Congratulations!


There’s one political role I approve of. No, it’s not starting wars or declaring victory – it’s normal stuff like congratulating people and recognizing a job well done, or perhaps cutting the ribbon on a new project of people’s hopes and dreams.

Let us congratulate Cuyahoga Community College’s Youth Robotics Team, who won the FIRST Robotics Championship. [cuyahoga]

It looks like the challenge was to produce basketball-playing robots (the folks at FIRST probably were wise not to make the contest look like battle-bots) and it appears from watching the videos that the bots are more like human-controlled/radio controlled vehicles. There is still a tremendous amount of design and testing that goes into making anything like this.

Hey FIRST, add AI to the mix next! I want to see our robotic basketball-playing overlords.

Practical testing is why I whole-heartedly love this sort of contest: it doesn’t just teach “hey make it mostly work then throw it over the wall” engineering – your device has to be debuggable, maintainable, rugged, and functional. In the course of their path to victory, their robots survived and evolved through 18 preliminary matches. Functional is almost less important than reliable. In other words these are the critical engineering skills that make civilization that doesn’t collapse when the first woodpecker comes along. Contests like FIRST are really, really important and those kids made incredibly useful contacts and career skills. For example, the tired-looking older white guy at the right … he’s an electronics engineer on loan from NASA. So, those young people are going to not only be getting life-long public relations boost for winning the contest, they’ve got NASA P.R. too. [nasa] Subtext is more important: they’ve got solid gold resumes if they want to look for jobs in industrial robotics, which is – to put it mildly – the hot ticket now that petroleum engineering is taking a nosedive.

I support this message:

Mayor Jackson: Doing what Mayors are supposed to do!

We all know that working tech jobs is primarily a matter of youthful opportunity, which is why everyone with any understanding of life, the job market, and anything, rained derision on GoogleBro James Damore and his eugenicist ideas that gender differences affect one’s ability to work in the tech field. Look at the faces on the Cuyahoga Community College team and you’ll notice a couple of things, other than the victorious grins.

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“Functional is almost less important than reliable.” When I am getting all old school programmer on someone I usually tell them that “it works at all” is a subset of reliability. But since we have two different words, “functionality” and “reliability” are often set as opposed properties – especially with software. I generally don’t agree, but that’s probably a result of working on computer security for nearly 30 years.

“GoogleBro Damore” – Google fired Damore because he was an embarrassment to the company; he was bad P.R. In fact, that was exactly true: nobody talks about Damore without mentioning Google. Thereby proving Google’s point.

The FIRST program brings almost 20,000 young people into the contest, annually. If you look at pictures of the teams on their site you’ll see young women in niqab, young people of the entire variety of colors, and doubtless the entire spectrum of gender and ability. This kind of thing is going to make a tremendous difference, and it’s the sort of thing that will eventually turn the scales on America’s racism and sexism, if anything can. It’s one thing to punch nazis, but it’s vastly more effective to make more money than they do, get more power than they do, and then let them kiss your ass. FIRST was started by inventor Dean Kamen, and is bankrolled by a number of companies including Qualcomm. This is how it’s done, people: do not vote for politicians that whinge about bringing back coal mining jobs – build young people a future and get the hell out of their way.

Comments

  1. says

    There’s one political role I approve of. No, it’s not starting wars or declaring victory – it’s normal stuff like congratulating people and recognizing a job well done

    Back when I was at school I won a lot of academic competitions and got dragged to a lot of boring ceremonies where important people congratulated me. I had to go only because it was considered impolite not to show up. Why should I care about being congratulated by corrupt, lying oligarchs? Or even worse – a king who got to be the king simply by being lucky to be born to the right parents? It feels amazing to be congratulated by somebody whose work you admire. But politicians? I somehow get the feeling that all these ceremonies exist to make politicians look more important rather than to make winners feel happier.*

    or perhaps cutting the ribbon on a new project of people’s hopes and dreams.

