% fortune -ae paul murphy

A grab bag of odd thoughts

People really are both more and less than the sum of their experiences. It's common, for example, to hold strong opinions that simply don't have any experiental basis and can't stand any real attempt at verification or evaluation.

Talkback contributor Roger Ramjet, for example, has told us a number of times about the problems some of the pointy headed folks create in his company simply because they deny their own experience to believe that Wintel is absolutely better and cheaper than Unix on either x86 or RISC.

I see this every single day -and it's the biggest cause of management failure there is. Uninformed belief clothed in authority and functionally beyond challenge because any attempt to change the opinion is interpreted as a personal attack.

It's not like anyone's immune to this either. I've been looking, for example, into compiler theory lately and decided somewhere along the line and apropos of nothing at all as far I know, that all that "wasted" or "dormant" DNA earth life passes around probably represents nature's way of handling parameter passing. As certitudes go this one's wonderful, and based on exactly no knowledge of the subject whatsoever - but I like it, and that makes me no different in this regard from Roger's -and your- colleagues.

rock picture Take a look at this picture to see the effect in a different way. What do you think that is? (and if you can't get the picture - I'm having trouble with Bell again, please try later).

I was contemplating these questions on the weekend while my wife and her mother were traipsing me and the offspring around various stores in Toronto in search of, I think, a new winter jacket for one of them. One store she actually bought something at was the mountain equipment co-op. This store, of course, isn't what it sounds like -it's the kind of sporting goods store that makes its money on clothing and whose staff can recommend multiple kinds of designer water bottles but blanches at the mere thought of offering a replacement part for an over stretched cable binding.

Since my current "size finish" shoes are being described by the mother in law as disgraceful, boy child and I repaired to the shoe section where I promptly disgraced the family by bursting out laughing when I figured out that the thirty-something ceremoniously mincing up and down six small paving stones slanted to form an eight inch high test mountain was trying out shoes.

Needless to say my attempted defence - pointing out that when the war on terror goes into remission, there are going to be about a million guys with my bad attitudes recoloring public opinion - did not fly.

But, you know, I don't feel guilty -about either issue, and, by the way, that rock picture was taken by the Spirit Rover on Mars. So let me ask, what assumptions did you bring to it? and how were those affected by the shopping story?

So assuming you didn't just see it as an odd rock on Mars, you've probably just illustrated the problem: it's not just that we are the sum of our experiences, it's that when we lack the contextual information, aka experience, needed to make valid judgements, we simply imagine that we do know and go ahead and make the judgements anyway.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.