31 May 2008

CASAE 2008 - Student Pre-Conference

I'm at the beautiful campus of UBC in Vancouver over the next few days, attending the annual conference of the Canadian Association for Studies in Adult Education. As André Grace mentioned in his welcoming remarks, this is the 50th anniversary of academic adult education in Canada Today was the Student Pre-Conference: an opportunity for grad students from across the country to get together to share experiences and discuss issues that are pertinent to our particular location in the academy. It's also great to catch up with old friends, see how their research is progressing, and to meet new friends amidst a rather large conference. Lots of good food (thanks to the sponsors) and good conversation. The two main sessions focused on Research Methods and Approaches, with a particular emphasis on the researcher locating herself with respect to the participants and their community; and the diversity of Career Trajectories that await us once we finish this rather interesting voyage. Here are a few pics from today's session (click on André's picture to link to the set). More to come, I expect, as the week unfolds.

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29 May 2008

Secret Trade Agreement That Will Have Laptops and iPods Confiscated at the Border

Imagine this: You are crossing the border with an iPod or laptop. The border agent inspects your device and finds that you have some copyright material on it. Your device is confiscated, and you are subject to a fine. The kicker? All of the materials on the device had been legally obtained under Canadian law.

That's the scenario proposed under a new, secretly negotiated trade agreement that is close to being finalized among many western countries.
Called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the new plan would see Canada join other countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, to form an international coalition against copyright infringement.

The deal would create a international regulator that could turn border guards and other public security personnel into copyright police. The security officials would be charged with checking laptops, iPods and even cellular phones for content that "infringes" on copyright laws, such as ripped CDs and movies.

The guards would also be responsible for determining what is infringing content and what is not. The agreement proposes any content that may have been copied from a DVD or digital video recorder would be open for scrutiny by officials - even if the content was copied legally.

"If Hollywood could order intellectual property laws for Christmas what would they look like? This is pretty close," said David Fewer, staff counsel at the University of Ottawa's Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. "The process on ACTA so far has been cloak and dagger. This certainly raises concerns."
Concerns? I'll say! The proposed regulations are being pushed by the US Trade Representative, who has been responsible for other egregious activities on the WTO and WIPO stages. Given that major aspects of international trade policy seem to now be dictated by an industry that is fuelled by its own lies and mythologies, it is sad-bordering-on-shameful that governments cannot think through the illogic here. Minister David Emerson is the Harper sock puppet on this one.

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28 May 2008

BAH Induces Stupidity

Among the theoretical purposes of Bureaucracies, Administrative controls, and Hierarchies (that I refer to as BAH organizations) is the need to eliminate human judgement in organizational systems. Human judgement creates variations in procedures, and this was thought not to be efficient, effective, or acceptable in a factory-oriented, manufacturing environment coming out of the Industrial Age, and into the 20th century. Eliminating judgement means turning off the mind, that is, deliberately creating ways to interfere with thinking. In other words, BAH systems are specifically designed to induce stupidity.

That's my explanation for the comical-if-it-weren't-so-sadly-true incident that occurred Monday at the Kelowna Airport, perpetrated by the bright lights from Garda Canada, the commercial outfit that provides the quote-unquote security at Canadian airports. A Toronto woman was told that she could not board her flight while wearing a 1.75-inch, sterling silver pendant of a Colt .45 gun. It was a "replica," you see, and replicas of weapons are not allowed according to the BAH rules. What's even more laughable is the response of an agent for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority who asked (and you've got to read this in a Bob and Doug McKenzie accent):
“How do you know it wasn‘t a real gun?” asked Guy, a security agent with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, who also declined to provide his last name. “Who knows if there is a gun that small that can shoot bullets? You don‘t know that.”
A photo of the potential security threat is on the blogTO post of this choice item; the full story is in the Kelowna Daily Courier.

All kidding and sarcasm aside, stories like this demonstrate the danger of BAH-ness: when the human mind is deliberately deactivated, when logic and reason are systemically suppressed, tragedies occur.

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A Triumph for Reason and Sanity Over Conservative Ideology

The Harper government's efforts to force ideology to trump not only science, but good social and public health policy were squashed yesterday, with the BC Supreme Court's ruling in favour of Insite. It is nice to see a judge with such, well, insight:
“While there is nothing to be said in favour of the injection of controlled substances that leads to addiction, there is much to be said against denying health care services that will ameliorate the effects of their condition,” said Judge Pitfield in his landmark, 59-page decision.

