Re: [ba-unrev-talk] An important interview
Garold's essay is superlative in the main.
But there was one piece that chilled my blood a little:
> * Groups must have joint control over who is a part of the group. The group
> must be able to remove anyone who "doesn't play nice with others". (01)
That's a tricky one.
A means of restoring order is simultaneously one of denying representation.
Unfortunately, that is one of the persistent uglinesses in the history of
Perhaps all groups should be open and if a call for removal is made, another
three groups should be chosen at random to assess the call? (03)
----- Original Message -----
From: "Garold (Gary) L. Johnson" <email@example.com>
Sent: Sunday, July 21, 2002 12:17 AM
Subject: RE: [ba-unrev-talk] An important interview (05)
> This is long, but I think it all needs to be said (or at least I feel a need
> to say it).
> Jack Park quoted:
> "There are a few genuine legends in the Linux community, and among them is
> an Aussie named Carsten Haitzler. Who? [snip]
> "When projects get too big people spend more time in politics (talking on
> mailing lists and waiting for others) than actually doing something useful.
> Generally, splitting something up, not autonomous units, and have them work
> on their own and just end up working in unison ends up more efficient,
> imho. This still means people have to agree how they interface, but again,
> imho, the "benevolent dictator" method when one or a very small number
> decide the important bits (the glue between the parts) and then let the
> rest roll. I also don't see "the more the better" as better. Too many cooks
> spoil the broth. Sometimes one or two really good people will easily beat
> 10 or 20 average ones only working on something in their spare time. I
> personally prefer the "crack troops" style. Get five or six really good
> people and they can do a lot. Hundreds of part-timers, imho, don't work as
> I completely agree on the superiority of small, capable, committed groups
> over sheer numbers. This is why I keep pushing for tools that support
> personal organization and collaboration within small groups as an essential
> starting point for any augmentation effort.
> Ideas and solutions originate in individual brains. Environments that
> support collaboration of comparably capable people can foster and support
> the generation of ideas, but ideas are still individual.
> In the current state of the art for technical development, we are still not
> sure of all the elements that allow a "skunk works" to achieve the
> phenomenal results that it does, but it appears to be the case that no other
> form of organization is as efficient at problem solving. Gather talented
> people with experience in the problem domain and necessary technical skills,
> explain the problem to be solved well enough so that what you hear back is
> consistent with what you thought you said, and then get out of their way.
> Management of such a group then involves removing any barriers to production
> and checking from time to time to see that the problem(s) they are
> addressing are still the ones that need solving.
> This method works, and hardly anything else does. We can complain that "it
> shouldn't be that way", but complaining won't change the facts. Given the
> facts, I submit that tools should focus on providing the support that will
> allow talented individuals and small groups to collaborate in a more
> productive fashion. Some of those groups will tackle larger problems with a
> base of how to foster productive cooperation, and the larger problems will
> get better approaches if not solutions.
> The problems pointed out in the site that Eric Armstrong referenced,
> http://www.well.com/~doctorow/metacrap.htm which deals with metadata,
> impacts every activity of a large group. Expecting to solve problems by
> simply having tens of thousands of people chime in with opinions will not
> work except that it may allow individuals to find others with whom they can
> form a working group that can actually produce something.
> I reviewed a partial list of what have been classified as the "complex
> problems" facing society that the tools we are discussing are to help solve,
> and I think we are going about this in the wrong way.
> Question: What elements do these problems have in common that qualifies them
> as "complex problems" in the sense that we discuss them? What are the
> elements of tools that would assist people in attempting to solve these
> I submit that one of the main elements that all of these problems have in
> common is that they all have large social or sociological components to
> them - a major part of the problem is getting all of the stakeholders
> involved to agree on whatever solution is proposed. These problems have
> technical components, but for the most part the technical aspects are
> solvable with sound (possibly large scale) engineering practices if it were
> possible to get any sort of effective agreement as to what would constitute
> a solution to the problem that all stakeholders could live with.
> In many instances all current efforts are opposed by some power group or
> other, and until that changes, no solution to the problem will be
> *permitted*. The fact that some power group or other has a vested interest
> in maintaining the problem, or is unwilling to take the actions required for
> a solution to be implemented is a sociological problem, and without a
> resolution of the sociological component of the "complex problem", no
> technical solution can possibly succeed.
> Utopian ideas are always predicated on the idea that "if everyone only acted
> thus and so, there wouldn't be a problem". The statement is often perfectly
> true but not relevant because the reality is that "you can't get there from
> here". Approaches that try to contradict reality will not work no matter how
> wonderful the intentions, nor how great the idea sounds, nor how wonderful
> things would be if only things were different. One would have thought that
> we would have figured that out by now, but that is apparently a utopian
> On the other hand, when the workings of reality are correctly understood and
> actions taken in accord with those understandings, we get workable solutions
> that can be implemented. We are just now finding out that organic farming,
> once we understand and use enough elements of the system together, is far
> and away superior to the techniques we have been using. The technique of
> agroforestry that Eric Armstrong reported appears to do just this.
> The issue for solving complex problems then, is largely one of finding
> approaches that we haven't yet found to issues of getting people to
> cooperate in the discovery and implementation of solutions to the
> difficulties that we face, and then developing technical solutions that are
> rooted in reality rather than wishful thinking, and do not require the
> solution of even larger sociological problems.