    The new project was paid for with taxpayers’ money. And it was built by the hands of hardworking builders. The only thing a politician did was making a decision about how to spend someone else’s money. Why should the politician deserve any glory about the completion of a new project?


    *OK, I’m aware that perhaps other winners feel about this differently than I do. So probably this is only my opinion.
    Moreover, getting to meet rich people (and politicians are rich oligarchs) is the best way how to improve your salary and career prospects. So some people might be interested in doing that.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the challenge was to produce basketball-playing robots …

    How long till we see very tall people alongside the roads with signs: “Will shoot hoops for food”?

  3. says

    Reginald Selkirk@#4:
    Franken’s doing pretty well, I agree. I also think he’s smart enough verbally agile enough that he could probably do well in the various tests of public speaking and media management that make up American politics. I’d sure be reluctant to debate a comedian!

  4. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#3:
    How long till we see very tall people alongside the roads with signs: “Will shoot hoops for food”?

    There are some careers that have built-in short lifespans. Basketball’s one.

    I have a young friend who looked at automation and the job market and is currently studying to be a mortician. I think that was remarkably perceptive of her.

  5. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#2:
    Why should I care about being congratulated by corrupt, lying oligarchs? Or even worse – a king who got to be the king simply by being lucky to be born to the right parents? It feels amazing to be congratulated by somebody whose work you admire. But politicians? I somehow get the feeling that all these ceremonies exist to make politicians look more important rather than to make winners feel happier.*

    I agree with you to a certain degree, except that I’d argue that the politician is not expressing their personal opinion but rather are standing in their role as public spokesperson and representative of the collective.
    When we were creating the Fuel Rats we had to deal with this question, because there were some people who truly deserved recognition on behalf of the collective – yet we had no leader or organizational structure. So we solved the problem in what I’d call a typical Fuel Rats manner: whoever felt they wanted to do something to award someone on behalf of the collective could do so – with the awareness that they ought to only do it in situations where none of the collective might object. In other words, it’s OK to say, “on Behalf of The Fuel Rats, we are proud of you” because, damn it, we were. In the case of the mayor congratulating the robotics team, I think that works similarly.

    The new project was paid for with taxpayers’ money. And it was built by the hands of hardworking builders. The only thing a politician did was making a decision about how to spend someone else’s money. Why should the politician deserve any glory about the completion of a new project?

    I think it all boils down to the words the politician chooses. Do they say “I am proud of you?” or “by virtue of the holy grace god shines on me, I speak on behalf of god!” or are they careful to scope their authority: “speaking as one of the citizens of this town, and a spokesperson for all of us, I think I can say that we all respect your accomplishment.”

    In the case of a monument or a building or a dream – if a politician goes all Trump and starts making it about them (“my wall!”) then they’re setting up people hanging it around their neck, too: “your stupid wall.” But when I don’t think it’s grandstanding when a leader says “we choose to do this not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard…” or whatever – then they are acting in their role as leader and spokesperson.

    There are times when it’s OK to speak on behalf of the collective but you damn well better know what you’re doing when you try!

  6. says

    I agree with you to a certain degree, except that I’d argue that the politician is not expressing their personal opinion but rather are standing in their role as public spokesperson and representative of the collective.

    Actually, if a politician expressed her personal opinion, I would be more willing to accept the situation. A politician is a human being free to have her personal opinion and also free to express it.

    I’m not OK with politicians being representatives. Nobody can represent me; nobody can speak on my behalf. Firstly, how does the politician even know what I think? Secondly, even if the politician knew what I think and my opinion happened to be identical with what the politician was saying, I still wouldn’t be OK with the situation, because I don’t want to be represented by somebody else, I happen to have a voice of my own.

    I suppose this all boils down to the fact that I cannot stand authority figures. I prefer arrangements where all members of a group come together to have a discussion and collectively make a decision. I hate it when some individual authority figure singlehandedly decides for the whole group.

