Category Archives: Writing/Editing

The Elements of Dialectical Materialism

Yin Yang Symbol

My Favorite Representation of What The Dialectic Represents

I am not an academic. Neither am I a philosopher or a journalist. Nevertheless, I do write on occasion and make an effort to share my thoughts in a somewhat coherent manner. I have to admit it’s gotten a little bit more difficult over the last few years, what with Twitter, Facebook, and other social media apps, platforms, and sites, slowly turning me into a scattershot reader of content.

My goal for the foreseeable future is to reverse that trend somewhat and spend more time writing and sharing my thoughts, perhaps some of my dreams, and a few (or more) of my memories. I’ll be 70 years old next June and, in mid-April of next year, will have outlived my father by a decade. Although relatively healthy, I do have my share of ailments that seem to come to everyone eventually: Mild Hypertension; Type II Diabetes (though, thanks to Fitbit and a little willpower made easy by the data retrieved from my Aria scale and Charge HR (link is to their latest version), I’ve lost a little over 30 pounds in a little over a year — and it’s had its salutary effect on my blood sugar); surgery for a Melanoma; Dupuytren’s Contracture; trigger finger; and a bunch of weird-ass nerve issues that are making many reaching movements with my hands problematic. In other words, I’m doing pretty good for an old guy.

I’m hoping to live long enough to share a little of the adult life of my children, who are currently 15 and 13, but there’s no way to know if that will happen. A lot of folks around my age have been dying off lately, and I can feel the inexorable decline of my physical strength, stamina, and overall health accelerating as I age. It’s a strange trip, I must say. Sometimes I worry a bit that I’m paying too much attention to the end, but I have always been one who has enjoyed the ride and I’m not really too concerned with its conclusion. I just happen to be fascinated by the concept of nothingness, which I contend is nigh onto impossible for we humans to comprehend. I also believe it is a big part of what has long attracted people to religion; they need to believe there’s some sort of consciousness after they die. I don’t believe that’s possible.

As someone who has embraced (if not always lived up to the practices inherent in doing so) Systems Thinking, I long ago came to the conclusion that the philosophy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Dialectical Materialism, is the framework from which systems thinkers can best view the development of the natural world which, of course, includes human beings and our social constructs.

In that regard, I thought I would share this compilation of the elements of the philosophy, as culled from the works of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, one of the world’s clearest explicators of the work of Marx. Here are the 16 elements I’ve been able to find. I once had a slightly shorter version, which I had printed out and displayed at my desk. Several years before I retired, someone had the audacity to take it down from the wall, rip it in half, and leave it on my seat. I’ve never quite understood the cowardice it takes to do something like that but, no matter, the words — and the concepts they represent — can’t be erased quite that easily. Here’s the list:

Summary of Dialectics

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

  1. The objectivity of consideration (not examples, not divergences, but the Thing-in-itself).
  2. The entire totality of the manifold relations of this thing to others.
  3. The development of this thing, (phenomenon, respectively), its own movement, its own life.
  4. The internally contradictory tendencies (and sides) in this thing.
  5. The thing (phenomenon, etc.) as the sum  and unity of opposites.
  6. The struggle, respectively unfolding, of these opposites, contradictory strivings, etc.
  7. The union of analysis and synthesis — the breakdown of the separate parts and the totality, the summation of these parts.
  8. The relations of each thing (phenomenon, etc.) are not only manifold, but general, universal. Each thing (phenomenon, process, etc.) is connected with every other.
  9. Not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?].
  10. The endless process of the discovery of new sides, relations, etc.
  11. The endless process of the deepening of man’s knowledge of the thing, of phenomena, processes, etc., from appearance to essence and from less profound to more profound essence.
  12. From coexistence to causality and from one form of connection and reciprocal dependence to another, deeper, more general form.
  13. The repetition at a higher stage of certain features, properties, etc., of the lower and
  14. The apparent return to the old (negation of the negation).
  15. The struggle of content with form and conversely. The throwing off of the form, the transformation of the content.
  16. The transition of quantity into quality and vice versa.

As I said, I am hardly a philosopher; merely a person who has found Materialism, whether it be Dialectical or Historical, to be the best method available to understand history and the development of society without — and this is important — the intervention of the supernatural. I try to apply this type of thinking to everything I ponder, but I do fall short at times. I, like most of us, am a work-in-progress. More to come.

