returns bursting into the colony with a 'must have' site. If no other ant solicits before they do then the ant can assume their selected site is the best site currently available. If a better site is located the returning worker ant would also start soliciting ants and the cascading effect ensues but at a faster rate because of the superior site.

The quorum part is the large number of ants going to the same prospective site. The sensing part is realizing that the quorum has reached a critical mass and thus a decision has been made. Quorum sensing is used in nearly every type of swarm including ants and bees, fireflies, light emitting bacteria, fish that swim in schools, even mobs and businesses. Each organization using quorum sensing differently, but the principles remain the same. Fireflies use quorums to determine where they should gather, light emitting bacteria to know when there are enough of them to make their light noticeable. Ants and bees use it to determine the most suitable location for the swarm without the time or danger of each member inspecting each site. Mobs use quorum sensing to determine why they are mobbing and what or whom they are going to mob.

Often in society we like to think that we are above such a fundamental practice of quorum sensing, but in reality we are steeped in it. No change can ever be effected unless a significant group, either is quantity or quality, approves the change. This is true in the corporate boardroom where leaders are appointed and even for the president of the United States who is elected. Swarms of people wait when new technology and products are introduced for a quorum, usually a select group of famous people, to endorse them new items before they themselves begin using them. Have you ever heard the phrase "I'm waiting until the next version to buy it" or "we'll see how well to works"? These are both cases of waiting until the quorum concludes that the change is acceptable. Another version implies that enough 'ants' approved the earlier version, usually by purchasing it, that the manufacturer could survive long enough to make the next version thus the quorum has been reached. Waiting for reviews of a new product is waiting for another 'ant' to solicit your use of the product; the early 'ant' is convincing you to inspect the new 'site' thus building the quorum.

Quorum dynamics are the governing principles behind quorum sensing. Quorum dynamics consists of two parts as briefly mentioned earlier: quality and quantity.

Quality is the voting power a particular member has. Some members have a lot of sway, unofficially and officially, while others do not. Some people can give a thousand word opinion and not convince another soul while others can give a single look and convince the whole quorum. In a family the mom would be expected to carry a higher quality rating than a child and an adult child more than a juvenile. Quality ratings aren't always along predictable or constant: an adult child would carry a higher quality rating than their mom on their wedding day.

The second attribute in quorum sensing is quantity, simply the number of agreeable members in the quorum. The total number of members is of little importance as few decisions rely on raw votes. For example, the decision over where a family will eat out likely rests with the parents not the four children. The parent's decision may be overruled if the children orchestrated a loud protest, thus exercising their voting power and the quorum decision would have achieved critical mass.

Every person with voting power, regardless of quality rating, is a "valid quorum member" and every "valid quorum member" has voting power. Valid quorum members can be adapted to members present and as the situation dictates. For example, when a visiting uncle arrives, though not a member of the immediate family, he becomes a valid quorum member and can affect policy decisions. On the other hand, if a grandfather dies, his grandchildren may have no voting power in funeral arrangements though they might have voting power in decisions about the family's summer vacation. It is also possible to be part of the quorum but to have no voting power. Parents to give a lot of advice to their newly married children and thus influence the outcome of the vote, but they themselves have no voting power.

Quorum sensing's critical mass is a function of quality times quantity. For a decision to be made enough people with enough voting power must reach consensus. In the example of the children going out to eat, their consensus overrode the decision of a single parent, but likely would not have withstood both parents' consensus. The threshold for each decision varies based on the importance of that decision. Children will are more likely to influence important decisions like where the family will move to but have less influence over what kind of car the dad buys for commuting to work.

