Kicking off the ILFB Award: Intelligent Life-Forms in the Blogosphere

As announced in one of my recent off-the-wall posts I have been pondering about founding an award of my own. I am on a mission this week – now I need to get it done!

My goals are as follows:

  • Create rules that are self-consistent, loophole-free, but nonetheless rather simple to describe and to follow.
  • Don’t try to control something that will get out of hand anyway, such as the mutation of blog award logos. Since I am not exactly a graphic designer or other visual arts genius I would be more than happy if the logo I have created would evolve into something better.
  • Don’t put unnecessary pressure on the nominees to come up with thousand facts about themselves and nominate hundreds of other blogs. This just decreases the quality of the replies and the nominations. Exponential inflation of nominations should be avoided.
  • We don’t want to end up with questions like “What is favorite color?” and facts about me such as “I like posting cute cat videos on #caturday”, don’t we?
  • We do not want thoughtful, serious bloggers to deny awards because these are silly chain letters and/or a waste of time

These is the award description and the rules. SHOULD, MAY and MUST are written in capital letters – this is not shouting, this is following conventions used with internet standards.

Actually, I wanted to call it the Unaward (as an allusion to Lewis Carroll’s celebration of the unbirthday), but you already find related awards on the net. Any allusion to 42 and the like has already been seized (or invalidated) by a blogger who called himself an ‘award grinch’ in the comments on my most recent blog nomination party.

——- [description start] ——-

This award is called

ILFB Award: Intelligent Life-Forms in the Blogosphere.

0. It rewards bloggers who are able to cover diverse subjects in a thoughtful and entertaining way. There are no other constraints such as a maximum number of followers.


  1. You are bestowed upon this award no matter what you do. You MAY deny passing on the award, the award will die out – as many life-forms did. You SHOULD nominate at least one blogger, you MAY nominate two bloggers. There is no deadline – you MAY wait for years if you pass on the award, but you MUST NOT nominate somebody if you haven’t been nominated. The founder of the award is exempt from the latter.
  2. You MAY nominate the blogger who has nominated you – the award MAY bounce back and forth between two bloggers forever. However, you MUST change the reason for the nomination every time.
  3. You MUST explain in more than one full sentence why you have nominated the nominee. You SHOULD reward bloggers who are able to write about at least two seemingly diverse subjects.
  4. You SHOULD reblog or pingback one of the nominee’s posts that has been published within the past year. The linked post SHOULD reflect key characteristics of the nominated blog.
  5. You MUST display the award’s logo, and you MAY change the title of the award as well as the logo. They would mutate anyway.
  6. If you find any inconsistency or loophole you SHOULD amend these rules to fix them.
  7. If the award title results in copyright infringements or any violation of any rights you MAY modify it. You MUST NOT hold the award’s founder liable.
  8. You MAY modify and amend rules 1.-7. to your liking as long as the changes
    – reflect your being an intelligent life-form in the blogosphere
    – are in line with the Prime Directive of this award – item no.0.
  9. Include this set of rules 0.-9. in your nomination speech post.

Compliance with the three MUST conditions as stated in 1., 2., and 5. will be checked by the founder of this award using his/her infamous googling skills at random. Any violation will be prosecuted and punished by a making the guilty party subject to a satirical blog post. Any blogger who had once been bestowed the award and who has proved to be compliant with the rules is entitled and encouraged to do the same (Google for non-compliant nominees and ridicule them)

——- [description end] ——-

Now I am nominating the first blog ever. Listen, life-forms in the blogosphere:

  1. The initial ILFB Award – Intelligent Life-Forms in the Blogosphere goes to Pairodox Farm. I swear that I did not cross-check / cross-google this award’s acronym before I made this decision. This blog award is not in any way related to or affiliated with the Illinois Farm Bureau –
  2. Not relevant yet.
  3. Dave from Pairodox Farm is capable of combining the following in his posts:
    a) Artistic photography, and his photos are always linked to stories. Very often these stories are not what you would expect from looking at the photos.
    b) Interesting details on agriculture in general, rural living – sheep breeding and antique farming equipment in particular.
    c) Interdisciplinary posts on the intersection of various sciences – such as mathematics and biology.
    d) So in summary, this blog manages to be entertaining, visually appealing, interesting and geeky at the same time. In particular, it combines the sublime and intellectual with the hands-on and down-to-earth.
  4. My previous post was a reblog of a Pairodox post that showed off 3.a)-d) – especially 3.c) and 3.d)
  5. Here is is. Yes, I am not a designer, I warned you. The icon is from Microsoft Office 2010 cliparts, you I guess we won’t be sued unless you create a business from the award (maybe).

    ILFB-Award-Intelligent-Life-Forms-in-the Blogosphere

    This is the official logo for the ILFB award: Intelligent Life-Forms in the Blogosphere. The intelligent black life-form in his/her black ship is exploring a new blue world while the innocent, white blogosphere is rising in the background.

  6. Not relevant yet
  7. Not relevant yet / I didn’t care.
  8. Not relevant yet / I am not creating a multiverse yet to change my rules in the other instance of the universe.
  9. See above.

Now I would kindly ask for feedback from all those logicians, corporate policy enforcers, internet protocol geeks, chain-letter-award skeptics, and other allegedly intelligent life-forms out there. Is there any loophole left?

On Social Media and Networking (Should Have Been a Serious Post, Turned out Otherwise)

It has been nearly a month since my satirical post on LinkedIn and bot-like HR professionals has stirred interesting discussions and unexpected reblogs. I have promised to come up with related posts regularly.

To all my new followers who were probably attracted by the Liebster-award-related nonsense: Compared to those posts this one is unfortunately a rather serious one. But compared to default social media expertise show-off it is nonsense.

Every opinion piece is based on the author’s secret assumptions about what makes this universe move in spacetime. For full disclosure I lay mine before you upfront:

Thinking about the blurred area where the corporate world and a subversive online universe meet I am reminded of The Cluetrain Manifesto, so this is my personal …

Networking Manifesto.

Regular readers might have guessed at the following axioms:

  1. Sense of humor is the definitive criterion that determines how well you will get along with other human beings. This also holds for future coworkers or employers.
  2. The harder corporations try to morph into social beings as per their PR stories, the weirder they appear when viewed from the inside. Corporate culture is very subtle.
  3. The tension between 1 and 2 catalyzes sparkling works in art (mainly comics and satire) as well as peculiar networking opportunities.

I did zero research for this post and I will not add outbound links – other than my own (<– This is ‘vanity linking’).

In addition, I have no idea about a plot or structure for this post so I call this

The Top 10 +/- 5 Things I Learned from Networking on Social Media

1) Titles and taglines do matter:

If I would be a real social media expert I would have made the header of this post similar to your typical

Top Ten Self-Evident Things Anybody In His Right Mind Who Knows How to Use Google Can Come up with him/Herself Immediately

… and shared it like crazy on Twitter.

Seriously, I feel that titles of posts are important as many of my search terms are based on titles. Since I need those for Search Term Poetry, I cannot help but pick strange ones.

The same goes for your professional tagline, but it is walking a tightrope: If you want to make a change in your career you could add your aspirations to the title. E.g. if I am a historian for building intergalaxy cargo ships but I want to switch to doing strategy consulting for the cargo companies at Alpha Centauri, you might change your tagline to historian and consultant in intergalaxy shipping.

2) The mere existence of profiles does matter.

I believe we (the earth’ population) are changing our average attitude from

The internet – what a strange virtual place… and you really have a page about yourself?


Why in hell don’t you have an XY profile? You also have a telephone!