> When a solution is such that it can be implemented by a small group or even
> a single individual whether the masses support it or not, then those that
> can learn and are more willing to adopt a new way than to continue to have
> the problem, then large problems can have local solutions which it is more
> difficult for the opposing or neutral majority to obstruct. Home schooling
> is one example. It is possible to bypass the disaster that is public
> education entirely rather than trying to get the people who are responsible
> for the problem to solve it.
> "There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success,
> nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For
> the reformer has enemies in all who profit by the old order, and only
> luke-warm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order. This
> luke-warmness arises partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the law
> in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly
> believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it."
> -- Machiavelli in The Prince (1513)
> Notice the date - I see nothing to convince me that this problem has
> Assertion: Any proposed solution to any problem that requires all people
> involved to agree on a single solution at the same time just because it is
> technically sound is doomed to fail.
> By contrast, there are examples of working solutions that were never
> designed but emerged from the actions of numerous individuals whose personal
> interests overlapped in at least that one area. Adam Smith wrote about "the
> invisible hand" in "The Wealth of Nations" and so this idea has been
> discussed mostly in terms of markets and economics. However, such things as
> language develop because all of the people involved find it to their benefit
> to be able to communicate. Common law is a result of the actions of
> individuals with a common desire for ways of conducting their affairs
> peacefully, dealing with those that are not peaceful, and resolving disputes
> by means other than violence. Conventions for use in email, netiquette, and
> newsgroup protocols evolve and are (loosely) enforced due to the actions of
> numerous individuals who have a shared interest in communicating over the
> This is an aspect of sociological reality. It isn't necessary to like it,
> but disagreeing won't change the fact that it is true.
> So, rather than concoct all manner of grandiose schemes or fanciful
> philosophies that require reality to be different in order to work, I
> suggest that, if we are serious about developing tools to augment human
> intelligence in resolving "complex problems", that we concentrate on aspects
> of reality that can be validated and develop tools that allow individuals
> with common personal interests to solve their problems with respect to
> collaboration and productivity.
> Language and law evolved slowly because the experiments took a long time.
> Even after most of the principles were agreed upon, it took longer for them
> to be captured in any sort of "standard reference" so that anyone who wished
> could learn what was known about the common agreements. If we develop tools
> that allow the same sort of evolution to proceed at speed within groups that
> are interested in resolving *some* problem, working out the compromises and
> best approaches, and capturing both the results of the effort and the nature
> of the process in a form that is then accessible to all others interested in
> the solution, we will have contributed to mankind's ability to solve
> "complex problems" where there is a will to do so (where there is no will,
> no solution is possible).
> Since we are talking about augmentation of individuals and small groups, we
> are not necessarily talking about huge amounts of resources. This effort
> doesn't require the approval of the planet, only enough agreement amongst
> those interested in solving the problem of creating tools that are useful in
> this context. The initial solutions do not have to scale to millions of
> people because millions of people aren't going to use them at once and get
> anything done.
> Question: What are the elements (features) of a software tool that will
> support this sort of activity well enough to allow individuals and other
> groups to get on with the problem of solving "complex problems"?
> Some of these we know, and some can be extracted from the problem statement.
> * An individual must be able to use the tool on his own machine(s) to
> capture, organize, and manipulate information, turning it into a useful
> repository of personal knowledge.
> * An individual must be able to publish some or all of the results of his
> thinking to a wide (public) audience.
> * An individual must be able to join with other individuals with interests
> in the same problem domain to manage and evolve their shared information and
> knowledge jointly using the same sort of organization that works for him as
> an individual.
> * Any individual may belong to multiple groups. The individual must have
> complete, simple control over what he shares and with whom.
> * Groups must have joint control over who is a part of the group. The group
> must be able to remove anyone who "doesn't play nice with others".
> * The tools must stay out of the way as much as possible - provide maximum
> benefit for minimum extra energy. The benefits should arise while doing the
> work that needs to be done rather than because of doing extra work.
> * The tool must provide retrieval of the information and its relationships
> is as many ways as can be done easily enough to justify the work.
> I had started to develop design elements, but decided that this is far too
> early in the cycle to be doing that.
> I assert that:
> * Any proposed solution to any problem that is not based in reality will not
> work, no matter how many other supposed merits it may have.
> * "Solutions" are produced by individuals with common personal interests
> working in small groups with an intention to produce a workable result.
> * To be effective, any tool to augment human intelligence must support the
> individual and the groups that he chooses to join because of his own
> personal interests.
> * The OHS group presumably constitutes or contains at least one such group.
> * We need to start by building tools that will support the concepts given
> above for ourselves, if only because "you must operate where you are, you
> cannot operate where you are not".
> * If we who have an intense interest in such tools cannot agree on what
> should be built *for ourselves* and get it done, there is no point at all in
> lamenting the "complex problems" that remain in the world and the fact that
> we don't know how to build tools to solve them.
> * If we do build a set of tools that aids us in collaborating on the
> "complex problem" of building a set of tools with which we are (mostly)
> satisfied for ourselves, we will have made a significant, and perhaps the
> only possible, step toward tools that help in solving the "complex problems"
> of the world.
> Garold (Gary) L. Johnson