How could Hubbard have missed the Internet?

The Internet Configuration Control Board was established in 1979. In the early 80s, the Internet was well on its way. Academia was already using the network, and the writing was clearly on the wall with the World Wide Web going public in 1991.

Mark Twain predicted an Internet as early as 1898, Jules Verne in 1864. H.G. Wells described the concept of a World Brain in 1936-38.

bfe

As a science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard was well accustomed to painting predictive futures through his books. He presumably had access to countless earlier space civilizations to draw predictions from through his auditing of previous lives. He describes several earlier civilizations in detail. But no Internet.

Hubbard did not devise any policies or plan describing how his Church of Scientology should handle the imminent World Wide Web before he died in 1986. No PR plan, no clear path showing his followers how to deal with the upcoming fall-out.

The Internet spelled the downfall of Scientology. Hubbard missed the one thing that would eventually destroy his legacy. How come he left his church clueless in this area?

Defending free speech

Free speech is one of the most basic human rights. Defending it often
comes with a cost. Those brave enough to defend our right to speak out
despite personal loss deserves our admiration.

Some people claim their beliefs are such that it should not be countered,
criticized or ridiculed. And a few are so convinced they hold the key to truth
that they reserve the right to bully, crush or kill anyone daring to
challenge their beliefs.

Like Scientology. Ingrained in the subject is the belief that Scientology
holds the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth. And so
Scientologists are encouraged to bully and crush all opposition. Tender as
they are, they cannot stand having their beliefs countered.

Before the Internet, the Church of Scientology was able to target its
resources to hunt down and remove any critics. After 1995, the scene
started to change. With champions of free speech such as Andreas
Heldal-Lund (of Xenu.net) and scores of others on the old newsgroup ARS,
Scientology was countered, criticized and ridiculed. The church tried to
battle the waves of criticism coming from this new frontier, but to no
avail. The founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, never predicted the
Internet and so he never devised any policies or plan to handle such a
massive arena for free speech.

Jews_Scientology

In recent years, Scientology has been made to grow up through waves of
free speech champions on the Net. Anonymous did a splendid job of grinding
down any effective opposition to free speech left in the marrow of
Scientology.

Whereas before it was dangerous to speak out against Scientology, today
you can freely speak. You can counter it with scientific arguments, your
own subjective hunches, satire or obscene ridicule.

No beliefs – political, religious or otherwise – should have any special
defence against criticism. No people of any belief should be able to pose
special restrictions on the free speech of others.

Free speech is a two-way street. We should reserve our right to be openly
criticized.

Today very few would support any special rights for Scientologists not to
be the target of satire.

How come the same can not be said of all religions or political views? Why are we so
sensitive to criticism against Judaism, democracy, Islam or the US?

I believe we should massively criticize all beliefs to the point where
those holding the beliefs defend them sensibly using free speech instead
of unfair play or violence.

I vote for more satire, not less.

Thanks Andreas. Thanks Anonymous. You have shown effective means.

Hidden risk of outsourcing IT

There is a potentially undersold risk as a company considers outsourcing IT development or operations: The loss of internal productivity to mentor outsourcing consultants are often difficult to recuperate.

When we learn complex systems, our competence usually follows a Sigmoid curve (also known as “S-curve” or “Logistic curve”).

“Many natural processes, such as those of complex system learning curves, exhibit a progression from small beginnings that accelerates and approaches a climax over time.” (1)

sigmoid_curve

“In this case the improvement of proficiency starts slowly, then increases rapidly, and finally levels off.” (2)

When a company is looking to outsource the development or operations of proprietary complex IT systems, the consultants will usually follow this learning curve. But in order to eventually become productive, the consultant will rely on mentors to learn the ropes.

An internal competent developer or system administrator is assigned as a mentor to the external consultant. The mentor will experience a drop in productivity, and regain the productivity concurrent with the consultant.

Spreading the burden among several mentors may make the productivity loss less visible, but the combined loss of the mentors may even be greater.

According to a recent survey I did, the productivity loss of the mentor was at least 50%. The time needed from scratch to a fully productive developer was 24 months. The question is “How long would it take for the productivity of the consulatant to make up for the productivity loss of the mentor?”. Or in other words “How long until this scenario goes break-even?”.