This is not a post on why and if this is something to be worried about, so I skip my postmodern commentary on culture. But I catch myself on being bewildered why I can’t find people on popular networks.

I don’t expect them to be active, have a lot of friends / followers (see 3) or providing a lof of details, but I wonder what’s the obstacle that would keep somebody from adding basic CV data on LinkedIn. I don’t claim my expectancy is rational.

What matters most to me as a reader is the temporal completeness as we time-travel experts say, that is:
For all items it holds that [Year of finishing this = Year of starting something else]

3) There is no agreement on the importance of different networks, which ones to pick, and what it means to be a friend, contact, follower or connection.

There is a slight contradiction with 2) and I know it. But we cannot sort that out. I have received tons of invites to obscure networks I never heard of before. Other may feel the same about Google+.

I had endless discussions with people who wanted to add me on the first professional network I was a member of, actually the first network I ever signed up to in 2004 – XING, the German LinkedIn, so to say.

I have gone to great lengths in explaining that I will only accept contact requests from people I know in person or with whom I had substantial conversations online before. Others do consider these networks an option to find new contacts. I have over 600 contacts on XING despite my rigorous policies, simply for the fact I had added contacts over the years, in parallel to archiving business cards. But this large number of contacts make me look as such a contact collector.

On the other hand, I entered Facebook by the end of 2012, and still I look like a networking loser with my less than 200 friends. Facebook will even block your account if you add too many friends in a short time. This is done by software in a Kafkaesque way, so there is no point complaining. This is another reason to follow my advice 2) and start out populating your list of contacts via organic growth early.

There will never be agreement with most of your contacts and friends on what a contact actually is. I believe this is the reason for the asymmetric relationships Twitter and Google+ had introduced: You can follow back, but you do not need to confirm a contact. Facebook has adopted this thinking by adding the subscriber option – now called followers, too.

I have given up and I do not take all that befriending and contacting too serious – so please go ahead and add me on all my networks if you like.

4) The internet is a public place.

This is stating the obvious. From day 1 of my existence as a web avatar – publishing my first embarrassing FrontPage generated site in 1997 – I have written every single post with a public audience in mind – even in so-called closed groups. Today I publish all my Facebook and Google+ stuff to ‘Public’.

I do not see the point of closed groups: not so much because of the risk of changing security settings in the future, triggered by a new group owner, new privacy policies, new security bugs, or careless friends publishing your friends-only stuff to the public. But I do not want waste a second on considering confidentiality issues when writing and aligning my style of writing with a specific audience. After all this should be fun, creative and weird (see 5).

I noticed – to my own surprise – that I started dreading any sort of private messages. If you want to tell me how great my postings are – please for heaven’s sake don’t send me a private Facebook message or an e-mail, but comment on them. I don’t even want to be tempted to add something ‘confidential’ in the reply and I don’t want to miss a chance to make my clever, witty reply available to the public. Zuckerberg said something about the end of privacy, and this is my interpretation of that.

As a consequence I have written about so-called personal stuff in open discussion groups and on my websites a few years ago. I have written about my lingering on the edge of burnout and have been applauded for my honesty. Today I feel my posts are not that personal even though I did not change my style. I am not into photography, so I hardly add any photos depicting something related to my private sphere. I don’t upload a photo of myself (a selfie) in a funny setting every day to Facebook. But just as my definition of ‘friend’ has changed, this might change as well.

5) The internet is a weird place, fortunately!

I was tempted to add the following to my networking manifesto:

Human beings connect with human beings, not with ‘businesses’. Members of the collective want you to remove their Borg implants.

I hope you get the picture without requiring me to go into a scholarly dissection of that great metaphor.

I mentioned the burnout confessions deliberately in 4) as they confirmed a secret theory of mine: If you present yourself as a human being, even within a so-called competitive environment, you motivate others to do the same. You lower the bar – it has the opposite effect of writing business-related e-mails at 2:00 AM that makes everybody else reply Do you ever sleep?

You might say this is off-topic and not strictly rooted in anything online – as most of these confessions happened offline actually.

I disagree as I believe that  the internet is a trigger and a catalyzer that has transformed our ways of thinking about public and private sphere. Today you often read you should take care of your online reputation and not publish your ‘drunk at a party pictures’ to Facebook. I don’t object to that, but I believe the solution is rather not to get drunk at parties.

20 years from now all people in charge of hiring others will belong to the generation whose lives have been documented online from day 1 – due to their baby-photo-Facebooking parents. Generation Y+ did not even have a chance to opt-out. I feel that they would rather consider somebody suspicious whose online utterances are all professional and sleek looking.

Since this is speculation, I add a link to a great article on Wired about the generation born 1993: “…She is casual about what some might consider the risks of oversharing. In the future, she says, it won’t matter if you did post a picture of yourself covered in chocolate, because “the people who care will all retire and the world will be run by my generation, which doesn’t give a shit…”

I owe the link and the pointer to this quote to my Google+ friends … which is the perfect bridge to a caveat that needs to be mentioned: Even if the internet is a weird place there is one important rule: Give fair credit! To other authors but also to other sharers and finders.

6) Finally I need to mention metrics.

I have a very special relationship with ‘meeting the numbers’ as readers of my articles about the corporate sphere do know. So I was delighted to have been invited to Klout.

[Voice from the future: Neither Google+ nor Klout exist anymore, so I removed the links.]

If you believe blog award nominations are like silly chain letters, consider this:

You earn scores based on your interactions and engagement on social media – that is: likes, followers, reshares, posts on your Facebook page … Unfortunately has not been factored in yet. Currently my score based on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and the Klout network itself is 57 which is of course above average.

This is called gamification. I won’t reiterate my usual lame jokes on AI software and failing the Turing test.

But there might be more it than providing a game for procrastinating office workers: This is the future of grading in education – and judging job applicants maybe:
Bizarre Trend: Journalism Professors Using Klout Scores As Part Of Students’ Grades

I had already run some experiments on how to increase the score by heavy tweeting – I am open to more experiments and I would appreciate if you add me as your influencer on Klout.

Klout’s mission is to empower every person by unlocking their influence.

For centuries, influence had been in the hands of a few. Social media has allowed anyone to drive action to those around them, democratizing influence.

— Quote from the Klout website (now sunsetted)

Borg dockingstation

Borg Dockingstation (Wikimedia). Sorry, I know I am coasting on those clichés way too often.

So what are your thoughts – Generation Xers, Yers and Zers? (Borgs and other aliens may comment as well)

Edit – further reading: In a Twitter conversation related to this post this blog has been recommended to me – and I want to recommend it to all of you: In contrast to my blog this one is really focussed on social media and how to present yourself and your skills online. 


Missing Policies for the Mad Tea Party and What to Learn from The Jabberwocky

I am trying to re-gain control over the blog award nomination process, or I pretend to do so. postmoderndonkey had called it a Mad Tea Party of a nomination process – and right he was.

You may accuse me of making this blog the strange attractor of a self-referential loop of weird referrals to itself and to blogs of like-minded subversive elements – and right you are as well.

Sydney Aquarium Mad Hatters Tea Party (7238145586)

Mad Hatters Tea Party as they celebrate it in Sydney today or probably all over the world (Wikimedia). Pardon my ignorance, but I had always figured the Tea Party being related to US politics?

For the first time on this blog, or the first ever, The Subversive El(k)ment has played by the rules when accepting an award. But I am not a role model, obviously, as the report of the Global Blog Award Acceptance Policies Enforcement Task Force Initiative proves in the most shocking way.