Gawker, the open web, Thiel and Zuck

Since I don’t have anywhere near as much time to write as I used to (now that I’m back working) I thought I would start sharing some of my favorite writers and posts. Here’s one from Dave Winer that he posted on the 25th anniversary of the Web. Dave knows of what he speaks, having been one of the earliest bloggers and developers. Here’s a piece from yesterday, August 23, 2016.  

~ Rick


Perhaps not many people will see the connection between today being the first day Gawker is gone, it being the 25th Anniversary of the Web, and the message all Facebook users were greeted with this morning.

  1. Gawker is gone because Peter Thiel financed its murder-by-lawyer. It’s legal to do this in the US, but until now as far as I know, no one has crossed this line. Now that the line has been crossed, it’s fair to assume it will become standard practice for billionaires like Thiel to finance lawsuits until the publication loses and has to sell itself to pay the judgment.
  2. It’s the 25th Anniversary of the Web because 25 years ago a generous visionary named Tim Berners-Lee invented something that would benefit humanity more than it would benefit him. And many other visionaries saw it, and because it was open, were able to build anything they could imagine using it as a basis. And they did, making something like Facebook possible.
  3. Facebook is a silo for web writing. And while it would be easy for them to create paths for ideas to flow in and out of Facebook, at very low cost, and they have the features already developed, and use them internally, they refuse to share them with users. I suppose we could just explain this as they’re a very large tech company and that’s what tech companies do, but they also have the chutzpah to pretend to support the open web. They have been happy to accept its bounty and have done nothing to return what they’ve taken from the commons to the commons.
  4. And finally, remember Peter Thiel, the guy who thinks his wealth entitles him to shut down publications he doesn’t like, not only did he make billions from Facebook stock, he’s still on the board of Facebook. Zuckerberg has had plenty of time to ask him to leave, or to fire him, and he hasn’t done it. Again, you could just shrug it off and say Zuck is like Thiel, but he’s extra special in that he wants you to believe he appreciates the gift of the open web, as he strangles it.

Source: Gawker, the open web, Thiel and Zuck

A Day With Edward Tufte


Graphic of Napolean's March

One of the more iconic images Professor Tufte uses in his presentations. I have a mounted, autographed poster of this one.

 If you create reports, presentations, info graphics, or are in any way involved with presenting data of any sort, I hope you’ve heard of Edward Tufte. Even better if you’ve heard of his work, especially what I believe is his seminal book, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.”

As part of my job at Rocketdyne, I was privileged to attend an all-day seminar of his in Los Angeles in the Spring of 2007 or ’08. Upon my return, I wrote down some notes and impressions for my colleague who paid for the day. There’s some really good stuff in here. As a knowledge management professional, I’m a bit chagrined it’s taken me this long to share it. I truly hope someone finds Tufte’s words useful. 


Here’s a quick recap of Edward Tufte’s presentation last Thursday. What I did, for the most part, was enter points he made as numbered bullets. Therefore, I’ll do the same here with the addition of some extra comments if I feel they are necessary.

1. Professor Tufte refers to the nature of the work he does as “escaping flatland”. He believes dimensionality is extremely important when using visualization to represent quantitative data.

2. Another aspect of visually presenting data which he emphasizes is data density, i.e. resolution. He repeatedly stressed the need to drive for greater and greater resolution when presenting data.

3. With respect to items such as run charts, histograms, etc., he believes it is far better to label the data directly, avoiding the use of keys, which he feels are distracting.

4. He presented a copy of Euclid’s Elements, which included many “pop-up” graphics used to illustrate his points. The copy of the book he had an assistant bring around (wearing white gloves) for us to view is 432 years old. It was awesome just to see it. He refers to these pop-ups as the “brute force” method of escaping flatland.

5. A key point he stressed is to enforce visual comparisons. The terms he used (should sound familiar) were, “it depends” and “compared to what?”.

6. The visual representation of data should show mechanism, process, or dynamics, i.e. they should present causality as an aide to understanding and clarity.

7. He also stressed the importance of showing more than 1 or 2 variables when preparing a chart.

8. Presentations must be content driven, i.e. they must embody the three elements of quality, relevance, and integrity. Integrity was a big theme of his and one I don’t believe most of us would find fault with.

9. Design can’t rescue failed content, which he referred to as “chart junk”. This is another point which relates to integrity, and one which he continually stressed throughout his presentation.

10. Whether it’s drawing or words, it’s all information. Don’t be afraid to use words to make your point.

11. I’m not entirely certain of what he meant by this point, but what I wrote down was the following: “Better to show info adjacent in space as opposed to stacked in time.”

