Gaman

February 25th, 2015 No comments

‘To be honest, I had never come across this Japanese word Gaman until a few days ago. Like many words that come from Eastern cultures, it can be hard to find an accurate and complete translation, especially when these words are tied to, as is the case, philosophical or spiritual concepts that seem, initially, to have no equivalent in our Western cultures.

Gaman (我慢) can be roughly translated as patience, endurance, resilience, perseverance. That kind of thing that is not exactly fashionable in our world views. It can also be stretched to the point where it enters into ascetic territories, by also expressing “self-denial”. Incidentally, these same two ideograms, which come from Chinese, mean, respectively, I and slow: “me-slow”.

So, in this sense, Gaman is considered to be a desirable trait of a strong and governed personality, a virtue, an ethos or law with which to conduct oneself in all matter of life, and it relates to the more puritan or Calvinist idea of gratification delay.  Now, maybe these concepts of patience, endurance, resilience, perseverance, can, and should, come across as more familiar.

Asceticism and stoicism should, but aren’t, more well known in the West. At the end of the day, they belong in our philosophical traditions, those we seem to be reluctant to teach in our schools. But as everyone knows, these days you can sell an idea much better if there is an alluring and mysterious Japanese word supporting it, never mind you probably can find similar ideas in the Greeks and the Romans.

enfants riches, deprimés

 

I think that we have a serious deficit of Gaman in our current lifestyles. I know I have it; I am aware I should have more patience with things, starting with myself, but not stopping just there.  I believe most of us can agree we’re perhaps too prompt to cede to impatience, to be irked by the small inconveniences of modern life, of the workplace, of the society we’ve built, and we don’t stop to consider how comfortable that life is, for starters, in spite of its defects.

When we allow ourselves to be irritable, being that irritation triggered by what most often are actually just small nuisances, things that are part of life, even if we wish we could do away with them, we just prove we are immersed in a culture that has eroded and despised, mocked, that component of stoicism, of resilience, of perseverance to practically nothing. As individuals, we probably have very much neglected this core trait of a healthy character.This, in turn, is nothing new. Many others have already written about the problems with the drive towards ever more immediate gratification, our obsessions with attaining goals sooner than it might be realistic to expect. To grow at all costs, and do it quickly and exponentially; in all aspects of life; in all endeavors.

Who could quantify what that costs in terms of the anxiety that plagues so many in the Western world?

Think about it. The Chinese meaning is illustrative too, “me-slow”. I am sure you’ve heard about the slow movements, slow food, and such others. That’s a form of cultivation too. Of cultivating your character. Walk a bit more down this conceptual stroll, and you’ll see you’re already close to the revival of craftsmanship.

Perseverance, striving for mastery, cultivating that ethos, that virtue. It’s all related. The spontaneous emergence of these phenomena, away from public policies and such, shows there’s a certain want, a lacking, that is felt by a part of society, those who perhaps are more sensitive.

According to Gilles Lipovetsky, we’re living in a post-moralist society.  His rather interesting book Le Crepuscule du devoir (can’t say if it has been translated to English) precisely strikes home this point of the loss of morals. Now, don’t take this “morals” as the rather narrow sense of a certain type of religious, conservative, scared-by-sex-on-tv, simpleton morals, but in the sense of the individual losing – or that’s been made to lose – the criteria, the will and the strength to train oneself, to constantly improve, to strive for attaining worthy goals that will take time and toil, instead of looking only for the cheap and immediate steps that bring hollow gratifications as soon as possible, like rats in a lab maze.

No doubt this is a trait of our Western civilization, and probably our soft power is exporting it.  We need more Gaman.  We need to cultivate it in ourselves. In our kids, many of which are being brought up perhaps as brats that are way too spoiled. For them, this cultivation of Gaman is vitally important as they transition into teenage and early adulthood.  The way it looks now, the world seems poised to demand quite a big dose of Gaman in their lifetime, and I can only hope I going very wrong here, but that’d be a matter for a different rant.

Categories: life, rants Tags: ,

return of the conviction politician? WTF?

February 18th, 2015 No comments

I was reading this short article on the idea of the return of the “conviction politician” (whatever that might exactly be) and the, as of late, much adored, and hitherto unknown, Varoufakis. Frankly, this “conviction politician” idea does not seem to be that sound, if not downright scary. Were not Stalin, Mao or Hitler men of conviction too?