  • There are philosophers and writers nominating each other back and forth, breaking the non-tag-back-rule and putting the causal structure of spacetime at risk.
  • Some nominees start out promising, applying a paragraph numbering scheme that Wittgenstein might have loved, but they stop at item x with [x < (Items demanded as per award rules)]
  • Others simply say they will ‘add more items later’ – as if this were an option!
  • Or they post their – not even fully compliant – reply to the comments’ section of your well-craft nomination post.
  • And on and on.
  • Until some postmodern writer decides to nominate the whole galaxy and to declare the ellipsis a trophy.
    (I knew what Ellipsis is without googling!)
  • The most subversive blogger was compliant with the rules, but found a loophole in the non-tag-back directive which made this response probably the most subversive.

I do not disclose the identities of the subversive bloggers for confidentiality reasons. I am just adding some random collection of links. Google shuns spammy pages containing too many links, so chances are this post of mine will not be indexed by search engines and your online reputation is not damaged (even more). And nearly half of them don’t work anymore ⛔, in 2019.

Geeky philosopher ⛔ – philosophical spam poet ⛔ – poetic broom closet ⛔ – close to madness or whateverwhatever postmodern meansmeaningful points of view

If this link does not point to a specific post it might be due to a non-existent acceptance post as the reply has been posted to the nominator’s comments section.

But all this is not your fault.

It is the lack of policies and processes as we use to say in The Corporate World. The originators of blog awards obviously don’t have any training in quality management and writing Those Important Guidelines. You should have hired overpriced management consultants instead. They would have written five volumes of seemingly great formal content on behalf of you, even if they just cut&pasted half of it from Wikipedia. I am speaking from experience here, but I cannot give you the details, otherwise  I would be Liable and Doomed According to This Agreement On Confidentiality.

What I would expect from a well-written Blog Award Process Specification Protocol:

  1. Define terminology: If you are nominated by somebody nominated by somebody else you have just nominated – is this tag-backing? Or should we call it tag-tag-backing? Tag-backing to the power of two? Or does the strength of the tag-back decay exponentially with the distance from the tagging person (distance as to be defined as the metric in the blogosphere hyper-dimensional vector space).
  2. Define overall goals: There will be inconsistencies in the rules created by inexperienced Junior Consultants. Stipulate that Alignment with the Prime Directive or whatever you call these goals will help to sort these out
  3. Define deadlines: There is no ‘adding items later’! You need to be assigned a task in The Corporate Resource Management Tool, report on your non-progress daily by checking red / amber / green of an iconized traffic light. The status as such does not result in any consequences, but not reporting on it does.
  4. Define responsibilities unambiguously: Even if this (1) counts a tag-backing – are you as the nominee accountable for tracing the chain of nominations back? Back over how many hops? How are you going to document this for future reference (Documentation = proof of this being Someone Else’s Fault).
  5. Define your org chart: Committees, working groups, regular meetings. You need controls! The award logo must not mutate – as any change (“change” as to be defined in the Change Management Guidelines) needs to be approved by The Blog Award Corporate Identity Group.

You get the idea! Also the Internet would not work without proper definitions of protocols! These are protocols for machines mainly, but don’t we act like Turing machines on social networks anyway? Do you know if I am human really? (I digress.)

Internet standards are defined in the so-called Request for Comments (RFC), a set of publicly available documents compiled by The Internet Community <– This is a technical term!). The RFC 2026 on the standardization process (very meta!) states:

   This memo documents the process used by the Internet community for
   the standardization of protocols and procedures.  It defines the
   stages in the standardization process, the requirements for moving a
   document between stages and the types of documents used during this
   process.  It also addresses the intellectual property rights and
   copyright issues associated with the standards process.

The blogosphere should take a closer look at these noble internet standards, designed for simplicity, clarity, but yet utmost precision and stability in communications. The overall Prime Directive had once been put forward by Jon Postel and it is called the Robustness Principle:

Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send.

The standardisation process does not need to be as tedious as it sounds. In contrast to management consultants, internet engineers are subversive. If any management consultant has ever followed this blog, he/she might unfollow now – but as a disclaimer I’d like to add: I have been a consultant, so I speak – as usual! – from experience.

The internet architects created the spam poetry equivalents of standards such as the

Hyper Text Coffee Pot Control Protocol (HTCPCP/1.0) defined in RFC 2324:

   There is coffee all over the world. Increasingly, in a world in which
   computing is ubiquitous, the computists want to make coffee. Coffee
   brewing is an art, but the distributed intelligence of the web-
   connected world transcends art.  Thus, there is a strong, dark, rich
   requirement for a protocol designed espressoly for the brewing of
   The web is world-wide.  HTCPCP is based on HTTP.
   This is because HTTP is everywhere. It could not be so pervasive
   without being good. Therefore, HTTP is good. If you want good coffee,
   HTCPCP needs to be good. To make HTCPCP good, it is good to base

And so finally and automagically, we are back to the Mad Tea Party and Lewis Carroll’s creatures:

The ARPAWocky was featured in RFC 527:

                    Twas brillig, and the Protocols
                         Did USER-SERVER in the wabe.
                    All mimsey was the FTP,
                         And the RJE outgrabe,

Reviewing the history of the original Jabberwocky poem in Wikipedia again I believe Lewis Carroll would have been a subversive spam poet today:

According to Chesterton and Green and others, the original purpose of “Jabberwocky” was to satirize both pretentious verse and ignorant literary critics. It was designed as verse showing how not to write verse, but eventually became the subject of pedestrian translation or explanation and incorporated into classroom learning.

TheJabberwockyThere is no conclusion! Feel free to start reading at the top again – the structure of this post is an isomorphism to the endless tag-backing loops closing on itself.

But I think it is obvious that I am pondering about founding a new blog award myself, isn’t it?

Blogging Anniversary with Post No. 63. Equal to: 42 Plus (42 Divided by 2)

Captain’s log: In my time zone, it is now March 24, 2013, 00:16.

[Voice from the future – March 2019. Some links don’t work anymore. In order to preserve the spirit of this post and to make my life easy, I will leave the exercise to the reader. But those links will be marked appropriately, by some Unicode artthat is likely to not work anymore again in the future.]

This is the 63rd post on this blog, a truly random number.  But the title shows off that I can make sense of it and unveil its secret meaning.

It was on March 24, 2012 …

… that this blog went public, and I did my best to work around best blogging and SEO practices:

The short name of this blog is ‘elkement’. Search for this on Google and you will be asked: Did you mean element? So I need to stick to my stretch goal: Making elkement a household name. Search engines should rather ask Did you mean ‘elkement’? when searchers ask for element.

But I am The Subversive El(k)ement and blogging is about authenticity and integrity – or about playing with identity ⛔ a bit, maybe. So I am using my ‘real’ nickname.

This blog’s site title ‘Theory and <…>’ is incredibly looooooong. I thank anybody who ever added this to a blogroll or other list of blogs as my blog title usually introduces a pesky line break.

There are three explanations – pick your favorite one:

  • I needed to have the theme Garland, absolutely, positively. However, Garland does not display the blog’s tagline. So I needed to make the title an effective tagline. The real tagline, by the way, is: The Subversive El(k)ement’s Random Thoughts.
  • This blog covers a very peculiar variety of different topics – from experimental search term poetry to the history of physics. The only intersection between all these topics is me, and I am really serious about combining anything.
  • Many of my posts are long-winded. Thus the site title should be in line with that (managing readers’ expectations).

Before this post becomes too weird and too self-referential, I am shamelessly stealing The Curtain Raiser’s idea: I will rather link to blogs I really enjoyed following in the past year and which have inspired my own blogging considerably. It is really hard to pick a subset of the – much larger – list of blog I actually do follow. I limit myself to 12 blogs which is not an easy task.