12. He stressed that you should use small multiples, i.e. strive for high resolution of the data.

13. Another point which he used to continue driving home the importance of integrity was to show the whole data set. At the same time he stressed that one need not show the zero point, i.e. context is what’s important in making a useful, accurate presentation.

14. Detail does not mean clutter. If you can’t present your data in sufficient enough detail without making it difficult to understand, rethink your design; it’s probably faulty.

15. When presenting data always normalize, adjust, and compensate to provide greater clarity and integrity. The example he gave for this involved a situation where it was impossible to know the real changes in costs of consumer items without taking into consideration the rate of inflation over a period of time. Absent this adjustment, the changes appeared to be far greater than they actually were.

16. Perhaps this next point was specific to financial charts, but it seems appropriate for many others. Don’t trust displays which have no explanatory footnotes. Generally speaking, Tufte believes one should annotate everything. His philosophy appears to be to always err on the side of accuracy and completeness (see integrity).

17. He made a point of explaining the human mind’s tendency to remember only the most recent (recency bias) data it perceives. I don’t remember the exact context in which this statement was made, but I think it is related to Ed Maher’s assertion that we tend to focus on the out-of-family (I can’t remember the exact phrase he used) experiences rather than the steady state.

18. He used a word I thought was interesting to describe people who create fancy charts which don’t actually say much – “chartoonist”.

After going into some detail regarding how the Challenger disaster occurred or, more accurately, how it was allowed to happen, he suggested there were three moral lessons to be learned from the experience. He posed these lessons in the form of three questions one must ask oneself when producing information of this nature.

1. Where is the causality?

2. Is all relevant data included?

3. What do I really need to see if I’m going to decide this?

He guaranteed if these three questions were adequately addressed, the chance of getting the decision right were greatly increased.

He then went on to lay out a list of rules for presentations, as follows:

1. Get their attention (he gave an example of what he called the “stumblebum” technique, where a presenter purposely made a mistake – which the audience was more than happy to point out – in order to insure everyone was paying attention (presumably to see if they could catch him again; which they never did.) He made a point of suggesting this probably wasn’t the best technique, unless you’re really good.

2. Never apologize – don’t tell the audience how you didn’t sleep well the night before, etc.

3. PGP – Start with the particular, move to the general, return to the particular.

4. Give everyone at least one piece of paper; something tangible they can leave the room with.

5. Respect your audience’s intelligence.

6. Don’t just read from your charts.

7. Forget K.I.S.S. – Be thorough and accurate, not simple and vague.

8. He stressed the importance of humor, something he was excellent at. He did caution appropriate use (duh?).

9. If you believe what you’re presenting, make sure the audience knows it.

10. Finish early

His final points to improving one’s presentations were directed to the presenter and the presentation, respectively. The first point was to practice or rehearse so the presentation goes smoothly and you are able to get through it without stumbling or going over your allotted time. The second was to have better, stronger content.

Professor Tufte’s presentation was extremely engaging, from my point of view. He knew his stuff and made it interesting, fun, and funny. I confirmed that most of what he discussed is contained in one or more of the three books I took from the seminar, and I’m looking forward to reading again what I think I learned from him. Much of what he had to say was common sense, which I have encountered previously from the years I’ve spent putting together presentations. Nevertheless, I believe he had a great deal to offer which will ultimately improve my ability to present information, whether in a briefing or on a web site. I really enjoyed seeing and listening to him. Thanks for the opportunity.


Testing My Universal Mobile Keyboard


I took my 12-year-old to check out computers the other day and, after we looked at a few, I decided what to get her. Then I made a kind of an impulse buy and got myself a Samsung Galaxy Tab4 which, at the price they were charging, was almost free. Anyway, I got it yesterday (they didn’t have any in stock, so they had to ship me one) and spent a bit of time figuring it out and loading a few apps from the Play Store.

When I got to work today, I realized I had my universal mobile keyboard, which was designed to be used with phones and notepads. I had installed the WordPress app, so I thought I would give it a try and post this short note to see how it felt. I’m loving the Galaxy Tab4 and intend on using it to watch Netflix, which I also installed, post to my blog (tada), and probably read with the Kindle app, which I’ve yet to install. Think I’ll do that after I post this. I also need to get a sim card, as there’s only about 8Gb of addressable memory in this thing. Amazon Prime, here I come.

With My Thumb Up My . . .