It’s a simple question, are we talking about a the management of a country or about vague, and mostly outdated, ideologies detached from reality, and in fact, impervious to it? Personal convictions usually rest on prejudices and ideologies that often are not amenable to any analysis of reality, and which tend to avoid realistic assessment of our environment when that assessment is going to yield results that do not fit in the range of acceptable results according to our set of beliefs.

It’s even funnier if you consider what would be the scenario if the “conviction politician” were to be one of traditional and/or religious convictions.  I can almost hear the cries, the outrage, the indignation from the usual flank of leftish commentators, who in fact, are ferociously conservative and fascist.

However, if the “conviction politician” is one that shares my convictions – he’s one of our tribe, of our church – then it’s a good thing.  It’s like freedom of expression, as long as it is my ideas that get voiced, all is well.

While a 100% technocratic with no “soul” approach is no good thing, having the wrong convictions and a twisted moral compass is no good either. Nothing proved that better that the worst moments of the XXth century, and the Soviets demonstrated what horrendous outcome results if you combine both things. If your approach is to appeal to solidarity after having binged on other people’s money, and having issued public debt like crazy on the backs of future generations (now, that’s some fucking solidarity as well), and the ask everyone to share the burden, what kind of proper and “right” conviction is that?

And that’s without even entering a discussion of one’s own idea of “right” vs. “what works” or “what has to be done” if you really want to do something for “the hungry in the streets of our cities”.  “The hungry in the streets of our cities” have been created by the reckless fiscal and budgetary indiscipline of the state and its very poor management of the economy, its siphoning off of resources from the real economy to its own expenditure, be it on feeding the beast, be it on its numerous and tangled client network, lobbies and vested interests as well as the social engineering experiments it loves to indulge in; by its meddling with job markets, by taxing companies into oblivion and discouraging individual initiative.

And of course by the absolute refusal to ever admit you were wrong, your policies were wrong or misfired. Never! It’s a sign of our times, this refusal to accept the consequences of our actions and decisions. We can see that across the entire gamut, from the single individual to the public sector and the state. It’s a habit that has permeated into the very fabric of what our societies are and the terms in which they think of themselves. Just like thingking that anything you do with the “right and good” intention has to be inherently right. It does not matter if those good intentions have unintended and wrecking consequences. It was done with good intentions in mind in the first place, so it is all justified.

There’s never any discussion of freeing up the economy, of loosening up the shackles the public sector has on the private sector, the sticks in the wheels.  Apparently solutions must be found within a very narrow set of options, because there are many taboos.  A very interested cadre of state lovers has succeeded in beatifying the state, pushing for the identification (confusion) between people and state, and often successfully. No matter how strong, your convictions and ideology aren’t feeding anybody, except maybe you. They become self-serving.  More worried with saving face against the promises and the “red lines” that were constrained in the first place by your own convictions. Since the discussion seems to be Kantian and philosophical, I’d recommend revisiting the concept of Schuld in Nietzsche. Maybe that can help point the moral compass in the “right” direction.

Categories: contemporary, rants Tags: , ,

understimating testing at our own peril

February 16th, 2015 No comments

Software testing is routinely underplayed, ignored and underestimated when planning a software project. Testing is not a single thing, rather it consists of different tasks, most of which take more time than many seem to think. Sadly, it’s quite common to give little thought to these tasks, as well as the risks associated with each. The temptation to cut corners on testing seems to be irresistible, even when paying that tax later on hurts like hell. So what is testing made up of?

First, somebody needs to come with an adequate selection of test cases. Here it is important to remember that the more code paths and components involved the better. Here it is important to make a distinction between greenfield projects, where test cases will likely be created by a stakeholder or a few of them with the most business knowledge, or in legacy projects ( sometimes called “brownfield” although sometimes they deserve to be called “scorched earth” projects 😉 ), where it is not rare at all that source code has to be analyzed, to find undesirable coupling points, main code paths, unwritten business rules, kludges, etc. This is rarely taken into account. However there’s always a dark area that the stakeholders creating the pure logic cannot contemplate, and that is all the intricacies of internal state. Any sufficiently complex piece of software that has been maintained and enhanced over the years by different people will have more than its fair share of things such as hidden fields, flags with obscure names and purposes controlling flow, rare branches for particular situations multiplying the code paths, etc. It’s relatively easy to automate the testing of a calculator, not so easy to for a complex business application with hundred of inputs, edge cases, business scenarios, different workflows, etc.

The thing does not stop at selecting the cases; you need to take care of creating some sort of system, document, artifact that specifies the tests and leaves room to store the results, to at least, document the state of the system at a given point in time with regards to the test case selection, how many of them were satisfactory and how many weren’t.