But I cannot avoid navel-gazing nonetheless: In parallel to this blog, I am resurrecting my non-blog websites and I have turned from social media denier to addict. The main thing I learned from this was that social media and the web in general is an experimental playground, and I am enjoying to make strange connections and cross-overs between different virtual universes.

So I will attempt to loosely connect my blogging experience and my favorite blogs. Blogs are ordered by the date I followed them (ascending).

This is my fist blog with ads so to speak – context-sensitive ads. Just in case this is not self-explanatory: The link to the other blogs are the ads, links to my own stuff are considered content. The two of them are entangled – as the photons in quantum cryptography – and I guess I am doing much better here than any other website that makes it too easy to ignore the ads and focus on the content – or vice versa.

I deny all SEO and blogging good practices again – there is too much text and there are too much links.


The Millennium Conjectures(tm) – A Blog of the Ridiculous and Sublime
by Mark Sackler

This blog of mine morphed from very serious and wall-of-text-y posts to downright weird ones. As a former member of the Cult of Corporate, I need metrics and benchmarks, also with respect to weirdness and sublime-ness. I can safely say Mark Sackler scores higher on both and I keep his quote that my resume reads like a character from The Big Bang Theory as a badge of honor (Seems I have launched a pingback DoS attack against this page).

Right now – when preparing this post, on March 23 and checking this paragraph again – the notification on Mark’s latest masterpiece is delivered to my inbox, about his dream of working in an infinite office building with an infinite number of floors – every floor representing an alternate universe. Dilbert meeting Hilbert, I would say.

Please let me know if some links are broken in this article. As Marc(*) Mark noted in a comment (on a post on search term poetry of course), I am OCD, but getting all these links right is probably too much, even for me.
(*) Edit: Please see the comments for more enlightening explanations.


 Raising the Curtain – A look at life at the crossroads in preparation of the second act…because life does not come with signage
by Judy, The Curtain Raiser

Austria is very often mistaken for Australia. So I had actually expected that the first comment on this blog (other than my own pingbacking) would come from an Australian blogger. As mentioned above, I am stealing The Curtain Raiser’s award-winning blogging strategies.

On her blog she has raised the curtain in the past year which might have motivated me to do that as well in the middle of what I called a leap of faith.

Judy manages to let blogging appear easy, even if embarking on a daunting task as an A-Z blogging challenge. But I suspect she manages her bloggiverse like a forward-looking MBA and manager because Judy knows a lot about the intracacies of the corporate, strategic use of CC e-mails for example.


 Alexander Brown.infoScience & Communication, Fundraising, Being Bilingual and Floorball and
Do You Speak ScienceWhat science has to say, in words. Both blogs by Alex Brown

My hopes for inventing something groundbreaking or unlocking the secrets of the universe as a scientist and engineers have been shattered – until I started a global movement and founded the Cult of Search Term Poetry.

Though the illusionary bubble of having been the inventor of spam poetry had been punctured, the movement of ‘experimental art from the trash other people leave on the net’ (suggestions for better tags welcome!) has been professionalized ⛔ and hashtagged by Alex. We should all answer our searchers’ questions ⛔.

Alex is pi-lingual ⛔ and thus well-versed in finding worm-hole-like connections between, say, pies, math, stones, date writing conventions, and The Bloodhoud Gang.

(What will this post do to my search terms? Looking forward to my next Search Term Poem).


The Unemployed Philosopher’s Blog ⛔ – Just because you’re unemployed, it doesn’t mean that you’re out of work
by Dan Mullin

Dan’s blog has been a true Time Machine ⛔ for me. Thanks to his thoughtful posts on the Cult of Academia ⛔ I felt the need to travel back in time and re-live (is this a word? Like re-tweet or re-blog?) my own leaving of academia. Above all, his posts probably motivated the Geeky Turn in my blogging despite or because Dan is a philosopher. My reply to his bestowing a blog award to me, marks this turn – as ground-breaking as the as the Linguistic Turn  in philosophy, triggered by Wittgenstein, I think.

If you are interesting in alternative careers in philosophy and/or ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’ versus ‘The Economy’ / ‘The Job Market’, don’t miss his Podcast episodes ⛔.


carnotcycle – the classical blog on thermodynamics
by Peter M

I am reading (browsing, skimming) too many geek and science websites and I am guilty of getting carried away by the fascination of quantum / cyber / nano / bionic / cloud computing etc. Peter’s blog is what an excellent History of Science blog should be like: Focussed on a single topic that is not known too popular (in terms of inflationary re-sharing the same stories on social webs over and over), and it is well researched. It is fascinating how difficult it is to understand so-called simply basics written in the language of a previous scientific paradigm.

I sometimes dabbled in classical thermodynamics as well, but I cannot resist the geeky touch even here: My post on The First Heat Pump has become a honey pot for heat pump spam. I failed the Turing test by seriously starting to discuss with the first spammer.


who is bert – a dialogue on mind, consciousness and existence
by Bert0001

I am an avid outbound linker – I do not need (another) link to an older post of mine to prove this, just look at the current one. Bert manages to develop something like his natural philosophy without the need of outbound links, trying to understand who he is – in a way that involves a language that lingers on the edge of geekiness sometimes (using terms as interrupt, operator and connector).

But ‘natural philosophy’ is probably too much of a tag already, as well as ‘geek’, and Bert refuses being tagged.

I seem to enjoy being tagged or like tagging myself as a physicist, geek, engineer – to the extreme of becoming cliché or a living cartoon of the physicist-philosopher-engineer.


Many Worlds Theory – In one universe, this blog is about quantum mechanics. In another universe, it is not.
by Matthew Rave

In the universe the wave function is collapsing into right now (This is a sloppy statement – please read Matthew’s post on Many Worlds Theory) it is definitely a a first-class blog on explaining physics. Matthew proves that you can use metaphors to explain physics that make sense, such as the economics of children buying ice cream. Understanding physics is a pet topic of mine as well and I want to thank my readers again who really read my articles on gyroscopes and the Coriolis force.

In particular, I enjoyed Matthew’s posts on Pseudoscience – a another pet topic of mine, though I only wrote about fringe science once last year.

Recently he challenged his readers with his unbelievably low Google number. I am still trying to craft a two words Google search phrase that will hit my blog. Gone are the days when The Subversive Element used to have a Google number of 1 (actually: ‘Google-Zahl’ according to Matthew’s definition) in German speaking countries with


kellyhartland – Aphorist / Visual Artist
by Kelly Hartland

Did I mention my blogs are walls of texts and I need to force myself to 1) shorten them and 2) add images? Since this is my bloggiversary I don’t care.

But I do want to endorse Kelly’s blog and aphorisms – please stand in awe of the art of saying to much with a few words.

Elemental Wall of Text
Probably text is the canvas
and the wall is the message

— The Elkement

(This is a placeholder since I don’t want to copy one of Kelly’s aphorisms. A quote would be equivalent to copying the whole content.)


Play ⛔ – stories and photos from the southern Saskatchewan prairie
by M. Hatzel

A blog about the interaction of virtual ⛔ and real spaces and landscapes with yourself – probably better spelled as Your Self for that matter. This blog defines a class of its own, yet I would like to tag it with to-be-defined-tag that relates to to great pieces of ‘Web Philosophy’, such as David Weinberger’s Small Pieces Loosely Joined – despite or because the blog is mainly about the real space of Saskatchewan.

I can relate to her blog in so many ways, I am at a loss where to start. You put yourself into a context, an environment you have selected by applying some rationale. You believe you know your (rational) selection criteria. But probably you want to expose yourself to the challenge of interacting with this environment, and you want to learn about your own reactions.

