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Hi. I'm a Unix Administrator, mathematics enthusiast, and amateur philosopher. This is where I rant about that which upsets me, laugh about that which amuses me, and jabber about that which holds my interest most: Unix.
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Random thoughts

Posted 07-08-2010 at 01:56 PM by rocket357

Aesthetics of Change is a book written by Bradford Keeney in 1983. Taken at face value, it covers Family Systems Therapy. Upon digging deeper, though, a whole new world emerges from Keeney's work. Some random thoughts:

It amazes me how different people can observe the same event and walk away with completely different observations about the event. Example: a man and a child are walking on the opposite side of the road from two observers. The man raises his hand. Observer 1 assumes the man is waving, so observer 1 waves back. Observer 2 assumes the man is going to strike the child, so observer 2 rushes out to kick the man's teeth in. Same exact event, two very different resulting responses.

Keeney cast the phenomenon in the light that (my own paraphrasing) "life is a stream of raw data...how we punctuate that data makes up our reality." This concept reveals that realism and solipsism are merely two sides of the same recursion, and neither exists without the other.

Further revealing is the concept of "binocular view", which Bateson used as a mechanism for observing relationships that are in recursion with each other. To paraphrase a Bateson quote by Keeney, "binocular view is when you observe how each side punctuates the raw data, then, like overlapping perspectives that give depth perception, a third dimension can be observed. This third dimension *is* the relationship."

Now, I'm not much for psychology. Sure, I'm impressed with the form and function of the human mind just like anyone else...but I don't make it my life purpose to study the intricate workings thereof. What I do happen to enjoy and study as my life's purpose is computer systems. Strangely enough, much of Keeney and Bateson's work (along with a host of other scientists and philosophers) applies to computer systems. What is a computer system, afterall, if not a modeling of the human mind? Being designed by humans means that computers carry a stamp of our very nature.

First off, Keeney's work is a particular way of viewing the world. Sure, most of his work is applied to the field of family therapy (his chosen field within psychology), but the application of his work is just one instance of many potential applications. Being a "metaview" of the world, his work can be applied to any number of recursively structured system-based fields. And while his work doesn't explicitly point out possible problem-solving approaches outside of family therapy, the view granted by his work does bring the problem-solution recursion into sharp focus.

Keeney draws the distinction between systems involving humans and systems that do not involve humans. (By merely observing any system, you (a human) become part of the system since the system is, in essence, modeled in your mind and is therefore subject to your own punctuations. Afterall, what do you act upon...the system or your *understanding* of the system? (If I don't know that the command "lsof" exists, does the command "lsof" cease to exist? For you it does!) No, what Keeney was talking about is systems that can be set in motion and left alone versus systems that must have human interaction to continue operation). To paraphrase again: "Firing a ballistic missile is a non-human system, since strapping an engineer to the rocket before firing it off is certainly unethical."

Computers are a bit fuzzier...computer operating systems are capable of both modes of operation, and handle each mode to *differing degrees of success*.

Microsoft Windows, for instance, tends towards the human interaction side of operation. Yes, you can script a GUI, but in terms of efficiency Windows tends to the human interaction side. In fact, Windows was built on the idea that a single person would interact with the machine constantly. In terms of design on this level of thought, Windows is simply a different way of viewing a known concept (though once you delve into the execution of that different view, you get outside of the realm of "we're just different, can't we all get along??")

Most *nix systems are considerably more adept at handling the non-human side of operation. For example, my "companion" at work is an ancient HP server running OpenBSD-STABLE that runs in non-human mode 99% of the time. "Skynet", as it's been called, is a modeling of me...and it handles the menial maintenance tasks that would otherwise take up 99% of my day as a Database Administrator. There are a few scripts on skynet that are intended to run interactively, but the vast majority of skynet's functionality is cron'd tasks.

Using Keeney's world view, a few questions arise. I could ask "how is it that I can trust skynet to do a good portion of my job?" (simple: skynet is a non-human automated model of my thoughts on maintenance...if it breaks something, it only reveals a flaw in my thoughts on maintenance), or perhaps even "why is skynet necessary?" (not quite so simple: the system that I am entrusted to maintain involves Microsoft SQL Server (notorious for maintenance needs) and a lack of "for-profit" funding that would facilitate hiring another DBA to load balance the maintenance requirements...ironically, the change of balance that lead to a restructuring of the system didn't involve more manpower or "metaservers" like skynet...it involved migrating from SQL Server to PostgreSQL running on Linux...while our current "manpower" remained the same, the overall maintenance load dropped, solving the problem all the same). The company I work for could have hired a SQL Server DBA (I do not consider myself to be a SQL Server DBA, even though I am qualified in terms of knowledge), or perhaps purchased any number of third party maintenance automation software suites...but when the big picture came into view (funding + requirements), they made the correct choice in migrating to Linux.

I can hear the gasps of Microsoft fanatics who openly believe the FUD about TCO...let me say this: How you punctuate the world determines your reality. Perhaps using Linux's non-human side of operation could reduce TCO beyond "using Linux like you would use Windows." Just a thought.

Sometimes it seems it would be easier to be able to "unread" a book and go back to ignorance...but I'm afraid that just isn't possible. =)

P.S. - It's pretty self-explanatory why sites like infrastructures.org are designed around the capabilities of *nix and not Windows. (Infrastructures.org is a similar concept to Keeney's work, though applied specifically to computer infrastructures). If for nothing else, it's a good read to see an alternate possibility.
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