1. Business Process Automation vs. Business Process Management

    January 22, 2008 by Craig

    Graham just wrote a post on his new blog about the difference between Business Process Automation and Business Process Improvement. Both terms are literally self-explanatory, at least at a shallow level; Graham explains them in more detail. Specifically, he claims that you should automate (BPA) before improving (BPM) your business processes.

    BPA vs. BPM is very much the same debate as efficiency vs. effectiveness. Efficiency means doing something with low costs; effectiveness means doing something with high results. Of course, both are important, but I think that effectiveness trumps efficiency every time: you’ll never reach your goal if you set out in the wrong direction, regardless of how fast you can travel.

    You can also see this principle in terms of software. BPA is sort of like performance optimization: you’re trying to take the existing processes and make them work faster, but largely in the same way. But all the tweaks in the world won’t save an algorithm that’s fundamentally inadequate. Replace that algorithm and you may get several orders of magnitude more benefit than the tweaks brought you. Quicksort vs. Bubble sort is the textbook example of this.

    Graham claims that automations are a much faster/simpler change to make (relative to more strategic shifts) and thus provide quicker, more realizable performance gains. That certainly can be true in some cases, and in some organizations that may be all that’s possible. However, I don’t think that’s always true. Automating some processes can be extremely difficult and time consuming; in fact, it may even be impossible given current technology or impractical due to the costs. Indeed, improving the process may mean altering it so that it can be more easily automated.

    In the end, automating business processes before managing them may be wasted effort if those same processes are going to be replaced.

  2. Franconomics

    January 21, 2008 by Craig

    Because the French have no word in their language for entrepreneur, they are not capable of understanding the American concept of laissez-faire.

    By paiute on French Fine Amazon For Free Shipping on Slashdot.

  3. Must Have

    by Craig

    I saw “24 hours”, “Must Have”, and “Crap”, and immediately thought “software development rush job.” That’s not quite the intent this Indexed card had, but I think it’s still appropriate.

    Update: Hrm, I can’t hotlink to the image, and I’m not going to make a copy on my server… so I guess you’ll have to click the link if you want to see the card. That lessens the impact. 🙁

  4. Public Relations

    January 11, 2008 by Craig

    PR isn’t marketing. PR is marketing’s evil stealthy brother. It loves to masquerade as news, science studies, etc. Marketing plants the seeds, but PR ploughs your mind first.

    Comment by Moraelin on “Mathematician Theorizes a Crystal As Beautiful As A Diamond” on Slashdot

  5. Stupid .NET Tricks #10

    January 9, 2008 by Craig

    Some .NET classes (System.Data.DataSet is the one I’m currently using) define a property called “Namespace”. In VB, “Namespace” (note the capital “N”) is a reserved word used to associate a class with a particular namespace. Since it’s a reserved word, it’s not a valid identifier in VB… meaning that the MS classes that contain the property “Namespace” were not written in VB (at least without some sort of compiler hack).

    Currently I’m trying to reimplement a (legacy) class that subclasses DataSet; I want to break the DataSet inheritance and replace it with custom members. Due to the “Namespace” conflict, I can’t do this in VB, although it wouldn’t be a problem in C#, and isn’t a problem for all of the other properties in the old class.

    So much for language independence.

    Update: I spoke too soon; VB does have a mechanism for specifying identifier names that match keywords: just enclose the identifier in brackets. It’s unfortunate that it’s necessary, but it’s easy enough to implement once you know the trick.

  6. Please Explain to Me…

    by Craig

    … how last night’s New Hampshire Democratic Primary can repeatedly be called a win for Hillary Clinton. As I understand it (and I’ve paid little attention to the lower-level workings of the wacky U.S. election system) both Clinton and Obama got the same number of delegates and thus effectively tied, even though Clinton got a scant 2% more of the popular vote. Given that she was the heavy favorite everywhere up until Iowa, anything less than an actual win in delegates seems like poor performance to me. Is this anything other than media bias in favor of Hillary shining through?

  7. Randi Redux

    January 4, 2008 by Craig

    Here’s a video of James Randi debunking a professional astrologer. This vid is all kinds of awesome for several reasons:

    • It shows Randi doing what he does: putting the paranormal to the test in a reasonable, honest, and palatable way. He gives his subject a chance to explain himself and what he does.
    • It shows a true believer in action. The astrologer stands behind his beliefs and is willing to have them tested in front of an audience. It’s important to show that not all paranormalists are outright frauds: many (most?) are well intentioned but misinformed. This makes the real frauds stand out even more.
    • It shows the true believer rationalizing his failures and his attempts at (self) deception.
    • It’s a real-life demonstration of the Forer effect, on which astrology is heavily based. In video form it’s easily accessible to everyone, and it’s shown both in action and in verbal description by Randi.
    • It highlights the contrast between science and pseudoscience. The astrologer looks to his beliefs for insight about a subject; the scientist (here represented by Stephen Fry) looks to the subject itself.
    • It features Dr. House himself, Hugh Laurie, with a (fairly rare) glimpse of his off-screen personality (and accent for that matter). (By the way, Randi is being ironic when he says that Laurie “hardly knows” Fry; the two were a Britcom comedic duo for over 20 years.)
    • The video page has a bunch of links to other similar videos where Randi debunks several other types of paranormalists and peseudoscientists.
    • (Courtesy Shvetz in this Fark thread.)