If I needed to bestow a blogging award today, it would most likely go to Michelle.

I learned a lot about the history of the settlers who build their sod houses.⛔. It were the settlers’ stories and Michelle’s questions on the viability of the heat pump systems described in a surprisingly down-to-earth blog post of mine that triggered the very first cross-over between this blog and our German blog (Is there a name for such a cross-over? This is as like: Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice are exchanging staff). In this blog – which is actually a business blog though fortunately this is most likely not at all obvious – we call ourselves The Settlers who tell stories about energy and physics. In this post I tried to explain if the system could work in Canada and what the limitations are, very similar to my reply to the comment.


Duck? Starfish? but…23 – one rock at a time
by Maurice A. Barry

Recently I have realized that I have been a teacher and a student – at least part-time – for most of my life. It might be that obvious, but one of the main drivers for starting this blog was to ponder about formal learning and intuitive understanding. I call myself a dilettante science blogger and I have ambiguous feelings about popular science.

Maurice’s blog, and in particular his great series of blog posts on distance education in Newfoundland and Labrador provided me with new insights – not too mention those impressive images of NL’s coast line seen from a helicopter. I was stunned by the fact how ‘distance education’ had been done by Canadian pioneers long before ‘massive open online courses’ became a big hype. His stories of applying high-tech tools in a very down-to-earth fashion, serving local communities of people inhabiting a sparsely populated country … simply resonated with me.

Since Dan ⛔ and Michelle ⛔a re also from Canada, I tend to bestow my blogging country award to Canada!


postmoderndonkey – The carnival of instability in language, thought and audience
by postmoderndonkey

My blog might give proof of lots of inconsistencies and ambiguities; the site site should already indicate this. I am geeky nerd on the one hand, living in an interconnected world – very close to a mind uploaded to a global computer. On the other hand, I am striving for a sustainanable, down-to-earth live style.

postmoderndonkey’s narratives on farming, titled The Zenvironmental Journey, speak to me. I am quoting the last paragraph of his most recent post.

You in your labors are a perfect machine and it is not a moment to be missed that you are aware of the forces within you supporting each of your movements. This is the human you need to be sometimes, the one so unified with nature, so organic. Get wet with sweat, tears and fish water and let it remind you of the connection you and all things share.


Welcome to Pairodox Farm – sustainable living in rural Pennsylvania
by Pairodox Farm

I am not a photographer and I am happy that exists. The more I admire if somebody is able to capture the essence of a moment in an image AND is able to craft a story related to it, or provide some – entertaining – facts about agriculture. Isn’t this car just about coming to live?

I am particularly intrigued by the restoration of ancient technology, such as a water pump and a spinning wheel.

If I had to bestow an award for the best blog name, it would go to Pairodox Farm – check out the explanation!


Indulging in Wikimedia again, I add an image I consider appropriate…

Cupcake aliens

“Cupcakes in the shape of orange extra-terrestrials. These may not be a fully accurate representation of aliens.” (Wkimedia, user Tama Leaver)

… encouraging you to have a cup of coffee and an alien cup cake now!

Re coffee: The coffee reduction initiative went fine for while – until I fell ill two weeks ago and tried to use coffee first (to keep up working) before falling back on pharmaceuticals. Now the alien creatures in my bronchial tubes have been defeated and I need to convince myself I do not require coffee any more.


Captain’s log: In my time zone, it is now March 24, 2013, 00:23.

I have launched a severe pingback DoS attack against my blog (and a mild one against your blogs), but still seems to run fine.

On Addiction: An Announcement

For the very first time I am tackling a serious issue in this blog with all due respect and solemnity. I do announce in public:

“I am going to reduce my consumption in coffee.”

The magic of that morning cup of coffee

“The magic of that morning cup of coffee” (Wikimedia). I am going to renounce it!

As we have learned goals should always be defined in a SMART way I should probably add more specifics, but I cannot add precise numbers yet as they will depend on the outcome of long-term experimental results. But I am getting ahead of myself.

My consumption of coffee has been legendary ever since. I am a walking nerd cliché, my nutritional habits are deeply rooted in geek culture. Think: spending long days in air-conditioned data centers, your brilliant hacker mind fueled by pizza and caffeine only.

As a physicist I prefer scientific explanations and I am impressed by numbers. Probably my corporate worker legacy adds to my obsession with metrics, too. It was a number that gave me permission to consume insane quantities of coffee – my blood pressure used to be abysmal. As an undergraduate I had once fainted in the street, after having queued up in a shop tightly stuffed with winter sale addicts like me. The doctor gave me precious advice – let’s avoid medication, just drink enough coffee. (And I shun sale since then).

As an engineer I am also obsessed with monitoring complex hydraulic systems, and I have finally applied the same standards to monitoring blood pressure:


The Steampunk version of the device used to measure blood pressure (Sphygmomanometer). I am using the modern version.

And now the issue is: I have aced the tests, my numbers are just perfect. No excuses any more.

Actually, the blogosphere had already sent me a signal before – I had also been inspired by this post by Samir Chopra and the numbers had only been the final trigger. However, I am not applying the cold turkey approach, I am going to cut coffee slowly while monitoring blood pressure closely.

I am still searching for the perfect replacement / placebo. Green tea would be my first choice, although it contains caffeine.

And if I fail, I can blame culture and peer pressure: Wikipedia tells me I am living in a country of coffee addicts:

Wikipedia: Countries ranked by coffee consumption per capita

Wikipedia: Countries ranked by coffee consumption per capita (Archived link – detected as broken some years after this article was written).

The Dark Side Was Strong in Me

Once in a communication skills training I learned: For each of us there is a topic / a question / a phrase that will turn us raging mad or leave us in despair, or both. The point the trainer wanted to make, of course, was to use your combatant’s topics to your advantage.

There are mild variants: Topics you cannot read about without feeling this urge to comment on. This happened to me recently when reading some excellent blog posts on academia – and leaving thereof:
7 Myths About Academic Employment*), The Cult of Academia*) and A Nerdy Break-Up: Leaving the Academic Life. (*)Offline as per 2019

These blog posts refer to the humanities, but according to my anecdotal evidence the situation is not that different in physics. The Career Guidance section of is highly recommended reading for physics graduates.

I would like to share my experiences – biased and anecdotal (please imagine your favorite disclaimer inserted here) – in dealing with my need-to-comment-and-make-me-cringe-question.

It’s a small-talk question, innocent and harmless. I have worked in the IT sector for about 15 years, about 10 years specialized in a very specific niche in IT security.

In the coffee-break during the workshop or when indulging in the late night pizza after 14 hours in the datacenter … you start talking about random stuff, including education and hobbies. And then you are asked:

But why is a *physicist* working in  *IT security*?

Emphasis may be put on physicist (Flattering: Somebody so smart) or on IT security (Derogatory: Something so mundane). The profession of a physicist might be associated primarily with Stephen-Hawking-type theoretical research. In this case the hidden aside is: Why did you leave the ivory tower for heaven’s sake? Or simply put:

Young Jedi, why Did You – The Chosen One – Succumb to the Dark Side of the Force?

I have probably given different and inconsistent answers, depending on details as the concentration of caffeine or if the client was an MBA or a former scientist.

This iconic computer virus as pictured on my very first small business website in 1997, showing off my expertise in IT security. Credits mine, don’t steal.

