Updates from February, 2017 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Doug Belshaw 7:22 am on February 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: culture change, , organisationa   

    Cultural change within large organisations is hard 

    CC0 Andrew Branch

    Dan Hon is back! He restarted his rambling (but super-smart) daily newsletter again this week, after some mental health issues which he’s always very upfront about.

    He’s been helping set up the Child Welfare Digital Service in California. It’s a tough project, but one that has the opportunity to have a huge positive impact on thousands of vulnerable children.

    Dan writes, however, that cultural change is hard because you’re having to criticise the current environment:

    It doesn’t matter whether the environment was willed into being in a singular act or whether it accreted over time (say, thirty years worth of reactive policy and practices building up like some sort of regulatory ring of limescale scum in a student house bathtub), all that matters is that it’s there.

    That environment, though, effectively implicates everyone who has a stake in that environment.

    And there it is. So, you’d think, perhaps it’s better to create an ‘innovation unit’?

    Put it this way: you land on a planet that has hardly any free energy so the only type of life that can survive there is slow and large. The approach that I’m using right now is essentially nuking it so that quick, fast life can thrive, but it’s a bit of a blunt instrument because you end up nuking the entire planet. Where a planet is a department or an agency, of course. 

    There is no “lab” here. And the struggle I’m dealing with is: how well do you want to solve this problem? Do you want to solve it properly, for ever? Does that inevitably, inexorably mean changing the entire organizational structure, and is the best way to do that top-down? Or, can you do it bottom-up? Can you start a couple cells and have them do a sort of reverse-takeover?

    This is why I think innovation labs don’t work: they silo off the danger to the organization and they let all the different stuff happen elsewhere where they can’t affect the environment of the host organism. It’s as if you were able to deal with cancer by saying: okay cancer, come right in, you can have just my left foot, but I’m going to make sure you can’t get to the rest of my body. 

    In my naive understanding, when cancer wins, the host organism dies. You don’t just get big undifferentiated blobs of cancer or innovation. They don’t take over the organism in a useful parasitic way. 

    This isn’t to say that you can’t get good results by, say, embedding a small multi-disciplinary team inside a department and empowering them to get stuff done. But my worry is: so what? So they get some stuff done. Do you win the war? How do you get from that one small team and change the way the entire department works? 

    I’m more or less sure that at this stage of my so-called career, I haven’t seen any successful examples of cell or bottom-up based organizational change. They only ever come from the top. You can win small battles, but I worry about longevity. 

    What this says about government in the large doesn’t inspire me with confidence. At least, not in my lifetime.

    On the contra, for what it’s worth, here’s an opportunity. Any time anyone’s going to upgrade or replace a legacy system and they’ve got money to do it (and in most government cases, it’s stupid money), the legacy system replacement is the best excuse you’ve got to do org and culture change.

    In other words, what passes for true cultural change depends on what kind of organisation you’re dealing with. For some places, like government and university departments, the rate of change might be glacial.

  • Doug Belshaw 3:49 pm on February 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Black Death, history, inequality   

    Injustice and catastrophe 

    CC BY-NC Shawn Harquail

    Although these days I concern myself with the role of technology in (mostly educational) organisations, I began my career as a History teacher. There are certain periods of the past that fascinate me, and one of these — in a rather macabre fashion &madsh; is the Black Death that ravaged Europe in the 14th century. In England it led to the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 and that, in turn, led to the end of the feudal system that William of Normandy introduced post-1066.

    In other words, humans do a good job of forgetting man-made hierarchical power relationships at times of intense strife. I was reminded of this when reading an article from The Atlantic entitled The Only Thing, Historically, That’s Curbed Inequality: Catastrophe, which outlines a bit of a paradox:

    If history is any indication, then, the resurgence of inequality since the 1980s should not have come as a surprise. The effects of violent leveling invariably abate over time: Populations recover when plagues subside, failed states are replaced by newcomers. By now the aftershocks of the 20th century’s great wars have faded. Top tax rates and union membership are down, communism is defunct, and globalization, however reviled, is (still) in full swing. The four levelling forces will not return any time soon: Technology has made mass warfare obsolete; violent, redistributive revolution has lost its appeal; most states are more resilient than they used to be; and advances in genetics will help humanity ward off novel germs.