Organizations use quorum sensing to sustain leaders and managers. A president may appoint a new department head, but the new department head will still need to get his department to 'sustain' him as a leader. While the quorum is vetting, the employees of the department will lack both trust and confidence in the leader. The quorum is likely to consist of key department staff, key in the sense of office politics and likeability not in the sense of job level or authority. A well liked janitor may have a higher quality rating than an annoying mid-level manager. It is important to remember that only valid quorum members can vote. The bimbo mail boy's vote won't be counted and neither will the department head even though he is part of the quorum. The length of the vetting depends on the perceived quality of the leader, just like the ant's delay in soliciting others to inspect the new site is determined by the perceived quality of the site. The more confident quorum members are in the new leader the more excited they will be to rally behind them, the less confident they are the less excited. Once a quorum member approves of the new leader they will solicit others to rally with them. This process will continue until a critical mass is reached, in both quality and quantity or until the vote fails by default because it takes too long.

If a sufficient quorum consensus is never reached then the quorum will either remain divided over the perceived competence level of the new leader, probably causing the larger quorum to divide into small quorums, or the quorum members who voted in the affirmative will retract their vote, and their support, until the new leader is left without a sustainable platform.

16 November 2009

It is a sad day when a computer help desk doesnt know what cisco or a VPN is.

13 November 2009

11 November 2009

The Floor's Non-Original Coloring

(If the following paragraph seems a little out of place, it is. It originally came much later in the document, but after realizing that you are not required to read any, much less all of my blog as my teachers are, I thought it best to use the paragraph as a hook to explain why you should continue reading.)

Why does any of this matter? Each of us will at some point will, and most probably already have, socially interact with other people. Each of the people we interact with has a varied potential for dysfunction, dysfunctions that may have a great impact on the quality of our interactions. Understanding where the dysfunction, the dirt and oil, come from can greatly improve the social interaction and also help the person to release some of the dysfunctions and become clean from them (if they choose to, of course).

(I now return to the original document)

Saturday was a busy day for cleaning. I cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom. My roommates made some baked beans (literally, baked beans) and had managed to get traces of the beans from one end of the kitchen to the other. I had cleaned the dishes and the fridge and moved on to the floor. As I scrubbed the bean patches off the floor I made a startling discovery: our fake wood floor was no brown with specks of dark gray as I had long assumed, but rather brown with no specks in it at all. I realized that the gray specks were really dirt that was wedged into the tiny crevices of the boards and it had built up over the years until they were semi permanent coloring.
The Dirty Floor. (Note the darkness of the grain, that is not the original coloring.)

As I began to scrub the floor my mind began to wonder and having the random thinking that I have, my mind began to drift to the recent Conflict Management portion of my Communications class. Conflict resolution steps are few but critical. One of the most critical is to understand the view of the other party. This translates to a solid listening skill.

Over time relationship dysfunctions (we can call them "little packets of dirt") are tracked across the floor of a person's life. Some of this dirt is brought in by the person themselves, others come from parents, friends, spouses, children, basically everyone and anyone that crosses our life. The dirt also comes from just being in a normal environment. As we settle into our work, play, relaxation or any other aspect of life, so too does dust and debris settle with us.

The dirt itself is not the problem but is in fact a normal part of life on earth. It only takes sweeping and other basic maintenance to remove. The problem comes from memory (we can call it "natural oils that are emitted from our bodies and are around us everywhere") which collects, stores and preserves the dirt in the tiny crevices of the floor. This oil and dirt storage issue is compounded by pressure (we can call it "outside forces of pressure, whether for good or bad") from people walking on them, thus layer upon layer our commingled dirt and oil until enough is gathered to be noticeable to the naked eye.

While these dysfunctions can be noticed, they are often not. This can be due to several reasons, one of the biggest is that those who come in contact with the dysfunctions assume (for varies reasons) that the floor is the way it was meant to be, it is its natural color. Only when closely examining the floor, at much closer levels than most ever care to get, does it become evident that the floor should be a different color. The issue of color frequently comes when we have not associated with a particular person for long (in comparison to the longevity of their life).

Even for those who grew up with or around a person it can be hard to notice the often slow and methodical accumulation of the dirt, oil and pressure. The change happens so slowly that it is hard to remember back to a time when the dysfunctions weren't there. Even then, the changes are still so subtle they can't always be certain that the color was different, it could just be a glitch in memory.