This is the first set of arguments was as follows – the first line of defense so to speak:

Studying physics does typically not qualify and prepare for a specific job – unless you remain in academia. (Of course this triggers or reinforces the question: Why did you leave? Bear with me!) So physics in this sense might resemble humanities. There is broad range of areas physicists end up with and which that overlap with engineering (electrical, mechanical) or computer science. But there are more and more interdisciplinary fields emerging like biophysics, quantum computing etc.  that require the infamous analytical problem solving skills of the physicist. Thus it is not that strange that a physicist ends up as an ‘engineer in applied cryptography’.

Cryptography is based on mathematics (number theory in particular). If you want to understand why an algorithm is secure you need to understand the math behind. In contrast to a mathematician, a physicist might bring additional practical skills to the table, e.g. skills concerned with thin films and electronics.

Corporate IT systems are comprised of lots of interfaces between systems (hardware / software) provided by different vendors. They are complex systems. Although I do some software development, I am not a programmer – I am more like an experimental physicist exploring these interfaces in terms of black boxes and reverse engineering / educated guesses. This is in many cases easier than trying to find the particular developer that know about what is going on in detail. Having forced to find vacuum leaks in my apparatus some time ago had provided the best training for debugging and troubleshooting problems in IT systems.

When I design, envisage and build IT systems I am translating requirements into a formal structure – I am projecting a new picture of the infrastructure (based on certificate trust paths) on the existing network topology. This is very similar to the thinking that is applied when a physicist ‘explains’ / models the world.

The longer I worked in this area, the more I focus on technical ‘low-level’ stuff – especially on hardware-related things (smartcards, hardware security modules). It took me some time to get over advice from people that told me that every technician needs to become a manager some time. I had my share of company politics and management – but I returned to the world of technical details.  My first IT job was a real break: I went from analyzing the microstructure of materials to helping small and medium enterprises with their IT problems. But the longer I stayed ‘in IT’, the closer I got to physics again.

I am utilizing applied classical cryptography, based on computational security. One threat to these technologies are posed by quantum computing techniques. So I am interested in progress in these areas and in contrast to many physicists who have ‘gone into IT’ I have tried to keep my knowledge on theoretical physics alive. Actually, quantum computing and cryptography is fascinating because it is an interdisciplinary field connecting some of my former and current areas of expertise (laser physics, quantum statistics, IT security). I had actually had a chance to become a post-doc in that field – several years after having left academia, but finally I declined.

Second round.

The next questions might be tougher. Most difficult interviewers are persons who are aware of my academic track record.

  • Question from former colleagues: You had been the smartest of our class – I was shocked that you in particular left academia.
  • Advice by former professors: But you should know that the best people stay in academia! An answer is not expected, rather regrets.
  • People with no clue about physics and/or what I actually do ‘with computers’ ask: But for doing what you do now – you would not have needed to study physics!
  • People who think my job is about the same as configuring their home WLAN: But configuring computers networks, especially in Windows isn’t that self-explanatory and can’t that be done using some wizards… next-next-finish’? There is no need for a physics PhD here.
  • People in IT (like network admins) are sometimes quite impressed by my CV. In case I can I talk a bit on my personal history of jobs and change of jobs they ask : Yes… OK…so public key infrastructures were more interesting than quantum physics, really?!?

I feel that in 99 of 100 discussions I failed to come up with a balanced, well-crafted reply quickly quickly. Probably it is because this topic is important for me – it is about my personal and professional identity. I am not good at elevator-pitch-type replies in general – I am rather a waffling story-teller (which is proved by this post again).

But if the coffee break or pizza dinner lasts long enough I might get to the following:

Trying to Combine Just Anything

I always had been interested in many areas. In high school it was not all clear that I would become a natural scientist or technical expert. I had also been strongly interested in literature and philosophy. Though calling myself a nerd today I was not at all the math-physics-computers-only type.

My goal had always been to find an area of expertise and a way of working that allows me to combine all those interests.

I Am a Slacker

I admit that I was probably too lazy in the sense I did not follow the advice / command of working all weekends.

I had endless discussions about the significance of the ratio of output and time (my theory on the economics of academic work or work in general) versus the absolute number of working hours (the alleged goal). I was finally defeated by: Yes, but just because the results you achieve in minimum time are so great you could achieve so much more if you would work more!

If you think this sounds a bit like Pointy Haired Boss and Dilbert you got the message.

What versus How

It took me years to find out that the way of working might be even more important to me than the subject as such. It is not only about an interesting subject (‘Doing nice physics’ as we used to say in the lab) but also about the personal freedom to decide on a specialization. I did not feel that I have this kind of freedom in academia, but it seemed very difficult to me to ever leave the niche of expertise again that you had carved out before  – and filled with a respectable number of publications.

Thus the very pragmatic conclusion in hindsight was: Rather specialize in an area of expertise that give me, say, 85% personal satisfaction in terms of penchant for *the subject*, but 100% score in terms of this is *how I wanted to want*. So I  enjoy reading papers and text books on theoretical physics (like quantum field theory) in my spare time. But  I selected another field I made a living of – a field that allows for the greatest control on my valuable time.  Nobody should control what and when and where I am exactly working – as long as I deliver the results promised. And it is solely me who commits to results – there is no manager who motivates to deliver more billable hours and there is no funding agency who expects a progress report every three months.

If There Is Risk I Want Freedom, too.

So I sacrificed so-called job security for personal freedom and risk which did work out great in the commercial world so far. Back in academia I was not willing to spend years as a travelling and underpaid postdoc. This may sound as a contradiction. But if I need to take a risk, I also want to take all the decisions. Being a temporarily employed postdoc seems to me combining the disadvantages of being an employee – following supervisor’s or agency’s guidelines for grants – and being self-employed, lacking security. I felt the same about working in long-term full-time projects as an IT consultant which is the normal thing to do as a so-called specialist. I was only working in short-term, special engagements I had picked carefully.

I Don’t Want to Beg for Taxpayer’s Money

I did not want to apply for postdoc positions and write applications for project grants. I hated writing those applications – it made me feel like a submissive petitioner. I think I already felt like an entrepreneur back then though at time I did not have a clue about working self-employed. I strongly wanted to be paid for something that somebody else really wanted *right now*. As a logical consequence I state: I rather prefer so-called mundane work that is in demand over fundamental research whose value to the society is debatable.

This does not mean that all fundamental research is of no value to society and I do not want to discourage anybody else from doing it (but I do not want to water down this lengthy post with all kinds of disclaimers). Actually, I had always considered myself to be the I-rather-do-fundamental-research-than-applications-type. I am still interested in it and as a ‘consumer’ I am perfectly fine with public funding of arcane fields of physics. I just do not want to be the one whose existence depends on that funding, and I needed to give it a try to come to that conclusion.

Pride before the Fall?

As a highly trained specialist  (I thought) it was just not acceptable for me that the first job as a freshly minted PhD would not provide some improvement in terms of both income and job security. Yes, I was probably too proud. More than 15 years after completing the PhD I can safely say that this was the right decision. I was able to select between different options I had and I judged and mitigated risks realistically.

I Do Not Want to Be Part of Any Collective

It took me some time to learn that I am not willing to work as a part of big system built on strict rules – be it academia or a big corporation. I learned to play, obey and fulfill the rules too well.

I slightly preferred the world of corporations because they are at least honest about (financial) goals. What made me sick in academia were the proposed goals of pure science, research for the good of the world and trying to understand the secrets of the universe etc. If it was about just popping out papers with your name as much as possible to the left of the list of authors than I would have felt better if somebody said so. However, today’s corporate world is undergoing an interesting twist – companies become green, social and whatnot. This is putting me off for the same reasons.

The Journey Does Not End Here

So what I actually wanted and needed was to create or invent my own environment of working, my own framework, my own rules. Fulfilling the not unimportant boundary condition that I want / need to earn money. It was an important step for me to work as a self-employed IT security consultant.