    So, if you’re among the poorest in society and want your whole class to rise with you, the best you can hope for is an immense catastrophe that shocks the system into change. During times of peace the rich just get richer. Sad, but historically true. Hopefully we can find ways round that in future — perhaps through a global system of UBI.

    Image CC BY-NC Shawn Harquail

  • Doug Belshaw 8:32 am on February 18, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: htaccess, , WordPress   

    Protecting my websites from hackers 

    For the past three weekends, my websites have been subject to attacks by hackers. I wasn’t sure what was going on at first, but then I realised that a script was gaining access to all the .htaccess files and injecting additional text.

    With websites hosted on Apache-powered servers (i.e. most of the web) the .htaccess file allows rules to be defined for specific things to happen. This can be incredibly powerful and useful. For example, if you move something from a subdirectory of your personal website to its own domain, you can create an automatic redirect. There’s a million other things you can do, too.

    The specific attack I’ve been subject to several times recently is where a whole batch of rules are added to the .htaccess file of each website I run. Cleverly, these are added after lots of spaces have been added, so they’re not immediately visible when you go to edit the file. They also seem to only work on mobile, which obviously isn’t how most website owners edit (or even view) their own websites. Visitors were redirected to websites dedicated to gambling, mobile gaming, and porn.

    I sought advice from various quarters and updated my passwords for both my main blog and my webhosting account. I also installed the Wordfence plugin to add an additional layer of security. This, unfortunately, made no difference.

    So, today I’ve done the following:

    I’m also in the process of changing all the usernames and passwords on all of my WordPress installations. This is a royal pain in the arse.

    • Neil Ford 1:36 pm on February 18, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      If installing the Wordfence plugin didn’t help (and I’ve found it to be very good), then it’s quite possible that WordPress isn’t the way in the hackers are using. That means unfortunately adding rules to .htaccess may not resolve the issue.

      Good luck getting to the bottom of this. As you say, pain in the arse.

  • Doug Belshaw 1:56 pm on February 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: link   

    No CEO: The Swedish company where nobody is in charge

    Shame there’s no mention of co-operatives here.

  • Doug Belshaw 6:03 pm on February 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    The advice in this WIRED article about retaining your privacy when going through US customs also applies on an everyday basis 

    From the article:

    If customs officials do take your devices, don’t make their intrusion easy. Encrypt your hard drive with tools like BitLocker, TrueCrypt, or Apple’s Filevault, and choose a strong passphrase. On your phone—preferably an iPhone, given Apple’s track record of foiling federal cracking—set a strong PIN and disable Siri from the lockscreen by switching off “Access When Locked” under the Siri menu in Settings.

    Remember also to turn your devices off before entering customs: Hard drive encryption tools only offer full protection when a computer is fully powered down. If you use TouchID, your iPhone is safest when it’s turned off, too, since it requires a PIN rather than a fingerprint when first booted, resolving any ambiguity about whether border officials can compel you to unlock the device with a finger instead of a PIN—a real concern given that green card holders are required to offer their fingerprints with every border crossing.

    There’s a great example of how to be truly subversive later on in that article where it suggests that you turn on two-factor authentication on all your accounts (which you should use anyway) and then remove the SIM card from the phone you’d use to get the code you need. That way you can’t be forced to unlock your device. You can post generated backup codes to yourself, or get someone you trust to send them to you once you’ve cleared security. Genius.

  • Doug Belshaw 9:24 am on February 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Baltasar Gracián, time   

    Bide your time. It indicates a great heart and profound patience. Don’t be too hasty or too vehement. First master yourself and then you master others. You must journey through the tracts of time to the centre of opportunity. Prudent delay allowed success to ripen and secrets to mature. Time’s crutch is more effective than Hercules’ nail-studded club.

    from Baltasar Gracián’s ‘The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence’, Maxim 55
  • Doug Belshaw 9:10 am on February 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Seneca   

    Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs. All the years that have passed before them are added to their own. Unless we are very ungrateful, all those distinguished founders of holy creeds were born for us and prepared for us a way of life. By the toil of others we are led into the presence of things which have been brought from darkness into light. We are excluded from no age, but we have access to them all; and if we are prepared in loftiness of mind to pass beyond the narrow confines of human weakness, there is a long period of time through which we can roam.