My personal favorite is: the comparison. A visitor comes over and notices the floor, it seems permanently dirty but they can't remember their own floor clearly enough to be sure. After the visit is over, the guest returns home and analyzes their own floor to find that it is similarly marked but they can't remember their friends floor clearly enough to be sure. Not wanting to make a big fuss over nothing, nor wanting to realize that their own floor is dirtied with dysfunctions and certainly not wanting to find out that their floor is dirtier than most, they continue to journey and make notes of comparison between their own floor and the floors of the various houses they visit. Due to a faulty memory (on purpose or not) and a lack of thorough comparison the observer never determines what the 'normal' state of the floor is or should be.

Why does any of this matter? Each of us will at some point will, and most probably already have, socially interact with other people. Each of the people we interact with has a varied potential for dysfunction, dysfunctions that may have a great impact on the quality of our interactions. Understanding where the dysfunction, the dirt and oil, come from can greatly improve the social interaction and also help the person to release some of the dysfunctions and become clean from them (if they choose to, of course).

Ideally, everyone would recognize their floor is dirty and take the proper actions to clean it. They don't, not usually anyway. It is much easier to simply sweep the floor clean and maybe wipe it down with something wet every week or two. This was in fact my normal cleaning routine every month I have lived here. That changed this fateful Saturday. I tried three different techniques before finding the most efficient one.

I started with a wet wash cloth. Some backed beans had stuck to the floor and I was wiping them up. After finally getting the beans off the floor I noticed that there was a 'hole' where the beans had been. There wasn't really a hole, but there was a definite lack of dirt in the floor grain. This is very similar to working to change something in your life, perhaps a bad habit or distancing yourself from a negative influence. The ridding of the related dysfunction was not the intended benefit but rather an unanticipated side effect. This is a common person with a common goal. While this method works, it is a slow and tedious process that may take an entire lifetime to complete.

My roommate upgraded me to a bathroom scrub brush (the kitchen brush flexed too much) and a bowl of soapy water. This is the method that cleaned most of the floor. It took a long time and a lot of effort. The bristles of the brush moved through the crevices to break apart the compounded dirt and the soap worked its magic to pull the oil away. This is a common person with an uncommon goal: the improve themselves by seeking out and eliminating dysfunctions and neutralizing bad memories. This is a noble and good work for anyone.

Our brush started to die so I went to the store to get a new one and in so doing found a wonderful "wood floor cleaning solution". When I got home I applied the solution and marveled at how quickly the solution, in conjunction with the brush, removed the packed in dirt and oil. The last quarter of the floor was done in minutes, not hours. This method is similar to the last, only improved. No longer is it simply a common person but a person with superior reaching and strivings. This is a person who does not simply work to become better, this person uses their intellect, experience and creativity to seek out (or develop as needed) and use new tools to help them become better. They are a better person before they even start working on their actual goal. Their goal becomes a reaching into the deeper possibilities of their humanity. The goal is specifically designed and catered to their exact position, strength and life plan. Though the goal might have been inspired by another, it is their own and they reach into the fathomless depths of personal effort to achieve the goal for their own sake, not because some else told them to. This is an uncommon person with an uncommon goal. When these two mix, limitless potential becomes available as the increase of self betterment and the far reaching goals unlock exponential growth. This is not because the person is a superior being, one set apart from the rest of humanity and destined for greatness. This is because the common person chose to be more and thus did become more.

Now our kitchen floor is clean and the cleaning detail has been augmented to include the broader and more intensive cleaning that will prevent this buildup from happening, at least as long as I live here.
The Clean Floor. (Note the absence of dark grain. This is the original coloring.)

09 November 2009

INL is cool!