He rejected arguments from the federal lawyers that drug use was a matter of individual choice and it was up to the government whether addicts at Insite should be immune from prosecution. “Society cannot condone addiction, but in the face of its presence, it cannot fail to manage it, hopefully with ultimate success reflected in the cure of the addicted individual and abstinence,” Judge Pitfield said. “Simply stated, I cannot agree with Canada's submission that an addict must feed his addiction in an unsafe environment when a safe environment that may lead to rehabilitation is the alternative.”
After having witnessed cases of a policing and court system that has, in some cases, run amok and wreaked havoc on lives that need mental health support rather than systemic abuse, this is a refreshing and hopeful outcome.

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20 May 2008

Go Jeff Adams!

Exonerated and vindicated, although it cost nearly $1 million to accomplish. As The Globe reports today,
The flame-haired racing icon from Brampton, Ont., was exonerated by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which accepted that Adams was the victim of an assault when a woman in a bar stuck cocaine in his mouth. The drug consequently tainted his catheter. Because he was not offered a sterile catheter for his doping test after racing in the 2006 Canadian marathon championship, the CAS ruled Adams was blameless when cocaine metabolytes showed up in his urine sample.
(I wrote about it here and here.) good on his lawyers for offering to reduce their fees if Jeff qualifies for the Paralympics. But he has little more than a month to qualify, and this after not having been able to race or have access to training for over a year. But with the determination of a true champion, Jeff has vowed to win a spot on Canada's Paralympic team for the Beijing games. He has also vowed to champion the fight for athlete's rights, a struggle that is sorely needed against a system that is BAH to the core: “One goal was to race again, the second goal is to be a champion for change,” he said. “We need to understand how the sport system engages against athletes,” he said of the processes that condemned him before his final appeal. “I promise Canadian athletes I'll stand up for their rights.

Go Jeff! I'll be rooting for you in September!

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18 May 2008

Meet the Participants!

It is with great pleasure, and a certain amount of relief, that I can announce that I have engaged the last of my five participant organizations. Together, they span the range of organizations according to the ways in which most people tend to slice, dice, segregate, and categorize them. One of the great things about the research observations to date is that, when viewed through a Valence Theory lens, the conventional thinking along the lines of conventional organizational taxonomies seems to break down. Large organizations share commonalities with small organizations; for-profit and not-for-profit line up in certain unexpected ways. There are uncommon commonalities between relatively young, and relatively old, organizations. All in all, my participants so far have provided me with a wealth of very cool stuff - and I'm not even into rigorous analysis yet!

I'd like to introduce them to you. A couple have agreed to allow their identities to be revealed, but for the sake of discretion, I will leave them all confidential in this venue. Alphabetically, then:

Organization A is a very large, well-established organization. It is one of the Fortune 50 companies, and (loosely described to preserve the confidentiality of their identity) involved with Information and Computer Technology.

Organization F is, relatively speaking, closer to being a start-up. They've been in existence for a little over four years, delivering a business-to-business service via the web. Technically, they are out of the true start-up phase. They are, however, very small, with the entire organization being able to fit into one large room. Interestingly, they are just about at the cusp of transitioning from having a start-up mentality characteristic of an entrepreneurship to dealing with the growing pains of becoming a company that is isomorphic with its larger corporate brethren.

Organization I is a very small, social justice Non-Governmental Organization that is explicitly run according to feminist principles. Of all of my participant organizations, I would say that Organization I is the closest to being almost completely consistent with a UCaPP world. In fact, during my conversations with individual participants at Organization I, they were pleasantly surprised that my description of a balanced Valence Theory organization described them so well.

Organization M is a ministry of a provincial government in Canada. I have yet to speak with any participants (they are the most recent to join the club), but I am keenly looking forward to my conversations with this organization's members. Of course I have certain expectations, but I am looking forward to being surprised - as I have been in unexpected ways with all my other participants.

Finally, there is Organization U. Organization U is a medium size, for-profit corporation in the marketing, advertising, and public relations field. It's based in New York City, which one might consider to be the heart of the capitalist world. It is part of a large, global conglomerate, so there is a strong focus - one might say, imperative - on making its profit numbers quarter over quarter, year over year. And, of the organizations I've engaged with so far, it, like Organization I, is very consistent with what I would expect a UCaPP organization to be.

So I've been able to engage with both public and private sector organizations, very large and very small. I have well-established, old organizations and one that is quite young. I have both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, and one that is still undergoing a complete cultural transformation from being strongly BAH to being strongly UCaPP, with all the ensuing disruption, adventure, challenges, and discoveries that go along with it.

What a fantastic and exciting group of organizations with which I have been so privileged to engage. I am tremendously grateful to those individuals who made the introductions, and those within the organizations that took up my request to participate.