Experimenting with some short form blogging. 
I’m sitting in a conference room where I was supposed to meet with a couple finance people to go over our integrated master schedule. Nobody is here except me.

It’s kind of nice not having to deal with anybody, and I log onto my computer at my desk, but it’s just not the same and I’m bored.

Now I’ve moved into another conference room and it looks like I’m gonna be doing the same thing. At least I’m being taken out to lunch today, by one of the very people who’s supposed to be here right now. He will hear about this.

Celebrating Over a Decade of Blogging

Haven’t had the time – or the inclination – to address it, but this past Tuesday marked my eight year anniversary as a blogger on WordPress. Since I had been blogging at The Cranky Curmudgeon on Blogger since July of 2004 prior to moving over here, I guess that means I’ve been blogging for over eleven and a half years.

While I’ve always attempted to be somewhat relevant, I’ve never even considered being commercial, which should be quite evident given the rank amateur effort I’ve stood up. I know WP tacks on advertisements to my blog, though that might have gone away now that I’ve purchased their premium pack. I never saw them, so I’m not sure if they’re still there or not.

At any rate, I begin my 70th orbit around the Sun a little later this year. I’m hopeful I’ve got at least another decade of blogging to do; maybe even some seriously focused writing as well. We’ll see how that goes.

Talking To Myself . . . Almost

Lately, I’ve been trying to use my iPhone’s voice recognition capabilities while in my car on the way to work. With the latest upgrade to iOS – I’m at 9.1 – you can now talk to your phone if it’s plugged into power, and I always plug mine into my car charger. All you have to do is say “Hey, Siri” and (most times) you’ll get a tone letting you know she’s listening. You can request music, ask for directions, record notes, tweets, and even Facebook posts. I mostly use it for playing music and recording thoughts I would never be able to remember or write down without pulling over to the side of the road. Although I have been known to do that, I don’t have to anymore. It’s not perfect, but it’s far and away a safer and easy-to-use method of remembering some things.

So, today I recorded a note on my way in. The only drawback is you have to speak fairly continuously. As soon as you pause for more than a couple of seconds, at most, Siri ends the task and reads the note back to you. I managed to make it through the thought I had with relative ease – my memory really ain’t what it used to be – and the playback was accurate enough to know I would be able to understand what I was thinking when I recorded it. As many of us are painfully aware, being able to understand what you were thinking when you were thinking of it later on when you read what you wrote about what you were thinking back then, is important to the efficacy of the effort.

On a whim, I said “Hey, Siri” and, upon hearing the familiar tone, “Thank you.” After a moment’s pause, she responded (in her Aussie accent) “You’re welcome.” Her tone was so upbeat it caused me to wonder if they don’t actually have the phrase recorded, or programmed, in several different intonations. I know we’re a long ways away from anything approaching sentient AI, but it was still oddly comforting, as well as a little weird . . . both the exchange and the reality I bothered to do it in the first place.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

I’ve been giving some thought to why I blog, what it is I’m trying to accomplish. As it turns out, I have several motivations that are, in no particular order: Share my observations of the business world; discuss politics; wonder about space, time, and infinity; wax philosophical about religion and spirituality; share my experiences with aging as a point-of-the-spear baby boomer; complain about assholes and assholishness; and blabber on about anything that intrigues me. I guess that pretty much covers everything.

Deja Vu

I could swear I’ve thought about these issues before!

I feel fairly confident in my ability to write about most of these things, but I do have one area in which I’m somewhat reluctant to hold myself out as knowing anything. That subject is business. This isn’t because I haven’t picked up anything useful in the past 52 years since my first “real” job at McDonald’s, but rather because I’ve spent the vast majority of the last three decades working at an organization that is a government contractor and I have a tendency to think we’re very different than other, commercial organizations.

It recently dawned on me or, perhaps after nearly five years of retirement and a return to the organization I retired from, it came back to me the success of the comic strip Dilbert should make it abundantly clear most all reasonably big organizations are very much the same when it comes to bureaucracy, organizational stupidity, and waste. So . . . I’ve now come full-circle I believe and should have no trouble writing about my observations.

Not perzackly. When I first returned to work in mid-January of this year, I ran up against the reality that a large portion of the business, thanks to an acquisition by Aerojet, was now defense and missile related and our work on space exploration was more developmental than production oriented. In fact, I am currently working on what used to be referred to as a “Star Wars” program, a ground-based intercept vehicle designed to “get in the way” of incoming ballistic missiles. As a result, one of the first training modules I was required to take and pass an exam on was regarding Operations Security.