To calculate this, we turn to the Sigmoid function:

sigmoid_function

Productivity of the consultant (p) is the Sigmoid function over time (t). We adopt the function to go from 0 to the time needed to become fully productive (T).

consultant

Then we adopt the function for the mentor’s productivity (P) starting from his dropped productivity and back to full productivity after T time. The drop (D) is the fraction of his full productivity (1).

mentor

The reason for the slight difference in the equations (the factors “7” and “8”) represents the fact that even after the time “T”, the consultant would on average still be a notch lower in productivity than the mentor.

The two curves combined with “T = 24″ and “D = 0.5″:

comparison_curves

The accumulated productivity of the consultant over time is the area under the blue curve, i.e. the integral of p(t).

consultant_integral

To get the accumulated loss of productivity of the mentor over time, P(t), we first invert the mentor’s productivity to get his productivity loss, Q(t).

mentor_inv

And the integral of Q(t).

mentor_inv_integral
The big question is “At what time (t) does the consultant’s productivity make up for the mentor’s lost productivity?”

comparison

With:

integral_indef

… we get:

comparison_integral

…which reduces to:

comparison_integral_red

Graphically represented:

comparison_integral_graph

The question is so big that WolframAlpha cannot display the numeric result within its standard computational time. But with the help of my trusted old HP-41 calculator, the answer was achieved: It takes 19 months of mentoring for the outsourcing project to break even.

The hidden risk is that if the consultant quits before that time, the outsourcing is a losing proposition.

So, if a company considers outsourcing IT to let’s say a Baltic company, one must be very certain that the turn-over of their consultants is above this break-even by a good margin.

The risk management: First figure out how long it usually takes a new employee in the company to get up to full production speed. Add some time if the consultant speaks a different language, is of a different culture and especially if the mentoring is done from a distance. This will be your “T” time.

Then, by a few short pilots, figure out the mentor’s productivity loss. This will be your drop “D”. Along with WolframAlpha and an HP-41, this is all you need to calculate the break-even for the outsourcing project. With the use of some employment statistics from the outsourcing company or the IT industry of that country, you will have a pretty clear picture of the risk involved.

One can, to some degree, mitigate this risk through effective Knowledge Management. A competent Knowledge Manager with an excellent company wiki solution and efficient training setups could shorten the time to break-even by perhaps 20%. Nevertheless, it’s a serious risk to consider – especially since tacit knowledge from years of experience in the company is hard to transfer. Add to this the risk of the mentor quitting or is put on other tasks. Thus the consultant’s stay should exceed “T” with a good margin.

Update (2015-01-18)

An approximation formula will suffice for quick gain/loss calculations. This formula gives the net gain (if positive) or loss (if negative) for any given time (“t”):

gain_loss_simplified

In search for perfection (yeah, tech stuff)

Only a short while after having settled with dwb as my browser of choice, it was announced that it was unmaintained. Development had stopped and it was left in limbo. Again I was out hunting for The Browser. Revisiting Luakit and Uzbl, I discovered Vimb that seemed promising – but it had a few snags that ended up prolonging my quest. I hang around in the IRC chat channels of several tech projects, including a handful browsers. Got chatting with the main developer (“The Compiler”) of a new browser on the block just before X-mas – and it turned out that his qutebrowser served well as a Christmas present.

Qutebrowser uses a different underlying technology (QtWebKit), written in Python, has a very clean configuration, extensible and actively maintained.

It still lacks a few features like a form filler, session management and support for AdBlocks “easylist” (although it has a more rudimentary adblocker). But these are on the roadmap, and with the pace of development, I am sure these and many other neat features are not far away.

One thing that bugged me was how QtWebKit rendered fonts. Fonts were noticeably slimmer rendering web pages less readable. After some hours of tinkering, I solved the issue by first getting a better font setup for my system (here), then installing the Ubuntu package called “texlive-fonts-extra” and setting the font “Lato Heavy” for the following font settings in qutebrowser: “web-family-standard”, “web-family-serif”, “web-family-sans-serif”, “web-family-cursive” and “web-family-fantasy” (and the font “Droid Sans Mono” for “web-family-fixed”). Now fonts are beautiful and very readable.

After wading through more than a dozen browsers, qutebrowser fits the bill quite nicely.