    Seneca, ‘On the Shortness of Life’
  • Doug Belshaw 5:05 pm on February 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: dystopia, Gutenberg parenthesis, literacy, secondary orality   

    Four types of dystopia (and what it means for literacy) 

    CC0 Rafał Malinowski

    In this post, Darren Allen outlines four types of dystopia:

    • Orwellian — autocratic totalitarianism
    • Huxleyan — democratic totalitarianism
    • Kafkaesque — bureaucratic surveillance
    • Phildickean — rule by replacing reality with ersatz reality

    He goes on to note:

    The reader can decide for herself under which of above we currently struggle to eke out a life worth living. I would like to suggest that all modern societies are both Kafkaesque and Phildickian with either a Huxleyan or Orwellian overarching framework; modern, western, capitalist societies tend to be basically Huxleyan (HKP) and pre-modern, eastern, communist countries tend to be basically Orwellian (OKP).

    For me, the interesting one of the four dystopias outlined by Allen is the Phildickean version:

    This technique of social control began with literacy—and the creation of written symbols, which devalued soft conscious sensuous inspiration, fostered a private (reader-text) interaction with society, created the illusion that language is a thing, that meaning can be stored, owned and perfectly duplicated, that elite-language is standard and so on—and ended with virtuality— the conversion of classrooms, offices, prisons, shops and similar social spaces into ‘immersive’ on-line holodecks which control and reward participants through permanent, perfect surveillance, the stimulation of positive and negative emotion, offers of godlike powers, and threats to nonconformists of either narco-withdrawal or banishment to an off-line reality now so degraded by the demands of manufacturing an entire artificial universe, that only hellish production-facilities, shoddy living-units and prisons can materially function there.

    A footnote next to the word ‘literacy’ explains:

    Obviously I’m not suggesting that literacy is inherently or completely dystopian, but it is the beginning of a dangerous and distorting process, which starts with societies demanding literacy for participation — and devaluing orality and improvised forms of expression — and ends with the complete eradication of reality. This danger and distortion increases with every step towards virtuality (print, perspective, photography, television, internet) until, by the time we reach VR, there remains no possibility of reverie, transcendence, humanity, meaning or genuine creativity, all of which become suspect.

    Fascinating. More than a hint of the Gutenberg parenthesis and secondary orality in there!

  • Doug Belshaw 1:44 pm on February 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: digital literacies, politics   

    (But What If) We're Wrong. 

    CC0 Evan Dennis (via Unsplash)

    I finished reading Chuck Klosterman’s But What If We’re Wrong? yesterday. It’s fantastic. You should read it.

    What I particularly like about it is that he lets you the thought processes behind the points he’s trying to make, ‘open sourcing’ his belief system for you to deconstruct. In other words, you don’t just get the big reveal. It’s a personal book, and not (as he says in the introduction) a collection of essays.

    There’s many quotable parts of Klosterman’s book, but this paragraph, which comes towards the end, really stuck out for me. Remember, he’s writing just before Brexit and the 2016 Presidential election:

    We spend our lies learning many things, only to discover (again and again) that most of what we’ve learned is either wrong or irrelevant. A big part of our mind can handle this; a smaller, deeper part cannot. And it’s that smaller part that matters more, because that part of our mind is who we really are (whether we like it or not).

    This seems particularly prescient. It comes a few thousand words after this nugget:

    If we think about the trajectory of anything – art, science, sports, politics – not as a river but as an endless shallow ocean, there is no place for collective wrongness. All feasible ideas and every possible narrative exist together, and each new societal generation can scoop out a bucket of whatever antecedent is necessary to support their contemporary conclusions.

    The point Klosterman is making is that the internet brings everything into a ‘long now’ where the time difference between, say, the 1970s and today is eradicated. Although he doesn’t mention it explicitly, he’s referencing what danah boyd calls context collapse.

    We now have immediate access to all possible facts. Which is almost the same as having none at all.

    It’s a crazy world we live in when Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that’s (theoretically) editable by anyone bans a well-known newspaper as an ‘unreliable source’.

  • Doug Belshaw 8:48 am on February 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    I’ve switched this site from Known to WordPress, hence it looking slightly different. Bizarrely, Known had a way to export data, but then you couldn’t import it into a new installation! I’ve managed to get all the posts into a new installation of WordPress, but the images (and some of the formatting) is a different matter…

compose new post
next post/next comment
previous post/previous comment
show/hide comments
go to top
go to login
show/hide help
shift + esc