I  admit I also needed to proof to myself I can make it and achieve some metrics set by myself. However, ‘having been there and done that’ priorities have shifted again and I have decided to make yet another leap-of-faith-y change this year.

This Is My Journey and Nobody Else’s

Quoting (paraphrasing) from The Monk and The Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living. So I am fully aware of the fact and I accept, acknowledge, appreciate differences between all of our journeys. This is my story and not a piece of advice to physics graduates, scientists, employees of corporations or whomever I might have seemed to address in particular. I am mainly addressing myself, I guess. But amazing as it may seem it took me quite a while to fully embrace simple, basic lessons such as:

  • If you are good at something, this does not mean you have to do that forever. Do not get carried away by all this talk about ‘your potential’
  • If there are other people doing the same but having more fun at doing it, you should consider a change. Work needn’t be fulfillment of duty and/or challenge all the time.


Sort of the next episode here.

Burn the Org Chart – if Not the Organization – Down to the Ground

Don’t panic.

This is just a quote.

It is a quote from one of my favorite favorite favorite books: The Cluetrain Manifesto, first published in 1999 and now available for free.

Cover of the original version, from

The website – and the book is a call to the people of earth and puts forward 95 theses, the first of them being Markets are Conversations.

You might say: Yawn. That’s web 2.0 – so what? And the site exhibits HTML design from the last millennium.

But bear with me and remember (people of earth) that this was 1999. Back then I was in charge of “managing” some of those infamous web projects and of operating “compliant” corporate web sites. That is: Theoretically I should have disciplined anarchic web site builders and force them to use the corporate CI. Above all, they should refrain from ordering a domain and web space elsewhere, circumventing “corporate” and setup their subversive departmental website. On the other hand I should have – theoretically – motivated people to add some content to the zombie corporate content management system nobody wanted to use.

But dictatorial directives – “All Web pages must be formally approved by the Department of Business Prevention” — throw cold water onto all that magic-mushroom enthusiasm. (Quote from Chapter 1)

Markets are conversations, and conversations between genuine human beings are at the heart of business. Corporation that ignore this are doomed.

In a nutshell that’s the message of the book, and in contrast to its deceptive simplicity, this is not one of those business books (if it is a business book at all) that make you think that an article in a magazine would have been sufficient to cover it all. The reason is that Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger tell their stories instead of stating a message. This makes the book remarkably self-consistent.

Christopher Locke narrates the story of his transformation from phony PR guy to covert publisher of a subversive e-zine called Entropy Gradient Reversal. His alter ego RageBoy has probably inspired my own explorations into strange corners of the web, in the disguise of the Subversive Element. He let his subscribers decide via checkbox if they want their addresses to be disclosed to  aromatherapy salesmen and ritual axe murderers.

Though the authors are true geeks at heart they use the powerful and tangible metaphor of the ancient real-life market place in order to explain what business actually is. Selling and buying resembles trading spices and camels at an Oriental bazaar, and companies epically fail in trying to push a message down to their target audience by confusing the internet with TV with a big buy button. Rick Levine is a potter’s kid explaining that there is no difference in the pride a craftsman takes in his works to the pride a geeky techie that built one of these systems that let human people communicate over the net.

The full quote is:

We embrace the Web not knowing what it is, but hoping that it will burn the org chart – if not the organization – down to the ground. (Chapter 2)

Did it happen? Did hyperlinks subvert hierarchy?

There is new version of the book for sale, Cluetrain+10 that I have not read yet, and my conclusions are unaffected by the authors’ updates.

I have seconded the cluetrain guys on everything in 1999. Their description of the corporate world is true literally and even the most satirical account can’t probably top the reality of marketing brochures anyway. Would anybody disagree that Dilbert is more real than ever and that the following quote still describes most accurately how products and services are marketed today – in particular in hightec industry?

We don’t even make products. Instead we make solutions, a fatuous noun further bloated by empty modifiers such as total, full, seamless, industry standard, and state-of-the-art.

Equally vague and common are platform, open, environment, and support when used as a verb. A veterinarian using TechnoLatin might say that a dog serves as a platform for sniffing, is an open environment for fleas, and that it supports barking. (Chapter 4)

However, a superficial glance on everyday’s online conversations seems to show it has all come true. Nowadays conversations are happening mainly on blogs, facebook and twitter and e-mail. IRC Chat and usenet seem like clad tablets compared to paper. But technology is not important here – as the cluetrain authors have also pointed out in the original version. Any of these helps to get more people “on the net” and “join the conversation”.

Not necessarily for the better. Yes, the days of home-grown HTML pages exhibiting tacky design are gone – blogs look better. But we have instead:

1) A more subtle kind of new phoniness:

Social media strategists support companies with marketing their products by utilizing social media, virally, . It has definitely become more difficult to tell the true human voice from the old PR messages that nowadays flow through net, cloaked as authentic customers’ testimonials and seemingly innocent stories told for the sake of being told. Any tool invented for adding credibility to companies, products and individual in web 2.0 is (mis-)used strategically. Don’t we all know numerous examples of how The Great Success Story does not all resemble The Great Project That Nearly Failed?

I assume that The Manifesto  is now recommended to aspiring web 2.0 marketing managers who try to launch a campaign using social media – which is self-irony at its best.

2) Above all we have: A glaring chasm between

  • a new openness in terms of employees discussing their companies’ products on the web (just as the car dealer guy quoted in The Manifesto) and soaring of the global conversations between individuals on blog and all kinds of platforms. Conversations that cover business and private matters and anything in between.
  • an enforcement of compliance by corporations to a level reaching bizarre and Orwellian levels. Quality management, the methodology police (a term I learned from Edward Yourdon) and all sorts of metrics and process enforcing departments seem to dominate business as usual. BTW also academia. Ever attended a corporate business ethics training? Actually this is of the examples The Manifesto makes fun of: Employees sending fun e-mails around ridiculing the overly serious HR-enforced training.

I am happy to be convinced that is all wong and based on anecdotal evidence and my biased and unscientific research on this. That corporations did not surgically implant a lawyer where their sense of humour has been (Cluetrain M.). Until this happens I keep wondering how corporations are able to sell profitable products at all, given the efforts in time and money that go into what I would call command and control taken to the next level. Sometimes I wonder that these products – pardon, solutions – do work at all.

And an important disclaimer needs to be added: I am not all blaming persons – human beings. It is always the system that sucks, not the individual. In an organization that demands entering daily progress reports and forecasts into The Great New Metrics-Enforcing Tool – nearly any employee will rant about. So how did it get that way? Thus, as Orwellian and Kafkaesque at it may seem: Human beings bundled together to form The Company unfortunately morph into a networked system that exhibits emergent properties, unfortunately in a way not anticipated by the evangelizers of the new networked culture driven by self-organization.

As a (former) security consultant I cannot resist quoting thesis 41 as a particular example : Companies make a religion of security, but it largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against competitors than against their own market and workforce.

I could not agree more – think data leak prevention, automated e-monitoring, technical compliance enforcement <insert more buzzwords created by the security industry here>. It is not true any more – as described in The Manifesto – that e-mail is an option to let flow information and less compliant stuff traverse the boundaries of The Corporation freely.

The Manifesto 1999, chapter 1, starts with We die and ends with The scary part if over now. You can come out. It’s safe.

My blog post started out cheeringly and ends with a conspiracy theory on the self-emergent consciousness of The Business.

I can only conclude that we – inhabitants of the The Trueman Show world – would need to become more innovative again.

The Cluetrain Manifesto is as valid as it was in 1999.