Somebody needs to take care of executing that test case selection. Do you have dedicated people for testing? do you have some degree of test automation? According to the risk elements introduced in point 1, this gets more complicated and time consuming accordingly. Test execution is the part that’s probably more amenable to automation, but also architectural decisions made here can make it much harder. Think of distributed architectures, microservices that act / react asynchronously, hard – potentially hard to automate end to end.

Test result analysis. If all goes well, then nice, if not, errors have to be analyzed, traced, the input that caused them captured in order to reproduce scenarios. And we can also question ourselves about the quality of our oracle here, if it’s available and how accurate and correct it is. If we are to deduce correctness of test results from the specification, it may become very similar to exegesis of ancient texts and scriptures, that is, tedious, time consuming, error prone, unclear, and the basis for endless discussion about the interpretation of requirements.

Debugging of error scenarios. Potentially very time consuming. Fault removal and regression testing. You do have unit tests at least, right? Test maintenance. Tests and documentation maintenance seem to be the lowest caste in the software world. It’s not that they are often slashed off to “gain” time, it’s that nobody wants to remember to do it. If not updated, their usefulness obviously vanishes quickly. Bringing up to date an obsolete test suite is another nasty effort.

umbrellas

get your umbrellas out for the impending shitstorm

In the case of big and hairy integration projects between different systems and components this is even more important. My experience is that in this sort of project the fallacy of perfect execution and the siren song of perfect planning contribute a lot to underestimating the time and effort to integrate components that have been developed separately and the testing of the subsequent assembled system. Additional factors such as geographically diverse teams and if different companies have been involved can only make it more complicated and time consuming.

Now, let’s travel mentally to that beautiful rare moment of calm at the very beginning of the project. This is not an cool and agile startup. We’re now in an old corporate behemoth. We do things differently here. So, we’re in this meeting and we’re guesstimating our deadlines, internal and otherwise and ballparking a release date that gets then set into stone. We all agree that 3 days for testing is enough. Yi-haaaaaa. And we said 3 days because after all, this is a project integrating SAP, with a BPM, with a web site, with a set of services, with whatever you want. (the use of 3 is just an example)

So we did it. We set up ourselves for a lot of pain when the time comes to assemble everything and test it. The old engineering mentality kicked in. We haven’t learned yet that software isn’t like that. Now you’re bound to a nerve-racking project end, the grand finale, as nobody thought the integration would be that hard, we had specifications and countless meetings after all, right? and that so much testing and refinement would be needed. The problem is that this was not the first or the second time we did that kind of project. So what is keeping us from learning not to underestimate the importance of testing, the value that it adds to the product we put out there? Why do we keep making this mistake repeatedly? The answers to those questions can probably be very varied, depending on organizations, but most often, it will be variations on these

 

    • We have to deliver faster and faster every day
    • but we don’t have the right means or practices (we don’t write tests or do tdd, we don’t have continuous delivery or only a poor man version)
    • this is a web project, and in the web you can have things done in 5 minutes
    • We have promised this deadline to our stakeholders / clients – and yes, we promised that date the first thing in the project, before we knew what we had to do, the complexity of the challenge and even before consulting our tech staff , and as we promised this date our asses are now on the line

 

Thus we persist in these base mistakes and we ignore testing at our own peril and keep suffering as a consequence.

Categories: rants Tags: ,

the actor model

November 6th, 2014 No comments

Now that the reactive model is becoming the hot new thing in some circles – although still far from becoming a “popular” thing among average developers -, it’s a good thing to get more familiar with the actor model. Quoting from wikipedia,

The actor model in  computer science is a mathematical model of concurrent computation that treats “actors” as the universal primitives of concurrent computation: in response to a message that it receives, an actor can make local decisions, create more actors, send more messages, and determine how to respond to the next message received

Not that this is a new thing really, since the actor model comes from 1973, but many such innovations often take years and years to gain mainstream adaption (think for example lambdas or garbage collection, who seem like relatively new and welcome additions to main programming languages, but that were in Lisp way before).Some references to know more about the actor model then

There are also some interesting books in the market about the actor model, but these links are already a good introduction to this very interesting topic. The entry from wikipedia itself also offers a plethora of additional references.

Some frameworks, most notably Akka in the JVM / Scala world, and its .net porting, Akka.net, as well as Microsoft’s own Orleans framework are the best known tools in the industry.

Categories: architecture Tags: