fighting the lack of good ideas

asymmetric communication – the facebookification of society

The first communication method we ever learn is the interaction between ourselves as infants and our caregivers (just to cover the possibility of a parent, foster parent, day care worker, orphanage employee, etc).

They speak to us, hold us, and in general take care of us while we cry, burp, laugh, and gurgle in response. The communication is symmetric: there is a give and take, and it all happens “in real time”.

Eventually we learn how to read and write, and the possibility of communicating asymmetrically becomes possible – the ability to communicate our thoughts, and receive others’ communications, at the leisure of the recipient.

Asymmetric communication is wonderful – it’s how we learn of ancient peoples, news stories from around the world, etc. But it has a major drawback, too.

Because asymmetric communication takes less effort on the part of the communicator, they can refuse to engage with their audience in a focused fashion. Indeed, that is the benefit of being able to write: being able to reach an audience without having to focus on them while you are talking.

However, because it is unfocused, and because it is easy, we can develop a preference for communicating on our own terms, which can lead to a loss of community and relationship and a creation of a narcissism (that even metastaticize into paranoia) in which we believe we are the best thing that ever happened to world, no one else matters, and face-to-face, or even microphone-to-earpiece conversations become a thing of the past. We can, instead, become hermitized into either our own worlds, or into virtual “communities” in which we adopt pseudonyms, speak in anonymity, and feel no concern over our audience’s feelings, thoughts, or interests.

I can see this as a problem with tools like facebook. Yes, it is wonderful to be able to keep-up with friends and family far flung in this modern era. To know what they are thinking and doing just with a click of the mouse. But how many of those “friends” are truly people we would want to spend time with or have a symmetric conversation?

Certainly this is also true of environments like LinkedIn – whereas some people only truly connect with those they know (and know well), others connect with whomever they can, and other connect with those have a “reason” to connect with .. but might not know “well” (personal improvement, “street cred”, ego boosting, sales/work potential paths, etc).

Services like Klout play to this overt self-interest we have in the modern era of self-branding.

The problem with symmetric communication is that it is harder – it takes time, you cannot multitask, and the person you engage with has to also be interested. You have to pay attention to them, and hope they pay attention to you in response.

In the modern, technology-driven world we live in, things that take time and effort are not as valued as the quick solution: we’d rather microwave than crock pot; we’d rather txt than call; we’d rather IM than email (or email than IM).

There is no going back to the way things were – and I wouldn’t want to even if we could: the way things are now is [in gestalt] far better than they used to be … or at least not worse (yesteryear had their problems that we’ve merely replaced/upgraded).

You can see communication asymmetry affecting our towns and communities – how many of us know our neighbors? Of those we “know”, how many are “wave at”, how many “smile at”, how many “say ‘hi’ to”, how many we would eat a hot dog with, how many we would invite into our home?

Symmetric communication needs to be made a larger focus of our busy, hectic, asymmetric lives – I’d wager that it would reduce our busyness and make our lives a lot less hectic if it took a larger role.

thoughts on vilt

Over the years, I have taken (and given) a lot of training.

I’ve had self-paced tutorials (printed and electronic), in-person lectures, hand-on labs, small groups, formal classes, one-on-one tutoring, and virtual instructor led training (VILT).

I’ve seen two distinct types of VILT – good and bad. I have yet to see any “ok” training. It’s either great or horrid.

This week I took the VMware vSphere 5 Install, Configure, Manage (ICM) class to begin the preparation to become a VMware Certified Professional.

Some initial thoughts on this class:

(this class was excellent, btw – only matched by the HP Operations Orchestration 7.0 training I took 3.5 years ago shortly after the product had been renamed post-acquisition of Opsware by HP)
  • Our instructors, Steve & Rebecca, did a fantastic job both in playing off each other, alternating to keep the class interested, and presenting the material
  • Labs are always problematic – some folks are fast, others slow; some have issues, others none
    • Team / partner labs are even more problematic – making sure that both partners are learning in the process and neither is outstripping the other
  • Formal organization is good – ability to change based on class needs / interests is better
  • Engaging the class with humor, “relevant” Q&A, and other interaction is vital
  • Learning your [randomly-assigned] partner’s strengths, weaknesses, background, and expectations is important as early as possible

Other pros that should be taken and applied to all classes:

  • Clear learning objectives – stated and repeated throughout
  • Labs which directly connect with the lessons
  • Labs which logically build upon one another
  • Team labs that are still workable by an individual if there is no available partner
  • To the point slides and lectures
  • Few enough slides in each lecture to keep our attention
  • Few enough lectures between labs to be able to apply what we have just covered
  • Presenter/Lecturer/Teacher with appropriate knowledge of the material being presented
  • Remember what it’s like to not know the material

Cons from this class (which I think are true of all VILT classes):

  • Keeping attention on the lectures is entirely up to the student – it can be easy to get distracted, especially if taking the class from home (this also applied to telecommuting – a topic for another time)
  • Lab time is given on an as-needed basis … so once most of the class has gotten it done, a timer is set (eg 10 minutes)
    • For those in the class who finish rapidly, this can give a great opportunity to study, get work done, or goof off
    • For those having issues and/or who work more methodically etc, it can artificially limit their efforts
  • Because of the semi-random nature of lab length, some days can run long and others short

Characteristics of bad VILT classes I have attended:

  • Unclear objectives – if any
  • Overly-long presentations
  • Unrelated labs
  • Long separation from lecture to lab
  • Too much lab, too little lecture
  • Too much lecture, too little lab
  • Presenter with poor / non-existent knowledge of material (ie, read from slide only)
  • Broken labs (often related to poor product base, over-subscribed lab, etc)
  • Inflexibility with regards to lab and lecture start/end times


I really liked the vSphere ICM class – I learned a lot, and finally saw what I knew connected in an organized way that brought into focus my extant knowledge and helped me apply it in more useful ways in the future. Personally, I cannot recommend the trainers higher – Steve and Rebecca did a fantastic job, and I think we were fortunate to have good trainers: it made the material far more fun to learn, helped keep our focus, and made the whole week a positive experience.

Given the opportunity, I think all system administrators and system integrators should take a class like this one – even if virtualization is not in play: seeing the concepts, understanding the architecture, and learning how to design a virtualized environment will carry-over well to other arenas in the IT world.

My lab partner is a DBA for Yahoo – never saw virtualization before, hasn’t been a sysadmin, etc: but seeing how the environment works, how to build it, and how to apply architecture to systemic thinking helped open his eyes a bit to the world beyond data … and, I think, will make him a better DBA.

taxation as a solution to the “gay marriage” issue

While I have some pretty strong personal views on the issue of “gay marriage”, I have a possible solution that not only gets it away from being a societal problem, but also gets the government out of being involved in our personal lives a little more. There is a side benefit of being able to return the entire concept of “marriage” back to the individuals involved in the marriage itself.

Instead of looking at this through the [valid] lens of religion (of any kind), let’s look at it through the lens of economics.

Instead of having the government be in the business of certifying and approving marriages, let’s put them back to the role they should have – which is overseeing contracts. And instead of tax, inheritance, health, and benefits laws being tied to whom you marry, let’s tie them to those you economically support and/or with whom you enter into a contract of mutual support.

No more marriage licenses. No more weddings before a magistrate or justice of the peace. Weddings can go back to being the religious ceremonies they have been for centuries, and for those who prefer a non-religious ceremony, a contract of mutual support can be granted.

How could this look from a taxation perspective?

First, let’s throw-out the different type of filing, and simplify:

  • Single taxpayer
  • Taxpayer with dependents (where a “dependent” is defined as someone who receives at least 51% of their core sustenance (housing, food, clothing) from the non-dependent)
    • Minor (under 18) Dependents
    • Other Dependents
      • Primary Dependent
        • An individual who has entered a contract of mutual support with the Single Taxpayer and who resides at the same address, or
        • The only dependent over 18 in the Household
      • Secondary Dependents
        • Other members of the Household who reside at the same address

I am simplifying, but will also give the option annually to change your filing status if it gives a more advantageous overall benefit to your family / living arrangement.

Untaxable Income (or, the prebate):

  • Single Taxpayer
    • $6000 annually
  • Single Taxpayer with Dependents (ie Household)
    • $6000 plus
      • $3600 per Minor Dependent (under 18)
      • $6000 for the Primary Dependent (over 18)
      • $5400 per Secondary Dependent (over 18)
    • if a Dependent earns more than the Single Taxpayer Untaxable Income Level ($6000), they may file as a Single Taxpayer or contribute their income to the Household and only a file a Contributor income tax return

Tax rates:

  • 20% on income per Taxpayer after Untaxable Income is eliminated
  • 3% federal sales tax on all first-time, end-use purchases from a business (ie not purchased for resale by a business and not resold in a secondary market such as a garage sale or eBay)


  • Contract of Mutual Support
    • A legally-binding document of either a permanent or time-limited nature in which two adults enter to establish a Household
  • Dependent
    • Any resident of the same Household whom receives more than 51% of their core sustenance (housing, food, clothing) from the Single Taxpayer
  • Household
    • A single taxable unit or those related to each other (either by blood, adoption, religious marriage, or Contract of Mutual Support), residing at the same address and combining their incomes and together for the betterment of the group
  • Income
    • Any money earned via any legal or illegal means including but not limited to:
      • Bonus
      • Capital Gains
      • Dividends
      • Gifts/Inheritance from outside the United States
      • Interest
      • Rent
      • Salary
    • Exclusions to taxable Income are all sources of money earned via secondary markets or personal gifts, including but not limited to:
      • Garage sale proceeds
      • Personal services on an ad hoc basis (eg mowing a neighbor’s lawn)
      • Gift/Inheritance from inside the United States from a Taxpayer
  • Single Taxpayer
    • Any person who has earned Income in the United States or has received a Gift/Inheritance from outside the US while residing in and earning Income in the US
  • Untaxable Income
    • A subsistence-level income needed for basic living


  • Single Taxpayer earning $50000/yr Salary only
    • Subtract $6000 as Untaxable Income
    • 20% * $44000 pays $8800
  • Single Taxpayer earning $50000/yr Salary and $500/mo Rent
    • Subtract $6000 as Untaxable Income
    • 20% * ($44000 Salary + $6000 Rent) pays $10000
  • Single Taxpayer with Primary Dependent earning $50000/yr total
    • Subtract $12000 Untaxable Income
    • 20% * $38000 pays $7600
  • Single Taxpayer with 1 Minor Dependent earning $50000/yr
    • Subtract $9600 Untaxable Income
    • 20% * $40400 pays $8080
  • Household with Primary Dependent and 2 Minor Dependents earning $50000/yr
    • Subtract $19200 Untaxable Income
    • 20% * $30800 pays $6160
  • Household with Primary Dependent, Secondary Dependent, and 2 Minor Dependents earning $50000/yr
    • Subtract $24600 Untaxable Income
    • 20% * $25400 pays $5080

Further examples left as an exercise to the reader


The final stage of bureaucratic folderol to endure is Thursday when we get our fingerprints done for the USCIS check.

Root for a smooth day 🙂