It is us geeks who first have built the networks for fun and then become network managers and compliance enforcers. Let’s return to the playground, start something from scratch again that grows like the weed between the cracks in the monolithic steel-and-glass empire.

Whatever this should be, I am not sure it would be about global connected-ness or about anything that is grounded in technology so much as the internet was.

I neither Met Newton nor Einstein

I am just reading The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin. I am not familiar with string theory, quantum gravity, and the related communities, so I cannot comment on Smolin’s main statement. But there is a section in the last chapter of the book that resonated with me. He describes his expectations and feelings when entering graduate school as follows: I was in awe of Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and Schrödinger and how they had changed physics though the force of their radical thinking. …. The great physicists I was rubbing shoulders with at Harvard were rather different from that. The atmosphere was not philosophical; it was harsh and aggressive…

This is actually what I had experienced, too – but would rather use the term competitive instead of harsh and aggressive for a good reason: Competitive is used to denote this type of personality or behavior of so-called professionals in the corporate world and it has positive connotations there. Thus to make a long-winded blog post short and give you an executive summary: I see lots of similarities between the academic and the corporate world. I do not attempt to offer a thorough review but rather give you my personal thoughts that are not significant statistically.

As Smolin I had also been bewildered and sometimes disappointed to find the typical physics professor or postdoc deviate so much from the idol I had in mind. Probably this was an idol I had simply made up or that has been implanted into my mind by too much movies and biased documentaries on science professors. First of all, it would be extremely interesting to time-travel to the beginning of the 20th century and talk to members of the physics community back then. Heisenberg and Schrödinger might have quite competitive as well and not only driven by the philosophical quest to unveil the mysteries of the universe. E.g. the historian of science, Peter E. Fischer mentions Heisenberg’s and Schrödinger’s ambitions at the beginning of this article (in German). BTW he states that great results with be achieved (in physics) if there is a central major person with unquestionable high ethical standards and personal integrity; regarding quantum mechanics this was Niels Bohr according to Fischer.

When I am musing about this today I put it into a different context: Comparing “academia” to the “corporate world” (and by this I mean the world of large global corporation) I so not see so much difference with respect to selection mechanisms, the importance of self-marketing, and competitiveness. Both are complex systems and governed by certain rules in how your  status and success is being measured, such as number of papers, grants, citations – in academia – and utilization (AKA billable hours) and customer satisfactions in the corporate world. The latter example is taken from consulting business. Probably scientists will find this comparison insulting. I just can tell you that as an individual I felt exactly the same way when one or the other system has inflicted its laws on me. I even found the corporate world a bit easier to deal with for a probably unexpected reason – at least unexpected to me: In the corporate world it was about money and beating the competitors – phrased in even military language that turned conferences and meetings into airlifts, boot camps and war rooms.

In academia the targets you had to meet were not nobler (e.g. by cutting your big paper into a lot of small papers to increase the number of publications) but the official goals were: It was about increasing the knowledge of humanity, improving the standards of living of millions of people … or whatever was on the agenda of the large research programs funded by governmental agencies (AKA the tax payer). I hated the part of grant applications most that required me to make up the statements on “social and economic improvements”. The glaring contradiction between these noble goals and motivations of researchers (*) in real life was one of the reasons I left academia.

I feel obliged to add some disclaimers here: Yes, I thought about “staying in the system and changing it from within” and yes, this is a personal statement only true to myself and it might not be applicable to any other scientist’s life. And yes, I did really well with regards to benchmarks and numbers in any of the systems according to whose rules I felt forced to play.
(*) I do not all say these are the scientists’ true intentions in the same way as corporate goals typically do not reflect individuals’ motivations. But I still think it is quite hard to meet the targets and keep up your true motivations as sort of hobby. I noticed that some people can deal better than others with this kind of divide. I did not.

Most ironically, academia and the corporate world are converging in a way that I did not expect 20 years ago:

  • Also corporations officially turned into noble entities, all “social”, “green” and whatnot. As I said I can deal better with a so-called greedy capitalistic company that does not cloak its intentions by having the CEO or his ghost writers blog on corporate social responsibility. Thus the corporate world is exhibiting the same sort of divide between metrics and targets on the one hand and noble ambitions on the other hand. (And yes, I know that corporations are now also attempting to measure success in terms of the noble goals – but I believe this will turn these goals into just another number to be met. I am a bit obsessed with metrics because I was so good at meeting them, but I might get back to that in a future blog post.)
  • The infamous metrics invented in the corporate world trickled into academia via management consulting wisdom. Even similar tools are used to manage numbers in the academic and the corporate world. Think SAP implementations at universities. (My favourite reference is in German again – philosophy professor Konrad P. Liessmann on “knowledge society”).

Theoretically I should add a conclusion – after all what is left today for ambitious persons of integrity who want to make a difference? Do I really dare say that both large corporations and academia are built on sort of dysfunctional metrics? No, of course I do not because they have been far too successful applying whatever metrics including fluffy, philosophical goals – so far. But I believe that obsession with metrics in terms of reporting, forecasting, benchmarking, quality management etc. is going to extreme levels now and we have just seen the beginning. I sometimes wonder how big corporations can still be productive on top of administration after all and I have heard and read a lot of people in academia complaining about ever-increasing administrative duties.

Then I am guilty as well: I been part of both and what I learned from both and my so-called track records are the basis of what I am trying to do now. I have neither been as consequent and enduring to avoid these systems right from the beginning or spend all my life in one of them and try to make a change as a fully accountable member of the community.

I can only add some preliminary considerations here: I believe  groupthink and alignment of members of communities have become too strong today – in whatever aspect of life. Smolin points out that this is specific to the String Theory community but I believe it is a ubiquitous phenomenon. Metrics thinking e.g. seems to be contagious and it spreads from one organization to the other and all managers or metrics consultants seem to get the same training (My theory is that management systems that are used to keep all the data required to create benchmarks are selected by asking other managers on the golf course – I found some anecdotal evidence for that). I have worked in one of those industry sectors that is typically fast-paced and I was member of a very strong sub-community. It’s weird but what Smolin says about the String Theory physicists could be applied perfectly to that tech community I have in mind. I like especially his references to the slightly cult-like nature of the communities.

Despite and because of the options we have to “connect with each other” (in social media marketing lingo) we should try – harder as ever – to keep up our independence. I know this sounds a bit vague. I might expound in detail what this means for me personally in this blog, for the time being it is important for me that I was able to really experience how it feels to be part some communities or big systems. Otherwise the grass might always be greener over there.

Many years ago I literally said good-bye to the specters of the great physicists by visiting the physics library for a last time before I left. I bemoaned the lack of career opportunities for young scientists in the speech I gave at my graduation ceremony. I said that I once had thoughts as a physicist I would ponder about how the results of my research would be used (I argued quite pathetically actually: fight cancer or design weapons), but then I had realized that most young scientists are happy if they work in a job loosely connected with science at all. And philosophical musings meant luxury that would be affordable only to the lucky few who have made it.

Having “made it” now in a more money-oriented world I am gradually realizing my personal vision of a science-oriented job and I am indulging in all kinds of philosophical speculations. (No, I am not Mike Lazaridis and I am not founding a research center. And no, I am also not working on sort of Theory of Everything, I hope my personal crackpot index is zero, although I referred to Einstein in this post. My “science” or “research” topics are so menial I do not dare yet to mention, at least not in this post that started with a referer to a book on quantum gravity.).

So I have found some sort of solution and I will try to investigate if it scales to a larger number of physicists. I have not made my mind up, but generally I do not like solutions that only work for the lucky few and that require serendipitous coincidences.