    I can only accept politicians doing the absolute minimum of things that we as a society cannot live without. Until we as a society work out a way how to sustain a functional direct democracy, we will need a small number of humans who decide upon and write laws. A society cannot live without this, so I have no choice but to accept that there are politicians out there who write laws. Also, we need diplomatic personnel and politicians who make international agreements and “write laws” on international scale. That’s also an essential function.

    But does a society really need some human being to represent it? OK, we can certainly have such people (and we currently do have them), but do we really need this, are they truly essential? I’d say no.

    Firstly, let’s look at our current “representatives” and who they are and what they do. They are generally rich clowns who wear fancy suits and live in expensive palaces. They make New Year speeches, they attend sports events, they congratulate winners of these events. Why are these actions (“jobs”) essential for a society?

    In European monarchies there are kings, queens, princes and princesses clowning around, wasting taxpayers’ money (living in palaces, wearing fancy suits and eating expensive food bought with money they never earned) and being utterly useless. Since they cannot be elected, they are not allowed to have any actual political power (at least theoretically they cannot decide upon laws, instead elected representatives are the ones who write laws).

    In contrast with presidential republics, Latvia is a parliamentary republic. Latvian president has an almost exclusively representative function. It is ministers (especially the prime minister) and members of parliament who actually do something. President is just a clown who wears expensive suits and lives in a palace. Latvian presidents are elected by the parliament and some years ago our parliament managed to elect a total moron. Pretty much all citizens hated him (he was an awful public speaker) and no citizen was fooled into believing that this hated dude represented them (or the country). And, more importantly, when this guy got sick and disappeared from public life for a few weeks, nobody noticed and nobody missed him. It turned out that a country could spend 4 years without a person representing it (OK, he did the functions, made some miserably pathetic public speeches and attended sports events, but citizens didn’t actually accept or see the old clown as representing their country).

    “speaking as one of the citizens of this town, and a spokesperson for all of us, I think I can say that we all respect your accomplishment.”

    I would prefer: “speaking as one of the citizens of this town, I can say that I respect your accomplishment, and I assume that many other people do so as well.” OK, a robotics competition isn’t that controversial, so there probably won’t be that many people disagreeing. So let’s look at a different example. Some football team wins some competition and a politician says: “speaking as one of the citizens of this town, and a spokesperson for all of us, I think I can say that we all respect your accomplishment.” First problem is with “we all”. Many people see professional sports as a waste of time and money, they don’t care about who wins, and they are pissed off about the fact that their government is wasting taxpayers’ money to finance athletic competitions. And then there are some other sports fans who wanted another team to win, and they would rather curse the actual winners and see them burn in hell. So it definitely isn’t “we all”. The second problem is with “a spokesperson for all of us”. Many voters definitely hate this politician and do not see her as their spokesperson. No politician is popular enough to get elected with 100% of citizens approving her.

    But when I don’t think it’s grandstanding when a leader says “we choose to do this not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard…” or whatever – then they are acting in their role as leader and spokesperson.

    Oh, well, I don’t exactly like the very idea of a leader. Somebody else being a leader implies that I’m some cattle being lead.

    I would be a lot be more willing to accept the kind of arrangement you had with Fuel Rats with nobody being on top and anybody able to just express their sentiments. I would probably change to wording from “on Behalf of The Fuel Rats, we are proud of you” into “I am proud of you, and I assume that other Fuel Rats are just as proud as me”, but, oh well, that would be nitpicking anyway.

    OK, I am aware that some humans are unwilling to be independent and like the idea of somebody else solving all their problems (God, political leader, whatever). Christians even willingly accept the metaphor of them being lambs lead by the shepherd (Jesus) who supposedly will solve their problems and show them the right way. I’m even aware of the fact that some people actually like the idea of royalty, of kings who will lead them to prosperity. And I know that, unlike me, there actually are people who don’t hate the British royal family (and all other royal families). And some people are plain sentimental, they like the idea of symbols. And they like idols, thus they are willing to worship some clown dressed in a fancy suit who happens to have good public speaking skills. But, damn, I sure do not share any of these sentiments.

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