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08 May 2008

Mother's Day in Tiananmen Square

I just received a mailing from Amnesty International:
It's Mothers Day in Tiananmen Square

Dear friend of Amnesty,

This Sunday, 11 May, is Mothers' Day in China. Just like here, it's a day for families to celebrate the strength and love that mothers bring into our lives.

And this year, it's a chance for us to reach out to some particular mothers in Beijing who have experienced the worst thing a mother could endure - the death of their own children, at the hands of their own government.

They call themselves the Tiananmen Mothers. They are a group of predominantly Chinese women who never wanted to be activists. But when their children were killed in the violent military crackdown on the Chinese pro-democracy movement in 1989, everything changed.

All they ask is the freedom to publicly mourn without harassment, the release all those who remain in prison in connection with the 1989 protests, full public debate about the events and an independent inquiry into what happened on those dark days almost 19 years ago.

All they want is justice. Led by Ding Zilin (who was nominated for a Nobel peace prize), they face great personal risk every time they speak out. They've suffered detentions, repeated interrogations, and prolonged house arrest. It's a long, dangerous, and all too lonely campaign.

We can never restore what they've lost. But this Mothers' Day in China, we can show these brave women just how big their global family really is, and how much we appreciate their courageous stand for justice.

If you take a moment to fill out a Mothers' Day card online, we'll deliver your comments directly to the Tiananmen Mothers by Chinese Mothers' Day. Just click below to complete and send your card:

Click here to send your card

This Mothers' day in China, let's take a moment to show the Tiananmen mothers that on this day -- which has become so bitter sweet for them -- they are not forgotten. They are never alone.

Please fill out your card today.

Thank you,

Kate Allen
Director, Amnesty International UK

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Tim Hortons? BAH!

Is that iconic, and quintessentially Canadian company, Tim Hortons, truly that BAH? Apparently so, as reported in this Globe story. Timmie's apparently fired an employee for giving a free Timbit - that is one Timbit - to the 11-month-old baby of a regular customer. The three (three!) managers who participated in the firing tribunal with the heinous act of thievery caught on tape were just following orders: " Giving food away free is against the rules, said Tim Hortons district manager Nicole Mitchell. "Employees aren't allowed to give out free products and that's the bottom line,” she said. “She gave out free product and it doesn't matter if it is a Timbit or a coffee or a doughnut or 10 sandwiches or what.”"

The Bureaucratic, Administratively controlled, and Hierarchical mind cannot distinguish between a sixteen-cent Timbit given to the upset baby of a customer who, over time, likely spends hundreds of dollars at the outlet; and stealing cash from the till (which is, effectively, how they view the "loss" of the Timbit). And, of course, no consideration whatsoever for the public relations damage of this firing - a break in the socio-psychological valence with the community at large.

Pretty dumb, Timmie!

Update: Tim Hortons reversed its decision and rehired Nicole Lilliman. The Globe reports, "in a terse press release, the company blamed an overzealous manager for the firing, which threatened to become a public relations nightmare as the story gained traction in the media Thursday."

Overzealous manager? Then how does the company explain the response of the district manager, plus the action of three purportedly "overzealous" managers? BAH, BAH, BAH!

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07 May 2008

TinEye Image Search - Get the picture?

Friends Leila Boujnane and Paul Bloore have just put a public face on the project their company, Idée Inc., has been working on for some time now. TinEye revolutionizes image search across the Internet by returning images that look like an image that you supply to the search engine. Upload an image, or point TinEye to an image URL, and it will return all the images it can find that are the same as, or are close matches to, the image provided. It's a remarkable technology, and a fabulous application. Here's Amber Mac explaining TinEye:

Congratulations, Leila and Paul!

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05 May 2008

Taylor's Soldiering, Retrieved

The only saving grace of transcribing interviews is being able to think slowly about what is actually being conveyed by my participants. Case in point: One of my participant organizations is a Fortune 50 company that can be broadly described as being in the technology sector. It is, as one might expect relatively more hierarchical and BAH in nature. Like many large tech companies, it has parallel status and pay hierarchies between a management stream and a technical stream - an über-geek need not be forced to manage people in order to achieve high status and an equivalent salary.

One of my participants from this organization described how the technical ladder is climbed. You have to have the credentials (i.e., one or more advanced degrees in science or engineering), the experience, and cumulative contributions to justify being granted a higher position. But in addition to the individual's own qualifications, the business has to acknowledge that there is a business need for an individual to be named to the higher position, because, as my participant says, "we expect that our higher technical community to have a significant contribution."