I just became one of a tiny, tiny percentage of people to have ever seen the Cherenkov effect live, in person. Today I skipped my classes and tagged along with a BYUI Resource Management class as they went to Idaho National Laboratory. We saw ERB-1, the first power plant in produce usable electricity, and has since been decommissioned. Then we had lunch and saw the real beauty: ATR (Advanced Test Reactor). This is the reactor they use to test materials to see how long they can last. Though I didn't get to see inside the reactor, like the picture below, they did just shut down the reactor and had ejected some fuel rods and moved them into storage in their canal. They were still glowing bright blue. It was awesome. I looked, then when to look else but kept coming back to look again and again. All in all, it was awesome whether it was "once in a lifetime" or not, I am glad I skipped classes to see this.

INL's Advanced Test Reactor

05 November 2009

Sometimes 700 miles isn't far enough

Somehow I thought that being more than 700 miles away from work would mean that I wouldn't be setting up computers for our Sister company's new store. 20 hours later, many of which was spent on the phone between classes, I realize: "no, being more than 700 miles away from from work means that I will spend a lot of time on the phone walking people through how to get things connected and then, once the computers are online, spending hours in a secluded place carefully configuring as much as I can." I am burnt out (and hungry).

Repudiation (or A Cry to All Mothers with Children)

I recently finished reading two scholarly works for my International Studies class and had an interesting observation. Both of them were incredibly dry. They were not dry because they were discussing boring topics, in fact the topics were very interesting; rather they were dry because they lacked variety and flavor in the writing itself. The first paper's writing style would have failed any English teacher I have ever had if only because the number of times the writers used the term "repudiation". If it were a swear word, a sailor would have been offended. I love the word, especially in context of the paper's topic. It means 'to put off' or 'to shed as a garment', and in the context of newly established democracies it is a beautiful description of the process of reverting back to the more stable government they were used to. My problem is that they used "repudiation" and only "repudiation" to describe this process. Reading the same word repeatedly in a academic paper is just appalling, there are so many more words that could be used to describe what is happening and they should have used them. That way, when they finally do use "repudiation" we, the readers, can be struck by the beauty and eloquence of the word. Instead the writers have robbed us of any opportunity to savor the verbose wording by abusing and even profaning the word.

The paper I read before this one was about the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The story they told was a fascinating story of intrigue, sorrow and struggle, but the writers of this paper committed the same sin as the prior in terms of dryness. It was unbearably boring. What I don't understand is this: do the writers not understand that if 'normal' people could read, understand and enjoy their paper they would take more interest in the issues the papers raise. If people are taking more interest is their papers they would receive more funding (because people fund things they find interesting) and thus be able to research more (because researchers like to research things they find interesting) and other people would then become interested and start working to make changes (because activists like to promote things they find interesting) and the world would become a better place (or at least more people would be happily distracted by things they find interesting). But this doesn't happen because the papers the researchers write are so boring and dry that no one reads them for fun.

So what was my take away lesson from these politically bound writings: good writing that captures the imagination, stimulates the mind and enlivens the soul is important even in otherwise bland and boring contexts (such as political science). More so, researchers need to make a choice: is it more important to be "right" by throwing around big words that only their peers can understand OR is it more important to be broadly read because they forsook the "high" language and instead wrote so everyone could understand them? In other words: do they want a few people to enjoy reading their papers OR would they rather most smart people in the world being excited to read their paper?

Tough choice, I know.

I almost forget the "cry to all mothers with children" part. It is simple. Please, please, mothers, if your children begin to express a deep interest in Political Science make sure they learn the value and skill of good and interest writing, lest the continue to perpetuate the boring research papers that keep the world from knowing and understanding the issues that they work so hard to research.

03 November 2009

A Cultured Week

This past week I have been dipping into a variety of cultural experiences that I have found quite rewarding. The week started with playing Twister. Later I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I found to be rather boring until I learned a little secret. If you watch the movie in VLC you can watch it a 2x speed (double time) and except for the few moments of dialog (which I slowed down to 1.25x or 1.5x depending on who was talking) it was quite understandable and in fact enjoyable. Then, in honor of the schools masquerade ball, I listened to the Phantom of the Opera. I found that listening to it was much more enjoyable than watching the movie. I still not sure if AJ finds my random singing outburst to be funny or annoying (except when I lip sync into a 'microphone' which always makes him laugh).