The material wasn’t all that comprehensive, so it requires some real judgment to decide on what I can talk about and what I should not share. It gave me pause – still does, actually. However, I am coming to the conclusion I can speak about any part of normal organizational issues that others (for whom Dilbert continues to resonate with the “truth”) struggle with as well. I think this means issues of communication, knowledge sharing and retention, organizational silos, and cultural constructs that block meaningful progress are probably available targets. Let’s see how good I do.

Enjoying an Embarrassment of Riches

You know that saying, “When it rains, it pours”? Well, I believe it’s starting to rain for me and it’s threatening to turn into a downpour. Since my retirement from Rocketdyne over four and a half years ago (really?), I’ve tried various methods of earning enough extra money to keep from depleting our savings. I haven’t been all that successful, though I’ve just about stopped the bleeding thanks to the ACA, solar panels, some re-balancing of assets, etc.

The latest thing I had been working on was earning some money as a proofreader or an editor or even a writer. I’ve done several things I’m quite proud of, two of them being proofreading Age of Context, with Shel Israel and Robert Scoble, and doing some editing for Dan Keldsen’s book, co-authored with Thomas M Koulopoulos, The Gen Z Effect. I also did some research and writing with Lorien Pratt and Mark Zangari of Quantellia, most notably a paper on the Carter Center’s Community Justice Advisor program in Liberia.  I’m in the first footnote.

I have also had the good fortune to work a little with Marcia Conner and, recently, she asked me if I would help her revise the book she co-authored with Tony Bingham, president and CEO of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), formerly ASTD, The New Social Learning. I haven’t said anything because we were waiting for a contract from the publisher. That has happened and I’m beginning my efforts.

Multi-tasking man

This is Going to be Fun . . . and a Real Test!

As far as the downpour is concerned, I also just got a job writing a paper (sort of a cross between a white paper and a trade study) on a cloud-based Earned Value Management System and its competitors. Additionally, since I never knew where my next gig would come from, I took advantage of what I thought was a slim, but conceivable, chance I could now return to Rocketdyne as a temp doing whatever-the-hell they want me to. I just received notification that the requisition my former colleague requested for bringing me in has been approved, though there’s still some hoops to jump through, I’m sure.

Nevertheless, it would seem I am now suffering from an embarrassment of riches. I will, of course, honor my previous commitments, so I’m hopeful Rocketdyne will be flexible enough to allow me to do that. I have said I don’t want a full-time job and my goal is not to return as an employee, but I would like to be on their short-list of people who they can count on.

I am really excited about working on the book with Marcia. As I said, we’ve worked together some before and I believe we both enjoyed it immensely, even though we live on opposite coasts. I know I learn a lot merely from the process of collaborating virtually.

PS – I’m also still expecting to be an adjunct professor of business communications at USC’s Marshall School of Business next fall.

Firing Up My Wood-Burning iPad

Next month my iPad will be four and a half years old. I bought it as a present to myself for my 63rd birthday, a couple of weeks after I retired from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. Technologically, it’s already hopelessly out-of-date, the iOS having surpassed its capabilities a couple of releases ago. I kind of gave up on it and was mostly letting my youngest daughter play games on it.

Then, a couple of days ago, Marcia Conner contacted me, wanting to know if I was interested in helping her update the technology references in a book she co-authored and, perhaps, write a new chapter to add on as well. We talked the following day and I enthusiastically accepted the challenge. This, of course, is provided the publisher goes along with her proposal.

Anyway, to help me figure out what’s going on, she sent me four files, one of which is a .mobi – a Kindle – file. Unfortunately, yesterday I started feeling a nasty chest cold coming on and today I wasn’t really up for sitting at my Mac and reading. I do have the Kindle app on my iPad, so I decided to see if I could make use of it. I had no trouble importing the book into my Mac, but it seemed I could only upload the file on my iPad via a GDrive app and each time I opened it I had to start at the beginning, as there was no bookmarking functionality.

Then I discovered, serendipitously, I have an email address I can send all kinds of files to so I can access them through my Kindle app. The other three I had received were Word docs and a .pdf and I sent all four of them to the email address and, voila, I now have access to all of them via the world’s most expensive Kindle device . . . but at least I can lie down and read, which is how I’ve always enjoyed books. I can also bookmark, which is an absolute necessity IMO when you’re doing research or learning something.

Also, even if the deal falls through I’ve already had a positive experience and . . . the book is not just good, but right in my wheelhouse. More to come if this happens.

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