  8. JREF’s One Meeeeelion Dollar Challenge Ending

    by Craig

    I’m sorry to say that the James Randi Educational Foundation One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge is coming to an end as of 2010.

    James Randi is a stage magician who has spent the latter part of his career debunking paranormal claims and charlatans (most famously spoon-bender Uri Geller and TV psychic Sylvia Browne). His claim is that “paranormal” powers are often nothing but the same illusion techniques used by magicians and other entertainers — and that they should be recognized as such.

    To further this goal, Randi and his supporters created the “One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge” as a “put up or shut up” incentive for paranormalists. To win the prize, all someone had to do was:

    1. State (with specificity) what paranormal powers the challenger has, including what constitutes a successful demonstration of those powers.
    2. Demonstrate those powers in a controlled, scientifically-valid setting in front of independent witnesses

    Depending on your point of view, the challenge has not had a lot of success.

    • There have been no prize winners. If you’re James Randi’s accountant, that’s a good thing. James Randi himself would have a lot of explaining to do if someone did manage to win the prize, but I think that he’d be excited (even pleased) if someone did manage to demonstrate real paranormal phenomena under reliable testing. He’d certainly get a lot of personal attention in any case. On the other hand, the fact that nobody has won gives him some credibility. The lack of success is definitely a bad thing for those who claim paranormal powers.
    • There have been over 1,000 challengers. That’s a good thing for Randi, as it lends some legitimacy to his challenge. It’s a good thing for the paranormalists, because it shows that they’re not afraid and/or not faking: they’re ready to stand up to scrutiny.
    • None of the challengers so far have gotten past the initial rounds of testing (before the main event in front of witnesses and the rest of the world). Some have tried and simply failed. Some won’t agree to a testing procedure (which both Randi and the challenger must agree to; it’s designed to be scientifically valid and prevent “cheating”). Some are rejected by Randi because their claims would put themselves in mortal danger (one claimed to be able to survive on nothing but air for months; testing that would almost certainly kill the challenger and open JREF up to legal action). Some can’t even explain what it is they can do with any degree of accuracy. Randi writes:

      Our expectations at first were that we’d attract major personalities by this means, but they’ve avoided having to take the test by simply not applying; those who have actually applied are generally honestly self-deluded persons who have difficulty stating what they can do, which can be understood if they really don’t know what they’re experiencing; we at JREF have gone through involved procedures to help them recognize their problems. Usually, they have indicated that they don’t know what real scientific rules are, when it comes down to their actually being properly tested.

      This is bad for the challengers, as it destroys their credibility. It’s good for Randi as it validates his claims.

    • None of the big uncanny fish (Geller, Browne, John Edward, or any other celebrity) have applied to take the challenge. This cuts both ways for both Randi and the paranormalists. Avoiding the challenge suggests that the big names are faking (since they won’t prove that they have their purported abilities), but they’re not shown to be frauds outright, and thus can continue to dupe the believers. Randi gains some credibility by demonstrating that the celebrities are scared of the challenge, but misses the big payoff of finally exposing one of them as charlatans.

    Since the last point is what the challenge was supposed to accomplish, it’s failure means that the challenge as a whole is very much tarnished. Randi has now decided to move on and use the cash to fight the battle on other fronts.

    I think that that’s probably the right move, but I still feel disappointment at the news. Having a million dollar prize available was a great tool for forcing the hand of paranormalists: if they were confident in their supernatural abilities then they should be willing to demonstrate them, especially when there’s a big financial reward involved.

    We live in an age of prizes. The X Prize (for getting to space without government money; recently won by a team lead by Burt Rutan) is the poster child for the new wave of competition focused on achieving humanistic goals. There’s now many such prizes, including several new X Prizes, the DARPA Grand Challenge, and the Philanthropists are getting involved too, as they’re finding that they get better results from prize competitions than they did from outright grants. Even upstart NetFlix has gotten into the game.

    Seeing the JREF Challenge die is a sorry thing. I hope that someone else creates something similar in its place. Even if it never draws a serious challenge, its existence is still valuable to humanity.

  9. Be Careful What You Ask For

    January 2, 2008 by Craig

    My sister-in-law’s friend is over for a visit, and she got a spam for penis-enlargement pills. This one was notable because it apparently came with before-and-after pics. (Why she bothered opening it in the first place is beyond me.) The novelty caused a minor stir with the women in the house.

    Here’s how the following conversation went. Keep in mind that Laura has a very gross sense of humor and barely cringes at anything.

    SIL: “I didn’t even want to see that. Now I’m afraid of the Internet.”
    Laura: “There’s nothing to be afraid of on the Internet.”
    Craig: [Starts snickering]
    Laura: “What?”
    Craig: “Oh there’s some things.”
    Laura: “Like what?”
    Craig: [Ponders] “…no, I can’t show you.”
    Laura: “No, show me!”
    Craig: “No, I can’t, it’s too bad.”
    Laura: “Come on! Show me!”
    Craig: [Gives into temptation, loads a certain link, and then ponders getting his camera].
    Laura: [Shock and Horror]
    Laura: “I didn’t want to see that.”
    Craig: “I told you so.”
    Laura: “I didn’t like that. Can you show me something happy?”
    Craig: “How about the Serta sheep? [Which under most circumstances would cheer her up.]”
    Laura: [Frowning] “I wish I didn’t see that.”