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Being Yourself

Entry 1978, on 2019-05-16 at 20:06:33 (Rating 3, Comments)

You can tell a lot about a person by the cartoons, quotes, and other material they have stuck on the walls of their office. I often have people admiring my collection, and I think it does tell them something about me, so what have I got? Well, here's my collection, from top to bottom...

First, I have a cartoon in two sections. At the top is an image of a group of people pulling a large block with another person on top, sitting at a desk and giving out orders. That person is labelled "Boss". In the second section is similar image but this time the extra person is helping to pull the block while pointing the direction to move in. That person is labelled "Leader".

In fact, I would go one step further than the cartoon does by suggesting that I don't even want a leader. I am quite capable of figuring out where to go myself without guidance from anyone else. But at least the leader is far more acceptable than the boss. Bosses are the worst.

Second, I have a photo from a library with the classification for books in a particular section. The section is "Religion" and the code is "BS". After checking, it turns out that "BS" is the classification for the Bible in the Library of Congress system, so it's sort of true.

Of course, religion isn't the only source of BS in this world, but it must be the biggest and most harmful. The real problem is that, in countries where religion is becoming less relevant, other forms of nonsense take over, such as new-age beliefs, conspiracies, and alternative medicine. These don't have the same power and therefore potential for harm, as religion, but they still belong in the BS category!

Third, I have a woman on a building site wearing a hard had and holding a clipboard. The caption is "I have no idea how to do your job, but my book says you're doing it wrong".

This, to me, epitomises the problem with modern society: that the people making the decisions have no idea what they are doing and are implementing changes on behalf of the people who actually do know what's going on. And yes, the fact that it is a woman wearing a hard hat and pretending to know what she's doing is relevant!

Fourth, I have a quote by Robert Reich, which says "You can't inspire people if you are going to be uninspiring".

As I intimated above, I really don't feel the need for leadership or inspiration, but in the unlikely event that I did find a leader who was inspiring I might give them some respect. Needless to say, that has never happened so far.

Fifth, I have another quote, this time by Thomas Edison, which says "Hell, there are no rules here. We are trying to accomplish something".

As I have said in past posts: there is some need for rules, but I think the rules should be flexible and act more as guidelines than anything else. The biggest problem with the rules we have now, of course, is that they are made by uninspiring bosses (see 1 and 4 above).

Sixth is a picture of a smug and satisfied looking mid-west farmer (well, that's what I see him as anyway) saying "it ain't much, but it's honest work". The caption is "When you write 10 lines of code without searching on Google".

Yeah, as a part-time programmer I do use various web sites to look for useful sections of programming code (PHP, Javascript, and variants of C mainly) for my projects. But I do avoid this where possible, and where I do see some code I like I re-write it in my own style. Just using code copied directly can often lead to problems later because of lack of understanding.

Seventh is "Pournelle's Law of Bureaucracy", which states: "In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely."

My critical opinion of bureaucrats will be well known to anyone who has read this blog, so there is little need to clarify that here. And this also fits in with the general theme of other items above.

Eighth is a sign allegedly from outside a pub which lists why beer is better than Jesus. here are the reasons: "No one will kill you for not drinking beer. Beer doesn't tell you how to have sex. Beer has never caused a major war. They don't force beer on minors who can't think for themselves. When you have a beer, you don't knock on people's doors trying to give it away. Nobody's ever been burned at the stake, hanged, or tortured over his brand of beer. You don't have to wait 2000+ years for a second beer. There are laws saying beer labels can't lie to you. You can prove you have a beer. If you've devoted your life to beer, there are groups to help you stop.".

Yeah, these are pretty funny and an obvious dig at the silliness and harm of religion. I particularly like the ones about waiting 2000 years for your second beer, and the laws saying beer labels can't lie to you!

Ninth is a Dilbert cartoon. Dilbert and an older colleague are reminiscing about the old days and say this: "Older man: When I started programming, we didn't have any of these sissy 'icons' and 'windows.'" The man continues, "All we had were zeros and ones - and sometimes we didn't even have ones." The man continues, "I wrote an entire database program using only zeros." Dilbert asks, "You had zeros? We had to use the letter O."

As an old-school programmer I do like to tell people about how tough it was back in the "early days" of computing where we would program "on the bare metal". Sometimes I remind people that by typing one line of code in a high level language today, you might be doing what a thousand lines of machine code would have done then. And when I do this I sometimes quote this cartoon as well. To be fair, I never programmed in binary, but I did once write an entire game in machine code by entering hexadecimal machine code instructions!

Tenth is a XKCD cartoon. A figure is walking along checking her smartphone. It asks her for her location and she clicks Allow. Then it asks for her momentum and she clicks "Deny" and thinks "Nice try".

This is a good test to see if people know any physics. Anyone who gets this cartoon has passed a basic "geek test" by recognising the common function of phones asking for permission to gather information, and also recognising a reference to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle where knowing both the location and momentum of a particle is impossible (or, the more accurately you know one the less accurately the other can be measured).

Eleventh is a cartoon showing a picture of a cop, labelled "thought police". In a speech bubble is: "Looks like you've had a bit too much to think".

Increasingly, it seems that there really are unofficial "thought police" operating in society. Of course, no one has figured out how to read our thoughts directly yet, but when thoughts are made manifest through speech, comments on social media, etc the thought police never seem far away.

Twelfth is another Dilbert cartoon. Wally (a common character in the cartoon) approaches another employee and says, "Hold it right there, buddy." Wally continues, "That scruffy beard.. those suspenders... that smug expression..." Wally concludes, "You're one of those condescending Unix computer users!" The man responds, "Here's a nickel, kid. Get yourself a better computer."

I guess this just reflects my own smugness as a Mac user that I am so superior to all those masses of Windows users out there. The Mac's operating system is based on Unix, of course, and I really recognise the type of character portrayed in the cartoon. Dilbert cartoons are like that: the situations and characters are so easy to identify with.

Thirteenth (I promise, I'm almost done) is a chart labelled "Innovation Killer Org Chart". It shows a series of positions in a large organisation with "Chief idea killer" at the top, leading down to various other positions in a hierarchy, such as "VP of status quo" and "Director of bureaucracy" and "Director of analysis paralysis". At the bottom is a position "Manager of new growth ideas" marked vacant.

This seems like standard management structure in large organisations and relates to many of the other points already discussed, such as bosses rather than leaders, lack of expertise in decision makers, and lack of inspiration from those who are expected to inspire. Organisations who want real innovation should have less people trying to make others achieve that goal, not more.

Finally is my favourite. It is a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, which states: "The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

This is what I strive for in life. I don't want to be bound by rules (see item 5) created by people I don't respect, like managers, lawyers, and accountants. I don't want to be controlled by ignorant bureaucrats (1, 3, 4, 7, and 13). I want the freedom to think for myself (2, 6, 8, and 11). And finally, I want to do things my way and be interested in weird geeky things and be proud of that (9, 10, and 12).

Yeah, good old Nietzsche was right: being yourself is a privilege, even if it is a hard privilege to win.

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