What this actually means is that the organization won't pay an individual what s/he might otherwise be worth in terms of their actual contribution, if it has not previously "justified" needing that contribution.

I'm sure that many people - particularly those doing manual or assembly-line type labour - can enact what Frederick Winslow Taylor called soldiering - essentially marking time so as not to contribute more to the enterprise than what they were being paid for. But for knowledge workers, and especially those in a technical track in a high-tech environment, it is pretty much impossible to "soldier." How does a thinker restrict the number or creativity of their thoughts, ideas and insights? "Gee, I would have invented a new algorithm today, but I'm only at a level 12, and I've used up my quota of ideas for the month. Now, if I was a 15, then we'd be cooking!"

Doesn't work like that.

What is happening is pure BAH: the company treating its knowledge workers as if they were factory labour. The organization is clearly gaining the advantage here in applying an Industrial Age model to solve what it perceives is an Industrial Age problem - the indeterminacy of labour. But as I write about in Creating a Culture of Innovation, the contemporary issue is not indeterminacy of labour, but indeterminacy of knowledge:
Rather than trying to measure and control the amount of
production labour that is going to benefit the organization, managers are now trying to measure and control the amount of knowledge work – thinking, creating, and innovating – that is occurring to benefit the organization. In the general industrial case, one could argue that the productivity of the entire organization is effectively limited by the slowest worker. In the case of indeterminacy of knowledge, the problem is reversed. For the knowledge worker, the lower limit of corporate knowledge “production” is that of the best worker, since that person’s knowledge can be electronically disseminated to all and become the norm, enabling new innovations and insights that can build upon, and exceed, that base level.
An executive from this organization might argue that there is a practical limitation to how much the business can justify to pay in aggregate salaries, irrespective of the beneficial contributions of stellar performers. I don't disagree. But this situation strikes me as a tell-tale indicator of BAH-ness, tightly coupling status, a priori-justified contribution, and pay. Organizations that strike me as being relatively more UCaPP also tend to decouple this previously paradigmatic trinity.

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02 May 2008

Bush-League: The Conservative Party's Attack on Science and Reason

One of the hallmarks of the George W Bush Administration in the US is its attack on science, and the favouring of populism over intelligence and reason. Two articles in the past two days provide clear indication that the Stephen Harper regime in Canada - ironically known as Canada's New Government(tm) - follows in the same ideological footsteps as our neighbour to the south.

In yesterday's Star, Peter Calamai writes an opinion piece, based on a talk he gave at the conference on Statistics, Science and Public Policy at the International Study Centre of Queen's University at Herstmonceux Castle in England. In it, he describes the debacle over the shutdown of the Chalk River nuclear facility last fall.
In the end, the federal government acted out of gut political instincts in the absence of well-founded and independent science advice. Perhaps because the Prime Minister felt he had lost his customary tight control over events, he lashed out in a personal attack on the integrity of Linda Keen, the president of the safety commission. Other ministers and MPs followed suit. These attacks sent a chill through the entire regulatory community.
In today's Globe, there is an article about the Harper government effectively stopping research on the Insite safe injection site in Vancouver, a tremendously successful experiment in harm reduction as attested to by 22 peer-reviewed papers published in a variety of scientific journals.
An independent scientific review led Health Canada in the spring of 2006 to recommend that funding for the project be extended and that similar programs be tried in other cities.

But federal Health Minister Tony Clement intervened, saying there were too many unanswered questions and placed a moratorium on this type of research. The journal article says that was done at the behest of police organizations and based on political concerns, not sound public health policy. ... Ottawa subsequently offered money for additional research, but with the proviso that investigators refrain from disseminating their findings until after the exemption for the safe injection site expires. Dr. Wood [the director of Insite] said this amounts to "muzzling researchers." The University of British Columbia deemed that condition ethically unacceptable and so its researchers did not apply for the grants.
For those not familiar with funding issues, extension of the funding for the site would be dependent on the results of the research, which, if suppressed until after the funding runs out, would guarantee the site would be shut down. Ethics protocols in Canada would deem this to be unethical, since there is prior evidence that the site is beneficial, and so tying the funding to a condition that a beneficial program be shut down is deemed unacceptable by university ethics boards.

What we are seeing here is the triumph of ideology over evidence and logic; a law-and-order doctrine trumping a reduction in human suffering, and, interestingly enough, a reduction in health care expenses incurred by the public purse. But Stephen Harper is a father-knows-best type of interventionist, and in his view, none of us in this country are truly citizens, but Stephen's children, to be "guided" with a firm hand and strict discipline.

To quote the Globe headline, despicable!

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